Have you ever had something really wonderful happen to you and you could hardly wait to share it with your family and friends? As you write the letters, send the emails, or make the phone calls, in your excitement you begin with the big picture, the main event. In just a few action-packed and emotion-filled words you release your excitement. Then you begin to explain the details: what led up to the event, the event itself, and what has been happening to you afterward. You might also talk about the effects it might have on your future. Does that sequence of events sound familiar to you?
The apostle John has reached that point in his gospel. Verses 1-18 are his prologue, the introduction to his book. He has been describing the “logos” in order to gain the attention and interest of his Greek-speaking audience. In verse 14 he comes to the exciting main event: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us“! In his excitement, John is saying, “Isn’t that amazing!” “Isn’t that exciting!” He spends the rest of his book telling them, and us, about it.
I. THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verse 15)
To verify his statement, John directs our attention again to the words of John the Baptist, for a brief moment, because John the Baptist was the first person to publicly identify the Logos. Though John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, he says of Jesus in verse 15, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” He shouted those words as loud as he could because he wanted to get everyone’s attention. He wanted everyone within earshot to hear from his lips who Jesus truly was, John the Baptist is referring to Jesus’ eternal existence, and therefore His deity. He will have much more to say about Jesus in the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying – verses 19 and following of John chapter 1.
Some people consider Jesus Christ to be only a man, and indeed He is a man. Some people point to Him as an example, and He is that also. But if that’s all you can see in Jesus Christ, then your view of Him is incomplete and contrary to the Scriptures. For the first and most important thing said about Jesus Christ is that He had no beginning, and that is the same as calling him God.
The Old Testament, which was completed 400 years before the birth of Christ, contains many occurrences of His appearing to people. The terms “the angel of the Lord” or “the angel of God” are used often in the Old Testament to refer to an appearance of Christ. He appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 and is referred to as “the Lord”. In John 8:56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” He appeared to Jacob in a dream in Genesis 31 and introduced Himself as “the God of Bethel”. Jacob wrestles with a man in Genesis 32, and the man says, “You have striven with God”. Jacob then says, “I saw God face-to-face”. In Exodus 23:21 He appears to Moses and is identified by God as having the power to forgive sins because God says, “My name is in him”.
There are many other references to “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament. It’s interesting to note that this “angel of the Lord” never appeared during the lifetime of Jesus Christ on this earth. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the “angel of the Lord” making an “extended appearance” for thirty-three years as a human being.
II. CHRIST’S SUFFICIENCY (verse 16)
In verse 16, the apostle John continues where he left off in verse 14. He said that the Word was “full of grace and truth”. Now he adds, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” We might ask the question: “What is it that we have received from Jesus Christ?” A better question might be: “What is it that we have not received?” From Him we have received a new life, peace, joy, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and all that the believer needs for this life and for eternity.
Have you ever filled a glass or bucket to the brim with water and then tried to walk while carrying it? You couldn’t keep it from spilling the water all over the place, could you? The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:19, says of Jesus; “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus was “that you may be filled with all the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:19). The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, declared, “I have heard our Lord compared to a man carrying a water pot. As he bore it upon his shoulder, the water, yielding to the movement of his body, fell dropping and spilling about so that one could easily track the water-bearer. So should all of God’s people be carrying such a fullness of grace that everyone knows where they have been by the tracks they leave behind.”
The apostle John describes this “fullness” as “grace upon grace“. Out of Christ’s “fullness” we have received one grace after another. It is an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace. I lead worship services at several healthcare facilities and we have been studying the miracles in the Old Testament. I think that the miracle we studied this week is very appropriate to this verse of Scripture. In I KIngs 17, after Elijah told King Ahab that there was going to be a drought, God told Elijah to hide at the brook Cherith and He would provide Elijah with food daily. Many of you are probably familiar with the “Meals On Wheels” program. For a modest fee they will bring a hot meal to the door of a person who is unable to prepare a good meal for himself. I think that God had an even better idea. I call it “Meals on Wings”. Twice a day ravens brought Elijah meat and bread — airmail, special delivery! This continued for months, maybe for a year or more. What a demonstration of the continuing, faithful grace of God!
When John describes how that fullness is bestowed upon us, he uses the Greek preposition, anti, which has been translated into English in many different ways. The most popular translation appears to be “grace upon grace“. However, there are several other translations such as: “grace for grace”, “grace on grace”, “grace after grace”, “grace in place of grace”, “grace over against grace”, as well as many paraphrases of those words.
Which translation of “anti” is correct? Do they all convey the exact same meaning? What was the literal meaning of that word in common usage during that period of time? My own conclusion, so far, is that the Greek preposition “anti” usually means “instead of” or “in place of”. It does sound awkward to say “grace instead of grace” or “grace in place of grace”. There needs to an explanation so that we can put the phrase into understandable English. I think I found that explanation. It makes sense to me and I hope it will make sense to you as well. Joanie Yoder gives the following explanation and illustration in an Our Daily Bread devotional:
Years ago, Amy Carmichael shared some helpful insights about the phrase, “grace for grace.” Drawing from the writings of Bishop Moule (1841-1920), she wrote that the Greek word translated “for” literally means “instead of”. He illustrated the meaning by describing a river. “Stand on its banks,” he wrote, “and contemplate the flow of waters. A minute passes, and another. Is it the same stream still? Yes. But is it the same water? No.” The old water, he explained, had been displaced by new — “water in stead of water,”
The same is true of grace. Your life today may carry yesterday’s problems, but remember, God’s grace is new each morning, exactly what you need to meet each new challenge. It is an inexhaustible and ever-fresh supply.
Thank you, Joanie, Bishop Moule, and Our Daily Bread Ministries for those insights. As the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness (RSV). I personally like the translations “grace after grace” and “one grace after another”.
The following illustration describes grace in terms of “dollars and cents” if that gives you a clearer picture. A generous man decided to give a thousand dollars to a poor minister. (This illustration was written back in the day when a thousand dollars was a lot of money; when one hundred dollars a week was the average wage of a blue-collar worker.) Thinking that it might be too much all at once, he sent fifty dollars with a note which said, “More to follow“. A few days later he sent a similar amount with the same message. At regular intervals he sent a third, then a fourth, and a fifth, and so on, all accompanied by the same promise, “More to follow“. The surprised and happy minister soon became familiar with those cheering words and his gratitude to God overflowed each time he read them. In the same way, every blessing God gives us in Christ comes with a reminder, “More to follow“.
CHRIST’S FULLNESS BY COMPARISON (verse 17)
In verse 17, John contrasts this grace with the Old Testament law when he says, “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law was “given“. It was engraved on tablets of stone by the finger of God. Grace and truth “came“. They were wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ. People saw and experienced His grace. Peter said, “Jesus went around doing good” (Acts10:38). The Lord Jesus also spoke the truth, and with authority. In the gospel writings you will notice that the Lord Jesus often used the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you”, or “I tell you the truth”. In John 7:32 the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to seize Jesus. They returned empty-handed. When asked why they didn’t bring Him, the officers answered, “No one ever spoke the way this man speaks.” (John 7:46, NIV) Grace and truth were Jesus’ essential perfections. They set Him apart from the rest of the world. Those two attributes, grace and truth, need to come together in our own lives also. It is difficult to receive, and impossible to really enjoy, a gift that comes from someone we don’t trust. Are there people who don’t trust you? By the grace of God, what are you going to do about it?
There is joy and excitement in the New Testament, especially after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the focus is upon “the grace of God” and “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. It was continually in their minds of the apostles, as well as on their hearts, in their speech, and in their writings. Get out a concordance, look up the word “grace” and see how many times it is mentioned in the book of Acts and in the epistles. Look at the opening paragraph and closing paragraph of the epistles and see how many times it is there. It appears to me that this is the way the first-century Christians said hello and goodbye to each other. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about those words and say them often enough. I can never think about them or say them often enough. When I turn off this computer I’m going to write the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” on a piece of paper and put it on my refrigerator, where I’ll see it several times a day. I have a little wooden “pocket cross”, a gift from a friend. I’ve stopped putting it in my pocket, but it is going back in it again. Every time I put my hand in my pocket to get my keys or warm my hand, I want to be reminded of the grace of God. If you have reminders that you use, I would appreciate hearing from you about it. Let’s be of encouragement to one another.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15 (NIV)