In our passage this morning John expresses how one can know if you have a true relationship with Jesus. He helps us distinguish between the one who truly knows Christ and the one that merely says he knows Christ. In order to help us each determine where we stand, he provides us with a sure fire way of discerning which camp to which we belong. It is what we might call “the ethical test.” He says all we have to do to determine whether or not we really know Jesus is answer one question: Do we keep his commandments?
Verse 3 states the proposition, “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” The next verse simply states the opposite. “Whoever says he knows him but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” The following verses state it positively again, just with different words.
This is basically an echo of what Jesus himself said during his earthly life. You remember Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John simply reiterates this teaching in the verses before us.
I know that this will be a comfort to many of you.
I. There is a great comfort to those of us who are truly Christians.
There are many who struggle with this. There are people who absolutely do know Christ but do not have the assurance that they do. When asked if they are a Christian, they say to themselves, “I think I am. I hope I am. Or I wish that I was.” These people are in a pitiful state. They are living their lives in a continual state of frustration and confusion.
This may describe some of you too. One of you may very well be in this sorry state of affairs. You feel like you are in a night that is so dark that it makes midnight almost seem like high noon. This lack of assurance has robbed you of joy and you feel like you are in a state of spiritual flux.
Now your prayer life is being greatly hindered. It’s like your prayers are flitting around like butterflies—they go here and there, but they never truly fly unto heaven with any zeal or confidence. You find yourself praying, “Lord, if you are out there, can you please help.” You do not come boldly before the throne of grace as a Christian ought.
If you are one such person who lacks this assurance, I want you to know that you can know that you know the Lord Jesus. And it is imperative that you do know. Charles Spurgeon once said that, next to knowing Christ, there is nothing more important than knowing that you know Christ.
And John here provides a way for you to have this sure knowledge. All the comfort you need may be found in this: Are you really and truly obeying the Lord? Are you concerned that you are living the Christian life as fully as you can? Do you find it your aim to keep from sin and follow his commandments?
Now, understand, as you look at these commandments you will find that you aren’t perfect. As a matter of fact, the harder you look, the worse things will seem!
I remember the time when I led a study on the 10 commandments. For six months we studied virtually every nook and cranny of the law of God. And at the end of every class, we all walked out of there recognizing that we had failed yet again. There was not one point where we could kick up our heals and say, “I did it!” Not at all. Every time we came to class, we saw our failure.
So if you look at God’s law and see you failure, don’t let that worry you. That shouldn’t drag you down or make you more depressed. You have to remember that our relationship with the Lord isn’t built upon our performance. Our relationship is based on grace and what Christ has done on our behalf.
John doesn’t want you to think that your relationship is built on what you can do. He is simply saying that our obedience to the commandments can give us something of a confirmation. If we are truly seeking to heed these commandments the best we can, we may rest assured that we really do know Christ.
Notice what it says in verse 6 again, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way that he walked.” Obviously, we can’t walk exactly like Jesus. That’s impossible. But we can mimic it in some degree.
My daughter Geneva is just learning to walk. And one of the things that we like to do in our house to exhaust some pent up energy is have races. We will start in our living room, race through the dining room to my office, and then race back to see who wins. The other day little Geneva saw Paige and I racing. Do you know what she did? She got up and started doing her little baby walk down to my office and back. Now it was hilarious to watch. There’s a reason why they call them toddlers! She teetered and tottered. She fell down and sometimes started slipping off to the side as if gravity shifted on her. But she did her best to race just like us.
Now was she just like her father? Absolutely not. But she sought to walk in the way her father did.
And that is what is being said here. You can know that you are Christ’s if you are seeking to walk as he did. You might just be a toddler, but you are walking.
So just ask youself: Do you take his commandments seriously? Do you really long to have no other gods before him? Do you love and cherish his name so much that you wish never to take it in vain. What about the Lord’s Day? Is it a day that you delight in? Is it your aim to honor your father and mother?” If you answer is yes, then there is your proof!
And if you can’t answer it without weeping—if you grieve that you don’t love him the way you should, then you can let that be your assurance. If you are saddened that you can’t please him the way you ought, then that’s a great proof. That’s what we call repentance. And that’s what He wants more than anything!
If you are walking, even if it’s not that great, then you should not let your mind rattle you any longer. Be comforted. Rest assured, good Christian, that you have a genuine relationship with the Lord.
But if that doesn’t describe you, then you better think twice about the genuineness of your faith. This passage will most certainly be a comfort to some in this congregation. But it very well may cause others a great deal of discomfort. For it serves as a warning to people who think they are Christians, but are not.
II. There is a great warning to those of us who merely profess to be Christians.
Some of you have been lying to yourselves. You’ve been walking around thinking that you have no worries when, in all reality, the fires of hell are ready to break upon you. You think that you are a Christian, but the truth is you have no relationship with Christ at all.
You’ve been duped. Maybe you are the kind that thinks that knowing Christ means having a great deal of doctrinal knowledge—as if a relationship was built on intellectual acumen. Though you might have known much about Christ, you have never really known Christ himself. You might be able to talk a great deal, you’ve read so many books and you follow all kinds of religious blogs, but when it comes to really having a relationship with Christ you’ve got nothing. It’s all been bouncing around in your head. If you really would take a look at your life, you’d see that there is a hardness—a coldness that is uncharacteristic of Christ.
You’ll even pull out the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. You’ll say, “Once saved always saved.” But making such a claim is to make a mockery of the doctrine. I believe that. Yes, it is true: Once saved, always saved. But if your life is bereft of any noticeable obedience, then dear friend, you’ve never been saved! If you know anything about Jesus, you then should know that he came to save us from our sins.
Maybe you are not the heady type. Maybe you are the kind who thinks you are a Christian because you once had a radical religious experience. I know that it is common today to think that you have a relationship with Christ because you have prayed a prayer once or because you walked down and “asked Jesus to come into your heart.” There was a time when you made some profession of faith and maybe it was even accompanied by all kinds of tears. You know, you just “felt something!”
But dear friend, if you are looking to something that happened long ago and far away, don’t think for a moment that you are a friend to Jesus. It is not your religious experience that makes you a Christian. If you do not continue to have tears of repentance and are not diligently attending to his word, then you are not a Christian.
Just look at what it says in verse 4. “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
I speak with people oh so often, and I have found many liars. I’ve found many who claimed to be Christians—they say that they love the Lord, and then in another conversation they go on to talk about women in some of the most offensive ways. Sometimes I am amused at how it all plays out. We’ll be talking about the Lord one moment, then in the very next they will be talking about how they can’t wait to go carousing this weekend.
But you’re going to say to me, “But I believe in Jesus!” Well, don’t you forget that even the demons believe. The only difference between the demons and you is that they actually shudder at the name of Jesus.
This is what Dietrich Beonhoffer called “cheap grace.” It can also be called, “easy believism.” It’s easy to say you believe in Jesus. But you have to understand: when Christ comes into your life, things must change. If you don’t think differently about the way your living—if you don’t have a different attitude towards sin and holiness, then that’s an evidence that nothing really has truly happened in your life.
The text here says that if you claim to know him but do not follow his commandments you have lied. You have lied to yourself about having a relationship with Christ. You have lied to yourself about having any hope of heaven. You have lied to yourself about ever having the chance to enjoy any of the joys that await us there.
If you continue on the path that you are now on, then you will one day find yourself experiencing a very rude awakening. After you close your eyes in death, you will awaken in hell. You will find yourself, not in the embrace of a benevolent Father, but in the strong grip of a very angry God.
You might say, “Pastor, you are making me very uneasy.” If that is so, good. There is no reason for you to be comfortable.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a sobering parable. You may be familiar with it. He says that on the last day there is going to be a great separation. When he comes again the goats are going to be put on one side and the sheep are going to be put on another side. And he’s going to say to the sheep, “Come you blessed of my Father, enter into the kingdom for I was hungry and you gave me bread. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.”
And they are going to be surprised and say, “Lord, when did we see you in these conditions?” And he will respond by saying, “As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
And to those on the left he will say, “Depart from me you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And they are surprised! “Wait a minute!” they say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry? When were you thirsty? When were you in prison?”
Paul Washer gives a very good insight into this passage. He helps us to understand that this isn’t about doing prison ministry per say. But in places in this world you can be put in prison because you believe in Jesus. The life that you’ve lead, and the things that you’ve said, got you in trouble. So you are put in prison. And when you are in prison, they don’t treat you like we treat our prisoners. The guys I visit each week have it very good. In many places around the world, when you are put in prison, they don’t feed you. They don’t do anything for you. They just leave you there to die. And so they are dependent upon other people to bring them food and provide the essentials of life for them.
Now, if you go visit that person in that prison and you provide these things for them, you are basically testifying to the fact that you are a Christian too. You are placing yourself in jeopardy by virtue of your actions.
And Jesus’ point is that a Christian is one who is willing to turn his back on everything in this world. A Christian is one whose life is dedicated to following Jesus. He’s one who is willing to sacrifice everything to follow Jesus.
So you can’t just accept Jesus into your heart. What has to happen is that all the other gods in the pantheon of your chest must be emptied out. You must say good-bye and good riddance to your life of sin. You must say, I will follow Christ even to the death.
If this describes you, if you hate sin, then you may rest in knowing that Christ is yours. Maybe this story strikes fear in your heart. Maybe you don’t like it. But its not so much that you will be cast into hell, but your fear lies more in is that you might deny Christ. You don’t want to do that, but you’re scared that you might because you are not strong enough. If that describes you, then you don’t have to be scared at all. This proves that you do belong to Christ!
If this kind of adherence to the commandments of God does not describe you, then you ought to be very uncomfortable. You have been lying to yourself. And, if you do not repent of your sins, you will one day find yourself among the goats that are being herded off into hell.
I pray that you may not let that happen. I pray that you will learn to say with the rest of us, “O how I love your law.”
Someone once said that the pastor’s greatest work is not so much evangelizing the pagans, but Christianizing the Christians.
That is to say, that there are a lot of people claiming to be Christians that know virtually nothing about the religion. Perhaps they have a few Christian code words down. Maybe they will toss around words like Jesus Christ, grace, faith. But despite knowing some of the lingo or maybe having some sort of morality to speak of, they really know nothing about Christianity. At the very least, they do not have a real Christian worldview. Or, despite their fluency in Christian-eese, their understanding of Christianity is null and void. In all respects qualify as outright pagans, rather than Christians.
This can be a sad commentary sometimes. But it is a reality that we must face. One of the greatest tasks we have is Christianizing the Christians. And that is true, not only in our day, but throughout the history of the church. As a matter of fact, this is exactly why so much of the Bible is written. When you look into the New Testament, typically what you find is that there are serious issues that are being addressed within the respective churches. Most, if not all, of these writings are in response to heresies or immoralities that have arisen within the church. So what happens is that the author writes in order to Christianize the Christians and set the record straight.
This is certainly true for the epistle that is before us this morning. More particularly, in this passage John has written a skillful piece to set the record straight on one of the core teachings of Christianity, that of grace.
Christianity, if it is anything, is a religion built on the notion of grace. If you are a Christian, then grace must govern your relationship with God. Grace is to be the thing that orients your whole life.
Unfortunately, grace is oftentimes one of those buzz words about which I just talked. It is oftentimes a word that is tossed around rather loosely. It is a concept that, while spoken of much, is little understood.
And that is the problem that John addresses in our text this morning. You might have noticed from our reading that John skillfully addresses three groups of people who have radical misconceptions when it comes to grace.
And low and behold, not much has changed. These three groups are still rather prominent today. There are those who abuse grace. There are those who neglect God’s grace. And there are those who simply doubt the efficacy of God’s grace. But John writes to dispel these notions, and give us a right mind when it comes to the place of grace in the Christian life.
The first group that John addresses are those who have a tendency to abuse God’s grace.
I. We must not abuse God’s grace by continuing a life of sin [5-7]
Now, to abuse God’s grace is to blow it way out of proportion. People who abuse God’s grace are people who really, really, really love God’s grace. They are ecstatic about grace. They will talk all about how God is so forgiving and so merciful, and they will sing the praise songs that exalt him as a gracious and merciful God. They play it up so much that it almost feels like they believe that grace is the only attribute of God.
So what happens is that these people end up abusing grace by continuing to live the same sort of life that they have always lived. Essentially, grace really doesn’t make any difference in their lives. There isn’t any real change in the way they live. Their language is still filthy. Their still filled with the all same jealousies. They still tell the same old lies and make no big deal about breaking any of the commandments.
This is so rampant in our day too. I think that it is the number one thing that I run into when I am out talking with people about Christianity. So many people within the church think that they have a license to sin all they want because God is gracious.
But John tells us that this cannot be. You cannot abuse God’s grace in this way. John says, “If you abuse God’s grace, you cannot have fellowship with God.” He fleshes this out in the first couple of verses.
He begins by telling us that, really, it’s not grace that should be the main focus of our relationship with God. It should be the holiness of God.
Look at what he says in verse 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.” John draws on the imagery of light and of its absolute purity. Darkness, of course, stands for evil. He says, “God, being perfect in holiness, does not have one spot in his character.”
And if you are going to have a relationship with him, then there is no possible way that you can live a life of habitual and unrepentant sin. That’s the essence of verse 6, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness [that is, we continue in our life of sin], we lie and do not practice the truth.”
In other words, there cannot be this incongruence. God cannot have a relationship with a godless person any more than light can have a relationship with darkness.
Unfortunately, people get overly focused on grace that they don’t understand what grace is really supposed to do. Grace is supposed to orient your life towards holiness: towards God and his holiness.
We have to understand that, if we want to have fellowship with God, it has to be on his terms. It has to be a relationship that is rooted in the holiness of God. The grace of God isn’t supposed to lead us to a careless and licentious life. It is to lead us to repentance and make us diligent in trying to become like God. That’s what John says in verse 7, “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.”
To walk in the light is to live a life of new obedience. If we really do have faith in the God, then we will walk as he would have us. God’s grace will move us in that direction. And as we begin that new obedience, his grace will cover the sins we do commit.
So don’t think for a moment that you can go on living a life of sin. If you are here today and your life hasn’t changed much over the years, you need to recognize that you are abusing the grace of God. If you have been living carefree in sin and not living a life of repentance, then you need to understand that you really do not have a relationship with God at all. You’ve been lying to yourself all this time. You have been glorying in a relationship that you do not really have. And it is high time you realize that if you want fellowship with God, then you need to walk in the light and begin following the commandments of God.
You cannot abuse the grace of God like that and still be a bona fide Christian.
And recognize too that the opposite is just as true. Just as you cannot abuse God’s grace, neither can you neglect the grace of God.
This is what John deals with in verses 8-10.
II. We must not neglect God’s grace by claiming to be sinless [8-10]
In verse 8 he says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Here is a person who does not even think he needs grace. We’ve gone from someone who talks about grae all the time and sins excessively to someone who doesn’t talk about it at all because he thinks he doesn’t sin at all. He thinks himself to be perfect.
Now, some of you might think that this is pretty absurd. And it is. You might wonder, “Are there really people who think that they do not ever do anything wrong?” I mean, even unbelieving people are honest enough to admit that they are sinners, right? Can someone really be so fool hearty that they actually say they have no sin?
And the answer is, yes. In the history of the church there have been what we call “perfectionist” movements. Obviously John is dealing with such a group in his day. And this sort of thing has popped up here and there ever since. Some of you might be familiar with the famous preacher John Wesley. Wesley believed in a sort of perfectionism. Though he himself never claimed to have reached this point, he said that a person can come to the point in his life where he loves perfectly. This is carried on today in some Methodist and Wesleyan churches.
This is common in a lot of Pentecostal churches today too. Pentecostals teach that you can obtain a “higher life” as a Christian through a special blessing of the Holy Spirit. It is believed that this special outpouring of the Spirit makes you a more mature Christian. And sometimes it is said that when you experience this great outpouring of the Spirit you can actually become sinless.
I remember sitting in a Pentecostal church and hearing just such a thing being taught. The minister was teaching on something else. He wasn’t teaching on this subject of perfectionism. But in the course of the hour he actually said, “That’s the way it was when I used to sin.”
Yes, he actually said that. Yes, there are people today who actually think that they do not sin… and, as a matter of fact, some of them are sitting right here in this congregation
Let’s not be so foolish as to think that we are ever so pure as to not have this problem. There is within each and every one of us a little liar. We’ll do anything to convince ourselves we “aren’t that bad.” How many times have we rationalized away our sin? We justified it and we massaged it until it was gone—or at least so diminished in its size and offensiveness that we could overlook it.
Are we that much different from modern psychology? Modern psychologists do their best to convince their patients that they are just fine—that they are not sinners. They will stroke you and do their best to assure you that you are not a sinner in the least.
Some of you might have heard the story that RC Sproul tells. A young lady who was attending the college that Sproul taught in at the time came to his office crying. She felt horrible about having had premarital sex. She confided in Sproul that she had sought counseling and that the counselor had told her that her sexual experimentation was natural and she should have no worries about it.
Sproul told her that yes, she should feel terrible and that it would be bad if she didn’t! She had sinned and needed to go to God for forgiveness.
But you see how the modern psychologist wanted to do away with that whole idea of sin. You’re not a sinner. You are just a blob of cosmic dust that has evolved from a monkey. How can you be a sinner?
This is the same kind of ethical gymnastics that we all do though. We all like to lie to ourselves and make ourselves out to be better than we are. We’ll sweep our sin under the rug. We brush it aside or we make some sort of excuse to vindicate ourselves. Maybe we’ll even change the definition of sin, just so that we can make the mud look better than it really is.
But, what is that? It’s deceiving ourselves. It is, as it says in vesre 10, making God to be a liar. His word tells us that we have broken his commandments, but we put it back on him and make him to be the bad guy.
When we do that, what we are really doing is neglecting the grace of God. As we fail to recognize that we have done wrong, we fail to get right with God and embrace the pardon that he offers us.
Look at verse 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
He says here that God is ready, in an instant, to forgive us. He will wipe away our guilt and will no longer count our sins against us. His grace is here, right now, for you. All you have to do is admit that you’ve done wrong.
One of the things that I love about this church is that it has a time dedicated to the confession of sin. It shows that this church still believes in grace and forgiveness. You know that’s missing in a lot of churches. We talk about churches today missing a lot of things. This is one of them. You know what is happening? These churches are neglecting the grace of God. They are posing as perfect churches. There is no time to admit their fault and seek grace for their guilt.
I’m glad this church still does it. I hope that you do it too. I hope that you do not neglect the grace that God offers.
What’s more, I hope you do not doubt it. Yes, there are some people who abuse God’s grace by living a habitually sin filled life. There are others who neglect God’s grace by covering the fact that they are sinners. But you know what. There are others who know that they are sinners, and they feel every ounce of it. There are some people who are doing everything within their power to live the holy life that God has called them to, but they find that they can’t. And so weighted by the thought that they have offended God (and cannot stop offending him!), they are cannot believe that God would ever forgive them.
III. We must not doubt God’s grace by thinking we are too sinful [2:1-2]
If you doubt God’s grace, then read what is said in the first verse of chapter 2. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
These words are designed to be balm to your soul. If you do not have the assurance of the abundance of the grace of God, then these words were meant for you.
John’s whole aim in writing this letter is that you may not sin. He wants you to grow in righteousness. He wants you to be holy as God is holy. But along the way, he knows you are going to mess up. He knows that you are bound to fail. But never think for a moment that God’s grace can’t pardon you.
He says that you have advocate with the Father. That is to say, you have a lawyer who is pleading your case. Jesus stands at God’s right hand, right now, and he is pleading on your behalf.
What is he, some Johnny Cochran? Ever since the OJ Simpson case Johnny Cochran has been known as “the guy who can get any guilty man free.” Is Jesus Christ then, greater than Johnny Cochran that he can even get God to give you a not guilty verdict?
Jesus can get God to give you a not guilty verdict. It is not by being slick with words like Cochran. His is through the plain evidence that he brings to court.
Back in verse 7 it talks about the “blood of Jesus Christ.” And in 2:2 it says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.”
This is talking about the atonement Christ made on the cross. A propitiation is a sacrifice that is offered up to takes away wrath. When Jesus went to the cross, he took upon himself the wrath of God. All of it fell upon him. So now God’s wrath has been appeased, and there is none left over for any of you who look to him in faith.
And just in case you would want to doubt it, he adds that it isn’t just for us, but its for the sins of the whole world. This is to remind you of how significant his work on the cross is. Don’t doubt it in the least. Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for every person in the world who looks to him. It is enough to cover every single person throughout history who would look to the Lord
Basically John is saying, you cannot out sin the cross of Christ. His blood is the perfect satisfaction. God cannot be angry with a single sin in your life, because his wrath has been consumed in Jesus.
Will Metzger tells the story of a brush fire in his book “Tell the Truth.” Out west fires can come sweeping across the plains. Once it gets going the winds can sweep them over hundreds, if not thousands, of acres. On one occasion a terrible fire had ignited and was eating up everything in its path. A certain farm stood in its path that was certain to be consumed by it. The man who lived on the property knew that destruction was imminent. In order to save his home he decided to sacrifice some of his land. He started a backfire and quickly burned up a portion of his land around his house and barn. When the scorching flames of the brush fire came upon his lot, there was no place for it to go. All of the fire passed right around him because everything had already been consumed.
That is essentially what happens when Christ becomes our propitiation. When the flames of God’s wrath come they pass right over us. We are not touched because Christ’s sacrifice has already taken upon himself the judgment we deserved.
You do not have to doubt the efficacy of God’s grace. You do not have to think that you will be touched by his anger. Christ has fully satisfied for all your sins. There is no way you can be touched.
This grace is to orient your whole life. When you see grace in this light it should fill you with such love that you long to serve him. When you see how much Christ has done for you by his cross, how could you ever go on living the same old life of sin? To abuse his grace like that is incomprehensible.
And to neglect it is just as absurd. When you see what God has done to cover your sins, you should feel silly for your vain attempts to cover your sin or act like you’ve got no sin for which to atone. This cross should be like a magnetic pull that brings you unto Christ.
My friends, let us not be so mistaken. But let us ever give grace its place in our lives.
If you ever came across a person lying upon the ground in extreme pain, what would you do? Let’s say for a moment, that you were walking in a park and you came upon a man who was sprawled out upon the ground and barely conscious. How would you react? Would you go over and begin a conversation with him? Would you say, “Hi, my name is Matt! It is wonderful to make your acquaintance. It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. It is just a lovely day in the kingdom!”
Of course you wouldn’t. The severity of the moment would require you to give immediate attention to the ailment at hand. You would skip all the formalities of polite conversation because the situation was desperate and needed special attention.
I pose that to you because it is something of what we find here in the opening of 1 John. You might have noticed that John doesn’t poke around with small talk. His opening words of this epistle may sound a little jarring—like a dump truck lurching forward from a stoplight at full speed.
If you feel that way, there is a reason. Epistles typically follow a particular introductory form. Usually, epistles open with a formal greeting and salutation. They often include a blessing and then, after that little warm-up, they start into the meat of the letter.
John doesn’t do that. At least not in this letter. He dispenses with all the polite formalities and dives right into the meat of his epistle. And I believe that he does this because of the severity of the moment.
This letter is written to people who are basically in a state of shock. Later on in our study we’ll see that there had been something of a mass exodus from the faith. A number of people had left the church due to their embracing other doctrines. Some false teaching had infiltrated the ranks and it had caused a huge division within the church. And, of course, when that happens, there’s typically a lot of confusion among those who are left within the ranks. They wonder, “Should I go with them? Is there something that I’m missing?” No doubt, others were floundering, perhaps on the fence as to whether or not to follow them in abandoning the faith.
I believe that is why John begins his book in this dramatic way. He has diagnosed the problem, and has seen that it is rather serious. The church is like a man laying upon the ground gasping for breath. So he jumps right in order to make sure that the problem is dealt with promptly. John wants to revive a reeling church. He wants to stabilize it by clearing up some of the confusion that has emerged among them.
And essentially he goes straight to the gospel. He wastes no time in applying the balm that would bring healing to the church. He understands that the only way the church can be recalibrated is by means of the gospel.
And, my friends, that is exactly what we need. This book is a book that is one that is essential for today. For if there ever was a time where the church was fractured and misled by false teaching, it is our day. We have a buffet of beliefs and a myriad of gurus all pandering their respective philosophies and variations of “the truth.”
We’ve got your classic liberalism and your neo-orthodoxy. There’s the post-modern bent on Christianity, marching along side your Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and other assorted cults. We’ve got a strong tide of secular humanism, agnosticism and even something they now call Chrislam, the blending of Christianity and Islam.
And if there was ever a time when people were leaving the truth, it is now. Surveys are saying that 80% of young people are leaving the church, never to return again. Tides are walking out of evangelical churches to join communion with Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches.
This little church here has not been immune either. Some of you here know exactly what how it feels to have close friends up break fellowship with you. Even though it has been a while, your heads still feel like their spinning. You are probably still confused and hurt, and you feel kind of like your are reeling from it all.
And it is into that kind of context that John writes. He dispenses with the formalities because he wants to stabilize this reeling church. And how does he do it? He does it with the gospel. He proclaims the unadulterated gospel. His only concern is that we know its facts and the fruits that flow from it.
If you look at verse 1, you see that his primary concern is that you know the facts of the gospel.
I. Concerned that we know the facts of the gospel
It says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have hears, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and touched.” These are nothing other than plain facts about the person of Jesus Christ. John says, “Look, I know your heads are swirling. I know that there are some funky things being tossed around out there. But this is what you need to believe.”
Now I want you to take note of this. There are facts that we must affirm. There are things that we absolutely must believe.
If anything, this is the heresy of our day. Back in John’s day they dealt with believing the wrong things. In our day, a lot of the problem surrounds believing anything. Today it is said that you can believe anything, everything, or even nothing at all.
What you’ll hear is people saying things like, “All you need is a personal relationship with Jesus.” And we affirm that yes, you do need a personal relationship with Jesus. But that relationship is based on certain truths. You cannot have a personal relationship with Christ based on some vague notion of some figure you have imagined in your mind.
The Scripture puts a nix on that kind of thinking. John is concerned that we know the particular facts of the gospel. He is very much concerned that we get a clear understanding of the details of our faith.
And he spells some of that out here. In sum, he affirms the fact that Christ, the second person of the trinity, is the eternal Son of God who has, really and truly, become man by taking upon himself human flesh.
Look at verse one. He starts off by saying, “That which was from the beginning.” In these opening words we are taken back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We are reminded there that before there was anything there was one thing: God. God, being eternal, and above all creation, was not confined to space and time. He exceeds it.
And this is what John is saying about Jesus Christ. Jesus was “from the beginning.” He is the divine one, who existed before creation with the Father.
But Jesus Christ is not just the eternally, divine Spirit. He is also the one who has a full blooded human nature. John says that he saw him. He looked at him. He heard him. He handled him. And you’ll notice that John emphasizes this a number of times. He repeats it in three of the four verses we read.
So John is stressing the fact that Christ was not some ethereal being that floated around Israel for a limited amount of time. He was indeed the one who was made manifest to us by virtue of his incarnation.
There was a sect in the church called docetism for a time that believed this. It may be exactly what John is dealing with here. Docetism comes from the Greek word “doceo” which means “to seem.” A docetist said that Jesus only seemed to be human. He appeared on earth, but he never really had a body.
I like to call this the Casper the Friendly Ghost heresy. That’s essentially what it is. Jesus, according to this view, was so spiritual, so divine, that he basically was a phantom. He only appeared in human form, but did not really take on flesh and blood.
It’s funny to think how the pendulum has swung to the other side. In more recent history things have been turned around. We emphasize the material side of things, rather than the spiritual. Docetism seems like a pretty farfetched thing to us today.
I remember when I first heard about this in college. I thought it was quite odd. I wondered how in the world one could imagine that Jesus didn’t have a real body like ours.
But that’s where we are today. Back in John’s day they favored the spiritual side of things. The spiritual and divine side of things was more real than the physical world. And it was even superior to the physical realm. So they said that it was absurd to think that a spiritual being like God would dare have flesh and blood. So a belief arose that Christ only appeared in a human form, but he was never really and truly flesh and blood.
Now-a-days things are reversed. In our context the spiritual side of things is thought to be absurd. A lot of it is no doubt due to the influence of the Enlightenment and the materialism in evolution and Darwinian theory. So, in our day, we end up stressing the human nature of Christ over and against—or to the neglect of—his divine nature.
It is important for us to understand though, that a balance is needed between the two. The fact is, when it comes to the gospel, one cannot be stressed over the other. We must affirm that, Yes, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, possessing all the properties belonging to diety. But along with his divine nature, he also possesses a very real human nature, like ours.
John is very adamant that we recognize this. He does not want this to be brushed aside as silly dogmas or frivolous doctrines that simply divide Christians. As I said at the outset, this is of primary importance to John. This is of such priority that it takes preeminence in this letter.
Why is that? Why is it urged like this? Why does John find it so necessary to be concerned with such details when it comes to the Person of Jesus Christ.
In one sense you could say that it is because it is Jesus Christ. Christ is the subject of our adoration. Being that he is who he is, you don’t want to muddy how he is perceived. If someone says to you, “Your mama wears combat boots,” how would you take that? That would be an offense to you, wouldn’t it? You would be a bit perturbed by such a thing. Why is that? It is because it is your mother! You love your mother and it is a crime to have her degraded in such a way. You wouldn’t stand to have her even spoken of in such a way.
And that is what we do when we don’t conceive of Christ in the right way. When we don’t perceive him as he is revealed in Scripture, we malign him and make him out to be something he isn’t. And of course, that is much worse than calling your mother a combat boot wearer!
But there is another reason John stresses these distinctions. He knows that there is so much riding on them. If we do not get the facts straight, we will not be able to enjoy the fruits of the gospel.
II. John is concerned that we enjoy the fruits of the gospel
In this passage, John lays out for us some of the blessings that come to us as a result of the gospel. Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list. But he does highlight three very important fruits that the gospel produces.
The first of which is eternal life. You see this in verse 2. Verse 2 begins by saying, “The life was manifest.” And he goes on to say that he “proclaims to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and made manifest to us.”
Now you notice that John doesn’t use Jesus’ name here. Instead of calling him Jesus, he calls him “life.” It is as if to say that the two are synonymous. Eternal life is so bound up with the God man, Jesus Christ, that you can use the terms interchangeably.
And essentially, what John says is that if you want to enjoy eternal life, then you must believe in this Jesus that he is presenting.
What a far cry from the things you hear today! The mantra today is that there are many roads to God. It doesn’t matter what you believe or who you believe, all religions will get you eternal life in the end.
That’s not what John says, though. He says, “If you want to live forever—if you want to enjoy life in heaven when things on earth are done, then there is only one way to do it. It is through the incarnate Son of God.
But the gospel not only produces eternal life, it produces fellowship.
Look at verse 3. It says, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Basically John says that it is only right that these people have left the church. It is natural because the fellowship of believers is based on the gospel. The word fellowship is informative here too. The word fellowship is the Greek word koinonia, which means “to share together.” It means having something in common. And that commonality that we have is found in the truth of the gospel.
So if you want to have fellowship with Christ and his church, then you have to have fellowship with the truth of the gospel. You can’t have one without the other. You cannot build a church based on ham buns. Neither can you build a real church based on particular programs, as a lot of churches do today. Their pitch is that they can get you in with a certain youth program or ministry to such and such niche perceived need. Sure, you might be able to get a lot of people in the pews. But you won’t have a true church or any real fellowship in the Biblical sense.
The only way you can have true unity in the church—the only way you can experience the radical, mystical fellowship that the Bible talks about is by means of the gospel.
The last thing that John mentions is joy.
In verse 4 John says, “We are writing these things that our joy may be complete.” You may notice that there is a textual variant here. Some manuscripts have “your joy,” others have “our joy.” I don’t think it really matters either way. Either way you take it the meaning is the same. If you want joy, then the only way you can have it is through the gospel that I have laid out for you.
Now, isn’t this exactly what you want? I know it is because it is what is advertised in every single commercial that I see on the television. The marketers are all over this one. You want joy? Then use this soap! You can’t imagine how much joy you’ll have if you just shower up with this.
Every advertisement preys on this deep seated longing in every human being. And every religion does too. Every religion promises joy and happiness. Your life will be overflowing with joy once you embrace this or that philosophy.
But all these only give you a false sense of joy. True satisfaction, that sense of exultation, that deep rooted feeling of power and triumph, despite the sorrows of life, comes only through the Spirit of God in the gospel. No other religion can offer this. All the other philosophies are lacking in some sense of this joy. You either have to conjure it up yourself—which is rather cheap, or it comes and goes like the ocean tide.
Not so with Christian joy. This joy, as it says here, is full. He writes that your joy may be full. You will not lack any supply of joy when you embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as he is offered to you in the gospel. Yes, you will have sorrows. You’ll no doubt still find life to be overwhelmingly miserable. But despite the circumstances, down in your soul there will be an ever flowing stream of joy.
There was an old man who once was asked about his new found faith in Christ. His reply went something like this, “I am more happy now when I am sad, than ever I was when I was the happiest before.”
That’s something of the true nature of Christian joy. That gets at the deep seated nature of how full our joy can be because of the gospel.
So there you have it. Now you see why John is so adamant about these distinctions. He presses the facts of the gospel so that you might be sure to enjoy the fruits that proceed from the gospel.
Don’t let yourself teeter on these things. If you want true fellowship, then it has to be found here. If you want to experience the fullness of joy, then you have to embrace the gospel. If you want to live forever and enjoy the wonder of eternal life, then your faith must lay hold of the God-man Jesus Christ. It is only in him that these things can be found.
Before he died the great English leader, Winston Churchill, set in order how he wanted his funeral to be conducted. It was to take place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral and it was to include many of the great hymns of the church. And as was the custom of the land, it was to follow the regular Anglican liturgy.
At his direction, a bugler was positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Then after the benediction that bugler sounded the tone of “Taps,” the universal signal that the day is over.
But then came a dramatic turn: as Churchill instructed, after “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the opposite side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reveille,” the military signal to wake up. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning!”
That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history the last note would not be Taps; it would be Reveille.
For those of us who are Christians certainly that is most certainly the case. And we gather this day to remember that very thing. On this Easter day we gather to remember that death was not the final signal of Christ’s life. As this passage clearly shows us Jesus Christ rose again from the dead as the Redeemer of Life.
And I want us to meditate this morning on this historic event. I want us to look at this passage and see what God want us to learn about the resurrection of Christ? This passage tells us at least three things about this monumental event in Christ’s life.
The first thing we learn is something of the nature of Christ’s resurrection.
I. The nature of the resurrection
The question that we immediately ask is, “What kind of resurrection this was?” Was this, as the Jehovah’s Witness believe, some sort of ghostly spiritual appearing? Was Jesus floating about like Casper the friendly ghost?
The text is very clear on this. You see, the gospel writer was sure that people wouldn’t believe that there was an actual, physical resurrection. So he writes specific things here to guard against that.
Now most of us here probably have heard this story a number of times in our life. So we are probably a little immune to it. But this should be a shocker. If you’ve never heard this story before you should be blown away. Your first reaction should be, “No way.”
Moreover, we live in a “scientific age.” We have people all around who say that once you are dead, you are dead. That’s a fact of science. And these kinds of people scoff at the resurrection and mock it.
For instance, Hank Hanegraff, in his book Resurrection, gives the example of Thomas Jefferson. Some of you may know that Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Bible. He cut out all the parts that had anything to do with miracles. He simply couldn’t believe in the supernatural. So Jefferson’s Bible basically ends with chapter 27.
But I want you to notice that Matthew writes just for that kind of person. You know those Jews, they weren’t stupid people. They would have been the most skeptical of all. If you are going to convince them to follow Christ, you had to convince them that he was physically alive. Spiritism was a crime punishable by death in the OT. So they would have been the first to deny this.
But look at what Matthew says. First of all you have the testimony of the tomb itself. Verse 2 says that an angel came down and rolled away the stone that enclosed the tomb. Why would he do that? Well was so that you could go in and see for yourself! There was nobody there. Literally, there was no body!
But then you also have the testimony of the angel. What did the angel say in verse 6? “He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.” This divine messenger gives his courtroom testimony that there is no body in the tomb.
Ok, so you don’t believe in angels. That’s fine. Believe the hard evidence then. The women freaked out and ran away. But what happened? Jesus himself, in his physical person, met them. Verse 9 says that He talked with them and they clasped his feet. Why would Matthew say that they grabbed his feet? It is an indication that this was a real human person that they were handling.
So Matthew goes to great lengths in these few verses to provide us with extensive testimony that Jesus really did, physically rise from the dead.
I know that the tide of unbelief is against us. The Materialists find this to be the most repulsive doctrine in the world. The cultists and others who deviate from orthodox Christianity can’t bring themselves to believe it. Liberal theologians say, “Who cares is Christ really rose from the grave or not.” They say you can take it or leave it—it doesn’t matter if he physically rose from the dead or not.
But this is the testimony of Scripture. This is the testimony of God: Flesh and blood has been brought up from the grave. Christ, as a whole person, is now at the right hand of God. That’s what Easter is all about: Our redeemer physically rose from the grave.
So the Bible clearly answers the question regarding the nature of the resurrection. But what is the significance of the resurrection?
II. The significance of the resurrection
The resurrection might astonish us as an amazing event. But let’s not forget that this event was of the greatest importance to our faith.
You have to ask yourself, “Why does Matthew include this section in his gospel?” Why was it important for him to detail the fact that Christ really did physically rise from the dead? We might even tweak the question a bit, “Why is it important for us to believe in a physical resurrection of Christ.”
Well, Matthew includes this section for a number of reasons. The first is simple enough: The resurrection verifies our redemption. It is a proof that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, had most certainly defeated sin and its consequences. Christ died on the cross for sin. He suffered the consequences of sin. But if he would have stayed in the grave, what proof would we have that he had certainly defeated sin and death?
When two guys are going at it in the boxing ring, how do you know who is the winner? It’s the guy who is left standing. The champion is the one who, after getting knocked down, can get back up and remain standing in the end.
That’s the way it is with Christ. He came to defeat sin and death. He might have gotten knocked down, but he wasn’t down for the count. In his resurrection he proves that he is the victor over sin. By his resurrection he proves that he has defeated death. He is the champion.
But the resurrection not only verifies our redemption; it is also significant for the fact that it secures our future.
This passage does not say it, but the other gospels record why exactly the women had gone to the tomb in the first place. These women went there, not to be the first ones to see Jesus risen from the dead, but because they had unfinished business to tend to.
The other gospels tell us that the women had brought spices and such. That was for the purpose of preserving the body. It was equivalent to the embalming process of today. They didn’t have enough time before the Sabbath to prepare the body properly for burial, so they came back after the Sabbath was over to do it.
Now, ask yourself, why did they do that? Why did they care about preserving the body after the life had gone out of it? Why not just chuck it into an incinerator or leave it out for the birds? It was because they believed in a future use of the body.
We can use my wife’s childhood toys as an example of this. After my wife grew up, why didn’t my in-laws chuck all her toys from childhood? Why were they so careful to see to it that those toys were preserved nice and neat in their basement? It was because they knew that there would be a future use for them. Those toys have been, in a sense, resurrected because my daughters now get to play with them!
That is the same hope that those Jews had. That’s why they went to such great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead. And though the women didn’t know it, Jesus had come to secure that future life for his people.
Job did a lot of complaining in his day. A lot happened to him. But in the midst of his complaints he said this: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes.”
Job was confident that he would participate in the resurrection. Why? Because his Savior lived. Because he rose again, Christ is the Living God. And his life is our life too.
And if you want to participate in this life, it is open to you. All you need to do is receive and rest upon Christ alone for your salvation. Do that, and you too can look forward to life beyond the grave.
But there is one more feature we should notice about the resurrection. We should make sure that we remember the impact of the resurrection. Matthew not only points out the nature and significance of the resurrection. He also hints at the fact that the resurrection radically alters the daily flow of life.
III. The impact of the resurrection
You’ll notice that at the beginning of this passage it tells us what day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. It was the day after the Sabbath, or the first day of the week. Matthew wants his audience to realize that a new era has dawned. This event is so tremendous that it changed the rhythm of daily life for the Jewish believers.
You remember that the seventh day used to be the day of God’s Sabbath. But with the triumph of the grave, a new day has dawned. And a new day is established as the formal day of worship and rest. We gather today to call upon God’s name to commemorate the day which Christ established for us eternal rest.
Really, this is something that took hold of the church quite early on. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself, by his own example, after his resurrection regards the sanctity of this new day. We can look over in John 20:19. This is talking about one of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus. And we find out that it takes place exactly a week later. It says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
You may remember too that Thomas was absent from that assembly. The other disciples told him what had happened and he didn’t believe. But for Thomas’ sake (and perhaps still for the sake of the other disciples) verse 26 says that Jesus appeared again 8 days later (that being the first day of the week again).
Really this can only be Christ’s way of affirming to his disciples that His resurrection has inaugurated a new day. The Sabbath day has been altered to the first day of the week.
We can also look at the rest of Scripture to see that the early church got the message. For instance we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
Well what are they doing here? It is obviously a worship service. Paul preaches and they gather for the purpose of “breaking bread;” that is to say to observe the sacrament of communion.
1 Cor. 16:2 also hits along these lines. It says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” Why did Paul designate the first day of the week? Well, what better time to take up an offering than when all the saints are gathered together for worship?
Let’s look at one more text. In Rev. 1:10 the apostle John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” What is the significance of this? Well what do we read every other week when we recite the 10 commandments? “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.” In other words, this day was supposed to be God’s special day. It was His day.
John refers to “the Lord’s day,” or the day that Christ claims as his. And what can that be but the day he instituted in commemoration of his having finished his work of redemption!
Well, what does this mean for us? Well, one thing it means is that Easter is not observed once a year. It is observed once a week! The early church knew that well. They used to start every corporate gathering on Sunday with the leader standing and saying, “He is risen!” The congregation would then respond by saying, “He is risen indeed!”
Every Sunday they celebrated the fact that their redemption had been most definitely procured in Christ and his resurrection. And we should do that too. And the way we do that is by setting this day apart from all the others; distinguishing it as Christ himself distinguished it from all the others.
Indeed, we should feel the impact of Christ’s resurrection should be felt every week. What he did was so significant that it should alter, not only who we or where we will one day be, but it should influence what we do from week to week.
He is the all sufficient Savior. He gives us this day to rest and be renewed in body and soul. But it is simply so that we can remember that one day we who hold fast to him shall be renewed in full.
Thanks be to God. He has risen indeed.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” Matthew 27:45
There is a life giving force to the light. After coming through the deeps of winter, we embrace the illumination that accompanies spring. I know for my family Daylight Savings is on the par of a national holiday.
I don’t think any of us would deny that there is a renewing affect of light. Perhaps this was why light was the first gift of creation. The first recorded words of God were “Let there be light.” This light is appreciated so much that it comes to signify that which is good and joyous. The climax of this comes in the Savior’s designation of himself. He said, “I am the Light of the World.”
But in this passage we see that light was taken from our Lord as he hung on the cross. Jesus was stripped of that first and great blessing of creation. We might say that the Light of the World was not allowed to enjoy the light of the world.
We might not think much of these words, but we should not overstep them. These words show us something of Jesus’ sufferings. Though we cannot see anything through the darkness, when we hear these words we must understand that we are peering into the pit of hell.
This should have been the brightest hours of the day. The 6th to the 9th hours was a roman way of talking about Noon. to 3 p.m. But it seems like midnight. Is this a freak occurrence? Is it an super eclipse of the sun?
No. Science cannot explain how the sun, moon and stars were all deleted for a space of 3 hours. It can only be explained one way: The rays of the sun forsook him. God had turned his back on Christ. Therefore he is excommunicated from the presence of light. All of God’s favor is removed.
All of us know something of punishment. We certainly know that there are different forms of punishment. The form with which we are most familiar is the use of brute force. Parents spank their children. Criminals receive whippings or floggings. As we have seen in other places tonight, Jesus certainly received his fair share of brute force as he was beaten, whipped and crucified..
But the use of blows and scourges are not the only way to punish. Some of the worst punishments are ones that do not involve contact. By that I mean the elimination (or removal) of blessings. Sometimes children can endure a spanking pretty easily. But if you tell him he cannot go a much anticipated party he might break. If you forbid him from going out to a game you can bypass his skin and bones and touch a part of his soul.
As he underwent the wrath of God, Jesus suffered more than simple afflictions upon his body. He was stripped of all good things. Even this most basic good: the one that all men enjoy to some degree. God makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. But at this point, the Sin Bearer could not be permitted to have even the most basic joy. A blanket must be cast over the sun.
He must experience the cruelty of the great Day of the Lord. This is what the Prophets foretold. Isaiah said, “Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both in wrath and fierce anger, for the stars of heaven and the constellations shall not give their light: The sun shall be darkened in its going forth and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
Again Isaiah said regarding the day of the Lord, “I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.” Jesus himself had even spoken of this terror. He said that the evil doers would be cast into the outer darkness. Now, as the darkness descends upon him, we understand (in a chilling way) that he is descending into hell.
Don’t forget too the effects of the darkness on one’s mental capacity. Why is it that we love Daylight Savings? It is because it brightens our spirits as well as our neighborhood. Some of you know that doctors prescribe more anti-depressants during the months that the sun seems to slumber. Up in Alaska darkness covers the land for days on end. During these times the government holds events (carnivals, races, etc) to try to lift people’s spirits. Our brother Lyle tells me that lots of people end up committing suicide or drinking to cope with the despair that accompanies.
Think about that. Think about the mental agonies that accompanied his physical pain. Klass Schildner has made the comment, “No man saw what terrors distorted [Christ’s] face or how the affliction of hell entered his body… He allowed no one to look into hell.”
The furry of hell takes on new dimensions, doesn’t it? You might not see flames, but you certainly feel them. That’s because God’s wrath burns deeper than skin in the darkness.
Could there be a darker message? Certainly not. But as we try to look at what we cannot see, we do see the glimmer of good news. What? Good news? Where do we see that? If we see anything it is the horror of hell, isn’t it?
That is not the only thing we see. We do see one more thing. We see that Christ is fulfilling his office of Mediator. He is saving his people from their sins.
At our other meeting place—at Armstrong—I find a good illustration of this. Each night when I go there to prepare for evening service, it is pitch black in that room. I open the door, but the light switches are on the other side of the room. Someone has to walk across the darkness to allow others to experience the light of the room.
Is that not what Christ did? In those three hours He made the trek through eternal darkness. By doing so he saves us from the darkness and despair of God’s wrath. Christ allows the light of heaven to radiate around those of us who are his people. We have opportunity to enjoy the inexpressible light of God’s presence because he took upon himself the dark curse of hell on our behalf.
Though we cannot see anything, we see something miraculous. Even though the cross is hidden by a wall of black velvet, we see something beautiful: We see the Son of God bringing light and life to his people.
But it is all a façade. All that you see here in this passage, the displays of majesty and honor, are really only tricks. This might be the greatest hoax in all history because so many have been fooled by it.
I know what you heard. I know what you see in your mind’s eye. But bear with me, and try and see this passage in a new light. I want you to understand that things are not exactly as they seem.
It all begins with Jesus. You might say that he is the biggest prankster of all time. For he wittingly provokes the crowd.
I. Jesus wittingly provokes the crowd [28-36]
One of the biggest misconceptions that we have is that this grand march occurred spontaneously. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing that blossomed out of random circumstances. But that is not true. Jesus planned this thing to a tee. As a matter of fact, He was the one that instigated all the hoopla that we see here.
Why do I say this? One reason is because of what Jesus did prior to going into Jerusalem. First, there is the obvious fulfillment of Scripture. Everyone there would have understood as soon as they saw Jesus: Zechariah 9:9. Here comes your king, riding on the foal of an ass. Jesus is intentionally setting this up. Jesus was playing on that. He knew that was on People’s minds, and so he said, “Go get me a donkey.”
But more than that, Jesus goes to a lot of trouble to get this little beast, doesn’t he? He called his disciples over, told them to go to all the way over to the next town to get it.
Now, you do know that he could have just as easily found a ride right there where he was. He was in Bethany. That was where Lazarus lived. He had some connections and could have easily picked up a colt there. But he makes his disciples take this extra trip. They have to go out of their way to get it.
On top of this, Jesus tells them to basically commit a form of robbery.
Robbery? What do you mean by that? Well, he tells them that they will find a colt tied there and they should take it. Normally, you don’t just take things. Even if you have previously arranged a deal with Enterprise Rent-a-Donkey, you stop in and ask for the keys and get the necessary permissions.
But Jesus says, “Just take it.” And if anyone asks, tell them “The Lord has need of it.” I think it is safe to say that Jesus is intentionally drawing attention to himself. Of course these people are going to stop these guys from taking the animal. Of course they are going to inquire what they are doing. And the response would have been some good gossip, “The Lord has need of it.”
You can see them turn to one another and start talking, “Jesus is coming?!” The whispers would have traveled like wildfire through the masses of people who were starting to assemble there for the festivities.
So you see, Jesus is intentionally provoking the people. He’s getting them all excited. He’s revving them up just for this moment.
And it is an odd thing for Jesus to do, isn’t it? Up until now, Jesus has been avoiding the crowds to a great degree. He’s certainly been down playing his status as the Messianic King. There are times where he blatantly turns the masses away. Jesus is very “seeker unfriendly” sometimes. And there have been other instances where people acknowledge his messianic role and he says, “See that you tell no one.”
But at this moment in Jesus’ life, he takes the spotlight. He doesn’t shy away from the acclaim. Rather, he steps right into it. More than that! He was the very one who set the stage for it. He intentionally whips up the crowd.
You know, there was one other time in Jesus’ life when intentionally provoked a rather large crowd of people. It was in his hometown of Nazareth. It was at the beginning of his ministry. He came into the synagogue and opened the scroll. He read it and began to preach. Everyone was amazed. They were saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” No doubt all his life they had sung the praises of this brilliant little boy as he was growing up. They started doing the exact same thing right then.
But then Jesus got to the application of the sermon…and they didn’t like that. Their admiration turned to aggression rather quickly. And they led him up to a cliff and were ready to toss him to his doom.
You remember that Jesus vanished before their eyes. In the commotion they lost him. And the Scripture says it was because “it was not his time.”
That was how his ministry began. His role as a Prophet was ever seared into the minds of his kindred. Now, in this event, Jesus whips up the crowd again. He advertises himself as their King.
I really think that Jesus is doing more than making a grandiose entry into Jerusalem. I think he’s turning the blade of the sacrificial knife right to his breast. In whipping up the crowd, he’s directing history. The time has come. It is the last week of his life. And so he’s putting all things in order so that the main thrust of his sufferings can commence.
He’s declared to be the King here. But really, Jesus is acting as a Priest. As a priest he must offer up the sacrifice for sins. Priests don’t let other people do their work. They can’t let other people do their work. People who are not priests can’t offer the sacrifices. The priest has to take control and carry out the duties. And that’s what Jesus does. In whipping up the crowd, he plays on their false notions of the Messianic King. And in doing so, he puts the blade to his throat.
My friends, He provokes this crowd because he knows he must atone for your sin. He knows that he must force the situation as your priest.
And when you think about it like this you realize that this is a far different thing than what others have said in ages past about Jesus. There have been some who have believed that Jesus was just an ordinary guy. He wanted to be Israel’s Messiah, but he saw that his plan was going awry. They say that he finally realized that the people weren’t going to make him their king and so he gave himself up to be crucified as a last ditch effort to gain their graces. It was his last attempt to elicit some sort of esteem as a great man.
Fredrick Nietzsche was one such person who exposed this. Neitzsche once picture Christ as a frail, world-weary Hebrew, who doubting his future, bowed forward in despair and fell into deaths arms. All in a last shot at being received by the people.
That’s all bunk. The story given to us puts everything in a whole different light. It shows us a priest-king who puts everything in order. He didn’t accidently fall into the clutches of murderers. He was in command the whole time. He intentionally provoked them in order to set the stage for his sacrifice.
And even as this happens, you can’t help but see him already in the midst of his sufferings. Don’t forget that as he provokes this crowd, the crowd also provokes Jesus.
II. The crowd unwittingly provokes Jesus [37-44]
In the midst of the wild jubilation that is no doubt rocking Jerusalem, if you listen hard enough you might be able to hear through all that noise one man weeping. Now, it is so triumphant, why is Jesus in tears?
Again, it sounds so glorious, doesn’t it? People are skipping around with delight. Sounds of Psalms are echoing off the walls of the city. You have the accolades of the crowd reverberating throughout the valley. It is a procession unlike any in history. The singing is no doubt reaching decibels that put the Roman governors on edge. And then you look at Jesus, nad you see him with water filled eyes.
Jesus knows that this mighty chorus is all sung in falsetto.
The passage makes this clear enough. First, you have the people’s praises. They are singing because they expect Christ to inaugurate the Davidic kingship again. You notice that they don’t sing because they recognize who Jesus is as the Redeemer. It says in verse 37 that they sang because of “all the things that they had seen.” They were caught up in the miracles. And their nationalistic juices were stoked.
So Jesus knows that every note that resonates in that valley is sung to a completely different god. They were singing to a Messiah of their own invention. They were singing to a military leader and a physical warrior.
Their singing might have been musically harmonious, but to Christ it was the greatest dissonance that there ever was—especially when you consider how they were twisting up the Scriptures and miss applying them. Anytime you take Christ’s words and miss apply them, you not only dismember the Scriptures, you attack the very soul of Christ.
Dutch preacher Klass Schilder once said on this passage, “A rent in the body of the Bible, which is God’s Word made Scripture, is equivalent to a dismemberment of Christ’s body, which is the Word of God made flesh.”
So don’t think for a second that the chanting and the jubilations were by any means pleasantries to Jesus. Jesus is in the initial stages of his passion. Every word might better be conceived as some of his very first scourges received that week. The false notions of these people would have grieved him to no end and struck wounds deep in his chest.
Add to this pain the snide remarks of the Pharisees. They provoke him, perhaps more than the crowd. They tell him to hush up all this commotion. In essence, they one up the crowd because they are saying, “We don’t want you to be our king at all!” At least the crowd hadn’t gone that far, at least not yet. But the Pharisees make no bones about it. They openly proclaim, “We don’t want you.”
The passage goes on to show us just how Jesus much all this affected Jesus. In verse 41 it says that he comes to the city in tears. And what he says confirms his heartbreak. Out of the anguish of his heart he decries the unbelief of the city and what it will lead to. He prophesies the coming destruction of Jerusalem. “The days will come,” he says, “When your enemies will build barricades and lay siege to this place.” All this because they “did not know the time of their visitation.”
So yes, this procession is far from anything that Jesus takes delight in. It is downright irksome to him. All this crowd does is provoke him. All the rumpus brouhaha—all the wild fervor—is like a whip raking his soul. Every cheer and every note of jubilation was basically a fist clubbing his spirit.
You might then wonder, why did he whip up the crowd in the first place then? You might say that this is kind of his fault. We just established the fact that he was the one who went out of his way to provoke the crowd. Isn’t he to blame for it all?
I don’t know if we can answer that question fully. We can say this though: Christ is our Mediator—and it is beautiful. He’s presented to the Roman Establishment as a Triumphant Warrior, but to us he is presented as the Man of Sorrows. Though the throng declares him to be the Messianic King, we see him as the Messianic Priest and a Sacrificial Lamb, already being led to the slaughter.
So, yes, in a sense he does bring it all upon himself. And, rightfully so! Because he is the Priest, and the Priest’s job is to bleed the sheep. Priests were not to have any mercy on those little creatures. They were to inflict upon them the pains the sacrifice demands without holding back in any degree.
And our great High Priest does not hold back. He orders these events so that he might receive the pains that sin deserves. He must begin his passion. The lamb’s blood must be shed. And it is. The wrath of God is being poured out. It might not be completely visual, but there is an internal bleeding that has begun, as he receives the pangs upon his soul.
And we take comfort in it. For these things point us towards the atonement that Christ makes for our sins. As Christ undergoes these miseries he does so as our substitute. As his spirit is wrenched, we know that it is for us and for our salvation.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.