TO YOU WHO BELIEVE
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When we started our journey through John’s 1st letter back in September we talked about Luther’s line – “This is an outstanding Epistle. It can buoy up afflicted hearts. Furthermore, it has John’s style and manner of expression so beautifully and gently does it picture Christ to us.” We talked about how buoys act not only as flotation devices but as warning markers. We’ve talked about how John was addressing a community which faced schism/break up over who Christ is and what this means for who we are and how we are called to live. We talked about how John wanted to get down to basics with this faith community or communities that he knew and loved so well. We talked about how John began with Christ – “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…” (1:1-2)
As John prepares to conclude he comes back to Christ. So we conclude with Christ. The Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. This is the one whom we follow. This is the one whom we worship. This is the one in whom we trust. This is the one with whom we conclude.
This one. Note the emphasis that John uses in v 6. “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with water and the blood.” What does this mean? This has been interpreted in different ways. We’ve talked about how much of this letter harkens back to the Gospel of John. In the Gospel of John, we read that when Jesus died a spear was thrust into his side and water and blood flowed out. At that point we read this – “Instead one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you may also believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)” (John 19:34-35)
We’re talking about testimony today. We’re talking about testifying. We’re talking about what is true about this Jesus Christ. This one who came by water and blood. It’s thought that this phrase might have made up part of the liturgy for these people to whom John writes. Part of their worship. Something to remind them. Jesus – the one who came by water and blood. We’ve spoken about how John was writing to a group of Christians facing opposition from within their church. People who were teaching something other than what had been handed down concerning Christ and who were not showing a lot of love. We’ve heard about Cerinthus and people like him who taught that Jesus the man was different from the Christ – that the Spirit of Christ came on Jesus at his baptism and left before he was killed.
What does this phrase have to remind us of today? I want us to consider first of all what this line teaches us about Christ in his life and death. We’re getting down to basics and as we gone through this book we’ve prayed to have a deeper understanding of Christ – a deeper understanding of what it is we believe and how that belief is worked out in our actions. A deeper understanding of how our belief is worked out in love. I want us to think about what this line means about the life of Christ. What it means about God becoming a man. God walking among us and sharing our lives. We can think of the water of birth which started Jesus’ life or the water of baptism that started his ministry (or his time of service). Jesus’ baptism where his identity as the beloved son was confirmed and where the Holy Spirit came upon him like a dove.
Jesus walking among us healing, preaching, feeding, providing. Jesus knowing about everything we may go through in life because he has gone through it himself. Jesus not being someone we compartmentalize for Sunday morning or one Sunday morning a month or a quarter or two Sundays a year. Jesus not being like a crutch for us, because a crutch implies something we only need when we’re hurt, but Jesus being the foundation of all of life. Jesus in every action and every word, from the time we flip the coffee machine on in the morning to the time when we flick the bedside lamp off at night. Jesus for all of life. Take a look at this prayer:
As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.
May Christ shield me today.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Not with the water only but with the water and the blood. The death of Christ. The sacrifice of Christ. What theologians call the cruciform shape of our faith. The cruciform shape of our Lord. The cruciform shape of our calling as Jesus’ followers. In John’s day, it was about teachers who claimed that God would have no part in such a death. Who claimed that the Spirit left Jesus before his crucifixion. No one expected such a thing, after all. His closest followers hadn’t expected it despite him continually telling them what was going to happen. Not by water only but by the blood. Not by his life only but by his death are we saved.
To follow Christ means it’s not just about Jesus being a great teacher or someone who said some things that are good to try and follow. John has already talked about Jesus being the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not just our sins but the sins of the whole world. What might this liturgy have to remind us of today? That Christ’s triumph did not come by seeking what we think of as power – political power, cultural power, economic power – but by loving self-sacrifice on the cross. That Christ’s victory came not from protecting what he had but by laying aside his life in self-giving self-emptying love. What might this demand of us? Jesus’ call to his followers was to take up their cross. How could we think of Christ’s life without thinking of his death? Without thinking of how his command to follow is a command to die to ourselves –and for many it’s meant to actually die. “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” This is the one whom we follow. This is the one. This is the one in whom we have found life because after the cross there is resurrection, there is new life.
Then, of course, there is the Spirit. We mustn’t ever forget the Spirit. We have the life of Christ and the death of Christ which are more objective – more outside ourselves. Then we have the Spirit. The one promised who would teach us all truth – lead us in all truth. These are Jesus’ words from John 16:13-14: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The voice of truth.
There are three that testify – the Spirit and the water and the blood. I want to return to this idea of water and blood and baptism and the death of Christ. There’s been another stream of interpretation through the years that likens the water and the blood to the act of baptism and the Eucharist – or Communion. Gathering around the Lord’s table. I think it’s important that we don’t miss this when we talk about things that testify as to who God is and what God has done in Christ and what God will do.
It’s the idea that God is revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit in acts of worship in which we take part together. That to take part in a baptism teaches us some truth about what it means to take part in the death and resurrection of Christ – the thing that is symbolized as we are immersed in water and brought back up out of the water. That to eat around this table is to participate in some mysterious way in the body and blood of Christ. That we might learn something more about what it means to die to ourselves through our participation in – our sharing in – our koinonia in the body and blood of Christ. That the Holy Spirit might reveal something to us about what these things mean. These three things testify. These three things witness.
And the testimony of God is greater than any human testimony. Remember that these words are for followers of Christ. These are the people to whom John is writing. If we are willing to receive testimony when it corroborated by witnesses, how much more should we receive it when it comes from God? This is the testimony that we have in our hearts – literally, that is in us. What is it?
“And this is the testimony; God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. “
We’re talking about life. We’re talking about what has come into being in him which is life, and this life is the light of all people. Eternal life. Life of the ages. Not just the promise of life after this one but life now. The one who gifts us life lived the way we were created to live – in loving communion with God and in loving communion with humanity and indeed all of creation. We’re talking about having found our identities, of growing into an ever-increasing awareness in our heart of our identities as beloved children of God and if God loves us so much so we ought also to love one another.
Love which is light which is life.
Life which is an end to self-interest and self-absorption and the constant desire to accumulate stuff or to define ourselves by what it is that we do or what it is that we have and pledging our allegiance to the one who is the source of love and life and being formed by the power of the Holy Spirit into his image and in so being formed to find that what we most deeply long for is also being formed and that in this most unlikely figure – a first century carpenter from a backwater of the Roman Empire – we would find life and live, in the face of this wonderful truth, a life of wonder and praise and thanks because to have the Son is to have life. To not have the son is to not have life and remember that he’s writing this to followers of Christ because you don’t really know you didn’t have life until you find it.
This is what we believe. This is what we do. We’ve been talking about this all these weeks. What we believe and what we practice being inextricably intertwined. All for the purpose that John spells out in the last verse we’ll look at here. “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.” So that we may know. It’s not always onwards and upwards in this Christ-following life. It’s not always going from strength to strength. We’re not naïve enough to think or proclaim this. We feel far from God at times. Sometimes we don’t hear God. John is reminding these people he loves so much to rest in the knowledge. One writer puts it like this – “John speaks of eternal life not as a psychological experience of ‘uplift’ but as a reality given by God. He is not saying ‘Experience eternal life so that you may have it,’ but rather, ‘You have eternal life; know this in order that you may experience it.’
Know this friends. May our hearts be ever more secure in this knowledge as we follow Christ together.