1 John 5:1-8 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 13, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson from 1 John 5:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
Having an eyewitness to an event is good. An eyewitness can give you a first-hand account of what happened. They didn’t hear it from someone who heard it from someone else. An eyewitness saw it and can report what she or he saw. But that “seeing” does depend on one’s perspective. I remember watching a television program once where they did an experiment. They staged a crime in a park. Then they interviewed the witnesses. If they were all eyewitnesses, you’d expect to hear the same, identical story. But that’s not what happened. The eyewitness accounts were different depending on where the person was when they saw the crime and what part of the crime they saw. Law enforcement, then, sometimes finds it difficult to find eyewitnesses of the same event that all agree. So can you imagine what it would be like if three independent witnesses all agreed as one! That would be irrefutable evidence! And that is what we have in our text this morning—three independent witnesses agreeing as one to the person and work of Jesus Christ—“For there are three who bear witness: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree as one.”
The apostle John is showing us in our Epistle lesson today what happens in the life of the person who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He’s showing you and me what our lives are now like as children of God. Life is to be lived. We don’t just sit around like bumps on a log. We live, we move, we have our being. (Acts 17:28) But how do we live and move and have our being as people who have been born of God? Simply put, in the words of Jesus, we love God and we love our neighbor (anyone to whom we can show love and mercy.)
John writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “In this we know that we love the children of God whenever we should love God and whenever we should do His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we should keep His commandments.”
The First Table of the Law, Commandments 1, 2, and 3, deal with our relationship to God, loving Him according to His commands. The Second Table of the Law, Commandments 4-10, deals with our relationship to other people, loving them according to God’s commands. Love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10) As we read earlier in 1 John, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1John 3:18) So to love God and to love the children of God means that we should do His commandments, we should keep His commandments. Easier said than done, right?
Because of original sin we are naturally inclined to disobey God’s commandments. Since we are sinful and evil by nature we are always turned toward loving ourselves first and foremost. This selfishness of our human nature means that we don’t want to love God or other people because we don’t want to do God’s commandments. I want to do things “my way.” I want to be happy and who cares about anybody else. As long as we can get what we want, do what we want, and feel what we want, it doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process—God, our spouse, our children, our coworkers, our friends, or perfect strangers. By nature we love ourselves more than we love God. By nature we love ourselves more than other people. By nature we would rather follow the ways of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh than the holy commandments of God.
Do you see just how damaging and dangerous our sinful selfishness to love self above all things is? If I place my wants and desires above the wants and desires that God has for me, then I am first in my life and He is not. If my happiness and pleasure and well-being are the most important things in my life, then God is not. If God is not of most importance and first in my life than He is no longer my God because I fear, love, and trust in myself more than Him. I become my own god. I think that I am the master of my own destiny. I can do what I want, when I want, how I want as long as I am happy. That is not the voice of the child of God. It is the voice of the child of the devil, the father of lies.
We speak and act according to whose we are. By nature we are children of the devil. God’s Word says in 1 John 3, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1John 3:10) If I am all about loving myself, I am not loving God and that means I’m not following His commandments, not practicing righteousness. If I am all about loving myself, than I am not loving other people. I follow the way of the devil, the world, and my own selfish, sinful nature which is not the way of love but the way of selfishness and greed.
What has to happen to all of us who, by nature, come into this world as children of the devil? A new birth. We must be born of God.
In His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus tells us how this new birth comes about. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’” (John 3:1-6) New birth happens through the waters of Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit gives His witness to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior from our sins. The Holy Spirit creates saving faith in us so that we believe this and so receive from Christ our Savior forgiveness for our sinfulness and our sins committed. But can we trust the Spirit? Can we trust that His testimony about Jesus is true? Yes, because we have two other independent witnesses that confess the same thing about Jesus as the Holy Spirit does—the water and the blood.
When we hear this we are reminded of the incident in the Passion narrative of our Lord. After Jesus had died, the soldiers came to break the legs of the condemned. When they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34) The One who died on the cross, pouring out His blood into death for the sins of the world was as truly the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior, as the One who was baptized in the Jordan River. To this the Spirit also gave witness. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and remained on Jesus. John the Baptist saw and accepted this witness of the Spirit, and thereafter John bore witness that this Jesus is the Son of God. When the death of Jesus was certified by means of the solder’s lance-thrust the witness of the Holy Spirit was doubly confirmed, as John takes great pains to show in his Gospel, writing, “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth–that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’ (John 19:35) The witness of the water and the witness of the blood are all aspects of the Spirit’s witness about Jesus. All three bear witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. And when we are given new birth in Him we are given the victory that overcomes the world!
By the water of Holy Baptism, we are cleansed in the overwhelming flood of Jesus’ blood. This happens by the working of the Holy Spirit. The water, the blood, the Spirit testify that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. We are born again through the forgiveness of sins and are given the victory of Jesus over sin, death, and hell. We are turned from inward-looking, selfish sinners, to outward-looking loving children of God. Through faith in Christ, having received the forgiveness of sins and the power of a new life of victory to overcome sin, we have the complete ability to love God and to love others.
For us Christians who have been given the victory of Christ’s cross and resurrection the commandments of God are not a burden to us. They are not an impossibility because the new life of faith given to us includes a new desire and new power to do His will rather than our will. The new power of the Holy Spirit given to us by faith in Christ enables you and me to overcome the devil, the world, and our own sinful, selfish flesh. By faith in Jesus as the Son of God, our Savior, you and I are so united with Him by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ victory is also our victory. By Jesus’ power we conquer sin through His forgiveness and overcome the temptations of the devil and the world and our flesh by the working of the Holy Spirit in us. With faith in Christ, we can and do overcome everything that is opposed to God—current thinking contrary to the teachings of Christ and the lures of the world and the flesh with all its attractiveness and self-importance.
As children of God, you have been given new birth, a new life in Christ Jesus. It is the life of faith, the life of victory that overcomes the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. You are able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to love God above all things and to love your neighbor with the same love God in Christ has shown you. In the power of the Spirit we strive to keep the commandments of God to show His love in our world. We continually refresh ourselves with His Word of forgiveness and life when we fall short. We stand daily in the victory of the cross and the empty tomb of our Lord and so overcome the world. And we know this is true, because the Spirit is truth. What’s more, there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and they all agree as one! And that’s irrefutable evidence of God’s grace! Amen.