A new guy, “I”, showed up asking for prayer. He had just spent the last 15 months in the “hole”. He is seeking God, and answers for his life. As I have observed with other men who have spent a long time in isolation, he spoke very softly, and there were more pauses in the conversion – much like someone who was out of practice with having someone to talk to, and the natural flow of a conversation.
After I prayed with him one of the other men asked him if he wanted to join us for our Bible study, so he stayed and participated.
For our opening question I asked them why they thought light and life were often related. One man recalled the science fair experiment where you start plants growing and then put one set in regular light, and another set in colored or no light. The plants that had better light grew, while the plants that had little light shriveled.
Another man recalled the SHU (Special Housing Unit) in another prison where the light was so dim, if you wanted to read a book, you had to stand by the window in the cell door to get enough light from the hallway to read. It’s hard to flourish in darkness.
We read our scripture:
1 In 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 all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
We went around each reading a verse. As I read it again I asked them to listen for a word or phrase that caught their attention.
In Him was Life
One man wondered about that phrase. What did it mean?
Another thought it meant that we find our meaning and purpose in Christ.
Someone observed that everything alive in creation was given through God.
The Light shines into the darkness
Light is more powerful than darkness. Light can chase away darkness. Darkness can never chase away light. Some would consider incarceration to be a dark place, but light can transform dark places.
Grace upon Grace
Other translations render verse 16 as, “grace in place of grace.”
I needed to explain what the work “grace” meant in this context. For most of the men the only meaning they had was beautiful movement as in, “she danced with grace.” A few knew it as an alternate term for prayer as in, “let’s say grace before we eat this meal.”
The simplest explanation that I had was that grace referred to gifts we receive from God. We are all presented with the beauty of nature, of colorful sunsets, the rhythm of the ocean waves. Every human has the capacity to be loved, and to love. We can experience joy.
“Grace in place of grace” is another way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” If you thought those things were great, wait until you experience life in Christ. There is a whole new world of love, joy, peace, and so much more waiting for each of us. Grace that was general now becomes grace that is personal, and so much greater than we had ever imagined.
Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.