************ Sermon on 1 John 1:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 28, 2019
1 John 1:1-4
1 John 1:1
"The Word of Life"
I The Truth Under Attack
A Over the years I have received a number of letters telling me that the church today needs to be like the early church. People wrongly think that the doctrine and life of the early church was pure. But it wasn't. It didn't take long for the truth of the Gospel to be under attack. The Apostle Paul warned this was going to happen.
(Acts 20:29-31) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. (30) Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. (31) So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.John experiences firsthand the truth of Paul's words -- the church under attack, the church facing heresy and error.
Here we see the difference between John's gospel and John's letters. The gospel is written to unbelievers so that they may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing may have life in His name (Jn 20:31). The epistles, on the other hand, are written to believers to deepen their confidence in the work of Christ and to warn them against false teachers.
John writes his gospel and his three letters around A.D. 90. He is an old man. He is the only one of the apostles who is still alive. Early church historians tell us John at this time is living and ministering in Asia Minor where he is overseeing the seven churches that we meet in the book of Revelation. Read the seven letters to those seven churches and you see a church under attack, a church facing error.
When we look ahead in 1 John we see the author warns the "antichrist is coming" and "even now many antichrists have come" (1 Jn 2:18). He warns about those "who are trying to lead you astray" (1 Jn 2:26; cf 3:7). He warns "many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 Jn 4:1).
John has a zero toleration policy for error and for anyone who teaches error. He does not allow it. And neither can we. Because people are led astray. Because at stake is the spiritual well-being of our children and youth.
Take note John doesn't just write the positive. Because of heresies and errors John also writes what is negative. People today want to hear the positive. They don't want to hear the negative. In fact, though, they should also love the negative. For instance, do parents only tell their children positive things or do they also warn them about what is dangerous? John does both. He does both out of love and concern for the church.
B The early church was a church under attack by error. The first great error, the first heresy, that Christianity fought against was legalism. This is the issue faced by the Jerusalem Church Council. Remember how the Judaizers, the legalists, said Gentile converts to the Christian faith "must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5)? Paul deals with this issue in the book of Galatians. As Paul went on his missionary journeys, Jews in city after city and synagogue after synagogue attacked him at this point. Paul kept pointing out that salvation is not by the works of the law but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Legalism, I'm afraid, is still with us today and continues to be a danger to the Christian community.
C The second great error, the second great heresy, the one that John fought against concerned the nature of man and the work of Christ.
What does this heresy say? Three times at the end of 1 John 1 we find the phrase, "if we claim ..." (1 Jn 1:6,8,10). John is simply stating the claims of the heretics. So what are they saying? Listen to their claims:
(1 Jn 1:6) If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.They claim to have fellowship with God and Christ but don't live a righteous life. They go so far as to deny they have any sin. They are lying about actual sin and original sin. What deceivers! What liars!
(1 Jn 1:8) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(1 Jn 1:10) If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
In all of this they are denying Christ. By denying their sin they are denying their need for Christ. Therefore they are denying the atoning work of Christ (1 Jn 2:1-2). The next step in their descent: they deny Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2); they said Jesus only seemed to come in the flesh but it wasn't real. No wonder John calls them antichrists!
I haven't given a name to this heresy. Do you know what heresy this is? It is the beginning of Gnosticism. The word "Gnosticism" comes from the Greek word for knowledge. Gnosticism emphasizes knowledge -- secret knowledge that is known to only a few.
Like legalism, Gnosticism is still around, it is still with us today and continues to be a danger to the Christian community. You might wonder who are the Gnostics today. Any system of belief that puts the thoughts of man above the Word of God is a form of Gnosticism. Mysticism is a form of Gnosticism. The New Age Movement is a form of Gnosticism. The hidden knowledge of the Mormons is a form of Gnosticism. All of them end up in the same place: their doctrine of man and their doctrine of Christ are all wrong.
What counts in Gnosticism is the mind, the spirit, knowledge. And, what you do physically is meaningless; in fact, the body and the material world is viewed as evil and is seen as the prison house of the soul. Under this belief system you can engage in any indulgence of the flesh -- eat, drink, and be merry -- because this does not touch your good inner self.
Does this sound familiar? Doesn't this sound like so much of our society today? So many people today live in absolute immorality, doing whatever their lusts tell them to do without restraint. And, yet, they think of themselves as good persons.
Where did this come from? People want to live in sin and yet feel good about themselves. So in their godlessness and wickedness they suppress the truth about themselves and about Christ.
These heretics have a wrong view of man. They fail to see man is desperately lost. They won't admit man has no ability to save himself. These heretics also have a wrong view of Christ and why He came. All so they can gratify their lusts without limit. All so they can say physical purity is meaningless.
D Do you know what title we can give to these two false teachings -- whether it is legalism or Gnosticism? John calls the Gospel the "Word of life." So, false teaching can and should be called the "word of death." They are the word of death because those who follow them remain dead in their trespasses and sins and end up in hell's destruction.
II The Word of Life
A In our text for today John tells us two things about the Word of life.
First, John tells us it is "that which was from the beginning." It isn't new, says John. It isn't different. The Word of life has not changed and will not change. John is writing this as an old man. He is the last of the Apostles who is still alive. And he is saying that nothing about the Word of life has changed since he first met Jesus some sixty years before. It is the same Word when John was ninety as when he was thirty. It is the same message preached by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by Paul, and by the other apostles. It is the same old message of repentance, of forgiveness, of reconciliation with God, of the coming of the Kingdom. It is the old, old story.
Do you hear John's criticism of the heretics with their new truth? Heretics always have something new: some new revelation, some new vision, some new insight, some new knowledge. Not John. The Mormons have the Book of Mormon. Christian Science has the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. The JWs have the writings of Charles Russell. There are Pentecostals who claim God speak to them; I've been a pastor for forty years and God has never once spoken to me. When someone comes along and says they have a new revelation, it is not going to be new, it is not going to be true, and it is not the Word of life.
John wants us to know that the Word of life has been the same, always the same, since the beginning. It is timeless and eternal. It is "that which was from the beginning."
B Second, John emphasizes that the Word of life is real and true. Many of the stories we read to our grandkids start with "Once upon a time ..." Those words open the door into an exciting world of make-believe. Recently I started reading some science-fiction again; I have not read any since highschool. This, too, opens the door into an exciting world of make-believe. But neither children's stories nor science-fiction deal in truth. In contrast to this, in contrast to the claims of the Gnostics, what John writes is real and true.
How do we know it is real and true? This is what John says:
(1 Jn 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 ...John says he is writing as an eyewitness. There is nothing make-believe about this. It is not a fairy-tale. It is not a fable. It is truth. It is truth about Jesus, the Word of life. Remember, the Gnostics said Jesus did not really come in the flesh; it only seemed that He took on a human body. John says the Word of life is real and we perceived it with the senses. John mentions four uses of the senses -- all of them pointing to the reality of the Word of life.
First, "which we have heard." Heard. What did they hear? They heard the Word of life speak. From out of His mouth they heard sermons, commands, parables, prayers, words of compassion. John heard Him as a young man. He heard Jesus during the days of His ministry. He was there at the Last Supper, in the Garden, and at the cross. He heard Jesus after Easter's resurrection. Over and over again John heard Jesus. And, John heard everything. The whole Sermon on the Mount. All of the parables. All the teaching in the synagogues and on the hillsides and in the houses. John heard it all.
Second, "which we have seen with our eyes." Seen. The Greek word refers to the physical act of seeing. So, it is not a vision that John is talking about. He is talking about what we have seen with the eyes and not with the mind. What did they see? They saw Jesus cast out demons. He was there and saw as Jesus reached out a hand to a lame man and the lame man got up and walked. He was there and saw as Jesus touched the eyes of a blind man and the blind man could see. He was there and saw as Jesus stopped a funeral procession and raised from the dead the widow of Nain's son. He was there and saw when Jesus walked on water. He was there and saw when Jesus stopped the storm. He was there and saw when Jesus commanded demons to enter a herd of pigs. He was there and saw when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish. He was there and saw the transfiguration glory of Jesus. He saw it all.
Third, "which we have looked at." This is not a repetition of "what we have seen with our eyes." No, this means an examination, a searching gaze, an objective look, going over the evidence. We have looked closely. We have looked deeply. They looked into the person and power and nature of Christ: His power over disease, His power over death, His power over demons, His power over nature, His power over sin and forgiveness. They looked at all this, they examined all this, and they realized this was God in the flesh.
Fourth, "our hands have touched." Touched. Handled. Like a blind man feeling every bump and squiggle on a page of Braille. Listen to Jesus' invitation to the disciples in Luke 24 when they were talking and wondering about the resurrection appearances:
(Lk 24:36-39) While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." (37) They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. (38) He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? (39) Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."The disciples must have taken Jesus up on this invitation because our text says "our hands have touched." A similar invitation was given to Thomas to touch Jesus' hand and side (Jn 20:24-28).
Did you notice the pronoun John uses in our text. He doesn't say, "I": I have heard, I have seen, I have looked at, I have touched. He says, "we": we have heard, we have seen, we have looked at, our hands have touched. All of us. Together. As a group. This is the testimony, the eye-witness testimony, of all of us.
And what is the group's conclusion? When you put it all together -- what they have heard, seen, looked at, and touched -- when you put it all together the conclusion is inescapable: He is the Word of life.
I invite you, congregation, to come to the same conclusion. Realize and believe Jesus is the Word of life. Do so realizing that at stake is life and death. Those who don't believe shall perish everlastingly but those who do believe have eternal life (Jn 3:16).
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