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.
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!
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’.
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.
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).
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.