Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sermon on 1 John 5:9-15 for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "This is the Testimony"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we have the privilege (in our 2nd service) of seeing two of our youth take a significant step of maturity in their Christian walk. They have undergone instruction in the Christian faith, and will publicly confess that this faith that the church confesses is their faith also. They’re embracing and confessing the faith into which they were baptized. As I preach on the text from 1 John today, I want you to recall your own baptism and confirmation, or if you were received into faith as an adult, to remember your baptism and profession of faith. As you remember these things, consider your new identity in Christ, and how He’s called you to use the gifts He’s granted to you. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our reading today centers around the word “testimony.” The first verse reads: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” The word “testimony” is a common word in churches today, but it isn’t often used in the Biblical sense of the word, or as it’s used here. John talks about two kinds of testimony: the testimony of men and the testimony of God. The “testimony” that we often hear of in Christian churches, is really the testimony of men. Usually the kind of testimony that we hear about in churches today is better described as our personal biographies. There is nothing wrong with this testimony of men, provided it is honest and true, and it does often give encouragement and conviction to fellow Christians to hear how God has been working in other peoples’ lives. But Christian testimony, in the Biblical sense, is really the second one that John talks about—the greater testimony—the testimony of God. Throughout the New Testament, when it talks about Christians testifying or giving witness, it isn’t about them, it’s about God. When we’re talking about our Christian testimony or witness, we should really use the word “testimony” to describe the greater testimony of God.

Why? What does testimony mean anyway? Testimony is usually someone’s eyewitness of some actions or events, that they tell to someone else. Say for example I witnessed a robbery at a convenience store. If the police or court would call me to testify, I would describe to them the time, the location, a description of the persons involved, and the sequence of events as I saw them as an eyewitness. My account of what I witnessed would be a testimony. The Greek word for testimony in this passage is “marturia.” You may hear the word “martyr” in there. The word martyr simply means “witness.” That is what the first Christian martyrs were—they were witnesses—often even eyewitnesses, of Jesus and His resurrection. Their testimony was the testimony of God—the witness of the actions and events of Jesus’ life. They bore witness to what they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, what they touched and felt with their own hands. Since many of them were killed for this testimony of God that they bore, the word “martyr” grew to be connected with the idea of dying for one’s testimony of faith.

So what’s the use of talking about this today? Do we really face death for what we believe, like the early apostles did? Well, it might surprise you that the number of Christian martyrs who’ve died for the faith in the past century surpasses the total of all those who’ve died in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history. (Give statistics or story from VoM). The reason we talk about it though—whether or not you or I, or even our confirmands are in direct danger of persecution for the faith—the reason is that this testimony of God is worth dying for. You’ll notice in our order of confirmation, that one of the questions we ask is, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” Why is this question there? Because when we make this testimony of God, this confession of faith our own—we’ll have the devil and the world as our enemies. But we know that the testimony of God is worth infinitely more than the pleasure and approval of the world. That trials, persecutions, hatred, and even death are a small price to pay in comparison with the greatness of what God gives to us through His testimony. So it’d be better to die than to lose this testimony of God, or to deny it. For to lose it’d be far worse than death.

The church has been given this testimony of God—it’s the faith that we confess in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins and salvation. The church has been given this testimony to speak and to proclaim to all people—and because this is our testimony, we call these youth today to make that good confession of faith. The same testimony that we confess, and the testimony that has been handed down from the ancient days of the apostles. We stand in the receiving end of a great ancestry of Christian believers who’ve passed on this testimony from age to age, the unwavering conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the testimony of His Words and deeds accomplished for our salvation. Even further back than the apostles, to the Old Testament believers from David, to Moses, to Abraham, to Adam and Eve…all who believed in the promised Son of God, and so had this testimony in themselves. Now we, as Jesus’ disciples, and these youth, Abigayle and Annika, carry that testimony forward to the next generation. We are like runners in a long race that are passing the baton, or passing the torch, like runners in the Olympics. We’re all running in this race together, and we pass on this same testimony of God.

But unlike an Olympic relay race, we don’t hand off this testimony and step to the sidelines while someone else runs. It’s more like our testimony ignites someone else’s torch, and we all keep running, carrying the Gospel light. We see people on the sidelines who aren’t in the race, and we ignite their torch with the testimony of God, and call them to run in this race. We all run for the finish line together, a living mass of bodies striving for one goal—as one body—the body of Christ. Carrying the injured, bearing one another’s burdens, running toward that upward goal. It’s a real “Run to the Son!” So as these confirmands pick up speed in their run, confirmation is not the end of their instruction, but only the beginning. The same for us. At whatever stage in life we publicly stood up and were counted, and made the good confession of faith—this wasn’t a signal that we’d completed our study as Christians, or that we’d graduated from learning the faith. Rather we signal that we’ve embraced the testimony of God as our own testimony—that by believing in the Son of God, we’ve got this testimony in ourselves. That our eyes are fixed on Jesus, and we’re training and pushing ourselves to the max.

So if you’ve started to stagger in the race, or if you’ve started to head for the sidelines and figured that it’s someone else’s race, or if you feel that you’re already done—wake up! Come to attention and see that your race is not yet over! Wherever you are in life, whatever your plans or talents, God still has a use for you, no matter how great or small. Everyone of us should be active in regular study of God’s Word and the frequent participation in God’s Word and Sacraments—Baptism and Communion. Can you imagine runners in a marathon not drinking to stay hydrated, or not energizing their body with food before or during the race? If we were that careless with our spiritual nature, we shouldn’t be surprised if we collapse in the race or feel like giving up. What if the race of life is longer than a marathon? Could we survive it and still compete if we stopped drinking from Christ, the Living Water, or stopped feeding on Him, the Bread of Life? Of course not!

So we really need to look closer at what this testimony of God is, and why it’s so superior to the testimony of man. “This is the testimony,” says John, “that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” So when we ask the question again: “What is Christian testimony?” The answer is not about us—it is for us. The testimony is that God gave us eternal life in His Son. God’s testimony is unassailable. He is truthful in every respect, trustworthy and sure, and His testimony is about His Son. God testifies concerning the most important matter for our human interest. Through knowledge of Jesus comes salvation, and through Him we have life. Christian testimony is always and ever about Jesus. He’s the One about whom we testify, He’s the One about whom the church that runs down through the ages testifies, He’s the One about whom our confirmands today testify. Today I ask you that you join them in confessing this faith, and renew your passion for this testimony of God. That together we’d see in Christ the One who’s worthy of our worship and our trust. That we’d see this as a testimony worth dying for, that we’d suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.

Because our Lord Christ suffered all, even death for us, so that He could give us eternal life. The Christian testimony about Christ is that He “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 at the right hand of the Father.” The apostles and early disciples were the first eyewitnesses of these things, and this testimony is now ours as well. We are witnesses, and may even one day be martyrs for the faith. We’ve heard and believed that Jesus entered the world as God’s only Son, that He faced off against the powers of sin, death, and the devil, and that in a glorious battle He died on the cross in victory. The first eyewitnesses saw His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection which gives us eternal life. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Jesus did this all for us. This is most certainly true. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:

1. When were you baptized, as a child or an adult? When did you make profession of your faith, either in confirmation or as an adult? What did this mean for your life as a Christian?
2. What is Christian testimony? How is the testimony of man different from the superior testimony of God? Reread 1 John 5
3. What does the Scripture say the testimony of God is? What is a martyr? (ex. Acts 7-8)
4. Why is the testimony of God (our confession of faith) worth dying for? How have Christians given their lives in the past?
5. How does the church pass on this testimony, and how is it like running the race of faith together? What gives us the strength to keep on in this race? 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8
6. What is the testimony about Christ, and how does it give life?
7. Who is someone you can bring the testimony of God to?

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