Probably, neither the Apostle John, nor John the Baptist, ever considered themselves to be theologians. Technically, a “theologian” is someone who academically studies the nature of God and religion. John the Apostle, the penman of this gospel, and John the Baptist, one of the subjects about whom he wrote, weren’t students of God and religion, per se. They were both simply children of God and followers of Christ, as we all should be. Please understand that I am not trying to denigrate theologians. Good ones may have their place. I’m just saying that they aren’t the religious high priests that some of them would like to claim to be.

As I say, the two Johns were not theologians, but they were students and witnesses for Christ. So you might say that they did hold to certain doctrines concerning the Lord Jesus. You could say that they had a form of “Christology” – that part of theology which focuses on the Lord Jesus. And by the way, the Christologies of both these men were in full agreement with each other.

The Apostle John begins this fourth gospel by shining a spotlight on the Son of God – the living Word, the light of the world – the One who is the Saviour. In the midst of doing that in a most spectacular fashion, he turned his attention to John the Baptizer. John the Baptist was the trailblazer, the forerunner – the temporary MC who introduced Christ to the world. “Behold – the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In our text, for the second time, the Apostle points to the Baptist and this time describes him while he is pointing to God’s Son. The Baptist is expressing the core of his Christology in this scripture. “John bare witness of HIM (Christ), and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” I’d like to use these 4 verses of the Baptist’s doctrine of Christ as the outline to a few thoughts this morning.

For example, verse 15 describes the Baptist’s doctrine of Christ’s PREEMINENCE.

Remember that the APOSTLE is being used by the Holy Spirit to summarize this confession of the BAPTIST. And as such it comes to us in the APOSTLE’S context, not necessarily in the way in which it was first given. The Apostle is the reporter, but to whose words the Holy Spirit divine giving inspiration. He is not directly quoting the Baptist, but rather giving the gist of what he had said earlier. So the “him” of this verse is the Person of whom the Apostle was speaking in the first part of the chapter. The Apostle says, “John bare witness of HIM, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake…” Okay John, of whom was the Baptist speaking? The living Word, who was with God in the beginning, and who created all things. The Baptist was pointing to the One who is the light of the world, and the source of all life. Jesus will later say, “I am THE way, the truth and the LIFE. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” “John bare witness of HIM.” “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

More specifically, what was it that the Baptist said about Christ? All three of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – describe the John’s early ministry. “Synoptic” refers to the fact that the first three books of the New Testament give us a synopsis of Jesus’ life. Matthew, one of the Synoptic Gospels says that John was preaching in the Judean wilderness and pleading with people: “REPENT ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” just as Isaiah had foretold. Then multitudes from Jerusalem and Judea went down to the Jordan valley to learn more about John and Jesus. Among other the things, John said to them, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” The Baptist said in effect: “The Son of God is much more important than I am. He is preferred above me – infinitely more highly than me – because He was and always has been before me.” John the Apostle is quoting John the Baptist in this way to augment what he said earlier: “In the beginning was the Word.” When there was nothing but God, there was the Son of God; it was the Son of God who created all things. John the Baptist told those who questioned him about his ministry and authority: “I am nobody; I am only a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Look to the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world.’”

This was John’s theology, and it is MY theology and my testimony. Christ, the Son of God is everything, while I am nothing but a servant to whom the Lord has been gracious. I am not worthy of untying the shoes of the Lord Jesus. I am not worthy of washing the Saviour’s feet. But I am willing to do whatever He would ask me to do, even if it is to die for His Name. And it is also my own testimony that there is nothing in this world any better than this kind of life.

Now John, please tell us how it is that Christ Jesus deserves the preeminence that you suggest?

In verse 18 he replies, partially because of His MELLIFLUENCE.

I’m using several big words to highlight my four points this morning, but don’t worry about them. I’ll explain. “Mellifluence” is a wonderful word which sometimes describes a VOICE which is smoooooth and pleasant. It comes from a combination of two Latin words, one of which is “honey” and the other speaks of “flowing.” A “mellifluent voice” is sweet and pleasant – but not in a sticky, iky way. It is worth hearing, and it conveys its message in a soothing and calming manner. If you’d like to picture “mllifluence, listen to my voice and then imagine something just the opposite.
In his testimony and in his theology, the Baptist said, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Fathers, he hath DECLARED him.” It is a fact that noone, since Adam, has looked into the face of God – apart from the Person of Christ. This alone says something about Jesus’ preeminence. Moses, as he was commissioned to bring Israel out of Egypt and then to give to Israel the law of God, begged for the privilege of seeing the one who was giving him that commission. The LORD replied, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” – Exodus 33:20. Perhaps Adam had that privilege before he chose to sin against God, but no one since has seen the ineffable, indescribable form of God the Father. When Moses hiked to the top of that small mountain called “Sinai,” the people of Israel gathered in the desert below, “and the Lord spake unto them out of the midst of the fire; and they heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; they only heard God’s voice” – Deuteronomy 4:12. And that was NOT a “mellifluent voice.” It was a voice like multiplied thunders; it was a voice that could have knocked rocks off mountains. It was so disturbing that the people of Israel covered their ears, asking Moses to listen on their behalf and then repeat what God had to say in a more human voice. They not only couldn’t see God, they couldn’t even stand to hear the voice of God. The Baptist’s theology matched that of Paul, who wrote: the Lord… “is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see, to whom be honour and power everlasting, Amen.” – I Timothy 6:15-16.

You and I don’t have ears or hearts capable of listening to the voice of God. It would shatter our ear drums and splinter our hearts. But the Lord Jesus has come to us and “declared,” “revealed,” or spoke to us of the glorious God. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of Jehovah, and at the same time the only begotten Son. Almost indescribably, Christ Jesus has always been the Son of God. He didn’t derive His existence from God the Father. They, along with the eternal Spirit, have always been one in their divine nature. The doctrine of the Trinity may be maligned by the average unbeliever, but the regenerated believer knows it to be true. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

The divine voice split the heavens on the day of John’s immersion of the Lord Jesus, saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” I wonder how many people were capable of hearing that voice, or was it basically between the Father and the Son? Whether heard by others or not, since the Triune God rested on the seventh day of creation, and since the day Adam sinned, God has never been well-pleased with anything or anyone, except Christ Jesus. Because Jesus is the only begotten Son, dwelling in the heart of God the Father, John could say, “He is preferred before me.”

And in a practical sense – the preeminent Christ is critically important to us in that “he hath declared” the invisible God and His message to us. In Christ we see things about Jehovah of which we could only guess before. We see God’s grace, mercy and kindness in the miracles Christ shared with undeserving people. And “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You will never see love like that in the first half of the Bible – even though it is there between the lines. The Old Testament psalmists show us how to worship God, but watching and listening to Jesus in Gethsemane and in John 17 reveal worship in a whole new light. And do you think you can see God’s hatred for sin, while reading through the Old Testament? The destruction of Jericho, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the deaths of Achan and other sinners are all child’s play compared to the wrath which God poured down upon His only begotten Son as He bore my sins.

Listen to the mellifluous voice of the Lord Jesus as He prepares and creates the gospel of saving grace.

In verse 17 we see the MUNIFICENCE of the Lord.

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The word “munificence” speaks of being lavishly generous. Have you experienced someone who seemed to go over and above common hospitality, giving you kindness after kindness? That is one of the characteristics of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The law of Moses – which was really the law of God given to Israel through Moses – was a huge gift. Paul described the law as “holy, and the commandment is just and good” – Romans 7:12. It revealed a part of God which Israel and the rest of the world had forgotten since the passing of Enoch’s generation. Like so many today, without actually saying the words, it was thought that Jehovah was much like the gods of the Romans, Greeks and earlier fallen civilizations. Sinners for some reason think that God is satisfied with human mediocrity, misdemeanors and malaise. No sir. In the law, God is specific, declaring that He hates white lies, petty theft, greed and covetousness. It reveals that God despises the wicked thought even if it isn’t carried out to fruition. The law reminds us that it is not just the commission of crime that is a sin; it is the consideration, the contemplation and sometimes even the conversation about sin that is the sin.

It might be argued that if someone kept all 611 statutes of the law of Moses, he would be acceptable to God. But that doesn’t take into account two or three undeniable truths. First, no one has ever, from the moment of his birth to moment of his death, perfectly kept the law. Not only is that a fact, but beneath that fact is the fact that no one ever can keep the law – because we are all sinners by nature. And then even if perfect obedience was possible, that obedience couldn’t undo our spiritual death and give anyone spiritual life. If someone thinks that the law provides forgiveness for past sins, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:3 – of the necessity of the Saviour. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”

And with that we come back to the Baptist’s Christology – “but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” It isn’t that the law was not true. It most certainly was – and still is. Again, the law is “holy, and the commandment is just and good.” But the truth of the law is different from what many people think it to be. In truth, it was never designed to deliver from sin, but to reveal the nature of sin. Paul tells us in Galatians 3 – “Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the father which should be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Again this takes us back to John’s statement – “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

You could correctly say, “grace and truth” refer to the Lord Jesus’ gospel of salvation. It ascribes forgiveness and deliverance from sin to the free grace and infinite love of God. It is “truth” not only because it contains nothing but the truth, taking the law several steps further. But it is true, because it comes from the God of truth – God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. Remember Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The law could not bring us to God – but He who is the way, truth and life can.

I have learned by experience that these gifts of grace, love and truth, are greater than anything this world and all its religions, pleasures and natural beauty have to offer. This is why I use the word “munificence” – the gift of the gospel, makes words like “generous” “lavish” and “magnanimous” pale and as weak as café coffee. Christ Jesus freely gave His life that we might receive the fullest blessings of His grace and truth. There has never been a greater gift than this – Christ’s death. And this gift of grace was given for – and offered to – people like you and me – who are less deserving than homeless, addicted, illegal immigrants.

And with this I come to verse 16 where we see Christ’s BENEFICENCE.

“And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” Here is where the rubber meets the road, and we move forward into eternity.

But first, who is the “all” of this verse? In verse 19 John the Baptist speaks to the unbelieving representatives of the priests and Levites. But here in our paragraph, he is speaking primarily to others like himself, believers and servants of God. It isn’t the rebel who has received Christ’s fulness and multiplied grace. It isn’t the idolater, the sin worshiper and the sun worshiper. It isn’t the worshiper of God’s creatures rather than God Himself. I think the Baptist was talking to people he had baptized – believers – we might even call them “Baptists.”

“We (who are learning to love, trust and live in Christ) have all received grace for grace.” What is the meaning of that strange language – “grace for grace?” Unfortunately, we don’t have any related scriptures to help our understanding. We are on our own. So some people say that this is speaking of “grace which FOLLOWS grace.” First, there was the gracious gift of God’s law which pointed out our sins and proved us guilty before God. And there was the daily grace though which God kept us alive until that time God’s evangelist came to us. And then there was the day of God’s grace when the Holy Spirit shared with our hearts the mellifluous message of the gospel. Other commentators say that this “grace FOR grace” speaks of the ultimate completion of grace. One of these days, God’s saints shall be caught up to heaven to be with Christ, and then through the earnest of our inheritance, the Holy Spirit – we will be glorified in the Lord Jesus. When grace, which speaks of something totally undeserved, is added to previous undeserved blessings, it is not about simple addition; it is infinite multiplication. Some people say that God’s grace through Christ Jesus, just gets “better and better.” And then others simply refer the passing of time and receiving God’s grace “again and again,” because we are in continual need of the Lord’s infinite kindness. If the grace of God’s salvation only cleansed us of past sins, we’d be in as desperate need as we were before we first heard of Christ, because sin is ever coming up in our lives. Some people us the word “coronation” in the same sort of way as “grace for grace.” One day, when the Lord heaps on us kindness upon kindness and grace upon grace, we will have been elevated to the pinnacle of God’s blessed Alps. One day God will take His saints to Himself. Perhaps one day, there will be no more need for grace, but I have doubts.

Perhaps the best comment on the phrase “grace for grace” comes from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, where he uses John’s term “fullness.” I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be FILLED with all the FULNESS of God.”

It is my prayer as well, not only for you who are believers in Christ, but for you who are not as yet. To be filled with all the fulness of God is something beyond my ability to describe. For that I give place to the Holy Spirit to reveal in His own way the hem of that special garment.

The ministry of John the Baptist was to point people to Christ Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God. It was his theology and his privilege to say that “grace and truth” are to be found only in Him. John said that “Christ must increase and I must decrease,” because Christ is preferred before John. But in another context he might have said, “Christ WILL increase.” Christ Jesus is currently sitting at the right hand of God the Father. And one day He will return to this earth with ten thousand of His saints, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that OBEY not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 1:8).

My question for you this morning is: Have you obeyed the gospel? Have you humbly placed your faith, love and loyalty in the only begotten Son of God – the Saviour? Multitudes of unworthy sinners, for centuries, have tasted of the fulness of God. Won’t you join them this morning by obeying the gospel and putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?