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TEXT: John 1:15-18
SUBJECT: The Greatness of the Word
How do you judge the Presidency of Barak Obama? I'm not looking for the evaluation itself, but on how you came to it.
A great many people judge the President on partisan grounds only. If you belong to his party, he's doing a good job, if you don't, he's not. No one is entirely above this kind of thinking, of course, but deep down, we all know it's an unfair way of judging him.
Other people base their assessment on the opinion polls: if he has a 72% approval rating, he's a success; if he's at 27%, he's a failure. This, it seems to me, is only a little better than the first way, and certainly not the best way to do it.
A third way of judging him was suggested by Ronald Reagan in his debate with President Carter in 1980: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?, suggesting that, if you are, the President is doing well; if you're not, he's doing poorly. This standard of judgment seems better than the first two, but the sample is too small to carry much weight. After all, while he is your president, he's not your personal president--he's got other things to think about than you.
A fourth way of doing it is to hold him up against the Word of God, against what the Bible says a leader ought to be. This would be the best way to do it--if only the Bible said much about it! It says a great deal about how the rulers of Israel ought to have led God's people, but...the President is not the King of Israel and the United States is not the people of God.
The best way to judge the President is to compare him, first to the world leaders of today, and then to the men who occupied the White House before him. How does he stack up, let's say, compared to the President of France, the Prime Minister of England, or the Chancellor of Germany? Or to the present leaders of Russia, China, India, and Japan? Is he stronger than they are? Weaker? Wiser? More foolish? And so on.
Once you've done this, you might dip into the recent past. How has he handled the economy compared to Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon? How is his foreign policy compared to Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?
Having done this, you're ready to compare him to all the Presidents, famous men like Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, and lesser known figures such as Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding.
When you've done all this--and not until you have--you've gotten past 'the moment' into something deeper and more substantial than his party affliation or his image or his coolness or his last press conference. Now you're ready to rank him among the 43 men who sat in the Oval Office.
This is why classic books will always be a better source of political wisdom than the 'talking heads' who dominate television and fill the radio waves with their ranting. The authors took time to think through the issues, and their views have stood the test of time. They're not always right, of course, but they're far better than the partisan sloganeering and the appeal to emotions that pass for political discourse today.
This brings us to the last four verses of John's Prologue, John 1:15-18. We don't know exactly when the Gospel was written, but it seems to me that it was published some time after the destruction of Jersusalem in 70 AD. This means John didn't rush to get his impressions of Jesus into print as soon as he could, but drew on forty plus years of memory and thought, study and discussion to write his Gospel, whose authenticity is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who superintended his words making them nothing less than God's Word.
JESUS AND JOHN
John starts his evaluation of Jesus by comparing him to two Jewish heroes, one of whom he knew himself, the other, the most beloved and respected man in the history of Israel. They are John the Baptist and Moses.
John has come up before in the prologue, back in vv.6-8, where he is introduced as a man sent from God. This is the customary way of describing a true prophet. Some prophets in the Old Testament were false prophets, prophesying out of their own minds and often for financial gain. They ran--the Bible says--but God did not send them. At best, they were self-sent; at worst, emissaries of the devil.
But when the Bible speaks of men sent from God, it means people sent with a word from the Lord. Sometimes the word was pleasant; more often it was unpleasant, but however it made you feel, it was a true Word and had to be acted on--or else.
This is what John was, a true prophet, a man who spoke for the Living God, and this was not his own assessment, or that of his partisans alone, but of everyone. Even King Herod knew that and the Ruling Council, though they hated John, didn't have the guts to silence him because--
All hold John as a prophet.
What made them think this? I'm sure several things contributed to the feeling, from his surprising birth to his wild appearance, but it wasn't old tales or long hair that won their respect, but what he said; his message of repentance--though never popular--rang true, with thousands responding to it by confessing their sins and submitting to his baptism.
No one was more esteemed in Israel than a prophet, and John was the first one to show up in four hundred years. Thus, it is not surprising that the people admired him, with many mistaking him for the Messiah.
But John will have nothing to do with that. When asked if he were the Messiah, he said he was not. When asked to compare himself with Messiah, he said it was like a best man to a groom. When Messiah sought his baptism, John thought it was he himself who needed the washing, not Messiah. When his followers stopped following him and started following Messiah, John felt no envy or regret, saying--and meaning it--
He must increase, I must decrease.
Why did John the Baptist feel so inferior to Messiah? The other John tells us, in v.15--
He is preferred to me because He was before me.
To a people steeped in the culture of youth, this doesn't sound like much of an argument. Read novels, watch TV or go to the movies, and you'll see, for the most part, young people being wiser than their parents. The kids want to break free, find themselves, follow their dreams, with the old folks trying to hold them back, tell them who they are, and crush their hopes.
The worldview of the Bible is just the opposite of this. Ancestors were revered and everyone rose when an old person walked into the room. They didn't believe age always equals wisdom, of course, but the benefit of the doubt went to the fogeys and not to the kids! To their way of thinking, white hair didn't stand for decrepitude, but for wisdom. People didn't dye their hair back then because--
The hoary head was a crown of glory.
Thus, when John tells us that Jesus was before him, he meant 'Jesus is better than I am'. But this brings up an historical question. If you read the Gospel you'll see that John, in fact, was older than Jesus--not much, but definitely a few months his senior. What's true of their life spans, is also true of their ministries. John preached the Word before Jesus did, and was 'the senior partner' you might say.
Obviously John knew all this, but he still called himself the younger, and therefore, the lesser man. Why?
It is because he knew Jesus was the Messiah, and--knowing His Bible--he also knew Messiah was not just the 'father of his country' as other kings are, but was, in the words of Isaiah 9--
The everlasting father.
No one can say how deeply John saw into the Trinity, but he knew this much for sure: Jesus' Lordship is identical with the Lordship of God, and how old is God's lordship? Psalm 29:10--
The Lord sat enthroned at the flood,
and the Lord sits as King forever!
The Lordship of God has no beginning or end, and the Man who uniquely represents that Lordship is Jesus Christ. Whom, John the Apostle tells us was--
With God in the beginning...and was God.
No one thought more highly of John than our Lord Jesus Christ, calling him--
A prophet, and more than a prophet, for of all the men born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.
But this went only for prophets, or perhaps only for mere men. Jesus was a prophet and a Man--and infinitely more. He was and is--
The Only Begotten of the Father.
Begotten in Eternity, and therefore, both older and better than John the Baptist.
John has made his point, and you'd think he would move on to the next one, but he doesn't do that. He adds a little to the comparison between John and Jesus. John gave all he had, including his life, in his short, but powerful ministry. But, as much as John gave, Jesus gives more--and notice the verb tenses, 'gave' and 'gives'. John has nothing more to give us, but Jesus? V. 16--
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.
John had gifts for us and they were good gifts, especially the gifts of repentance and baptism. But Jesus gives every good and perfect gift, and only He can do it, because only He possesses the fullness of God and so, only He can share that fullness with us. John could have said, 'Jesus gives us everything', but instead of that he says He gives us--
Grace for grace.
Grace means 'God's favor', and the moment, you might say, an old favor starts to fade, a new one is given to replace it. Think of the widows meal and oil, only had a handful of the former and a small jar of the latter, but every time she reached for them, they were there. Because God, through His prophet Elijah, provided a steady and miraculous supply. But Jesus is greater than Elijah, and, united to Him by faith, we always have God's favor, as He--
Supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
JESUS AND MOSES
If John was a great name in Israel, there was one more honored than his. Moses was unquestionably the most important man in the history of Israel, and however they differed in other things, every Jew, from the Sadducee to the Pharisee to the Publican to the Christian held Moses in the highest esteem. And rightly so. The Law itself says Moses knew God as no other man ever had. While all the prophets 'knew' God, Moses--
Knew God face to face.
To others, God came in dreams and visions and enigmas, but to Moses, He--
Face to face, as a man does to his friend.
Through Moses, Israel received its richest legacy, the Law, a law that not only told them what to do and what not to do, but which defined the people and established their distinctive way of living. 'Law'. Commenting on this passage, the late Leon Morris thinks 'Law' stands both for the First Five Books in the Bible and the whole of Judaism as it came from God to His people. I think he's right.
In a way we cannot imagine, Moses was the father of his country. But as great as He was--John says--Jesus was better!
All Moses gave was the Law (whether we take that in its narrower of wider significance), but Jesus brought--
Grace and truth.
Truth is a bit troubling here, as it seems to suggest the Law wasn't true. But it was true, the Bible everywhere teaches that, including Jesus (cf. John 10:35). What it means is: The Truth of what the Law pointed to is met in Jesus Christ! The Law was Jesus' shadow, but Jesus is the substance!
Because He is, He can provide what the Law couldn't, and that is Grace, which includes forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, a fresh start in life, God's Abiding Presence, and a hope of heaven that will not be disappointed.
Moses pointed to these things but Jesus is these things!
JESUS AND GOD
Why is it in Jesus that we find our hope and comfort and salvation--and not John or Moses or some other man?
Because what can be said of Jesus can be said of no other man, not truthfully it cannot--
No one has seen God at any time. The Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
As wonderfully as God's image shines in nature and the saints, the images are partial and polluted by sin. This is true of every Image Bearer--except Jesus! Who shows us Who God is and Who He is--to us.
Without dispensing with a drop of God's power and wisdom and holiness and justice, Jesus shows us into what service God's power, wisdom, holiness, and justice have been put. And that is our salvation! Taken alone, the holiness and justice, power and wisdom of God terrify us. But seen in the face of Jesus Christ--the face bloodied for our sins--they give us comfort, courage, and hope.
Christmas is about the Greatest of all men, and more than a Man. It's about the God Man, Jesus Christ, and Lord and Savior.
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