Come Join Us!

Title: Come Join Us

Text: 1 John 1:1-4

Time: July 10th, 2011

 

This week we’re moving into a new book of the Bible, into First John in the New Testament. It’s written by the same John who wrote the Gospel of John, the Apostle John, an original member of Jesus’ twelve disciples. John also wrote the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. So here is an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus Christ who then becomes a leader in the early church and outlives all of the other original disciples. Now not all the disciples wrote accounts of what they saw or wrote teaching letters to different churches; only a few did. We think of the Apostle Peter who was also someone who was a leader in the early church – Roman Catholics think he was the first Pope – and someone who wrote instructions to early Christians, for example, 1 and 2nd Peter. But outside of Apostle Paul and Luke, John is one of the leading voices we hear coming down from Christian history beginning in the 1st Century. Today, we’ll start into the first letter of John, the first chapter, the first verse: “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. 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. 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. We write this to make our joy complete, “ 1 John 1:1-4. As you can see, John is writing about his experience and his being a witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. But that’s not all, he’s inviting us to come along and join in with his experience in order that we too might have fellowship with God through faith. The apostles witnessed great things, probably the greatest things ever to occur on earth. Think about it – God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, came to earth and walked among people as a man for 33 years in order to live, die, and rise to new life for us. Now the problem is that I wasn’t around to see it and neither were you. In fact, the vast majority of people on the earth at every time period missed out on God’s appearing, or to use the technical theological term “the Incarnation.”  Only a small fraction of earth’s entire population witnessed God’s appearing in flesh through Jesus Christ. Now that doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why did they get to be around when Jesus lived and I didn’t – or you didn’t? And most importantly, how come those few people get the benefit of believing in the actual, flesh and bones Jesus, while we only get to believe rumors, reports of it. No wonder their faith was so much greater than ours today – they got to see it up close, while we have to settle for accounts of others? That’s one of the problems that John is trying to solve in the opening of his letter. He doesn’t want us to feel like outsider to the faith. Yes, he did get to experience Jesus along with the other disciples in a direct, immediate way, but he’s going to try to do his best to open up that direct eyewitness experience to us as well, by describing it as best he can. The Gospel of John does a great job of communicating a little of what it was like to actually witness Jesus up close, and now the letters of John attempt to draw us into the faith experience also. We don’t have to feel left out because we weren’t actually there to see and hear Jesus. We can enter into the experience through faith and share in the exact same fellowship with God that the apostles had. John’s letter explains how. Let me point out three important things.

 

First, John was an eyewitness. 1 John 1:1, “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.” And who was the Word of Life? Jesus, of course. If we go back to John’s Gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. . . . And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:1-2, 14. Now the Apostle John is continuing the same theme from the Gospel of John in his letters. To him, the big, exciting, magnificent thing was that he witnessed the Incarnation, the dwelling of God with men, in the life of Jesus Christ. We can imagine him carrying this same theme with him throughout his life, everywhere he went. Now for the other apostles there may have been slightly different emphases in their recollection of Jesus. And that’s what’s so good about the way the Bible comes to us – it records the many and different voices, and the many different impressions that Jesus left on different people. It’s not all just one voice and one perspective on Jesus. For example, we have four gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We get the benefit of their different perspectives testifying to the same event. Then, later, we get the Apostle Paul’s perspective on things that add a little different twist. By listening to all the witnesses of Jesus we get a richer, fuller understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus. Now here in this first letter, John wants to make sure we understand that he is an eyewitness, not gatherer of other people’s memories. He not like Luke, who in his opening statement in his Gospel writes, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught, “ Luke 1:1-4. So Luke wasn’t an eyewitness, but had to rely on the testimony of others in his account. John, however, is an eyewitness to Jesus, and so he wants us to know that. In fact, he says, “I’ve seen Jesus, I’ve heard him speak, I’ve even touched him.” So we know that whatever we hear from John isn’t second-hand material but direct, immediate eyewitness testimony. What the scholars call primary source material. Why is it important that John keeps repeating that he witnessed Jesus directly? Because as we’ll see later in the letter, there were false teachers who were challenging his and the other apostles teachings about Jesus, so he wants everyone to understand that he isn’t getting his truths second-hand, but instead, he’s going directly back to Jesus, who he saw and heard directly. We don’t have to doubt, we don’t have to wonder, we can be assured that what we believe as Christians comes directly from Jesus and from those who Jesus taught. There’s a lot of doubt, skepticism and unbelief today coming from secular society and even from some churches that have fallen away from the faith, but we don’t have to worry. We can go right back to the sources and hear the truth. John is one of those sources.

 

Second, John testifies to what he witnessed. 1 John 1:2, “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.” Now it’s one thing to witness something, but it’s another thing to testify to what is seen. There are lots of people who witness something, but not as many people who testify to what they’ve seen. For example, today, if you see a crime taking place, afterwards, the police may ask for witnesses, then interview the witnesses and invite them to give their testimony in court. Some people refuse to testify out of fear or other reasons. The disciples and other early Christians were also tempted at times to not speak up about what they saw, what they heard about Jesus out of fear of persecution. You have to remember that Christianity today is different than it was in the early 1st Century. Today, we have it nice because as Christians we rarely, if ever, face direct and hostile persecution. Yes, someone may make fun of you because you go to church or read your Bible or pray or hold to moral standards or believe Bible doctrine, but for the most part you are left alone. But that’s not the way it was in the 1st Century. They killed Christians back then. Christians got beaten up and injured by angry mobs. They didn’t know about freedom of religion or free speech yet. It was a very dangerous world back then in respect to Christians. So when John says that he and the apostles were eyewitnesses and they testify to what they experienced, that was a brave thing. They didn’t keep it to themselves but shared it with others. They gave testimony to their faith even when it meant possible injury or even death. Tradition holds that all of the original disciples met persecution and death, all of them, ironically, except John. If you remember, John wrote the Book of Revelation on the Island of Patmos. Tradition holds that he died there on Patmos, the only apostle to die a natural death. But it wasn’t because he kept quiet. No, far from it. Like I said before, his is one of the strongest voices echoing throughout Christian history to the gospel. But the important point is that John shares with us what he saw and heard from Jesus. He couldn’t keep it in, he had to let others in on the miracle of Jesus. Have you ever tried to keep a secret? A really big and exciting secret? It’s hard. Finally, you just have to tell someone and then others. In fact, the police say that the main way they catch bank robbers is that they go bragging about it to others who then tell the police. The robbers just can’t keep a secret. Well, in a good sense, the apostles just couldn’t keep the gospel secret, even if they wanted to. It was just so great and inspiring and wonderful news that they just had to share it with others. Through Jesus Christ we can have fellowship with God by faith. What could be more fantastic than that? Naturally we are alienated from God by our sins. We are divided and at war with God over who controls our lives. We naturally want full control of our life. Yet we were made for fellowship with God. We were made to live in harmony with God and his will. Yet we fight and struggle against God in order to maintain control. That separates us from God. But through Jesus we can unite with God and the wall of separation can be removed. That’s what’s so exciting about the good news or gospel. Have you experienced it yet? Do you have fellowship with God through faith in Jesus?

 

Third, John invites us to experience life in fellowship with Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3-4, “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. We write this to make our joy complete.” Now for John and the other apostles it isn’t enough to be eyewitnesses or even to testify to what they saw and heard. The only way to make their joy complete is for others, like you and me, to join them in the faith experience and become Christians. The whole point of John’s writings, such as the Gospel of John, the Letters of John, or even Revelation, is for people to believe in Jesus Christ’s gospel. There are scholars who study biblical and Christian history who search out the accounts of Jesus, but they don’t believe and therefore they don’t share in Christian fellowship. I was just watching on the Internet a course on the New Testament taught at Yale University. I started watching the first class lesson and it was very clear right from the beginning that the professor didn’t believe the Christian faith. Here is a man who devotes his entire life to studying the New Testament but doesn’t believe it. What a waste. The Apostle John doesn’t want to waste his life recording his experience with Jesus and the gospel only for people to read it and shrug their shoulders and walk away. No. This is important. This is most important. What could be more important than fellowship with God and other believers. That’s why church is important. Once you establish a faith relationship with God through believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, then you must establish fellowship with other Christians as well in order to experience the full benefits of faith. In church we are to inspire each other in the faith. Some days you’ll be down and depressed because of circumstances, so a fellow believer at church will be able to minister to you. But then another day, someone else will need your encouragement and you’ll be there to pick them up. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But if someone, a Christian, doesn’t participate in church, then who will pick them up when they are down? Who will help explain the faith to them when they are confused? Who will hold them accountable when they’ve fallen into sin? The Christian walk isn’t a walk in the park by any means. Sometimes it’s a battle to survive. That’s why we need a strong church, a strong body of believers who love Jesus and are committed to his Word. Now the miracle is that we can experience fellowship with God and with one another through faith in God’s Word. Today, for example, we are learning from 1 John. Last week we finished up the Book of Jonah. We are fellowshipping around God’s Word. We don’t fellowship around the headlines in today’s paper. We don’t fellowship around some human philosophy or religion. We don’t fellowship around some leader’s personality like some cult groups do. We don’t fellowship around money, possessions or social status as some country clubs do. We fellowship around God’s Word, around Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God in flesh. Remember John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God’s Word is what sustains in our Christian life. Does God’s Word sustain you? Why not grow deeper and closer towards God by experiencing his Word in a richer way. John and apostles invite us to fellow around their testimony of Jesus. Let’s join them. Wherever we are, whatever time it is, we can always fellowship with God and each other around God’s Word. Let’s make that a priority in our lives today. Amen.

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