“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
Let me go up five steps of this “stair” with you this evening from the invisibility of God to the great Christmas truth—that we may receive (even this evening) grace upon grace from Jesus Christ. The five steps are here in this text. And we will take them one at a time.
1. God Is Invisible. The first and lowest step in our stair of five steps is that God is invisible. Verse 18: "No one has ever seen God." Is it foolish to deny what we cannot see? It is common to hear in school, “I have to see it to believe it”, right?
There is a video called "Abortion for Survival." It is a powerful visual statement of why pro-abortionists think abortion is necessary as a means of birth control especially in poor countries. The many miseries caused by unwanted pregnancies among the poor are all graphically portrayed.
The reality of the unborn child was never referred to in the video. The tacit assumption was that it didn't exist. Why? Because you can't see the child. At some points in the film they took a large syringe and squirted a bloody mass into a dish and said something like, "This is the result of an eight week abortion; hardly a child."
Why? Because the invisibility of the unborn child is a great help in building up faith in the baby's non-existence or insignificance. It's the same approach that Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, used in 1961 when he said in space, "I don't see any God out here."
So when John says in verse 18: "No one has ever seen God," he poses a problem. If we can't see Him, how can we know Him? That's step number one in the flight of five stairs in this text: God is invisible.
2. God Revealed Himself in the Law of Moses. The second step is this: God revealed himself in the Law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. This is found in verse 17. Let's read verses 16 and 17, “16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Does that mean that the Law of Moses is contrary to grace and truth—that the law is not gracious and not truthful? No, that’s not it. What verse 17 says is that before the reality—the embodiment— of grace and truth came through Jesus, a witness to that reality came through the Law of Moses.
The reason verse 17 does not make a contrast between the Law of Moses and Jesus is because of what John says about Moses and the law in other places. For example, in John 3:14-15 he says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." Here Moses does something gracious and truthful that points to the grace and truth of Jesus.
Another example is John 5:46-47 where Jesus says, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" Here Moses is in harmony with Jesus and writing truth about Jesus and his grace.
Finally in John 6:32 Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven." This means that the manna in the wilderness was a gracious gift of God, but it was not the true bread. It was not the reality of grace itself. It was only a witness to the grace that is to come, a foretaste of Christ.
So John's point in verse 17 ("The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ") is that the law was not the reality—the embodiment—of grace and truth themselves, Jesus was. The law was only a witness to grace and truth. Jesus was the fulfillment of the law of Moses.
That's step number two in our stair of five steps. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus.
3. God became human. The third step of our stair is this: God became human. Verse 14 says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Now to understand the full force of that verse you have to go back to verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
The Word was God and the Word became flesh. If the Word was God and the Word became flesh, then God became flesh. God became human. Jesus Christ was God and Jesus Christ became human.
John MacArthur says it like this: “That says infinity became finite. That says eternity got squeezed into time. That says essentially God became man, the invisible became visible. The supernatural reduced itself to confinement in the natural.”
Now the Jews knew what the Word of the Lord was. The Word of the Lord was the transmission of God's mind and God's thought and God's reasoning and all that God was to men. And so all John is saying is that transmission in the Old Testament called the Word of God has now come into the form of a body, and that body is Christ.
Now he says the Word became flesh. The mind and will and dynamic and power of God became embodied in Jesus. And this concept for some people is too much to handle. It is really a difficult thing to fit into your mind, how something infinitely transcendent like God can reduce Himself to a man? How could and why would God become a person? And why would the creator become a part of His creation?
We as people have a time/space confinement. Now outside our little box is the supernatural world and that's where God is. Now the dilemma of man is, if he can't escape his little box, what is he going to do to find God? How am I going to get out there because I have this longing inside of me that He exists? How can I discover Him?
Listen, if man can't get out to find God, what has to happen? God has to come in the box. Did He ever do it? Yes, in the form of Jesus Christ. You know what that is? That's God the supernatural bringing the supernatural reality to man. And He came and Jesus was God in human flesh. And thus the Word became flesh.
When Christ became man He didn't stop being God, anymore than a woman when she becomes a mother stops being a wife. And so it is that when Jesus Christ became flesh, the word is used in that sense, He became flesh in the sense that He was still all that He was as God, but He just added to it the total dimension of humanity.
"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word for "dwelt" is the word for "set up a tent" in Greek. I used to think that implied mainly that he was here only temporarily. But when I looked up all the places this word occurs in the New Testament, I found that it doesn't imply temporary status.
For example, in Revelation 21:3 where the eternal new heavens and new earth are described, it says, "Behold the dwelling [tent!] of God is with men. He will dwell [pitch his tent!] with them, and they shall be his people."
What pitching a tent with us implies is that God wants to be on familiar terms with us. He wants to be close. He wants a lot of interaction. If you come into a community and build a huge palace with a high wall around it, it says that you really do not want to be with the people.
But if you pitch a tent in my backyard, you will probably use my bathroom and eat often at my table. This is why God became human. He came to pitch a tent in our human backyard so that we would have a lot of dealings with Him.
That's the third step in our stair. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. Third, God became human and set up his tent among us.
4. In Jesus We See God. The fourth step is that in Jesus we see God. Verse 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Notice: "we have seen his glory." Who does "his" refer to? It refers to the Word. "The Word became flesh, and we beheld HIS glory." "And the Word was with God and the Word was God." So in Jesus we behold God—the glory of God.
But you know there's something that's interesting is that He veiled Himself as a human but He still couldn't hide His glory, could He? The glory that Jesus Christ had as God shows through. What does John say, look at it, "He dwelt among us and we beheld His glory." He couldn't hide the glory of who He was. Christ was here on earth and they said we beheld or witnessed His glory.
Some of his disciples saw the brilliant glow of who He was physically on the Mount of Transfiguration. They went up there and Jesus just kind of opened up the veil and the light came out, remember that? And He was transparent and shone like the sun and they saw His glory. And John never forgot that, neither did Peter.
But beyond that even more significantly, they saw the glory of God in His spiritual qualities, didn't they? For you know that in reality the glory of God is manifest in grace, in goodness, in love, in wisdom, in knowledge and understanding, in mercy, in all of the attributes of God His glory is revealed, for glory is all that God is.
And so you don't need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond video CD’s and beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch Him and get to know Him in the person of his Son Jesus.
When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.
So what is God like? What do we see when we see Jesus? John is very clear in what he wants to stress. We see the glory of God's grace and truth. Verse 14: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Then John repeats this in verse 17, "The law was through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." The point is this: the essence of what God reveals about himself in Jesus is, first, that he is true—that is, he is real, more real than all that you can see.
In a sense everything that looks so real to us now is in reality like a short dream. 2 Corinthians 4:18, "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." God is truth. God is reality. And that is what we see in Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Some people have a false security and they feel that if they believe in God that's enough. Do you realize that the people who crucified Jesus Christ thought they were doing it for God? To believe in God is just to believe half the truth. Because you don't get the full truth until you see Jesus Christ who is the expression of God and who lays before us what God requires.
And second, God is grace. Or as John says in his first letter: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). God is free and overflowing and lavish in his goodness to sinful creatures. This is grace. This is the essence of God's reality because nothing reveals the fullness of his deity more than the freedom of His grace.
He is full, happy, and able in himself so that He does not need us to meet his need but is surging with infinite energy and fullness to meet ours. That's His grace. And that's the capstone of his glory. "We saw his glory . . . full of grace and truth."
That's step four. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. Third, God became human and set up his tent among us. Fourth, in Jesus we see God and know what he is like: true reality and fullness of grace.
5. God Came to Give Us Grace; We Must Receive It. Which brings us now to the top of our flight of stairs to the practical Christmas truth.
At the end of verse 16, he says, "grace upon grace." You know what that is? Grace in the place of grace. When grace goes new grace comes, it's just like the waves on the ocean, one wave rolls in and right away comes another one, more grace and more grace.
In Ephesians 2:7, Paul says that in the coming ages God might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Have you ever thought about grace? God's gracious love just keeps coming like the ocean waves, it just never stops.
And that's why Paul says in Romans 5: 2, "this grace in which we stand." You know, we live in a bubble of grace. And if there ever was a moment when grace didn't come, we would be done for because it only takes one sin to make a sinner. And so God just keeps the grace rolling in like the waves and grace in place of grace.
What is the connection between all this revelation and you? Verse 16 gives the answer: "And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace." So step five is this: God came not just to show us grace but to give us grace; and we must receive this abounding grace.
God doesn't just want to stock your head with knowledge about his truth and grace, he wants you to receive it and experience it. This Christmas he wants to give you personally a foundation of truth and reality so you won't cave in under stress.
And so it is Christ in verse 18 who has declared the reality of God. We see in Jesus Christ the distant, the unknowable, the invisible, the almighty, the transcendent, the majestic, unreachable God reaching to man and becoming a man. And because God became a man God is no longer a stranger, is He?
That's what Christianity is all about. It's not a form of religion. It's not a system. Listen, it is a personal love relationship with Christ who is God in a human body who died and rose again and lives today. That is Christianity.
This Christmas He wants to treat you with grace—to forgive all your sins—all of them!—to take away all your guilt, to make your conscience clean, to help you with your problems, to give you strength for each day, and to fill you with hope and joy and peace.