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TEXT: I John 1:1-18
SUBJECT: Advent 2018: The Surpassing Greatness of the Word
The human race can be divided into two, airtight, compartments: those who can tell a joke, and those who can't. The people who cannot tell a joke always fail for one of two reasons. Either: (1) they have no punch line, or, if they do, (2) they say it too soon. More than anything else, jokes depend on timing; they have to build tension, and the punch line relieves the tension, but only if it's used at the end. Put it anywhere else-no matter how funny it is-and.you've got no joke.
The Prologue of John's Gospel is no joke, but like good jokes, it has its punch line in the right place, at the end. Thus, whatever has been said already, was said so that we might stagger and wonder, worship, and believe, what he says at the end.
What John says, here at the end of his Prologue, is that Word of God, by which he means, Jesus Christ, is more precious than everything else, even the most wonderful gifts of God.
The message of the Prologue, therefore, its punch line is a lesson no human life is long enough to fully learn: Christ is the best thing we can have, and in having Him, we have it all. And then some. When this lesson is learned, we're going to give up our idols, or, at least, we're going to put created things in their proper place, which, ironically, will make them more enjoyable to us than what they are when we look to them to give us what only Christ has-
The fullness of joy;
V.15 brings John the Baptist back into the picture. The Apostle had brought him up in vv.6-8, but then moved on to other things. Now, he goes back to him, and this, I found somewhat puzzling. Was the Apostle an old man? Was he repeating himself as we old timers so often do? Or, lost his train of thought? I don't think so.
John is brought in, this time, for a very different reason. Earlier, his witness to Christ had been emphasized; here, it is his inferiority to Christ. As a mere man, John took second place to no one! Jesus Himself lauded the dear man, calling him the greatest of prophets, and more. But compared to Christ?
There is no comparison. The reasons John was below Christ are sprinkled throughout this Gospel. He is below Christ, by his own admission, and this is not false humility. John's the Best Man at the wedding, but Jesus is the Bridegroom. John comes to introduce the King, but Jesus is the King. John performs no miracles, but our Lord performs more than all the prophets and wonder-workers of the past, combined. These are important issues, but here, in the Prologue, they're not mentioned at all.
What is, is very peculiar. Jesus is greater than John because Jesus is older than John. In our culture, this would make John the better man, because we youth over age and 'New and Improved' over 'Tried and True'. The culture of that time, however, was the opposite of our own. Even young and accomplished men were expected to stand up when an older man came it-even if he was not much of anything. This was the way they looked at thing, and this was rooted in the Law, especially Leviticus 19:32-
You shall rise before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God; I am the Lord.
Revering the elderly, therefore, was a way of revering the Lord Himself. That's what the verse means. And maybe we ought to let that sink into our own thinking.
This brings up an historical question. John doesn't tell us what the age difference is between the Baptist and the Lord, and that's because he didn't have to. Most scholars believe his Gospel was written last, and so the people already knew which of the two men was older: John was. He was the Lord's cousin, about six months older, and was the most celebrated preacher in the history of Israel when Jesus was an obscure carpenter up in Nazareth.
What, then, did John the Baptist mean, when he said-
He who comes after me is preferred before me, because He was before me.
He didn't mean the other Evangelists were wrong in their chronologies; he meant 'Jesus is Eternal', which is another way of saying, 'Jesus is God'! This is a theme the Apostle picks up later in his Gospel, 8:48, where Jesus makes the incredible statement-
Before Abraham was, I AM.
When they first heard it, the people thought He had lost His mind; later they realized that wasn't it: He was claiming to be God. This is what His enemies thought-and they were right! This is what Jesus meant and what He is.
If John came into existence, let's say, sometime between 7 and 4 BC, but Jesus never came into existence, then Jesus must be greater than John the Baptist, who was the greatest prophet who ever lived, and the second greatest Man. And I might add: A distant second.
V.16 adds another superlative to His resume-
And of His fullness we have all received, grace for grace.
His fullness can be understood in two ways: either passively or actively. The difference is no small one. Suppose I were the President, an immensely wealthy man. You might awkwardly say, I've a 'fullness of money', or, to smooth it out, 'I'm full of money'. This is a good thing.for me. But it doesn't help you at all.
Now, suppose that my 'fullness of money' were an active thing. What if it meant, 'I both have immense wealth and give it away!' This is an even better thing, because, you're benefiting from it; you have a full share of what I have. There's quite a difference being aware of my wealth, and being an heir to it!
John uses the term in the second sense. Not only is Jesus 'full of every good thing', but He shares every good thing with us, with those who trust Him as their Savior. Paul makes this same point in Romans 8:17, where he calls us, believing sinners or sinful believers-
Heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.
This is what Toplady's great hymn is all about-
How vast the benefits Divine,
Which we, in Christ, possess.
GRACE FOR GRACE
What do we inherit from Christ? John tells us at the end of v.16-
Grace for grace.
Some commentators take this to mean 'grace on top of grace'. This is certainly a Bible doctrine, Psalm 68, for example, says-
Blessed be God who daily loads us with all benefits.
Others say, it's not so much grace piled up for us as it is today's grace to replace yesterday's. This is also a Bible promise, Lamentations 3-
It is through the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed; they are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.
For the life of me, I wouldn't exclude either of these from John's intent in the verse. But, though both are true, neither one quite fits in this place. Two reasons: Firstly, the word 'for' is anti, which usually means 'to replace' or 'to take the place of'. The second reason is more the important one. V. 17 explains v.16. It tells us what John means by the grace Jesus gives His people. His grace, is in contrast to a previous grace; a true favor to be sure, a great privilege, but far less than the grace we receive in Christ.
For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
This verse was seized upon by the heretics to discredit the Law of Moses and the God who gave it to Israel. Gnostics didn't think The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the same as The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus knew better. They are one and the same God-
Scripture cannot be broken.
Because the Scripture, Old Testament no less than the New Testament, is God's Word. It can no more fail than God can! Jesus Himself rules out this possibility.
So then, what is John saying here? That the Law, given by God, was ungracious and untrue? No. He's saying that, while a measure of grace and truth was revealed in the Law, the fullness of grace and truth is found only in Christ!
John is making the very same point as the Preacher of Hebrews makes-
God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners, spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, has, in these last days, spoken unto us in His Son.
Our Lord, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and the prophets are all on the same team, working together for the same Divine purpose, but.Jesus is the captain of the team! They gave an accurate, even an infallible, picture of God, but it was only partial, only His 'back side' you might say, God's heels or shoulder blades.
But Jesus is the Face of God! By looking at Jesus the way He is presented in John's Gospel and the rest of the Bible, you see God as He is, as much of God as we can presently take in. Only when our eyeballs are Resurrected on the Last Day, will we be able to see the Face of God full on. And when we do, we'll see it in the Face of Jesus Christ!
John sums it all up in v.18, where he calls Jesus, the 'exegesis' of God, the one and only True Interpretation of who God is and what He has done.for sinners-
No man has seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of God, He has revealed Him!
In doing so, He has fulfilled all the Ancient Promises. He has become our God and we His people. And, as John says in Revelation-
We shall see His face and His name shall be written on our foreheads.
A PERSONAL NOTE
I don't know how to explain this, because nobody could have had more encouraging parents than I. But I have been ashamed of myself every day of my life. For sixty years, I've looked at the ground, afraid to make eye-contact, lest people know what I really am.
Several years ago, I came across a verse that spoke hope to my heart, but the hope has been lost and regained, and lost again over and over. It's Psalm 34:5-
They looked to Him and were radiant;
And their faces were not ashamed.
Maybe I'm a neurotic (I know I am), but I bet I'm not the only one. I bet most of you have felt the same way, horrified of being exposed, of people really knowing what you really are.
The fear is real, but so is the Promise. Our faces will shine and we'll look God straight in the eye without embarrassment. Because of Christ, who died for us, bearing the sin and guilt and shame that is our own, and then rising, to be justified Himself, and to justify the ungodly.
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