I have to admit that I get a bit fed up with hearing people say that “things were so much better in the good old days”.
In fact, you could probably say that every generation is full of people who say that the new generation is somehow worse than theirs.
I’m not saying that things are good.
Of course the world we live in is full of terrible people and crime and corruption and murder and sin.
But it has always been like that.
When we look at the church today, we can also feel bad.
We have so called Christian leaders who have so compromised their belief that they are no different to the world around them.
Every so often we have some “new” Christian teaching that becomes fashionable,
and then fades away like some forgotten fad.
So it is of great comfort that we begin our study of 1 John.
Why comfort? Because John is dealing with a crisis in the church.
Yes, that’s right. About 1900 years ago, the apostle John, who was one of the last surviving apostles of the Christian church, was faced with a church that was going off the rails.
A new teaching had spread throughout the churches throughout the world at that time, a new teaching that radically changed the understanding of who Jesus was and what he had done.
Those who were influenced by this new teaching then sent preachers and teachers to nearby churches to spread their message.
The apostle John heard about this teaching, and concluded that it was so serious that those who believed it had actually abandoned the truth.
What we’re going to be looking at today and throughout the rest of this year are the three books that John wrote in reaction against this new teaching.
1, 2 and 3 John were written during a time of turmoil within the church
- a time when people were not sure what to believe anymore,
and a time when clear guidance was needed from those who were committed to the truth of the gospel.
Not much has changed in the last 1900 years has it?
Go into all the churches in Australia and ask the question “Who is Jesus?” and you will get many different answers.
Some churches will say that he was a great teacher.
Some churches will say that he is just a man who died for no reason whatsoever.
Some churches will say that he is the Son of God, who died and rose again.
Some churches will question whether it is necessary at all to have any understanding of who Jesus is.
It is pretty clear that there are churches that proclaim God’s truth, and there are churches that do not.
And those churches that don’t really aren’t churches at all.
And really, to fully understand God’s truth you need to understand who Jesus is.
If your understanding of Jesus is different to who he really is, then you don’t understand God’s truth.
At the heart of all heresy is a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
1 John was a circular letter.
John did not write it to any particular church, but to a group of churches.
2 John and 3 John were written to specific people, but were written around the same time as 1 John.
It’ll take us a bit of time to examine all three books
- I hope to finish sometime before Christmas
- but I think it is good to spend time going through the verses so we can understand what John is saying,
and understand what God is saying to us today.
The apostle John, like the apostle Paul, wrote some very detailed words.
So we need to understand in detail what he is saying to us today.
1. Knowing the Life (1.1)
The first point I want to make is titled “Knowing the life”,
and examines the first verse of this book.
Let me read it out
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.
There are three things here that John tells us about Jesus.
And these three things tell us who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
Firstly, Jesus is God - he is from the beginnning.
Secondly, Jesus is human - he had a physical body that could be seen, felt and touched.
Thirdly, He is the Word of life - Jesus, both God and man, is God’s word that brings us life.
As I have already said every heresy, every distortion of the truth of Christianity starts with a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he did.
Even in the first century the Christian church struggled with this.
John tells us clearly though, that Jesus existed “from the beginning”.
This means that Jesus, essentially, was God.
A verse like this shows that at the beginning of the world, Jesus existed.
More than that, even before creation, Jesus existed.
This has to mean that Jesus is God.
The writer to the Hebrews states that God created the universe through Jesus.
In Genesis, God says “Let us make man in our image” - us.
Then John goes on to talk about Jesus being human.
He says that they heard him, they have seen him with their eyes, they have looked at him and their hands touched him.
Let me quickly outline this again:
They heard him, they saw him, they looked at him and they touched him.
John is basically saying that Jesus was a human being.
He wasn’t some sort of ghostly apparition or spirit being.
He was physically there.
Just like any normal person, Jesus was physical.
He had a body, just like you and me.
He had a mouth that he spoke from and people heard him.
If someone reached out his hand he would touch Jesus’ flesh.
Who was Jesus?
Jesus was human - a man who walked the earth.
Then John says that he is the “Word of Life”.
What this does is explain more about what Jesus has done.
There is no chance coincidence that the beginning of John’s Gospel starts with the phrase
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God”.
Jesus is the word.
Now what does this mean?
If I say to you that Neil is the preacher, you’ll understand.
So what does it mean to say that Jesus is the word?
Well obviously we need to understand exactly what “the word” is.
The Bible is the word of God, Jesus is the word of God.
This doesn’t mean that Jesus is the Bible, but it does say a lot about God and his word.
When God speaks, obviously we have to listen to his word, but his words are not just ink written on paper.
God’s word is a person - and that person is Jesus.
So if we are to understand God’s word, we have to understand Jesus.
But Jesus is “the word of life”.
In other words, Jesus as the word of God brings life.
In Genesis, God said “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds”.
God says something, and something comes to life.
Jesus as the word of life brings life to those who hear him.
Almost a year ago my wife, Anna, went into the bathroom one day.
I was sitting in the lounge room and she said “Neil, you better come and look at this”.
She showed me a urine test which suggested she was pregnant.
We then went to the doctor and she confirmed it for us too.
Now we are being woken up every night by a screaming bundle of joy.
The urine test and the doctor spoke to us.
They said - you have a life growing inside.
But the urine test didn’t create this life, nor did the doctor.
All they did was speak to us about what was already there.
Jesus is not like this.
Jesus does not confirm life - he gives life.
Jesus is the word that brings life.
Why does John start the book this way?
As I’ve said - a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he has done is the root of all heresy.
Notice how John spent so much time describing the physical aspects of Jesus
- they heard him, saw him, looked at him and touched him.
You see, the false teachers that John was writing against could not believe that Jesus had a physical body.
They saw him as a spiritual being, but not a physical one.
They could not handle the notion that a divine being could stoop so low as to become a physical human.
But Jesus is 100% God and 100% Human.
If Jesus was not human, he could not have been executed on the cross.
If he had not been human, he could not have taken on the sins of the world.
If he had not been human, then we would not have forgiveness and new life.
If Jesus had not been human, he could not have been the word of life.
You see, Jesus brings life
- he gives us new life if we turn to him in faith.
Jesus’ death and resurrection have provided the means by which we can have eternal life.
Why do we need life?
It is because we were dead.
Paul says in Ephesians
“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin”.
Through Jesus the word of life, we who were once spiritually dead are now spiritually alive.
This is why it is so important to believe God’s truth about Jesus.
He had to be human to die for humans,
and he had to be God in order for his death to take away the sins of the world.
Jesus - both man and God - turns us from death to life by the work done upon the cross.
Our problem today is opposite to the early church.
John was attacking a heresy which said that Jesus was God but not man.
These days we are told that Jesus was just a man and not God at all.
Different heresy, same result.
If you do not believe that Jesus was God, you cannot be a Christian because you do not believe God.
And if you don’t believe this, then you are dead in your sins and you need Jesus - both God and man - to turn you from death to life.
2. Proclaiming the Life (1.2)
Knowing the life is important, but then so is proclaiming it.
The second point I want to make today is titled “proclaiming the life”,
and examines verse 2.
Let me read it to you:
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
Much of what John says here in verse 2 has its basis in verse 1.
The phrase “we have seen it” is again a referral to Jesus’ physical body.
Jesus, the life, appeared in human flesh - and John and the other Apostles saw him.
But John goes on to say that he testifies to this.
In other words, John is saying that he is an eyewitness.
It is as though he has put on trial for what he believes.
In fact, the word used here for testify is similar to the word “martyr” in the original language.
It does not mean that John is a martyr
- in fact I think he was the only apostle to die of old age.
But it does give us an idea of what the word means.
When John says that he testifies to this, he is saying that he actually spent time with Jesus.
He met Jesus, he spoke to Jesus, he was taught by Jesus.
Remember - John is writing this letter to repair the damage done to churches by false teaching.
In many ways he is on trial here.
And he states quite simply in this trial the facts as he knows them.
But it is more than this.
It is more than just testifying to the truth - it is a proclaiming of it.
This means that it is more than just defending what you believe against some outside influence.
It means a communication of these facts to those who do not know them.
So what we have is a three-fold process.
1) John has seen and known Jesus.
2) He is a witness to who Jesus is and what he has done.
3) He proclaims who Jesus is and what he has done to those who don’t know.
But John here does something a bit strange.
In verse one Jesus is called “The Word of Life”.
Here in verse two, Jesus is called “The Eternal Life”.
This life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life.
What is going on here?
We need to remember that John is being deliberately evasive here.
He doesn’t come right out and say “Jesus”.
Instead, he gives us some seemingly vague pointers.
Why is that?
Let me illustrate this.
Imagine a person walks into this church.
He is the man who runs this country.
The one and only prime minister.
The one elected by the people of Australia to be their leader.
The man who controls the purse strings of government
and our relations with other nations.
Who is this man?
Of course it’s John Howard.
So why didn’t I say John Howard?
Well it’s obvious that I was referring to him
- everyone here knew who I was talking about.
But I wasn’t so much focusing on him as simply a name, but his role within our society.
So when John talks about Jesus, he doesn’t say “Jesus”.
He says “that which was from the beginning”,
he says “The word of Life”, “The eternal life”.
He focuses on his character - who he is and what he has done.
Now don’t think I’m comparing Johnny Howard to Jesus
- it’s chalk and cheese isn’t it?
But what do we learn from the title given to Jesus - “the eternal life”?
It really acts as a way of further describing Jesus as God.
God is eternal - he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.
God is the creator and sustainer of the universe we live in, which includes time itself.
And Jesus is the life eternal - he lives eternally.
But of course Jesus gives life to those who have faith in him.
And the life he gives to us is eternal life.
Through faith in Christ, we have been saved and have been granted eternal life.
For John, Jesus was not a confusing person.
John knew who Jesus was and what he came to do.
Who was he?
John knew that Jesus was both God and man.
What did John know about his mission on earth?
He knew that Jesus came to die and rise again
so that everyone who trusts in him will have eternal life.
John saw Jesus.
He experienced Jesus directly.
He spoke to him and considered himself “the disciple that Jesus loved”.
But he more than just met him.
He acted as a witness for him.
He was willing to stand up and say exactly who Jesus was and what he had done.
But he was more than just a witness.
He actively proclaimed the message of Christ.
As a result, people came to faith and the church was begun and nurtured.
Like the other apostles, John spoke the good news, the gospel, to those who lived outside of God’s kingdom.
And as a result of his preaching, people came to faith.
People experienced salvation, they came into relationship with God through the Jesus that John preached.
In many ways, our society today is no different to that 1900 years ago.
The apostles may not be around, but there are multitudes of people who have experienced the salvation that Jesus has given them,
who are willing to testify to Jesus’ character and mission,
and who actively proclaim it.
Even today, 1900 or more years after John wrote this letter, the word of life is still being preached.
But we’re not apostles are we?
We’re not like John.
Some of us might have the gift of evangelism but the rest of us have to cope without it.
But the fact remains that if we are Christians then we have experienced Jesus.
And if we have experienced Jesus then we are witnesses to him.
And if we are witnesses to him, then we have a responsibility to proclaim to others the message of Jesus.
I spent four and half years working in a factory in Sydney many years ago.
I was fortunate, I worked a desk job.
But I tried hard to speak to my work colleagues about Jesus.
I can tell you, it was quite difficult - especially when people made fun of you for doing so.
But I was no Billy Graham.
I didn’t spend every day there speaking about God.
I had a job to do and no Christian could in good conscience ignore this fact.
After I left work there I felt very disappointed in myself.
I had spoken to people about God, but I felt as though I didn’t make the most of the opportunities that I had.
A few years after that I met one of my work colleagues at a Christian convention I was at.
He had become a Christian, largely because of a single conversation I had with him when I was at work.
In this conversation, I encouraged him to read the Bible.
After a while, he got himself a Bible and began to read it.
After a while, he started attending a local Baptist church where he heard the gospel and became a Christian.
I was pretty pleased when I heard his story because it showed me that God could even use me to bring people into the kingdom.
And I can tell you this, if he could use me, he could use any of us.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t have the responsibility of being Billy Graham,
but you do have the responsibility of proclaiming the salvation which you have to those around you.
3. Fellowship with the life (1.3-4)
But there is more to it than just proclaiming the life.
My third point I want to make is titled “Fellowship with the life” and examines verse 3-4.
Let me read them:
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
The reason why John is writing this letter and is proclaiming Jesus is so that he may have fellowship with the readers.
Remember that John wrote this letter to counter false teaching within the church at the time -
teaching that denied the humanness of Jesus.
1What he is basically saying is that if you believe who Jesus is and what he has done, then you have fellowship with John and the other apostles.
If you do not believe the truth about Jesus
- in this case, denying that Jesus was human
- then you do not have fellowship with them.
More than that, you also have no fellowship with God the Father or with God the Son.
What is John saying here?
To understand this, we need to understand what Fellowship means.
Back when I was a teenager, I went to a youth meeting at church called “fellowship”.
I spent most of the time playing silly games,
with the occasional talk from the Bible, some praying and then lots of green cordial and biscuits.
Is that what fellowship is?
The first thing we need to know about fellowship is that it is relational
- it involves personal relationships.
John is saying here that we have fellowship with him,
and we also have fellowship with the Father and the Son.
So obviously fellowship here involves a combination of God and interpersonal relationships.
But notice what the basis of this fellowship is.
John says We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.
What this means is that our fellowship has to be based on the truth about Jesus.
John has already pointed out that Jesus is both man and God, and has come to earth to give us life.
That is the basis of our fellowship.
If at some point that basis changes for a person, then that fellowship is broken.
In John’s case, he was pointing his finger at those who claim that Jesus was not human.
These people, because they do not believe in the true Jesus, do not have fellowship
- either with John, or with God or with the Son.
If you believe that Jesus is God, that he was born of the virgin Mary and became man.
That he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried for our sins.
That he rose again on the third day.
And that through faith in him and his death and resurrection we have new life.
If you believe these things, then you have fellowship with everyone else who believes this.
Including, strange as it may seem, the apostle John himself.
But our fellowship is more than just with fellow Christians.
Our fellowship is with God and with his Son.
We won’t talk about the Holy Spirit here because John doesn’t mention it,
although I think it’s pretty obvious we have fellowship with him as well.
But if we believe these things and trust in Jesus,
then we have a personal relationship with God and with Jesus.
The opposite is also true.
If we do not believe these things, then we do not have a personal relationship with God or with Jesus.
But fellowship also involves a common goal - a common purpose and mission.
In this case, we are involved in proclaiming the same gospel that John preached.
But our proclamation of Jesus does not come out of a grudging obedience,
but through the joy we experience out of our fellowship with God, with Jesus and with those who share our beliefs.
I teach at a Christian school.
I’m an English teacher.
I teach Year 9-12 students about English Literature and how to appreciate it.
But it is a Christian school, and I’d say most if not all of the teachers there are Christians.
There are Presbyterians, Baptists, Salvos, Pentecostals and even a few Anglicans.
But the fact is that, even though we may disagree with each other over certain important issues, we are united in our understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done.
As a result, even though we attend different churches and have differences in some areas of theology, we have fellowship with one another.
When I was in Sydney, I went to an Anglican Church.
It was, and still is, a Bible-believing, gospel preaching church with a contemporary style of worship.
Very much what Charlestown Presbyterian is at the moment.
When Anna and I turned up at Charlestown, we felt right at home.
For us, the title “Presbyterian” did not seem to make much difference at all.
Why? Because we were united in our understanding of who Christ was and what he came to do.
While I was in Sydney, I was able to see first hand the reaction to the ordination of Bishop Peter Carnley as Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia.
(Please excuse all these Anglican phrases!)
Peter Carnley is an Anglican, just like me when I was in Sydney.
But Peter Carnley has doubts about whether Jesus physically rose from the dead, and he does not believe that Jesus took our sins away when he died on the cross.
Even though I was an Anglican, I was not in fellowship with a fellow Anglican because he denied some of the most important facts about Jesus.
Instead, I am in fellowship with every Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist or Calathumpian who believes that Jesus is God, and came to earth as a man to die and rise again to bring us eternal life.
And I think one of the great things about our age today is that denominations have mattered less and less to people,
allowing Christians to grow in their friendship and fellowship together.
So we have fellowship with each other - a personal relationship based upon Jesus.
And we have fellowship with God and his Son.
And we also share a mission to proclaim the message of Jesus.
With John, we share in the responsibilty to proclaim the message of the Gospel.
Let me conclude.
I started off today by saying that things haven’t really changed much.
Over 1900 years ago, the apostle John wrote this letter to counter false teaching within the church
- teaching that was so seriously wrong that those who taught it and those who believed in it were not actually true followers of Christ.
True followers of Christ do three things.
First of all, they know who Christ is and what he has done.
They know that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth and gave us new life.
Secondly, true followers in Christ proclaim this life.
They are not content to keeping it to themselves, they actively share it with those who do not know.
And thirdly, they fellowship with one another and with God, and the basis of their fellowship is Christ.
In the last 1900 years, the church has waxed and waned quite often.
There were times when the church is growing, when it was vibrant and when it was making an impact on the world.
These were the times when a clear picture of Jesus is understood and proclaimed.
But there are times times when the church has declined, when it had no impact on the world around it.
Those were the times when the culture and philosophies of the time had confused the church.
And those were the times when the church’s message was confused and unable to present a true picture of Jesus to the world.
In many ways, what we see today is, in the words of that great novelist - “the best of times and the worst of times”.
We see a part of the church that has lost an understanding of Jesus and is in terminal decline.
Yet we also see vibrant growth in many parts of the church where the truth of Jesus has been rediscovered, understood and proclaimed.
And what is that truth?
Jesus Christ is both man and God,
and came to earth bringing us eternal life,
so that we may have fellowship with the Father, the Son,
and with each other.
Let me pray.
We praise you for sending your Son to us. We thank you that in your great love for us, you sent your son to live, die and rise again so that we can have eternal life. We thank you that all of us who share in this belief have fellowship with you, with your son, and with each other. Give us the desire to proclaim Jesus to our family and friends, through both our words and our deeds, and use us in some small way to bring the knowledge of Jesus to those who do not know him.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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