Monthly Archives: May 2019

Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4

Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4
John wrote his three letters later in the first century when he was an old man. He may well have felt that he was now one of the very few who had actually known Jesus in the flesh. He had lived with Jesus day by day, walking with him, eating with him, listening to him. So he emphasizes that he had seen Jesus “with our eyes” and “our hands have touched”. Amazing! What a tremendous privilege John had! 
With doubting Thomas Jesus had invited him to use his eyes to see the holes in his hands and to reach out his hand to touch the wound in his side. But then Jesus had told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.29). John himself must have witnessed this exchange between Jesus and Thomas. Although therefore he marvels at his awesome privilege of having seen, heard, touched Jesus in the flesh, he knows well that God’s rich blessing fills all who relate intimately with Jesus by faith. We too rejoice in all that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ of Jesus. And John’s repetition of the reality of this personal experience of Jesus underlines its vital central importance in our life and witness as Christians. Our message is true!

Proclaim (1.2)
John not only repeats the fact that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’, but two other words stand out in this passage because they are repeated – “proclaim” and “in order that”.
As we have learned to expect from John, the primary emphasis in our witness is “concerning the word of life” (1.1). In John 1 God’s word is in fact Jesus himself and Jesus is also not only the source of life, but is actually himself “the life” (e.g. John 14.6). So John tells his readers that this life has appeared on earth and “we have seen it and testify to it” (1.2). Having declared that the heart of our witness lies in this life, he then proceeds to add that we proclaim theeternal life which we have in “what we have seen and heard”. And this eternal life was “pros/towards the Father”, using the same preposition that comes in the first verse of his Gospel. As Christians we have received new life in Jesus which transforms our life on earth; and we also enjoy his gift of eternal life with continual movement towards the Father. Even Jesus, who is one with the Father, moves eternally closer and closer to his Father. How much more do we need to relate ever more closely through Jesus with the Father!

ίνα

Hina/In order that (1.3/4)
What then is the goal and purpose of our proclamation and witness? Whole books have been written to teach us the goal of Christian witness and mission. But John gives us an astonishing answer to our question. The goal of Christian witness, he says, is “so that you may have fellowship with us” and thus he says he is writing “in order that our/your joy may be filled”.
John implies that our Christian fellowship is so loving, rich and heart-warming that we long for others to come by faith into our fellowship to share the glory we so much enjoy. In our world today loneliness has become a heart-rending problem, so the reality of close Christian fellowship becomes specially attractive. As Christians we need to pay particular attention to developing ever more loving fellowship in our church and among us all as followers of Jesus. John then explains that our fellowship is quite different from the sort of bond that can develop between football supporters or in other secular contexts. He states that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”. As we come closer to the Father and the Son, God’s love grows increasingly in our Christian fellowship.
As new people come to faith in Jesus and bring their gift of new and eternal life into our fellowship, this will of course enrich both them and us. It is hardly surprising then that we have here alternative textual readings. Is it “our joy” or “your joy” that will be completed? It is of course both! If they join us, then ‘we’ and ‘you’ are one together, so “our joy” is identical with “your joy”.
So, for John, the great goal of our witness and mission lies in the beauty of loving relationship. The Father and the Son; Christian believers with the Father and the Son; the children of God in loving fellowship together; new believers added to our fellowship; all of us together glorying in the joyful beauty of this fellowship. And thus our/your joy together is filled full.

Coffee or tea
It seems that the Holy Spirit has raised up coffee and tea as a key factor for our witness and the growth of the church! He uses our times of sharing coffee and tea to deepen our love and fellowship with each other. Coffee and tea after Sunday Services and other meetings; small mid-week or Saturday morning gatherings; visiting each other in our homes. How vitally important it is to spend time together and have the opportunity of really sharing together! 
Our little village church enjoys a Thursday morning totally informal coffee morning at a local garden centre. We have no agenda and never know from one week to the next who will be free to join us. These regular coffee mornings have played a significant part in fostering a deeper and more personal fellowship amongst us. The garden centre staff actually noticed us coming each week and thought we must be a family. I was able to tell them that they were quite right! We are a family – not by blood, but as God’s children and therefore as sisters and brothers together in the love of Christ.
Lonely people today will surely be attracted by the warmth of Christian fellowship. Such fellowship can also form the answer to the needs of a broken society.

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Assurance of eternal life – 1 John 5.13

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The purpose of John’s letter
Whereas John wrote his Gospel ‘in order that you might believe’, his three letters relate to people who are already believing. His first letter is written with the aim that believers in Jesus might know with assurance that they have eternal life. We may notice immediately that John’s letters follow his Gospel in emphasizing life. The first verses in this first letter already underline the  centrality of “the word of life” and eternal life in John’s proclamation and teaching.
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In John 20.31 John affirms that he has written his Gospel in order that his readers might believe and thus have life en/in Jesus’ name. In his Gospel John  longs for them to have such faith in Jesus that they might live in Christ, in that glorious relationship with Jesus. Here John is thinking of their position in Christ. But we may also observe in John’s first letter (5.13/14) his use of the two significant prepositions eis/into and pros/towards. We noted the importance of these two prepositions of movement in John’s Gospel. In 1 John their position in Christ is already assured because they are already believers; but now he wants them to move increasingly eis/into the name, the personal character of the Son of God. In order to grow more and more like Jesus it is essential that they move ever closer to Jesus. So in 1 John 5.14 their confidence is found pros/towards the Lord. This reminds us of John 1.1 where it states that the Word was ‘pros/towards God’. Just as Jesus, the Word of God, expresses his love in constant movement towards the Father, so we as believers are called so to love Jesus that we are always coming closer and closer to him in an ever more intimate and confident personal relationship with him. And as the people of God, John’s first letter is calling us to demonstrate increasingly the nature and character of Jesus in our life together as his church.
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Assurance and Boldness


How counter-cultural! Normally people say “I hope all will be o.k. when I die”, but they may feel assurance of salvation can only indicate spiritual pride. And this confidence cannot be found in any other religion. Other faiths and often even secular culture assume that our eternal future depends on our own good or bad deeds, so our future and God’s judgment are determined by what we are and what we do. With the background of that sort of understanding, assurance of eternal life would seem to be boasting of our worthiness and merit. In the biblical Christian faith, however, the cross of Jesus carries all the penalty of our sin and we are granted eternal life entirely by his grace, his totally undeserved love. Our part is merely to accept this free gift as we come to believe in him and enter into union with him in his cross, resurrection and ascension.
For many people dying and death are unmentionable subjects, for death remains the ultimate calamity. But for Christians with our certainty of belief, death opens the door to the fullness of life in the glorious presence of the Lord we love and who loves us. Heaven indeed! We shall relate to Jesus and our heavenly Father face to face in the perfection of love and worship. The biblical word ‘eternal’ not only means unending time, but it also implies a sense of heavenly glory as we partake of the life of God himself. Wow! How wonderful that we can know that as believers in Jesus we can know that we have eternal life!
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When talking about our assurance of eternal life, I often look back with repentance to an occasion when I preached on this subject in a small village church in Indonesia. Unknown to me, a leading young lady was excited to hear what was for her a totally new teaching. She went  back to her home and read the whole of the Bible without stopping to eat or sleep. She needed to check whether my sermon was indeed true. If she died, could she really be assured of being eternally with her beloved Jesus? Finding the Bible confirmed that for a believer death leads to true glory of life with Jesus, she took poison and committed suicide! She so longed to be with Jesus in glory. The poison took four hours to work and during that time she went round the whole community, telling everyone that she was on her way to heaven. “Three more hours and I shall be with Jesus face to face”; “Two more hours and I shall be in glory”; “One more hour and I shall be in heaven” – and then she died. As a result of her assured witness concerning eternal life, about a thousand people came to believe in Jesus and were baptised.

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When I heard what had happened after my visit to Seberaya, I had to repent – but also praise God for using my failure to bring multitudes to new and eternal life in Jesus. I realised that I had not adapted my European Christian approach to our Indonesian situation. In Europe people are generally not in a hurry to get to heaven and to be with Jesus eternally! So in Britain we can preach about the sure certainty of eternal life for believers without teaching that we all need to be patient and wait for God’s perfect time. In that sermon therefore I had failed to say that assurance of eternal life should not move us to commit suicide.
At the end of a Christian conference someone said to me, “I hope we may meet again. But if we don’t see each other again here on earth, we shall surely do so in heaven”. I replied, “Yes, we shall certainly meet again in glory – hasten the day!” He looked shocked as if he didn’t want the day to come quickly. Let us rejoice in the certainty of being with Jesus eternally in his glory – but without poison and suicide!

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John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)

John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)
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We come now to our final blog on John’s Gospel before moving on to look at his three letters. So it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of John’s great purpose in writing his Gospel. He himself makes it clear: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20.31). In his Gospel John is declaring the good news of Jesus so that people may believe in Jesus and receive life in his name. His Gospel is evangelistic in its purpose. As we shall see, John’s letters aim at the next stage where his readers/hearers already believe,  but need to gain true assurance that they have eternal life.

“That you may believe”

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Everything in the Christian faith depends on this one simple fact. We need to come to Jesus in faith, believing in him and trusting him with our whole being. John writes with the aim that we may understand just who Jesus is, so that we can believe in him and commit ourselves to him. As we believe in him, we can trust him entirely because he is utterly trustworthy and true. In order to encourage such committed faith, John has written his account of some of Jesus’ miraculous signs – although he points out that Jesus did many other such signs that he has not described (20.30). Jesus performed so many marvellous miracles of healing, exorcism, feeding of crowds, stilling storms, helping fishermen catch fish etc. that it would be impossible to describe all his miracles in one short book. But the signs John does include in his Gospel fully suffice to induce our faith.

“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”

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In order to believe in Jesus and follow him, we all need to learn who Jesus really is. He is not just a great man, an outstanding teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet, a poet and a man of love and humility. He is God incarnate (John 1) and he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the one who would come from God to liberate and save his people. His very name ‘Jesus/Yeshua’ was God-given and signifies that through him ‘Yhwh/the Lord saves’. As Messiah Jesus follows on from God’s great act of liberation in Israel’s exodus from Egypt. God delivered his people from slavery and oppression, giving them a new Law and covenant, bringing them into the promised land of milk and honey. So Jesus has come to deliver us from slavery to evil and sin; he has revealed to us a new Law of love and introduced a new covenant with us through his cross and resurrection; and he offers us a new life with him which is abundant and eternal.
Jesus comes to us also as the very Son of God. In our notes we have seen how this title ‘Son of God’ signifies his calling to be like his Father in holiness and moral righteousness. It also means that he was called to bring honour to his Father, so that the people around him might come to believe in his Father and praise him. John also makes it abundantly clear through his Gospel that Jesus was actually himself God, living with the Father in glory from all eternity. He was sent by the Father to this world with the purpose of imparting life to his people. And he was raised from the dead and then he ascended back to the Father in glory. Having fulfilled his God-given task on earth, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be with his followers and lead them into all truth.
So Jesus really is more than worthy of our faith and believing trust!

“You may have life in his name”

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 Beginning already in John 1.4, we have noted how John’s Gospel strongly emphasizes ‘life’. Jesus came in order that those who believe in him may have life, life abundant and life eternal. His gift of the fullness of life both here in this world through his resurrection, and then also everlasting life in eternity, occupies a central place in John’s Gospel.
I believe that in this 21st century we shall be wise to adjust the content of our ‘gospel’ in our witness and evangelistic preaching. As we have suggested in previous blogs, Paul’s emphasis on sin and redemption will find its place after people have become believers and so begin to relate to the all-holy God. Then they will feel the fearful reality of their sin and their desperate need of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. As we move on to John’s letters, we shall see this change. Writing now for believers, John will begin to emphasize the message of the cross. But in his Gospel John is writing in order to generate belief in Jesus with the highly relevant ‘good news’ of new life. Until people come to faith the message of sin and redemption usually fails to scratch where they itch.

John underlines the fact that we can only have true life ‘in Jesus’ name’. True life and the gift of eternal life stem from the Father. We can only approach the glory and burning purity of the Father through Jesus as his Son. Jesus is the way to the Father (14.6) and no-one can come to the Father except through him. He reveals the Father to us and introduces us to the Father. As believers in Jesus we are joined in unity to Jesus and we come to the Father with his righteousness covering us. In ourselves we have no right to come into the presence of the Father, but in Jesus’ name we are wonderfully accepted.

In biblical thought people’s name was thought to reflect their character and nature. So Jesus’ ‘name’ means his total holiness, power, love and obedient meekness. Of course the Father knows us through and through, so he knows just how sinful we are, but he chooses to look on us only in the light of Jesus’ perfection. As Psalm 32.1 and Romans 4.7 point out, “Blessed are they . . .  whose sins are covered” – blessed indeed! In Jesus’ name our sin is covered and we can have life. Although John’s Gospel does not talk about our sin as a hindrance to gaining true life, as people who are already believing in Jesus we know something of what it means to have life “in his name”. And we rejoice!

Conclusion

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Noting John’s aim in his Gospel that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”, we face the challenge that our witness and evangelism should follow in the footsteps outlined in John’s Gospel. Let us constantly check our message in the light of this wonderful Gospel!

 

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