(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:15-18
The Law And It’s Result
“…the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law was given through Moses, and what did we get when all we had was the law? When Moses was up on the mountain receiving the law, receiving the stone tablets engraved with the ten commandments, he was gone from the people for awhile. And the people grew tired of waiting. They gave up on Moses, and they gave up on God Himself too. They created their own thing to worship, an idol, and they threw a party. And when Moses finally came down from the mountain and saw what had happened, he was devastated. He broke the stone tablets in anger and 3,000 of the idol worshippers died that day. (Exodus Chapter 32)
The law brings death, because we can’t measure up to it, we can’t meet that standard. The law is important, even as we saw in the last blog post on John 1:14, because the law is truth. The law reveals the truth of our sin. And the wages of sin is death. So the truth of the law is essential. It’s the educator, as Paul said, yet it brings death. (Galatians 3:24)
Jesus’ Grace And Truth
But then came Jesus. Full of grace and truth. After Jesus, after his death and resurrection, Peter shared about Jesus with a large group of Jews in Jerusalem. When they heard it they were “pierced to the heart.” They asked Peter and the other disciples, “What shall we do?” And Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” And 3,000 responded. They didn’t perish, they were given life. They were given life in Jesus Christ when they gave themselves to Him. When they humbled themselves and asked, “What must we do?” And Peter, and the other disciples, told them what to do. And they did it.
The law resulted in 3,000 deaths.
Jesus’ grace and truth resulted in 3,000 receiving life, eternal life.
Grace and truth. God’s grace is found in Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, so we can live, in spite of our failure to measure up to the law.
Jesus’ truth includes the law (John 1:1, 14) but he’s more than the law. We see in our passage John the Baptist said, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” Humanly speaking that makes no sense because we know John the Baptist was a few months older than Jesus. Yet John the Baptist says Jesus existed (and also ranks ahead of) before he did, before John the Baptist. John began when he was born on this earth. Jesus was with God from the beginning. (John 1:1-2)
When they asked Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Or we might say today, “Who do you think you are?”
Jesus replied, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. And he saw it and was glad.”
Then they said: Abraham? Abraham was alive 2,000 years ago. You’re not even 50!
And Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
“I am,” Jesus said. He used the statement “I am” when he told the Jews he was before Abraham. The same words God Himself used to communicate with Moses from the burning bush: “I am.” That group of Jews Jesus was speaking with recognized this, and they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus escaped. (John 8:48-59)
Jesus was before John. Jesus was before Abraham.
Jesus is the “I am.” He is God.
And he has God’s personality.
God’s purity and holiness are like Jesus’ purity and holiness. God’s compassion is like Jesus’ compassion. God’s anger is like Jesus’ anger. God’s mercy is like Jesus’ mercy. God’s love is like Jesus’ love.
God is moved to compassion the way Jesus is moved to compassion. By sick people, and injured people, and oppressed people, and hungry people, and poor people. God wants to heal, and deliver, and feed, and help, the way Jesus did.
And God is merciful the way Jesus was merciful, forgiving the adulterous woman, even spending time with a serial adulterer at the Samaritan well. Helping, healing, eating, and drinking with the enemies of Israel, those who collaborated with the Roman oppressors: tax collectors and centurions.
And God is angered by the same things that make Jesus angry: religious leaders shutting up the kingdom of heaven from people, sales merchants doing business inside His house, and people holding back from helping their parents, and religious leaders forbidding healing an old woman on the Sabbath.
God loves us like Jesus loves us, with a sacrificial love.
The 2 Reasons We Don’t Recognize God’s Personality
God has a personality but it’s difficult to see. I think that’s true for at least two reasons:
1. His personality is difficult to see if we focus on what Moses gave us. As valuable as the law is, if we focus on it to the exclusion of Jesus’ life of grace and truth we lose sight of God as a person. When we focus on Jesus’ truth we see God, because part of Jesus’ truth is that he reveals to us the truth of God’s personality. With only the law and the prophets to reveal Himself, seeing Who God is, was difficult. But after Jesus, “From now on you do know him (God) and have seen him. …Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said. (John 14:7-9)
2. The second reason it’s difficult for us to recognize God’s personality is perhaps the most disturbing. Because it has to do with something that’s imperceptible to so many of us. Jesus once said to a certain group of Jews: “Why do you not understand what I say?” And then he answered his own question: “It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:43)
“…you cannot bear to hear my word.”
That group of people Jesus was addressing had a lot to lose if they listened to Jesus’ words. They were the established religious leadership, so they would lose their authority because Jesus would become the new authority if they accepted him as Messiah. They would lose their popularity if they endorsed Jesus as the new spiritual leader of the Jews. They would lose their paradigm, their world view, their life groove: they would lose the familiar.
We humans, we love to cling to the familiar.
I think for many of us, we don’t understand what Jesus says because we cannot bear to hear his word. We can’t bear to hear him because we also have something to lose. We lose authority over ourselves, because if we really listen to what he says, there’s nothing to do but give ourselves over to him wholesale. We’ll likely lose popularity, because in our work place or in our culture in general it may not be popular to sell out to Jesus. And we lose our paradigm, our life groove: we lose what’s familiar.
We humans, we love to cling to what’s familiar. But as Francis Chan says: We should be eager to leave the familiar for the truth.
There are reasons for not recognizing God’s personality as He revealed Himself to us in the life and words of Jesus. But they’re not good reasons. It doesn’t make sense to miss out on God in this way because you’re too focused on His law, or because, like the established religious leadership of Jesus’ day, you cannot bear to hear his word.
Can I give you my best advice?
Give yourself to Jesus, completely. Study God’s word in it’s entirety but especially study Jesus. Start with Jesus. Start with the book of John. Let God reveal Himself to you through Jesus’ life and words.
He has made Him known. John 1:18
(If you have questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
H.A. Ironside, John, Kregal Academic and Professional, 2006
Image via Vinoth Chandar – Creative Commons