Bible Reading

1 John 1:1-2:2

Prayer Points

  • Generosity and humility
  • LJ & Maria (SIM, South East Asia)

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Sermon Transcript

Sixty-odd years had passed since that first day beside the Sea of Galilee, when he first heard that compelling voice “Come, follow me.” Sixty-odd years since he had walked away from the family business to follow Jesus.

He could still remember the smell of the salt air. He could remember the feel of the morning breeze. He could remember the tone of his voice, the gentle authority and power. He could remember the touch of those leathery carpenter’s hands as Jesus helped him out of the boat. John looked at his own hands. His hands had been tough, once, hardened by the salt water and the fishing nets and the ropework of the boats. But it had been 20 years since he’d lived by the sea.

Now he lived in the city, in Ephesus, far from his homeland of Israel. Now his hands ached in the morning, and his knuckles cracked as he picked up his pen. He was an old man, now, and there was trouble in the network of churches he had planted.

He had recently finished writing his account of Jesus’ life, the book of signs that showed who Jesus is, and copies were in use in the churches. But some people seem to have got the wrong ideas. They had wrong ideas about sin, and about who Jesus is, and what he came to do. They were hurting and using people and showed little sign of the love that should characterise Jesus’s followers.

A group of these people had split off and started their own group. Worse than that, they were actively promoting their teachings, trying to lead people astray from the truth. They were visiting Bible studies and home groups – these were people’s friends, and relatives and co-workers. Those who had stayed in John’s network were worried and confused. Old and tired, John picked up his pen and wrote:

1 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

He paused. What would be the best way to sum up such an experience? To have lived and walked and talked with God in the flesh? Ah! That was it.

1—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

That’s what it was about: Life. The Life that was the light of all mankind. The Word who took on flesh to bring life to those who believed.

That’s why he wrote his gospel:

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

And that’s why he’s writing again. Christianity is a matter of life-or-death – eternal life; eternal death.

A thought comes to him, so he pulls out another scrap of parchment and he jots it down:

1 John 5:13   I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

That’s why he’s writing this letter. That’ll go well towards the end of the letter. So that you may know that you have eternal life. That’s what he wanted for his readers, for his brothers and sisters in the churches: that they would have assurance of eternal life.

And isn’t that something we all want to be sure of? Don’t we all want to know what will happen after we die? That’s why so many people race out to buy those books like “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” or “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” or “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Even Christians are seeking confidence and certainty about it. So that’s what John sets out to provide.

And in chapter 1 he gets right to the heart of the basis of our assurance: The historical event of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that dealt with our sin that cuts us off from God, the source of life.

John starts his letter by making this point: the message of the apostles, those men appointed by Jesus as his messengers, the message of the apostles is trustworthy. And so for us, the message of the NT is trustworthy:

1 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.

What John is saying is that what he preaches is eyewitness testimony, not second hand stories. Think about it. If you miss out on a party, who do you talk to to find out what happened? Someone who was there. Or if you miss a class at school or uni, who do you talk to to find out what you missed? Someone who was there. So who should you talk to if you want to find out about Jesus? Someone who was there. And that’s just what John is claiming to be.

He and the other apostles were witnesses “from the beginning” of Jesus’ ministry. The message is the same as it was back at the start. John’s preaching is not something he’s heard from others, but he’s seen it with his own eyes, touched it with his own hands. The gospel message that brings eternal life comes to us from eyewitnesses, people who were there.

On top of that, John is saying that the gospel message is revelation, not invention. It was observed, not made up in their heads.

2 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. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,

What John and the apostles teach is not something they’ve invented. It doesn’t say: “That which we have discovered, the secrets we have unlocked through mysterious processes.”

The gospel doesn’t start with human ideas or thoughts about God, but with something appearing to them: the Eternal life which was with the Father. The way to eternal life was revealed to them. They saw it, or rather, they saw him, they testify to it, that is, they are accredited witnesses, and now they proclaim the eternal life – Jesus, the Son of God, who was with the Father and has appeared to us.

John wants us to be confident that what he is about to say is the truth. It is revelation from God. He wants us to believe him. And he wants us to believe him, because that’s how we’ll have a relationship with God.

Next he tells us the aim of his gospel preaching:

3 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.

What do you think of when you hear the word fellowship? It’s a very Christian word. When I was growing up, the church I went to would have “fellowship dinners” – basically a potluck dinner, where everyone brought a plate of food to share. Somehow or other I ended up thinking that it was a fancy dress party and I decided to go as Batman, with my hoodie and pinned on bat ears. Is that what fellowship is? No, a fellowship is a close relationship, a partnership of shared interests and purpose.

John’s saying we preach the gospel, so that you can be at our party. And you want to be at our party, because God himself is at our party. We preach the gospel so you can have a relationship with us and with God.

And we were made for relationship with God. The only way you can be truly happy,  The only way you can make sense of life, The only way you can have a sense of purpose and value is to have a good relationship with God. And it’s the only way to have eternal life, because God is the source of all life.

So John tells us about God. He says that the character of God is at the heart of the Christian message, as revealed to us by Jesus:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

John’s saying that God is one side of a duality. There is light, and there is darkness. It sums up a whole bunch of contrasts in the Bible, other opposites: There’s truth, and there’s lies. There’s knowledge, and there’s ignorance. There’s life, and there’s death. There’s purity, and there’s corruption. There’s righteousness, and there’s wickedness. There’s good, and there’s evil. And the difference between the two sides is the difference between night and day.

What this means is there are things that God is, things that God is not. Things that are in line with his character and things that are not. Things that he approves of and things he does not. And this has consequences for the way we live. It means that it is possible to be offside with God. John calls it walking in the darkness:

6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

On the other hand:

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,

And remember, John preaches so that we can have fellowship with him, because he has fellowship with God. If we walk in the light, we have a good relationship with God.

The trouble is, that we know we don’t always walk in the light. There are things we’ve done or things we’ve thought that we don’t to see the light of day. There are things we’re ashamed of. Things we wish we could cover up, or paint over.

The Bible calls these things sin, and we’re all guilty. We’re all guilty of turning away from God’s light, from God’s good way of living, and scurrying off into the darkness.

The Bible confirms this too:

Romans 3:23:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:10:

10 “There is no one righteous, not even one;

So we’ve got a problem: We all walk in the darkness but God is in the light. Our sin means we can’t have a relationship with God. For one thing, God is too pure to look on sin, too holy to be near it. So there’s no way we can come close to God while we’re clothed in the filthy rags of our sin. For another, there’s God’s holy, righteous and just reaction to our sin: his anger and punishment of sin.

So the key to being sure of eternal life, of having a relationship with the God who gives life, is to deal with your sin. Is to have your sin dealt with. So how does that happen? It seems like some of the people who split off from John’s churches thought you could just deny it. That you could ignore it or minimise it.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

It seems there were people claiming that they aren’t affected by sin. Claiming that they don’t have this sin disease. And there were others claiming that they don’t have any symptoms of the disease, that they haven’t done anything wrong.

I don’t think they would say it as baldly and blatantly as that. More likely: My sin’s not that bad. At least I haven’t killed anyone. I’m a pretty good person. Or when we do sin, we pass the blame. We don’t take responsibility for our actions. I was not myself. I was drunk. I was tired. It was because of what they did to me, what they said to me.

But what does John call that sort of talk? It’d delusional. It’s lying, it’s self-deceiving, it’s calling God a liar. It’s delusional. And do you know what else is deluded? Small dogs. Small dogs that bark and snarl and gnash their teeth and thing that they’re big dogs. And it’s ridiculous. It’s pitiable. Denying our sin, minimising it, is not the answer. Ignoring our sin is not the way to a relationship with God. Hoping that we’re good enough, hoping that God is lenient, is not the way to eternal life.

So what is? As we’ve seen, we’ve got to have an accurate view of the problem. There’s God. God is light. And there’s us: walking in darkness. And separating us are our filthy sins, and God’s righteous anger and judgement on sins.

We need something or someone to deal with our sin and God’s anger. And that’s just what John tells us about.

7 the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

When John talks about the blood of Jesus, he’s talking about Jesus’ death on the cross. And Jesus’ death on the cross means God can forgive us. Here’s what happens at the cross. The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross,

And the apostle Paul says in Col 2:13

3 He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Like all our sins were written in a list on a whiteboard, like the ones we have in the back hall. And Jesus wipes them all away. He takes them onto himself, takes them to the cross and leaves them there for good. Our whiteboard is wiped clean. But it’s not like those whiteboards where you wipe them and there’s still smudges and stains. No, John says that God is,

faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus gets out the spray and wipe and properly cleanses us from sin. When we trust in Jesus, he wipes our record squeaky clean.

So that’s our sin dealt with, taken away when Jesus died on the cross for us. There’s still the penalty for sin, there’s still God’s anger. Jesus’ death deals with that too.

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.

I want you to notice that phrase “atoning sacrifice.” It translates a word that means a sacrifice that takes away sin and turns aside anger. The big words for that are expiation and propitiation.

What it means is that when Jesus gave up his life on the cross, he willingly took all of God’s anger and judgment at sin on himself. He stepped into the firing line. He took the bullet of God’s anger for us. He endured the death penalty for us.

Isaiah 53:5 says:

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

When he died on the cross, Jesus took our sin from us and absorbed God’s anger at our sin.

Now, we’re not to think that Jesus was an innocent bystander that God forced into this. The cross is not cosmic child abuse. No, in Galatians 2:20 we read that Jesus loved us and gave himself for us. He was a willingly participant. By the same token, we’re not to think of Jesus stepping in to try and cool God down. Later in 1 John it says:

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The cross was a united action of the Triune God. God lovingly offered his Son as a propitiation. The Son willingly gave up his life. Our sin was taken away, our punishment dealt with. And it was done so we could have fellowship with God. So we could have a relationship with God. So we can be sure of having eternal life.

Now, I just want to say something about that last line of verse 2:

and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Some people might take that to mean that everyone is automatically forgiven, that everyone is saved. But it can’t mean that. In this letter John himself rules out the possibility of universal forgiveness. Flip over in your Bibles to 1 John 5 verse 11:

1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

 John says that in order to get eternal life, you must have the Son. And to have the Son, you need to believe in his name, you’ve got to trust him. You when John says that Jesus is an atoning sacrifice for the whole world he can’t mean that everyone is saved, because not everyone believes and trusts in Jesus.

When John talks about the “world,” he means humans and human culture in rebellion against God. So what I think he might be talking about here is that Jesus didn’t just die for those currently in the church, but for everyone who hears and believes, no matter where they’re from. It’s one of the few really tricky passages to work out.

So to close, we’ve seen that we can trust the message of the NT, the news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And we’ve seen that Jesus has done everything we need for us to have a relationship with God. He’s done everything we need to receive eternal life. I want to ask you, are you sure you have it?

If you want to be sure about eternal life, here’s what you’ve got to do. But don’t let me tell you, let John:

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If you want to be sure of having eternal life, if you want to be in a good relationship with God and all the benefits involved, you’ve got to open up communication with God. You’ve got to come clean.

Maybe you’ve been around church for ages, but you haven’t actually taken this step. You haven’t actually admitted to God that you are a sinner and need his forgiveness. You’ll never be sure of eternal life until you do.

So why don’t you do that today. Right now. I’m going to read out a prayer that confesses our need for Jesus, it’ll appear on the screen. I’ll read it one line at a time, and if you’d like to say this to God, I invite you to repeat it in the quietness of your heart.

Dear God, I know that you are light,
I know I’ve been living in the darkness.
I know I’m a sinner, and I’m sorry.
Thank you that Jesus died so I could be forgiven.
Please forgive me.
Please help me to walk in the light, as you are in the light.
In Jesus name, Amen.

If you prayed that prayer sincerely, then I can tell you with confidence that God has heard you and has forgiven you. You’ve taken the first step of a new life, and we’d love to help you keep walking. Here’s what you should do, click the link or go to our website and go to “contact us” and let us know that you prayed the prayer. One of us will be in touch to help you out.

If you still have doubts about eternal life, just come back to this passage. This comes to us from an eyewitness who lived with Jesus. This promise comes to us straight from Jesus. It is God’s truth:

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
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