Sermon on 1 John 3:16-24, for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2021 (B), "Resurrection Love"
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! This Easter season we’re looking at resurrection themes in 1 John. Today John shows us what resurrection love looks like in the life of a believer. Resurrection love is sacrificial, open hearted, and generous to those who are in need. Resurrection love is for action and deeds not just word or speech. Our heart is the battleground between this resurrection love of Jesus Christ and the way of darkness, sin, and death. This “worldliness” tries to squeeze Christ’s resurrection love and truth from our hearts. Jesus’ death and resurrection stirs resurrection love in our hearts, to love as God first loved us.
V. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Resurrection loves knows Jesus, and how He lived and died for us. He laid down His life for us because He loves us. His love is resurrection love because He confidently laid down His life in the knowledge that He would take it up again. This is the miracle and drama of His death for our sins and resurrection. Christ creates resurrection love in our hearts, to boldly love the same way, as we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
Don’t miss the difference—you can’t lay your lives down for anyone’s sin. Jesus has already completed that. We’ve no authority to take up our lives again either. So, what are we doing? How can we love sacrificially, to the point of laying down our lives for our brothers? Isn’t that reckless? How can we afford to live sacrificially? Isn’t there too much to lose? Because we live in the confidence that death is not the end, this life is not all there is, and when we lay down our lives, Jesus does have the authority to take our lives up again…and will! The resurrection love of Jesus empowers us to live sacrificially because we don’t operate by what we’ve got to lose, but how we can live sacrificially so others might gain from our love. Resurrection love is bigger than death because it lives in Jesus.
By contrast, without the resurrection, we’re trapped by worldliness and living only for self. If this life is all there is and all I have, I better not risk it on anyone else. Just me, myself, and I; you’re not my concern. Hearts without the resurrection of Jesus can be ruled by dread of death or a self-preservation instinct that closes our hearts our neighbor’s need.
That’s where John goes next, in v. 17, But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Resurrection love is open-hearted and generous. God’s resurrection love dwells in our hearts, warming us to the needs of our neighbor, living sacrificially for the needy. Without resurrection love, our hearts are cold and closed to our neighbor’s need. God’s love gets squeezed out. What closes our hearts against our neighbor?
Being cynical about poverty is one big squeeze against God’s love. You might think poverty can never change, or the poor will never change. So why help? But objectively, measurably, this isn’t true! Yes, there will always be some measure of poverty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change! Do you think the problem of poverty has gotten better or worse in the last 30 years? How about the last 200? Atheist Steven Pinker gives some interesting facts for us to consider. Today, 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty. Obviously, more in some countries than others. But 1 in 10 people live in extreme poverty today. What percent do you think lived in extreme poverty 30 years ago? 37%! Almost four times as many, just 30 years ago! What about 200 years ago? Have a guess? 90%, or 9 in 10 people lived in extreme poverty 200 years ago! Factually, we shouldn’t be pessimistic about the opportunity to lift people out of poverty. It’s been happening dramatically over the last 200 years!
But even if the facts were not so dramatically optimistic—even if things got dramatically worse—Christians with the resurrection love of Jesus in our hearts cannot help but be open-hearted and generous to those in need. To live sacrificially to uplift of others, and not selfishly only for our own needs. Even if there were no evidence that poverty was changing or could change, we would still love our neighbor as ourselves. Because Jesus’ resurrection love battles sin and darkness and the despair and hopelessness that threaten to swallow the needy. We would still bring them Christ’s light and love regardless. His resurrection love can transform every situation, even when earthly needs remain.
John’s next description of resurrection love is v. 18, Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Resurrection love is not empty words, but concrete action. With Jesus’ resurrection in our hearts, we can’t stop at mouthing words, but have to help our neighbor in action. It can’t end with a sermon and an “Amen!” Giving to the poor, supporting charities, contributing to the work of the church, lending a helping hand when we don’t have money to help, or volunteering for a good cause. There are many ways for good intentions to turn into good actions. But they all need action, not just talk. There’s plenty of room for creativity, and it doesn’t have to be a solo effort! Great organizations are already doing good work in the community, and Emmanuel has many great charitable ministry friends in our community like Malama Pregnancy Center, Wailuku Union Food Pantry, Maui Rescue Mission, Women Helping Women, and others.
A few more facts about charity. A worldwide study of 126 nations over ten-years found that the USA was consistently the most charitable country in the world. But charitable giving is also on a downward trend in the US since 2014. Other studies have shown that the poorest people tend to give the biggest portion of their income to help others, mirroring what Jesus saw with the widow giving her mites. Those closest to the need often respond most compassionately. Most importantly, however, is not how well we show up in statistics or public opinion, but the actual flesh and blood, concrete ways we show resurrection love however we can.
After describing resurrection love as sacrificial, open-hearted and generous, and being a matter of actions and not mere words, John shows us that the heart is the battleground for God’s truth. Worldliness squeezes us into narrow, selfish, closed thinking that only sees this life’s horizons and how to protect me, myself, and my worldly goods. Resurrection life propels us into the bold and risky business of loving our neighbor sacrificially. Our heart is the battleground of this contest. Are we rooted in God’s love, forgiveness, and His resurrection for us? Does that fill us with enough richness to take a risk? Or have we become close-hearted, selfish, guilty, or condemned by our own heart, seeing how we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Have my material needs squeezed me into seeing only my goods, not God’s riches? The heart has a lot to sort out when we contemplate the working out of resurrection love in our own lives.
So, let’s look at how the heart cries for this reassurance before God, the reassurance of a clean conscience. Listen again to the last chunk of the reading:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Notice a few things. There is a knowledge that reassures our heart and a guilt that condemns it. But God is greater than our heart and we confidently approach Him in prayer through Jesus. Our heart is the battleground between God’s truth and worldliness. Will our heart and actions be ruled by resurrection love?
God gets the final say. The truth that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything, overrules even the messages our heart tells us. Our heart can speak truthfully, when we live in the truth and when the Spirit is speaking in our hearts. Our heart speaks truthfully when it calls out our sin and calls us to repent before God. On the other hand, our heart can be plain deceptive, fearful, angry, anxious, defensive, or false in many ways, when worldliness rules our heart and actions. But God overrules all that our heart may say, because He is greater than our hearts—only in agreement with Him can our heart speak genuine reassurance. When our heart speaks falsely, or in disagreement with God, then it is unreliable and supplies false and deadly reassurances. When our heart is humble, repentant, and faithful, it is reassured by His forgiveness.
So how can we align our heart’s speech with God’s truth? If we have been following John’s message so far, in chapter 1 and 2 we understand we have to be truthful about our own sin and confess it to God. Wage war on your sin; don’t aid and abet it. Repent daily. Secondly, John invites us to a boldness and confidence to approach God’s throne of grace through Jesus Christ, who paid for all of our sins. John says, Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him…if that seems too daring or bold, we remember that it’s Jesus’ sacrificial resurrection love that gives this bold access to God’s throne of grace. A heart aligned to God’s truth—knowing our sin, confessing it and being cleansed by Jesus’ blood—such a heart is free to approach God boldly in prayer.
Jesus’ resurrection love gives us our new heart, already directing us to keep God’s commandments and please Him. Probably our steps are stumbling and halting. Probably our heart must overcome its guilt and fear by turning again and again to Jesus’ forgiving blood. Probably we need to reexamine how much worldliness we have absorbed consciously and unconsciously from our education, entertainment, media, and culture. Where have I let worldliness edge out God’s commandments? Where have I redefined God’s love to worldly love, to suit my convenience or my sinful behaviors. We’re in the battle to keep our heart and conscience clean, where Christ’s resurrection love reigns. This is the heart that pumps to get us into action.
Once more, resurrection love is sacrificial, it’s open-hearted and generous. It gets going in concrete action. And that resurrection love is pumping from a new heart given to us by Jesus. His death for our sins and victory over death give us the freedom to live boldly for Him and compassionately for others. Having a closed, compassionless heart is not an option. Putting our old sinful nature daily to death is the way forward, and God answers our confession and prayer with the gift of a clean conscience; a forgiven, clean heart, that is ready to love others as He has first loved, and always loves us, in Jesus’ Name. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!