Don Carson’s book “Scandalous” looks at the Cross and the Resurrection and asks the question, ‘do you know what it’s like to have a day where everything goes wrong? The day is hot and sticky, and the air conditioning doesn’t work. You cannot find two socks to match. The car doesn’t start when you want it to. Everybody at work is crabby. Somebody asks you something about Christianity, and you then reply confusingly and impatiently. When you get home your family is scratchy, and as you fall asleep, you pray a prayer like this: ‘Dear God, this has been a rotten day. I don’t know why exactly but I’m sorry and please forgive me. Bless everyone – Amen’
Then he says a few days later, the day is wonderful. Everything goes well. It’s cool and sunny. The family is happy. The car and the traffic are a breeze. People at work are fun to be with. You get another opportunity to speak as a Christian. Your comment is clear and compelling. You get home, your family is a joy to be with and your final prayer goes something like this: ‘Eternal and matchless God, we are full of gratitude for your mercies. We bow in your great presence’, and your prayer then goes on in a way that is worthy of being included in the Book of Prayers. You finish by praying for missionaries all around the world and your children and every cousin that you’ve never thought of for months or years and finally meditate on all the New Testament names of Christ as you fall peacefully asleep.
This is what Carson says: “the sad reality is that both approaches to God are abominations. How dare we approach God on the basis of the kind of day we have had. As if our entrance to his presence depends on the circumstances of life and not on the cross of Christ. No wonder” he says “we can’t live effectively for Christ if we separate ourselves from doctrine and live on experience”.
It’s a good thought, isn’t it? We are all naturally inclined to go with experience and give up on doctrine and yet it’s the doctrine which is going to enable us to live a stable and useful life. We’re going to learn the crucial message of doctrine and experience, and we are going to do it by studying John’s 1st Letter.
You know John wrote 5 books in the New Testament, a gospel, 3 Letters and the Book of Revelation. This is the first and the longest of his Letters.
We are going to divide it into 2 parts. The first 4 verses I’ve called Apostolic Enthusiasm and the next verses 5-10 I’ve called Christian Realism.
So let’s start with Apostolic Enthusiasm (chapter 1 verses 1-4). He says “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”. Notice the author was an eye-witness of the Word and we know the Word is Jesus; the author was an eye-witness of Christ. Therefore he speaks with very great authority. He speaks as an apostle. And from the earliest days, writers have attributed this Letter to John, although he never refers to himself.
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I want you to notice how the Letter bursts out of the page because with no introduction and no identity and no general comments, he gets straight to the point and he says “the Life, the eternal Life we have seen it. Not only have we seen it” he says “we’ve heard it; we’ve seen it, and we’ve touched it”.
The eternal life, that is Jesus, has come into the world, we’ve heard, we’ve seen, we’ve touched. And the reason he says we proclaim this Life (verse 3) is so that you will have fellowship. “We want you,” says John “to belong. We want you to belong to God. We want you to belong to Jesus. We want you to belong to the family of God. This will make our joy complete”.
Now we tend to get enthusiastic about what we think is significant. If we think the performance of our children is significant we get enthusiastic. If our health results are significant, we get enthusiastic. If we get a promotion or a victory of some particular kind, we think that’s significant, we get enthusiastic. And all of that is understandable. We have a right to be enthusiastic about children, health, victories and promotions and all that sort of thing, but you’ll notice what John bursts out of the page to talk about. And that is that Jesus Christ has come and it’s possible because of Him to have fellowship with God. That is the top enthusiastic priority for John. In other words, these first 4 verses set the scene for the Letter.
If you know anything about 1 John, you know that it is a very complex Letter. This is a Letter which taxes every believer because it’s not a Letter like a river that just flows. It’s more like a fountain which sort of bursts in all different directions.
It’s not like a sequence discussion; it’s more like a series of interrogating questions. To use another illustration; it’s not like a golf game where you move from green 1 to green 2 to green 3. It’s more like a game of basketball that’s moving up and down, backwards and forwards. It’s not like building a skyscraper where you just go floor 1, floor 2, floor 3; it’s like a housing estate.
This Letter is a humble, challenging, brilliant Letter and famous of course for the one-liners.
Where would we be without certain phrases like:
- “The blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin”
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us”
- “God is Light”
- “God is Love”
These one-liners that have come out of the 1st Letter are extremely precious to believers.
But I want to ask you again going back to these early verses ‘why is John writing?’ You have to work out why is he writing? Does he want to have his readers to have assurance? Many have assumed that he does, that’s his primary task. Some say, especially based on chapter 5 verse 13 where he says ‘I write this so that you will know that you have eternal life’. Not just have eternal life but know it. And have assurance is a wonderful thing but it’s not essential for salvation. Or is John writing because he wants his readers to be equipped for witness, for the battle?
The Jehovah Witnesses came around our street yesterday. I had a few minutes with one of them at my door, and we see in chapter 2 of John verse 26 “I am writing to you about those trying to lead you astray”. Chapter 4 verse 1 “there are false prophets out there”. So again to know your doctrine is extremely important and to be able to witness and to be able to battle is extremely important but it’s not essential for salvation.
I don’t think we should miss what John says in these earlier verses and that is that right up front that absolute priority for John is that you would have fellowship with God – that you would have good fellowship with God, with the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s what John wants for you. If you can hear my voice this morning, John the last of the Apostles of Jesus wants everybody who can hear my voice this morning to have fellowship with God. That’s the only thing which will outlast the world.
There are lots of important things that are going to take place in the world, but the only thing that will outlast the world is that you are having fellowship with God. Not based on your own imagination or invention but based on the truth.
You see therefore this is a very theological issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ that he lived and died and rose takes you beyond salvation to fellowship with God. Your faith when you put your faith in Christ brings you to fellowship with God. The day you see Jesus Christ you are going to have perfect fellowship with God. What are you moving towards? You are moving towards fellowship with God. If you are not a Christian, it needs to begin. If you are a Christian, it will one day be perfected.
And you’ll see the solid basis for this fellowship in verses 1-4. You see it’s not a mystical thing to be a Christian. When someone asks you how you think of God, how you understand God, how you relate to God, I hope you go to the facts of Jesus. I hope you don’t start talking about how you feel or what happens, or what has taken place. I hope you primarily take people to the facts of Jesus.
That’s what John does here in verses 1-4. It’s the very thing that Dawkins does not properly face in his writings. He will talk philosophically, but he doesn’t properly deal with Jesus. But John does. And in these early verses, they are very logical.
First of all, he says Jesus was from eternity (verse 1) the word of life was from the beginning. Same words as you get in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 – from the beginning. Now, of course, God has no beginning in the technical sense, but the phrase means he was there before everything. He was there before everything. I would love it if we could stop at this point. The first line of verse 1 and just think about this for the next 50 Sundays. What does it mean for us that Jesus was there before everything? That he is, therefore, uncreated – he is independent, and he is producer of everything, and he supreme above everything, and he is of more value than everything. We could think about this forever. But John moves on because he is enthusiastic and he wants you to know that the one who is eternal stepped into the time.
The first thing is Jesus’ eternity and the second thing is Jesus’ identity.
John says “we heard him”. Well in a way there’s nothing special about saying “we heard him” because the Old Testament believers heard God speak and asked him to stop speaking because it was too frightening, but here the Apostle says “we heard him”. That’s significant as we heard the voice of Jesus – a very great privilege. “We also,” he says “saw him”. And then he goes on to say “we looked at him, we studied him” as if a light bulb had suddenly that had been there all the time in a dark room, just came on and we suddenly saw him in his beauty and in his brilliance. “We touched him, and we held him”. There’s a progression – we heard him, we saw him, we held him.
This is the apostolic testimony which you and I need so that we might have a true foundation for faith. The third is the apostolic ministry (verse 2). “We’ve seen this life,” says John, and that’s, of course, necessary – we need to have eye-witnesses and “we testify”. This is our commission from Jesus. He wants you to know the good news. Jesus wants you to know the good news. He commissions the apostles to tell you the good news.
John Lennox says in one of his books “if Aunt Matilda makes you a cake, you can scientifically examine the ingredients, but you won’t know the reason that Aunt Matilda makes you the cake unless she tells you”. And so it is that Jesus communicates not only what we see around us but why we see what we see around us.
This leads fourthly to our joy – ‘when your faith’ says John ‘is in Jesus, and your fellowship is with God and with his Son and with his Spirit and with his people – our joy is complete’. You may notice in that word “our” that there is a little letter attached because there is a possibility that it’s “your”. We write this to make your joy complete.
But I think the word “our” has the best accreditation in the old manuscripts and I think it is the best word because it is the most comprehensive. It’s not just that your joy will be complete, but your joy and our joy will be complete. Our joy will be complete because you have fellowship with God.
Do you notice that fellowship, incidentally, is not just the club of here this morning but it is with God? Somehow when you come here, and you gather with the people of God, you are to remember that you are having fellowship with God. It just can’t be horizontal. You are having fellowship with God and with Jesus even as you meet with his people. And on the other side, we need to remember that it is not a private experience. It’s not just me sitting in the pew having fellowship with God. I’m having fellowship with God and his people. So that’s what John is excited about. Jesus has come and has made it possible for a believer to have fellowship with God which will outlast the world and with God’s people bringing joy. Not just box-ticking but joy. So that’s apostolic enthusiasm.
Let’s think secondly about Christian Realism (verses 5-10).
All the talk about fellowship is very wonderful but verse 5 introduces some reality, and the reality is that God is Light and he has no darkness and therefore how are we going to fellowship with him. If you have some darkness in you, how do you walk up to the light without being completely beaten? How can you march to the sun? How can you march up as darkness to light? So John, you see, is about to show how God has dealt with this problem.
Ravi Zacharias tells of being with a very angry man on one occasion. The man was railing against God for all the evil that was in the world. Ravi said he was completely stuck to know what to say until the man’s wife leaned forward and said to the man who was angry – ‘are you concerned about the evil inside you as much as you are about the evil around you’? It’s a good question, isn’t it? Are you concerned about the evil inside as much as you are about the evil around you?
And John you see is about to show how God deals with the evil inside us. Everything he’s writing in the Letter is to help us to have fellowship with God. ‘But’ says John ‘you should know something about God as He is Light and in him is no darkness’. Light in this context primarily means righteous. That’s the context. It’s got to do with being righteous.
F.F. Bruce says “God is the source and essence of holiness and righteousness, goodness and truth and in him, there is nothing that is unholy or unrighteous or evil or false”.
John Stott speaks “of God having an unutterable majesty”.
Imagine coming face to face with God and being speechless in the face of his majesty. Sometimes you and I do meet a very godly Christian and their life is so wholesome and they seem to be so free of the average familiarity with evil. There is something about them which chastens us. And we feel our own griminess with that person – we feel our nastiness. They don’t make us pity them. It’s not as though we look at them and think ‘gee you’re missing out on a lot of evil’. What they do is they make us respect them, even envy them.
Now multiply that wholly person by billions and you’re moving towards the beauty and the greatness of God who is pure light and do remember that if there’s no darkness in him, that means when certain tough circumstances come your way, or you are reading in your bible certain things which shock you,those things need to be governed by the fact that in God there is no darkness,there is no unrighteousness,there is no evil,there is no sadism.
But some people according to verses 6-10 in the mind of John the Apostle, are playing with God. There is a gap in these people’s lives which rings false. There is a kind of dissonance between what they are saying and what they are doing. And it comes down to 3 claims. Three famous claims and they get increasingly delusional as you read them.
By the way, if you are reading the Letter of 1 John, I hope you will read it ahead of the series, you’ll discover that what John is doing is he is dealing with lots of things that wreck fellowship – lots of things that wreck fellowship and lots of ways to good fellowship. One of the ways that fellowship gets wrecked of course is error – false views of God – dealing with a God who is not the way he really is. And John speaks about that a lot in the Letter.
Another thing that wrecks fellowship with God is hatred. When you’ve got hatred for other people, that wrecks your fellowship with God and the other thing, of course, is sin – moral compromise that wrecks your fellowship with God.
So there is a doctrinal problem, and there is a social problem, and there is a moral problem, and there is a doctrinal solution, and there is a social solution, and there is a moral solution. That’s what this Letter is dealing with under the umbrella of fellowship with God.
Now the first claim (verse 6) is the claim to have no problem with sin. This is the person who is talking about being a Christian, but they walk like a non-Christian. And this is not a little lapse in their life, this is a continual thing. They just don’t have the signs of fellowship with God. Their life lies. Now the answer (verse 7) is to put your life in fellowship with God which means that you will put yourself in the will of God. That means that your prayers will start to be real. Your surrender will be at every point of your life without exception. Then you will have real fellowship, and you will experience says John in verse 7 clean, unbroken fellowship. That’s the first claim. The claim to have no problem with sin! What a foolish claim.
The second claim (verse 8) is to have no problem with self. This is the person who says ‘we claim to be without sin’ – this is the person who has either never realised their sin or they think they have reason now above their sin. This person is delusional about themselves. They imagine they are pure and innocent and righteous. Now the reality says John (verse 9) is that we must confess our sins and we must admit our sin to God. Let’s be a realist.
Spurgeon meditating on Psalm 51 says how interesting it is that David says in his prayer of confession ‘deliver me from bloodguiltiness’. And Spurgeon says that David could easily have said to God ‘I was miles away when that guy died – I was miles away – I didn’t have anything to do really,ultimately with the death of that man’. But of course, we know that David arranged it. We know that David was the cause and Spurgeon says ‘do not, therefore, give fair names to foul sins – they will smell no sweeter. What God sees them to be, labour to feel them to be, and with all openness of heart, acknowledge their real character.
In other words, if you are going to confess privately to God, tell him what’s happened as plainly and as bluntly and as honestly and as genuinely and as frankly as possible. Then you will be confessing. And when we do (verse 9) God is faithful, he keeps his promises, he is just, Jesus has paid, and he will forgive us and what a beautiful, comforting verse this is. You may think you have done something which is unforgivable – impossible – an insult to God. If you confess your sins to him, whatever it is, he is faithful to his promises, he is just, Jesus paid, and he will forgive you.
Christianity, you see, is the only religion in the world which takes sin seriously and then takes sin away.
The third claim (verse 10) even more delusional is to see no problem in my story, no problem in my sin, no problem in my self, no problem in my story (verse 10). In other words, this is the person who says ‘check my record, go back over everything, you’ll find no sins’. That of course says John is to make your sin out to be irrelevant but that claim contradicts God, and therefore you are making God out to be a liar. He is the absolute umpire on you, and his word is that we have fallen, sinned, failed and have been disobedient.
So are three claims to have no sin in our conduct, no sin in our character or no sin in our life story and John says it’s delusional. It’s not just that you fooled someone else – you’ve been deluded. But if you will face up to God who is Light, and you’ll face yourself and the darkness, and you’ll face the solution which is Jesus and his blood, and you’ll put your trust in him,you will have true fellowship with God from that day forward and there is no joy to match close fellowship with God.
I know we think (if you’re like me) we think fellowship with God and this extra on the side. That’s the way to get the real joy, but of course, you know what happens – it wrecks the fellowship, and it wrecks the sin. There are substitutes for joy aren’t there?
Pride can be very heady. Some sins can be a quick fix. Error can be very convenient for us. But all of them will disappear. All of them will let us down. None of them will sustain us. All of them will fail us. None of them will be in heaven but there will be real joy in heaven, and it’ll come from real fellowship with God which begins in this world and goes through to the next.
So to go back to the original question that I began with about the bad day and the good day – the basis for fellowship with God is not the day you are having. It’s not even the life that you are living. The basis for your fellowship with God is the day Christ died.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
But the proof that you are having fellowship with God is not that you know the answers or say the Creed or sing the hymns or talk the talk,the proof that you have real fellowship with God is that you live a new life and I urge you this morning and myself to be comforted by the basis for faith with is solid rock. And that’s why John is so enthusiastic about it because it’s bigger than our problems.
But then I also want to challenge you to look at your own life and see whether there is proof of new life, in other words, be realistic. Ask yourself whether you are walking in the Light, having fellowship with one another and enjoying the blood of Jesus cleansing, transforming from all sin.
Let’s bow our heads and pray – Our Father we thank you for this morning that for no reason but your great grace you would want to have fellowship with people like us. We consider it to be almost beyond belief. We can hardly grasp what you are like. We hardly understand what we are like, but we see something of your majesty, and we know something of our sin, and we are so grateful this morning to you for the Lord Jesus, for his perfect life, for his fellowship creating death and we thank you for bringing us to put our trust in him for so many of us here this morning.
We pray that you would help those who are not yet believers to turn to Christ, to trust Christ.
We pray that you would help us who have been brought to trust in Christ to walk in the Light, to have a fellowship with you which is more joyful than all the sins of the world and we pray this so that you would be honoured as you deserve so that people who are in darkness would be helped and that we ourselves would rejoice.
We give you our thanks, and we pray for this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.