John: Grace and Glory

John: Grace and Glory

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Every morning when the caterpillar gets up, it is on this journey. And it didn’t really pick this journey for itself; it just does what caterpillars do. He gets up in the morning (well I don’t know if caterpillars are he’s or she’s), and he’s headed towards a destination, a destination that God has laid out for him. He just gets up, and he continues to do what God has called him to do, but there is a beautiful, glorious end for this caterpillar. God has set the caterpillar on this journey. The way that it ends is not at all like the way that a caterpillar begins, when it becomes this beautiful butterfly and just shows off to the world how incredible our creator is.

When you get up in the morning, you’re also on a journey. In fact, I’m going to take us on a journey like a guide today through the book of John. We’re in John chapter one, and I want us to try to get to a specific destination. But like a tour guide, I’m going to point out a couple of awesome things along the way, and hopefully we’ll have a little bit of fun. But I want you to see that this journey that all Christians are on (this is true of all children of God for all time), and here’s what the journey looks like for you, because it looks like this for me, too. 

Grace is a gift, and the gift of grace gives you the strength to get out of bed in the morning, like the caterpillar gets up and keeps doing what caterpillars do.But the caterpillar is on a glorious journey, and so are you. You see, grace gives you the strength to get out of the bed, and glory gives you a goal to chase every day of your life. 

Grace gives you the strength to get out of bed and glory gives you a goal to chase everyday.

And one day at the end, God does something spectacular, amazing in his people and through his people. This is really what the Bible talks about in John chapter one. We’re going to start in verse six in just a moment, and we’re going to hear and see a picture of a guy that is on a journey to bring glory to God, a pretty amazing guy on a journey to bring glory to God. And the journey that he’s on is the same journey that we’re on. John chapter one is going to point out first that glory is the light that shines in the brightest darkness; glory lights up the dark path that you’re on.

Glory that lights the darkest path

Now, I tend to say this a lot around here, because I think it needs to be repeated: Glory is this Bible word that describes our God, and it says that he is different, that he is powerful. But the word glory also says that there is some weight to who God is. Life is shallow, life is light without him. But there’s also this idea in the Bible of God’s glory being a bright light. In fact, the Old Testament phrase here is God’s Shekinah glory, his shining glory that shines the light on a path. And here’s what I say a lot around here: We sometimes need to be reminded that Christians are on a journey to bring glory to God.

I say this because I do this, and I know you do it, too. Sometimes we can forget that, and all of us from time to time become glory thieves. All of us from time to time can break that first Commandment, and we place ourself in the place of God and start to want glory for ourself instead of glory for God. 

I’ll tell you how you can see this. You can see this when people obsess about respect, when people freak out when they don’t get treated right. When people rant and rave on social media about not getting the credit they deserve, you can see people that have started to place themselves in the role of God and pushed God off of the throne and taken his place on the throne of our hearts. That’s why we call him King Jesus around here, as a reminder of who gets the glory and who sits on the throne.

You want to see a picture of a guy who understood this and lived his entire life like this? -a regular ordinary dude, just like me and just like you. Here he is, John chapter one, verse six. It’s the story of John the Baptist. 

John 1:6-9 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

This John has no relation to the guy who is writing this book. This is John the Baptizer, and the guy who writes the book is John the Apostle, John the follower Jesus. When you hear how amazing this guy, John the Baptist, is, I need to make sure that you don’t confuse him with King Jesus. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.

Now, John is a master with the words you see. In the first couple of verses of this book, he tells us how Jesus was around before the beginning, and now he’s going to transition seamlessly to talk about John the Baptist. If you know the stories about John the Baptist, when the other writers of the Bible talk about John the Baptist, they talk about how eccentric, how crazy this guy was. They talk about the way that he dressed and the way that he looks and the way that he eats. Not John.

When John the Apostle talks about John the Baptizer, all we learn is about his message and his method. We don’t hear about his crazy dress, and we don’t hear about the wild food that he ate. We just hear of a guy who’s passionate about the glory of God, and he wants people to come in to the light and experience the true life. And by the way, just to make sure that there’s no confusion, the Bible tells us in crystal clear language John isn’t the true light.

John the Baptist is kind of a herald. Now, in our day we don’t have heralds anymore, but in John’s day, they did, and these heralds were guys that showed up with a trumpet announcing, “The king is on his way! Hey everybody, prepare yourself for the king.” John is telling us, John the Baptist is not the king; he is not the true light. He’s just one pointing to the light. He’s the herald that’s announcing the king is on his way. And John really doesn’t have any light in himself or of himself. John’s job is to just point people to the light. John is on a journey like you and I are on a journey to bring God glory, and that’s what we see in this book. That’s what John is trying to tell us, that John the Baptist is not the true light.

Did you guys see that meteor shower that happened this weekend? No, not the Chinese satellite that crashed into the ocean last night; I’m talking about the real meteor shower, it’s called the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Do you know that meteors, when they pass over earth, these things are really just balls of gas with a little bit of trail following behind them? And meteors of themselves usually come from a specific point. While we sit here on earth, it looks like meteor showers are all coming from one point and going in the same direction. Get this, most of the meteors that you saw this week in this meteor shower were the result, they were spun off when Halley’s comet passed over earth in 1986. Yes, almost 50 years later, the meteors that you see that pass over are the result of that big comet that passed by a long time ago.

Here’s what I want you to understand about meteors. Meteors, when they pass close enough to the earth’s surface, there’s some friction in the earth’s atmosphere, and that friction causes a chemical reaction and it causes the tail, or the meteor itself, to light up as it passes over the surface. Meteors themselves don’t have light. Some meteors, when they get close enough to the sun, they have some radioactive materials in there, and they’ll start to glow because the sun’s power made them glow. 

And hopefully by now you’ve already made the connection. I have no power to shine the light on my own, nor do you. And John the Baptist didn’t. But I tell you what I do have; I have the ability to be a herald, just like John was, and point to the light, the true light, like John did.

So I’m going to make a promise for you. This week, if you’re trying to draw glory or attention to yourself, you’re going to have a frustrating week, because you and I are terrible replacements for God. But we can be really, really good heralds for God. So you want to have a better week? I’ll give you a money-back guarantee. Get up this week and live for the glory of God. And here’s what will happen: Your week will be a whole lot less stressful, and it will be a whole lot more satisfying, because you’re not trying to impress people about you. You’re just trying to point them to the one that really is impressive in the first place. This is what John the Baptist did, and this is what Jesus asked all of his followers to do after he leaves earth and returns back to Heaven.

Grace for a new start

The second thing on this journey that all of us caterpillars that are making our way to butterflies, the second thing that happens to us is grace. It’s this gift of God that gives us the chance to get a new start each morning. The word grace literally is a reference to a gift, and this is a gift that is undeserved.

For those of you who have been to church a lot, and you are not really sure what the difference is between the word mercy and the word gift, they are not the same word; they don’t work the same way in the Bible. Mercy means you did wrong, and you didn’t get the punishment that that thing deserves. Gift is when you get something that you absolutely don’t deserve, and you did nothing right to earn. In fact, the gift of God in the Bible is a scandalous gift. It is awesome that if you got this gift and opened it up, you’d be a little bit embarrassed because you would be the person that says, “I don’t deserve this,” and you really, really mean it. This gift is so lavish, so awesome, I did nothing to earn this, that’s what makes it a gift. If you could earn it, it’s not a gift anymore. “I did nothing to earn this, and I’m a little bit embarrassed by how amazing this gift is for a guy like me.” That’s what the Bible is going to describe when God gives the ultimate gift to his children. Let’s pick up where we left off in the book of John in chapter one, starting in verse ten:

V. 10-13 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

John is describing for us who Jesus is and what Jesus is like, and he describes this gift of grace, when God sends his son, Jesus, to rescue people and adopt them into God’s family. Now, if you were paying attention, this chapter alone, John chapter one, uses the word world three times, and then it doesn’t show up the rest of the book. World in this way shows up twice in this chapter as referring to the plants and the trees and the mountains, the stuff that you and I can see with our eyes. And right here, he’s referring to people. 

He’s saying Jesus created all of the world that you can see, and we can recognize that, but he also created people, and the people that he created, they couldn’t recognize him; they couldn’t see him. They couldn’t see him because they rejected him.

And what John is doing is, he’s describing what happens when Jesus comes and he comes as the suffering servant, not as the conquering king. And everybody thought, Wait a second, I thought the Messiah was supposed to rescue us and make life awesome for us? And what they saw, they didn’t really believe in. They couldn’t understand it, and so they just rejected it. I think if you were to ask John, if he was standing up here today, he would say, “Moses longed to see Jesus but didn’t get a chance to. Samuel wanted to see what we got a chance to see with our own eyes. The great kings and the great prophets like David never got a chance to see what we got a chance to see with our own eyes. And the people in Jesus’s own day could see him with their eyes, and yet they couldn’t believe him. They couldn’t receive him. They rejected him. They didn’t recognize him.”

Do you know the word recognize? It doesn’t mean that I can identify this person from across the room. It’s actually different than that. It’s, “I can tell that’s my wife by her voice, or by the way she walked. I can tell that that’s my best friend who just got off of the airplane and is walking through the airport because I know him so well, I can recognize them from across the room.” It’s intimate knowledge because the relationship is so close and so deep, I recognize them, and they recognize me. It’s not the kind of intellectual understanding that there was a guy by the name of Jesus. He lived a long time ago, and he showed up in the history books and in the Bible. No, this is a, “I know that man, and that man knows me. That’s why I recognize him; that’s why he’s invited me to be part of his family. That’s why he’s adopted me.

There was a fascinating story this week on the internet. There was a woman named Monyay who was just adopted by Leah. Now here’s what’s so fascinating about this story: Monyay is a grown woman who just aged out of the foster care system in Florida. If you don’t know what aged out means, it means she’s been living in foster care basically her entire life. She turned 18. She’s a legal adult in the United States, just finished school, and the foster care system says, “We’re not spending money on you. I don’t care that you don’t have a car, don’t care that you don’t have a job, don’t care that you have don’t have a future. You’ve got to leave.”

Leah was Monyay’s foster care caseworker for a few years. She met this woman, loved this woman, and wanted to see this woman have a life and a family, even though she’s aged out at the foster care system in Florida. So Leah just adopted Monyay into her family, and Monyay said in a news article, “This is what I refer to as my birthday. -not the day that I was physically born, the day that Leah adopted me into her family.”

Leah, who’s just a few years older than her, is so proud that she’s a brand new mom, so ready to call this woman her daughter that she’s invested time and her life into, and because she’s a case worker, couldn’t adopt her as a juvenile because it’s against the law. So as soon as she turned 18 and is legally out of the foster care system, Leah said, “I want you to be part of my family. I want you to be my child.”

The Bible is saying is that you and I did nothing to earn this. It’s a scandalous grace gift from God. But he looked down at a kid like me, who was in a lot of trouble and making some big mistakes and said, “I want him to be part of my family.” He looked at you and said, “I want you. You can do nothing to earn this; you do nothing to deserve this, but I want you to become part of my family.”

And John doesn’t want you to mistake this. He says, “We didn’t do anything right. We didn’t do anything to earn this. In fact, this was a supernatural birth. We are children of God because of the will of God and not because of the hard work of man.” That’s the grace gift that John is describing for us today, and God has this gift for any man, any woman, who is far from King Jesus.

Where grace meets glory

Let’s get to the destination that we started just a moment ago. When we take a look at the third and the final thing from John chapter one, this passage that we’re looking today, I want to show you what happens when grace, this gift of God, meets the glory of God, and how incredible it is in the Gospel of John. 

In fact, one of the great early preachers in American history, a guy by the name of Jonathan Edwards, said it this way: “Grace is but glory begun in your life, and glory is but grace perfected.” And you get up like the caterpillar, making your way to a glorious, beautiful destination, and the destination is when grace and glory meet, or in the book of John today, grace on top of grace, from grace to grace. Here’s how John says it for us, starting in verse 14:

V. 14-18 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’ ”) Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.

When John was writing this book, there’s no question, he was probably thinking back to the story of Exodus 33 when God was about to appear to the children of Israel in the desert. He was about to appear on top of the mountain, and God warned the children of Israel, “Don’t you dare come on the mountain. In fact, don’t even touch the mountain, because if you do, I’m going to strike you dead, because no one can see God and live,” This is what Exodus 33 says.

But check this out: The same guy who writes this book that we’re looking at today also writes the book of Revelation, and he says, “There is a moment where you and I will see God, and I mean see him with our eyes.” In Revelation chapter 21, John uses the exact same word in that passage that he’s using today, that God dwells with his people. And you know what? You don’t need the sun anymore, because the glory of God will shine so bright that there’s no day, there’s no night, there’s no need for a sun or a moon. We will walk by the glory of God because we will dwell in his midst and we will see him with our eyes. That’s what John said he got a chance to do while Jesus was on earth. 

Now, in verses 14-18, let me make sure that you understand, I’m not talking about John the Baptist. John the Baptist testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This is the one of whom I said the one coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness.” 

Grace upon grace.

No one gets a chance to understand and to become intimate with God until grace upon grace happens, until God does something miraculous and creates a new creature, born again by the grace of God, who has the right to call themselves a child of God.

John is describing, “What words could I use to help you understand, not what Jesus looked like, what could I use to help you understand what it felt like to know, I’m in the presence of the son of God? I’m trying to impress on the readers what this was like for me, because one day this is exactly what you’re going to experience when you spend an eternity in the presence of God, the Father, seeing him with your own eyes, seeing what no human being on earth has ever been able to see, dwelling in his presence,” 

In Revelation chapter one, John is telling us what it looks like when the caterpillar becomes the butterfly, and all that we were created to be, this glory journey that we started out on, and the grace that gets us up in the morning, will eventually bring us to the destination that God has placed us on. He will eventually do this miracle in your life, like he did in John the Baptist, and John the author of this book’s life, and in millions, billions of people over the course of human history.

Let me try to describe just how awesome this phrase, grace upon grace, is. I was talking to a friend this week. We had some really severe storms in the Southeast part of the United States this week (really, really heavy range). Y’all remember what that was like? Well a friend had a family member who was driving across Alabama, and he had to be at this very important business meeting. While the roads were being flooded with torrential rains, he pulled his car off underneath an overpass and basically was thinking, I’m going to kill myself trying to make it there, and if I don’t try to make it there, I’m going to totally let the company down. What do you do?

So he’s stranded underneath this overpass (true story) when a semi-truck pulls in front of him, and the semi driver gets out and he says, “It looks like that you’re really in a hurry and you need some help.” And then the big diesel semi-truck driver says, “I tell you what. My truck is perfectly fine on these roads. Why don’t you just tuck in right behind me, and I will take you to your destination and all you’ve got to do is get right behind me and just follow right next to me.” And this friend’s family member (Evan is his first name) tucked right in behind that semi-truck in this torrential rain and just followed the truck, taking him to his destination.

Are you looking? Are you listening? Grace upon grace is where God says to you, “I have a destination, it is a beautiful and awesome, a glorious destination for you. That’s grace. But I’m also going to walk with you and show you exactly how to get there. In fact, I’m going to give you the strength to get up and to make that journey, and all you’ve got to do is walk in my grace, and eventually we’ll get there together. This is what grace on top of grace looks like. Basically what John is saying is, you and I did nothing to deserve this. You and I couldn’t possibly earn this. It is all of God, through Jesus, by his Spirit, that you and I can be called the children of God and invited into his family.