John 1:16-17 says, "And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
When we talk about grace, we are talking about the kindness of God, the giving nature of God, and the love of God. Grace is when God gives freely and completely. At different times through the centuries, God has revealed things about Himself. When Jesus came a certain attribute of God was emphasized: His grace. During the time of Moses the law of God was emphasized. The law was good because it came from God, but the law has one unavoidable flaw: the inability of human beings to keep the law.
If God is a righteous and holy judge who will one day judge us according to the law then we have a problem, because we have not kept the law. There is none good, no not one. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. God has provided an answer to the problem: grace, grace that is greater than our sin.
The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. There is a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the difference is the degree to which grace has now been revealed to us. Humans have proved that they cannot and they will not keep the perfect law of God, but God has provided something so that we could be saved anyway: the amazing grace of God that is in Jesus Christ. If you are a sinner who has experienced the grace of God then you understand the song that John Newton wrote that goes: "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."
When Jesus came on the scene, He changed a lot of things; not the least of which was the bringing of a newer understanding of the grace of God and the forgiveness of God. The law said that a person taken in adultery should be put to death, but Jesus said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." And then He said to the woman taken in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you."
The law said that no work should be done on the Sabbath, but Jesus and His disciples picked grain in the fields on the Sabbath; and Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man. The law says, "Obey all these commandments and live, but if you fail to obey, you perish;" but the message of the gospel is that even though you have not obeyed the commandments, you can still find life by believing in Jesus; because Jesus said, "Whosoever believes in me shall never die." Jesus is the only one who kept all the commandments and requirements of the law, and then He took the curse of the law upon Himself. "He became sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
You must remember John 1:17 if you are going to understand the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament; and if you are going to remember that there is an important distinction between law and grace. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
The law has a purpose. Itís like a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. When we try to keep the law, we realize how weak and sinful we are, and how much we need a Savior. But Jesus has changed the emphasis on the law that was made in the Old Testament. There is a better way, and itís the way of grace: itís the gift of God that you cannot earn and you cannot merit; but you can obtain it freely by believing in Jesus.
John 1:18 says, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared Him." Again we are told that Jesus came in order to bring us closer to God; and in order to reveal God to us in a way that we would not otherwise have known. The issue at the judgment will not be how well have you kept the law, but what is your relationship to Jesus? The law can only condemn you, but grace and truth can bring you to God, and John 1:14 says that Jesus is full of grace and truth.
Believing in Jesus or not, often involves a spiritual struggle. The powers of darkness do not want you to believe in Jesus. The name of Jesus is controversial. If you look at things from a human standpoint, it seems strange that Jesus would be a person who would sometimes evoke strong negative emotions: He was, after all, a man of peace and kindness and goodness. But the spirit of evil is against the spirit of good, and is also against the person of Jesus. But even stranger still, of those who have opposed faith in Jesus over the centuries, there are none who have shown greater opposition than some of the religious leaders. Itís true today, and it was also true during the time of Christ.
The reason that religious leaders become opposed to Jesus is because often they themselves are not rightly related to God, and they fear true spirituality because they are carnal and are driven by the desire to hold on to their power and to manipulate people. That certainly was the case with the scribes and the Pharisees and the priests during the days of Christ. John has already introduced us to Jesus in the first chapter, and now he is going to introduce us to the enemies of Jesus: the hypocritical religious leaders, who are jealous of Jesus, who are involved in religion simply for the power and money that they can get from it; and who will eventually plan the death of Jesus in order to remove Him from being a threat to their power and position. Over and over again in the history of the human race, as religious organizations are built they tend to become corrupt and to be led by people who are just like the scribes and Pharisees, who did not believe in Jesus. Their purpose in the religious organization is not to serve God but to acquire and retain power for themselves.
John 1:19-22 says, "And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, what then? Are you Elijah? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who are you, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What do you say of yourself?"
It did not take the religious leaders long to become worried and fearful of competition. They were disturbed by the ministry of John the Baptist even before Jesus came on the scene. John recognized that they were afraid that he was the Messiah, and therefore his first response to their question was to tell them that he was not the Messiah. Then they asked him if he was Elijah, and they asked him if he was "that prophet". "That prophet" is a reference to a prophet who would one day come on the scene, and it was to Moses that God revealed that one day "that prophet" would be sent. In Deut. 18:15 God said to Moses, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of your brethren, like unto me; unto him shall you hearken." Deity and authority are ascribed to the great Prophet who would come. The fact that the prophet would speak of the Father, and that he would also be like Moses is given in Deut. 18:18-19 that says, "I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." One of the ways in which the Messiah was like Moses is that Moses led the people out of the slavery of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Jesus can lead you out of the slavery of sin and into the Kingdom of God. God spoke to Moses in the book of Deuteronomy and told him that one day a prophet would come; but someone else had to come on the scene before Messiah would come, and the someone else was John the Baptist.
Finally the priests and the Levites gave up trying to guess who John the Baptist was, so they asked him to explain himself and John gave his answer by quoting from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. John 1:23 says, "He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah." One of the amazing things about John the Baptist was how clearly he understood the will of God for himself. Obviously John had read the book of Isaiah, and when he came to the part in Isaiah Chapter 40 that told about someone who would come just before the Messiah, the Lord touched the heart of John the Baptist and let him know that he was that person and that he was the forerunner to the Messiah; and that it was the will of God for John the Baptist to open his mouth and to speak for God. God often uses the same method to speak to us today to guide us. As you read and think about Godís Word, the Lord will sometimes use certain verses from His word to touch your heart and to let you know what He wants you to do. The living Word will speak to you from the written Word.
Jesus said to Peter, "If you love me, feed my sheep." Without a doubt there are some who have read what Jesus said to Peter, and they realized that God was speaking to them too. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" Without a doubt there are some who have read what the Apostle Paul wrote and realized that God was speaking to them to seek after the wisdom of God instead of the wisdom of this world. Thatís because the living Word speaks to us from the written Word.
We know what John said when he spoke because the essential nature of the message of John the Baptist is given in this quotation from Isaiah. "Make straight the way of the Lord." We know that John called the baptism that he performed the baptism of repentance. To "repent" means to have a change of mind, a change of mind in regards to your sins. When you repent, you are not only sorry that you have sinned, but you are also determined to do the right thing the next time: to make straight the way of the Lord. That was the message of God through John the Baptist, and itís still the message of God because humans are still sinners in need of forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without repentance.
John 1:24 says about those who questioned John the Baptist, "And they which were sent were of the Pharisees." In Jerusalem there were Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees. The Herodians were Jews of a more secular nature who were aligned with the Roman government as King Herod was from whom they derived their name. The Sadducees were the religious liberals of their day in that they did not believe in the resurrection. The Pharisees were the religious conservatives. They believed all of the basic truths about God and the Old Testament scriptures. Maybe itís revealing that it was the religious conservatives, the Pharisees, who were the biggest enemies of Jesus. You might be a religious conservative, but that does not mean that you are rightly related to God. Your selfishness and desire for power and control may lead you to be just like the Pharisees.
In John 1:25 once the Pharisees heard what John had to say about himself, they had another question for him. The Bible says, "And they asked him, and said unto him, Why are you baptizing then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, neither that prophet?" "John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there stands one among you, whom you do not know, He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoeís latchet I am not worthy to unloose."
We know that John performed a baptism of water, and that his baptism was the baptism of repentance. In other words, if someone repented of their sins, John would baptize them. The repentance came first and the baptism came afterwards. It was a baptism with water because in the Old Testament water was used in a symbolic way to cleanse vessels for the temple, and in other ways water was a symbol of cleansing from sin and corruption. The best that John could do was to give a water baptism that symbolized cleansing from sin. But John made it very clear that the Messiah would do much better than baptize with water: the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit. In John 1:33 John the Baptist says about Jesus, "he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." There is a water baptism that is symbolic and that was given by the Jewish prophet named John the Baptist; but there is a spiritual baptism that only Jesus can give. The water baptism is symbolic of cleansing from sin, but the spirit baptism that Jesus gives is not symbolic: it actually cleanses from sin. Jesus will call the baptism of the spirit, a spiritual birth. When you come to God through Christ, many wonderful things happen for you and they happen by the hand and by the power of Jesus: you are cleansed from your sins and you are given a spiritual birth: that is, you are baptized by the spirit.
John 1:28-29 says, "These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and John said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." How did John know that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world? John knew the same way that we know today: God revealed it to him. Faith is a gift from God. And as Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who believe without seeing."
In the first Chapter of John we have been given several of the names of the Messiah. He is called the Word, the Light, Jesus, and now He is called the Lamb of God. The reason that Jesus is called the Lamb of God is because a white lamb symbolizes innocence and purity, and Jesus became our sacrificial lamb. We are only acceptable to God because Jesus gave His sinless life as a ransom to pay the price for our sins.
You cannot be acceptable to God by your own works or by your own good deeds. You have sinned and your sins have separated you from God. Therefore, your only chance to be restored to God is through a sacrifice and through a Savior. Jesus came to save the world from its sins, and He does this by saving us one at a time. If you have never turned from your sins to Jesus, today is an excellent day to do just that. You can become reconciled to God because Jesus came into the world to take away the sin of the world, and He can take away your sins, too. All that you have to do is to turn from your sins, and turn to Jesus and trust in Him and believe on Him; and then you will be able to say about Jesus with the same kind of confidence that John the Baptist had: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Copyright; 2000 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
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