I have an important personal question for you today. How would you describe your faith life? Would you describe it as strong? Deep? Intimate? Filled with joy? Throughout my own ministry I have come across people who wistfully say things like, I wish I had a deeper walk with God. Or a deeper well to draw from that never runs dry. I wish I had a sense of God really being with me, empowering me, leading me, guiding me. I wish I had a deeper joy and enthusiasm and confidence.
That’s exactly what the apostle John wants to assist us in realizing, as we read his letter and act upon it. John had the privilege of walking with Jesus down those dusty roads of Galilee for three years. He observed and learned from Jesus, which impacted his life in amazing ways.
John, along with his brother James, had been a rather rough-and-tumble character. They were called the Sons of Thunder – referring to their boisterousness, looking out for themselves. Climbing the ladder of success and power was at the top of their agenda. They became angry to the point of wanting to destroy people who would not receive their friend Jesus.
Now those attitudes are gone. This letter doesn’t sound anything like those guys. John has changed into a confident, loving servant of Christ. We find him anxious to pass along some very important truths that can change our lives.
We are going to examine this letter for the next few weeks. John’s purpose in this letter is to convey to his readers the joy he has found through years of living with Jesus.
John is so anxious to make his point with us that he skips the formality you would normally find in a New Testament letter. This letter’s opening has no dear so-and-so, grace and peace to you, or introduction of himself as a servant of Christ. John cuts right to the chase as he begins with a proclamation: We testify and proclaim to you!
Who is this we? John means himself along with the other apostles of Jesus and first-generation Christian witnesses of Jesus.
When someone issues a proclamation, he is saying, Hey, this is an important announcement! Listen up! Take it in and act upon it!
So what’s the proclamation? It’s all about Jesus! Look at this proclamation’s opening words; he says “that which was from the beginning.” This takes us back to the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” John is describing the pre-existence of Christ. Jesus was there in the beginning. He’s the Son of God. He writes, He was made manifest (or revealed) to us.
John then launches into his personal testimony about life with Jesus. John says I have walked with Him, I have heard Him say in person say “If you see me you have seen the Father.” I have gazed upon Him and marveled at Him as I saw Him feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes, or calm a storm upon the sea or raise His friend Lazarus back to life. With my own eyes I saw Jesus resurrected after His death upon a cross, and I have touched Him. I’ve leaned on Him during the Last Supper in the Upper Room. I remember His hand upon my shoulder as He encouraged me. He’s not made up; He’s not an illusion; He’s not an apparition of some sort. He is for real!
John is using court language used in ancient days, as if he were swearing out a deposition. This is not just a bunch of charming tales about Jesus, John says. Rather he stresses that he is an eyewitness, and he is testifying to the truth of Jesus. Christ really existed, and He really did all that you’ve heard about Him!
The experience I had with Him has impacted and changed my life. The words John is using for this deposition is in the present tense which indicates a past action that continues to have results in his life. I took this all in, and my head is still spinning with wonder and ecstasy as I think about all these events.
Tim Keller, a wonderful preacher, writes, “When a great big truck goes over a tiny little bridge, sometimes there’s a bridge-quake, and when a big man goes onto thin ice there’s an ice-quake. Whenever Jesus Christ comes down into a person’s life, there’s a life-quake. Everything is reordered.” Changed! John had a life-quake!
John is saying Jesus is life – real life! Living in an intimate, personal relationship with God the Father can give you a whole new God-filled life, an abundant life like Jesus said. So stick with Jesus.
John is writing to the second and third generation Christians who hadn’t had the experience of living with Jesus – seeing, hearing, and touching Him as John did for three years. Now it is later in history, and apparently doubts and questions about Jesus were starting to creep into people’s minds. Pastor John is nudging them back to sticking with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Some very profound, life-changing truths are being promoted in this opening proclamation, and John doesn’t want us to miss out on them.
The first thing he wants us to know is that Jesus is for real. He who was in the beginning – the Son of God – has entered our world to rescue and save us. He is God in the flesh made manifest. We saw Him, we touched Him, we watched Him die and rise from the grave.
I came across this Christmas illustration given to children and their parents by Pastor John Piper. It explains what Christmas is. It goes like this:
“Kids, suppose you and your mom get separated in the grocery store. You start to get scared and panic and don’t know which way to go, so you run to the end of an aisle. Just before you start to cry, you see a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looks just like your mom. It makes you happy, and you feel hopeful.
“Which is better, happiness at seeing the shadow or having your mom step around the corner, and it’s really her? That is the way it is when Jesus came to be our Savior.
“That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.”
Christmas really happened, John is saying. The miracles, the teachings, the crucifixion and resurrection really happened. Jesus is the real thing to be taken seriously.
We are also informed by John that salvation is by grace and grace alone. Notice John refers to Jesus in this section as “the Word of Life.” He also says Jesus is eternal life. Jesus doesn’t just point us to eternal life like other religions might; Jesus himself is eternal life. He is salvation itself! He is God’s gift of salvation to the world. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus is a gift – salvation. To unite with Jesus in faith is to receive eternal life – not just heaven but a new life, an abundant life, beyond worldly imagination in the here and now.
Salvation is something we cannot produce on our own. It has to be a gift. We cannot make it happen on our own by trying to live a good life to get God’s approval in some way. We must let go of those old notions. It is a new day. Jesus has come.
Salvation is a gift that is ours when we connect with Jesus, when we humbly ask Him to take over our lives, to be our Savior and our Lord and our friend.
I know it sounds simple, ordinary, and odd, but as John is pointing out to us today, it is the truth. Salvation is by grace shown us in Jesus Christ.
This leads us to the third truth of our passage. We have a deep, close, personal fellowship with the Son and God the Father. Listen to John again: “That which we have seen and heard, we proclaim to you so that you too may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship indeed is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
John is saying, You can have the same fellowship with the Father and the Son that we who have seen Him and touched Him have enjoyed. You can come to know Him personally as your friend like we have. You can share in His life with us. You, too, can see He is God in real life form and He reveals the Father to us. As you read the Gospels, you are able to see His beauty like we did in His wisdom, power, goodness, love, brilliance, and compassion, showing us the Father in all He says and does. You, too, can experience Him drawing near to you as you draw near to Him in prayer.
What a great thing God has provided for us! Amen? He has gone to infinite lengths to make this deep, intimate relationship with Him possible for the likes of you and me. What amazing love and grace!
John testifies in this passage, God will bring about changes in your life like He did in mine!
In what way? you might wonder. John says you can have joy! “We’re writing these things to you so our joy may be complete.” When he talks about ‘our joy,’ he’s talking about the readers as well as himself.
Jesus came to bring His joy into our lives. He said, “So you have pain now, but I’ll see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22). He wants to give us joy that can never be taken away.
Jesus also said, “I have told you these things that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Your life will be filled up with it. Jesus came to give us joy, a deep happiness that runs through us – no matter what the circumstance. In fact, we probably should not call it happiness, because happiness revolves more around circumstances. But joy is a deep sense of well-being that runs through us no matter what the circumstances. It is living with the assurance of the love and care of God.
Author Kay Warren, who experienced the tragedy of her son’s suicide, wrote a book called “Choose Joy Because Happiness Isn’t Enough.” In it she writes that she used to think joy was feeling good all the time. But that is impossible, and it also doesn’t gibe with Scripture. So she concludes, “The scriptural definition of joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details in my life. It’s the quiet confidence that eventually everything will be all right and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
Life is not easy, but Kay Warren, a friend of Jesus, has Jesus joy, and it has been carrying her these days. It will carry you too.
How fascinating that the great Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis entitled the autobiography of his spiritual journey, “Surprised by Joy.” I invite you to read it. He moved from being an atheist to an agnostic to being a Christian. He says he was surprised by joy.
John tells us we have the joy of fellowship with God in our daily living. But our joy will not be complete until we have the same joy and fellowship with God the disciples had.
Something I have noticed along the way in ministry is the joy of the church as it leads others to Jesus Christ. As it is sharing the good news, stepping out for Jesus, and then observing lives being changed in wonderful ways by the Savior. This is the old pastor’s aim in this letter. John testifies, I’m writing this because I want you to have what I have. I want you to share in that with me – salvation, fellowship with God and the Son, deeper joy.
Why is this so important to John? As an obedient servant, he knew it is the life God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wants us to have. He felt responsible to share it. It is the reason God sent His Son into our world – to sacrifice His life on the cross for us and be raised from the grave, so we might have that kind of new life in Christ – eternal life in a relationship with Him. It is the reason why God sent His Holy Spirit on Pentecost, so we might be one with Him. As we unite our lives with His and live with Him through the Word and the community of faith, He changes us in new and wonderful ways. We get “Jesus joy.”
I am here to tell you it is yours for the receiving. Scripture tells us “To all who receive Him, who ask Him into their life, He gives the power to become the children of God” (John 1:12). He is available. Just like the Christmas carol says,
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
That is the Good News! Joy is available to you today. Turn to Jesus. He is knocking on the door of your life right now. Won’t you trust Him and invite Him in? You will be glad you did. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer