First it just touched the outside of it. Then somehow it wormed its way past the leathery shell. And little by little it squeezed under and over every thread of that coiled up string. It pressed on through with a determined tenacity. Mind you, it went right through the middle of the baseball until it broke through to the other side. It is amazing to think about how difficult it must have been, but it persevered right through—pressing on towards its goal without ever giving up.
That little root is a reminder of the tenacity the Lord calls us to possess. Each one of us is called to press on to the upward call in Christ Jesus. No matter how hard it might be to battle the flesh—no matter how the world may press in upon us and try to deter us in our walk with the Lord Jesus, we must be determined to persevere. We must tenaciously pursue our goal of greater holiness.
In order to encourage this kind of tenacity John inserted this section of Scripture. As you may remember from last time, we said that this odd little portion of his epistle was put here to give us a little motivation to fight the good fight of faith. He chooses some things that would encourage us to press on through all the trials to greater obedience.
And today I want you to notice the last two encouragements he gives us. In order to give us a little boost he reminds us that we have the pleasure of having a relationship with the Lord and victory over Satan.
Now he knows that not just anything will motivate you. So he pinpoints the two most meaningful things that he can think of. The first of which is the simple pleasure of having a relationship with the Lord.
I. The pleasure of a relationship with God
He says in verse 13, “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.”
You might have noticed too that this is the only bunch addressed that does not change the second time they are addressed. Children are first spoken to regarding the forgiveness of sins. Then in verse 13 John speaks to them about their knowing the father. In addressing the young men, which we will look at in just a moment, there is the repetition of “overcome the evil one.” But more is added.
When he addresses the fathers through, not one word is added or changed. The only thing that is said is that they “know him who is from the beginning.” I can only believe that nothing more is needed. This is the one thing that is most dear to them.
This past week my wife and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. My wife is quite precious to me. But you are a fool if you think that I’m going to spend $5 for a card for her! My deferring is more than just me being cheap though. I doubt that I could ever find a card that would rightly express my true sentiments. So every year I make her a card.
But during that time of card making I had a lot of time to reflect on our relationship. I was sort of panning back through the years as I was trying to think of just the right thing to say. And as I was doing that, I found myself thinking how much she means. She means more to me now than she did 5 years ago. Or even 10 years ago. Or 15 years ago. I have the pleasure of knowing my wife.
Now, we’ve only known each other for 15 years total (13 of which in marriage), but the more we are together the more I find that it is just a pleasure knowing her and having the relationship that we do.
Those of you who have walked with the Lord for any amount of time will most certainly confess the same thing. You have a relationship with the Lord. You know Him and that is a prize that you find invaluable.
But it is not just the relationship that you have. It is what you have come to know about the Lord that makes the relationship so deep and meaningful. John repeats the fact that you know him “who was from the beginning.” There is a lot we can say about this. What is said here entails a lot of theology that you have built up over the years. Your relationship has grown, and the reason it has is because you have a greater degree of knowledge of who he is than you did when you first started out. So it is almost like having more God to glory in.
Some of you have read the Narnia books. Perhaps you remember the scene in the second book, Prince Caspian, where the little girl, Lucy, meets the great Lion, Aslan, again. They had been apart for some time and the first thing she notices is that this mighty lion is quite a bit larger than she remembered him. Shocked by his stature she exclaims, “Aslan, you’re bigger!”
He responds by saying, “That is because you are older, little one…every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” What he was saying there is a beautiful picture of what our relationship with the Lord is like. The Lord God never grows. We are the ones that grow. With every passing year our relationship with the Lord deepens because our knowledge of His true nature expands.
And to say that we have known him “who was from to beginning”—doesn’t that state something about our perception of him? Does it not magnify his greatness?
In theological terms this is talking about “the immensity of God.” It’s getting at the fact that the Lord supersedes time and space.
These are two boundaries to us that we cannot escape. We are confined to time and space so much so that we cannot even grasp what is really being said here. I mean, to say, “God is before the beginning,” is to talk in terms of time (you can’t be before the beginning.)
The same goes with spacial references. God is not confined to space. He stands outside the boundaries of the universe. But there you go, how can you be outside space? We are using spacial terms to talk about being outside space.
It sort of boggles your mind. These things are, to a great degree, incomprehensible. But that is the beautiful irony of what is said here. We have known him who is from the beginning. Though our minds cannot fully comprehend him, we have known him—we have had a relationship with him. And that really explains everything.
When we remember that we have this relationship, and when we really reflect on how wonderful it is, then it should encourage us to press on towards greater obedience.
But it isn’t just the fact that we have a relationship with the Lord that should encourage us. We should be induced further by the fact that we have the pleasure of victory over Satan.
II. The pleasure of victory over Satan
Again, in verse 13 he says, “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” Then in verse 14, it is expanded. It is almost as if he writes a little commentary on what it means. He says, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
Now, is this not what young Christians need to hear? Those of you who may be of my rank in the Christian life probably need to grab on to this and hold it tight. Newborns in the faith are typically ecstatic. They are so wrapped up in that initial salvation that they are flying high. They love that they are forgiven and the thought of eternal life and a new relationship with Jesus is puts them in a high state.
People who are older in the faith, the fathers if you will, they simply love the fact that they have known the Lord. But people who have gone down the road a bit—they are past that initial stage, but not quite to the point where they area father in the faith, they need the reminder that Satan’s power is vanquished.
What is most characteristic about being a teenager or young adult in the faith? Personally, I think it is the struggle we have with sin. That freshness of the faith has worn off a bit and now you find yourself in the midst of the battle. You’ve grown a bit and now you are finding that you are engaged in a fight. You are finding that the devil has it out for you. He seems to have launched all his fiery darts upon you. It is a “shock and awe” campaign, and you may feel like you are being bombarded with temptation on every side.
Sometimes you can even go to bed feeling clobbered. You’ve just been hammered all day long. There’s the temptation to be full of pride. Who wants to be humble? It’s wonderful having that nice comeback and snark that really rips someone up. It’s good because it not only tears them down, but it makes you look so good.
Then there’s the temptation to worry. How many things do you have to get done? How many people are pulling you this way or that? How are things going to pan out in the next couple of weeks or months? And what if it doesn’t get done in time? Or if it doesn’t turn out this way? Or if she says that? Worry can be like a leech in your brain. It sits in your mind and tries as hard as it can to suck the life right out of you.
Oh, we could name many, many more things that you have to resist. We could talk about your vanity, your coveting, your tendency to bend the truth or procrastinate. The list can go on and on. And as I said, you can feel like you’ve been bludgeoned all day long by the devil.
And in the midst of all this you need to remember that you have overcome the evil one.
“Doesn’t feel like I’ve overcome! Feels more like I’ve succumbed!” No, my friend. You have overcome the evil one. The word of God abides in you. The stoney wall of your heart has been torn down. The word of God has penetrated into the deep recesses of your soul. And once that happens, Satan’s grip on you is vanquished. He can only pester you now with these temptations. He can only try to make your life miserable. No matter how successful he may be at that, he cannot defeat you. Satan may walk around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But he has a severe limp.
I once heard a story about a lion at a zoo. A crowd had gathered at the exhibit to marvel at the grandeur of the beast. I admit that I have been among those who have gawked over these animals. They are magnificent. To look at them is to view their magnificent power. But upon this occasion the crowd was amazed to see an older gentleman enter the exhibit. He was obviously on staff with the zoo and he had come in to do some cleaning. He took his broom in hand and began to sweep. Yet his demeanor was by no means restless. He continued to sweep through the cage, coming closer and closer to the lion. The crowd watched with fearful disbelief at how close he was coming to it. Finally, when he could go no further, he poked the beast with his broom. It obviously annoyed the lion. So he slowly got to its feet and moved on to the other side of the cage.
When the janitor made his exit someone asked him, “Were you not afraid of the lion?” he replied, “Aww, no. That lion is too old to be a threat, and he hasn’t got any teeth.”
We obviously do not wish to underestimate the power of the devil. He deserves a bit of reverence. But we do not live in fear of him. He has been overcome. At the cross, Christ delivered a blow to his head that has left him reeling ever since. And when the word of God took up its residence in you, Satan had his teeth ripped out. He is now powerless to do anything to you of eternal significance. He now has to resort to alternative means of antagonizing you and annoying you.
The greatest example of this is found in the life of Martin Luther. Some of you may know how Luther often struggled. Perhaps you have heard how one time he thought Satan was so close that Luther took an ink bottle and threw it at him.
There was another such instance in his life. One night he dreamed that he stood before the Judgment seat of Christ. He saw the books opened, and looking in he saw his name and a fearful record of all his sins next to it. Some were sins of omission. Some were sins of commission. Some were deliberate sins, others were sins of thoughtlessness. Satan then appeared at his side and began to accuse him, “Behold your record. There is no hope for you.”
But just then, to his inexpressible joy, he saw written in crimson letters across the page, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” With that, Satan was silenced.
This is Satan’s weakness. He is powerless because that word lives within you.
At my house we sometimes have trouble making it through dinner. Sometimes it is difficult getting through the vegetables. But then we remember the sweet treat. We think about what is for desert and that gives us a little bit of a boost to get those veggies down the hatch. The thought of what we will get gives us that push that we need.
That is what the Apostle attempts to do here. He wants to give you that same sort of inspiration. The only difference is that he doesn’t dangle a carrot before your face. He doesn't persuade you with what you will one day get. He reminds you of what you now have. You now have in your possession the greatest treasures one ever could hold. You have a relationship with the one who is from the beginning and you have no relationship with Satan. You have been made strong and overcome the evil one.
Now, having been reminded of this, may you go serve your king.
You can imagine the way he felt. He was pretty bummed. Obviously there was no going back. Retrieving the shoe would be impossible. Who knows where it could have been. So he did the only thing he could, he plugged on and finished the race the best he could with only one shoe.
I wonder if you have similar sentiments today. Sometimes our walk with the Lord can feel like we’re trudging through a mud run. We’ve been trudging through this epistle for the last several weeks, and it’s getting to you. There might be someone here who is getting bogged down a bit. Mark and I have been calling you to do some lofty things. And I’ll let you know that it isn’t going to get any easier. Last week Mark said that it is your duty before God to love the brethren. As a matter of fact, if you don’t love your brothers in Christ, then you are showing that you are not a Christian. You may remember that a few weeks before I said that it is our duty to keep the commandments. I was putting before you a high and holy calling.
What’s more, in the upcoming section you are going to be told that you must love not the world or the things of the world. We are going to talk about the lust of the flesh the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Put all this together and you have one big mud run that you have to slog through. And in times like these hwere you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed, you need some encouragement. And that is what this section of the epistle is all about.
The section that we are dealing with today and perhaps next week is an interesting one. It seems like such an odd break in the text. As a matter of fact, some Bible scholars don’t even think it should be here. But other Scholars, who actually believe the Bible, understand why John inserts it. John knows that you need encouragement. He knows that the Christian life can be like a mud run that bogs you down. It can be rough, and you can become discouraged—perhaps even to the point of wanting to give up.
So John writes to offer some encouragement to keep pressing on. The passage that we are looking at today is designed for that purpose. John leads off with it because it is the greatest encouragement that we can have for our walk with the Lord. It is the encouragement that comes from reflecting on the forgiveness of our sins.
And I want to spend a few moments reflecting on this verse and what it says about the forgiveness of our sins. I want you to renew yourself in the glory of this central tenet of our faith.
As Christians we have the unique privilege of enjoying the remission of sins. God has forgiven us! That should be a boost to anyone here today who is down. But it you understand the nature of this forgiveness, you’ll be even more encouraged.
I. Its nature
The word here for forgiveness is apheontai. This word, apheontai is a very interesting word. It’s a word that has had a lot of different things happen to it.
It’s like the fellow that just started working with me at work. He used to be a professional chef. And as a chef he takes a piece of fish and he starts adding all sorts of things to it. Then, wala, he’s got a delicacy that will knock your socks off.
Our word here is like that. The root word from which this word comes is “eimi”, which means “go.” But the word we have here is not eimi, it is a construct of eimi. Our word is an intensive form of eimi, hiemi. If you ad that little h sound on the front you make the word stronger. So its not just go (eimi). What we have here is hiemi, “GO, GO!” You understand why it came to mean “to send.” You are sending them away, almost as if you are chasing them out the door. It is a lot like what you moms do to the kids here during the summer time. You get so fed up with them bouncing off the walls, you send them out side.
But we are not done yet. Our word is not eimi, and neither is it hiemi. It is aphemi. There is a prefix on it, “apo,” which means away. So our word means to send away. Literally, it means “GO, GO, GO AWAY!”
Now isn’t that a beautiful word? Isn’t that a wonderful picture of what forgiveness of sin really looks like? God says to our sin, “apheontai.” He says, “Sin, GO, GO, GO AWAY!” In the strongest he terms tells it to get right out of the house.
That’s exactly what the book of Psalms means when it says that God casts our sin as far as the east is from the west. How far away is that? It is a distance that is infinite. So when it comes to your sin God says, “GO, GO, GO, GO, GO AWAY!” so that he cannot see it anymore.
That’s not typically how we think of someone’s offenses, is it? When we forgive someone, we don’t typically send it away like that. When we send somoene’s sins away, it usually acts like a boomerang. We throw it out, but it comes right back to us and sticks right in the back of our heads. It is always in the back of our minds. We are still bitter about it and it is still making us sizzle.
But God’s forgiveness doesn’t boomerang. He sends it out and it never comes back to mind.
The nature of our forgiveness should encourage you as a Christian. But so should the totality of this forgiveness.
II. Its totality
You’ll notice that this is an all encompassing forgiveness. He doesn’t say that just a few of your sins are forgiven. Neither does he say that some of your sins are forgiven. He doesn’t even say that most of your sins are forgiven. He says your sins are forgiven—as in all your sins!
As a matter of fact, the verb that we were just looking at. It is in the perfect tense, and it might be better translated, “your sins have been forgiven.” If it is in the perfect tense it means that it is something that occurred in the past but continues to have effect up to this moment. So if I say, “he has been slapped” it means that this girl just put a welt on his cheek and its still stinging. It happened in the past, but its effects are still being felt.
That’s what is being said here. Once you came to Christ, at the very moment you first trusted him, all your sins were forgiven. Every offense you had ever committed up to that moment was wiped away. And every sin ever since has been treated in the same manner.
A story is told of a woman who came to a minister, carrying in her hands a mass of wet sand. “Do you see what this is?” she asked him. “Why, yes,” he replied. “It is a pile of wet sand.” “But do you know what it means?” “No, I cannot say that I do. What does it mean?” In great distress she answered, “It is the multitude of my sins, which cannot be numbered.”
The minister spoke calmly to her, and asked where she had obtained the sand. She said, “down upon the beach.” “Go back there,” he said, “And take a spade with you. Heap up a big mound of sand; pile it as high as you can.” The woman’s heart sunk even further, understanding him to say, “your sins are more than you think!” But he continued, “Once you have done this, stand back upon the shore and watch what happens when the tide comes in.”
Of course, when the waves begin to break upon the sand, the heap will be swept away. Even if you try to throw more sand upon it, it will be of no use. It will continue to be reduced to nothing.
That is the way the Lord treats your sins. The Lord forgives them in their totality and not one of them is left on the books.
You have experienced this flood of forgiveness. You have seen a title wave come in and wash all your sins away. Not one of them is remaining. But why? How is it that you can have the forgiveness of sins? What is the basis for this forgiveness? Well, you find the answer to that question right here.
III. Its basis
He says your sins are forgiven “for his names sake.” The basis for the remission of sins is found in Jesus Christ alone. To say that it is “for his name’s sake” means that it is on account of Christ. It is by virtue of his name and the merit associated with his name that you enjoy what you have.
Let’s say that you are completely bankrupt. There is not a dollar to your name. But one day you start working John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller needs some things from the store downtown. So he sends you on an errand to get those things. When you get to the checkout counter the lady rings up your order. When she’s finished the amount that is due is $100,000! How in the world will you pay for all that? You can offer to do some chores around the shop. You can say, “I’ll be happy to sweep the floors and tidy things up for you a couple days a week.” But that’s never going to cover it. The only thing you can do is pull out the credit card that Mr. Rockefeller gave you. You see the name on that card makes all the difference. Only the merit associated with that name can clear the debt and make full payment for the amount due.
That’s what John’s talking about when he says that you are forgiven “for his name’s sake.” John is simply giving you a quick reminder that your forgiveness isn’t due to anything you have done. It isn’t because you were willing to have your sins forgiven. It isn’t because you were able to make it up to the Lord. It isn’t because of anything you did. It’s all of it is because of the riches of atoning mercy that is associated with the name of Christ.
You men know that when you get in the dog house with your wife, you know you got to make it up to her, don’t you? When she gets mad at you, you make a run to the flower shop. You know that an apology isn’t going to be enough to cut it. You know you have to make a peace offering of some kind. So you try to muster up the old charm and you pick out a nice bouquet of flowers. And maybe you even take her out to a nice restaurant in order to appease her and get her to forgive you.
That might be what you have to do in order to get right with your wife. But that’s not what happens when it comes to the forgiveness God gives. It isn’t based in anything you do. It’s only because Jesus Christ stands before the throne of God saying, “I have died for this poor wretched soul.”
This was the experience of Charlotte Elliott. She wrote the hymn, “Just As I Am.” You know why she wrote that song? For some time Ms. Elliot seemed to have everything going for her. She was a gifted artist and writer. However, in her early thirties she suffered a serous illness that left her weak and depressed. During her illness a minister came to visit her. He asked her if she had peace with God. She resented the question and said she didn’t want to talk about it.
A few days later though, she went to apologize to that minister. She then confessed that she wanted to clean up a few things in her life before becoming a Christian. The pastor looked at her and answered, “Come just as you are.” He was telling her to direct her attention to Christ. Remember that his satisfaction for her sins was enough. She couldn’t do anything to improve it or make it up to Christ.
Well, that was enough for Charlotte Elliot. She yielded herself to the Lord that day. Later on in her life she remembered that event. And in commemoration she penned the words to the hymn, “Just as I am”.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou biddedst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Maybe you are here today and you’ve never known this. Maybe you’ve always thought that you needed to spruce up a bit in order to be a Christian. I hope you see that that’s not true. I hope you see that the only thing you need to do is cling solely to Jesus.
IV. Its result
It is my conviction that when John says, “Little children” he is not simply referring to children or people who are young in the faith. I believe that he is speaking to every Christian person. There are a number of times in this epistle that he does this. He does it at the beginning of this chapter (John 2:1), and again in verse 18 (John 2:18).
There is some debate about this. Commentators like to opine on to whom he is directing his attention. I don’t think it is of great significance. Even if he is directing these words to the babes in the faith, the words are heard by us all and apply just as much.
A long time ago the church I attended had what they called “children’s sermons.” It was a part of the service where the little kids came forward and gathered around the pastor. He would then talk to them and give them a little Bible lesson. He would put it in the simplest terms he could for the kids. But everyone else in the congregation was listening. And sometimes I thought that the children’s message was more for the adults than for the children.
Perhaps that’s what is going on here. Whatever the case may be, what is said is worth notice. We are called, “little children.” I believe that John is trying to remind us of what we are in relation to the Lord. We’ve not only had our sins forgiven, but because our sins have been forgiven we have been adopted. We’ve become part of the family of God.
We have a lot of kids from the neighborhood over to our house. During the summer our house is usually where they congregate. But of all the kids that come there, there are only three that are mine. And there is something unique about that. I have a relationship with them that is different from the relationship I have with the other kids. It is more personal and entails many other things.
And that is the way it is with us. We have become children of God. We are under his Fatherly care. We are able to relate to him in a personal way. God has told our sins to “Go, go, go away.” And as a result we have the unique privilege of belonging to the household of heaven.
So as you contemplate the things that you are called to do. When you are having trouble loving your brothers or feel like you just want to give yourself over to the world, remember this. Remember how you have been forgiven. For that changes everything.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.