John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
I know a young man who would read our church’s devotional magazine, Meditations, and with each devotion he tried to find the “moral of the story,” the lesson meant to change your behavior. It was something of a revelation to him that sometimes when God speaks he isn’t trying to change your behavior. He just wants to tell you something about himself. John is telling us something similar about Jesus here. He came to give you more than rules.
Everyone knows the name of the most famous movie about Moses, the one starring Charlton Heston: The Ten Commandments. It’s no surprise, then, when John says the law was given through Moses. If you read the first five books of the Bible, the ones written by Moses, you find that there were more than ten commands God gave Moses. There were hundreds. They covered every facet of life. There were laws that governed what you ate, what kind of clothes you wore, how you worshiped, whom you married, how you conducted business, how you farmed, how you schooled your children, how you practiced hygiene, and even where and how you used the restroom. Hardly a moment went by in the lives of Old Testament believers when they weren’t consciously carrying out some rule, some command, some instruction Moses had given them.
The world didn’t need Jesus to come and bring more rules. It had more than it needed. Jesus actually rolled back many of the rules given by Moses by fulfilling them, which is why you don’t feel even a little guilty eating Christmas ham, or sitting in church on Sunday.
But didn’t Jesus give us new commandments about love, like “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”? No that was Moses, too, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus just brought this to people’s attention again. Didn’t Jesus give us something new when he taught us, “Love your enemies”? No, that’s also in Moses (Exodus 12:49), if you read the context of what he says about the commandments. Jesus just clarified things for a generation that had lost its way.
So why does John make a point of this? People have a tendency to think about religion, “Don’t bother me with theory and theology. Just get to the practical part. Tell me what I’m supposed to do.” But it so happens that the “theory and the theology” (which really involves no theory at all, but is all based on unchangeable facts God has revealed) is the main part. Without it, none of the practical stuff works. You can no more follow God’s rules and live a Christian life without understanding God and his love, than a doctor can perform surgery without studying anatomy, or prescribe medicines without knowing some chemistry, or a mechanic can fix your car without knowing how an internal combustion engine works, or your accountant can do your taxes without knowing a little something about math.
It’s not that Jesus is unconcerned about the rules, but he knows, better than we do, how miserably we fail to keep them. That is why he comes to give us something more than rules: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Didn’t grace also exist before Jesus came? Didn’t the Lord describe himself this way to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin”? Yes he did. But God never joined us in our world as a man before Jesus. God never fulfilled all the law’s demands as our substitute before Jesus. God never died in our place to pay for all our sins before Jesus. It wasn’t until Jesus came that we had the basis for our freedom from sin, and guilt, and fear, and legalism, and Satan, and death. These gifts, this grace and truth, came through Jesus Christ, and they are so much more than another set of rules.