3. Jesus: Full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14-17; 3:16-18)


Audio (42:58)

Detail of 'Resurrection' stained glass window, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, 2008, full size is 40ft x 20ft.
Detail of 'Resurrection' stained glass window, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, 2008, full size is 40ft x 20ft. Designed and constructed by Mellini Art Glass and Mosaics of Florence, Italy. Photo © 2010, Lea McNulty, used by permission.

We could follow the theme of grace further in the Pauline Epistles -- and we will. But next, let's take a close look at Jesus and the grace so evident in his life and ministry.

Curiously, Jesus never used the word grace so far as the Gospels record,86 though "love" is used a great deal, especially in John's Gospel. How did Jesus teach grace? By instruction, by parables, and by actions. Let's open the Gospels together.

3.1 Full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14-17)

In the Beginning (John 1:1-4)

John begins his gospel with a startling revelation about Jesus.

"1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4)

I can't escape the conclusion that, in these early verses, John is talking about Jesus' glory mentioned again in verse 14 -- "we have seen his glory" -- the verse that is the focus of our study at the moment. Notice how the glory displayed in verses 1-4:

  1. The Word. Jesus is God's communication to mankind.
  2. Preexistence. Jesus is preexistent with the Father from the very beginning, certainly before the beginning of creation (echoing Genesis 1:1). He is not "created" but "is" with the Father.
  3. Co-creator. The Son creates all things along with his Father.
  4. Life-giver. Life is found in Jesus. And this Life writ large is the light by which men find their way to God himself.

Next, John talks about John the Baptist's testimony of Jesus as the True Light, about Jesus' rejection by many, but the life-change he brings in those who put their faith in him.

Glory of the 'Only-Begotten' (John 1:14b)

John 1:14 seems to be both a summary verse and a pausing reflection before moving on. Notice the places where the word "grace" appears in this passage.

"14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.... 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:14, 16-17, ESV)

These verses are full of meaning. John speaks of Jesus' incarnation, "becoming flesh" in the first part of verse 14. We could spend a long time here, but I want to move to the latter part of the verse, which is so rich.

Uniqueness is expressed in three words: monogenous para patros, literally, "only son from father." "One and Only" (NIV), "only Son" (ESV, NRSV), "only begotten" (KJV) translate the adjective monogenēs, "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind)," of something that is the only example of its category. [87] Jesus is utterly unique. He is not just another created human being. He is unique from the Father, the unique Son of the Father.88

Second, Glory. Throughout the Old Testament we read about the "glory of God," which was sometimes manifested in fire and brightness, what the Jews called the "Shekinah," the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence.89 Yahweh sometimes manifests himself in fire and in a cloud. Yahweh is the epitome of light itself.90

The Apostle John had seen that very Shekinah glory upon Jesus with his own eyes during the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2), and, with Peter and James, "were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Third, Grace, the focus of this study. Jesus is "full of grace and truth." As we've learned, "grace" (Greek charis) or "favor" is not based upon our worthiness. Rather, it is unilateral. It is rare in the Gospels, but nearly the same concept is conveyed throughout John's writings with the word "love" -- the verb agapaō and the noun agapē.

Fourth, Truth. "Truth" is a word that appears often in the Gospel. Jesus often prefaces his important assertions with the phrase, "I tell you the truth..." (NIV), or "Verily, verily I say unto you..." (KJV). Truth will set us free if we cling to Christ's teachings (John 8:31b-32).91

Grace upon Grace (John 1:16-17)

Jesus is full of grace and truth. After a parenthetical aside (verse 15), John continues.

"16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16-17, ESV)

What does "grace upon grace" mean? There are two approaches to understanding it.

  1. Accumulation. Most modern commentators take anti as meaning, "in addition to," thus the NIV translation, "one blessing after another" (NIV).92 However, this use of anti is quite rare in Greek.
  2. Replacement. The early Greek Fathers took the preposition anti with its common meaning "in place of." In accordance with the context of verse 17, they saw the meaning as the grace of Christ under the New Covenant replacing the grace of the Law under the Old Covenant93 (see Romans 6:14).

The idea of Christ's grace replacing the former grace of the Law makes more sense to me, since it uses anti in its normal sense and seems to fit the context a bit better. Either way, it's all about the overwhelming blessing of the grace that comes through Christ Jesus.

To summarize, Jesus is God's Son, his unique Son, who is full of grace and truth. He dispenses the Father's truth as he teaches and the Father's grace as he heals bodies and souls. Ultimately, God's favor is shown in the cross, as Jesus pours out his life for ours, that God's Favor might displace and destroy the sin in us that has kept us from the Father. Jesus is the amazing Grace Dispenser sent from God.

3.2 For God So Loved the World that He Gave (John 3:16)

As I mentioned, the actual word "grace" (charis) seldom appears in the Gospels. But the concept, the practice of grace is on full display for all to see. Jesus, full of grace and truth, often allows grace to overflow onto those around him using the related concept of "love" (agape).

Perhaps one of the most beloved statements of God's grace is found in John 3:16.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Notice the two verbs in the first part of the verse: "loved" and "gave."

"Loved" is the verb agapaō, the verb form of agapē, used in the New Testament to express the highest form of love (which we discussed in Lesson 2.4). It is defined as, "to have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love."94 In John 3:16, "loved" is modified by the adverb "so," which indicates an intense degree of love.95

"Gave" is the common verb didōmi, "to give." It echoes the related verb paradidomai in Isaiah 53:12 (Septuagint), "He was given up for their sins." "Gave" in John 3:16 emphasizes the idea of sacrifice.96

"One and only Son" uses the Greek word monogenēs (that we just saw in John 1:14, 18), "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique."97

"Whoever" is pan, "all, everyone."98

"Believes" is pisteuō, "to believe. This is more than intellectual assent. Rather, it is believing enough "'to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust,' with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted."99

"Not perish" is a negative particle with the Greek verb apollumi, "perish, be ruined," used of death on stormy seas, death by the sword, and especially of eternal death.100 The implication is that without the Father's intervention in Jesus, we are on the road to hell.

"Have eternal life" uses the very common verb echō, "to possess or contain, have, own."

We have heard this verse so often that it may seem trite to us. But this short verse spells out how salvation works. Love for us motivates God to give his own Son as a sacrifice for our sins, so that if we trust in him, we don't get what we deserve -- to perish eternally -- but to possess eternal life with him. This is the essence of grace; it emphasizes what God does, to give what is most precious to him, out of love for his lost creation -- favor that is neither earned nor deserved. In this case, it is Favor that makes the difference for us between life and death.

The Close Relation between Grace and Giving

The phrase "gave his one and only Son" prompts me to take a bit of a diversion here to begin to unpack the word "grace" a bit further to point out the central idea of gift-giving that is contained in grace. A related noun comes from charis: charisma (plural charismata), "that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift."101 Our English word "charismatic" is a transliteration of this word. In English, "charismatic" is used in two ways:

  1. Charismatic leaders, are individuals gifted with winning personalities, and
  2. Charismatic gifts of the Spirit, often thought of as miraculous gifts.

The point I want to make here is that grace extends beyond God's favor and goodwill to the gifts and blessings that he bestows upon his people, gifts that are equally unearned and undeserved. (We'll examine this further in the gift of ministry to others in Lesson 8.)

Q10. (John 3:16) How does John 3:16 display "favor that is neither earned nor deserved" without using the word 'grace'? What is the relationship between grace and giving? What motivates the gift in this verse? How does this relate to grace?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2145-q10-gave-his-son/

3.3 Jesus' Teaching on Grace

You may not have thought of it in these terms, but Jesus teaches his disciples about grace as part of his core teaching.

Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)

He commands them to show grace, especially grace in the face of hate and violence. He tells us to love our enemies. As we studied in Lesson 2.1, Paul taught:

"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

"... When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son." (Romans 5:10a)

Paul learned this kind of radical grace from Jesus.

In his so-called Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:27-36; Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus teaches love for enemies. Here grace is not only undeserved, it is the opposite of what is deserved.

"27 Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6:27-28)

I am tempted to get into the bones of this wonderful teaching, but I want to save it for a later lesson on grace-filled living (Lesson 9.1), so we'll consider it more fully there. However, notice the last two verses of Jesus' teaching here where he reveals that his Father's essential nature is grace.

"35b Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:35b-36)

When you combine kindness to the ungrateful and wicked with mercy, you get grace. Jesus teaches grace in one of the most powerful passages in the Gospels!

"I Desire Mercy, not Sacrifice" (Matthew 9:12-13; 12:7; Hosea 6:6)

Twice Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for their legalism and judgmentalism -- first in condemning Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, and then for the disciples "harvesting" grain to eat on the Sabbath. On both occasions Jesus says:

"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" (Matthew 9:13; cf. 12:7)

What does this mean? Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6, where the prophet is speaking out God's frustration with both the northern and southern kingdoms (Ephraim and Judah), who claim that they love God and go through the motions of religious observance, but have actually broken God's covenant and are unfaithful. They have kept the religious observances, but lost the moral basis of a loving God.102 David and the prophets say much the same thing.103 "It was mercy that found favor with God, not sacrifices offered by those who felt themselves to be morally superior."104

The Pharisees know the Law, but not God or God's heart of compassion for the lost. They honor God with their lips, Jesus says, "but their hearts are far from me."105 Jesus desires "mercy, not sacrifice" -- grace, not a sense of religious superiority over the lost.

My friend, are you and I so bound by our religious traditions that we can no longer discern the love and grace in the heart of God? If so, the Pharisees' sin can be ours as well.

Continual Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22)

Jesus teaches that when a brother or sister repents, we must be ready to forgive. Forgive means "to release from moral obligation or consequence." Whatever we were holding against him or her we must let go of. We must release it.

"But he isn't sincere in his apology!" we scream. "Look, he did it again!" Listen to Jesus' teaching.

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?'
Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seven times seventy.'" (Matthew 18:21-22)

Peter is trying to make a law out of Jesus' seven-times forgiveness rule. A-ha! On the eighth time I don't have to forgive him! Good. I can wait!

No, Jesus didn't mean number seven here to be taken as a literal number to be used in a new Rabbinical ruling, but the number of completeness and perfection. Not seven, but the perfect number times the perfect number times ten. If the Father's grace can forgive continually erring children, how can we do less if we want to be like him?

3.4 Jesus' Parables on Grace

Vincent Van Gogh, 'The Good Samaritan' (1890), after Delacroix, oil on canvas, 73 x 59.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterio, Netherlands
Vincent Van Gogh, 'The Good Samaritan' (1890), after Delacroix, oil on canvas, 73 x 59.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterio, Netherlands.

Jesus also teaches grace through his parables. Without trying to be exhaustive, I'd like to point to parables in the Gospels where the idea of grace ("God's favor that is unmerited and undeserved") is taught without using the word "grace" at all. These are illustrations of what it means that Jesus is "full of grace."

It's tempting, by the way, to try to make clear distinctions between grace and mercy, compassion and love. And there are some differences. But for the most part, in the Gospels these words are not used with careful precision, but as near synonyms to describe the same kinds of actions.

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is undoubtedly designed to illustrate grace, astonishing, unexpected goodwill that went against history and racial tensions between the Jews and Samaritans, with no expectation of repayment.

"But a Samaritan ... came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him." (Luke 10:33)

The reason this parable is so powerful is that Samaritans despised the Jews just as much as Jews hated Samaritans, since a century and a half earlier the Jews had destroyed a temple the Samaritans had built on their holy Mount Gerizim. Hatred was deeply engrained on both sides in a feud that went back 700 years. Yet the Samaritan "took pity" on the wounded traveler and went out of his way to pay ahead the expected costs for his care.106 This is favor that is unexpected, that is neither earned nor deserved. Grace.

Q11. (Luke 10:25-37) Why do you think Jesus sets up the hero of the parable as a Samaritan? How does the Samaritan show undeserved favor? In your community, who are the "neighbors" that are resented? In what ways can you and/or your Christian community show God's grace to them?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2146-q11-good-samaritan/

Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)

In Jesus' Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the king's servant owes a huge, huge debt, way beyond his ability to pay. He pleads for time and promises that he will repay it all, though this is clearly impossible. Jesus continues the story:

"The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go." (Matthew 18:27)

This is to illustrate that salvation is entirely based on God's mercy, not man's deservedness or ability to repay God. In a word: grace. The parable goes on to teach that Jesus expects this kind of outrageous mercy from his disciples as well.107 We see this in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our debts in the same way that we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12-15).

Q12. (Matthew 18:21-35) In what way does the king show grace in this parable. How does the forgiven servant withhold grace? Can we call ourselves Jesus' disciples if we withhold grace according to Matthew 18:35 and Matthew 6:12-15?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2147-q12-unforgiving-servant/

Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31)

Detail from Rembrandt, 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' (1636)
Detail from Rembrandt, 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' (1636), etching on laid paper, plate: 15.6 x 13.7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

The grace parable that comes to mind most readily is the Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-31). According to Hebrew laws of inheritance, the older son eventually inherits the land and the bulk of his father's estate upon the old man's death in order to keep the property intact. In this parable, however, the younger son demands -- and is given -- his inheritance while his father is still living. He despises life on the farm, leaves for the city, and forthwith squanders all his money on wine, women, and song. The money finally runs out. To survive, he finds a job feeding pigs -- employment that would be forbidden for a Kosher Jewish boy who would consider pigs unclean.

The Prodigal Son finally "comes to his senses" and plans to apologize and ask his father for employment as a farm worker.

"20b But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." (Luke 15:20b-24)

I love this story!108

Notice the astounding action of the father, who obviously represents God the Father. (The prodigal son represents repentant sinners. The older son represents law-keeping Jews, especially the Pharisees.) The father sees his son, recognizes his brokenness, restores him to his position as a son, and holds a celebration. A just father might offer him a job, exactly what the son had reason to expect. But a gracious father offers full forgiveness and restoration. This is way beyond justice or fairness. This is grace that is undeserved and unmerited displayed in the parable for us to see. Astounding grace!

Q13. (Luke 15:11-31) What does the Parable of the Prodigal Son teach us about God? About repentance? About grace?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2148-q13-prodigal-son/

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

Another outstanding parable on grace is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). A landowner hires workers to work in his vineyard at harvest time. He keeps hiring workers throughout the day, in order to ensure that he will have enough workers to bring in the grape harvest in a timely manner. The first group hired at dawn is promised one denarius, what was considered a fair day's wages.

Hiring Time Promised wages

Early morning (about 6 am) 1 denarius, a normal day's wages
Third hour (about 9 am) "Whatever is right"
Sixth hour (about noon) No mention of wages
Ninth hour (about 3 pm) Same
Eleventh hour (about 5 pm) Same

At evening, the landowner instructs his foreman to pay the workers, beginning with the most recently hired. All are given one denarius, no matter what time they are hired. Those hired first see others receiving a denarius, so they expect more and complain loudly when they also received a single denarius. It's not fair -- we worked harder than they did, they say. The landowner responds that he has treated them fairly, since he has given them exactly what he promised them. Then he says:

"15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?109 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matthew 20:15-16)

Some see the early morning workers as the Jews who have been faithful, worked hard, and -- compared to the Gentiles -- deserve salvation, but I think that misses the point. Rather Jesus is teaching that God, represented by the landowner, operates on generosity, grace -- unearned and undeserved -- even though that offends people who demand absolute fairness, a fair wage for a day's work. This is a parable of outrageous grace.

3.5 Jesus' Grace in Action

Detail of 'Healing the Blind Man,' stained glass, All Saints Church, Rickling, Essex, UK
Detail of 'Healing the Blind Man,' stained glass, All Saints Church, Rickling, Essex, UK

We've seen some parables of grace. But the incidents in Jesus' ministry that clearly display grace outnumber the parables.

Compassion as Grace

Jesus' miracles weren't performed to create a spectacle and draw crowds110 -- though they did draw multitudes. Rather, they were acts of compassion from a loving Savior. Consider these:

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick." (Matthew 14:14)

"I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat." (Matthew 15:32a)

"Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:34)

"Filled with compassion,111 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'" (Mark 1:41)

Granted, compassion differs a bit from grace, but not much. These are near synonyms.112 Jesus operated on a principle of grace, but the Gospels generally express it in terms of compassion and love.

The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 8:1-11)

Here's another familiar story. Jesus has a reputation for mercy and the Pharisees want to trick him into either appearing judgmental or too lenient. A woman is found in the act of adultery and brought before Jesus when he is teaching in the temple. On the pretext that he is a learned rabbi, Jesus is challenged to offer his judgment of what Moses' law requires for adultery -- death by stoning. Rather, Jesus dispenses with their hypocrisy by saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Shamed, the accusers eventually leave. Jesus says to her:

"'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'
'No one, sir,' she said.
'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'" (John 8:10-11)

In this story, Jesus demonstrates mercy instead of judgment. It is a case of mercy triumphing over judgment (James 2:13). Yes, he calls the lady to repentance, but he shows favor to her where none has been earned or deserved. It is grace!113

Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:39-43)

Titian, detail of 'Christ and the Good Thief' (1566), oil on canvas, 54 x 59 in., Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Italy.
Titian, detail of 'Christ and the Good Thief' (1566), oil on canvas, 54 x 59 in., Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Italy.

Of course, there is the account of the thief on the cross. His partner in crime mocks Jesus, but the "good thief" stops him. "We're getting what we deserve, but he is innocent." Then the thief looks over to Jesus, and says to him:

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42).

Jesus' response illustrates abundant grace, undeserved favor, in response to the man's great faith.

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

Did the "good thief" deserve salvation? Absolutely not. He had lived a horrible life. But this dying man looks to another dying man and somehow by God's grace realizes who he is -- the Son of God -- and appeals to him in what can only be considered an amazing faith. And the result Jesus promises him is amazing grace.114

Q14. (Luke 23:39-43) How does the story of the thief on the cross illustrate salvation by faith? How does it show the triumph of grace over sin to those who don't deserve it?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2149-q14-thief-on-the-cross/

Woman Who Anointed Jesus' Feet (Luke 7:36-50)

Two incidents of women anointing Jesus with perfume are often confused and conflated. One is an account of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' just prior to his death.115 In these accounts the woman anointing is not accused of any sin. But our passage is different. Here, Jesus is dining with a Pharisee named Simon and the woman anointing Jesus is well-known as a loose woman from the town who has come uninvited into the Pharisee's house and anoints Jesus' feet with perfume. Simon says to himself:

"If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is -- that she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39)

Jesus knows his thoughts and tells a parable to the effect that a person who is forgiven more, loves the one who forgives proportionately more. Then he says to Simon:

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much." (Luke 7:47a)

And to the woman Jesus says:

"Your sins are forgiven.... Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:48, 50).

Jesus annoys Simon because he teaches that salvation isn't based on how good a person is, but based solely on faith and on God's grace where it is neither earned nor deserved.116

To Seek and Save the Lost (Luke 19:10)

On two occasions we see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners -- when Levi/Matthew is saved, and later at the home of Zacchaeus. Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for associating with sinners -- and, of course, he does break bread with them. But to their criticisms he gives two responses:

"The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

""It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31a-32)

Matthew adds to this Jesus' directive to the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy,117 not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13a, quoting Hosea 6:6, which we examined above in Lesson 3.4.)

In the Gospels, the idea of mercy carries a good share of the connotation that grace does in Paul's epistles. Salvation requires a miracle; it is not the just reward for a good life, since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-27)

'The Rich Young Ruler', stained glass window, Robertson-Wesley United Church, Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
'The Rich Young Ruler', stained glass window, Robertson-Wesley United Church, Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Each of the Synoptic Gospels records the incident of a rich young ruler, an earnest observant Jew, who comes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do "to inherit eternal life," what we might refer to as attaining salvation. Jesus questions his use of the term "good," pointing out that only God is absolutely good. The man affirms that he has kept the key points of the Law all his life. Then Jesus says,

"You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke 18:22)

Jesus demands that the man give his all to follow Jesus -- but that is too much for the man. Jesus says,

"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:24b-25)

The camel and the eye of a needle is a parable of impossibility. Jesus' disciples are left flabbergasted that a rich person who has observed the Torah since his youth can't be saved. Indeed, it was a common belief that only the rich could afford to keep all the commandments with the rigor the Pharisees did. The disciples ask:

"'Who then can be saved?' Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.'" (Luke 18:27)

In other words, salvation requires a miracle of grace. It can't be earned or deserved.118

Q15. (Luke 18:18-27) How does the story of the rich young ruler show the impossibility of salvation without a miracle of God? Why does Jesus use a rich and outwardly righteous man to make this point? Where does grace show through?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2150-q15-impossibility/

Ransom for Many (Mark 10:45; also Matthew 20:28)

One more teaching on grace comes to my mind. The disciples have been arguing about who is greatest. Jesus rebukes them for emulating the power-hungry secular and religious leaders in Judea and in Rome. He says, "It shall not be so among you! The greatest among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43). Then he says these amazing words about himself:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

The word "ransom" is Greek lytron, "price of ransom," especially the ransom money for the manumission of slaves.119 The idea of Jesus substituting himself for others is very clear because of the Greek preposition anti, which indicates "in place of, instead of."120 This passage carries clear echoes of Isaiah 53 where the Suffering Servant gives his life for the people.

"He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6)

We see "the many" mentioned especially in verses 11 and 12.

He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12c)

(On this passage also see Lesson 4.2, part 3.)

Jesus, the true Leader, is the Servant. As the Son of God he does what no mere human can do. We are full of transgressions and iniquities. He, the sinless Man, gives his life as a ransom for all of us -- to pay the debt we owe to God and to set us free. What is this teaching of Jesus as our Ransom? It is grace.

Throughout the Gospels we see this concept of grace again and again. And no wonder. Jesus is God in the flesh who is full of grace and truth.

Lessons for Disciples

Jesus' life and ministry is full of examples that God's operating system is centered on grace. Here are some of these:

  1. Jesus is declared "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), and ushers in the transition from the Old Covenant of the Law to the New Covenant of grace.
  2. Grace is illustrated in John 3:16, where the Father gives his Son as a sacrifice for sin for all who believe.
  3. Giving generously is closely aligned with grace.
  4. Jesus' radical teaching on grace is to "love your enemies," and compares it to what the Father is like -- kind to the ungrateful and wicked (Luke 6:27-28).
  5. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) illustrates undeserved favor of the Samaritan to the Jew, as well as generosity beyond mere rescue.
  6. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) shows the extreme grace of the King in forgiving an immense debt, but also the requirements that receiving such a pardon places on the recipient -- to show grace to others. This is capsulized in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our debts in the same way as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12-15).
  7. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31) shows the eagerness of the father to forgive and restore his beloved son who was dead to him.
  8. The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) teaches us that God doesn't operate on a principle of mere fairness, but of unexpected generosity.
  9. Jesus' actions of healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, etc. illustrate his compassion, another concept closely related to grace.
  10. The story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11) illustrates how mercy triumphs over justice where there is repentance, another example of God's operating principle of grace.
  11. The story of the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) illustrates the principle of salvation by faith as well as the grace of God to sinful people who don't deserve it.
  12. The story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet and washed them with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) teaches salvation by faith and God's rich grace for sinners.
  13. Jesus' stated mission "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10) shows that he is intent on showing grace to the least deserving.
  14. The story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27) illustrates the impossibility of people being saved without a miracle of God -- especially the rich and outwardly "righteous."
  15. Jesus' saying that he came to give himself as a ransom for many, shows that we need such a ransom in order to be freed from our sins. The phrase "the many" echoes the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53, especially verses 11 and 12.

Prayer


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Father, I thank you that you operate on a system of grace, rather than mere judgment. Thank you for showing this abundantly in the life, ministry, teaching, and death of your Son Jesus Christ for us. In his holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.... For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:14, 16-17, ESV)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life." (John 3:16, NIV)

"But I tell you who hear me:
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6:27-28, NIV)

"Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:35b-36, NIV)

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36, NIV)

"He said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:42-43, NIV)

"Your sins are forgiven.... Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:48, 50, NIV)

"The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10, NIV)

""It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31a-32, NIV)

"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" (Matthew 9:13a, quoting Hosea 6:6)

"'Who then can be saved?' Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.'" (Luke 18:26-27, NIV)

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45, NIV)

End Notes

References and Abbreviations

[86] In the Gospels, "grace" appears only at John 1:14b, 16, 17; and Luke 2:40.

[87] Monogenēs, BDAG 658, 2. It is used in the New Testament as "only son" (of Abraham, Hebrews 11:17; of the widow of Nain, Luke 7:12; of the man with the demon-possessed son, Luke 9:38) and "only daughter" (of Jairus, Luke 8:42). In the Septuagint you see it with Jephthah's daughter, an only child (Judges 11:34). We shouldn't overly stress the idea of begetting, since the word derives from the verb ginomai, "be born, become," rather than gennaō, "beget" (Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1971) p. 105, fn. 93), though used with "from the Father," begetting would be implied.

[88] John uses monogenēs to describe Jesus three additional times in his writings (John 1:18; 3:16; 1 John 4:9). John's prologue and the word monogenēs have had a very strong influence on orthodox Christology (the theology of Jesus Christ), as evidenced in the Nicene Creed (325, 381 AD), though the Church Fathers understood monogenēs in the sense of "begotten" more than "unique."

[89] In Hebrew "glory" is ḇô, from ḇē, "to be heavy," hence "wealth, honor, dignity, power," etc. In the New Testament, ḇô is translated by doxa, "reputation." For more on this, see my study The Glorious Kingdom: A Disciple's Guide to Kingdom Glory and Authority, (JesusWalk Publications, 2017, www.jesuswalk.com/glory/).

[90] Psalm 104:1b-2a; Habakkuk 3:4; 1 Timothy 6:16; Exodus 34:29; Revelation 22:5; 1 John 1:5; etc.

[91] See also John 4:23-24; 14:6.

[92] The most popular current approach is accumulation ("grace upon grace"), though this would normally be indicated by the preposition epi. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1971), p. 110, fn. 111) sees the meaning as accumulation (like many commentators), "and, what is more," in line with an example of a similar use of anti in Philo (de post. Cain, 145). So also the NIV ("one blessing after another") and Danker, "God's favor comes in ever new streams" (BDAG 86, 2).

[93] The preposition anti is used only here in John's writings. Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John I-XII (The Anchor Bible; Doubleday, 1966), pp. 15-16) explains that anti could indicate (1) replacement, (2) accumulation, (3) or correspondence. D.A. Carson (The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 131-134) and the Greek fathers understand it as, "grace instead of grace," meaning that the grace of Christ's grace supersedes the grace of the law, in line with verse 17 that follows.

[94] Agapaō, BDAG 5, 1bα.

[95] "So" is the adverb houtō, "here a marker of a relative high degree, 'so.'" Before a verb, it intensifies the verb, 'so intensely,' here and in 1 John 4:11, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (BDAG 742, 3).

[96] Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament (1886; reprinted: Hendrickson, 1985), in loc.

[97] Monogenēs, BDAG 658, 2. Translated variously as "one and only Son" (NIV), "only Son" (NRSV, NJB), "only begotten Son" (KJV, NASB).

[98] "The ones who believe" qualifies and limits the scope of "all" to those who actually believe.

[99] Pisteuō, BDAG 817, 2aβ.

[100] Apollumi, BDAG 116, 1bα, Aorist middle subjunctive.

[101] Charismata, BDAG 1081.

[102] "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6, NIV). "Steadfast love" (ESV, NRSV), "mercy" (NIV, KJV) is the Hebrew noun hesed, that we examined in Exodus 34:6 (Lesson 1.2) as one of the words God uses to describe his steadfast love, mercy, and lovingkindness. This is parallel to "Acknowledgement of God" (NIV), "knowledge" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) using the noun daʿat, "knowledge," from the very broadly used noun yādaʿ, "to know" in every sense. I believe that the NIV's "acknowledge" is a poor translation in this context. Rather the word means here "knowledge of = acquaintance with God" (Holladay 73, I, 3a). "Sacrifice" and "burnt offerings" are clearly used in parallel.

[103] Psalm 51:16-17; 40:6; 58:7-14; Proverbs 15:8; 21:27; Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Amos 5:21-23; Mark 12:33; Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:16.

[104] R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Eerdmans, 1961), p. 97.

[105] Matthew 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13.

[106] You can read a full exposition of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in my Disciple Lessons in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2020), Lesson 46. (www.jesuswalk.com/luke/046-good-samaritan.htm).

[107] You can read a full exposition of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in my Jesus and the Kingdom of God (JesusWalk, 2010), Lesson 7. (www.jesuswalk.com/kingdom/07_forgive.htm).

[108] You can find my complete exposition of the Parable of the Lost Son in Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2020), Lesson 67 (www.jesuswalk.com/luke/067-prodigal-son.htm).

[109] "Generous" (NIV, NRSV), "generosity" (ESV), "good" (KJV) is the common adjective agathos, "pertaining to meeting a high standard of worth and merit, good," here, "kind, generous" (BDAG 3, 2aα).

[110] Mark 1:43-45, 5:43.

[111] "Filled with compassion" is supported by nearly all early manuscripts, except D (the Western text). While you could see why copyists might seek to hide Jesus' anger (though they don't in Mark 3:5; 10:14), the reading "by anger" is weak external evidence. Bruce M. Metzger (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 76-77) gives it a [D] rating, "doubtful."

[112] "Have compassion" is splagchnizomai, "have pity, feely sympathy" (BDAG 938). In Mathew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41. "Have mercy" is eleeō, "to be greatly concerned about someone in need, have compassion/mercy/pity on someone" (BDAG 315). Seen in the Gospels in calls for Jesus to have mercy. Showing "grace" (charitoō) is about "showing or bestowing favor," whether or not there is need and without thought of whether the person is deserving or not (BDAG 1081). The verb is used only once in the Gospels, in the angel's greeting to Mary.

[113] You can see a full exposition of this passage in John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus (JesusWalk, 2015), Lesson 16 (www.jesuswalk.com/john/16_adulterous_woman.htm).

[114] You will find a full exposition of this incident in Disciple Training in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2010, 2020), Lesson 105 (www.jesuswalk.com/luke/105-thief.htm).

[115] Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-10.

[116] You can read my full exposition of this passage in Disciple Training in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2010, 2020), Lesson 25 (www.jesuswalk.com/luke/025-anointing.htm).

[117] "Mercy" is the noun eleos, "kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, mercy, compassion, pity, clemency" (BDAG 316, a).

[118] For a full exposition of this passage see Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2010, 2020), Lesson 80 (www.jesuswalk.com/luke/080-rich-young-ruler.htm).

[119] Lytron, BDAG 605.

[120] Anti, BDAG 87, 1.

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