TagJohn

Series on the Gospel of John (and a Reminder to Subscribe to the Blog!)

Our church is focusing on the theme of Christ-likeness this year, and in connection with that theme, I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of John. For any of you who would like to go through the gospel with us, I thought I would periodically include links to the sermons.

Before I paste in the links, let me also remind you that you can subscribe to the blog so that any time I upload new content, it will be sent to you by email. Just visit the blog on your computer (not your phone), look on the lefthand side for the box to enter your email, type it in and click the “subscribe” button. And of course, check your spam folder to make sure the updates aren’t being filtered there (although this blog is to online teaching what SPAM is to meat).

Here are the links to the sermons on John (so far). I hope these can be of some help to you as you desire to walk with Christ.

That You May Believe (Introduction)

The Word (John 1:1-5)

The Light (John 1:6-13)

The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14-18)

Four Ways in Four Days to Christ (John 1:19-51)

The First Sign (John 2:1-12)

The Law Was Given – Grace and Truth Came

John the evangelist concludes the prologue of the fourth gospel with these words:

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

At first glance, John seems to be drawing a sharp contrast between the Law on the one hand and grace and truth on the other. And if we filter John’s language through the grid of Paul’s teaching in Romans and Galatians, the juxtaposition of law and grace becomes even more pointed.

However, I don’t think that is what John intends by this passage. Granted, if we read it through the lens of Paul’s letters, and in light of the Reformation’s emphasis on justification by faith, we will draw the conclusion that John is contrasting law and grace. But the first rule of Bible study is to read passages in their own context before drawing contemporary applications.

So let’s think about the text in John 1:17 in the context of the first century. If you were a Jewish believer, as John was, the Law and grace/truth were not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, the giving of the Law of Moses was considered a profound act of divine grace. Even Paul says as much! “The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). This is why the psalmist celebrated the Law as sweeter than honey and more precious than gold, and prayed to God to “graciously teach me your law!” (Psalm 119:29).

The opposite of “Law” is not “grace”, and it is certainly not “truth”. Jesus himself testified to the complete truthfulness of the Law. Its authority is so sure that not even the smallest stroke or letter can be ignored (Matthew 5:17). The enduring truth of the Law is so firm that according to Christ, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

If John’s intention was not to place the Law and grace/truth in a sharp antithesis with each, then what’s his point? The text provides us with two important clues. First, notice carefully the verbs that John uses in verse 17:

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Law was given, grace and truth came. The Law was given through an intermediary, Moses. If you remember the account of the giving of the Ten Commandments (by the way, since they were given, they were a gift – an act of grace!), the people were terrified by the voice of God and insisted that Moses serve as an intermediary (Exodus 20:18-21). But in Christ, who John says is the Word of God (John 1:1), the divine message came in person – literally – in Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, the contrast in the text is between the giving of the word of God to the people in an indirect fashion, and the coming of the Word of God to the world in a direct fashion.

The second clue in the text is the expression in 1:16 –

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

We have received grace and even more grace – how? The Law was a gift of grace. But as great of a blessing as it was, it was not the fullest expression of God. That came when the Word became flesh. The Law was a gift of grace – Jesus was an even greater gift of grace.

This passage, then, is an important reminder about the most distinctive doctrine of Christianity. In Islam, God’s most direct revelation is the Quran. In Judaism, it is the Law. But in Christianity, it is a person – the Word.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel – Produce Faith or Reinforce Faith?

Toward the end of the fourth gospel the author states his purpose for writing:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

That you may believe. The Gospel of John is written to persuade people to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Or is it?

Many Greek manuscripts of John contain the Greek term that means “come to believe,” πιστεύσητε  (pisteusete). But many manuscripts have a different term, πιστεύητε (pisteuete), which means “that you may hold the faith.” It’s only one letter’s difference, but it makes a big difference in this case. Is John writing so that his readers come to have faith, or is he writing so that his readers hold onto the faith they already have? Most of our English translations choose the former (like the ESV above), but my limited reading on the textual evidence suggests that the slightly better attested reading is reflected in versions like the New Living Translation: “that you may continue to believe .”

If this is the case, why would John write such a gospel? Why is he concerned about whether his readers will persist in their faith in Christ? One answer might be a distinctive emphasis of the fourth gospel, the threat of expulsion from the synagogue. John’s gospel is the only one of the four that mentions this threat.

  • His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (9:22)
  • Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. (12:42)
  • I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. (16:1-2)

Late in the first century, in response to the spread of Christianity, the rabbis included into the cycle of benedictions at the synagogue a prayer that condemned heretics like the “Nazarenes.” This prayer, the Birkat ha-Minim drew a line in the sand for any Jewish believer in Christ – reject the Christian heresy or face the consequences. Since the synagogue was the center of religious and social life for first century Jews, to be excommunicated from the synagogue was to be disowned by your family and your community.

If the original wording of John’s stated purpose was to encourage his readers to continue to believe, such a backlash against Jewish Christians around the Empire may offer a reason for his concern. And it may also explain the unique structure of the gospel, which focuses on the signs of Jesus’ ministry in chapters 1-11, and the “glory” of Jesus’ death and resurrection in chapters 12-21. John wants his readers to know that the faith they have placed in Jesus is well-founded so that as they face suffering they will maintain their commitment in light of the promise of  glory to come.

That makes the fourth gospel incredibly relevant to our own time. The social structures of the contemporary culture here in America are exerting tremendous pressure on Christians to surrender fundamental commitments of faith. It is going to get more difficult to hold on to our confession that Jesus is Lord and King. John has already explained why this is happening:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

And Jesus told his first disciples that hatred of him would redound to hatred of them:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

No one wants to be hated. I certainly don’t! But if Jesus is who he says he is, then I would rather be hated by others and loved by him forever. And the signs of the first half of this gospel are designed to assure me that Jesus is indeed who he claimed to be, so that I will greater confidence in the promises he claims to give.

If you need encouragement to hold on to your faith, I suggest you take a look at the Gospel of John.


Over the next several weeks I will be preaching through the Gospel of John, and if you would like to follow along, you can listen to the lessons on our church website. Here are the first two sermons:

That You May Believe

The Word (John 1:1-5)