Seen and Heard and Manifest – 1John 1


We start a five-week walk through the Beloved Apostle John’s first letter. As you may have noticed, there was no OT reading in our service today. This is due to the emphasis in the church calendar to consider what the resurrection of Jesus means for the Church. That is, we read from Acts instead of the OT during this season right after the Resurrection—a forty-day period that ends on Pentecost Sunday. 

You’re going to notice several aspects in this letter that I want you to be aware of before I read our passage today. Each of these elements should be read as a continuation of John’s Gospel. As we work through it together, I will reference some of these elements from John’s Gospel, but of course will not be able to mention all of them.

The earthiness of the Christian faith

Light and Darkness

Love and Obedience

Abiding in God

Singular devotion

It would be beneficial to read John’s Gospel in one hand and 1John in the other. 

1John 1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5   This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Eternal life is about life right now…on earth. John 17.3: “This is eternal life…they know you God.” It is, of course, life with God in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. But that life is a fulfillment of and a continuation of the eternal life that we start to live here on earth. Have you considered that the new eyes and new heart and new life you have received by the Spirit of God when you first came to know God is the heart, mind, and life you will enjoy God forever? 

We see this earthiness of the life we have from the beginning of John’s letter. Verses 1-3. Note the senses involved in what John conveys to his readers: Heard. Seen with our eyes. Touched with our hands. That which we have seen and heard we proclaim. 

At the time John was writing this letter, there were the beginnings of a heresy going around called Docetism. It comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means “to see.” This teaching taught that God did not really and truly become human, but that he only appeared to do so. This is the easy way to reconcile really hard teaching in the Christian life. We try to make it palatable and understandable—confining it to our finite mind. How can the Infinite become finite? Well, it can’t therefore it only appears to be finite. He’s a mirage. BUT this is not the Christian way. Earth is not bad. Soil is not unclean. The entire Creation is resplendent with Christ’s glory. The Creator. 

This is why John tells us that the Resurrected Jesus ate fish for breakfast with his disciples. And this is why he is at pains to show us that the very same eternal Word of God from the first chapter of his Gospel—“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” This self-same God blessed bread and ate it. He was baptized. He took baths. He changed clothes. He cried real tears and laughed real laughter. “That which was from the beginning”  was made manifest—he not only appeared…he ate and drank and sang.

If we’re not careful, we can make our faith very ephemeral. Disconnected from the stuff of life. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are meant to float on clouds above the cares of the world. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it redeems men and women. It manifests itself by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind. 

The Christian faith is not one disconnected from reality. The physical manifests the spiritual. The spiritual necessarily works itself out in flesh and blood. The very story of all of our salvation comes through the hearing of the proclaimed message. Without the hammer, anvil, and stirrup of the ear, there can be no confessing with the tongue. Embracing this reality helps us to see the utterly practical nature of the Gospel. The Christian life is not merely about ideas and knowledge…it is about life. Yes, eternal life. 

Verse 5 serves as the banner over the rest of the chapter. This is the message we have…

This earthiness works itself out with the conditions John walks through in the second half of our text. A list of five (5) conditional statements show the importance of what we do with our hands and mouths and eyes. 

Verse 6: If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, [then] we lie and do not practice the truth.

John is at pains to show that allegiances are black and white. To use his terminology—light and darkness. You cannot live in the shadows and say you are in the light. This is a HUGE tendency here in our culture where people walked down and aisle or raised a hand or even led a Bible Study for some time. As time goes on, the true allegiances of the heart are brought to the light. When this happens that person has to reckon with their true allegiance. Will they bring it out into the light or will they retreat into the dark and keep their sin safe and secure. 

As God invites us to deeper intimacy, he’s beckoning us into more light. To be closer to him. This oftentimes comes through adversity. 

By virtue of living and breathing you are doing. We are constantly doing something. Either we are lying or we are, literally, “doing the truth”. The truth of the Christian life is lived out. It is acted upon, not merely a truth to be ascended to. It is a truth that grabs you and moves you.

We will see next that abiding in Christ (in the light) means abiding in his community. 

Verse 7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

This is the converse of the previous verse. We see that living the Christian life is a perpetual walking and breathing. It is much like what we will be seeing this summer. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a pretty pasty white guy. When Ashley and I first got married, I learned just how much of a sun baby she was. We went to the beach with her family one July 4th week and I wanted to show her that I could hang with her and all the other sun worshipers, so I laid on the beach for several hours. My prior length of time in the sun was about 30 minutes. That night, I couldn’t hold any food down. I had sun poisoning. You go to the beach and you can tell those who have been in the sun longer than those who haven’t. The Christian life is one of living in the light and being changed from one shade of glory to another. 

Verse 8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 

To guard us from pride and from thinking that walking in the light means we are without sin, John reminds us that the emphasis of the Christian life is the sun that shines on us. We do not produce the light. We walk in the light. God is not expecting you to manufacture some kind of inherent goodness within you. You have, indeed, been made in the image of God…but the life we are called to live is one of enjoying and basking in the glory of Another. In this way we see that the light is a safe place to show that we have blemishes. We have imperfections. We have sin. This is one of the purposes of the light. 

To take the previous illustration a little further, but hopefully not too far!, when I get in my bathing suit this summer, those around me will see my imperfections. More specifically, they will see moles on my skin. This could be an embarrassing thing, or it could be a protection for me. Imagine that my dear wife sees a mole on my back that I cannot see. She sees it in May at the beginning of the summer and then she notices in August that that mole has changed shape. It’s grown! “Hey Babe, you probably need to go to a dermatologist.” Not merely to change the way we look as we walk in the Light, but it points out things that can be detrimental to us. 

The light is a place we can be healed. It shows us our imperfections and it overwhelms us by Jesus’ perfection and love for us in light of that sin. This is the point of the next verse! The point of being brought to the light is to be healed. To be cleansed. To be set free. Not to condemn.

Verse 9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

But the ability to confess is often avoided because we don’t like to admit how messed up we are. You and I can hear this beautiful news this morning, that we are loved and accepted and welcomed by God and yet run away from the very place he wants to do his work of surgery. 

Verse 10: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

If we lie and say we don’t have sin, then we make him a liar. Takes our lives up a notch. God wants to live his life through you. The Christian life is meant to be a life of congruence. One of integrity. One of honesty. There is safety here. There is healing here. The sooner and the more frequent we make these confessions, the more opportunity we have for healing. Instead of wishing the mole would go away or simply because we can’t see it we claim that it doesn’t exist. The Gospel gives us the courage and confidence to confess and come to the only place that it can be healed.

But we have to ask why does John speak so candidly and directly about living in the light and a life of integrity? Why? He gives three reasons in this text. And we’ll work backward.

Verse 9 is so that, quite simply, we will be cleansed and be forgiven. God is standing at the ready to forgive even the most heinous sin in your life. He is faithful when you have been faithless. Maybe you have been walking in dark. He standing ready to receive you! He will make good on his word to forgive you. He is just. What he says, he will surely do. He split the Red Sea. He resurrected his Crucified Son. Will he not surely receive you and wash you?

John has a second reason in Verse 4. It’s a self-serving reason in some respects. He proclaims the glory of the Gospel so that his joy may be complete…brought to its fullness. Have you considered that the folks you and I interact with everyday can bring you joy? They are not meant to merely be hindrances to your joy. Even though you may think so many days. They are God’s means to bring you even more joy. Every time you draw near to that one who is unlovely or annoying, seeking to enjoy the Light with them, your joy is magnified. Like a magnifying glass on an ant, the joy burns up those tiny annoyances in our lives. 

John gives one more reason in Verse 3. It’s not just about bringing someone to the Light, as in a “See, I told you so!” Rather, this magnification of our joy, the bringing to its fullness is when we are changed and fellowship with one another. As each of us is along the way we are being changed, shade by shade…and the beauty and sufficiency and glory of the sun helps us enjoy all that he has for us even more!

The Christian life is meant to be lived in community with others. We shortchange our joy when our faith is merely about me and Jesus.

Walking the Ancient Paths

I thought this tendency would have died after graduating college, but there is a perpetual draw for people to herald and lift up the new. I just saw a post from someone the other day that said, “Worship Jesus in a whole new way this Easter.”

Now I get the desire to make our faith ever fresh and ever new. I get it. I do. But I think we assume that ever fresh and ever new means ever real. That is, we can believe that just because something is different than what we’ve done before it is better. In reality, such drives and pulls are better called novelties.

People are drawn to the novel, but they don’t have the staying power of authentic. To “worship Jesus in a whole new way” does not necessarily mean you are, in fact, worshipping Jesus. Instead, it can mean you are going to the latest sideshow. You are being drawn to the novel. When you accumulate a lot of novel things, it’s called a novelty shop.

As a result, many churches are just that–novelty shops. 

Churches are clamoring for more attention and more “influence”, when what they are really doing is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the real needs and longings of the human heart. I don’t know what it is, but as people get deeper and deeper into religion, they try to ramp up their devotion by doing the strange. Knowing their actions are strange, they can dress the strangeness up for “taking risks for the Gospel” or “suffering for the Gospel” when in reality they are just weird.

You know the things I’m talking about. They are the outreach events churches put on where the first reaction of neighbors is either “eye rolling” or a furrowed brow of “what in the world?”

What people are longing for is not more entertainment (i.e., novelties), there is plenty of it everywhere else! People are longing for the real and the true and lasting. They are longing for meaning in a sea of change and the impermanent.

I believe one of the ways forward in the malaise is to recover the ways of the Church that have had the staying power people are longing for. Too often people interpret doing away with the old as singing a new song with meaning. My contention is that it is when we sing, in unison with our brothers and sisters from the past, we find a depth of beauty and meaning that we didn’t previously have. You get a sense of this when you sing songs you learned as a kid. It’s a different depth of emotion than singing the latest song on the radio. It envelops the whole sensory panel of the person. Try it. Sing a song you learned as a kid right now. Doesn’t it transport you to a different time and place as you repeat it?

Blessed is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord – Isaiah 50.4-9

 

You and I are in great danger this morning. Comforts and Confronts. Cuts and Heals.

If you’re anything like me, you like comfort. You like pleasure. You like things to go your way and get a little hot when they don’t. Too often we choose to go with the flow rather than to swim upstream.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know deep down inside that’s not where life happens. As we’ve been talking about for the last four weeks, we are called to die so that our lives might expand and grow and become more than a mere seed. If we’re honest with ourselves, the most alive we have felt is when we have taken risks or stepped into the unknown. When we didn’t have it all figured out.

As one mentor of mine has said, “Comfort zones are where dreams go to die.”

If we opt for comfort, then the big dreams God has placed in our hearts. The fully alive human beings that he created us to be will be lost forever. By saving our lives, we lose them. By giving them up, we gain them.

Our passage this morning is often called the Third of Four Servant Songs in the prophet Isaiah’s message to us. This morning as we walk through this passage, I want us to consider, “Why would this Servant do the things he does in this passage?”

Isaiah 50.4-9

4 The Lord GOD has given me

the tongue of those who are taught,

that I may know how to sustain with a word

him who is weary.

Morning by morning he awakens;

he awakens my ear

to hear as those who are taught.

5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,

and I was not rebellious;

I turned not backward.

6 I gave my back to those who strike,

and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;

I hid not my face

from disgrace and spitting.

7    But the Lord GOD helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced;

therefore I have set my face like a flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

8 He who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who is my adversary?

Let him come near to me.

9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;

the moth will eat them up.

As I said, we are in great danger this morning. The New Testament makes it clear that this Suffering Servant finds its fulfillment in the life and death of Jesus. If the Christian life is one of more and more conformity into the image and life of Jesus, then we must be prepared for pain and suffering. We are intended to grow and become more than what we are. More accurately, we are to become all that God intended us to be.

When we look to Jesus, his life is not just outside of us. Something done in one time and place. But his work must also be done inside of us. In the very fabric of our lives.

So our roads to Calvary are modeled after the Perfect One who suffered on our behalf. And this suffering is not an altogether horrible thing. It is the friction that happens in life when we live in light of a different King.

The life we see in the Suffering Servant is one that he received from the hands of God. There are three times the covenant-keeping God is mentioned in this passage.

Verse 4: The LORD God has given me teaching. The calling he received was just that…received. It wasn’t contrived or made up as he saw fit. The Servant was taught by God himself.

Verse 5: The Lord God opened my ear. What does this mean? It is the action God takes to give us an understanding mind to what is being taught. This is a gift of grace. Unlike the ones the prophets indicted for ever hearing yet never perceiving, the Servant is marked by both sitting under the teaching of God and receiving it as his way of living.

Verse 7: The Lord God helps me. This is more than a pat on the back. The activity of God has gone from that of speaking and opening ears to coming alongside. Put your finger there. We’re going to come back to this concept in a moment.

What was the purpose of this teaching he received? To serve the needs of others. To sustain the one who is weary. The life he offers up as a spiritual act of worship is one of receiving first from God and then giving to others. This is the tenor of all four of the Servant Songs. His life is that of a Servant. He serves others on God’s behalf.

We saw this at the beginning of Advent in the First Servant Song—Isaiah 42.1: He will bring forth justice for the nations. As we saw last week, this Servant was never intended merely to save a certain ethnicity. Yes, he came from the Jews, but he was meant for all peoples.

As Isaiah continues to teach, we find that the way this Servant will bring about this justice will be by giving himself up as the substitute for the guilty—pre-eminently seen in the Last Servant Song in Isaiah 53 (bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

We get a glimpse of it here, though. Verse 6: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheek to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Why are these horrible things done to the one who serves others? This is what it takes to bring forth justice. 

But there is a fourth place that the LORD God appears. Verse 9: Behold, the LORD God helps me. Yes, this is the same word in Verse 7. And this is more than an encouraging word.

This is the same word to describe Israel’s cries for a Deliverer to help them (Exodus 2.23). But this is a theme throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. The word first appears in Isaiah 10.3: “To whom will you flee for help in day of reckoning?” The word shows up a second time in Isaiah 20.6. After judgment has come and Israel is scattered around, they say: “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered.”

This is a theme throughout the time right before Israel’s Exile. They had trusted in princes and chariots and the mighty and forsaken their confidence in the Lord. They had opted for protection from Egypt and Assyria. And they found that they were cruel deliverers indeed!

This is the same option Jesus was given so many times before his crucifixion. Jewish Leaders. Caiaphas. King Herod. Pontius Pilate. The crowds. Why would he not entrust himself to them?

The word “help” shows up a third time in 30.5: “Everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace. Egypt’s help is worthless and empty.” Isa 31.1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel.

This is our human default position. We see the strong and the mighty and we run to them. We are easily deceived by what seems to be strength. This reminds me of the Charmin commercials from some time ago where the little boy would take a whole lot of toilet paper and stuff his shirt with it and look very big…stronger than he was. We can laugh because of the humor in it. Of course he’s not strong. Yet, we still find ourselves leaning on those who appear strong and forsake the One who made the strongmen.

This is the fundamental difference between the Servant and us. He puts all of his trust in the LORD God. He doesn’t hedge his bets. He places his complete trust and confidence in him. This is the life he wants to free us to live as well. When this kind of confidence in God marks us we begin to understand how the Servant can be disgraced (V.6) but not be disgraced (V.7). How his cheeks can be chipped away at (V.6) but still remain as hard as flint (V.7).

Yes, the Servant suffers shame and is beaten, but his vindication comes from One who stands over all the peoples who mete out this punishment (V.8). He knows that this pain is temporary and will pass away like a garment eaten by a moth (V.9). 

This is the full life that Christ offers to all of us. As he enters into Jerusalem, as he is lifted up this morning, we are challenged with what we believe is sure and steady and real. We find that our confidence must be grounded in a higher ground. The earth surely gives way. Those things we put confidence in on this earth will fail us. They will use us. They will disappoint us.

The Servant frees us from the mirage of comfort in anything or anyone else other than the LORD God. This is not an easy path. This is a path of invisibility. Of walking by faith and not by sight. Much like the the Charmin boy. We can try to stuff ourselves with things outside of us…but God is about refining and strengthening the very substance of who we are. He wants to firm up our resolve and resilience to the moth-eaten promises.

This concept of help is a rich and dangerous feast if we will take it. Let me leave you with what the LORD God says in the chapter 41 right before the First Servant Song:

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Redeeming the Serpent

 

 

Israel found itself in the wilderness complaining against God for his ways of redeeming them. For the mundane activities he had them take part in (i.e., walking around in circles).

Side note: If you and I were led in the wilderness for 40 years we would be murmuring as well. We get in a tizzy when we have to do anything mundane for more than an hour typically.

So Israel complains and God sends serpents to bite them in judgment (see Numbers 21 for the full account). This act of judgment reminds us of the serpent in the Garden who is ever present with us. He tempts us to murmur and blame others rather than confessing and growing and trusting. These serpents become a vivid reminder of what each of our little speakings of our minds are really saying. That is, when we speak out against a circumstance or a person, we are setting ourselves up as the arbiter of right and wrong. Of truth. We are the ones to whom others ought to ask for permission.

But the act of healing did not come by taking a potion or jumping in a river or screaming out loud, “I’m sorry” followed by self-flagellation. The act of redemption came in the simple form of looking. Looking. Not reaching out. Not even crying out. Merely looking away from the self and to Another. There is no strength required. A mere acknowledgment of something outside of ourselves that needs to redeem.

What is fascinating further about this act of redemption is the object to which Israel was to look. They were to look to…a serpent. The Act of Rebellion against their Maker that started in the Garden is turned on its head. The Serpent is powerless to hold sway the delights of rebellion. He becomes the tool in God’s hands of redemption.

God doesn’t just say, “Stay away from serpents.” He doesn’t rid the earth of what would be deemed evil. Surely, the Adversary is not redeemer. That is not what we see in the text! Rather, we see that those things connected with and that can easily be lumped in with the hopeless, in this case a serpent, God redeems this seemingly hopeless object. He doesn’t merely get rid of the evil, he redeems the evil.

This is scandalous and you might find yourself saying, “Matt, you go too far!”

Do I? I venture to say that you have not entirely grasped who you are. You were an object of wrath. You were children of the Adversary. You delighted in your own desires and your universe orbited around your wants. God, being rich in mercy, took you out of that darkness. He didn’t merely remove you from the filth. He transferred you into the kingdom of his Beloved Son. The One he loved from before the foundation of the world. He not only transferred you into that kingdom. He has given you all the privileges of that kingdom. He has made you a son and daughter!

God is not in the business of just getting rid of his adversaries, but to those who will merely look to the Son who was also lifted up, he will give you the inheritance of his Beloved Son. No more to be destroyed. No more to be reviled and written off as hopeless. He gives you all that he has and all that he is.