“Harbinger of Hope” – John 1:15-28

January 12th, 2020

John 1:15-28

“Harbinger of Hope”

Aux. Text: Isa 40:1-5; Mark 1:1-8;

Call to Worship: Psa 27


Service Orientation: True Biblical hope (confident assurance), as opposed to worldly hope (wishful thinking), comes from faith through repentance.  John provides us with witnesses who testify to the truth of Jesus so we might have Biblical hope.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. — John 20:31


Background Information:

  • (v. 15) John the Baptist is one of the most important persons in the NT. He is mentioned at least 89 times.  John had the special privilege of introducing Jesus to the nation of Israel.  He also had the difficult task of preparing the nation to receive its Messiah.  He called them to repent of their sins and to prove that repentance by being baptized and then living changed lives.  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Alive, 24)
  • Without doubt John the Baptist is, in several respects, one of the most remarkable characters that is brought before us in the Bible. He was the subject of OT prophecy (Isa 40); his birth was due to the direct and miraculous intervention of God (Lk 1:7, 13); he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15); he was a man “sent from God” (Jn 1:6); he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord (Mt 3:3).  Of him the Lord said, “Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11); the reference being to his positional “greatness,” as the forerunner of the Messiah: to him was accorded the high honor of baptizing the Lord Jesus.  That Christ was referring to the positional “greatness” of John is clear from His next words, “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 50)
  • (v. 15) He was a Nazirite from the time he was born. In accordance with that vow, he never cut his hair, he never touched a dead body, he never drank the fruit of the vine.  He lived a pure, uncontaminated life.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit since before birth.  His mother was likewise a Nazirite before his birth.  John was the greatest of all men.  If there was ever a man who had the temptation, especially as he saw Jesus’ rising popularity, to exalt himself, John was that man.  He could have talked about his miraculous birth or how it felt to live a solitary life of self-denial in the wilderness.  He could have held forth on survival tactics for the wilderness or perhaps his grasshopper diet.  He could have discussed his devotional regimen or published a manual of discipline for those who wanted to follow God.  He faced great temptation, but to his everlasting credit, he would have none of it.  In fact he said later, “He must become greater; I must become less” (3:30).  A witness never obtrudes himself into the picture of the one of whom he is witnessing.  John was an excellent witness.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: John, 43-4)
  • (v. 15) There had not been a prophet in Israel for more than four hundred years. It was widely believed that when the Messiah came, prophecy would reappear (Joel 2:28-29; Mal 3:1; 4:5).  John was that prophet, preaching a message of repentance.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 38)
  • (v. 15) Since God hadn’t sent a prophet to Israel for around 400 years, people were very interested in hearing what John had to say.
  • (v. 15) John was the talk of town and country. It has been estimated that at least a million people turned out to hear him.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 54)
  • (v. 15) John the Baptist is one of six persons named in the gospel of John who gave witness that Jesus is God. The others are Nathanael (Jn 1:49), Peter (Jn 6:69), the blind man who was healed (Jn 9:35-38), Martha (Jn 11:27), and Thomas (Jn 20:28).  If you add our Lord Himself (Jn 5:25; 10:36), then you have seven clear witnesses.  (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Alive, 26)
  • (v. 15) The question might be asked, “If, then, the Baptist was, to a considerable degree, a preacher of hell and damnation, how was it that by divine direction he was called “John” (Lk 1:13), that is, “Jehovah is gracious”? Answer: Warning people that doom is impending and will certainly overtake them unless they repent and believe, is not this a gracious act?  Does it not indicate that God is not cruel, not eager to punish, but longsuffering?  Did he not show this patience to the antediluvians (Gn 6:3; 1 Pt 3:20); Lot (Gn 63:9; Jer 8:20; Ez 10:19–the lingering of the throne chariot–; 18:23; 33:11); and Simon Peter (Jn 21:15-17)?  Is not that same divine attribute gloriously revealed in the parable of The Barren Fig Tree (Lk 13:8, “Let it alone this year also”); in 2 Pt 3:9 (“God endured with much longsuffering”); in Rv 2:21 (“I gave her time to repent”); and in Rv 8:1 (“silence in heaven for about half an hour”)?  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 206-7)
  • (v. 16) Bishop Ryle tells us the Greek preposition here may be translated two different ways, and suggests the following thoughts. First, we have received “grace upon grace,” that is, God’s favors heaped up, one upon another.  Second, “grace for grace,” that is, new grace to supply old grace; grace sufficient to meet every recurring need.  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 43)
  • (v. 18) {NIV – made known} From the Greek we derive “exegesis”: we might almost say that Jesus is the exegesis of God. Elsewhere in the NT the verb means “to tell a narrative” or “to narrate” (Lk 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12).  In that sense we might say that Jesus is the narration of God.  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 135)
  • (v. 19) One testimony to the impact of John’s ministry was that the Jews would have to send an official delegation all the way from Jerusalem to investigate his ministry.  (Michael Card, The Parable of Joy, 10)
  • (v. 21) Based on the prophecy of Malachi (3:1 and 4:5), the Jews expected Elijah himself to return in bodily form just before Messiah returned to establish His earthly kingdom.  Even today many Jewish people leave an empty seat at the table for Elijah when they celebrate their Passover Seder.  John’s appearance was strikingly similar to Elijah’s; according to Mk 1:6, “John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist,” while 2 Kgs 1:8 describes Elijah as “a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.”  John’s call for repentance (Mt 3:2) and warning of coming judgment (Mt 3:10-12) would have further reminded his hearers of Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 18:18, 21; 21:17-24).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 51)
  • (v. 21) John is not Elijah returned. John has come in the spirit and power of Elijah.  He has come from the place of Elijah, with the dress of Elijah, with the diet of Elijah, and with the message of Elijah.  (Michael Card, The Parable of Joy, 10)
  • (v. 21) Now, although John went forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17), and was, therefore, called Elijah by Christ himself (Mt 17:12), yet he was not literally Elijah, and it was the literal, personal forerunner Elijah whom the Jews expected, as the result of their erroneous interpretation of Mal 4:5. (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: John, 94)
  • (v. 21) Are you Elijah? he is asked. After all, God had promised, through the prophet Malachi (4:5), “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”  False prophets had sometimes aped Elijah’s dress (Zc 13:14):  was the Baptist’s similarity in dress to Elijah (Mk 1:6; 2 Kgs 1:8) a sign that he was a usurper, or the promised Elijah?  Certainly Elijah and the Baptist both sternly insisted on the urgency of repentance.  But to the question of the Jerusalem delegation, John firmly replies, I am not.

The Synoptic Gospels report that Jesus identified John the Baptist with the promised Elijah (Mt 11:14; 17:12; Mk 9:13; cf. Lk 1:17), but they never suggest that the Baptist himself made the connection.  Here he refuses to make it–a refusal which, when placed beside the Synoptic evidence, suggests that he did not detect as much significance in his own ministry as Jesus did.  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 143)

  • (v. 21) The solution to the difficulty is probably that there was a sense in which John was Elijah and a sense in which he was not. He fulfilled all the preliminary ministry that Malachi had foretold (cf. Lk 1:17), and thus in a very real sense Jesus could say that he was Elijah.  But the Jews remembered that Elijah had left the earth in a chariot of fire without passing through death (2 Kgs 2:11), and they expected that in due course the identical figure would reappear.  John was not Elijah in this sense, and he had no option but to deny that he was.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 118-9)
  • (v. 21) No man is what he is in his own eyes: he really is only as he is known to God.  At a later time Jesus equated John with the Elijah of Malachi’s prophecy, but that does not carry with it the implication that John himself was aware of the true position.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 119)
  • (v. 21) The increasing curtness of John’s successive answers should not be missed. It appears to stem from a dislike for answering questions about himself.  He had come to bear witness about Another.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 120)
  • (v. 21) There was no consensus in first-century Judaism about the precise identity of that Prophet (cf. Jn 6:14; 7:40). Some believed that he, like Elijah, would be a forerunner of the Messiah (possibly Jeremiah or one of the other prophets resurrected; cf. Mt 16:14); others saw him as the Messiah Himself.  The latter view is the correct one, since both Peter (Acts 3:22-23) and Stephen (Acts 7:37) applied Dt 18:15-18 to Jesus.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 52)
  • (v. 22) John might have answered, and answered truthfully, “I am the son of Zacharias the priest. I am one who has been filled with the Holy Spirit from my birth.”  Or, he might have replied, “I am the most remarkable character ever raised up by God and sent unto Israel.”  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 53)
  • (v. 23) A Babylonian hymn says, ‘Make [Nabu’s] way good, renew his road. Make straight his path’, referring to the creation of special processional routes along which the images of the gods were carried on festivals.  The creation of a road that is straight, unmistakable, level and smooth pictures a journey made without difficulty and therefore with certainty of arrival.  (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, 244) (bold emphasis mine)
  • (v. 24) One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he himself administered it. It may even be that the authority implicit in such an innovative step triggered the assumption in the minds of at least some Pharisees that John’s baptism was an end-time rite administered by an end-time figure with great authority.  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 145)
  • (v. 25) He bears too many signs as being from God. His arrival on the scene has been explosive, his effect on the people startling.  Rumors flooded the land.  They ask for his credentials.  Like some today, they were more concerned with his degrees than his message.  (C.S. Lovett, Lovett’s Lights on John, 28)
  • (v. 25) Baptism was not a new practice in Judaism. It was the regular rite in the admission of converts from other religions.  When such a conversion took place, the males of the family were circumcised and all, of both sexes, were baptized.  This was seen as the ceremonial removal of all the pollutions contracted in the Gentile world.  The novelty in John’s case and the sting in his practice was that he applied to Jews the ceremony that was held to be appropriate in the case of Gentiles coming newly into the faith.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 123)
  • (v. 28) Unfortunately, there is some scripts; but with Gesenius, the renowned Hebrew scholar, we are firmly inclined to believe this place is identical with “Bethbarah” mentioned in Jgs 7:24, and which signifies “House of Passage,” which was so named to memorialize the crossing of the Jordan in the days of Joshua.  It was here, then, (apparently) at a place whose name signified “house of passage,” beyond Jordan, the symbol of death, that John was baptizing as the forerunner of Christ.  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 57)
  • But why did John preach “in the wilderness?” Because the “wilderness” symbolized the spiritual barrenness of the Jewish nation.  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 55)
  • Despite many similar warnings by the prophets, many of the people and most of the leaders were not prepared for John’s message. What he said was shocking; it was unexpected and unacceptable.  It was inconceivable to them that, as God’s people, they had anything to do to inherit God’s kingdom but simply wait for and accept it.  The Messiah was their Messiah, the King was their King, the Savior was their Savior, the promise was their promise.  Every Jew was destined for the kingdom, and every Gentile was excluded, except for a token handful of proselytes.  That was the common Jewish thinking of the day, which John totally shattered.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 55)


The question to be answered is . . . Why does John include the testimony of John the Baptist?


Answer:  So we might repent and prepare our hearts and believe Jesus is the Christ, the Light of the world and the Light of Life and thus have hope.


It is not the appearance of the Baptist, his manner of life, his preaching as such, the excitement which he created, or even his baptizing, that is emphasized by the author of the Fourth Gospel.  He seems to take for granted that the readers are acquainted with this from oral tradition and from the reading of the Synoptics.  It is very specifically the testimony of the Baptist with reference to Christ that forms the theme of these paragraphs.  And he points out that this testimony, in turn, rests upon divine revelation (1:31-34).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: John, 92)


The Word for the Day is . . . Prepare


What testimony does John the Baptist give regarding Jesus?:

I-  Jesus is God and man.  (Jn 1:15 see also: Jn 1:1-14; 10:30; Col 1:15, 19; 2:9; 1 Tm 3:16; Heb 1:1-4; 1 Jn 1:1-4)


When He took upon Him sinless human nature He did not cease to be God, nor did He (as some blasphemously teach) “empty” Himself of His Divine attributes, which are inseparable from the Divine Being.  “God was manifest in flesh” (1 Tm 3:16).  Before His Birth, God sent an angel to Mary, saying, “He (the Word become flesh) shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35).  The One born in Bethlehem’s manger was the same Divine Person as had subsisted from all eternity, though He had now taken unto Him another, an additional nature, the human.  But so perfect is the union between the Divine and the human natures in Christ that, in some instances, the properties of the one are ascribed to the other:  see Jn 3:13, Rom 5:10.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 25)


John the Baptist was impressed with the uniqueness of Christ’s person, and the phrase should therefore mean (as the evangelist intends it to mean) that Jesus was entirely without historical origins.  He was preexistent.  This is clearly the equivalent of declaring him to be God.  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 98)


The principal idea intended is that of exact correspondence.  This correspondence involves not only an identity of the essence of the Son with that of the Father, but more particularly a true and trustworthy revelation or representation of the Father by the Son.  Herveus insists that the Son is the express likeness of the Father “not in an external sense but in substance” and links this truth with the declaration of the Incarnate Son: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).  In a similar manner Paul teaches that Christ is the image or likeness of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15).  It is according to this image that man was created (Gn 1:27), and that same image, which was marred by the fall and is perverted by sin, is restored in Christ, the True Image, so that the believer is “being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18), and the new nature which is his “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10).  (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 43-4)


I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a Great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God:  or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity,55-6)


As wonderful as it is to have God in human form, it is still more amazing that he should share the richness of this divine nature with sinful humanity.  This is possible, not because God became sinful in consequence of the Incarnation, nor because man is naturally like God, but only because the grace of God bridges the “impassable gulf” between a holy God and sinful, perverted man.  The term “fullness” is suggestive of the complete richness and adequacy of God’s nature in Christ.  The concept is elaborated with great emphasis when Paul warns the Colossians against substitutes for an implied impoverished revelation in Christ (Col 2:9, 17, 19).  (George Allen Turner, The Evangelical Commentary: John, 65)


The word that John uses for fullness is a great word; it is plērōma, and means the sum total of all that is in God.  It is a word which Paul uses often. In Col 1:9 he says that all plērōma dwelt in Christ.  In Col 2:9 he says that in Christ there dwelt the plērōma of deity in a bodily form.  He meant that in Jesus there dwelt the totality of the wisdom, the power, the love of God.  Just because of that Jesus is inexhaustible.  A man can go to Jesus with any need and find that need supplied.  A man can go to Jesus with any ideal and find that ideal realized.  In Jesus the man in love with beauty will find the supreme beauty.  In Jesus the man to whom life is the search for knowledge will find the supreme revelation.  In Jesus the man who needs courage will find the pattern and the secret of being brave.  In Jesus the man who feels that he cannot cope with life will find the Master of life and the power to live.  In Jesus the man who is conscious of his sin will find the forgiveness for his sin and the strength to be good.  In Jesus the plērōma, the fullness of God, all that is in God, what Westcott called “the spring of divine life,” becomes available to men.  (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: John, 71)


Abraham saw Christ in his day; for Jesus declared, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56).  He later added, “before Abraham was born, I am” (v. 58).  Isaiah saw Jesus when he had his vision of the Lord high and lifted up (Isa 6:1-3), for John refers to this vision, saying, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (Jn 12:41).  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 98)


II-  Jesus gives grace upon grace.   (Jn 1:16-19 see also: Rom 5:2, 20-21; 8:14-17; Rom 5:17-21; Gal 3: 29-4:7; 2 Cor 9:8-14; Eph 1:6-7; 2:7-8; 3:20-21; 2 Pt 3:18)


Literally, John is saying, “grace instead of grace.”  As the grace you receive flows out to others, more grace will come, and then more grace, and then even more grace.  Some translations say, “Grace upon grace,” “grace following grace,” or “grace heaped up upon grace,” all trying to convey the idea that grace keeps flowing over and over.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: John, 38)


But in addition to his natural inheritance as Creator, as Redeemer he has also earned a vast inheritance of souls renewed through his atoning work of reconciliation on the cross.  We are his inheritance!  This is a mind-boggling truth, to say the least.  It is so stupendous that Paul prayed that the church would have its eyes opened to the “riches of his [that is, Christ’s] glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18).  The apostle was praying that his readers would understand how highly they are valued in Christ. Think of it–Jesus is heir to all the heavens and numberless worlds, but we are his treasures.  The redeemed are worth more than the universe.  We ought to be delirious with this truth.  (Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, 26)


The putting away of the sins of His people was an even greater and grander work than was the making of the worlds or the upholding of all things by His mighty power.  His sacrifice for sins has brought greater glory to the Godhead and greater blessing to the redeemed than have His works of creation or providence.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 38)


Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God; To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life. ( Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says: You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works: which if you are about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”  (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)


Under the law, God demands righteousness from people; under grace, he gives it to people.  Under law, righteousness is based on Moses and good works; under grace, it is based on Christ and Christ’s character.  Under law, blessings accompany obedience; under grace, God bestows his blessings as a free gift.  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 101)


It appears that the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ is what replaces the law; the law itself is understood to be an earlier display of grace.  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 132)


Observe what lowly expressions Abraham and Jacob and Job and David and John the Baptist used about themselves.  Study the biographies of modern saints like Bradford and Hooker and George Hebert and Beveridge and Baxter and M’Cheyne.  Mark how one common feature of character belongs to them all—a very deep sense of sin. (J. C. Ryle;    Holiness; 273)


In the passages already mentioned, and in a large number of others, the OT Scriptures are understood to point forward to Jesus, to anticipate him, and thus to prophesy of him.  In that sense he fulfills them.  If even the covenant of law is “prophetic” in this sense (cf. Mt 11:13), then when that to which it points has arrived, it is in some sense displaced.  It may continue in force as a continual pointer to that which it predicted, but its valid authority lies primarily in that which it announced and which has now arrived.  The law, i.e. the law-covenant, was given by grace, and anticipated the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; now that he has come, that same prophetic law-covenant is necessarily superseded by that which it “prophesied” would come. The thought is not dissimilar to Mt 5:17-20 (cf. Carson, Mt, 140-7).  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 133)


One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace.  By these I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him.  I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination.  The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 89)


When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgment of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works.   (Martin Luther; Galatians, 94)


The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness and to show us every day just how desperate we need God’s grace.  (Martin Luther as quoted by Tullian Tevidgjian; Life Without God – Pt 7)


The means of grace (prayer, sacraments, fasting, worship, praise, etc.)  ARE NOT CAUSAL to our receiving the “sense” from God to be spiritually discerning.  WHY?  Because there is a trap here that WE are the reason for our spirituality.  It is a gift from God.  Not from ourselves.

(Jonathan) EDWARDS says:  your sanctification is a work of God.  There are no steps to do this.  God just does it.  Means are not causal, but they are necessary.  God normally uses these means to do His work.  BUT THEY ARE NOT CAUSAL!

Most people are trying to sanctify themselves by means of grace. In reality, we use the means of grace and allow God to do His work.  God comes when He comes. Our task is to expose ourselves to the means of grace and WAIT!  There is an element of mystery of this in allowing God to be God.  We (in the Western nations) like a cause and effect religion.  Do this and this will happen.  God says no!   He does His work when He wants.  He is like the wind blowing.  We do our job and wait for the wind to blow.  Usually the light comes when we are using the means.  Usually the taste of the honey comes to us when we are using the means of grace.   But we must wait on God.  Let God be God.

We do what we can and leave it to God.  He is not safe but He is good.  We must trust God.

Edwards was GOD-CENTERED.  No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.  ALSO, if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

In other words, we are like a ship.  We hoist the sails (the means of grace) and wait for God to send the wind.  We don’t hoist the sail, and blow in them.

God always worked through means.   Whether he sent an earthquake or a shortage of available land, God was still acting to remind humans of their spiritual needs.  Through such forces God provided the soil for revival.  God, through the Holy Spirit, also provided the means of grace, such as preaching the Word and the ordinances of the church, as means of tending the spiritual vineyard, as one biblical image put it.  (Marsden; Edwards, 152)


Yet though God was gracious in the OT (e.g., Gn 6:8; Ez 9:8; Ps 84:11; Prv 3:34; Jer 31:2; Zech 4:7), the Law was not an instrument of grace.  Rather, God granted grace and forgiveness to repentant sinners who violated His holy law, based on what Christ would do to provide atonement.  The Law saves no one (Acts 13:38-39; Rom 3:20-22; 8:3; 10:4; Gal 2:16; 3:10-12; Phil 3:9; Heb 7:18-19; 10:1-4); it merely convicts sinners of their inability to keep perfectly God’s righteous standards, and condemns them to the eternal punishment of divine justice; and thus reveals their need for the grace of forgiveness.  Paul wrote to the Galatians that “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 45)


Everything truly good that comes into your life–health, prosperity, knowledge, friendships, good times, whatever it is–comes from God.  This is true whether or not you recognize him as the source of such blessings.  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 99)


We use some (grace), and more takes its place for us to use another time.  It is there to comfort us when we hurt.  It forgives us when we sin.  It relieves us when we feel guilty.  It supports us when we’re afraid.  It gives everything to us who can give nothing to earn it or to repay it.  God’s love is so great that the eternal Word became flesh and sacrificed himself on the cross for us.  Jesus gives us grace in place of grace.  We always have his love.  We cannot exhaust the supply.  (Gary P. Baumler, The People’s Bible: John, 21)


The different ages and the different situations in life demand a different kind of grace.  We need one grace in the days of prosperity and another in the days of adversity.  We need one grace in the sunlit days of youth and another when the shadows of age begin to lengthen.  The church needs one grace in the days of persecution and another when the days of acceptance have come.  We need one grace when we feel that we are on the top of things and another when we are depressed and discouraged and near to despair.  We need one grace to bear our own burdens and another to bear one another’s burdens.  We need one grace when we are sure of things and another when there seems nothing certain left in the world.  The grace of God is never a static but always a dynamic thing.  It never fails to meet the situation.  (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: John, 72)


In Isa 40:3 the way of Yahweh is being “made straight” (a metaphor using road building to refer to repentance); in Mt 3:3 it is the way of Jesus.  This sort of identification of Jesus with Yahweh is common in the NT (e.g., Ex 13:21 and 1 Cor 10:4; Isa 6:1 and Jn 12:41; Ps 68:18 and Eph 4:8; Ps 102:25-27 and Heb 1:10-12) and confirms the kingdom as being equally the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Jesus.  While the deity of Christ is only implicit in such texts, it certainly goes beyond Jesus’ being merely a royal envoy.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 102)


Harry Ironside wrote that “such a ministry is needed greatly today when men have lost, in large measure, the sense of the sinfulness of sin,” adding, “It is useless to preach the gospel of the grace of God to men who have no realization of their need of that grace.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 47)


I cannot pray, except I sin;

I cannot preach, but I sin;

I cannot administer, nor receive the holy sacraments, but I sin.

My very repentance needs to be repented of;

And the tears I shed need washing in the blood of Christ.

(William Beveridge as quoted by Kent Hughes; Preaching the Word Series, John, 151)


Whatever pretenses men make of thankfulness for the Word of God, however they speak of it as a privilege to have light and the means of grace, if they do not yield obedience to the light and conform themselves to the commands of it, they are practically unthankful and do in effect cast it behind their backs (Neh 9:26).  (Robert Owen Roberts; Sanctify the Congregation, 127)


Grace does not ignore the Law, or set aside its requirements; nay verily, “It establishes the law” (Rom 3:31):  establishes it because inseparably linked with “truth;” establishes it because it reigns through righteousness,” not at the expense of it; establishes it because grace tells of a Substitute who kept the Law for and endured the death penalty on behalf of all who receive Him as their Lord and Savior; and establishes it by bringing the redeemed to “delight” in the Law.  (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 46)


III-  Jesus reveals God.  (Jn 1:18 see also: Ex 3:20; Mt 11:27; Jn 1:1-14; 6:46; 14:9; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15, 19; 2:9-10; Heb 1:1-4)  


We get a perfect picture of God when we look at Christ (Jn 1:18).  In other words, Jesus explains God; he came to the world and portrayed God to people by his words and actions.  No one can know God apart from Christ because we know God by knowing Christ.  God reveals himself through Jesus (see Jn 1:1; 2 Cor 4:4; Phil 2:6; Col 1:15).  The prophets could only tell God’s people what they saw and heard.  Jesus was God himself–his message was firsthand.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 5)


Jesus is a superior revelation of God.  When we see him, we know just what the God of the universe is like.  We know how he thinks.  We know how he talks.  We know how he relates to people.  God has spoken in his Son.  It is his ultimate communication, his final word, his consummate eloquence.  (Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, 29)


Jesus’ radiance is derived from the Father, even though he himself is the light.  The Son causes the radiance of the Father to shine forth.  As John writes in the prologue to his Gospel, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14).  The Son’s radiance, therefore, is an extension of God’s glory.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 29-30)


God was made visible with a clarity never before seen or known.  Not merely because He is a Spirit who is invisible (Col 1:15; 1 Tm 1:17; Heb 11:27), but more important because to do so would bring instant death (Ex 33:20; cf. Gn 32:30; Dt 5:26; Jgs 13:22), no one has seen God at any time (Jn 6:46; 1 Tm 6:16; 1 Jn 4:12, 20).  It is through Jesus Christ, the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), that God is revealed.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 45)


In Jesus Christ the character of God may be known.  There is no true knowledge of God apart from him.  Do you want to believe that God is loving?  Good!  But do not base your belief on some fantasy of your imagination.  What could be less reliable than that?  Instead, base it on the revelation of God’s love in Christ and at Calvary.  Do you want to believe that God is powerful, able to bring a transformation in your life?  If so, do not depend on your own wishful thinking.  Look to Jesus Christ.  He will reveal it; because the same One who died for your sin also rose again in power and now lives to apply that same death-conquering power to the lives of those who follow him.  Are you searching for wisdom?  Look to the One who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our “righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 101-2)


In Christ’s words, and deeds, and life, and death, we learn as much concerning God the Father as our feeble minds can at present bear.  His perfect wisdom,–His almighty power,–His unspeakable love to sinners,–His incomparable holiness,–His hatred of sin,–could never be represented to our eyes more clearly than we see them in Christ’s life and death.  In truth, “God was manifest in the flesh,” when the Word took on Him a body.  “He was the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.  He says Himself, “I and my Father are one.”  “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.”  “In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”  (Col 2:9).  (J. C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 37-8)


Christ is the irradiation of God’s glory.  The Mediator’s relation to the Godhead is like that of the rays to the sun itself.  We may conceive of the sun in the firmament, yet shining not:  were there no rays, we should not see the sun.  So, apart from Christ, the brightness of God’s “glory” could not be perceived by us.  Without Christ, man is in the dark, utterly in the dark concerning God.  It is in Christ that God is revealed.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 35)


The whole revelation and manifestation of God is now in Christ; He alone reveals the Father’s heart.  It is not only that Christ declared or delivered God’s message, but that He himself was and is God’s message.  All that God has to say to us is in His Son: all His thoughts, counsels, promises, gifts, are to be found in the Lord Jesus.  Take the perfect life of Christ, His deportment, His ways; that is God “speaking”–revealing Himself–to us.  Take His miracles, revealing His tender compassion, displaying His mighty power; they are God “speaking” to us.  Take His death, commending to us the love of God, in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us; that is God “speaking” to us.  Take His resurrection, triumphing over the grave, vanquishing him who had the power of death, coming forth as the “first fruits of them that slept”–the “earnest” of the “harvest” to follow; that is God “speaking” to us.  (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 27)


(v. 3) The Greek word basically means a ray of light from an original light body.  Of course, Christ revealed the Father.  But this glory was resident in him also as a Person of the Godhead (cf. Mt 17:1ff.).  “The glory,” not “his glory,” may refer to God’s glory seen in Jesus Christ.  Or it may refer to the glory resident in Jesus himself.  In either case he was the Shekinah Glory dwelling among men (Jn 1:14).  (Herschel H. Hobbs, Hebrews: Challenges to Bold Discipleship, 11)


  1. At first sight this verse may seem to be very loosely connected with the preceding if in fact it is connected at all. But in reality it forms the climax to the entire Prologue, stressing as it does that Christ is in the closest possible relationship to the Father.  There is also the thought that, though Moses was highly esteemed by all Jews, yet in the system he inaugurated nobody could “see” God.  By contrast, Jesus Christ has revealed him.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 100)


Jesus is unique in every aspect of his being.  He is unique in his person, birth, doctrine, works, miracles, death, resurrection, and future triumphs.  In the verses that are included within these two uses of the word in John’s first chapter (vv. 15-18), four things are singled out particularly:  (1) Jesus is unique in his origins; (2) he is unique as the channel of God’s blessings; (3) he is unique as the source of grace and truth; and (4) he is unique because he is the only one in whom you and I may see God.  (James Montgomery Boice, John, The coming of the Light, 98)


(v. 1) The many-sided revelation of God that came repeatedly to the forefathers in the ages before the birth of Christ was inspired by God.  It was a progressive revelation that constantly pointed toward the coming of the Messiah.  And when Jesus finally came, he brought the very Word of God because he is the Word of God.  Therefore, Jesus brought that Word in all its fullness, richness, and multiplicity.  He was the final revelation.  As F. F. Bruce aptly remarks, “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him.”  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 27)


IV-  John is the voice preparing the way for Jesus. (John 1:19-23 see also: Isa 40:1-8; Mal 3:1-4; 4:5-6; Mt 3:1-17; Mk 1:1-11; Lk 1:16-17, 76-77; 3:1-20; Acts 19:4)


John the Baptist’s preaching focused specifically on one message–preparing hearts for the coming Messiah.  Preparation could only occur through repentance.  John called the people to repent–to turn away from sins and turn toward God.  To be truly repentant, people must do both.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 38)


The best preparation we can make on our hearts is to recognize just how sinful we are and what a great Savior Jesus is.  Pride is what keeps us from an intimate, vital and personal relationship with Jesus. (Prv 3:34; 51: 17; Isa 57:15; Lk 1:51-52; Eph 4:2; Phil 2:3; Col 2:23; 3:12; 2 Tim 3:2; Jam 4:6-10; 1 Pt 3:8; 5:5-6)


In ancient times it was common for a herald to precede the arrival of the monarch, to announce his coming and to prepare for his safe and proper travel.  With a coterie of servants, the herald would make sure that the roadway was as smooth and uncluttered as possible.  Holes would be filled, rocks and debris would be removed, and unsightly litter would be burned or hidden.  As the group traveled along and worked, the herald would proclaim the king’s coming to everyone he encountered.  His twofold duty was to proclaim and to prepare.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 50)


The emphatic “I baptize with water” (v. 26) might make the unwary reader remember Synoptic parallels (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16) and conclude that the I will serve as a foil for the One  who will baptize in another medium, the Holy Spirit.  Certainly the Baptist will make that point later (v. 33); but here he focuses on the authority question raised by the Pharisees, and immediately turns it into a matter of bearing witness to the hidden Messiah.  His baptism is designed to prepare the people for him.  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 146)


The OT spoke of spiritual cleansing in connection with Messiah’s coming (Ez 36:25, 33; 37:23; Zech 13:1).  The Jews therefore baptized proselytes, converts to Judaism, but John was baptizing Jews.  That shocked the religious leaders, who viewed the Jews as already God’s kingdom people and not in need of baptism.  But those who submitted to John’s baptism thereby acknowledged that their sin had placed them outside God’s saving covenant, and they were no better than Gentiles.  John then baptized them as a public expression of their repentance (Mt 3:6, 11), in preparation for Messiah’s coming.  His baptizing was another feature of his witness to Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was already among the people, though they did not know Him and never would (1:10).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 54)


It is of this second, future, literal coming of Elias, that John speaks in this place.  When he says, “I am not Elias,” he means, “I am not that Elijah you mean, who was taken up to heaven 900 years ago.  The coming of that Elijah is yet a future thing.  I am the forerunner of the first advent in humiliation, not of the second advent in glory.  I am not the herald of Christ coming to reign, as Elijah will be one day, but the herald of Christ coming to suffer on the cross.  I am not come to prepare the way for a conquering King, such as you fondly expect, but for a meek and lowly Savior, whose great work is to bear our sins and to die.  I am not the Elias you expect.”  (J. C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 49)


In the absence of paved roads such as we enjoy today, the roads then (often only paths) were rough, sometimes blocked with rocks or debris, and dangerous.  Whenever a king would come to visit, the roads needed to be prepared and made ready for his safe travel.  That image fit perfectly the purpose of John’s ministry.  Christ the King was coming.  John needed to tell the people to prepare the way.  (Gary P. Baumler, The People’s Bible: John, 24-5)


What kinds of things obstruct God’s way?  For some, the path is blocked by fears; for others, the obstruction is pride or our illusions of our own importance, deceptive opinions of our own ability to handle things by ourselves.  The path might be blocked by our mistaken anger at God–when we blame him inaccurately for not interrupting life’s natural processes and consequences. (Marva J. Dawn; To Walk and Not Faint, 17)


The Synoptic Gospels preserve more details about the scope of John the Baptist’s preaching and the significance of his baptism.  Unlike those who held themselves to be adequately related to God by virtue of their descent from Abraham (Mt 3:9; Lk 3:8), John insisted that personal and individual repentance and faith were necessary (Mt 3:1-10; Mk 1:2-5; Lk 3:3-14).  In this he resembled the OT prophets who sought to call out a holy remnant from the descendants of Abraham, and anticipated Jesus’ insistence that his messianic community would transcend the barriers of race and depend on personal faith and new birth (e.g. Mt 8:5-12; Jn 3:1-16).  (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 145-6)


Let us not forget that it is broken and contrite hearts which God will not despise; therefore, any ministry which fails to produce them, no matter how acceptable, is nevertheless in the sight of God a failure.  (John D. Drysdale; The Price of Revival, 33)


Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart; have you this?  It is communion and fellowship with God; know you what this is?  It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of his goodness and his love shed abroad in the heart; is this thy experience?  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 95)


A single sin, however secret, when indulged, diffuses its corrupting influence over the whole soul; it depraves the conscience; it alienates from God; it strengthens all other principles of evil, while it destroys the efficacy of the means of grace and the disposition to use them.  It is no less true of any community, that any one tolerated evil deteriorates its whole moral sense.  (Charles Hodge; Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 86)


The reason he comes before him, of course, is that he has to, in order to clear the way ahead.  (N. T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part One, 9)


To exalt Christ was his mission and to that mission he steadfastly adheres.

The greatest saints of God in every age of the Church have always been men of John the Baptist’s spirit.  In gifts, and knowledge, and general character they have often differed widely.  But in one respect they have always been alike:  they have been “clothed with humility” (1 Pt 5:5).  They have not sought their own honor.  They have thought little of themselves.  They have been ever willing to decrease if Christ might only increase, to be nothing if Christ might be all.  And here has been the secret of the honor God has put upon them.  “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Lk 14:11).   (J. C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 45)


Baptism was a Jewish rite that was usually exercised upon proselytes.  Since it was emblematic of the washing away of sins and of one’s entrance into a new life, the performance of it evidently was regarded as a claim of authority.  The Synoptics connect it with repentance (Mt 3:11, Mk 1:4, Lk 3:3).  John said the baptism was not an end in itself, nor final in its effectiveness.  It remained for the One coming after him to make it effective by the enduement of the Holy Spirit.  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Gospel of Belief: John, 79)


Their question suggests that baptism in their eyes was an eschatological rite, to be administered by one of the expected figures of the end-time.  The community of Qumran and other Essene groups made a special feature of bathing in purifying water, involving as their authority such passages as Ez 36:24, where the God of Israel tells his people how, in the time of restoration, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean. . .”  The men of Qumran considered themselves to be the righteous community of the end-time, and John in his turn was commissioned “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17).  (F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 50)


Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the favor of God.  Spiritual kinship with God must be evidenced in daily life.  Even as a Gentile needed to be baptized to become a proselyte to Judaism, so the Jews needed to be baptized to become a part of God’s purified remnant of the latter days (Mt 3:10; 21:31).  It was the hour of universal judgment, beginning with the house of Israel and extending throughout the world.  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: vol. 3, 645)


V-  The greatest person in the world is not worthy to clean Jesus’ toilet.  (Jn 1:24-27 see also: Mt 11:11; Lk 1:5-25, 57-80; 7:28; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 1:20-22Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:15-20; 1 Tm 6:15-16; Heb 2:7-8)


There is a rabbinic saying (in its present form dating from C.A.D. 250, but probably much older):  “Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal-thong.”  John selects the very task that the rabbinic saying stresses as too menial for any disciple, and declares himself unworthy to perform it.  He is unworthy of the most menial of tasks for the one who was to come after him.  Humility could scarcely take a lower place.  (Leon Morris, The New Int’l Commentary on the NT: John, 124)


Only in the later parts of the NT does there emerge the concept of Jesus as a cosmic Messiah:  a ruler spanning all geographical and ethnic differences, providing the glue of the universe (Col 1:17) and upholding all things by the word of his power (Heb 1:3), or, as the Jerusalem Bible beautifully translates it, “sustaining the universe by his powerful command.”  Thus he is, as described in the book of Revelation, the Alpha and Omega, the Faithful and True, the Word of God, who leads the armies of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rv 1:8; 19;11, 13, 16).  (Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 168)


We note Christ’s majesty and glory.  This cannot be expressed.  It includes all that can be given by God in heaven.  God on his throne is God in the full manifestation of his own majesty and glory; on his right hand sits the Mediator, yes, so he can be in the middle of the throne (Rv 5:6).  How little our weak minds can comprehend this majesty (see Mt 20:21; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Phil 2:9; Col 3:1).  (John Owen, Crossway Classic Commentaries: Hebrews, 21)


Jesus Christ is sustaining the universe.  He is Himself the principle of cohesion.  He is not like the deist’s “watchmaker” creator, who made the world, set it in motion, and has not bothered with it since.  The universe is a cosmos instead of chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 17)


He turned the conversation away from himself and pointed to Jesus Christ.  Not only that, he claimed for Jesus a place so exalted that ordinary people like himself were unworthy to perform a task relegated to the lowest slave.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: John, 43)


John’s self-abasement is reminiscent of Paul, who viewed himself as “the very least of all saints” (Eph 3:8; cf. 1 Cor 15:9; 1 Tm 1:12-16).  It is also in keeping with Jesus’ admonition, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Lk 17:10).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: John, 53)


The Son is not only the Creator of the universe (1:2); he is the upholder of all things as well (1:3).  The two passages complement each other and reveal the divine power of the Son.  He speaks, and by his word all things are sustained, preserved, upheld.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 30)


The rule that governs my life is this:  Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult; is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it.”  — J. Wilbur Chapman


Worship Point:  Worship Christ whose glory and majesty far exceeds anything we can dream or imagine (Jn 1:1-14; Col 1:15-20; 1 Tm 6:15-16; Heb 1:1-4; 1 Jn 1:1-4)Worship Christ because He used His glory to save us, and not promote Himself.  (Mt 1:21; 9:13; 11:10; 26:24, 31; Mk 1:2; 9:12-13; 14:21, 27;  Lk 3:4; 7:27; 9:56; 18:31; 19:10; 21:22;22:37; 24:44, 46;  Jn 3:16-17; 12:14, 16; 18:37; 20:31; Acts 13:29; 17:11; ; Rom 5:8-10; 15:3-4; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:5-11; 1 Tm 1:15; Heb 10:5; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10)


It is indeed an extraordinary conception of Godhead to which it has brought us.  Our eyes are apt to be dazzled by the attributes, omniscience and omnipotence, and such August and unthinkable qualities; to be caught and held by pomps and thrones and splendors, and metaphors which lead us far astray.  For the essence of Godhead, what makes God God, is none of these, but a humility that stoops far lower than any man would stoop; and a patient kindness that bears on and on, long after every human heart would have been fretted into a passion of anger; and an unselfishness so huge that it sweeps away in whirling flood our biggest human measures as hopelessly inadequate, and bursts our human minds.  Our earthly conventions and ways, our grabbiness and pushfulness and self-indulgence, are as local and parochial as a country accent.  That heaven in which God’s will is done is, to our eyes, a queer topsy-turvy place, where the least is the greatest and the greatest is the least; and the King is the servant of all.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 8, 475)


The redemptive ministry of Christ formed a prelude to the glorification of the Son “on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”  Paul tells us that it was because Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, that the Father “highly exalted him” (Phil 2:7-9).  The preincarnate Christ had a glory with the Father “before the world was” (Jn 17:5).  The crucified Messiah, however, has a new position with all power in Heaven and on earth committed unto Him (Mt 28:18).  This is reflected in the words of Ps 110:1, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”  (Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 19)


“The more we encounter the holy God in our worship, the more we will recognize our utter sinfulness and be driven to repentance.  This, too, is an essential part of our praise.”    (Marva Dawn; Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, 90)


If we are to know anything about God, it will not be by escaping, or climbing, or thinking, or working our way to Him; it will only be by His coming to us, His speaking to us.  We cannot, by ourselves, understand God any more than an insect we may hold in our hand can understand us.  Nor can we condescend to its level, or communicate with it if we could.  But God can condescend to our level and He can communicate with us.  And He has.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 2)


“A bored and unenthusiastic tour guide in the Alps contradicts and dishonors the majesty of the mountains.” (John Piper; The Supremacy of God in Preaching, 53)


Gospel Application:  Acknowledge that this glorious, majestic Christ loves you so much He lived and died so you could have eternal life and experience grace upon grace(Jn 1:16)


To the Jew the writer to the Hebrews said:  “All your lives you have been looking for the perfect priest who can bring the perfect sacrifice and give you access to God.  You have him in Jesus Christ and in him alone.”

To the Greek the writer to the Hebrews said:  “You are looking for the way from the shadows to reality; you will find it in Jesus Christ.”  To the Jew the writer to the Hebrews said:  “You are looking for that perfect sacrifice which will open the way to God which your sins have closed; you will find it in Jesus Christ.”  Jesus was the one person who gave access to reality and access to God.  That is the key thought of this letter.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Hebrews, 4-5)


Good news, you’re a sinner!  Sin is the best news there is. . . because with sin, there’s a way out. . . you can’t repent of confusion or psychological flaws inflicted by your parents —you’re stuck with them.  But you can repent of sin.  Sin and repentance are the only grounds for hope and joy, the grounds for reconciled, joyful relationships. (John Alexander, The Other Side)


If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying!  — Tim Keller


Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet. (Thomas Watson; The Doctrine of Repentance, 63)


An unrepentant faith is a theoretical belief which originates outside the sphere of the Spirit’s illumination in a heart which is still in darkness concerning its own need and the grace and grandeur of God.  (Richard Lovelace ; Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 103)


I know of only two alternatives to hypocrisy:  perfection or honesty.  Since I have never met a person who loves the Lord our God with all her heart, mind, and soul, and loves her neighbor as herself, I do not view perfection as a realistic alternative.  Our only option, then, is honesty that leads to repentance.  As the Bible shows, God’s grace can cover any sin, including murder, infidelity, or betrayal.  Yet by definition grace must be received, and hypocrisy disguises our need to receive grace.  When the masks fall, hypocrisy is exposed as an elaborate ruse to avoid grace.  (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 204)


Spiritual Challenge:  The means of grace will put you in a position to receive grace upon grace.  Make sure you hear true testimony from credible witnesses before you form an opinion about anything . . . especially about Jesus.  Otherwise, false testimony may steal your hope and joy.


The kingdom of God always appears upside down to the human perspective.  We think it’s strange to die in order to live, or to give in order to receive, or to serve in order to lead.  Solomon captures the perpetual enigma of our looking-glass values just as Jesus describes them in the Sermon on the Mount.  He insists we should embrace sorrow over laughter, rebukes over praise, the long way instead of the short, and today instead of yesterday.

The truth is that it’s not the kingdom of God that is upside down–it’s the world.  It’s not the Word of God that turns life inside out–it’s the world that has reversed all the equations that God designed for our lives.   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 189)


It is not the hookers and thieves who find it most difficult to repent:  it is you who are so secure in your piety and pretense that you have no need of conversion.  They may have disobeyed God’s call, their professions have debased them, but they have shown sorrow and repentance.  But more than any of that, these are the people who appreciate His goodness:  they are parading into the kingdom before you:  for they have what you lack—a deep gratitude for God’s love and deep wonder at His mercy.  (Brennan Manning; Ragamuffin Gospel, 103)


Spiritual Challenge Questions:

  1. How does a watered-down or erroneous view of Jesus serve to weaken or destroy our faith in Him?


  1. What does the world, our flesh (sinful nature) and the Devil promote to facilitate a watered-down or erroneous view of Jesus?


  1. What do we need to see in our hearts and minds before we can embrace the view John the Baptist had in view of Jesus in John 1:26-27?


  1. How does worship in Spirit and in truth encourage repentance? How does repentance encourage worship?  How can we encourage both worship and repentance?


So What?:  Our lack of love and affection for Jesus, our inability to obey and follow Jesus, and our lack of hope and joy in our lives comes from wrong thinking as a result of false testimony about Jesus.  Know the Truth and the Truth will set you free (Jn 8:31-36).  Listen to lies and you will be enslaved.  (Jn 8:31-47; Rom 6:6-22; 8:2-21; Gal 2:4; 4:3; 5:1; Heb 2:15; 2 Pt 2:19)


But this is another example of the danger of forcing the biblical data into our logical boxes.  As with sovereignty and human freedom, both the absolute otherness of God and his ability to be present with his creation are taught by the Bible, and if we diminish either in an attempt to make them conform to our logical limitations, we have done damage to the full revelation.  For instance, if God is not transcendent, then he lacks the power to change our circumstances.  But more importantly, we also have lost any reason to change those circumstances because they are simply part of the ineluctable consequences of being caught on the wheel of existence that has neither beginning nor end.  But if God is only transcendent, then he neither knows nor cares what is happening in our lives.  He is simply other than we, bringing us into existence and providing the energy that powers the cosmos, but he remains untouched by the changing, fluctuating movements of the world.

The Bible insists that both propositions are equally true.  On one account, God “sits above the circle of the earth” (40:22).  He is not the sun, moon, or stars, nor is he to be identified with any process of earth, whether physical, political, or psychological.  He is above and beyond all of that.  But at the same time, he is love.   (John N. Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah, 449)


Pagans can come into contact with the dead organism of Christianity and thereafter be immune to the real thing.  — Steve Brown


God is inviting us to turn our perceptions around and see everything from his point of view.  He understands that the struggle of faith is won or lost in the way we perceive reality.  Yes, we are dwarfed by the creation; but the creation is dwarfed by God.  See it that way.  See him that way.  When you feel threatened by world events and overwhelmed by your own problems, there’s another way to perceive it all.  God is opening up to you a prophetic vision.  And the Biblical gospel is his way of calling to us, “Behold your God!” (Isa 40:9). (Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.; Preaching the Word: Isaiah, 248)


The particular value of the doctrine of God the Creator is, or course, that it brings all that is true about God to bear on this world.  Consider, then, the absurdity of losing faith in One who, in relation to earth, is all-powerful (12), all-wise (13-14), dominant (15-17), with no god to challenge, check or rival him (18-20), King of kings (21-24), sovereignly in charge of his world down to the smallest detail so that everything is in its place, nothing overlooked, nothing lost!  (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, 250)


A proper view of God’s person is a powerful motive to true repentance. (Robert Owen Roberts; Repentance, 159)


Possibly our vision of Christ is limited.  We are in danger of confining him to our restricted experience or limited knowledge.  We need a vision of Christ with these immense cosmic dimensions, a Christ who transcends all our noblest thoughts about him and all our best experience of him.  These first-century readers would be less likely to turn from him in adversity if they had looked to him in adoration.  The opening sentences of the letter are designed to bring them and us to our knees; only then can we hope to stand firmly on our feet.  (Raymond Brown, The Bible Speaks Today:  Hebrews, 32)


Every religion is but man’s attempt to discover God.  Christianity is God bursting into man’s world and showing and telling man what He is like.  Because man by himself is incapable of identifying, comprehending, or understanding God at all, God had to invade the world of man and speak to him about Himself.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 3)


Are you happy about yourself?  Are you happy about the state of the Church?  Is all well?  Can we go jogging along?  Meetings, services, activities—wonderful!  Is it?  Where is the knowledge of God?  Is he in the midst?  Is he in the life?  What is our relationship to him?   Face that question, and it will lead to this true godly sorrow and repentance, which will manifest itself in a practical manner.  May God have mercy upon us, open our eyes to the situation, and give us honest minds, and truth in our inward parts.  (D. Martyn  Lloyd-Jones; Revival, 160)


Mankind exhibits a constant desire to “see” God.  The heathen bowing before his idol is deluded into thinking that his is a real “image” of God.  The desire is right, but the manifestation of it is wrong.  God desires to be “seen,” but He is only visible in the Person of Jesus, “the express image of his person.”  (Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 18)


The message to Mary and the message of the incarnation was that God is greater than we thought.  Many think God is too great to become a single, weak, unique, human being. God cannot become a weak, unique human being, humanists say, because . . . it makes Christ too central—they resist the centrality of Christ, that God became one human being.  Judaism and Islam say it for a different reason.  They say that God is too great to have become limited like that.  But no.

This passage tells us that what makes Him The Most High is that He was able to become most low.  In fact, to disbelieve in the incarnation, in the name of the greatness of God, is actually to diminish His greatness.

One writer put it this way and I think it is fascinating:  “The power of the higher just in so far as it is truly higher can come down to include the lesser.  And everywhere the great enters the little its power to do so is virtually the test of its greatness.  Now listen . . .  Think!  Think! . . .  You can become kittenish with your kitten but your kitten will never talk to you about philosophy with you. . . . Everywhere the great enters the little its power to do so is the test of its greatness.  The inability of the lesser to enter the greater is a proof of its lesserness.

Hitler could never understand Lincoln but Lincoln can understand Hitler. . . . wisdom always understands foolishness (because wisdom sees the foolishness in yourself) but to foolishness wisdom is utterly incomprehensible

Unselfishness knows selfishness’ number but to the Selfish the deeds of the unselfish are completely uncomprehensible.

Therefore, if God is truly Great, this makes perfect sense, In fact, now we know how great He is.  The greatness of God is greater than we ever thought.  The Most High has become the most low.  (Tim Keller; sermon: The Deity of Jesus)




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