John 1:15-18. God revealed by God

John 1:15    (John testified concerning him [the Word]. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and  is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

These few verses are contested ground, and on several levels. And yet, the author’s point is obvious: Jesus is first. The Baptiser’s testimony is that although Jesus comes ‘after him’ (temporally), he is ‘before him’ in two ways (i) he was pre-existent, explaining v1-14; and (ii) he is ‘before him’ in rank and greater in honour. See John 1:30. So on both counts, Jesus is first.

This testimony is significant because John was widely regarded as God’s prophet. John the Baptist is the first major witness to step forward in this gospel. The signs of Jesus and the words of Jesus will also play their part in verifying his identity, divine origin and nature. These are all put forward to commend belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (John 20:30-31).

The NIV struggles to translate the original language at verse 16. Out of Jesus’ fullness– his completed work and fully recognised person– we have received ‘grace over and against grace’ (χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος). So it seems that Jesus gives us grace replacing the grace that was already given in the Old Testament. This is one blessing after another. Indeed, Jesus supersedes Moses.

Already in this gospel I am being drawn to recognise that, before Jesus, I am in the presence of such greatness that I cannot remain unmoved. Undoubtedly I am dwarfed when standing before Moses– the great law-giver. But Jesus Christ is far greater, because he is the one who brings grace and truth from God.

Jesus supersedes Moses because what he brings from God is from God’s very heart. Jesus stands in such unique relationship to the Father– he comes straight from his bosom, as the ‘only-truly-born’ Son.

Heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for revealing yourself to me. Thank you that your Spirit has enabled me to receive this revelation, believe it, and benefit from it. Thank for your grace upon grace, one blessing after another. Please graft into my heart a response befitting your kindness to me. Amen.

John 1:14. Incarnation.

John 1:14    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I like camping with friends. It’s like making a new home together, as an extended family. We pitch our tents side by side, share our meals, pool our resources and live in close community. Camping friends get to know one another very well, simply by doing life together in close quarters.

When the eternal Word became fully human, he pitched his tent right in our midst and moved on in. He ‘tabernacled’ with us. This tabernacling is so much better than the Exodus desert experience of God living among his people in a mobile temple made from seal skins and acacia wood. Instead the author of this gospel declares that, when up close and personal with Jesus, he saw the glory of God revealed in a man. The eternal Word was visible and tangible, revealed and made known. Yet he retained his unique and divine glory— full of grace and truth— but he was among humanity as one of us.

So our God is not aloof and remote. He has made himself vulnerable to our touch, open to our friendship and our experience. All this changes how I see God.

Lord, as you have given yourself to me, so I give myself to you. Amen.

John 1:9-13. Receiving the Light

John 1:9    The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The metaphor of light is now deepened. We have already noted that in John ‘light’ can refer to the observable light emanating from the source (akin to photons of light), or light can refer to that which is revealed by the light– enlightenment. The true light (Jesus) emanates from its source (the Father) and gives light (enlightenment) to everyone.

What does it mean to ‘receive’ Jesus, the light? It must mean more than simply agreeing that he existed. Verse 12 parallels ‘receiving’ with ‘believing in his name’ so the two are closely connected. But I suggest that ‘receiving him’ means more than acknowledging that he is ‘God who has come from God’, to be the saviour of the world, as this gospel testifies. No, to actually receive him requires that he be installed as my God, my Saviour, and my Lord. ‘Receiving’ him is personal.

John’s gospel reveals much about Jesus. I can learn a lot and pass an exam on the topic of Jesus… but remain unchanged. I can agree with all that John teaches, but not know Jesus.  Receiving Jesus requires me to engage in a relationship with him such that his life becomes my life. While my old life is discarded, I am (we are!) born of God. We are children of God.

The distinction between Jesus as “Son of God” and the status given to his people to become “children of God” (τέκνα θεοῦ) is significant. It is a profoundly close association but not the same. The power given is that of “becoming”; yet even in the fulfilment they are not the same. As we shall see in verse 14, Jesus is unique in his relationship with God, as God, in the persons of the Trinity. And yet, as God’s children by adoption, we are invited and enabled to share in relationship with him.

Dear God, I am humbled and surprised. 

I was an orphan lost at the Fall
Running away when I’d hear Your call
But Father, You worked Your will
I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near Your throne
But Father, You loved me still

And in love before You laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as Your own
You have raised me so high up above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone.*

Amen.

 

*from ‘Grace Alone’ by Dustin Kensrue.

John 1:6-8. The witness

John 1:6    There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

John– not the author of this book, but the baptiser– is all about testimony. He testifies concerning the light of humanity, given for all, still shining in the darkness. While respected as a prophet, he is not the light. He simply testifies to it for one clear purpose: that we might believe.

What is his testimony that I might believe it? He testifies that:

  • Jesus surpasses John in stature and honour because he was before him (Jn 1:15).
  • John is sent to make preparations for the arrival of ‘the Lord’ (Jn 1:23). This arrival of ‘the Lord’, God himself, is foretold by Isaiah 40:1-5.
  • Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
  • The Spirit of God has come down from heaven and remained on Jesus (Jn 1:32).
  • Jesus is the Son of God (Jn 1:34).

This testimony– especially in first century Israel, as well as now– is revolutionary. Looking back over the list, ponder each point again slowly. Consider how it might confront your regular patterns of thought.

Dear God, grant that I might embrace John’s testimony to Jesus and so enlarge my vision of who he is. Amen.

John 1:1-5. Genesis

John 1:1    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We begin at the very beginning of all things, echoing Genesis 1:1-5. Whereas Genesis is concerned with the very widest array of ‘origins’ issues– Who is God? Why has he created? Where do humans fit in the cosmos?– John is concerned specifically with the origins of ‘the Word’ (whom he soon reveals as Jesus of Nazareth). Here we learn that the Word is God and has always been God. We also learn that the Word was with God– literally ‘towards God’, which requires a distinction between God and the Word and yet a relationship of intimacy between the two.

Just as in Genesis 1, after announcing God as creator, the next major theme introduces light. The Word has life within him, the life which is the light of all humanity. Without this light of life, humanity is overcome by darkness.

The metaphor of Light is significant throughout John 1-12. God the Father is the source of light, Jesus is the light that shines (akin to the photons of light that share the nature of the source and which emanate from the source), and then there what is revealed by the shining of the light. This is the testimony to be received by humanity. What is revealed by this light? God himself.

Dear God, I am delighted to learn that before the beginning you were in relationship– Father, Son and Spirit. I stand amazed that you sustain the life of humanity collectively– and me individually– from your Word. In him is my light and my life. Amen.

31 Days of Purity: Persevering

Day 31

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Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 1:24-25)

This closes our 31 days together. You have completed the challenge I offered on New Years Day, but it does not close our lifelong pursuit of sexual purity. In fact, we have only just begun. Today we are praying for ourselves and for one another that we would persevere. Keep going, men. The battle is not over. Tomorrow you will continue your pursuit of purity. And as you do, remember that the Lord Jesus—and only the Lord Jesus—is able to keep you from stumbling.

One day we will be presented blameless before the Lord and there will be great joy. Though that day is not yet called “today,” it is absolutely certain. Therefore, let us press on all the more as we look forward to that day.

Lord, thank you for all those that have prayed and battled for purity these 31 days. I pray that they would continue on in the battle. Help me to continue praying with them and pursuing purity together. Cause us to endure in this great endeavor. May Christ be glorified through us. Transform our hearts and our homes for His name. I am thankful that you are able to keep me from stumbling. Help me press on in purity, all the while looking forward to the day when I will be presented spotless in Your presence. Amen.

Why don’t you grab a friend and take him with you through this challenge again? These resources will continue to be found at this web address.

31 Days of Purity: an Eternal Perspective

Day 30

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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we lose all sense of perspective. We become like the man who stands before the sweeping mountain vista, but will only gaze at the ground beneath his feet. What he sees is real, but it is so small and so limited. We need to lift our eyes to catch the bigger perspective—the eternal perspective. Like Paul, we need to fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

This life matters. But this life is short. When we put our lifespans in the context of eternity, they are but the shortest blip, the shortest dash between the two dates on a gravestone. While another evening of resisting temptation can seem like the longest and most difficult night of our lives, it is but the shortest tick of the clock in the context of eternity. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Even this temptation, this affliction, is so light when we compare it to the joy that awaits us.

Father, help me to keep my eyes fixed on what is unseen and eternal. Help me to view my life, and my moments of temptation, in the context of eternity. While these temptations can feel so weighty and so difficult, I want to know and believe that they are but light and momentary afflictions compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison you have prepared for me. I long for the day when I will be with you forever. Prepare me for that day by giving me your grace to battle for purity in the face of temptation, today and every day.

31 Days of Purity: A Renewed Mind

Day 29

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Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Our bodies follow our minds. Throughout his life, the Christian is to be renewing his mind by the Word of God, to take it into captivity and bring it into conformity. As he does this, his words and his deeds, and even his thoughts, will necessarily follow.

If there is any area where we let our bodies dictate our thoughts and our actions, it is often in the area of sexual purity, in those times when the body seems to cry out in dissatisfaction. When we wallow in sexual sin, we fill our minds with what is impure, as if Philippians 4 commands us to think about whatever is false, whatever is deplorable, whatever is unfair, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is critical, if there is any depravity, if there is anything worthy of rebuke, we think about these things. And, not surprisingly, our bodies follow our minds.

It is so much better to heed and to practice Philippians 4 which commands us to think about what is good and noble and pure. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Think about those things, brother, and let God transform your thoughts and your actions.

Father, I pray that you would do your work of mind-renewal within me. I know that my behavior follows my thoughts, so I pray that you would help me to think about those things that are true and beautiful. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, I pray that you would help me to think about these things and to love thinking about these things.

31 Days of Purity: the Victories of Grace

Day 28

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

God tells us that victory over sin is certain—even those sins we have held to for so long. This can be hard to believe when we look to the past and see only failure after failure. Yet we are assured that in Christ we are new creations—the old has gone and the new has come. In Christ we are becoming who we are, increasingly taking hold of who we are in Him. Where we once delighted to do evil, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to avoid evil. Where we once hated to do what is right, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to do what is right.

We really can know such radical change. However, it rarely happens overnight. In that period where you are battling hard against sin, where you are developing new patterns of doing what is right instead of doing what God forbids, be sure to celebrate the small victories. Each of those victories is an evidence of God’s grace in your life. When you choose to do the right thing instead of the sinful thing, give thanks to God. When you have gone longer than you’ve ever gone before without succumbing to the temptation, celebrate with a friend and thank the Lord. Celebrate his grace by praising his name.

Father, I am thankful that in Christ I am a new creation. I believe what you say: the old has passed away and the new has come. Let me be who I am in Christ. Let me take hold of all Christ offers. I thank you for giving me grace—grace to see my sin, grace to hate my sin and grace to overcome my sin. All of this is an evidence of your work in my life, and I thank you for it. Help me to celebrate day-by-day what you are doing in and through me.

31 Days of Purity: Joy

Day 27

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Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Saviour, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:11-15)

David composed these words in those broken moments when the prophet’s accusation still echoed in his throne room: “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). You are the man who received the crown of Israel but then stole the wife of your most loyal servant (12:8). You are the anointed protector of the sheep who has now slaughtered one of his own (12:9). You are the man whose sin will claim the life of your son (12:14) -–not only the precious child conceived within Bathsheba, but also a more distant Son who will die spiked on a blood-soaked cross. Because–and only because–of this more distant Son, “The LORD also has put away your sin” (12:13).

The heart of Psalm 51 is David’s plea for restoration (Psalm 51:7-12), and the climax of this plea is his yearning cry for “the joy of your salvation” (51:12). David hadn’t forfeited God’s gift of salvation, but he had lost the joy of what God in his grace had provided.

When, though, did David lose this joy of his salvation, and why? It is possible that David’s sinful actions were, at least in part, the fruit of his failure to recall that the lasting joy of God’s salvation far outstripped the passing pleasure of Bathsheba’s flesh. Perhaps David had already lost sight of the joy of God’s salvation before he saw the young woman bathing on the roof and chose to call her into his chambers. A false and fleeting pleasure could never satisfy his soul. Now, the penitent king begged God to restore his lost joy.

Purity flows from a heart that recognizes the joy of God’s salvation as a gift more satisfying than any competing pleasure the world can provide. Such joy is cultivated by prayerful reflection on the grace of God and his actions for us in the Lord Jesus. This joy is enriched by creative meditation on the cross and it is accompanied by inward transformation (“a willing spirit,” 51:12) and results in outward proclamation (51:13).

My Father and my God,
Give me a willing spirit– a spirit willing to trust–
that there is no pleasure greater than the joy you have granted in Christ,
that there is no pleasure so great that it is worth trading for your holiness
and that there is no gift I need, that you, through your Spirit, will not provide.
In the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord,
Amen.

31 Days of Purity: Forgive Others

Day 26

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In Matthew 18, Jesus told a parable about a servant forgiven an impossibly large debt by his master.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ (Matt. 18:28-33)

So Paul teaches the Ephesian Christians,

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

You may be asking, “What in the world does forgiving others have to do with 31 days of purity”? It has everything to do with personal purity. Even when you are neck-deep in sin, or even better, deeply engaged in the battle against sin, the bitter roots of unforgiveness can be spreading throughout your heart. God’s Word tells us that the one who is forgiven much is also willing and eager to forgive others. It is entirely possible that as you’ve indulged in sexual impurity you have been carrying around a secret bitterness toward the objects of your disordered affections. Or perhaps you’ve been sinned against sexually in the past and the bitterness has grown. The pain and consequences of another person’s sin against you may be acute and enduring.

As you have sought forgiveness from God for your impurity, have you considered your need to forgive others? Are you willing to let go of the bitterness? Are you willing to forgive them and pray for their blessing and growth? This may be a difficult but necessary step forward in your growth towards holiness.

Father, you have forgiven me of a debt that I could not pay. My debt to you was so much greater, and yet I so easily remember the sins of others against me. Reveal to my heart the places where I have not forgiven others and give me the grace to forgive them if and when they ask. I pray that you would bless those that have done me harm. Restore my bitter heart with a heart of deep forgiveness and appreciation for your grace. Amen. 

31 Days of Purity: Healing

Day 25

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He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

In Luke 4, Jesus went to Nazareth and announced in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favour…” (Isa 61:1-2)

Brothers, we are wounded. I know this because you and I live in a fallen, broken world. Some of our wounds are self-inflicted. Some wounds are a result of the sin of other people. Some wounds are just a result of living in and blundering through a fallen world. Regardless of their source, we can have confidence that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

If you are in Christ, your identity is not that of a victim. As he announced to the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus came for the kind of people endemic to a fallen world.  No matter how deep the wounds or how far-reaching the scars, your defining identity is no longer that of a wounded man. You have been washed. You have been cleaned. You have been healed. Yes, you might still carry around scars, but scars are no longer seeping wounds, instead they are testimonies of healing and grace. Whatever wounds or scars you bear, pray today that the Lord would give you ultimate healing. No wound is too deep for Christ to fill up with His goodness and mercy.

Father, I am grateful that you heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds. I’m a wounded man. Some of these wounds are from my own sinful and foolish choices. Other wounds are caused by the hand of another. Lord, I want these to be healed. I know that praying for healing might mean that you will have to reopen wounds to give cleansing in these areas. Heal the places in my heart that are broken. Bind up my wounds. Overwhelm me with your grace and mercy. Where there were once ashes, replace them with your beauty. Amen.