From His Fullness

Sermon preached on John 1:14-18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/19/2021 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

I’ve spent a lot of time in this passage over the years when thinking about the birth of Jesus. Yet, the theme that I’d like to focus on in this morning’s sermon is an area that my sermons on this passage haven’t delved into too much. I’d like to spend a little time thinking of the fullness that is mentioned of Jesus, particularly in verses 14-18. The language of full or fullness is used in verses 14 and 16. Verse 14 speaks of his divine fullness that has come to us as he is God come in the flesh. Verse 16 speaks of how from his fullness we have grace and truth. And so, we learn here of some of the wonderful things the Jesus’s birth has brought to us from his fullness. And its these same verses that describe this in comparison to Moses. The great, true religion was brought to much light to the world through Moses. What Moses brought humanity was wonderful and amazing and sufficiently served God’s people for many centuries. But with the birth of Jesus, one greater than Moses has come bringing things even greater than what Moses brought. As we again reflect on Christ’s birth, let us reflect on what he has brought us in his divine fullness.

Let us first consider how Jesus brings us the fullness of God, both of his glory, and of his revelation. This is the basis for what we speak today when we speak of his fullness. Verse 14 describes Jesus as the Word that became flesh. This passage began in verse 1 by telling us that this Word was both with God and was God from the very beginning. This passage ends in verse 18 by telling us that this Word is the Only-begotten God, the eternal Son of the Father, who is at the Father’s side. So, we find the wonderful mystery that the one we call Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh. The name of Jesus isn’t even mentioned in this passage until almost the end, in verse 17, which is really more of a reference to his humanity than anything. But Jesus is the eternal God, one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, who came to this earth in the divine fullness and became man. He didn’t lose his divinity when he became man, but added a divine nature to his person. So then, in the person of Jesus, the fullness of the deity dwelt in bodily form, as Colossians 2:9 also teaches.

This is beautifully described in a word that is almost always lost in English translations in verse 14. The word for “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” or “pitched a tent”. The Son of God tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father. Here, in our passage, even before Moses’ name is mentioned, we have a contrast with Moses. Moses brought, so to speak, the glory of God to the world when he pitched a tent in the wilderness. God showed Moses a picture in heaven of a tabernacle which Moses then used to build an earthly approximation. In that tabernacle and later the temple that Solomon built, the Shekinah glory of God dwelt among his people. Such was wonderful and glorious. But now with Jesus, that fullness of God’s glory was manifested not in a fixed tent or building, but in the human body of Jesus. Wherever Jesus went, the fullness of God’s glory was present right there. And when Moses had built that tabernacle, Exodus 40:34 speaks of how at first the glory cloud of God filled the tabernacle. But what resulted of that was Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle when that glory cloud was so settled upon the tabernacle, Exodus 40:35. But Jesus, as one better than Moses, had within him the fullness of God’s glory. And we’ve seen that glory; that fullness of divine glory in the person of Jesus!

This is why verse 18 can speak of how Jesus reveals the fullness of God to us. We have the fullness of God revealed to us in and through Jesus. Later in John’s gospel, one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, will say, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus would reply that if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Jesus, in his divine fullness, is the full and complete revelation of God. Here, again, verse 18 reminds us of how much better this is than what Moses brought. Remember, Moses had asked God to show him his glory and God said that no man can see his face and live. God allowed Moses in some sense to see the backside of his glory from the cleft of the rock, but not to behold the fullness of God. But verse 18 says that Jesus as the eternal Son of God is in the bosom of the father. In context, it’s saying that he has seen and known God in a way that no mere human can. There was a way in which Moses brought revelation of God to us. But there is an even better way God is revealed to us in his fullness through Jesus. As Hebrews 1 says, God has now in these last day spoken to us in his Son!

Let us next consider how Jesus has brought to us the fullness of divine grace. Jesus is said in verse 14 to be full of grace. And in verse 16 from his fullness, it says he brings us grace upon grace. Grace is such a rich word, in itself. It is closely related to the word for gift. It refers to the good gifts God gives us when we don’t deserve the gifts he gives us. Sometimes it is defined as unmerited favor. An even more accurate definition would be demerited favor, because we not only don’t deserve such good gifts from God, we’ve earned the opposite. It is not just that we don’t deserve God’s many blessings but we’ve deserved God’s full wrath and curse. But Jesus brings us the fullness of that divine character of grace and bestows such upon us who come to in faith.

Think of the abundance of grace that Jesus gives us with the language in verse 16 of grace upon grace. The idea of grace upon grace is hard to really fathom. It might be explained as grace in place of grace. That Jesus gives you grace, and then he gives you grace to replace that grace. So then, it pictures this steady, unending, and abounding flow of grace to us from Jesus. In this world, drought can cause springs and rivers to dry up. But nothing will cause the flow of God’s grace in Jesus to stop. This is again related to the idea that Jesus’ grace flows from the divine fullness within him. He himself possesses grace without measure in his divine fullness. It’s almost a sort of oxymoron to think of fullness of any attribute of God. God is infinite. That he means he is unbounded. Yet something being full is technically a description of something being filled to maximum capacity. But God doesn’t have any maximum capacity. He is infinite. He is unbounded. But that doesn’t mean his grace doesn’t fill him, either. In the wonderful glory of our God, God is full of grace. Jesus, the only begotten of the Father is full of grace. His grace is more than sufficient to cover us from all our sin.

Again, we see a contrast here with Moses. In verse 17, there is a direct comparison drawn. There, the law which Moses brought is contrasted with the grace and truth that Jesus brought. We’ll touch on the truth comparison in our final point in today’s sermon. But think now of contrasting law and grace. I would like to point out that there is broad generalization here that might lead you to a faulty conclusion. This is not to say that Moses’s ministry didn’t involve any source of grace. Nor would it be fair to say that Jesus’ ministry didn’t involve any law. No, the old covenant that God enacted through Moses had lots of means of grace in it. Think of the all the sacrifices, for example, for the atonement of sin. Or think of God’s gracious redemption of the people out of Egypt through Moses. Yet, those things looked beyond themselves and were in themselves really just placeholders for the real substance of grace to come in Jesus. For example, the efficacy of those sacrifices of bulls and goats really were as they stood in promise of the coming of the real sacrifice for sin, that is the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us. And likewise, the redemption of Egypt looked ahead to how God’s people would be freed from their bondage to the slavery of sin through the grace Jesus would bring. In the same way, while Jesus certainly directed his saved people back to God’s moral law as a perfect rule of righteousness, we realize that he secured a new relationship for us to the law. Before it stood to condemn us in our sin. But in the grace that Jesus brought, that is no longer our relationship to the law. Yes, the saints of old may have enjoyed these benefits in a sense in advance, in hope of Christ to come. But the substance of such actually came when Jesus came.

So then, the fullness of such grace upon grace means that Jesus’ ministry in comparison to Moses can be defined in such stark terms. Moses’ ministry could especially be characterized in terms of law, while Jesus’ ministry in terms of grace. Moses brought a law that kept us captive. For the law revealed our sin and we were left condemned under the sentence of death. Yet, Jesus came bringing grace to address that captivity and death. At the cross, Jesus offered himself as a propitiation for our sin, so that whoever believes on him will be save. For by faith in Jesus, our sin has been accounted to Christ and he put it death on the cross. And by faith, Christ’s righteousness has been accounted to us, so that God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. So then, Scripture paints this contrast between law and grace. For example, Paul in Romans 6:13 says that we are no longer under law but under grace.

It is rather interesting to note that while this prologue to John’s gospel uses this wonderful language of grace four times, John doesn’t use the word again in the rest of his long book. And yet the book is a repeated testament of the grace Jesus brings, in various ways. One way that is seen is in how the book can be organized by signs. The first half of the book shows Jesus doing greater and greater miracles which are described as signs. The second half focuses on the final miracle of his own resurrection, which is the greatest sign. These signs testify not only to who Jesus is as the God-man, but they reflect and illustrate the grace that he brings to whomever would come to him and believe on him. For example, when Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand in John 6, it spoke to the grace Jesus brought by which people could spiritually feed on him and have eternal life. These miraculous signs also pair well with the famous seven “I am” statements that John’s gospel records of Jesus. Jesus said things like, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). This is a testimony of the grace unto eternal life that Jesus brought in himself. And so, while John doesn’t use the word “grace” in the rest of his book, the whole thing is arguably the most evident testimony among the Gospels to the fullness of grace that Jesus brought when he came into this world.

Let us lastly consider the fullness of divine truth that Jesus has brought us. This is also mentioned twice in our passage. Verse 14, Jesus as the Word become flesh is full of grace and truth. Verse 17, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Truth, by definition, is that which is true, right, valid, certain, and accurate. It is the genuine reality of something compared to any falsehood or fiction. While John’s gospel will later describe the devil as the father of all lies, God is God of truth. So then, from the fullness of divine truth, Jesus is able and has revealed God’s truth to us.

We again note the comparison that is made with Moses in verse 17. That Moses brought the law is also contrasted with how Jesus brought the truth. Again, we acknowledge that certainly Moses brought various truths from God. He bore witness to wonderful truths like the revelation that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). Yet, ultimately he was just a messenger – God being the one to give him that truth which he then conveyed. Jesus, on the other hand, is the very embodiment of truth as God in the flesh. As this passage even describes, he is the very Word of God come to us. He is the divine truth spoken to us himself, the fullness of all revelation. The language of Jesus being the Word here really drives home this point of Jesus bringing to us truth from his divine fullness.

Another sense of comparison between what Moses brought under the law and what Jesus brings in terms of truth, is when we think of truth in terms of substance vs shadow. What I mean is that much of what Moses brought was but a type and shadow of the real thing. For example, Hebrews 8:4 says that Moses constructed the tabernacle as the earthly place of worship patterned off of the heavenly tabernacle that God somehow gave him to see. And so, it says there that what Moses made was just a copy of the heavenly tabernacle. In other words, the earthly tabernacle, wasn’t the real, true, tabernacle. That copy of a tabernacle eventually got turned into a physical temple on the top of Jerusalem. But take that idea and think about that in light of John 4 when Jesus was asked if we should worship in that temple on Jerusalem. Jesus replied saying that now true worshippers will start to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Under Moses, the worship was provisional, facilitated through just a copy of the heavenly temple, so to speak. But now Christ brought access to worship in truth, in the sense of in substance and in the real thing. Christ brought a way for us to now truly worship God in the true heavenly temple by the Spirit of Christ. The tabernacle is just one example of a number of things that Moses brought that weren’t the real thing but types and shadows of the real thing. But Jesus brings us the real things – the true and real things.

This idea of Jesus bringing the fullness of divine truth is something that John explicitly draws out in various ways in the rest of this book. I’ve already mentioned some, but let me mention a few other of the bigger ones. In John 3:21, Jesus speaks of how obedience to God can be described as being a doer of the truth. In John 5:22, Jesus speaks about how John the Baptist bore witness about Jesus, but what he describes is John bearing witness to the truth. In other words, bearing witness about Jesus, is bearing witness about the truth, identifying Jesus with truth. In John 8:31, Jesus says we need to abide in Jesus’ word, and if we do then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. In other words, the truth we find in Jesus will save us! In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The truth in Jesus is the way to God and eternal life! In John 14:17 and 16:13, Jesus speaks of when he ascended back up into heaven he will send us the Holy Spirit. But there he call the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. He says the Spirit of truth will guide us into all truth, speaking to us of that truth that is in Jesus. And in John 18:37, Jesus testifies to Pilate that everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice. Of course, Pilate scoffed, saying, “What is truth?” But the answer is that Jesus is truth and we need to know the fullness of God’s truth that we find in Jesus. May we each here today know that life-changing and life-saving truth in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, we celebrate and remember again this year the significance of Christ’s birth. Notice how today’s message about all this divine fullness finds it realization at Christ’s coming into this world. It’s a little detail in verse 16. It says, “For from his fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace.” It says, “we have all received.” It’s past tense. Not present tense. We could appreciate this if it were present tense too. We all are receiving grace and truth and knowledge of God from Jesus. That’s true. But it puts it past tense. Because it’s not so much a point of how this all gets applied to us. It’s a historical point about what Jesus brought when he was born into the world. Because the past tense timing of verse 16 is in the context of verse 14, when the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us. When the eternal Son of God incarnated into this world, the fullness of God came to us. These words “we have all received” point to a finished reality. Jesus has brought us the fullness of God, full of the grace and truth we need.” He brought this when he was born into this world.
If you are a Christian, you have come to know all of the divine fullness that we have been talking about today. So then, may your faith be renewed in this fullness that we have in Jesus. We have the fullness of grace, truth, and of the very revelation of God and his glory to us, in our hearts and minds and in our lives.

And if you are here today and have not yet come to know this – I call you today to come into a relationship with the divine. Know the God who made all things. See his glory. Receive his grace and truth for you. Do so by calling out to Jesus today in faith through prayer. Confess your sins and ask him to forgive you. Become his disciple today. Christ has come. May his coming be for you the fullness of God coming into your heart. Amen.

Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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