There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Grace Upon Grace. Doesn’t that conjure a lovely picture of God’s goodness and generosity? We receive grace heaped upon grace, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
Such a contrast to the Old Testament, where we only had the fusty law of Moses. We can throw all that old stuff away, now that we have grace and truth through Jesus.
Many modern translations give that impression, saying “one blessing after another” or “grace after grace” in contrast with the (presumably not gracious) law given through Moses.
But that’s not what it means. Jesus and Moses are not opposites, one with grace and one without, but examples of two types of grace.
The Greek word is ‘anti’ – grace anti grace. But anti does not mean ‘opposing’ or ‘against’, like it does in English. It’s not saying that Jesus is the opposite of Moses, or that there’s grace now and there wasn’t before. As if God were not gracious before Jesus.
No. God always has been gracious and always will be gracious. So what does ‘grace anti grace’ mean?
The word means ‘in exchange for’, or ‘following as a result of’. So the grace of Jesus is as a result of the grace of Moses, in exchange for the grace of Moses. The NIV helpfully has “grace in place of grace already given.”
That’s all well and lovely, but what does it mean for my discipleship today?
It means I can expand my view of how God blesses, and through whom he blesses. God blessed through Moses, through law and prophets, through foreign kings, slave girls, disaster and abundance, nature (even a donkey!) and ultimately, through Jesus. All are God’s grace after grace.
So I can see God working and speaking today through all sorts of unlikely channels – they don’t have to be Christian for God to use them. Where will I see God’s grace today? And where will I show it?
God of grace upon grace, thank you for the blessings you have lavished upon me unseen, the goodness I have not recognised, the grace unnoticed. And most of all, for Jesus: the Word made flesh, the one who dwells among us, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen.
Fay Rowland, graduate researcher at Wesley House, Cambridge, worshipping at Christ the KIng.