Monthly Archives: February 2018

Glory, Grace and Truth (John 1.14-18)

In Matthew and Luke the story of Jesus begins with his birth as a 1st century Jew in a particular home and family. He identifies totally with his Jewish background. But John is wanting to widen the horizons of Jesus’ work. He became (egeneto – the creation word again) “flesh” and thus identifies not just with his Jewish compatriots, but with all humanity. John then quickly notes that Jesus’ coming is in line with God’s ‘tabernacling’ (1.14) with his people Israel as they wander through the wilderness. Like God, Jesus dwells/tabernacles with his people. That parallel comes as no surprise, for we have already been told that “the Word was God” (1.1). And our spines tingle with the fantastic reality that the almighty God is willing actually to tabernacle with us.
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Glory
Amazing! Can mere human beings behold God’s stupendous glory? We cannot even look into the brilliance of the sun without going blind. How then can our eyes behold God’s infinitely brighter glory? No wonder the Old Testament asserts that nobody can see God and live (Exodus 33.20). But wonderfully God has come right down to us in this world and “become flesh”. Jesus, God’s incarnate Word, is the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Col.1.15). Seeing him, we can actually see the glory of God himself manifested here on earth in our midst. In Jesus we can see the invisible, describe the indescribable, know the unknowable. He is unique as the only one who has come to us from the Father. In Britain today it may not be politically correct to state this, but Jesus alone comes from the Father and it is in him alone that we can see the total glory of God the Father. Humanly speaking, it is impossible to see the invisible God (1.18). But “the only begotten Son who was in (literally ‘into‘, a word of motion as we saw in 1.1 where the Word was ‘towards’ God) the Father’s bosom, he has made him known” (1.18). Throughout his Gospel John goes on to underline this amazing reality that we can see and know God in all his splendour and glory. This intimate personal relationship with God blows our minds. Good news indeed!
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Jesus above John the Baptist – why?

Although John was slightly older, Jesus was nevertheless superior to him. John 1.15-17 has three indications of Jesus’ superiority, each starting in the Greek with the word ‘because’.
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1. “Because he was before me” (1.15). From all eternity the Son of God dwelt together with the Father in glory. In John’s Gospel it is frequently emphasised that Jesus was sent to earth by and from the Father. He was with God eternally and thus far superior to the merely human John the Baptist. God had purposes for us even before we were conceived (e.g. Jeremiah 1.5), but with Jesus Christ it is not just God’s purposes which were eternal. The Son of God himself actually was eternally with the Father.
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2. “Because from his fullness we all have received grace upon grace” (1.16).  Colossians 2.9 declares that the fullness of the godhead dwells bodily in Jesus. Whatever can be said about God is also true of Jesus Christ. The character of Jesus contains everything divine, holy, loving and good. Can you imagine having an inexhaustible bank account? It is never depleted whatever bank transfer of any size you chose to send. By Jesus’ cross and resurrection all of us have access to all that divine fullness in Jesus. John sums this up with the amazing words “grace upon grace”, like the immense ocean coming wave upon wave onto the beach. God’s rich blessings don’t come to us because of anything we may be or do. We have nothing to offer the Lord which could possibly merit what he ceaselessly offers us.
“Grace” is the key concept throughout the Bible and in the Christian faith; God’s totally undeserved love and generous loving kindness. It encompasses our salvation and new relationship with God the Father, the abundant new life by the Holy Spirit, our assurance of sin forgiven and the gift of eternal life, the loving fellowship we experience as children of God within the church family, the Father’s care for us and generous provision – we could go on for ever, trying to make an adequate list of everything we all receive from the Lord! What grace! “Grace upon grace”.
3. “Because the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came (egeneto – the creation word yet again!) through Jesus Christ” (1.17).
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a) The Law. In John’s mind grace is again paramount, but now it is linked together with the Law, which came through Moses and with truth. In the Greek there is no ‘but’ contrasting the law negatively with grace. Jesus’ gift of grace and truth stand on the shoulders of God’s gift of the Law through Moses to Israel. There is a natural connection between the Law of Moses and Jesus’ grace and truth. The Law leads on to grace and truth. Jesus comes as the second Moses. The NIV very rightly omits the KJV’s “but” in 1.17. God’s revelation and covenant in the Torah/Law can never be abrogated.
b) Truth. John’s Gospel constantly teaches about truth. While the Spirit of God in Acts demonstrates God’s sovereign power, in John he is constantly referred to as “the Spirit of Truth”. What a contrast with modern Britain where people prefer only  ‘relative truth’ and there is no absolute truth. In education we have just heard the clarion call for “muscular liberalism” and the determination to have ‘no truck with ideology’. This means that all exclusive religious beliefs must be expunged. For our government school inspectors it seems that the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth! There can be no tolerance for anything that smacks of intolerance, only for wishy-washy ‘tolerance’. But as Christians we rejoice in God’s definite truth. Jesus affirms that he is in himself the ultimate, absolute truth. His Word is also totally reliable and trustworthy. What confidence and assurance this gives us! And in our lives also we are to exemplify God’s truth and trustworthiness. As Christians our word should be our bond.
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The Message of Jesus is Global (John 1.10-13)

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What! No Bolditalics or underlining! How then do the New Testament authors show a particular emphasis? One way is by repeating an idea (e.g.John 1.3) or a key word. So in John 1.9/10 John stresses the word “world” by repeating it four times, not even just twice. That is really the equivalent of bold, italics and underlining all together!
John’s context is still creation (1.10), but in the Genesis account of creation the word “world” is not used. “God created the heavens and the earth“. The Hebrew word for ‘earth’ (erets) is generally associated with Israel; erets Israel = the land of Israel. But John is wanting to emphasise the universal purposes of God in sending Jesus. Jesus has not come to bring new life just to Israel and the Jews, but also more widely to all the world. So he carefully changes the Genesis ‘earth’ to the much wider ‘world’. And by repeating it four times he shows that this change was very definitely purposeful. Once again the text forces us to underline the global relevance of the good news of Jesus. Any narrowly limited understanding of John’s Gospel really misses the point of God’s word. And likewise we are disobedient to God’s Word if we fail to preach, teach and live with international and inter-ethnic mission on our hearts.
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He came to his own (1.11)
We can almost hear John’s sobs as he writes these words. Jesus “came to his own” – the neuter plural here indicates that he came to his own home and nation, to what should have belonged naturally to him. And when he came, his own people did not recognise or acknowledge him (1.11). After all that God had done throughout Old Testament history to prepare the Jewish people for his coming as their Messiah, they still rejected him. John here uses an Aorist tense, showing that the people of Israel as a whole made a one-off decisive choice – they did not acknowledge him. Was John thinking of the crucifixion and the terrible call of the leaders and the crowds together, “Crucify him!”?
In life we all face certain one-off crucial decisions which determine the whole future course of life. I look back to the specific occasions when God’s Spirit moved me to put my faith in the Lord. There was also the life-changing evening nearly 59 years ago when I fell in love with Elizabeth – and that too has wonderfully affected the whole of my life since then.
Jesus must still grieve to see how even today his own Jewish people largely reject him. How he must long for the conversion of his own fellow Jews! He must long to give them his salvation and resurrection life. And he is surely smiling with deep joy as he observes the growing number of messianic believers in various countries today. John 1.11 comes as a clarion call to bring the good news of Jesus to our Jewish friends and neighbours.
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Authority to become God’s children (1.12/13)
Before New Testament times the people of Israel were God’s children, but now the promises of God have widened to include Gentiles also. All peoples too can now become what they were not before. They are given the authority to become (the creation word – egenoto) the children of God. This is entirely God’s work of grace; they are born from God (1.13). No longer does it depend on having Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as one’s forefathers. It is no longer because of “natural descent” (1.13). So John strongly underlines the internationalness of God’s new work through Jesus.
But how can people become God’s children? Throughout his Gospel John affirms that we need to accept Jesus and believe in his name, the one who saves us with his gift of new life.
a) Until we invite Jesus into our lives, we remain outside of his gracious invitation into the family of God. Only when we accept Jesus as our messianic saviour and redeemer can we become God’s adopted children. Then, having received him into our lives, we set out on a life-long path of following and serving him as our Lord. But the first step is to accept and receive him.
b) Believing in Jesus means more than just a theoretical acknowledgement of the facts about him. It implies a heart-felt trust in him, handing our lives over to him. Hearing John’s emphasis on such faith, on believing in Jesus, we may be reminded of Paul’s teaching in Romans 10.14. In the context of his assertion that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile” in God’s work of salvation (Romans 10.12), Paul points out that people need to hear before they can believe. And they cannot hear unless we preach God’s good news. So God sends us out to proclaim the message of Jesus both to Jews and Gentiles. Jesus has died and risen to new life in order that Jew and Gentile equally might be his children.
The call to international mission rings again in our ears. May it penetrate also to our hearts, wills, mouths, knees and pockets!
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P.S. For further understanding of what international mission involves these days and some of the current issues, do get hold of “Get a Grip on Mission” (IVP).

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The New Creation (John 1.6-9)

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The New Creation
As we have already noted, in his Prologue John emphasizes that the Word has created all things – not only Israel, but everything.
Now John progresses to the new creation. “There came a man . . . John” (1.6). The word for “came” is the creation word translated “made” in 1.3 (egeneto in Greek). John uses this same word again when he declares that the Word “became” flesh. Since the prophet Malachi there had been four hundred years of divine silence with no scriptural revelation at all, but now with John the Baptist God initiates a new creation. John the Baptist opens the door for the ministry of Jesus and thus introduces this new creation. A new era, a new world has begun. Wonderful!
But that is not the end of God’s exciting work of creation. To all who receive Jesus and believe in his name, he has given them the authority to “become” (the same creation word again) God’s children, to have God as our perfect and glorious Father. Once again we notice John’s constant repetition of the wonderful fact that “all” (not just Jews, but also Gentiles) can now become God’s children. Of course in the Old Testament the people of Israel were the children of God, but now with the coming of Jesus the way is open for Gentiles too to “become” (the same creation word!) what they were not before. Gentiles too can be incorporated into the family of God, which in the new Jesus-centred kingdom has become wonderfully international.
What an amazing message! God’s original creation – the new creation in Jesus – new creation and new life for all peoples everywhere – our new resurrection creation and life as those who receive Jesus and believe in him today!
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Foundations continue
Some Christians think that the new creation in Jesus replaces and abrogates God’s previous covenants with the Jews. But the new creation does not cancel out the former life and working of God. As the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 shows, Jesus comes as the son of David and Abraham. The new creation in Jesus is built on the abiding foundations of the whole Old Testament background. The promises of God to Israel remain entirely valid. God never breaks his promise. So Paul points out that the Jews are “loved on account of the patriarchs” and in that context he declares that God’s “gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11.28/29). Mission among Jews remains vitally important. The church in no way therefore replaces Israel, the Jewish people. The church is Israel with her Messiah as Lord and Saviour; and now in her new creation Israel under Jesus welcomes Gentiles also as branches grafted into her tree. Jewish believers in Jesus will warmly welcome Gentiles into the church, the messianic people of God.
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God’s purpose for John the Baptist
Having stated that the new creation breaks into the world through the coming of John the Baptist, John in his Gospel carefully points out that John the Baptist was not actually the key figure. He “was not the light” (1.8). John’s entire calling was to introduce Jesus as the “true light” of the world (as we proceed through John’s Gospel we shall see how truth is vitally important). John came with one supreme purpose, to witness to the true light. This purpose is clearly expressed through the repeated use of the Greek word for ‘in order that’ (hina) – John came “in order to witness to the light” (1.7 and 8). And his task of witness also has a specific purpose, “in order that all through him might believe” (1.7). Again we may notice John’s emphasis on “all”, both Jews and Gentiles. This emphasis can come across as unduly repetitive, but this emphasis lies at the heart of John’s message. How relevant John’s Gospel is for our globalized world! We too are called to witness to Jesus as the light of the world, the light for all peoples both in our own country and overseas in all the world. Jesus came into the world so that he could “enlighten all humanity” (1.9). The call to preach Jesus, the true light of the world, to all peoples everywhere is fundamental to us all as followers of Jesus.
So let’s get involved in world mission!
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