Good morning and welcome to Journey – my name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey. This morning we are going to start a brand new series on one of the books in the New Testament – it’s a book called 1st John. Not John.
Boy these things used to confuse me so much – there’s a book called John. And then three more called 1st John, Second John and 3rd John.
Let me explain what’s going on – and I’ll start at the beginning, ok? Your bible is divided into two main parts – the Old Testament which deals with the creation of the world, and God’s dealing with the nation of Israel – and then there is the New Testament. Which picks up the story from the birth of Jesus onward.
If you were to look in the tabe of centents in your bible- you will see that there are 27 books in the New Testament. And here’s a little diagram that shows how they are arranged.
The first four books of the New Testament are the only books that spell out the details of the life and ministry of Jesus. There are four of them, named after the authors who write them. And we call these four books the gospels. Gospel means good news. So we have the Gospel according to, or the Gospel of Matthew. The gospel of Mark, then Luke and the fourth is the gospel of John.
After the four gospels we find the book of Acts – which is a history book. The history of how the church was born and how it spread throughout the world in the years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension back into heaven.
The very last book of the Bible is the famous book of Revelation – which is really, mostly weird. Really hard to figure out. And – just so you know – it was hard for the first churches to figure out too. That book gets it’s own type – we call it apocalyptic literature – and it refers to what is going to happen at the end of the world, before Jesus comes back again.
The other 21 books in the New Testament are letters. Written by apostles to churches they pastored.
13 of these letters that were written to people and churches were written by the Apostle Paul.
He wrote so many letters that, as the early church compiled what letters they knew to be genuine and authoritative – they had so many of Paul’s letters that they decided to title these letters after the churches or people that Paul was writing to…
Thus we have the book of Galatians – written to the church in Galatia. Romans- written to the church in Rome. Timothy – written to Timothy – and 2nd Timothy – which is the second letter written to Timothy.
How did the early church leaders decide what order to put Paul’s letters in? Why is Romans the first of Paul’s letters? Well they decided to arrange them longest to shortest.
The rest of the letters we now call them general letters – were written by other church leaders not named Paul. And this time – instead of titling the letter based on the people who received the letter, they decided to name them after the person who wrote the letter.
Thus – we have from John – three letters – 1st John, (The first letter John write) – 2nd John and 3rd John. Here is a sculpture of the Apostle John in Italy – many of the sculptures of John show him with pen and paper in hand – because well, other than Paul – John wrote the second most books in the New Testament – he write John – these three letters, and also the book of Revelation. Five books are from John.
Is all of this info confusing? Sure. Which is why I suggest that you a. Purchase a good study Bible – and b. that you read the introductions of these letters in your study bible. The five minutes you spend reading the introductions to the letter will make the next 30 or 40 minutes you spend actually reading these letters much more enjoyable and insightful.
And every study bible is going to answer a few important questions – Who was it written to, when was it written and – very importantly – it will help us know why the letter was written.
If you got a letter from a friend in the mail this week – the first thing you will ask is – why did they write me a letter?
So why did John write this – his first letter to his churches? Here’s why. By this time in the church – very early – there were false teachers going around from city to city, trying to deceive the churches – to trick them into believing a lie.
Just like in 2021, there was a lot of misinformation and disinformation floating around. Then, like now – people were being subjected to various points of views and people were left to ask – who is the authority that I am going to trust when it comes to this issue.
And so John is writing as the expert on Jesus – the qualified expert. And he is offering his sworn testimony and telling his churches that this is the standard – all other teaching then and now need to measure up to it. Then and now – you will be able to distinguish false teaching from true by comparing what a speaker is saying to what has been written by John and the other disciples.
This letter is a letter from a concerned pastor who is seeking to protect his congregation from false and misleading teaching.
Let’s start reading Pastor John’s letter to his church. He speaks with a voice of authority- Jesus is the Word become flesh. It is John’s desire that we allow the good news of Jesus…
- Change our minds,
- Saturate our hearts,
- and mobilize our feet.
I’ll be reading from the New International Version today…
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.
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.
How does John begin? He begins with reminding his readers – he is a first hand witness to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. He was there. Jesus was real. I was an eye witness. I touched the man with my own hands. I saw him with my eyes and my ears. And – he wasn’t alone – there are others as well who will testify to the same thing he is saying.
Sometimes people say – how can you believe what is written in this book. Well – it’s because we have in our hands eyewitness testimony. They were there and John goes to great lengths to remind us of that.
You might be one of the people who are skeptical – but what more could these first followers of Jesus do than what they did? What more would you have wanted them to do – they wrote it down. Churches carefully and faithfully passed it down from generation to generation.
If you decide that – well I don’t think these words are reliable – honestly it shows not a reluctance to believe but an unwillingness to believe. These guys write their stories and then sealed their stories in their blood – all the disciples but John died an early death because they declared to have seen Jesus live and die and be buried and rise again from the dead. That’s what killed them. There is no doubt about this.
Now do we have any stories of early church leaders saying – just kidding – forget it – we made it up because – we like getting beaten by angry crowds and throw in prison and stoned to death – we made it all up – let’s be fair – these writers sealed these words in blood.
Now what is it that John is declaring? These first words in his letter sound very much like the first words in the gospel that John write – in the beginning was the word…
And in John 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
John begins both his gospel and his letter with what is to him the most important fundamental fact of Christianity. Jesus is God in the flesh. He made his home in our midst. I saw him and touched him.
The first point that John is making is that Christianity is objectively true. Sometimes I hear people say something along the lines of – it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe it with all your heart – it doesn’t matter what you believe –
John comes out of the corner swinging – it does matter what you believe. You want the good news to penetrate and permeate your mind.
You faith has to be an intellectual faith. Paul says this – if what he is reaching isn’t actually factually true – if Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh and didn’t die and wasn’t resurrected, then we Christians are to be pitied beyond all people on earth.
The writers of the New Testament are writing to put our minds at ease.
John says – I was there. Christianity is factually, intellectually true.
Every once in a while I hear a sentiment from well meaning followers of Jesus – and they might say something that sounds like – I know that I’m supposed to believe the bible – and put facts aside and just believe, but I find myself struggling because I like science…
No! Christians must be thinkers. Following Jesus never requires less thinking – it requires more. Christianity is objectively true. And John writes this letter to tell us that.
One of Pastor John’s goals in this letter is to provide assurance to those who are doubting. He is writing to put our minds at ease.
Listen – I understand that it’s a big leap for some of you to think that there is a God at all – let alone a God who became a man. Who made his home in our midst.
Many people might think that if there is a God he probably lives on the other side of the universe – certainly he doesn’t care about me – and John is writing to change our minds – God is real – he is close – right now as close to you as the breath on the back of your hand.
And he knows you, loves you, and likes you. He lived for you, died for you, was raised from the dead for you, and right now awaits your decision – do you want to begin a friendship with you, right now.
Christianity is objectively true – but – the gospel – the good news of Jesus – it needs to move beyond mere head knowledge – it needs to migrate and Saturate to our heart.
But – John wants us to understand – Christianity is more than objective facts to believed. There is as well a more subjective part of faith in Jesus.
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. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
Throughout the history of the church there has been tension between the head part of Christianity and the Heart part.
Some churches treat Sunday morning like a seminary class – very intellectual and also boring!
On the other hand – there has always been a sliver of Christianity that seeks to elevate the subjective experiences – and they care very little about the facts. They want to create experiences. You will feel it in your soul.
In fact – one can’t help but notice how many church services are now called – Experiences. Come to our 9am experience. And I get it – the churches I’m talking about are preaching the gospel as much as we do here at Journey, but they are trying to elevate the subjective side of faith. Come to our church and you will leave feeling something.
I remember talking to a person one time who tried to explain to me – that I need to wait upon God until my heart warms within me. They came from a brand of religion that used the name of Jesus but didn’t believe that the scriptures could be believed – and she told me – the only thing that matters is – that your heart warms. When your heart warms.
So what’s interesting about this passage is that Pastor John here refuses to all it to be either – he says it’s both. He begins – here is the truth. He lived. I touched him. I walked with him. Objectively true teachings.
But to what end? That you might have joy – and fellowship – it’s more subjective. Joy – the pervasive state of well being. It is well with me and God. It is definitely on the subjective level of faith.
When I get a chance to talk to people about their faith Journey – one of the most common threads goes something like this – I grew up in a church and I knew a lot about God – but it wasn’t until X happened – that something changed and now I know him.
I’ve gone from head knowledge to heart knowledge. I know him. By the way if this is something you want to learn more about I’d suggest you set up a time to have coffee with our ministry intern Olivia Osborn – she shared her story with our students a couple of weeks ago and it was powerful. She would love to get a chance to meet you to talk about where in the world she feels God is calling her, but it’s a delight to hear her faith story.
See – faith in Jesus not only helps you think more – it helps us feel more. We feel more compassion. We feel other people pain more. We begin to care about things we didn’t care about before. We begin to live with a Joy that wasn’t there before.
John wants the good news of Jesus to permeate our thinking, and he wants it to saturate our hearts, and finally- in this passage we see that the end result will be a faith that mobilizes – moves our hands and feet.
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. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Now one thing you will have to get used to with John is that sometimes his teaching sounds a little jarring. He can be very black and white. And so here his point is this. If you have objectively believed that Jesus is God in the flesh – and that he lived and died and was resurrected form the dead – and if you subjectively believe it – in other words you Know God, not just know about him, then… It is going to show up in the way you live your life.
If you claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness – something is broken! You are lying to yourself. If you claim to have been forgiven and cleanses by Jesus – then you might struggle – but you are taking your struggles to the Lord – who John writes purifies us from all sin – but we are in the very least – fighting against those sins that entangle.
We aren’t just shrugging it off as if our sin doesn’t matter.
Through faith in Jesus we moved from fighting against God – to fighting with God. Before faith in Jesus we fought against god – and that was a bad fight. But now – after faith – we are still fighting but this fight is the good fight – against the lingering woo of sin in our life.
If we aren’t even fighting? If we are enabling? If we are excusing our sin? If we are justifying it? Then John says – it’s time to ask some tough questions. John isn’t afraid to ask them for us – are we even in the light, if we aren’t fighting a good fight against our sin?
By the way – one of the things I’m exited about our Onramp to spiritual growth class that we are starting next Sunday night, is that it will equip you with skills to begin to learn how to fight the good fight and begin growing in our faith. Six weeks long – at the Hub – sign up today – you will not regret it.
John is throwing out an early rendition of a saying you sometimes hear that , “the proof is in the pudding”. If God is light, and we say we have fellowship with Him, then our lives should reflect that light. If we claim that everything is fine between God, and me but are living in darkness, but my life doesn’t look anything different than the way I used to live it, then it behooves us to ask – why? What do I need to do
Now – before I end in prayer – I want to throw out there two opportunities for self-study – if you want to learn more about 1 John – two online resources for you.
Bible Project.org. Watch their 9 minute video that will give a great outline of the book – it’s heady – but solid.
And – for kids – or if you want to watch and learn on right now media – Phil Vischer – 1st John – Josiah told me to watch it and I’m glad.