Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE BAPTIST’S WITNESS OF CHRIST”

John 1.15-18

 

John the Baptist is an interesting figure in God’s unfolding drama of redemption. Predicted by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi centuries before his birth to be the select forerunner of the Jewish Messiah, John’s ministry was barely six months long before his martyrdom.[1] Though John and the Lord Jesus were cousins (their mothers being related), it is unlikely that they knew each other well or had any appreciable contact growing up.[2] As well, it is almost certain John the Baptist did not know his cousin was the Jewish Messiah until He came to be baptized by him.[3] John’s brief ministry was conducted on the shores of the Jordan River, to the East of Jerusalem a long day’s walk. During that time, he vigorously preached the gospel, baptized only those who were converted, predicted the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the means of identifying the Jewish Messiah, and twice pointed out the Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples after he had baptized Him.[4]

I invite you to turn with me to John 1.15-18, where the apostle of this gospel provides for us a summary of John the Baptist’s witness to Christ during that brief span following His baptism and before John’s imprisonment and death by beheading. Once you have found the passage, please stand and read with me silently while I read aloud:

 

15    John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

16    And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

17    For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

18    No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

 

These four verses bring to a close the Apostle John’s introduction to the fourth gospel. And in these four verses we have two distinct approaches to the Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist’s witness to Christ in verse 15 and the Apostle John’s inspired summation of the Lord Jesus Christ in verses 16-18.

 

First, The evangelist SUMMARIZES THE Baptist’s testimony concerning Christ

 

John 1.15: “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”

 

You will remember from verse 8 that the apostle informs us that John came for a witness. Here he tells us that the Baptist did just that. Observe,

First, how John the Baptist expressed his testimony of Christ. We are told that he cried, the Greek word krazoo, referring to screaming, shrieking, or yelling.[5] Of course, this fulfills the prediction that he should be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Isaiah 40.3. The Old Testament prophets lifted up their voices and cried aloud, to show the Jewish people their sins. This New Testament prophet also cried aloud, again to show Jewish people their sins, as a means of then showing to them their Savior. Notice what this comment about the Baptist suggests: First, that it was an open public testimony, that it was a proclamation so that all kinds of different people might take notice of it because his was a message of concern for everyone. False teachers, on the other hand, entice people quietly and very carefully. Wisdom, on the other hand, without fear, publishes the truth in public where people are. This comment, second, suggests that John the Baptist was unrestrained in bearing this testimony. He lifted up his voice as a man and was both well-assured of the truth to which he witnessed and well-affected by the truth that he declared. Remember that he that had leaped in his mother’s womb for joy at Christ’s approach, when the newly conceived Savior was brought near by Mary’s approach to the pregnant-with-John Elizabeth, Luke 1.41. In similar fashion did his adult ministry on Christ’s behalf show an exuberance of spirit at the Savior’s arrival on the scene to begin His public ministry.

Next, we take note of what John the Baptist’s testimony was:

 

“This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”

 

Notice that he appealed to what he had said at the beginning of his ministry when he had directed his audience to expect One that should come after him, whose forerunner he was, and he never intended anything else but to lead his audience to Him, and to prepare His way. This he had given them notice of from the beginning. Now what he had first said he applies to the Lord Jesus Christ, who he had recently baptized, and Who was so remarkably verified by the Spirit’s descent upon Him and the Father’s audible blessing of approval.[6] Notice that John the Baptist did so much more than the Old Testament prophets who only predicted the Messiah’s coming some day. John the Baptist actually pointed Him out, on two occasions:

 

“This was he of whom I spake.”

 

What was the summation of what he said about Christ?

 

“He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”

 

Because Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Mary conceived, John was born six months before the Lord Jesus and was thus by human reckoning six months His senior. However, John acknowledges that though the Lord Jesus Christ came after him with respect to the order of their births, He is preferred before John. Why so? “For he was before me.” Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ’s preference was not owing to Him being called the Son of the Highest, Luke 1.32, whereas John was the prophet of the Highest, Luke 1.76. Neither was it because John was only a minister of the New Covenant while Christ was the Mediator of the New Covenant. It was because of the Lord Jesus Christ’s preexistence:

 

“For he was before me.”

 

The Lord Jesus would later say,

 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”[7]

 

John the Baptist had a beginning to his existence while the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal I AM. This is born out in many places in God’s Word, of which I will mention but two:

 

“For he was before me”

 

is literally translated “He was my first” or “first to me.”[8] Yet, in Isaiah 44.6 we read,

 

“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”

 

The clear indication is that John recognized the Lord Jesus Christ as the LORD, the King of Israel. As well, in Micah 5.2, the verse that predicts Bethlehem to be the place of our Lord’s birth, we also read about Him,

 

“whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

 

John the Baptist understood that His cousin, the man he baptized in the Jordan River, the One he pointed his disciples to, was the eternal God and Creator of all things, Who had become a man. We see in John 1.29 that the Baptist also understood the Lord Jesus Christ’s mission, since in that verse he said,

 

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

 

 

Next, The evangelist’S SUMMATION concerning Christ

 

After making mention of the John Baptist’s testimony in verse 15, the apostle resumes his summation of the Lord Jesus Christ in verses 16-18:

 

16    And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

17    For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

18    No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

 

The 16th verse obviously takes up where verse 14 left off, where the incarnate Word was said to be full of grace and truth. He now makes grace a matter, not only of our adoration but also of our thankfulness, because from that fulness of His we all have received. He received gifts for men according to Psalm 68.18 so that He might give gifts to men, Ephesians 4.8. He was filled, so that He might fill all in all, Ephesians 1.23 so that He might fill our treasures, Proverbs 8.21. The Lord Jesus Christ is a fountain of fulness overflowing. We all have received (the apostle possibly referring here to the apostles of Jesus Christ, or more likely referring to all believers in Jesus Christ). We who receive Him, John 1.12, receive grace from Him, John 1.16-17, and truth from Him, John 1.17.

Interesting to note here is that all true believers receive from Christ’s fulness. Thus, not only does this demand that the best and greatest of Christ’s followers cannot live without Him, but it also means the least and the weakest of us may nevertheless live by Him. This, of course, excludes proud boasting. We have nothing but what we have received. And it silences our fears, because we have want of nothing but that we may receive it because of Him. What, precisely, is it that we have received? Consider each verse:

First, we have received grace for grace, verse 16:

 

“And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

 

This final phrase, “and grace for grace,” is a very difficult one to interpret specifically. In context, we know full well that it refers to the superabundant supply of grace in a Christian’s life that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. However, does it refer simply to a succession of favors received?[9] Or is this a phrase that refers to one grace replacing an earlier grace (such as the grace of Christ’s Incarnation) with the additional grace of Christ’s salvation through faith?[10] Whatever the phrase specifically means, its meaning has to include the reality that the Christian’s life in Christ is one of gracious provision of every imaginable benefit for the believer because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. This being the case, what conclusions can we draw from the grace we are blessed with from Christ’s fullness? Several: First, the blessing we receive. It is termed grace, which has to do with God’s good yet undeserved blessing toward us, and the good work of God in us. Whatever God’s good will works toward our benefit, His gracious good for us then leads to even more grace as a result of His good will. Think of it as a divine favor that leads to yet more divine favor. Second, the manner of its reception. John wrote, “and grace for grace.” Whatever this phrase means, it is interesting to note that the word grace is singular the two times it is used. Not graces for graces, but grace for grace. I am not sure of all the implications of the word grace being singular, but perhaps there are some things that can be considered: Consider, for example, the freeness of this grace that is found in Christ. It is grace for grace’s sake, wrote one commentator. We receive grace, not for our sakes (which is to say, not because we deserve God’s favor), but because it seems good in God’s sight to give us grace. It is a gift according to grace, Romans 12.6. It is grace to us for the sake of grace to Jesus Christ. God was well pleased in Him and is therefore well pleased with us in him, Ephesians 1.6. Consider, as another example, the fulness of this grace. Grace for grace is an abundance of grace, grace upon grace, one grace heaped on top of another. It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be the capacity to receive it. Thus, it is overflowing. That is why we are commanded, be ye being filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5.18. Ours is a plenteous redemption. We have such a fulness as is called the fulness of God which we are filled with. It is incomprehensible. Third, consider the serviceableness of this grace. Grace for grace is grace for the promotion and advancement of yet more grace. Grace that we are to exercise. Grace that we are to habitualize. Grace that we are to memorialize. Grace that we are to minister to others. The apostles were given grace so they could then communicate it to others, Romans 1.5 and Ephesians 3.8. Ephesians 4.29 and First Peter 4.10 reveals that we believers are to do precisely the same thing as we minister grace to others. Fourth, consider the substitution of New Testament grace instead of Old Testament grace. The reference to the Law being given by Moses suggests this. God was gracious to send Moses to the children of Israel, gracious to give Israel the Law, gracious to lead them into the Promised Land, and gracious to give them the prophets. However, the grace that we now have is so much superior in every way, being broader in its scope and clearer in its application. As well, the grace that we receive has to do with fulfillment, whereas the grace of God in the Old Testament had to do with promise. Fifth, consider the supply of grace. James 4.6 is an absolute statement of fact:

 

“But he giveth more grace.”

 

How much grace does God give to His children? More. Always more. Ever more. At any point and with any supply of grace that you have, or will ever have, God will give more, always more, ever more. Why? Because He wants to. Because He chooses to. How? Because He is God, infinite and omnipotent, so that His supply of divine favor toward the Christian is never ending. Sixth, which is enough for now, consider what might be termed the service of grace or the strategy of grace. To what purpose and for what end does God grant an inexhaustible supply of grace to His children for Christ’s sake? Allow me to suggest a verse that provides insight regarding God’s grand design for the person who has received Christ, for you my Christian friend, Romans 8.29:

 

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

 

God gives and gives and gives to the end that you will be conformed to the image of His Son so that you will eventually become truly Christlike. Is it not a grand thing that God has an infinite supply of grace, an inexhaustible reservoir of divine favor and enablement, that He makes available to you, the believer in Jesus Christ so that you will be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son? Your responsibility as a Christian is to make use of the means God has provided to avail yourself of His abundant grace.

So, we have received grace for grace, verse 16. Verse 17 is concerned with grace and truth:

 

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

 

In John 1.14 the apostle revealed to us that Christ was full of grace and truth. In this verse, he declares that by Christ grace and truth came to us. If there is a matter the apostle seems determined to drive home to us, a topic that he is very fond of, it is that we who are believers receive grace from Christ. Two things he further observes in this verse concerning this grace are, First, there is the preference of grace to the Law of Moses: The giving of the Law by Moses was an exhibition of God’s grace. The Law was a glorious discovery, both as a revelation of God’s nature to man and His good will to man. That said, the blessings of the Law were based upon merit, upon obedience, and were earned. The gospel of Christ, on the other hand, is a much clearer display of God’s grace. That which was given by Moses was terrifying and threatening, bound with penalties, and was a law that could not give life.[11] That which is given by Jesus Christ is of another nature. It has more benefits than the Law, but none of the terror, because it is entirely gracious. It is grace teaching, Titus 2.11-12,

 

11    For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

12    Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,

 

and grace reigning, Romans 5.21,

 

“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 

Grace teaching and grace reigning. If grace has anything to do with law, it is the Law of Christ and not the Law of Moses, Galatians 6.2.[12] The motive for obedience to this law is love rather than fear, and the desire to exalt and please the Savior rather than avoidance of any curse. Then, there is the connection of grace with truth. “Grace and truth,” the apostle writes. In the gospel, we have access to the greatest truths to be embraced by human understanding, as well as the richest grace to be embraced by our will and affections. How could it be otherwise? God is gracious, and God is true. Thus, grace and truth must be complimentary. Grace and truth must be compatible. How could it be otherwise that the One Who is the way, the truth, and the life, is also the means by which and for which God is gracious to us?

Another thing we receive from Christ is a clear revelation of God to us, John 1.18:

 

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

 

Only the Lord Jesus Christ has declared God to us in a comprehensible way, this One no man has ever at any time seen, our Creator. This was the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ. He made it possible to know God, and to be acquainted with Him. Observe two things, if you will: First, notice the insufficiency of all other discoveries. No man has seen God at any time. What can this mean? It means that the nature of God’s being is spiritual, He is invisible to physical eyes, He is a being no man has seen or can see.[13] Therefore, we must live by faith, as seeing Him that is invisible, Hebrews 11.27. It additionally means that God’s revelation of Himself in the Old Testament was very imperfect in comparison with that which He has made by Christ. What was seen and known of God before the incarnation of Christ was nothing to that which is now seen and known. Life and immortality are now brought to a much clearer light than they were then. It also means that none of the Old Testament prophets were so well qualified to make known the mind and will of God to the children of men as our Lord Jesus was since none of them had seen God at any time. Moses saw the similitude of the LORD, Numbers 12.8, but was told that he could not see His face, Exodus 33.20. The Christian faith was thus founded by One that had seen God and knew more of His mind than anyone else ever did, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Next, notice the insufficiency of all other men. How fit was Jesus Christ to declare God. How utterly qualified in every way He was. He and He alone is worthy to take the book, and to open the seals, Revelation 5.9. He is the only begotten Son. Who is so likely to know the Father as the Son? Or in whom is the Father better known than in the Son?[14] He is of the same nature as the Father, so that he who has seen Him has seen the Father, John 14.9. The servant is not supposed to know so well what his Lord does as the Son, John 15.15. Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ is the Son. He is in the bosom of the Father. He had lain in His Father’s bosom from eternity. When He was here on earth, yet still, as God, He was in the bosom of His Father, and to His Father He returned when He ascended. As well as being fit to declare God, our Lord Jesus Christ was also free in declaring God. He has declared that of God which no man had at any time seen or known. Not only that which was hid of God but that which was hid in God, Ephesians 3.9. Who else could do this? Moses could not do this. Abraham could not do this. Buddha could not do this. Mohammed could not do this. Joseph Smith could not do this. You cannot do this. Only Jesus Christ could do this.

 

There is God, and there is you. Sent from God to be a Mediator between God and you is His Son, Jesus Christ. Virgin-born, sinless, our Substitute, Jesus Christ not only declares God as no one else can, but He is also the means by which and for whom God bestows upon you His divine favor in inexhaustible supply.

Are you overwhelmed? Are you somewhat confused, perhaps disoriented? I remember what it was like. May I make a recommendation? Simply consider Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Reflect on Him. Think about Him. Read about Him in the Bible.

No need to be hasty. No need to rush anything. Carefully, cautiously, consider this most important person who has ever lived. When you pray to God, ask Him to give you understanding about His Son, Jesus Christ. What I urge you not to do is put Him out of your mind. Please do not dismiss thoughts of Him.

He is your way to God.

He provides to you an understanding of God.

He represents God and speaks for God.

And only He can reconcile you to God.

_____

[1] Isaiah 40.3; Malachi 3.1; Matthew 11.7-11

[2] Luke 1.36

[3] John 1.30-31

[4] Matthew 3.1-17; John 1.29-36

[5] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 563-564.

[6] Matthew 3.16-17

[7] John 8.58

[8] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[9] C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book Of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1959), page 71.

[10] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According To John (PNTC), (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pages 131-134.

[11] Hebrews 12.18-21

[12] John 13.14-15, 34; 15.12; Romans 15.1; Galatians 5.13; 1 Thessalonians 5.14; James 2.8; 1 John 4.21

[13] 1 Timothy 6.16

[14] Matthew 11.27

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org