Sermon \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ April 12th, 2015 \ 1 John 2:1-2 \ The Best Defense
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (N.I.V.)
We come this morning to the first Sunday in the season of Easter. These weeks following Easter give us an opportunity to ponder the meaning of our Lord’s resurrection and to reconsider the basic teachings of our faith. The book of First John in the New Testament is an “epistle,” which simply means a letter. It was, as best we can determine, written between 80 and 90 AD, which places it 50 to 60 years after Christ's death and resurrection. By the time the Apostle John wrote this letter, he was an elderly gentleman, a respected statesman for the Christian faith. This letter from John is special because it’s chock full of abstract theology and contains many of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Word this day!
There’s no doubt about it – this letter is a doctrinal writing if there ever was one. And, of course, mentioning the word "DOCTRINE" to many Christians today is to receive a sour look or a frown in return. It’s interesting that the word “doctrine” has a taken on a negative connotation for a good number of believers today. To them, the word brings to mind something that is dry and scholarly and, let's face it, just plain boring. To people like this, doctrine is abstract and theoretical and not very practical at all. Doctrine is, as far as they are concerned, basically irrelevant to life in the 21st century.
Our branch of Lutheranism, however, takes DOCTRINE seriously. And we are not the only Christians who consider it to be important. John MacArthur is a well-known pastor in an evangelical denomination and is not a Lutheran. But his views closely parallel ours. Dr. MacArthur says:
"I bristle when I hear pastors say, 'We don't get into doctrine in our church – it's too divisive.' THE WORD “DOCTRINE” SIMPLY MEANS TEACHING. One who turns away from preaching sound doctrine abdicates the primary responsibility of a Biblical teacher as laid out in Titus where it says: (1:9)
"(The teacher) MUST HOLD FIRMLY to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others BY SOUND DOCTRINE and refute those who oppose it."
Pastor MacArthur says that we have gotten away from what the original idea of what doctrine was supposed to be. He says:
We've imposed an artificial meaning on the word…. We've made it something abstract and threatening, [something] unrelated to daily living. As the New Testament uses [the word], doctrine isn't merely a system of theology. Scripture doesn't categorize truth as abstract or practical. Doctrine is simply SOUND TEACHING "
The Scriptural concept of “doctrine” includes the entire message of the Law and the Gospel, including teachings about God and salvation, sin and righteousness. As we’ll see in the next few minutes, John’s letter is intended to teach us the basic truths of our most holy faith. It is, for that very reason, a DOCTRINAL book. What it says to us is of the greatest importance as we seek to do God's will.
The Apostle John tells us that he has several reasons for writing this letter. He writes, first of all, to "make our joy complete." Secondly, he writes to keep us from sin. And thirdly, he writes to warn us about false teaching and counterfeit faith. And finally, he writes to strengthen us in our faith. When you think about it, the world John lived in was very different from our world today. As you would expect, John put his message into a form that the people of his day could understand. And we seek to do the same in our day. The Gospel doesn't change, but our way of presenting often does. It’s our responsibility to put the message into a form that modern people can relate to; in a form they can understand. When you think about it, every generation of Christians is called upon to take the UNCHANGING gospel of Jesus Christ and apply it to a CHANGING world. Every generation of Christians seeks to make the Word of God RELEVANT to its own day.
John begins his letter by telling us that his faith is backed up by his experience. He tells us that he was LITERALLY with Jesus. It’s important to remember that John knew Jesus PERSONALLY. He literally heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus with his own eyes. John was an EYEWITNESS to the events he describes. His message is not second‑hand. It bears the authority of one who was there. John speaks of Jesus using the PERFECT TENSE. In the original language, the use of the perfect tense meant that a past event still affects things in the present. So what John is saying is this:
“I saw him, I heard him, I touched him, and those experiences from 50 or 60 years ago continue to affect me every day.”
The apostle John knew Jesus intellectually – with his mind. But he also knew Jesus personally – in his life experience. Both his head and his heart were involved. His faith was more than dry theology extracted from a textbook. For John, to know Jesus is to experience life AS IT IS MEANT TO BE. To know Jesus is to experience life in a very different way from those without faith. That's what John wants to share with us in this letter. He wants us to know the same Jesus he knew. He wants us to experience the same Lord. He wants us to enjoy the abundant life Jesus has for those who trust Him. He wants us to live the kind of life that pleases our Lord.
In this letter, John is saying that faith in Christ changes people. And nowhere is that more easily seen than in John’s own life. Knowing Jesus utterly transformed John. John was always an energetic man. In his days with Jesus, he was given the nickname SON OF THUNDER for his sometimes emotional outbursts. The man who wrote the letter we’re considering this morning was a wise old gentleman who showed great maturity and restraint. At this point, he was loving and gentle. He often called Christians, "my little children.” But, and I underline this: John didn't start out that way. As a young man, John was intolerant of others. In Mark chapter 9, we’re told that John saw a man driving out demons in Jesus' name and was upset because that man wasn't one of the 12 disciples. John just didn't think it was right for someone who was not one of HIS group to be doing the Lord's work. Jesus told him otherwise.
As a young man, John could also be vindictive. In Luke chapter 9, for example, we’re told that John and the other disciples went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Jesus, but the people there showed no respect for the Lord. At that time, the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other about as much as some Sunni Muslims hate the Shias. And so, John piped up and said,
“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?"
For that thoughtless remark, John received another rebuke from Jesus! As we heard a couple of weeks ago, John could also be selfish in his younger days. In Mark chapter 10, verse 35, for example, we read:
"James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to (Jesus). 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us WHATEVER WE ASK!' 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked. They replied, 'Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.'
So, as a younger man, an immature believer, John wanted to take advantage of Jesus’ power for his own advantage. Thankfully, John's time with Jesus and his growth as a believer brought some badly needed changes into his life. Through the years, John learned some important lessons about love, and compassion, and tolerance. He learned to think more of his neighbor than he did of himself. Over the years, John allowed the Lord to transform him. Sixty years in the Lord's presence made John a whole new person. John learned that Christian growth is a life‑long process.
As far as John was concerned, faith is something to be experienced and also to be enjoyed. As I say, the Apostle John knew Jesus personally. As I mentioned a moment ago, he was literally there with Jesus. But we can know Christ personally, too. Although we can't go back 2,000 years in a time machine, we can know Christ through the Word of God; we can know Him through the Lord's Supper; we can know Him in our worship. We are those Jesus spoke of in John chapter 20, verse 29, where He said:
“…blessed are those who have NOT SEEN and yet have believed.”
For John, as I say, faith is something to be experienced and enjoyed. But that was only half of the story. Faith for John was also something to be PROCLAIMED TO THE WORLD. For John, to experience and enjoy faith without sharing it would be a selfish, unloving act. Our faith was designed to be given away, not displayed in a stuffy museum somewhere.
John talks about the message he heard from God and says that it’s the same message he declares to us. John knows that people can't come to faith if God's word is not shared with them. He knows that all Christians play a part in telling the world about our Savior. It’s important to remember that the Apostle John had been a preacher for many years by the time this letter was written. He writes this letter, he says, to make his joy complete. So what do you think gives a preacher the most joy? The thing that gives me the most joy is to see God's word bring a great change in a person's life. Nothing gives me more joy than seeing an unbeliever come to know Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior. Nothing gives me more joy than seeing a brand‑new Christian grow in their faith, become active in the church, and begin to share their faith with others. I have seen this happen many times in the last 32 years, since I started out as a brand-new pastor at Castlegar and Nelson, B.C. in the summer of 1982. In his third letter, verse 4, John says:
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
As I’ve already said, for John, faith is something to be experienced. It’s something to be shared. John preached the same message we share today. He put it into a different form, perhaps, but the essence of the message hasn't changed. John spoke of Jesus as the Messiah. He said that Jesus is God in the flesh, that, in Jesus, God who has come to live with his people. John spoke of sin and how sin separates us from a holy God. John spoke of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and how Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all of our sins and restores our broken relationship with God. John spoke of the forgiveness that is offered freely, by grace, and how, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we simply hold out our hand and receive it as a free and gracious gift.
John was careful to point out that Jesus is God's only provision for sin. For John, as for us today, there was no other way to have our sins forgiven except by trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. As I emphasized earlier, John's writings are DOCTRINAL in the right sense of the word. On these basic elements of the faith, there was to be no compromise. These doctrines were the solid foundation on which faith is built. John told the truth about Christ. But there were others in his day who were teaching what was not true. John wrote to confront these errors and stop them before they caused great destruction and hurt.
Some of the false teachers in John's day were telling Christians that there was no need for them to live a holy life. Some of those false teachers denied that Jesus was equal with the Father. Some told people that they could pick and choose what they wanted to believe. As far as John was concerned, those false teachers were a grave threat to the Christian faith. But, when you think about it, there’s never been a time when the Church hasn’t been threatened by false teaching of one kind or another. Martin Luther once said that wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel, right alongside. Wherever God is at work, Satan will be right there with his counterfeits.
For John, the real test of a person's faith is how they live it out. For John, Christians are to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit’s enabling, they are to avoid sin and serve God and their neighbor. First John was written a long time ago. But its message is still fresh and relevant. As I say, knowing Jesus Christ transformed John. Over the years, he GREW UP spiritually. John wanted to make sure that faith is the REAL THING and not counterfeit. Christian writer Bonnie Bruno has written an article titled “The Sunlight Test." And in that article she says:
Some folks call them valuable collector's items, while others just laugh and label them 'junk.' But ask any serious collector of old bottles and you'll find that each one is of special worth. No two old bottles are alike. Uneven seams and bubbled glass are marks of distinction as well as signs of value. Looks can be misleading, [however]. Even the most wary collector can be fooled by authentic‑looking reproductions.
That's where the sunlight test comes in. A GENUINE antique bottle will change color when exposed to direct sunlight due to the high content of manganese, a metallic chemical element added to bottles 100 years ago to produce a cheaper, clear glass. Pale green glass, for example, transforms into brilliant shades of purple after several weeks in the sun. THE SUNLIGHT TEST IS A SURE WAY TO DETECT THE PHONIES.
By taking John’s words to heart, we can be assured that our faith is the real thing! May God grant it. Amen.
Let's pray: Dear Heavenly Father: Bless us with great joy as we live out our faith in Your Son. Keep us from straying from Your will. Like the Apostle John so long ago, keep us growing and maturing in our faith until the day we meet our Savior face to face. In His name we pray. Amen