Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sermon on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, for Pentecost, "The Holy Spirit"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about bearing witness, or “taking the stand” for Jesus, as we are called by God to testify about who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Today is Pentecost, the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Christian Church. It was the day when the apostles of Jesus first gave public witness of what they had seen of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, that one of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is also to testify or bear witness about Him. In the Gospel reading Jesus gives His disciples a preview of the coming and work of the Holy Spirit. The key work of the Spirit is to point people to Jesus. He doesn’t take the disciples in a different direction than where Jesus has led them, but continues on the same mission for which Jesus had prepared them.
If we step back a moment from this reading, we see that all three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—work in unison for this task of drawing people to Jesus. In John 6:44, Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” So we cannot come to Jesus unless the Father draws us. Then in John 12:32, describing the way in which He would die, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He draws all people to Himself. It is His saving work. And the Holy Spirit, as we just heard, testifies of Jesus, and John 14:26 also tells us the Spirit will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance Jesus’ teachings. So God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is drawing all people to Jesus Christ, that we find life in Him. So the work of the Holy Spirit is always in that larger picture of God’s total action toward humanity. And the three persons are one God, and one in unified purpose and action, directing us to salvation in Jesus. The Bible is also emphatic that all true witness and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, comes from the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ preview of the giving of the Holy Spirit, He says that Holy Spirit is going to convict the world. Convict can make you think of a courtroom sentence, or it can also make you think of bringing you to a strong awareness or agreement with something. As in forming strong convictions. The word shows up in 18 places in the New Testament, and arguably every one of them is related to showing someone their sin, with the purpose of moving them to repentance. That’s the best understanding of the word here—the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Jesus briefly explains each.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in me, Jesus says. Naturally this conviction is pointed at repentance. As the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, one of His works is to expose the lie. The devil is the father of lies, and however he can twist the truth into a lie, he will do so. If that is to ignore sin, redefine it, or even make us believe we can never be forgiven for it, the devil has a lie suited for every occasion. But the Holy Spirit speaks the Truth and leads us into that same Truth. The Spirit convicts the world of sin. But interestingly, Jesus names the definitive sin as unbelief in Him. Unbelief in God, and in Jesus Christ, whom He sent, is the root of all sin and disobedience against God. Every other sin stems from this root cause—unbelief in God. And unbelief in Jesus is really the only sin that damns. Apart from believing in Him, and having His forgiveness, we are lost.
Which leads into the second convicting work of the Holy Spirit; He convicts the world concerning righteousness. Jesus says this is because He is going to the Father and we will see Him no longer. This statement is perhaps a little more mysterious, though it clearly points to righteousness as being related to Jesus and His departure. What does the Scripture teach about righteousness in relation to Jesus?
Why does the world need to be convicted concerning righteousness? To start with, it’s that the Holy Spirit has to expose the lie of our own self-righteousness. We don’t understand what true righteousness is, unless we have the righteousness of Jesus. Many religious and non-religious people alike, are very moral, upstanding citizens. They are not tied up in crime, they may be successful and agreeable people. They may have the respect and admiration of others. But it would be another of the devil’s lies, to believe that this righteousness of our own would put us in good favor before God, or make us deserving of heaven. This would be to be saved by our good works—which is the basic assumption of virtually every world religion except for the teaching of Jesus. Jesus routinely exposed the false righteousness of the religious leaders, who supposed they had a righteousness to stand on. The Holy Spirit continues that work of exposing false righteousness and shining the spotlight on Jesus’ true righteousness.
The Bible teaches that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). It’s not our wickedness that God says is like dirty rags, but our righteous deeds. Boy, that rains a hammer blow on my pride. Romans echoes this, by saying there is no one righteous, no, not one. Not one who seeks after God. Another blow to our own righteousness. So if our righteousness, if human goodness is shot to tatters, than in whom or what can we trust?
The Bible is quick and plain to answer, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. His righteousness is perfect, intact, pure and good, and more than that, it’s freely given to all who would receive it. God lavishly clothes all of His lost children who come home to Him, in Christ’s best. He dresses us in Holy Baptism with Jesus’ righteousness to cover all our sin. So if the Spirit of Truth teaches us to reject our own righteousness as beyond repair—then He also teaches us to take the freely offered righteousness of Jesus Christ. With this we are properly clothed and will find favor to enter God’s heavenly wedding banquet.
The third work of the Holy Spirit, is that He convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Shortly before this farewell speech about the Holy Spirit to His disciples, Jesus explained this statement. He described the near hour of His death on the cross, the climax of all His saving mission. In John 12:31–32, Jesus says: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The ruler of this world is Satan, and Jesus was judging him and casting him out. Jesus’ death on the cross would topple the devil’s lies, and answer all his accusations against our sin, by suffering our full penalty on the cross. The Holy Spirit continues to testify of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. The Holy Spirit testifies to the world that Jesus’ judgment over the ruler of this world has triumphed. The devil’s everlasting sentence is the lake of fire. His chief remaining ploy is to try to turn people away from Jesus, and create the sin of unbelief. But his fate is sealed, he is judged.
The Holy Spirit gives us the truth to combat the lie. He points us to Jesus, who has defeated the father of lies, the devil. He fastens the belt of truth around us, and arms us with the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness. With the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit equips us to stand firm in the evil day, and stand against the schemes of the devil.
Today is the day of Pentecost, when this Holy Spirit was first poured out in new measure on the disciples of Jesus. The same gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out on us in the waters of Baptism, and is active in the preaching of Christ’s word, which generates faith in us. We daily pray for the activity and strength of the Holy Spirit within us, and seek that gift in the study of God’s Word, in the receiving of His gifts, and through fervent prayer. With His Spirit, we can boldly witness of Jesus—telling what He has done for us. We do not have to fear the devil’s growl, because we know that Jesus has conquered Him. And we can accomplish mighty things for Jesus’ kingdom, by the One who lives and moves in us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1.  The word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit, translated “Helper” in the ESV, comes from the Greek word paraclete, which is also sometimes translated “Comforter,” “Advocate”, or “Counselor”. How do these words help capture the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s work? John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:6-15.
    2. Why would Jesus’ departure bring sorrow, but still be for their own good? John 16:5-7.
    3. The Holy Spirit’s work is described as convicting. The word here can mean “convict, convince, or reprove.” How will the Holy Spirit do this work concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment? See 8:24, 46; Acts 17:31; John 12:31.
    4. v. 12-15—Why might the disciples have not been ready for further teaching at this point? Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Does the Holy Spirit teach a novel or different message than what Jesus taught? Rather, whose authority and teaching does He bring to bear? How are we warned to respond to those who claim to have a novel teaching “revealed to them” by or in the Spirit? 1 John 4:1-6;  On whom does He focus His spotlight? John 15:26.
    5. Since the Holy Spirit directs us to Jesus, how does that effect the shape of our Christian spirituality? Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Hebrews 12:2.

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
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

    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?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sermon on 1 John 5:1-8, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Mother's Day, "Faith in Jesus is Victory!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we’ve been reading through the book of 1 John these past weeks in church, the themes of faith and love have echoed again and again. Last week it was about hearing God’s Word of Truth and believing and confessing Jesus in the flesh. It was about God’s first-love coming to us, and producing love in us in return. Building on that same thought, that faith and love are inseparable, today we hear in 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him.”
This is family-talk. It’s saying that we are children of God, born of God because we’re believers in Jesus Christ. As part of God’s family we love both our heavenly Father and other believers born of Him as well. Church, your fellow Christians, is your family. Even if your natural family is no longer living or is far from you, your fellow believers are God’s family to you. Christianity is about community and God’s family, not isolation.
Love for family is instinctive in our natural families, as a child naturally clings to its mother and father who gave it life. A child instantly trusts and recognizes its mother from birth—the sound of her voice, her heart, and her smell. A child looks to mommy and daddy to receive love, protection, food, and nurture. And parents instinctively love their children. Today is a day to celebrate and give thanks for that earthly love of our mothers. So for all those who are blessed this day, to have had a loving mother—thank God for her, whether she is living or dead—and if she is still alive, thank her yourself, and show your appreciation. If your mother raised and nurtured you in the Christian faith—all the more reason to give thanks. It’s also a day for Christian mothers and fathers to recommit to doing all we can by God’s love, to create and maintain loving earthly families and children.
It’s a sad fact that not all have had loving mothers or caring fathers. Family is separated for various reasons, or parents have turned from their children, or there was no love in the family. Absent parents or abuse or illness or death may have devastated relationships that should have been loving and close. Sin is relentless in destroying families in countless ways. But even for those who missed the love of a father or a mother in this life—all who believe in Jesus Christ have a new birth into the family of God—and we have Christ Jesus as our true brother and friend. And God our Heavenly Father is not an absentee, but He loves us, disciplines us, cares for us and knows our needs even before we can ask, and who hears our prayers. And to love God our Father and our brothers and sisters in Christ—is more than mere instinct—it’s ingrained in our very reborn nature. Love for God and love for neighbor is part and parcel of the new person you are in Christ Jesus. This love moves us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness within our Christian family, whenever we have wronged others or been wronged. We live in forgiveness.
1 John 5:2–3 continues, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. How do Christians know they are children of God, and not of the world? When we love God and obey His commandments! This is like standing in front of a mirror, and seeing who we are. Now under the law, we stand in front of that mirror and what we see is our sin, like chapter 1 says—“if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”. But once we have been made children of God, and are under the Gospel, we stand in front of that mirror and we see the new child of God that we have become in Christ Jesus! Love toward God and neighbor defines us. Obedience to God’s commands is the natural fruit of who we are. And it says “His commandments are not burdensome.
When we hear God’s commands, do they seem burdensome or light? Well, are we thinking in the old way of our sinful nature, or thinking in the new way of the child of God? Our old, sinful nature is cantankerous and loves to complain—it is rebellious and doesn’t listen to God’s law. To the old sinful man, the law brings death. But to the new child of God, we are set free from the burdensome guilt and accusations of the law. All our sins have been forgiven, and we are free to obey Jesus’ two greatest commands—to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said (Matthew 11:28–30) , “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus has traded burdens with us. He took on the heavy burdens of our sin and the law’s exacting demands, and He gives us a light and easy burden, and rest for our souls. To follow Jesus is not to be crushed for our disobedience, but forgiven and strengthened for our obedience.
So how do you start to think that way? We may begin by meditating positively on God’s law, like the Psalmist teaches throughout Psalm 119. To find joy, delight, and life in the law and teachings of God. To reflect on why His commands are good and lead us in the right path. Meditate on what is the purpose for God’s commands and His design for life? What is the good that He would have me do for my neighbor, and how can I find joy in that? What is the joy and reward in secret acts of charity and kindness, as Jesus taught? What blessings does God give when we make good choices to live according to His plan and design, revealed in His Word?
1 John 5:4–5 goes on, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” These verses speak of the victory that children of God have over the world. The world here means the sinful world, in its opposition to God. And our victory is our faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Faith is always bound together with its object. Faith or trust that is pointed at something earthly, error-prone, false, or weak—is a faith that is bound to be duped, disappointed, or defeated. But faith or trust that is pointed to the True God, Jesus Christ—this faith seizes eternal life, as God’s free promise. This is a faith that knows the truth, is not disappointed, but lives in constant hope and victory. The victory in Jesus Christ. He defeated sin’s power for us. He rose from death and the grave for us. He chains and restrains the power of the devil, who would devour us if we’re careless.
Since faith in Jesus is our victory over the world, that means we must resist defeatism. There is a real temptation we feel as Christians, to despair of the way things are going in the world—that it’s “going to hell in a handbasket”—and to lose hope. Or our own lives seem like a series of defeats. But “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” God has assured us of victory, He has won it Himself. Therefore, we are to face up to the challenges and trials of this world and life, confident that God not only is able to win, but has won. Not everything is going to follow a straight, upward trajectory that convinces us of that.  
So why is “faith” our victory? Why not sight? Because we still live in the midst of an ongoing spiritual battle, and faith is being sure of the things we hope for, and certain of that which we do not see (Heb. 11:1). With earthly eyes, or with the mind of our old sinful nature, we may see defeat around us. Paul wrote about our outer nature wasting away. Aging, illness, death, struggles. The external evidence seems to point toward defeat. But Paul also wrote that our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). We live by faith, and not by sight. “God gave us a “spirit, not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Our victory is one that we know and confess by faith in Jesus Christ, because “we know that Christ is raised and dies no more. Embraced by death, He broke its fearful hold, and our despair He turned to blazing joy!” (LSB 603). Our victory stakes everything on Jesus Christ.
Now, lest anyone would think that John is spiritualizing Christianity, by saying that faith, not sight is our victory—or that he would mean that this physical world is nothing, and all that matters is getting past the physical and getting behind it to a non-material world—John rejects this in the clearest terms. The closing verses of our reading solidify the truth that God made a physical world that we are inseparably a part of, and that He redeemed the physical world, and the future resurrection will also be physical and with flesh and bones. Who is this Jesus who saved us, and who is our victory?
1 John 5:6–8 concludes: “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” A faith that is spirit only, or that is mere philosophy and idealism, might have no use for the body or the material world. But Christianity is decidedly a faith about the real world—Jesus came by water and blood. Two of the most vital substances for life—water and blood. Earthly, physical, tangible, real. But what does it mean that Jesus came not by water only, but by the water and the blood, and that the Spirit testifies? John is merely restating what he had written in His Gospel, years before, when he was describing his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ death.
John 19:33–35 “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” Jesus was no spirit or angel, but a flesh and blood human, who died on the cross, was pierced by the spear, and blood and water flowed from His side—giving final testimony that He was dead. But this same Jesus, who died on the cross, was alive again three days later—not as a ghost—but as an eating, drinking, walking, talking, living human being again. But One over whom death had no more power. This Jesus, alive from His grave, who met with, ate with, and talked with His disciples, is our confidence of victory over the world. Faith in Him is well-placed, because no one else can defeat death as He did. Believe in Him, and the same victory is ours.
God has a purpose and a reason for His children to live here on earth, after Jesus has risen from the dead, and gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. His purpose is to have us join Him in bringing new people into His family by faith. His purpose is for us to live in His victory by faith, and to live toward our neighbors in love. That His love would shine through our actions and give glory to Him. His purpose is for us to grow and mature as His children, bearing our crosses, following Jesus, and singing His praise and thanks, with our eyes set on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.