And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. —1 John 1:5
In the creation, we see God’s power. At Mount Sinai, when God revealed his law with thunder and lightning, we saw his threats. But the greatest revelation of God is Christ. And the baby born in Bethlehem had no power and made no threats. Here is how Martin Luther put it:
Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother. What can be sweeter than the Babe, what more lovely than the mother! Look at the Child, knowing nothing. Yet all that is belongs to him, that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.
USA TODAY reported a study which found that 25 percent of Americans today have no friend to confide in, not even one close friend. As recently as 1985, the Americans with no one to depend on was 10 percent. Now it’s around 25 percent, according to a study at the University of Chicago. More people are lonely than ever before. I wonder if that includes you. Ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we’ve been hiding from one another, because we’re really hiding from God. We deeply believe he doesn’t want to save us but judge us. But Christ came down from heaven, as one of us, to show us who God really is, lure us out of hiding and draw us in.
That is what the apostle John is talking about here in 1 John 1:1-10. 2000 years ago God took on human nature in the birth of Jesus. He moved among us our Friend. So many found his friendship back then. And John is telling us how we today can get inside the friendship, how we can enjoy it, how we can spread it – and how we can kill it. Let’s think it through.
1. Something happened to us (verses 1-2)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life —1 John 1:1
John is speaking for all the apostles. The “we” is the apostles, the eyewitnesses of Jesus. And you can see how John is insisting on the reality of the incarnation. What do we mean by “the incarnation”? That God took on a real human nature in Christ’s birth at Bethlehem. But why is John emphasizing that God became human, touchable, knowable? Why is John insisting on it? Because a heresy was moving into the early church. This heresy taught that God is so far out there, so remote, so transcendent, no way could God get involved down here in human nature. What we are is too low and yucky and earthy. This heresy taught that Jesus only seemed human. When he walked the roads of Galilee, for example, he didn’t leave footprints. He didn’t die a real death on a Roman cross and he wasn’t raised with a real body. That is what the heresy taught. It seemed holy and highminded. But John knew better. The Lord said to them after the resurrection, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The apostles were as skeptical as we’d be. What changed their minds? They saw him and touched him.
But why does it matter? It matters because what’s on the line is “the word of life” here in this world of death. The reality of Jesus is our only way back into life. The gospel is the life-and-death issue for every one of us. Only the real Jesus can save real sinners. And he has come to us in the most easy-to-receive way he could. He became one of us:
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 —1 John 1:2
Verse 2 inserts a parenthetical thought. This “life” John is talking about (“the word of life”) isn’t just a word, it isn’t just a concept; it is a reality. It was made manifest. God made the life we long for obvious in Jesus. The Fountainhead of Life, God the Son, the ultimate, non-derivative, eternal life that was with God the Father – that life entered our world 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, so that he could be ours today.
2. We want you to be included, for our joy to be brimful (verses 3-4)
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. —1 John 1:3
The key word here is “fellowship.” What the Son of God made manifest by his incarnation is creating a new community. He started with the apostles. Then he spread it out through their witness to the next generation, and then the next, all the way down to our day. It’s all about fellowship: “. . . so that you too may have fellowship with us.” John is saying that the fellowship of a real church is larger than the group of people in that church. Our fellowship here today is with the apostles, John says. But our fellowship is even more. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. What did Jesus himself say? “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him”” (John 14:21). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Our fellowship here at Immanuel Church is more than horizontal, wonderful as that is. Our fellowship is with God. He is here, not to judge but to save. We don’t have to be lonely any more.
And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. —1 John 1:4
John is saying that the joy of the apostles will be brimful, as it draws in more and more people. How could it be otherwise? Selfishly held joy is a psychological impossibility. By its nature, joy must be shared. Can you imagine hearing a hilarious joke and not joining in the laughter or wanting to re-tell it to someone else? Joy is a spreading reality. It’s the deepest reality in this world because of Christ. When every human strategy of self-help is spent and discredited and keels over in exhaustion, the joy of the gospel will still be fresh. So the apostles had to get the word out: “We are writing these things . . . .” You and I today are not left with nineteenth-hand, medieval guesswork. The apostles wrote it down. The Bible gives us direct access to everything we need, to enter into joyful fellowship with God and one another.
Here is how you can enter in (verses 5-10)
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. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. —1 John 1:5-10
Verse 5 begins, “This is the message.” The most important thing about this church is our message. The fellowship does not create the message; the message creates the fellowship. What is the message? It’s about who God is, namely, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. God is pure. God is holy. God is true. God is good. There is nothing about God that needs to be filtered out, nothing we need to defend ourselves from, nothing that we cannot trust or accept with wholehearted abandon. We can hurl ourselves at God in all the reality of our sin and need, and he will not judge us but save us. And that’s how we enter into the growing fellowship and joy and freedom and release. That’s how we enter into the fellowship moment by moment – by keeping in mind who God really is, so that we come out of hiding and admit the truth about ourselves. Who God is makes all the difference. We don’t enter into the fellowship, or maintain it, by figuring each other out and then deciding we will accept one another. We enter in by accepting who God is.
In verses 6-10, John sees three fellowship-destroying ways of thinking, with two fellowship-creating remedies. The destructive ways of thinking are in verses 6, 8 and 10. The remedies are in verses 7 and 9. Here are the fellowship-destroying mentalities: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness . . . If we say we have no sin . . . If we say we have not sinned . . . . These are all forms of denial – not just a denial of our sin but a denial that God is light. Here are three ways we can lurk in the shadows. And John is writing this to us Christians, because it’s possible for Christians to believe the message of Jesus but not to walk in its light moment by moment. And whenever we slip into a practical denial of God, as if he couldn’t be trusted and welcomed, we break fellowship with him, and it shows up inevitably in broken fellowship with one another. It’s no accident that the modern world is a lonely world. We have forgotten who God is. We need to rediscover his radiant light in the gospel. Our hearts are lonely for him, and lonely for one another. Here is the first fellowship-creating remedy:
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.
When we live in honest openness to biblical truth, two things happen. One, we have fellowship with one another. Two, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. There is not one sin here this morning that’s too horrible for the cleansing blood of Jesus. Every sin here today can be washed away, if it’s brought out into the light of God with honesty and openness. So here is the second fellowship-creating remedy:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You don’t need to confess someone else’s sin. You need to get real with God about yourself and call your own sins sin and confess them. As we do confess our sins, not excuse them but confess them, we experience God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and the fellowship becomes wonderful, both with God and with one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Life Together, tells us what we know is true:
Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed, it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God. He is no longer alone with his evil, for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time.
Jesus came to coax us out of the lonely isolation of denial and dishonesty, into fellowship with God and one another, through his cross. Some of us walked into church today concealing a sin under an appearance that everything’s okay. If that’s you, you are the one Jesus loves. He is reaching out to you, to draw you in. The cleansing blood of Jesus awaits you.