I John 1:1 – 2:2
April 19, 2009 - First Sunday Easter after Easter
Thirty years after your wedding, you may occasionally wonder, “What was all that about?” What was all the passion and excitement that brought the two of you together in front of so many people in an extravagant display of family, fashion, flowers and food? Looking back it may seem incredible that the two of you really got worked enough up about each other to make it happen. What was it all about?
You might ask a similar sort of question not too long after Easter Sunday. Seven days later, with half as many of us sitting here, it’s easy to wonder what that was all about last week. Flowers and joyful music and extra chairs being set out. Men putting on ties and women in nice dresses. What was it all about?
You can also imagine the same sort of thing being wondered by Christians a few decades after the first Easter. Our text this morning was likely written at least fifty years after Jesus died and rose from the dead. It may have been written for a church that was over five hundred miles and many days journey from where it all happened. Many of them hadn’t been born when Jesus rose. So they wondered, “What was it all about?”
The first verse of I John is the apostle’s assurance of what it’s all about. It’s his assurance that the energy and excitement which began the Christian faith actually had something to it. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” He wrote those words for a church full of people wondering what all the fuss was about, whether that church is in 85 A.D. or in 2009 A.D.
In verse 2 John tells that church and our church and every church what all the fuss is about, what it is that we’re proclaiming on Easter. The fuss is that “the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” It’s about life, good life, joyful life, eternal life. And, says John in verse 3, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”
John and the other apostles proclaimed what they’d heard and seen so we may have fellowship with them. In the Gospel of John chapter 20 we heard this morning the heart-pounding excitement of hearing and seeing and even touching Jesus Christ risen from the dead. By telling us about it, John invites us into the experience. He wants as verse 4 says, “to make our joy complete.” The joy of his meeting Jesus is completed when you and I or anyone believes and enters into the fellowship of those who also meet Jesus and enter into fellowship with Father and the Son.
John wants us to continue in a fellowship of that same experience we had last Sunday on Easter, a great fellowship with God and each other in the joy of Christ risen. He would be thrilled that we filled this place last Sunday and rejoiced together. What worries him is today—and each day like this one—when it’s a bit harder to be so thrilled and joyful.
Easter is the spiritual equivalent of what one does to recapture the excitement of a wedding. Once in awhile you take a break, spend some romantic time together. Beth and I went away for two nights last week to the place where we honeymooned. We arrived and said, “Here we are where it all began.” For a couple days we remembered and rejoiced in the experiences that began our life together. That’s what Easter does for Christian life.
But, you know, you have to come home. Even while away you have to face the fact that you now both snore like demented chainsaws. Back at home there’s laundry to do, bills to pay, phone calls to return, toilets to clean and all those little habits with which you have irritated each other over the years. It takes more than time away. It takes patience and persistence to hang onto the joy, and it takes forgiveness. The same is true for Christian joy, whether it’s a week after Easter, or 2,000 years after Jesus rose from the dead.
That’s why the next part of our text this morning turns from remembering how it all began to talking about how we can remain in the joy of that beginning. In verse 5 John says the message from the beginning is that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Then in verse 6 that, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
If you want to hang onto the joy and love of your marriage, you can’t just act like you’re married for a few special days when you get away together. You can’t live in matrimonial darkness for fifty weeks out of the year and only pop your heads up into the light of love for a few days in Hawaii or at the coast. No, the two of you need to walk together in the light of your marriage day in and day out, to experience the fellowship of the family you created as an ongoing joy.
It’s the same way with Christian experience. It’s no good to just come and be thrilled on Easter Sunday and maybe on Christmas Eve and then drop back into spiritual darkness the rest of the year. If we want to hold onto the joy of knowing Christ risen from the dead, then we need, as John says here in verse 7, to “walk in the light, as he is in the light…”
What John recognizes here, though, is what we know so well, both about marriage and about Christian experience. Not every day is Easter. Not every week is a second honeymoon. Fellowship with each other is hard. We get tired. We make mistakes. We sin. You can’t just pretend your marriage is perfect, and you can’t just pretend your Christian life is all fine and rosy. Verse 8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Sin steals the joy from both marriage and Christian life. Sin turns the light and love and excitement of Easter into the dreary slog of getting up for church on yet another rainy Sunday and wondering why you’re doing it. And if our sin involves hurting or being hurt by another person, perhaps another Christian, then it definitely has stolen our joy. That’s why John turns from the foundation of what we believe, the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, to what that belief means for us. It means our sins can be forgiven.
We can’t claim to be without sin without lying, but verse 9 goes on, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will us forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” It’s only hiding your sin, claiming not to have sinned, that keeps you in the dark. Verse 10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” To be in the light means bringing our faults and failures into the light. And in that light, we are purified.
Intense light causes even the deepest, blackest pigment to fade. Leave the receipt from buying gas lying in your car, in the sunlight. In just a week or so that black ink fades until it’s almost unreadable. That’s what the light of Easter, the light of Christ, does for our sins when we bring them out, when we confess them. Except for this difference: Even if your receipt fades, you still owe the money, you still have the debt. When the light of Christ purifies us of sin, then it’s gone, erased, completely removed.
In Jesus Christ, God wants to take away the sin that makes it so hard for us to keep on enjoying fellowship with Him and with each other. That’s why in verse 1 of chapter 2, John tells us “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” That’s what God wants for us. He wants to free us from the darkness and stain of the sins that divide us even from those we love.
Yet none of us are there yet. That’s why it’s not quite what some churches claim, “Easter every Sunday.” That’s why marriage is not a perpetual honeymoon. We’re sinners and that means there are lots of ordinary Sundays, lots of ordinary weeks in our lives, where we fail and fizzle out in following Jesus and doing the deeds of light.
So as soon as John expresses his hope that we will not sin, he brings us right back again to God’s provision for when we do sin. “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”
I stood up here a few months ago and told a couple lawyer jokes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry because I know very well that when you need one, a good lawyer is a blessing. And the very best lawyer is one who is both competent and sympathetic. In all the complications and pain of a sticky legal mess, it’s a wonderful gift to have someone on your side who both understands you and understands the system enough to help you. That’s exactly the kind of advocate we have in Jesus.
John is absolutely adamant in verses 1-4 about hearing and seeing and touching the risen flesh and blood of Christ. He wants us to know that Jesus is completely and truly human. The One on our side as we stand before God is totally one of us. He knows what it’s like to be weak, to be tired, to be in pain, to be tempted. He’s felt what it’s like for a friend betray you or for the system let you down. He is an Advocate who understands us.
At the very same time, John insists on what he wrote at the beginning of his Gospel, that the Word of Life which is Jesus was “with the Father” before He came to us. He is the Father’s Son. He is God. And that means Jesus is not only human with us and sympathetic for us. He is competent to help us. As God He is an advocate who can actually do something for us. As verse 7 says, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
As our Advocate, Jesus takes our case pro bono. He offers up His work, His life and death and resurrection, to us absolutely free. His shed blood does for us what we cannot possibly do for ourselves, washes away our sin and makes us right with God and with each other again. And with Jesus pro bono is not just free, but what the Latin means, “for good.” With attorneys it means “for the public good.” They do pro bono work for the good of society, for the good of the public. And so did Jesus.
The last sentence of our text, chapter 2, verse 2, speaks of Jesus being “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” That means His work really is pro bono for the greatest public of all. In Jesus, God wants to heal and save and help the whole world, to make everything right. He wants life and joy to be complete. His goal for us is not just moments of celebration but a whole world and a complete life walking in the light.
Those words “atoning sacrifice” are translator’s weaseling. Literally it’s one word that means one of two difficult words. It’s either “propitiation” or “expiation.” The NIV/TNIV translators just weaseled out and did not make a choice between them.
Here’s the difference. “Propitiation” means appeasing someone who is angry. You bring flowers home to smooth things over when you’ve angered your wife. You propitiate her with an offering that turns her wrath aside from your sins. Some people see Jesus’ sacrifice propitiating God for us.
But “expiation” means an offering or act that actually takes away sin. If you broke your wife’s favorite vase, you don’t just bring home flowers, you bring home a new vase exactly like the old one. You don’t just placate her wrath, you remove the cause of it. Jesus’ atoning work, His death and resurrection, doesn’t just turn away God’s wrath. It take away our sin, removing it, “purifying us from all sin,” as John said. That’s what Jesus accomplished for us. He removed our sins. “He is the expiation for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
So you and I have an Advocate who doesn’t just get us off when we’re really guilty. Our Advocate accomplishes what we can’t possibly do. He actually starts making us not guilty. He changes and transforms our lives so that we do really live in the light and not in the darkness anymore.
That’s why it’s so important to do the hard, persistent, patient business of constantly confessing our sins and receiving His forgiveness. It’s the way you work things out in a marriage, confessing and being forgiven and going on in fellowship and love. That’s the way God works it out in us. We confess, forgive and are forgiven and we keep going on in fellowship and love, whether it’s Easter Sunday or the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. Jesus is always there as our Advocate, always ready to help us, to forgive us, to take away our sins “as far as the east is from the west,” as Psalm 103 says.
Easter reminded us of what all the fuss was about. Christ has died and Christ is risen. He is risen so that He can forgive us and raise us into a new kind of life. Now we’re here to keep on living that life, to receive His forgiveness and His life day by day. Easter was the joyful break that reminds of this basic truth, Jesus lives. He lives to be our Advocate so that we can live forever in Him.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj