SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
Christmas Means We're No Longer Speculating About God
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Sunday, December 12, 2010 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1426
Pastor Don Horban

1 John 1:1-4 - "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.”

Many Christians don’t realize John wrote this letter after his experience on the Island of Patmos, just off the coast of modern Turkey, where he had written the book of Revelation. It is generally believed after he wrote Revelation he was released from imprisonment by the Romans, returned - probably to Ephesus - and finally wrote 1 John at the very end of his life.

And so, at about ninety years of age, he writes this letter to the early church scattered around Asia Minor. We should bear in mind as John writes this letter his heart is freshly stirred by the great vision of the dramatic events of this world’s history and the end of the age. That relates our text to the theme of Christmas with a particular urgency. John writes about the importance of Christ’s first advent as he still freshly ponders his revelation of the second advent still to come.

John isn’t writing these words as an exercise in comparing religions or philosophies. As he writes about the Incarnation - the first coming of Jesus Christ into this fallen world - His mind is freshly seasoned with a picture of the second coming of Jesus yet to come. How shall we be ready for that inevitable day?

Also, age is a great purifier of wisdom. John had lived long enough to know how spiritual passions cool and wane. Not everyone sees the things he saw in his vision on Patmos. We're so prone to distractions. Secondary things become primary and primary things become secondary. So John writes our text to turn up the heat under the burner of Christmas truth.

But there’s more. Not only are we prone to distractions, but we're also prone to doubt. Trials can wear us down. Imagine how the early church felt as she began to witness the death of all of those apostles from whom they had received so much. The ministry of these apostles had brought many of these Christians to the Lord. Now, as time wore on, their leaders were beginning to die off. None of the things they said about the coming of Jesus had happened. A sense of discouragement would settle on to their souls.

We all confront weariness. We can easily succumb to the same sense of spiritual inertia. Look at all the fallen spiritual leaders. Look at the countless backslidden Christians. Look at the Biblical barrenness of much of today’s church.

All of this is driving the words of our opening text. In the first four verses John lays the foundation for all that is to follow. John presses home three ways of seeing Christmas truth.

1) THE MESSAGE JOHN HAS IS A PROCLAMATION

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— [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.”

Two times in three verses John uses the news broadcaster’s term, “proclaim.” “We proclaim to you the eternal life” (2). “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard"(3). Christmas has its roots in an announcement, not a debate. John has a proclamation. He wants people to know that he is not dealing in speculation. His is not a message of spin. He’s not sitting in some cathedral with candles and stained-glass windows. He’s not waxing emotional over a Hallmark card. He’s not quoting poetry. He’s saying “Here’s what has happened!”

This announcement of the gospel confronts the whole tone of therapeutic religion and the quest for relativistic truth in our age. The strategy of the spirit of the age in our day is not to deny the claims of the Christian faith but to reduce the New Testament message to one of many options and opinions about meaning, life, religion and God.

Very subtly the Christian revelation is discussed by our world as though it were nothing more than a helpful, positive product of man's own mind, a series of religious insights and moral aspirations put into pleasant sounding speech and positive life principles. We simply refer to Christians (like all religious people) as “people of faith,” as though it was the inward process of their minds rather than the object of their faith that mattered. This is an insult to God, Almighty.

In giving equal credibility to all religions and philosophies (and after all who doesn't want to appear tolerant?) our world has efficiently silenced the unique truth claims of the Christian message. The Christian gospel is betrayed when it is considered as an option only to unbelief. It is that, but it is more than merely an opposite to atheism. It is also the God given refutation and judgment to false religious belief and false religious devotion. The Bible says far more about idolatry than atheism.

See the passion John has about this. He's about 90 years old. He's been loving and serving Jesus for a long time. He's been through the fire many times. He's been imprisoned and beaten and exiled on the Island of Patmos. Finally he gets one more kick at the can - one more chance to proclaim his heart for Jesus.

What are you going to say in your last letter, John? He’s quick to tell us. He doesn't even take time to say "Dear friends" or "This is a letter from John.” At ninety years of age, He’s sprinting out of the starting gate. There's an underlying Christmas passion - a proclamation that still burns in his heart after all these years - and he can't wait to get to it - "I have seen something! I know it for sure! I’m not crazy or delusional. It is still the most important thing I know! There are no equals to this. My message is about the Lord and from the Lord. I'm not searching for truth. I've found the truth! He has come right here. We’ve seen Jesus in the flesh!”

God forgive us for ever growing cold to the wonder of Christmas revelation. “The life of God was made manifest to us! We have seen it and we have touched it with our hands!” God forgive us for taking this marvellous announcement and reducing it to something sentimental, or speculative, or ordinary.

Let me stay on this idea for just a minute longer.

John is starting at the beginning. We would have to be slow to miss his point. The church is in the proclaiming business. She has a message to deliver. Her task is a unique task in this world. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1 "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.”

There is a place for “lofty speech and human wisdom.” You have political meetings where people put forward their ideas. You have scientific forums where people present varying theories. You have public forums where leaders try to find the pulse of the people and then set forward a proposal that will appeal to the majority and keep them happy. But John is separating the Church from all of that. The church doesn't live in those realms at all. She declares a settled, revealed message. She doesn't invent it. She doesn't alter it. She proclaims it.

So that's the first point. The absolute rules of truth and knowledge apply to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It isn’t an opinion. It isn’t one among many. It stands on its own two feet as an absolute proclamation of fact. People don’t change the truth of the gospel by either their acceptance or their rejection. The truth of the gospel judges us. We don’t judge it.

2) BECAUSE THE GOSPEL MESSAGE IS A RELIABLE DECLARATION IT IS VIOLATED AND SMUDGED BY ANYTHING LESS THAN ABSOLUTE TRUST AND COMMITMENT

Again, John puts this all in his opening three verses: “....which we have heard"(1) - "....which we have looked upon with our eyes"(1) - "....we have looked upon"(1) - "....we have touched with our hands"(1) - "....we have seen it"(2) - "....was made manifest to us"(2) - "....that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you"(3).

That is really terrible writing. How many times can you say the very same thing over and over in three sentences? What is John doing? He’s making sure you and I don’t miss his point so he’s doing with his pen what is the equivalent to raising his voice. He’s shouting on paper, saying, "Don't ever get the idea that we were deceived or just made this stuff up for some desired effect.”

And when he says “we have seen” he means all of the apostles had the same kind of background and experience with Jesus. Each could validate the other. There were sound historic checks and balances, just as other passages in the New Testament reinforce:

2 Peter 1:16 - "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

This is always the thrust of the New Testament revelation. Don't come to Jesus and put your trust in Him because of some feeling or mood or need or vision or dream. Believe the message for one reason only - it's true! Don't come to Jesus because the Gospel works. The cults have worked for many people. Drugs work for others. Kabala works for Madonna. Scientology works for Tom Cruise. TM worked for John Lennon. There are scores of ideologies and religions that work, if by “work” you mean produce the desired inward effect.

But this is not the approach John begins with as he proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. He calls us to believe the Gospel, first of all, because it is true. That way you will always have sure footing in your Christian walk. The Christian proclamation is rooted in what actually happened. It's not a matter of some inward experience for people of a certain psychological make up. It's not a matter of finding what makes me feel better or more at peace.

John says we all saw Jesus come into this world with the same flesh and blood you and I have. We saw Him do what He did. We heard Him say "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me." We all heard Him say "I go to prepare a place for you and will come again and receive you unto myself". We saw Him call Lazarus out of that grave near Bethany. We all heard Him say "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

O, the arrogance of people trying to fake humility by not claiming too much certainty - who would deny the miracles, deny the divine nature of Jesus Christ, or deny His resurrection from the dead. Take your cue from those who were eyewitnesses, not those who were not. To all the scoffers and doubters John would say, "Listen, I’ve given my life to this. I was there. Were you? I rested my head on His chest at the Passover celebration. Did you? I saw His hands and side when He came to us resurrected - after we saw Him die on the cross. I hugged that scarred body. Did you?"

John is piling up words to make clear to us that what he declared, even though it seems too good to be true, is not something he is guessing about. He knows what he is proclaiming thoroughly - inside out. There is not a doubt in his mind. His words are important because they urge all of us to listen to the appeal of sane reason. In light of John’s words the testimony of the doubter isn’t worth much. Will you listen to an eye witness or someone who was never there?

So the message we have is a revealed message. Second, it's a trustworthy message. That leads to the third mark of a distinctly Christian religious experience:

3) THE GOSPEL MESSAGE IS A MISSIONARY DECLARATION ABOUT JESUS CHRIST AND WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED

1 John 1:3-4 - "....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. [4] And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

There is something striking about the way John presents the converting, grace-filled message of Jesus Christ in these two verses. When you ponder it you will notice it’s quite different from the way we conceive of Christianity today. Here’s what’s different. John knows full well the power of Christ to change a life. John’s gospel says more about being “born again” than any other. But that’s not the way he introduces the gospel here.

Surprisingly, he chooses to talk more about proclaiming the gospel than receiving it. Notice again, he’s not writing these things to make the joy of others complete (though it certainly will do that), but to make his own joy complete (4b). It’s as though the sharing of his message completed the joy of receiving it.

Doesn’t John believe in the experience or joy of conversion? We know he does. But perhaps John’s goal isn’t just presenting Christianity, but testing a genuine response to it - proving it’s been genuinely grasped and taken up into the heart and will. After all, all sorts of people have inner experiences - religious and otherwise. How is the gospel declaration different from these?

Here’s the difference John marks. John isn’t proclaiming another inner experience. Most mystical encounters are measured by what they produce in our inner experience. They all pull inward. Their success isn’t measured by historical events but by psychological effect. They deliver inner relief. All the benefits are felt benefits. They bring inner peace, correct bad habits, or provide an inner sense of purpose and completeness. And, sadly, these are getting to be the most common ways of selling the Christian gospel in our market-driven church.

Perhaps we can receive correction from John’s words. The proof of receiving the gospel - the sign of grasping the meaning of Christ Jesus, God the Son, made manifest in the flesh - isn’t psychological. In fact, the constant magnifying and examining of our inward psychological states actually takes away from the foundation of the Christian gospel.

While he’s not always evenly reliable, I was so impressed by my morning reading from Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost For His Highest” on November 9th. His words, though not simple to follow, are so needed just now: “When we proclaim the historic facts of the birth, life and death of our Lord as they are recorded in the New Testament, our words are taken by the Spirit of God and made sacramental. I mean, God uses them on the ground of His redemption to create in those who will hear that which cannot be created in any other way. If we proclaim the effects of redemption in the human psyche instead of the New Testament revelation regarding Jesus, the result in those who listen cannot be new birth, but merely a refined natural life because the Spirit of God cannot bear witness with anything other than the revelation of Jesus Christ, come in the flesh and accomplishing peace with God by His own death.”

That is profound. The genuine reception of Christ the Lord doesn’t, at least first of all, lean inward for proof in the realm of feelings, but fastens outwardly to the identity and accomplishment of Jesus Christ in history. There certainly are precious subjective effects to following Christ. But they are never the measuring stick of Christian truth.

The missionary proclamation of the church isn’t the psychological effects of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. We don’t peddle mental health through redemption. We proclaim the historic source - the revelation accomplishment of God through the redemption in Christ.

Here’s what I mean. A.W. Tozer summed up this point brilliantly. Listen: “The taking over of the ‘romantic love ideal’ into our relationship with God has been extremely injurious to our Christian lives. The whole idea being generated in much modern worship that we should somehow ‘fall in love’ with Almighty God is ignoble, unscriptural, and unworthy of us, and certainly does no honor to the Most High God. We do not come to love God by a sudden emotional visitation. Love for God is the result of repentance of sin, and a fixed desire to honor and serve Jesus Christ above all. Then as God moves more perfectly into the center of our wills, our love for Him may indeed rise and swell like a river, sweeping everything before it.”

Those words are far more relevant today than when Tozer penned them. Let me put it plainly. Multiplied thousands of Christians no longer even know how to measure their own spiritual life. And to all of them John would usher a call away from analyzing inward states to honoring and bowing before the real, incarnate Christ.

Consider the Apostle John. He has had an incredibly rich heritage in the Lord. Think of the blessings he could have recounted at the age of ninety. But there's no dissertation of all those things here. That’s not the Christmas message. Rather, he simply says, "I live to proclaim the God I’ve seen and heard and touched with my hands. Christ Jesus has come! There is no One else. And I'm not able to rest until you come to trust in Him alone. And you can know this Christ too!”

John is wearing his “What Has Jesus Done?” bracelet. That’s the true glory of Christmas. An invisible God makes Himself plain and observable. We can handle the truth. We have something firmer than our feelings. And this is what makes the revelation of Christ Incarnate - the Christmas revelation - such a damning thing to reject. With such a revelation of Christ, we know better.

You’ve just heard what God has done to take you to heaven when you die. This doesn’t depend of some inward mystic state of mind. This is knowable, historic, factual truth. Don’t let your heart pretend it doesn’t know.