Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
What is THE problem? What are the issues and difficulties and problems in our world today? Climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor, racism, greed and corruption, intolerance, law and order reform – I think that these would probably head the list of problems if you were to poll people in society today.
Well, what if I were to ask about the issues and difficulties and problems in the church today? Same-sex marriage, the ordination of women and homosexual ministers, views on creation, music and worship style – these seem to be the issues being debated at synods and church assemblies all around the world.
Well, the Christian people that the Apostle John wrote this letter to had their problems too; One was the problem of false teachers, which we shall learn more about, especially in ch. 2. And another problem was a lack of, or a very weak sense of, the assurance of salvation.
The fact is though that the problems those Christians faced were not THE problem. And setting aside for a moment whether or not you agree that all the problems I listed above are in fact problems, the issues and difficulties and problems I have listed, and any others you might care to add to the list, are not THE problem. They are symptoms of THE problem.
You all know that if you have a DISEASE, it can reveal itself in all sorts of symptoms. And you might learn all about the symptoms and come up with many ways to treat the symptoms, but ultimately it is not the symptoms that matters, is it; it is the cause of the disease that matters.
And THE disease that reveals itself in all sorts of symptoms; THE problem that reveals itself in all the problems we encounter is the problem of sin.
And this is why the calling of the church or the mission of the church or the business of the church, in the light of these verses, is not to solve climate change or poverty or racism, or to prevent euthanasia legislation from coming in, but to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Christianity has nothing to say about the issues and problems of the day. It most certainly does. But while we have governments and the United Nations and NGOs and para-church organisations to focus on the symptoms, the concern of the church is to expose the disease that causes all our troubles and to tell the world about the one and only cure.
And that is precisely what John does in these verses. For to a church with problems, and to the church of every age with its many different issues, John brings a message about “the word of life,” as you can see from the end of v1. So in the passage before us, THE APOSTLE FOCUSES THE CHURCH’S ATTENTION ON THE WORD OF LIFE. And he says three things about the word of life:
First, the Word of Life has to do with AN ACTUAL PERSON, Second, the Word of Life is communicated by AUTHORITATIVE PROCLAMATION, and
Third, the Word of Life has a two-fold, ASTONISHING PURPOSE.
So Person, Proclamation, and Purpose will be our three main headings.
I. Firstly then, the Word of Life has to do with an ACTUAL PERSON, as we see from vv1-2.
A. Now those of you who have some familiarity with the Bible have probably concluded already that John is speaking here about Jesus. And you are correct, kind of . The similarities with the opening of John’s Gospel and the various things John says here clearly point to the person and work of the Lord Jesus. But notice that John begins with the words “THAT WHICH…” You see, if He was just speaking about Jesus, as a person, then he would have said, He who was “from the beginning, [whom] we have heard,” etc. But instead John uses the words “that which…” and “we have seen it,” etc, pointing to a thing rather than to a person. And the thing that is in view is the “word of life,” or, as we see it at the beginning of v2, “the life,” or further on in v2, “the eternal life.” Another word we could use, because the Lord Jesus used the word many times and we find it throughout the NT, is the gospel, which means good news. So the Apostle John has a message about the word of life or the gospel and its significance.
B. Think back to what I said at the beginning of the sermon about THE problem or THE ‘disease’ that causes all our troubles, which is sin. Illness, suffering, relationship problems, weeds in the ground, rust and decay, greed, lies, hurt, turmoil, loneliness, despair, injustice, immorality, unbelief, and pain are all consequences of or symptoms of sin. The world we live in is a fallen or sin-infected or sin-corrupted world. Romans 8 describes creation as “subjected to futility” and in “bondage to corruption.” So as human beings we work furiously to make progress and to be better educated and to advance technology and to improve living conditions, and we work on our relationships, or we end one relationship and start another one, so that we will be happier. But where does it all end? For every single one of us? In a coffin, 6 feet under the ground. None of us can escape death. Romans 6:23 sums this up when it says that “the wages of sin is death.” So if the conclusion or the end point of our time on earth is death, what do we need the most? We need life! We need eternal life!
C. So here comes the Apostle John with something to say about the word of life or eternal life. But what he has to say is not just some factual information he wants to pass on; the essence of what he has to say has to do with an actual person – the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the word of life or the eternal life or the gospel or the good news about eternal life is the Lord Jesus Christ. The only cure for the disease that causes all our troubles is an actual person – Jesus.
II. And we see more of this as we transition into our second point, which is that the Word of Life is communicated by AUTHORITATIVE PROCLAMATION. For what John has to say about Jesus is just as important as how he says it.
A. And his message here is AUTHORITATIVE – or coming with authority. If you ask me what NZ thinks about the situation in Syria, I could only give you my opinion, but if we could ask Prime-minister John Key what NZ thinks about the situation in Syria, what he said would be authoritative, because his office or his position as PM has everything to do with his message.
1. We need to remember that there were false teachers at work in the congregation/s that John wrote to. So what John says and how he says it is stated, in part, to oppose what they were teaching. John wants to be crystal clear here that he is not giving his opinion alongside the false-teachers who have their opinion; John speaks with authority as an apostle or official eye-witness.
2. And the first thing he says is, “THAT WHICH WAS FROM THE BEGINNING…” The Word of life or the gospel, which has to do with the Lord Jesus, “was from the beginning.” The first verse of John’s Gospel reads, “In the beginning was the word.” The first verse of the Bible reads, “In the beginning, God.” What John is saying here then, with words that cannot properly express what eternity is, and to creaturely and time-bound people who cannot really understand what eternity is, is that the word of life has to do with Jesus who is eternal God.
a. CH. 8 OF JOHN’S GOSPEL records a conversation between Jesus and a crowd of Jews. They were not happy with what He was saying and they are pressing him about His claims. And He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Not “I was,” which could mean He existed some time before Abraham or that he came into being sometime before Abraham, but “I am” – I exist eternally.
b. And John heard Jesus say that and John knows this and believes it. Jesus is eternal God. He has always existed, as we see at the end of v2, “with the Father.”
3. And the incredible thing, the astonishing thing, the wonderful thing about Jesus, eternal God, the word of life, is that it “was MADE MANIFEST to us.” This Jesus has entered human history. This Jesus, who is the word of life, was manifested or revealed or shown to us. The Word of life lived and breathed on this planet! And what this means is now spelled out in the list of phrases that follow:
4. And notice the use of the pronouns “WE” and “US” – “WE have heard… [He] was made manifest to US.” This is an apostolic “we.” John will now describe the first-hand, eye-witness experience of Jesus shared by him and the other Apostles. And he is particular about this to remind his readers of the difference between himself and the false teachers – THEY WERE NOT THERE! They are not apostles! We are because we were there and He called US to be His Apostles because
a. we heard Jesus with our own ears; we heard Him say “I am”! We heard Him say that He was one with the Father. And we heard His mother tell us how she came to be pregnant not by the involvement of a man but by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we heard the Father speak of His Son when we are up on the Mount of Transfiguration.
b. And we saw Jesus and what He did with our own eyes. We saw Him eat food and get hungry and sleep and feel pain, just like you and I do. But we also saw Him walk on water and feed the 5000 and raise Lazarus from the dead. We saw Him die on the cross and then, three days later, stand before us, resurrected.
c. And we looked upon Jesus when He was gloriously transfigured on the mountain. And we looked upon the folded grave clothes in the empty tomb. And we looked up Him as He ascended into heaven.
d. And we touched His nail-scared hands and His spear-scared side!!!
e. We have physically experienced the one who is the Word of Life; what we have to say about Him is trustworthy and historically accurate and authoritative!
B. So now let’s think about the significance of the word PROCLAMATION. Verse 3 says, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.”
1. So let’s think about this first IN RELATION TO JOHN AND THE APOSTLES.
a. What is striking, when you think about it, is that John does not begin this letter with the typical greetings and salutations that most of the NT letters begin with. Did you notice that? He doesn’t even say who he is! He has something so amazing to proclaim, that he just bursts into his mighty message!
(1). Last year a number of us had the privilege of singing parts of HANDEL’S MESSIAH. Well, in terms of the sung parts, Handel’s Messiah begins with a recitative for tenor called Comfort Ye, My People. It has a very gentle, orchestral beginning and the tenor voice kind of floats in over the top, eventually. So you could say that most NT letters are like Comfort Ye, My People. But there is another part of Handel’s Messiah where there is no gentle introduction. The full orchestra and chorus burst in together with? And I am sure those of you who know anything at all about Handel’s Messiah will have guessed which chorus I am talking about – the Hallelujah!
(2). Well, the opening of John’s first letter is the equivalent of a Hallelujah! “That which was… we proclaim!!!” This is a trumpet blast of truth!
b. Listen to how Martin Lloyd Jones summarizes these verses: John proclaims, “On the face of this very earth on which you are still living, with its problems and trials and tribulations, on this very earth the Son of God Himself has come. We have had the amazing privilege of seeing Him, of hearing Him, of examining Him and touching Him and listening to Him – God, the Son of God, was amongst us and it has changed everything. I want to tell you about it so that you may share it with us.”
c. And then note from v4, that John also specifically talks also about “writing these things.” The authoritative proclamation of the Apostles is written down in the Bible. The good news of the Gospel; the word of life concerning Jesus; the only cure for the disease that affects everything in this world, is in the Bible.
2. And so it follows, for all those who do their work in pulpits, like myself, ordained ministers, and for all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, like all of you, that we too are to proclaim eternal life in Jesus. We don’t tell people what we think or have guessed; we don’t come to them with our opinion or a suggestion; we PROCLAIM!
a. And brothers and sisters, young people, and boys and girls, understanding this will SET YOU FREE IN TERMS OF EVANGELISM. You could sit for hours studying every possible objection that people might have to the gospel – how to deal with questions about creation/evolution, how to respond to accusations that the Bible is anti-women, what answer to give to the objection that a good God would not permit so much suffering, or an explanation for how we know that the Bible is reliable. And it is good to think about those things and have answers. But to tell others the gospel is to proclaim. Convincing is the work of the Holy Spirit! When Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for all,” what he meant was that there is power in the proclamation of the gospel – if you tell people who Jesus is and what He came to do and that the forgiveness of sins can only be found in Him, you release, as it were, the power that the Holy Spirit delights to use to bring people to faith. So don’t get bogged down or not even started because of possible arguments and excuses and objections; just proclaim! Tell people the gospel and/or urge them to read the Bible, with you or by themselves, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
(1). Joshua at Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship.
III. And Joshua is a living example of the two-fold, ASTONISHING PURPOSE of the authoritative proclamation of the Word of Life, which is described in vv3-4.
A. From v3, we see that the main purpose for proclaiming the gospel is “so that you too may have fellowship with us.” We tell people the good news about eternal life in Jesus so that they may have fellowship with us. We invite people into the fellowship of the church.
1. Now, I know what at least some of you are thinking. I have heard some of you say it at different times and I have said it myself. It amounts to this: I don’t think this group of people is a big ‘selling point’ for the gospel. I am not sure if I want non-Christians to meet this group of people. He is too ____ She is too _____ They don’t do ____ enough. Our session does too much ____ or not enough _______ Our worship has too much ______ or not enough ______
2. Well, shame on us. Shame on us for not trusting in the Lord. Shame on us for not esteeming our brothers and sisters more highly than we do ourselves. Shame on us for having such a low view of the precious fellowship in Christ that we share.
3. Now don’t get me wrong, we are an imperfect church community. In fact, truth be told, we are more imperfect than you or I can ever begin to imagine! But because we are a community of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, our fellowship, as John goes on to say at the end of v3, is a “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” People can go to the soccer club or an ethnic club or an arts and crafts club to find people who are like them who have similar interests. But only in here can they find fellowship with people who share a fellowship with the Father and the Lord Jesus. And those shared interests at the clubs will end with death, but our fellowship with each other and in the Lord Jesus will go on into eternity!
4. In JOHN 17:3, Jesus said this, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” A Christian is one who knows the Father and the Son. And that means that his or her congregation is a gathering of those who know the Father and the Son. We have a vertical fellowship which is the centre of our horizontal fellowship. And so, borrowing an application from another minister, when you get up to go to church on Sunday, what are you thinking about? Arrgghh! What are we gonna get today!? I don’t know about these people… I don’t know about the sermon… I don’t know about the music… Or do you think, today, I will fellowship with my brothers and sisters in our fellowship with the Father and the Son!!
B. You see, the secondary purpose of the proclamation of the gospel is found in v4, where John says that he writes “these things so that our joy may be made complete.”
1. In JOHN 15, Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you.” He said, “Abide in my love.” He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
2. The Apostle John knew that the authoritative preaching of the gospel brings people out of death and into eternal life, and the fellowship of other believers. And that is how the joy of Jesus comes to be in us, and how our joy comes to be complete.
3. ROBERT MURRAY M’CHEYNE said, “Believe not [in Jesus] , and you will have no joy. Believe little, ad you will have little joy. Believe much, and you will have much joy. Believe all, and you will have all joy, and your joy shall be made full.”
4. Who do you think has a fullness of joy: The one who came here today thinking about the people or the sermon or the music or the troubles of the world… or the one who came here today eager to enjoy fellowship with his brothers and sisters in the Father and the Son? It’s the second one, isn’t it. And this is because the eyes of the first one are too full of other people and troubles and not full enough with the Lord Jesus.
Brother and Sisters, young people and boys and girls, there were problems in the church that John wrote to. There are problems that you and I face as individuals and there are problems in this city and this nation and the world. But the gospel says that in a world like this, regardless of our circumstances and problems, you can have joy; a joy that cannot be defeated and that will endure even into eternity. So if I may quote Martin Lloyd Jones once again, People of God, “we have good news to proclaim to the world! It does not tell us how the world can be put right. It tells us how we can be put right in spite of the world, and how we can triumph over it and have joy in spite of it.” Amen.