Sunday, 29 March 2015

Why I pity those who have everything (1 John 1:1-4)

On a warm sunny day you walk up the driveway towards a beautiful house.  A friendly dog greets you.  Two luxury cars sit in front of a double garage.  The door is opened by an attractive woman, who is soon joined by her equally charming husband. The three of you talk over coffee, with ease—these people enjoy each other’s company.  They tell you of their rewarding careers, their happy family, their many interests and their great holidays.  It seems like they have it all!

But your heart should break for them.  For the one thing that they are missing means everything.  You see, they have no interest in Jesus.  It’s not like they are hostile to church—they support their local church whenever it holds its flower-festival.  They just aren’t convinced that Jesus is who the Bible says he is (not that they have ever read the Bible), and they don’t see why they would need to know him.
But the problem is, you don’t pity them.  It doesn’t seem, to you, that they’re missing out.  It doesn’t feel like your life is more blessed than theirs.  It doesn’t feel like your riches in Christ outweigh their riches in the world.  And the reason for this is that your faith isn’t giving us the joy that it promised.  Without joy, it seems that they, rather than you, are living life in all its fullness.  Joy is the key to realising how blessed the Christian is in this world.
Let me tell you what joy is!  Joy is more than happiness.  Joy is built on a deep confidence that all is well between ourselves and God.  Joy is rooted in an assurance of God’s love.  Christian joy is something that can be present in the midst of real sorrow, grief and depression. 
Have you ever lost your joy?  I have, at times.  Have you ever struggled with doubts or been haunted by past failures?  I have, at times.  Have you ever wondered if this Christian thing is real, or if you are really a Christian?  Then the first letter of John is for you!  This letter help restore our joy.  Then we will see that our riches in Christ outweigh anything else that we could want in the world.
  1. We can be certain that we know the historical Jesus (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 – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.’

Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men to walk on the moon said, “That man should walk on the moon is interesting, but that God should walk upon the earth ... well that’s important!”  John begins this letter with the incarnation (the Son of God taking on flesh and becoming a man), because false-teachers had upset his readers by distorting this truth.

We can be certain because John writes as an eyewitness to this truth.  John knew what sort of man Jesus was.  John heard the things he said.  John even witnessed Jesus after he had risen from the dead.
I have an atheist friend who claims that faith is opposed to reason.  But when I started taking Christianity seriously, I was encouraged to examine the manuscript evidence for the New Testament.  These documents include, eye-witnesses like John, whose authenticity is revealed in the fact that that they deserted Jesus in his time of need, and yet were willing to give their lives telling people that he is now alive.
People might be able to find joy in believing a myth, but our joy is based on facts.
2.   We can be certain about the meaning of life (2)

Many people around us seem to get on just fine without Jesus.  They appear to live happy, contended and prosperous lives.  We may even envy some of them.  Yet the Bible says that they are actually out of touch with the meaning and purpose of life—that, despite appearances, they don’t know life in all its fullness!
‘The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.’
Living life without Jesus is like watching a movie without the main character in it—it just doesn’t make sense.  Yet, tragically, many people don’t want to become followers of Jesus because they think the cost of being a disciple is too high.  They don’t want to be considered a ‘Jesus-freak’, because the fear people rather than fearing God.  Some don’t want to really follow Jesus because they don’t want to let go of their bitterness—they know that the Bible teaches that we must forgive, if we are to be forgiven.  Or they hear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God, but they will not stop sleeping with someone they are not married to.
Look at what is on offer!  We can know that we are forgiven.  We can know this because, as Wynn posted on her Facebook page this week, ‘if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’
Apparently, the Greek word translated ‘Father’, in verse two of our reading, is one of the most intimate words in the Bible.  It captures the idea of being ‘face to face’ right up close with the Father.   So we can know that God watches over us with rejoicing and that nothing will remove us from his grip that God will keep us in the grip of his love, because gentle and strong fathers always seek to cherish and protect their children.

Christianity offers so much more than popularity or bitterness or sex or anything else in life.  C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’
3.  We can be certain that we were made for fellowship (3)

Commenting on verse 3 one study Bible says, ‘John is moved to proclaim what he has witnessed . . . The purpose of this proclamation is not just forgiveness of people’s sins (as a simplified view of evangelism would have it) but is far richer, for the gospel binds together those who receive it: so that you too may have fellowship with us.  Yet the purpose is still richer than mere human fellowship, for believer’s fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.  Such “fellowship” is personal communion with the Father made possible by the mediation of the Son’ (ESV Study Bible).
‘We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’
What do you think our primary purpose as a Christian is?   What is our main job as Christians? What you believe our central calling?  Our primary calling as Christians is to live face to face with God.  Everything we do is to flow out of our relationship with him.  Intimacy with God is to be top of our priorities.  I am talking about more than feelings here—some people are wired more emotionally than others.  I am talking about the sort of relationship that demonstrates itself in a changed life.
I don’t want to set out rules for prayer, because we are all prone to self-righteous legalism.  But prayer should primarily be about relationship.  Prayer isn’t simply a duty to get out of the way, so that we can get on with the rest of the day.  Don’t get all worried about what time of the day you should pray.  Don’t think that prayer depends on formulas of words or body postures.  You are approaching the most gracious and loving of fathers.  There will be times that prayer feels dry, for reasons that may be as innocent as the fact that you are weary and tired.  But, where possible, keep praying until you feel that you have encountered God.
4.  Certainty leads to joy (4)

We write this to make our [or ‘your’] joy complete.
It brings John joy to share these truths, and these truths are to bring joy to his readers.  I want to work through first John so that our joy may be restored—so that we may experience life in all its fullness.  ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). 
So, as we begin this series, hold on to these certainties of this morning’s passage:  we can know the historical Jesus (we have here the reliable witness of someone who knew, heard, saw and touched him), we can know the meaning of life (for us the debate is over, Jesus has revealed life’s purpose), we can know that we were created for this relationship (a loving God commands us to delight in him) and we know that God wants us to have joy (joy can be ours as certainty replaces doubt and assurance dispels insecurity)!

Barry Cooper was a first year student in Oxford University who decided to attend an evangelical church for the simple reason that he fancied a girl that went there.  The student worker spotted him and asked him if he would meet up for Bible Study.  Barry didn’t want to insult him, but thought that it would be a waste of time.  As they meet week by week, Barry began to encounter the living word that grants eternal life.  Things work out with the girl, but he got something far better.  When he arrived home for a holiday, and walked through the front door, his mother said, ‘What has happened to you, you look different?’

He explains, ‘I did.  As I put God’s word into practice, I was being filled with an exhilarating sense of purpose and joy.  Damaged and damaging relationships were being healed.  And above all, rather than the begrudging, dutiful knowledge that a Christian ought to obey Christ, I now had an irrepressible longing to obey him—whatever it might cost me in worldly terms.  Because now I knew him, I knew I could trust him.’

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