Monday, May 18, 2015

Sermon on 1 John 5:9-15, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Confirmation Sunday, "Take the Stand"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today the youth of our congregation are called to testify—to declare their testimony before God and before us. When someone is “called to testify”, we usually think of a witness in a courtroom. They are asked to speak about what they’ve seen. To be a witness, or give testimony, meant the same in Bible times. John writes his letter with this strong opening and conclusion, testifying about what he and others saw with their very own eyes—concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection—and how God Himself gave witness to about His Son. It’s a little tricky that in English we have several words for the same idea, but to bear witness or give testimony, to testify, all mean the same thing. It’s speaking out about what you see or know.
Our youth will (have) testify about their faith—declaring to you that the Christian faith in which they were baptized is their faith today. Each of us as Christians may at any time in our life, be called upon to do the same. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in whom we have eternal life? So there is a public sense to giving witness—as the Scriptures say, “I believe, therefore I spoke” or “with the heart one believes and is justified, but with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Faith in the heart bears fruit in loving actions, as we talked about the last weeks. But faith in the heart also bears fruit in the confession of our faith with our lips. We must also guard against contradiction or hypocrisy, between the words of our lips and our actions. While sin and temptation face us daily, we must daily take those sins back to Jesus’ cross in humble repentance, seeking His promised forgiveness.
John makes the case in today’s reading that people in the world accept the testimony of men readily enough. We all have a sense of whose testimony we trust or don’t trust. We see a prominent court case on TV and form opinions about witnesses. We watch a movie and see court scenes with witnesses that take the stand, and we love them or “hate” them based on whether we think they are sincere and honest or whether we can sympathize with them. Or if they seem deceitful, dishonest, callous or corrupt. Many people sense whether they are being told the truth or not, and we can identify when a person seems particularly trustworthy and honest. It would be impossible for a person to be skeptical and distrustful at every step of the way, and to disbelieve everyone. No one could operate that way without succumbing to total paranoia and isolation. In order for us to even learn anything, we have to, to some extent or another, accept the testimony of other people, provided it passes the tests of credibility.
So if we follow John’s argument—“if we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” It’s a simple argument from the lesser to the greater. If you accept the lesser testimony of men, why not the greater testimony of God? Logically, God’s testimony must be greater—as God, His testimony must be unimpeachable. Who could counter God’s testimony, and have ground to stand on? 1 John 5:10 says, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.” If we don’t believe God, we have made Him a liar. John says it bluntly. But what else could it mean if we don’t believe God? Do we know better than God? Do we have a better understanding of the universe or of life? Do we have grounds to question the One who created and made all things? If we think so, we are making ourselves to be gods, and making God out to be a liar.
If it doesn’t work in everyday life to live as a total skeptic and disbeliever of whatever anyone else says—then should it to work with matters of greater importance, such as dealing with God? We should have a healthy sort of skepticism, towards the limits of our own knowledge and power, and towards untrustworthy and foolish ideas. But on the other hand, we cannot be endlessly skeptical. We should recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. Similarly do we take God’s Word at face value for what it teaches us, and trust that God has insight and knowledge that far surpasses anything we know? Do we believe God’s testimony, in His Word?
If we accept in principle, that God’s testimony must be greater than man’s, by definition—then we have to ask what is God’s testimony, and how do we recognize it? 1 John 5:11–12 continues, “And this is the testimony, 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.” The content of God’s testimony, of His message to us, is straightforward—“God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” No one needs compelling evidence to convince them that we must all die one day. We see death all around us. Our mortal bodies sometimes last 70, 80, or occasionally past 100 years, if we’re healthy and blessed. But what lies beyond death goes outside of our knowledge. We can’t know this by ourselves. We have to rely on God’s testimony if we are to know anything beyond this life. So God’s testimony is that He gives eternal life in His Son. It centers around Jesus Christ.
So how are we to recognize this testimony? What did God “testify” about eternal life in His Son? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the evidence, plain and simple. Everything hinges on that. Your belief or unbelief in God’s testimony rests, in large part, if not in whole, on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. Last week’s passage and sermon, we heard about the water and blood that ran from Jesus’ side, testifying that Jesus was a real, flesh and blood human that actually died on the cross. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is God’s witness that Jesus has conquered death, and that He is truly God’s Son. It’s the testimony that cleared and validated Jesus’ own claims about who He was. Had Jesus died and remained dead, that would have convicted Him of the charge of blasphemy. If He never rose, it would have proved He was not the Son of God. But because He rose from the grave; because He lives again, this is God’s testimony that Jesus is who He said. He is God’s Son. God cleared Jesus’ name.
In His own ministry, Jesus spoke about the various witnesses that spoke about Him. He began with a man—John the Baptist—who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus escalated from John to the greater witness of God—that God had given Jesus works or miracles to perform in His name, as confirming signs that He was from God. These miracles testified that Jesus was sent from God. Lastly, Jesus mentions God’s own Word, the Bible, and His own Word, as bearing witness about Him. Jesus urged the people to search the Scriptures and believe that they testify about Him.
So taking the witness stand for Jesus, we’ve counted the water and blood as signs of His death. The Spirit as the Truth testifies and convicts our hearts. The works or miracles of Jesus. God’s Word that promised a Savior, and Jesus’ Word that matched that testimony. We have not even mentioned the apostles who testified that they saw Jesus after His resurrection; or the 500 disciples who saw Jesus at one time, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. Or the skeptics turned believers—Jesus’ brother James, and Saul, the persecutor of the early Christians, who became the apostle Paul. We have not mentioned the voice of God that spoke at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Or the voice of God at Jesus’ transfiguration. All of these witnesses take the stand for Jesus, and many of the of the human eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection did just that—and some died for their testimony—martyrs.
To be called to testify is a great honor. To testify in human courts is a solemn responsibility, and the courts do not take lying on the stand lightly. How much greater to testify before God! But “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” If people are nervous to testify in human courts, it won’t surprise you that we get nervous to testify about God. But the Holy Spirit has given us this testimony in ourselves, since we believe! This is why Jesus could tell His once-timid disciples, not to be afraid to testify of Him, but that the Holy Spirit was with them and would give them the words to speak when the time came. Remember last week? Our victory over the world is our faith in Jesus, the Son of God.
Since Jesus rose from death, we are filled with His new life and Spirit. The boldness and spirit we have is His, and gives us confidence to face our struggles and opposition to His name. Ours is the spirit of power, love, and self-control—not the spirit of fear. Pray for God’s boldness, and be confident that God wills to work it in you! These youth today give their testimony—which is really to repeat and affirm God’s own testimony that He has given us eternal life in His Son. We will be called upon in our everyday life to testify the same. That this faith in Jesus as Risen Lord and Savior is our faith as well. That death is not the end, and that God has opened the Way into eternal Life in Jesus. Whether someone accepts or rejects our testimony is up to them, but it is through God’s spoken Word, even when spoken by us, that His kingdom grows. It grows when we hear the testimony of God and believe in the Son of God. And so we have eternal life.
People can weigh in with their arm-chair opinion on all sorts of cases in the news, or in our own lives. But none of those impact us the way that this “case” does. The case for Jesus Christ, or the case for faith in Him, are questions that impact our eternity. They are questions that wrestle with the deepest questions of the meaning of life, about God, and if there is life after death. This is a case that demands our verdict. A case where we are called to testify. A case where we cannot stand by the sidelines and do nothing. So give witness boldly to the One who gives us life! Give witness to Jesus, who saves us from sin and the grave. In Him we have life, and have it to the full! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. John opens and closes the letter of 1 John by talking about testimony or witness. What was he eyewitness of, in 1 John 1:1-4? What was the goal of his witness (vs. 4)? What testimonies are described in 1 John 5:6-12? What was the goal of these witnesses (vs. 13)?
    2. How do the scriptures speak of witness as a public action? 2 Corinthians 4:13; Romans 10:10; Matthew 10:32-33
    3. In what ways do we regularly accept the testimony of other people? What process do we go through in evaluating their reliability? What would happen if we didn’t believe anybody?
    4. Why is God’s testimony greater? What does it mean if we reject God’s testimony? 1 John 5:10. Why do you think people have a hard time accepting God’s testimony?
    5. What is a helpful kind of skepticism to have?
    6. What is the content of God’s testimony? 1 John 5:11-12. We don’t need any convincing about whether or not we are going to die. But what is the evidence that convinces us there is life after death? 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.
    7. How does Jesus’ resurrection testify about Him? How does it “clear His name?” What other witnesses are there to Jesus? John 5:30-47; 15:26-27; 16:7-15.
    8. How does the Holy Spirit enable and give courage to our witness? 1 John 5:10a; John 15:26-27; Mark 13:11.
    9. Why is this “case for Christ” or “case for faith in Him”, something that we cannot passively sit by and watch? Why must we testify and give answer? What is at stake?

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