John 1:16-17 “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Grace is God’s gift love, his undeserved love. John the Apostle, the writer of this gospel, wants us to understand what a source of blessings God’s grace is. It is an inexhaustible source. Jesus brings us God’s grace from his fullness: the full supply of the eternal and unlimited God whose resources know no bounds.
It is hard to find anything else in our experience for comparison. We worry about running out of so many things in our world–exhausting our resources. How much longer will the world’s oil reserves last? Some places worry about running out of drinking water. There are no such worries with grace. Even the world’s most plentiful substances, like sand or sea water, could be used up, I suppose. Scientists believe our sun has between 4.5 and 5 billion years left before it burns out and sunshine becomes impossible to find. Long after all these things are long gone, the supply of grace will be no less than it is today.
This grace, this gift love, is God’s greatest gift, the true heart and center of Christian faith. When John contrasts it with the law given through Moses, he is not saying that there was something wrong with the law. Jesus preached the law during his ministry. The law can bring us many good things, too–a happy family, a safe and secure community, the honor and respect of our neighbors, a content and fulfilling life, even God’s own approval–if we can keep it.
That’s the catch. The law is not the gift that keeps on giving. It is the gift that keeps on demanding. And what it demands, every honest person knows he cannot fulfill.
But the grace of God has no catch, just because it is undeserved. It is the special blessing Jesus brings. Others talked about it before him. But he embodies grace, he is grace–God’s gift of love, with every facet of his existence. His love for confused parents, disgusting lepers, arrogant Pharisees, unsteady disciples, and lowly sinners isn’t just lovely to look at. It is a gift God hands to us and says, “Here, it is yours. Be covered in it and filled with it–the beautiful new face and appearance you wear as a child I have claimed for myself by faith.”
The gory and upsetting details he has told us about the injuries Jesus endured at his trial, the agony of his crucifixion, and the indignity of his death are not gratuitous displays of violence. Nor are they a guilt-trip meant to manipulate us into better behavior. They are the pinnacle of God’s grace, the gift to be able to peer into God’s heart and see, “This is how much he loves us. This is the suffering he is willing to endure to save us and claim us for himself.”
These give the gift of certainty: to know that forgiveness is no empty promise. It is bought and paid for by the blood of God’s own Son. He left no sin unaccounted for. He offers us this gift with no strings attached. The news of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t some freakish intervention in the laws of nature meant to stimulate our curiosity. It is the gift that sets us free from all fear. It fills our lives with hope. It raises us above every painful experience and dark hour because it means that someday Jesus will raise our lifeless bodies to share his life and victory.
These gifts, this grace, comes through Jesus Christ not so much like individual objects being given to us in a parade or succession, once following the other, like a child who has a never-ending pile of gifts to open on Christmas day. He opens one, and then the next, and then the next. But they come all together in an unending flood, like a person standing in a river that never stops flowing over and around him. No blessing surpasses the understanding of grace that Jesus brings us.