“Purposed, Purchased and Brought to Pass”
27 June 2004
Texts: John 1:1-18
FFC: We have no acceptance with God on our terms.
CS: Christ has mediated a new covenant.
Question: Why grace?
The whole purpose of grace is to glorify the whole godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we open the Word and begin the gospel of John, we are immediately struck with the grandeur of God’s redemption. First there is the grandeur of time--the Word was in the beginning. So we begin before time, outside of time and in that dimension wherein God has always existed. The Word was in communion with the Father God before creation. Now that is a wonderful, awe inspiring thing to consider! Second, there is the grandeur of creation itself. The impartation of life, the huge diversity of its wonderful display throughout the heavens and the earth. Vast, overwhelmingly splendid, we both comprehend and yet cannot fully understand all the wonders of that life which was in God, which He breathed into inorganic matter making it alive, responsive, dependent and relational all at once. Third, there is grandeur of God’s intrusiveness--He sovereignty reaches into human history, placing whom He will where He will all to sustain, increase and to magnify His glory. God sent John and John’s purpose was to prepare the world for an even more astounding intrusion: the coming of the Light of the world. There was Light from the beginning, a light independent of natural light being both prior to, and of an entirely different order--this is true Light. We are not talking about something as puny as solar emissions here. We are trying to capture, in some small measure, the notion of the radiance of God’s divine being, the entire radiance of that being which is infinitely vast, powerful, majestic and glorious. Now that divine light came into the world. It was the same Light as brought about creation, and the same light that has ever been and always will be. That power, energy, presence and god being “came into the world” (v. 9). The thought that anything so vast, uncontainable and indescribable could appear on earth is mind-bending. It means that ultimate reality is too ultimate to be excluded from this created order--that is the error of rational man, the error of deists. Deists have a notion of God which does not fit the facts-their God is remote, removed, distant and disengaged. Not so, this true Light, as Scripture reads, “He came to His own.” His appearing was simultaneously from the outside and from the inside--for with God it appears there is no such distinction: all reality is His. Every dimension of reality is subordinate to His being and subject to His purposes. My May 12th encounter with the God of Cleveland was a refresher course in the mercies and kindnesses of our Lord; He is absolutely in the details.
Beloved, the whole purpose of grace is to glorify God, to gratify Him. And if we hope to have communion with God there has been a way, one way, supplied and here it is: we are to reach up to the love of the Father through the work of the Spirit by the blood of the Son. And this arrangement is not only from God but it is that which alone glorifies God. John Owen writes: “Divine love begins with the Father, is carried on by the Son and then communicated to us by the Spirit.” Therefore, I repeat: the Father Purposes, the Son purchases and the Spirit brings it to pass. “So we are brought by the work of the Spirit to faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which we are accepted by the Father.” (p.137) And if we are to keep alive that vital sense of God in our midst, it may come with periodic encounters, but it comes much more consistently through consistent meditation upon these truths:
“This, then, is how we are brought to acceptance with the Father, for the glory of God through Christ. The Holy Spirit is glorified by being given to us to quicken us, convert us and to work faith in us (Rom. 8:11; Eph. 1:19, 20 ). This is according to all the promises of the covenant (Isa. 4:4,5; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). The Son if glorified by this work of the Holy Spirit in us, for by it we come to trust in His blood shed for us and receive all the benefits of that shed blood, which includes the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The Father is glorified when we are accepted by him, justified, freed from guilt, pardoned and ‘have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). “Through Christ we have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17). So the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are glorified in our justification and acceptance with God. The Father is glorified in His free love. The Son is glorified in His full purchase. The Holy Spirit is glorified in His effectual working. . . .Only, the reason why we are delivered and freed in the way we are is that the whole Trinity may be glorified.
-John Owen, pp.137-8
When we read the gospel of John, we are to remember the whole scope and sequence of God’s redeeming work under taking out of His kindness and for our unmerited benefit. What John is doing in the opening verses of the first chapter is filling us in on the details of our salvation. The reason that John alludes to the origin of all things, the first creation, is so that he can draw our attention to the new creation which occurred when the redemptive purposes of God became en-fleshed. This we know as the incarnation. In the incarnation, the Word took on a perfect human nature--so that He would be in all ways like us except without sin. Why without sin? Many reasons. One is so that He would be suitable as a sacrifice, a complete and full payment for all our sins. God’s justice cannot be infringed as it was by Adam’s deliberate rejection and rebellion. God, who is love, is also holy and just. All crimes are to be answered for--including our crimes against God: sin, rebellion and unbelief. These things utterly offend His Majesty. Jesus knew this great offense, not personally but representatively--He knew the injury by identification with us, not by any participation in the offense. That is why we say He died for us. He laid down His life which was not due to anyone on account of sin (“the wages of sin are death”) freely, and sacrificially--that is, completely out of particular love for the Elect and out of general compassion for the world of lost sinners. God, the Word, became incarnate to offer up Himself on our behalf because this was the will, and the purpose of the Father. When His own did not receive Him, they did not receive the Father. Nor did they receive the offer of reconciliation which the Father extended by sending the Son.
Many, we read, did receive Him. And as many as did so gained huge spiritual benefit and privilege: the right to become “children of God.” Believers attain by their faith something that can not be obtained by nature, by birth only. These are they “who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” These marvelous terms define for us “election.” These terms are categories of grace. What they mean is, I think, very plain. The blood we are born again through is not the blood of childbirth, but the blood of the atonement, the blood of the Lamb. That blood although offered freely is of no effect if it is not sprinkled upon us--shed abroad by the Holy Spirit. It is sprinkled upon us by faith. Secondly, the apostle wants us to know that “the will of the flesh” is incapable of attaining the status of “children of God.” It nothing that we can do in the natural realm of things. And, more particularly, we cannot even does this in our capacity, as distinguished from other creatures, as human beings. Parents may will to have children, and if God opens the womb, they will conceive. But spiritual standing comes only by the gracious means provided by a sovereign God. In brief, those who are truly born again are born of God alone.
Now the mystery veiled for many generations is pierced by the coming of the Word in the flesh. Christ came to earth as Jesus and dwelt among us. This word dwelling means an abiding presence. It means that day and day out for over thirty years and particularly for the 3 ½ years of public ministry, the Word enfleshed in Jesus was palpable, real, visible, touchable, smell-able and audible. And, more, not only did He condescend to inhabit human flesh, He came to Israel as prophesied. He spoke the language of the day, Aramaic, made furniture and tools, shopped in the bazaars along the trade routes in Nazareth and attended Sabbath worship in the local synagogue. In a word, He was fully observable--knowable by all the ordinary means of our sensory nature. At the same time, however, He possessed some clear measure of divine glory while on earth. His having been begotten from the Father was also apparent. He lived a life “full of grace and truth.” I am afraid that we so frequently visit His sinless-ness that we skip over His fullness of grace and truth. The penetrating glimpses of that glory seem occasional, but, in keeping with the sense here of “dwelling,” of an abiding presence, I want to emphasize that Jesus was always divine and always human. Behind His humanity hung His divinity so that when “John bore witness of Him” (v.15), we must not think that this was projection. No, what John and others saw in Jesus on a regular and ongoing basis was a recognizable fulfillment of prophecy. There is no other way to receive John’s description: “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” (v.16) What we have here is Christ’s abundant Person! He Himself alluded to the rivers of life that would flow forth from those who surrendered to Him as Lord and God. He was just such a river.
John speak to the superiority of the new covenant here when he remarks that “the law was given through Moses.” That was the beginning of the covenant with the people of Israel consummated in Christ. That was a wonderful intervention in its own right, a marvelous kindness and deliverance of God. The exodus from bondage in Egypt is full of references to a personal, present and passionate God. You cannot read the pages of the Pentateuch without a overwhelming sense of God’s presence. It is more an aroma and a nearness than a thought, or insight. What happened at Sinai and in the wilderness was not merely mental, or cognitive. It took place in real time and space. It was just as astounding, on some levels, as the incarnation. The Law was a great gift to Israel and through them to the world. But grace and truth are far above the Law. Indeed, without grace and truth, we may read the Law and tremble because we can hear its holy demands, but we cannot by any means meet them. We are powerless to effect our own righteousness, we are too weak to be obedient and too inconsistent to be pleasing to Him. The Law teaches us that we cannot save ourselves and we, at the ends of our ropes, learn to cry out for mercy and help. Jesus is that mercy. Better, His mission is the mercy of God fully displayed. And what He does for us on the cross--though apparent only to the eyes of faith--is extend us help. Help of an even greater degree than forty years of provision in the wilderness, better that shoes, clothes that don’t wear out and food that never gives out! Yes, better. For the provisions of God to Israel, only kept them alive to die and at the end of the forty years, the provision of this kind ceased entirely. Thereafter, Israel was to eat off the land that God was giving to her in humble trust, obedience and gratitude. Israel was to worship the Lord and to be a light unto the nations. That she failed in these privileges and obligations is fully recorded in Scripture. And yet God, rich in mercy, did not entirely give up on Israel, or on us. Very much as in the parable of the vineyard, at first the owner sends his messengers but in the end he sends his own son--the owner to be and heir apparent. Of course, that tale ends unhappily, too. For they reject and murder that son even as they were to reject and murder God’s own Son. But, praise be to God, even that obstacle to the purposes of God is overcome. The One who was rejected and murdered was, due to His obedience unto death, raised up and honored! His murder turns out to be the purchase of our salvation not just another sad account of man’s inhumanity to man, and vicious fear and hatred of God. Surely those who slew Jesus did it for evil--they cannot escape that just condemnation--but God intended it, above and beyond their petty reach of mind, religious folly and political ambition, for good. God intended for the resurrection of Jesus to occasion the reconciliation between Himself and His fallen creation. And that, as we have heard, for His own glory.
Oh, the wonder of a God who saves us in spite of ourselves. Who loves our enmity down! Who gives us opportunity to turn, and trust and try again. That is the God whom I love and serve and into whose service I urge you to join!