Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Authentic Church: A Greater Testimony

The Authentic Church: A Greater Testimony


Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Jesus testified with water and blood (6, 8)
    1. What is the water
    2. John 8:30-36.  John and Jesus’ own works testify
    3. John 14:11
  3. The Spirit testifies, the spirit of Truth (v. 6, 8)
    1. John 1:32. The Spirit like a dove testified that Jesus was the one.
  4. God testifies
    1. Through his Son and eternal life (v.10,11)
  5. Conclusion


Introduction

Recently I have found myself being challenged to go further up and further in with God.  I’ve had a desire to be more radical for Christ many times before, but I never seemed to get it right or found myself unable to sustain the fervor I once had. As I have prayed, studied the Word and preached I have been forced to seek God harder than I ever have in my whole life.

Everything God has been doing in my life, especially as I began preaching on 1 John, has lead me to ask two questions.  Two fundamental questions that to many of you may seem obvious but for me they have been a powerful eye opener.  The two questions I have begun asking myself are:

1.  Am I  really follow Jesus?
2.  Who is this Jesus I am following?

I’m going to talk about the first question more at the end of my sermon.  For now I want to talk about who Jesus is and why it is important we get the answer right.

In the first century church there had been a split of sorts.  People who were once a part of the local bodies of believers had left (either on their own accord or because they had been asked to leave).  Later, probably using their contacts in these local assemblies, they were introducing false teachings and most, if not  all, of these false teachings stemmed from a misunderstanding of who Jesus was.  

It wasn’t that they were arguing whether Jesus had a beard or not, or if he was black or white or somewhere inbetween.  They were arguing about the essential nature of who Jesus was.  And, according to John, they were dead wrong.

I’m not going to go into all the false doctrines they were teaching, I’ve already done that in previous sermons and besides that isn’t my point today.  Instead I want to focus on the importance of right belief, what theologians call “orthodoxy” and the source of that believe.

To John the fact of who Jesus was could be settled by testimony.  Specifically the testimony of God the Father, of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit.  Let us bring in our three witnesses and see what they have to say to the church today.

Witness #1:  Jesus

First John says “This is the one who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ.  Not by water only but by the water and the blood...”  Let us stop there.

What is meant by water and blood?  Augustine saw reference to John 19:34 where we are told that when the centurion thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to verify he was truly dead, water and blood flowed out.  Calvin and Luther saw in it a reference to the sacraments of the Lord’s table.  Some have seen in this reference the O.T. sacrificial symbolism of purification and still others see in the water a reference to Jesus’ birth (which is certainly NOT what this passage refers to). However, most scholars today have concluded that this is a reference to Jesus’ baptism in water and the blood he shed for you and me on the cross.  This is also the interpretation I lean towards.  

The blood of Jesus.  What does it mean?  Why is it so important and how does it testify to who Jesus was?  John’s opponents were claiming that God’s Son really didn’t come in the flesh but rather descended upon a “man” named Jesus and inhabited him during his earthly ministry.  Then, just before his betrayal, left this man.  On the other hand what the scriptures teach us is that the blood that was shed was, in fact, that of the Son of God.  Not mere man, but God himself in the flesh.  Not just human, but deity and human as one.  

This is full circle from what John started his epistle out with.  1 John 1:1-3:

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—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—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.

John is saying he and the other apostles touched, heard, and saw “the eternal life, that which was with the Father”.  Not some spirit. You can’t touch a spirit. This was the “man” Christ Jesus he is talking about.  And this man, who was also God, shed his blood for you, and me, and all the world.

If you don’t believe this, that Jesus shed his blood for you and me AS the Son of God, then you cannot have eternal life.  In fact, I would go further and say, if you don’t believe Jesus was who he and God and the Spirit say he was, you cannot have eternal life.

What about the water? Many people were being baptized by John the Baptist  in the river Jordan (not the John who’s epistle we are studying).   This brings us to our next witness.

Witness #2: The Holy Spirit

Let us read together John 1:29-34.  It is interesting to note John’s reason for baptizing.  John was not baptizing for the forgiveness of sins.  Being baptized, even under the old covenant, could not grant the forgiveness of sins.  In fact the scriptures tell us that John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3.  The baptism, here, was only symbolic of a restored relationship with God.  Something that wouldn’t be fully realized except under the New Covenant.

But look at John’s reason for baptism. In vs. 31 he says: “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel”.  Did you know that?  This was news to me and I’ve read this passage many, many times.  John was told that the Messiah would be shown to him if he would go out and start baptizing people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. So what does John do?  He goes out into the desert, living there on bugs and bee juice, dressed like a camel...I mean in the skin of a camel, and  just starts baptising everyone in sight.  

I have a question for you: Would you be willing to get that crazy just for a glimpse of Jesus.

1. Am I following Jesus?
2. Who is this Jesus I am following?

How far are you willing to go today?  

Would you give up the comforts we’ve come to expect in America as our right?  Would you give up your tasty food?  Would you give up your home?  Would you live in the most austere setting? Would you let people call you crazy? Would you give it all up, even your life, just for a glimpse?
Would you sell all that you have and give it to the poor?  Would you hate your parents and even your own life?  Would take up your cross?  Just for a glimpse?

Yet, as  Christians, we are being offered so much more than a glimpse, aren’t we?

Finally, it happens.  John sees him and he knows this is the one, the lamb of God.  He baptizes him and, in Mark 1:10, we are are told that  the heavens are torn open and the spirit, in the form of a dove, gives His testimony by descending upon Jesus, essentially saying, “This is the One!  This is the Son of the Living God!”

Oh to be there on that day.  To see that vision.  To hear the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased!”  What do we desire?  What is our passion? Is it for the things of this world?  For trinkets?  For fleeting experiences that give a rush and a fix today but leaves us empty tomorrow?  Or is our passion for a vision of the living God in our lives and in our land?  To hear his voice, to see his Spirit, to have his approval?  Are you willing and ready to give up EVERYTHING for that?

Our text, in verse 6, says it is the Spirit who testifies.  This sentence is in the present tense.  It means he is testifying to us even today. It wasn’t just a one time event 2000 years ago.

Acts 5:32 says: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

You can do all the studying you want.  You can get multiple degrees in Science and Psychology, Theology and Philosophy and it will all be completely useless if the Holy Spirit doesn’t testify to you, personally, who the Son of God is.  What will it benefit you if you gain the whole world and yet forfeit your own soul? (Matt. 16:26).  Man is completely incapable of arriving at the truth of who Jesus is except through the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  That is why John writes: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony in himself”.  If you believe in this Jesus, then you must have the Holy Spirit living in us and testifying to this fact.  There is simply no other way to arrive at this belief.   

But we have one more witness.  The Father has yet to speak to us about His Son.

Witness #3: God

We are told, in verse  9, that the Father has also testified concerning his son.  He was not and is not silent.  He even spoke while Jesus was walking the earth.   We just heard of one instance where God spoke at Jesus’ baptism.  Take a look at another one in John 12:27-29:

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.

Here we are told that God would be glorified through Jesus’ torture and death.   

Another instance of God speaking and approving of His Son’s ministry can be seen in the event we call the transfiguration.  Here God speaks from heaven saying,  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! This is my Son, my chosen one: listen to him!”  (Matthew 17:5, Luke 9:35)

He has also spoken to us through his Word.  

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

But again, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t open our eyes, it will always remain just a book to us.

In verse 9 John writes, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater...”  What John is saying is this, “If you can put any amount of faith in what man says, you certainly can believe God who is far more trustworthy”.  But I want to take a few moments to address the testimony of man concerning God and Jesus Christ even if this isn’t explicitly what our text is addressing here.

I can truly appreciate the treasure to be found in good teachers.  Many people, for many years have taught or attempted to teach us who God is.  Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “There is no end to the writing of books and too much study wearies the soul” and John tells us at the end of his Gospel that if everything had been written down concerning what Jesus did and taught, the world would not be able to contain all the books.  God is infinite and so it only goes to figure that the amount of information about God would also be infinite.    

Because of this it isn’t unusual to find that what the Scriptures tell us about God gets buried in layer upon layer of man’s well intentioned opinions and conjectures.  Some who teach are spirit filled, God centered, men and women of the Book who’s wellspring of wisdom and knowledge find its source in the Fountain of Living Water. Some have no interest in God whatsoever and their teachings come mainly from different sources.

We must be careful as believers that we each take responsibility to verify, through prayer and the study of the Word, everything taught us.  In Acts 17:11 we are told, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character...for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

My point is this: a repeated trend I have seen both in my own time and in what church history I have studied has involved a growing disorientation concerning whom God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit really are followed by an eventual awakening to the fact that what people have been worshiping has, in fact, been a fabrication of man’s own making to one degree or another.  This was what John was running up against in his own day and it is what we are running up against in our day.  Nothing has changed.  What the scripture plainly declares as sin we are told God doesn’t call it that.  What the bible plainly says about God’s justice we are told God isn’t like that.  What the bible says Jesus expects of those who call themselves disciples, we are told Jesus doesn’t expect that.  When the bible tells us what God’s love is like, we are told it isn’t like that but something else.   But what does God say?   What is His testimony?     

Now please don’t understand me here.  I am NOT saying that the church has had it all wrong all these years and that I’ve discovered “The real Jesus” or the “Lost religion of the bible” or some other nonsense.  In fact, when people start talking about Jesus in a way that is profoundly different than what the church has consistently taught for the past 1,500 years I have alarm bells go off.  I immediately run to my bible and my prayer closet to see what’s up.  What I am saying is that we need to be careful.  We have to make sure that what we believe, that Jesus we are following is the real, actual Jesus of the Bible and not some man made concoction born out of a sinful desire to have a Jesus more like us or a God who will let us get away with whatever we want.  Even when the desire seems good and honest, like God not condemn sinners or never sending an unbeliever to hell it is, in the final analysis, the result of our sinful nature looking for something other than the true God and Christ of the bible.

Conclusion

Let me close with these two questions that were posed to me:

1. Are you following Jesus?
2. Who is this Jesus you are following?

These are very serious questions. John made no qualms about it.   vs. 12 says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”.  The gnostics that were attacking the early church “thought” they had the Son of God but John makes it clear they were worshiping a figment of their own imaginations.  What John is saying here in vs.12, and what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today, is: whoever has the Son testified to in the Scriptures by God, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son spoke of by those who followed him first, unless you have THIS Son of God you do not have eternal life.

How do we find the answers to these questions?  Time to get back to the basics, folks.  We want revival?  We want things to turn around, to see a church truly set on fire from above?  

1.  Get in the word and read what it, the Word of God, says about who Jesus is.  You may be surprised what you find.

2.  Ask God who Jesus is and be ready to respond.  Don’t bother asking if you aren’t going to do anything with what God tells you.

3. Depend on the Holy Spirit.  He is the ONLY way you can truly know and understand the truth as it is present in the Word of God.  Please don’t turn this into an intellectual exercise.  We aren’t trying to solve problems of mathematics, physics, health or what-have-you.  This is much more important; so much so that any other question pales in comparison. We are talking about your own soul.  We are talking about the truth of who this Jesus is.

The final verse sums up everything that John has written so far:  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life?”

Oh what a beautiful, wonderful thing to know that you have eternal life.  To know, without a doubt, that your name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life.  That when the accuser, Satan, points out all the bad things you’ve done and laughs at how messed up your life is that you can look to the Son and see the scars in his hands and the place in his side where the spear was thrust and see where the crown of thorns left their mark and know that all has been forgiven.  That you stand before God as white as snow as though you had never sinned, washed in the blood of the lamb.  What a gift.

Do you know that you have eternal life?  Do you know the Jesus of the bible?  Do you want to become a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah?  But wait...count the cost, friend.  If you want an easy life, if you want to be accepted by your friends and family and society, if you want to be free to live life on your terms, going where you please, doing what you want to do, saying what you want to say and thinking what you want to think, then stay away.  Stay far away. The Messiah is not for you.  He will claim your mind, body and soul.  He we ask you to join him on the cross.  The road that he travels is narrow and the gate small and few there are that travel this road.  The company is sparse, but the fellowship is grand.  And what wonders await us at the end.  I only give this warning because Scripture tells me to and because I don’t want you deceived as to what sort of commitment this is.  You are committing your life to the greatest cause history, all of history, has ever known in all the universe.  You are giving your life to serve, forever, the king of kings and the lord of lords, for the glory, praise and honor of his kingdom.

If you want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ then, while the music is playing, come forward and sit in the front row here. Make that decision today.  


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