4. Why People Follow Jesus, Part IIRelated Media
As I write this message, an election is coming in just a few days. I was thinking of all the election speeches and campaign promises that have been uttered in the course of the campaign. It reminded me of Pilate’s words, “What is truth?” in response to our Lord’s statement that He had come into the world to bear witness to the truth.2 Many people today are asking that same question as they listen to all the election speeches. People have always been skeptical regarding campaign promises, but now our culture has become skeptical about any claim to truth. Generally speaking, Americans believed that there was absolute truth. They may have had their doubts as to whether it could be known, but there was at least the assumption that there was such a thing as absolute truth.
But today there is a vastly different attitude toward truth. In our postmodern world, it is assumed that there is no absolute, universal, truth, which applies to all mankind. Instead, it is held that truth is much more relative. There is “your truth” – truth that works for you – and there is “my truth” – truth that works for me. These “truths” are not universal. In my culture and circumstances, chastity (a rather foreign word these days) may work for me, but those outside of my culture and circumstances see it in a very different way (indeed, virginity is often viewed as a curse).
At this point in our study of discipleship (following Jesus), we are focusing on some of the reasons why people follow Jesus. In this lesson, I have chosen two reasons, which are very much interrelated – grace and truth – based on John 1, verses 14-18. Our Lord Jesus personified grace and truth. Let us pause to consider how wonderful these two qualities are and how attractive they are in Jesus, and in His followers.
We Saw His Glory
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18).3
John wrote, “we saw His glory,”4 and then proceeds to explain the nature of this glory. It is important for us to understand what that “glory” is of which John is speaking. It cannot be His visible heavenly “glory,” for our Lord left this behind when He came to earth:
“And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created” (John 17:5).5
5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Furthermore, it is this visible glory that our Lord received back when He returned to the Father:6
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches – to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! (Revelation 1:10-18, emphasis mine)
When John beheld our Lord’s celestial (heavenly) glory, he fell at His feet like a dead man. This is not the response we see in the Gospels. Peter somehow has the audacity to rebuke Jesus:
21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)
The “glory” to which John refers cannot be any unusual physical manifestation of glory associated with His earthly body. Jesus was not “tall, dark, and handsome” like a movie actor might look. Isaiah prophesied that our Lord’s appearance was not such that it would attract men and women to follow Him:
He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him (Isaiah 53:2).
Our Lord’s glory, as John tells us, was displayed in His attributes, specifically (in our text) grace and truth. John the Baptist proclaimed our Lord’s greatness in terms of our Lord’s eternality or immortality when he said, “He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.” John does not (and cannot) mean that Jesus is greater because He was born before him (as an older brother might claim priority over a younger brother), because Jesus was born after John. Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John when the angel told Mary that she was about to become miraculously pregnant with the Messiah.7 John meant that Jesus was before Him in the sense that He is eternal, and thus John’s Gospel speaks of Him as the Creator:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:1-3).8
John, the disciple, wanted to take this matter even further, and so he writes,
16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (John 1:16-18).
Translators have struggled with how to translate verse 16. Literally, it should probably read, “For we have all received from his fullness grace replacing grace” (or “grace instead of grace”). The New Jerusalem Bible has sought to preserve this sense as much as possible by this rendering:
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received – one gift replacing another.
And so the question arises, how can “grace” replace “grace”? The answer is found right in our text: “the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.” Thus, John is contrasting the grace and truth God gave to Israel through the law with the greater grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament law was considered a gracious gift to God’s people:
13 “You came down on Mount Sinai
and spoke with them from heaven.
You provided them with just judgments,
true laws, and good statutes and commandments” (Nehemiah 9:13).
29 Remove me from the path of deceit!
Graciously give me your law! (Psalm 119:29)
The Apostle Paul agrees with this assessment that the law is a good and gracious gift from God, as we see in Romans 7:
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires. For apart from the law, sin is dead. 9 And I was once alive apart from the law, but with the coming of the commandment sin became alive10 and I died. So I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life brought death! 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it I died. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:7-12, emphasis mine).
The law revealed the character of God. It was never meant to save men, for the requirements of the law were impossible for men to keep.9 The law was the instrument God graciously used to reveal our sin, and thus our need for the Savior:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:19-23).
The law was a temporary provision, until the time Christ came as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin:
19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary (Galatians 3:19).
The law provided a moral code to restrain sin, and a sacrificial system to put off, year-by-year, God’s punishment for sin until Christ came and made a payment for sin “once for all.”
1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. . . . 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again – sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-14).10
The Old Testament law was thus a gracious provision of God. But the salvation God provided through the person of Jesus Christ was a better grace. This is completely consistent with the message of the Book of Hebrews. What God provided for His people in the Old Testament was good; but what He provided for men through Christ and the New Covenant was vastly better. Thus, John is perfectly right in speaking of one (better) grace replacing another (good, but inferior) grace. It is therefore “grace in place of grace,” and this was accomplished in the person of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.11 There are a number of other instances, but these instances are examples.
With these things in mind, I will attempt to show how John’s Gospel seeks to build upon the Old Testament truths, showing how Jesus in His incarnation has done something far greater. I believe John’s Gospel draws deeply from the Old Testament. The first words of John’s Gospel are, “In the beginning. . . .” The first words of Genesis are, “In the beginning. . . .” In both places, these words introduce an account of the creation of the world. John is surely choosing his words carefully to link the Lord Jesus with the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. Elsewhere in his Gospel, John links Jesus with Jacob’s ladder,12 with the temple,13 with the brazen serpent,14 and with the manna in the wilderness.15
I believe John 1:14-18 is designed to draw upon the events described in Exodus 32-34 and Exodus 33:18—34:7 in particular.
18 And Moses said, “ Show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 20 But he added, “ You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:18-23, emphasis mine).
While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people were below, worshipping an idol. God threatened to wipe out the entire nation and to raise up a new nation through Moses.16 Moses interceded with God on behalf of the Israelites, and so it appears17 that God changed His mind. God promised to bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan, but refused to go with them, lest – because of their rebelliousness – He kill them on the way. Moses persisted to intercede with God. When God finally consented to go with His people, Moses asked to see God’s glory.
God granted Moses’ request, but with some modifications. Moses could not look at God directly or he would die. Thus, Moses must stand in the cleft of the rock, where God would cover Moses until He passed by. Then, Moses would be allowed to see only the backside of God, but not His face. This is the glory that Moses beheld:
6 The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness [NASB = truth], 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7, emphasis mine).
The glory Moses saw was God’s nature – specifically, His mercy and grace. God’s glory was His predisposition to forgive sinners and to remain faithful to them. This, mind you, was God’s “backside” – God’s lesser glory. The full glory of God would be revealed in Jesus. His grace would surpass the great grace that Moses beheld. Our Lord’s glory would be seen “face to face.” It is this glory that John says he and his fellow disciples beheld. I believe that Paul takes up where John left off when he wrote:
6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis mine).
Think of it. While Moses saw only the “backside glory” of God, we see the full glory of God “in the face of Christ!” In Christ, we see God face to face.18
In Old Testament times, God was nearer to the Israelites than any “god” the heathen had ever worshipped:
7 In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this whole law that I am about to share with you today? (Deuteronomy 4:7-8, emphasis mine)
But the nearness of God in the Old Testament was nothing compared to the nearness of God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.19 Jesus is the full and complete manifestation of God:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).
1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ) (1 John 1:1-3).
Jesus is superior to Moses, and the grace and truth which our Lord personified was greater than the grace and truth revealed through the law. We might summarize the superiority of our Lord in this way:
Moses mediated for Israel, heading off their destruction
Jesus was the mediator for Jews and Gentiles, whose sacrificial death paid the penalty for sin
Moses went up to God
Jesus is God come down to man
Moses brought the law, which revealed God and delayed the punishment for sin
Jesus is the full and final revelation of God, whose death provided a once-for-all solution for sin
Exploring Grace and Truth in the Gospels
John introduces Jesus as the One who was full of grace and truth. Now let’s look at how this theme is developed in the New Testament. We look first at Luke 4, where Jesus is at the synagogue in Nazareth:
22 All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” 23 Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” 24 And he added, “ I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:22-27, emphasis mine).
Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth, His home town, and read Isaiah 61:1-2 and then announced that He was the fulfillment of this Scripture. The people were delighted. These were gracious words indeed. The Messiah had come! The problem is that they understood “grace” differently than we do. They thought of God’s grace as being restricted to Jews20 and of Gentiles as outside the boundaries of divine grace.21 Jesus had to tell them the truth about grace. Grace is unmerited favor, something we neither earn nor deserve. How, then, is grace bestowed? It can only be bestowed by the sovereign choice of the giver. In other words, God’s grace must be sovereign grace. If this is the case, then no Jew can demand it, or protest when God chooses to bestow grace upon Gentiles.
In telling the truth about grace, Jesus turns to the Old Testament, where He cites two examples of grace being bestowed upon Gentiles. The first example is the grace of God bestowed upon the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian town. While God punished Israel for her sins with a famine, He was sustaining a Gentile widow through His prophet, Elijah. The second example is Naaman, the Syrian – also a Gentile. Naaman was more than just a Gentile; he was the captain of the Syrian army.22 Our Lord’s words – proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah – were gracious words, but they were good news not only to the Jewish people, but also to the Gentiles – all who would trust in Jesus.
In John 6, we find an example of how grace and truth draws some, but repulses others. You will recall that Jesus has just fed the 5,000, and the people would have forcibly made Him their king.23 Jesus slipped away from the crowds, but eventually they caught up with Him again. Jesus revealed their true motives – they wanted more bread, more free meals. They challenged Jesus to rise above the standard Moses had set. Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness for years; if Jesus is great, then let Him prove it by feeding them (continually).24 Jesus corrected them: it wasn’t Moses who provided bread in the wilderness; it was the Father who gave them bread.25 The bread they should want is the bread that comes down out of heaven, the bread that gives life to the world. Jesus then declares that He is that bread,26 although they have already rejected Him in this capacity.27
They wanted Jesus for a perpetual meal ticket. They wanted Him to feed them day after day. After all, Moses fed their forefathers for forty years. This gracious gift of food in the wilderness was good, but Jesus had something far better. The bread their forefathers ate in the wilderness did not keep them alive forever. They all died in the wilderness. But the “bread” Jesus offered gave everlasting life.
When Jesus began to speak of His sacrificial substitutionary death in terms of “bread” and “wine,” the people had heard enough. They wanted no more of such talk. Was it because Jesus spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood? I don’t think so. I’m inclined to think that they were repulsed by the fact that Jesus was speaking of eternal life as a gift of grace, and not a work that they could accomplish on their own. Remember that they have just asked Jesus, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” (John 6:28, emphasis mine) Grace is repulsive to those who wish to work for God’s salvation, and the truth Jesus told was not welcomed. And so the crowds departed.
Jesus then turned His attention to His disciples:
67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” (John 6:67-69, emphasis mine)
The very thing that prompted the crowds to leave is that which motivated the disciples to stay – grace and truth, in the person of Jesus. Jesus had the truth, the words of eternal life. These were words about grace, not works. Jesus spoke the truth about grace. It was grace and truth in the person of Jesus that motivated the disciples to persevere, to stay with Jesus. No one else had the words of eternal life.
John 7 is another example of our Lord as the personification of grace and truth. Jesus had come to Jerusalem. The response of the crowds was mixed.28 The chief priests and the Pharisees wanted to be rid of Jesus, and so they sent officers to arrest Jesus and to bring Him to them.29 When they returned, however, they came empty handed:
45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” 46 The officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 Then the Pharisees answered, “You haven’t been deceived too, have you? 48 None of the rulers or the Pharisees have believed in him, have they? 49 But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” (John 7:45-49)
There was something about Jesus’ teaching that disarmed these officers. I believe that while the exact content of our Lord’s words is not revealed, it is likely that grace and truth were a significant part of what impressed these officers about Jesus’ teaching. How could you arrest one as a criminal whose words were grace and truth such as you had never heard before?
John 8 contains an example of the grace with which our Lord spoke:
3 The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?” 6 (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.) Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up straight and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:3-11).
A woman is caught in the “very act” of adultery, and then unceremoniously brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. I am convinced that it was because they knew Jesus was full of grace that they brought her.30 They could use this woman to force Jesus to choose between grace and truth (the requirement of the law of Moses that she be stoned). If He chose to forgive her of her sins (as they knew He was predisposed to do), then Jesus would disobey the law which required that she be stoned.31 If Jesus said to stone her, then He would be acting contrary to His nature. It looked as though Jesus was finally trapped by His opponents.
Jesus did not deny that this woman was a sinner and that she deserved to be stoned. Jesus had come to die, so that He was soon to pay the penalty for her sins. But Jesus could hardly satisfy His adversaries with such an explanation. And so Jesus took a different approach. Granted, the woman deserved to die. But the truth was that those who accused her were just as sinful, and just as deserving to die. And so rather than focusing on the woman’s guilt, Jesus called attention to the sin of her accusers. Let the one without sin be first to cast a stone. When the scribes and Pharisees pondered Jesus’ response, they realized none of them were qualified to cast a stone at this woman, because all of them were sinners too. By this standard, Jesus was the only one who was qualified to stone this woman. Rather than to do so, He became the willing sacrifice for her sins, and for all who would trust in Him. The sinless perfection which qualified Him to stone this woman also qualified Him to die in her place. Jesus did not have to choose between grace and truth; He chose rather to exercise grace and truth in this woman’s behalf. She went away forgiven; her accusers went away guilty.
Grace and Truth in the Epistles
No one was a greater advocate of grace and truth than the Apostle Paul. Consider two texts from Ephesians 4 that speak of grace and truth.
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” 9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth? 10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love (Ephesians 4:7-16, emphasis mine).
Paul has already taught that we are saved by grace, through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Here, Paul speaks of the grace that is bestowed upon the believer in the form of spiritual gifts. Because of His victory at Calvary, underscored by His resurrection and ascension, Jesus bestowed grace (spiritual gifts) upon men. The gifts Paul mentions in our text are the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. These gifted people build up the body of Christ, equipping it for the work of ministry.
In verse 15, Paul speaks of “practicing the truth in love,” which more literally would be rendered, “truthing in love.” Grace has been given to the church (in the form of spiritually gifted people) to build up the church, so that members of the church may practice the truth in love.
There is yet another text in this chapter of Ephesians which speaks of grace and truth:
29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:29-32, emphasis mine).
You will remember that our Lord prayed,
“Set them apart [sanctify them] in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Paul speaks here about guarding our tongues so that we do not say things that are unprofitable to others, but rather to speak so as to give grace to others. Surely we would agree that the content of what we say should be the truth. And speaking truth in a gracious way brings grace to others. Grace and truth.
Religion had become a great burden to the people of Jesus’ day. The religious experts had contrived ways to use religion to suppress (and sometimes oppress) the common people, while at the same time the elite found ways to evade the essence of Judaism. Judaism had become an impossible system of religious works. In the hands of the religious leaders, it was used to oppress the very people God was most concerned about – the poor, the downtrodden, the vulnerable, and guilty sinners.
Can you imagine what a breath of fresh air our Lord’s teaching was to those who so desperately needed grace and hope, rather than legalism and condemnation?
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
It wasn’t that Jesus was “soft on sin,” or that He held back on telling the truth. He told the woman at the well that her religion was wrong and that it would not save her.32 He told the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should cease sinning,33 and He told virtually the same thing to the man He healed by the pool called Bethesda.34 He told Nicodemus that those who rejected Him were condemned.35
Unlike many preachers today who draw large crowds, Jesus did not hedge when it came to sin. He did not speak only of the “happy truths” of the Bible; He told the truth about sin and eternal judgment. What made Him different was that when He spoke of sin and judgment, He also spoke of grace and the assurance of sins forgiven and the certainty of eternal life. Jesus did not merely heap guilt and condemnation on sinners; Jesus gave sinners hope. Jesus was the personification of grace and truth, and this is what sinners need most.
Truth is like the x-ray, which reveals the cancer of sin in our lives. Grace is the cure, which rids us of the cancer of sin. Have you experienced grace and truth in Jesus? If not, I would encourage you to consider the Gospels, which tell us about Jesus. If you desire to know the truth, the Spirit of God will reveal it to you from God’s Word. Do you long for grace, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the assurance of eternal life? Then trust in Jesus, through whom grace has been made available to men.
My Christian friend, you and I have an ongoing need for grace and truth, and we will find it nowhere else other than in God’s Word and in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s essential nature is gracious. He loves to show mercy and to forgive repentant sinners. He showers us with His grace. We must continually cling to Him as the Source of grace and truth.
And we must also seek to imitate Jesus by manifesting grace and truth to a lost and dying world. Just as our Lord was the personification of grace and truth when He was on this earth, so He desires for Christians to manifest grace and truth to a lost world. We are not just to condemn sin and to warn sinners of eternal condemnation; we are to joyfully proclaim grace and truth in Jesus. We should be a lighthouse of grace and truth in a world that desperately needs these.
Why do people follow Jesus? One reason is because He alone is the personification of grace and truth.
1 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the Following Jesus in a Me-First World series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 8, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 See John 18:37-38.
3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
4 John 1:14.
5 See Philippians 2:5-8.
6 I believe it is safe to say that the glory to which our Lord returns in heaven will be a glory greater than that which He left behind when He came to earth, because of His earthly ministry, atoning death, and glorious resurrection.
7 See Luke 1:26-36.
8 See also Colossians 1:16-17.
9 See Joshua 24:14-28.
10 See also Romans 3:21-26.
11 The New Testament also deals with law and grace in another way. “Law” is sometimes used negatively in referring to the legalistic effort to earn righteousness through law-keeping. This is opposed to “grace,” whereby God saves men by grace, apart from human works or merit. But this is not the sense in which John uses grace and law in our text, so we will not seek to develop this concept here.
12 John 1:51; Genesis 28:10-22.
13 John 2:13-22; see Psalm 69:7-9.
14 John 3:14; Numbers 21:4-9.
15 John 6:30-40.
16 Exodus 32:10.
17 We do not have the time to pursue this matter in detail here, but suffice it to say that Moses was not appealing to God to change His mind, but rather to remain the same by keeping His covenant. God’s glory was at stake here. God had made a covenant with Abraham, and He could not fail to keep it. God had promised to take this people to the Promised Land, and His glory required that He finish what He started. It is my opinion that God merely appears to “resign,” as it were, to see what Moses would do about it. God was testing Moses. Would He accept God’s offer and forsake the people of God? No! Moses was a faithful intercessor for his people, and thus he served as a prototype of our Lord Jesus.
18 I am aware of Exodus 33:11, where we read that Moses used to speak with God “face to face,” but Paul seems to make it clear that our experience is far greater in 2 Corinthians 3:7—4:6.
19 Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23.
20 Along with a few proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism).
21 See this illustrated elsewhere in the Book of Jonah and in Acts 22:20-23.
22 See 2 Kings 5:1ff.
23 John 6:1-15.
24 John 6:34.
25 John 6:32.
26 John 6:33-35.
27 John 6:36.
28 John 7:12, 40-44.
29 John 7:32.
30 As Daniel’s enemies found that his only “weak point” was his faithfulness to God (Daniel 6:4-5), so the only “weakness” they could find in Jesus was His compassion.
31 Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22.
32 John 4:20-24.
33 John 8:11.
34 John 5:14.
35 John 3:17-20.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)