Malachi, the last prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures, quoted God as saying, “I am the LORD, I do not change” (3:6 NKJV).
Down through the centuries, however, many have noticed that, somewhere between the Old and New Testaments, the God of the Bible does seem to change. Instead of sending down war, floods, fire, and plagues, the early pages of the New Testament describe a Father who sent His Son not to judge the world but to rescue it (John 3:17; 12:47).
Certainly the readers of the Bible who have noticed this change aren’t imagining it. Even the gospel of John acknowledges that something dramatic has happened: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NKJV).
But what changed? Here we need to move ahead carefully. Even though John saw contrasts between Jesus and Moses, he didn’t give us reason to believe that the New Testament introduces us to a kinder and gentler God.
The God of both testaments is full of “grace and truth.” When John used that phrase to describe Jesus (John 1:14, 17), he was repeating what the God of the Old Testament first said about Himself. John’s words echoed the God of Moses who introduced Himself as, “The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6 NKJV).
If these words seem like royal posturing, it’s important to remember the story behind them. From the days of Adam, the God of the Old Testament has always been far more tender, merciful, and patient than many have come to believe. He is too compassionate to not care when we are hurt or when we hurt one another.
The God of both testaments is also committed to just intervention. In both testaments, the judgments of God signal His desire to limit and eventually stop the acts of violence and oppression we commit against one another.
When Jesus cleared the temple of money changers (John 2:13-17), He wasn’t merely challenging the authority of Israel’s religious leaders. He was acting on behalf of the poor who were being robbed in His Father’s house (Matthew 21:12-13). His strong and decisive response gives us a foretaste of a far greater day of just intervention, when, at the end of the age, He will act with a cleansing concern for the whole earth (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 1–22).
So in what respect did grace and truth come through Jesus Christ? It’s important to see that John was not saying that grace and truth came for the first time in Jesus. Rather, he was contrasting the distinct roles of a lawgiver and a Savior. Moses gave us a law that is so true to the goodness of God that it condemns all of us (John 5:45). Jesus opened His heart in such a way as to show the Father’s love for all. He showed us how far God is willing to go to be both just (true to His own rightness) and also the justifier (declaring right with Himself) of those who trust Him (Romans 3:26; John 12:46-47).
Admittedly, these might sound like mere words if we don’t catch the events and heartbeat behind them. It’s in their contrasting stories that we see most clearly how grace and truth came to overflowing fulfillment in Christ.
For example, consider the story of the sandals. While herding sheep in the desert of Sinai, Moses came upon a burning bush that was unlike anything he’d ever seen. As he moved closer to see why the bush wasn’t being consumed, God spoke to him out of the fire and told him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:1-6).
Fifteen centuries later, the rest of this story was written. Once again God required those in His presence to take off their sandals. This time, however, the King of the universe removed His robe, took a towel, got on His knees, and washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-16).
A few hours later, the Servant of servants personally endured a judgment on sin far greater than all of the collective judgments of both Old and New Testaments combined. In ways that we cannot begin to fathom, the Son of God suffered and died as the Lamb of God to bear the sin of the world (John 1:29). By His own death He paid in full the promissory notes of Old Testament sacrifice. Nailed to a cross reserved for enemies of Rome, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46 NKJV).
Father in heaven, from the story of that long-anticipated moment, we see that You haven’t changed. But we have. So now we want to be changed again—and again—by never forgetting the extent of the truth and the grace we have seen of You in Your Son. —Mart DeHaan