Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Authentic Church: The Real Jesus



[Text: 1 John 1:1-4]

Introduction

This week we start something very exciting.  Together we are going to learn something about God through the eyes and ears of an eyewitness to the life and ministry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But first I want to give some introductory remarks before we dive into the Word.  I believe understanding something of the author and the situation around this letter will help us better understanding the reason for his writing and, ultimately, what God is saying to us.

Did you ever notice that the book of 1 John never mentions his name?  John’s name never once appears in any of the writings that are attributed to him. So how do we know John wrote these things?   Tradition.  The Church has always believed that John was the author of these letters and the gospel.   Could they have been written by someone else?  Many modern scholars say that this is indeed the case.   I have no qualms with this.  The Church confesses that these writings are from the Holy Spirit and that is what is important.

Modern scholars also have come to the conclusion that this author was not really an eyewitness.  I do have a problem with this.  I’ve read a number of articles centered on this topic and I’ve yet to figure out how they’ve come to this conclusion.  However, if they are right then the writer in question was a liar.   Either the writer wrote the truth and the Church has really been led by the Holy Spirit to accept these writings as canonical, or the writer lied in which case we must ask ourselves, how can we take any of the information as being valid?  How can we trust any of these writings?

Over the years I have watched as scholars have doubted that the letters bearing the names of the Apostles where actually written by these people, doubted that the eyewitnesses were really eyewitnesses, doubted that a single person wrote books attributed to a single person or written in the same century these people lived.   If the biblical material is everything other than what it purports to be then can it be any wonder the church’s preaching has become so anaemic and ineffective in our society today?

No, I believe the Church, not the critics, is correct and my heart, through the Holy Spirit, confirms it.  In the writer’s own words: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
(John 21:24 ESV).   Was this the Apostle John?  I’m perfectly content siding with the tradition of the Holy Church on this matter as well.  So for the sake of clarity I am going to be referring to the writer of the Gospel and the three epistles as John even though his name does not appear in them.

As is the case with the other letters that comprise the N.T., 1 John was written in response to something going on in the Church.  In this case John was fighting the influences of false teachers.  From what 1 John tells us it appears that this religion was an earlier form of gnosticism.  But it won’t help us much to speculate so instead of going down a list of what early gnosticism taught,  we can take from the letter itself enough information to give us clues as to what they taught.

They were once a part of the Church (2:19)
They were trying to entice those who hadn’t left to join them (2:26)
They denied that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (2:22; 5:1, 5)
They denied that the Christ had come in the flesh (4:2; 2 John 7)
They denied authority to Jesus’ commands (2:4)
They denied their own sinfulness (1:8, 10)
They denied salvation through the work of Christ (2:2)
They denied the absolute demand that believers love one another (2:9)
They denied righteous conduct as a requirement of fellowship with God (1:6; 2:29; 3:6, 10)
They denied the responsibility to live as Jesus had lived (2:4, 6; 3:7)
They denied the authority of John to proclaim the message (1:5, 3 John 10)
They denied that those who did not follow them knew the truth (2:20-21)

What did they teach?  This is harder to determine from John’s letters, but they probably believed the following:

They believed that God was light (1:5)
The truth of the gospel released them from the power of sin (1:8)
Believed in Christ as a philosophical concept, though denying his existence in the flesh (4:2).
They believed in the mission to the world (2 John 10)
The anointing of the Spirit (2:27)
The devil as an anti-God (3:8-10; 4:2-3)

It is true that gnosticism did and does teach many of these things.  However, it is also true that many other false religions do teach these things.  I’ve even met so-called “Christians” who teach these things while denying some or all of the others.

Speaking of false religions:  Once there was a man who noticed a little girl sitting on the curb, crying.  He knelt in front of her and asked what was the matter?  She said that her dog was very sick and she was worried.  Wishing to make the girl feel better he confidently informed her that people don’t really get sick from things like bacteria or viruses but rather from our own imaginations. The dog only thought he was sick and she should tell him it was only his thoughts doing it. If she did this the dog would get better.  This cheered the little girl up and she went away happy as did the man at seeing the little girl’s positive response.   A few days later the man saw the little girl once again sitting on the curb crying.   He asked her if she had told the dog what he had said.  She said she most certainly did.  So he asked what the problem was now.  She said, “Now my dog thinks he is dead”.

This is intentionally a silly story, but the moral behind it is real enough.  Simply wanting something to be the truth, no matter how badly we desire it, does not make it so.  If Christianity is simply a made-up religion, a figment of our imaginations, an opioid of the people to keep them calm and submissive, then where does that really leave us?

The Apostle Paul saw where false belief left us.  Let’s take a quick look at what he had to say:

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Paul saw the logical conclusion that a false belief will lead us to.   If what we believe, or even a single aspect of what we believe is false, we can easily find that everything we believe begins to crumble and fall apart, especially if that false belief is foundational.

John “contends for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) by telling us that he and others are eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus Christ.   They have seen, heard and touched Him who was from the beginning.   Don’t let this pass you by without understanding the full significance of what the apostle is saying.

The person they are talking about was “from the beginning”.   The beginning here is referring to the beginning.  As in the Genesis 1:1 beginning.  Before the worlds and the universe were created, before the stars, before the angels before anything and everything.  Before it ALL.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the last;  He was, and is, and is to come. He is God. In John 1:1-3 we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

And

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know
Him. (v. 10)

In one single, simple phrase John tells us exactly who he is talking about here.  Jesus!

Touch, seen, heard

But John doesn’t stop with that declaration.  He asserts that he and others were eyewitnesses to the Word.   They saw him, they touched him, they heard him.  He isn’t speaking platitudes and religious jargon but he is testifying to an historical fact. This is extremely important.  Jesus really did come in the flesh and dwelt among us.  We haven’t seen Jesus the way John did, but our faith isn’t empty either.  We have something to hang our faith on.

Francis Shaeffer gave the example of hiking in the Swiss Alps when all of a sudden a dense fog rolls in.  He finds himself lost and unable to move for fear of falling off a cliff.  He is certainly going to die from the cold if he stays and will probably die from a fall if he moves.  Suddenly he hears a voice calling to him from just bellow.  The person to whom the voice belongs tells him that there is a ledge just below him and if he will simply jump he will be safe and this person will lead him to the body of the mountain.   Francis explained that he would not just jump.  This would be an empty, and potentially dangerous, sort of faith.  Rather he would learn more about this person speaking to him:  What town is he from, how long has he lived in the mountains, who does he know, questions that would help Francis ascertain this man knows what he is talking about.  True, he would eventually have to take a step of faith, but this faith would be based on a certain amount of credible knowledge and not empty or blind.

In John’s account we are given information that is vital to our faith.  It helps us make that step of faith towards Christ that is based upon real, historical, eyewitness evidence and not simply on what we feel.

As I’ve already mentioned, modern scholars wish to deny that John was an actual eyewitness by denying the documents historically credited to him were actually written by him or by anyone in that time period that saw Jesus.   But deny this eyewitness account you might as well deny every eyewitness account.   Why believe in Plato, or Socrates, or Aristotle our Euclid?  Why believe in the forefathers of this country or any country?  Why believe anything?  Why not just doubt ourselves into oblivion?

John saw what he saw and that makes people nervous.  If John really was an eyewitness, then Jesus really did exist.  If John is honest and can be trusted as an eyewitness then maybe this Jesus did and said the things John says he did.  If John was an eyewitness then maybe Jesus was, in the words of the Nicene Creed:

...Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us...and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

This, rightfully, make sinners just a little nervous.  So we can see why they try to discredit John and his testimony and why John had to set the record straight for the early believers and heretics alike.

Two reasons for writing

John doesn’t keep these things to himself.  This is not some secret knowledge only the initiate can receive.  This is for the whole world!

In these first few verses John gives two reasons for writing to the believers.

The first reason:  so that you might have fellowship with him.   By extension, it is so we too might have fellowship one with another and with all of the saints who have gone before and will come after.  Hebrews 12:1, 2 says,

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

When John speaks of having fellowship he was inviting the church to join him and the other Apostles in the same fellowship they had with Jesus.  It wasn’t an exclusive club only the those closest to Jesus.  But he was also drawing a line in the sand.  That line was Jesus Christ.  And  that line makes all the difference in the world.

I think for many Christians we want so bad to love the world and even be accepted by those around us that we start to blend.  Before long it is really difficult to tell the Christians from everyone else.  We play the same, listen to the same music, use the same words (some of them not so nice), dress the same, watch the same movies (some of THEM not so nice), read the same books and even dream the same dreams.   But if you have been born again you can no more have fellowship with the world then the world can have fellowship with the body of Christ.   Yes, we need to be in the world, and, in the words of Paul, become all things to all people so that we might save some.  But we need to make sure this doesn’t involve becoming worldly.  There is a difference.

Jesus said,

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.  (Matthew 10:34-39)

Following Christ means we have fellowship with one another and with the Father and the Son.  This also means we can’t have the same fellowship with the world we once had.  As we move along in our study we will discover more of what this looks like.

Oh the Joy!

The second reason for John writing was so that there would be joy.   Did you ever read this and wonder exactly what he meant?   I know that we are all happy when a sinner comes to know Christ.  I also see how having the young church safe from heresy would also make John happy.  But....why?   Why joy?  Why not relief?  or happiness?   And notice that he doesn’t just say, “My joy” but “our joy”?   Some translations may say “your joy”, but either way you read it he wanted the church to experience a fullness of joy.    When I read this I was reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote about praise in his book “Reflections on the Psalms”.  If you’ve ever read anything by John Piper you may have come across this quote (or parts of it).   C.S. wrote the following:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.  It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.

People are looking for happiness.  They seek it in drugs, drink, illicit relationships, eating, fast cars, dangerous activities, sports, movies, hobbies and even religion.   But Christians are especially in danger because they have the truth and easily fall under the misunderstanding that that is all it takes; just believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and you will be happy.  You will have joy.  But really it is only the start.

Our Joy cannot be complete until will share this faith, this relationship with the world (evangelism and missions) and with each other (something the apostles called koinania).  It isn’t just for self preservation or even out of obedience that we are not to forsake the gathering of believers, but also because without it we cannot experience the true joy God has called us to.

Conclusion

If we are to be a church that is growing, vibrant, joyful, we must follow the true, real risen Savior, Jesus, and we must do so rightly.  In the next few months we are going to learn what this mean.  We must also share our faith with the world and we must also join together in true Christian fellowship with one another.   There needs to be both if we are going to be the authentic Church to a dying world.