Sermon for Sunday December 27th, 2015, the Festival of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist
The Lessons: Exodus 33:18-23, 1 John 1:1-9, John 21:19b-24
The Text: 1 John 1:1-9 Theme: The authentic Christian life
One day, missionary Amy Carmichael, who devoted her life to rescuing girls who had been dedicated to a life of slavery and shame in Indian Hindu temples, took some of her children to see a goldsmith refining gold in the ancient manner of the Orient. The man sat beside a small charcoal fire. On top of the coals lay a common red curved roof-tile, and another tile over it like a lid. This was his homemade crucible. The man had a mixture of tamarind fruit, salt, and burnt brick dust which he called his “medicine” for purifying the gold. He dropped a lump of ore into the blistering mixture and let the fire “eat it.” After a while, the man lifted the gold out with a pair of tongs, let it cool, and studied it. Then he replaced the gold in the crucible and blew the fire hotter than it was before. The process went on and on, the fire growing hotter and hotter. “The gold could not bear it so hot at first,” explained the goldsmith, “but it can bear it now; what would have destroyed it helped it.”
As the children watched the gold being purified in the fire, someone asked the man, “How do you know when the gold is purified?”
The man’s answer: “When I can see my face in it [the liquid gold in the crucible], then it is pure.”
(p. 106, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, 2007)
Our Epistle Lesson today brings home the truth St. John proclaimed, that Christians must reflect the righteous character and nature of God by living in obedience to Him.
St. John the Apostle and Evangelist is the saint whose life and witness we celebrate today. The Lord Jesus Christ’s words to St. Peter, as St. John recorded them in the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 21, verse 22, implied that St. John would live a long life on earth. The tradition of the Church holds that St. John the Apostle did indeed live a long life, and ministered to the church in Ephesus, and to churches in Asia Minor. Because there is uncertainty about whether St. John died a martyr’s death, the liturgical color for his festival is white, rather than red, as it is for the other Apostles.
One of the emerging heresies which St. John encountered was Gnosticism, which taught a dualism between the body and the spirit, the former being evil, the latter, good. This led to one of two attitudes to the body: either an excessive severity towards the body to subject it to the spirit, or the idea that any sins committed by the body do not affect the life of the spirit, which remains good. This meant also that their doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ did not allow for his true humanity, since then, in their thinking, he would have been evil. Some of these Gnostics believed that they could lead sinful lives with impunity, since sin would not affect the life of the spirit which had been enlightened by the knowledge of Christ.
St. John proclaimed the true doctrine of Christ without compromise to counter these dangerous errors, teaching in essence that Christians must reflect in their lives the light which is the spotless righteousness of God.
1 JOHN 1:1-9: THE TRUTH OF CHRIST EXPOUNDED
To refute the error that Christian life or truth is a kind of enlightened knowledge or state of life conveyed by man’s ingenuity, St. John writes of the “ the Word of life” (1 John 1:1), which was from the beginning. He is referring to the eternal Word of God who became man in Jesus Christ. The Gospel message is identified with the Lord Jesus Christ himself, for John goes on to write, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled (1 John 1:1). In the first century A.D., before the recorded writings of the New Testament were complete, the testimony of the Apostles as eye-witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ was crucial as a standard of accuracy in Christian doctrine. Here, St. John maintains that the message he received came from the Lord Jesus Christ, from God himself, and is therefore the authentic Gospel. The eternal life of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father and again returned to Him when he ascended into heaven, was revealed to the Apostles. They have seen Jesus, and have a true understanding of the Gospel with which he entrusted them, the Gospel they have proclaimed to the world (1 John 1:2). The sharing of this authentic Gospel message by the Apostles had one purpose: that those who became Christians would share fellowship, or communion, with the Apostles, and so share fellowship, or communion, with the Father and the Son. Genuine communion with God was conditional upon believing the authentic Gospel revealed and given by the Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles (1 John 1:3). St. John’s purpose in writing is that his readers may have complete joy, knowing that they have received, believe and hold fast the true Christian Gospel (1 John 1:4).
Now, when St. John comes to tell us what the message (the proclamation) is, he does not mince words: he says simply that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. In other words, the Gospel message bears witness to the light, the love, the goodness, the righteousness of God. No sin or evil exists in him. No-one can say that the dualism of sin and goodness, or darkness and light co-exist in God, or originate from his Being. The consequence of this is that whoever claims to be in fellowship or communion with God, but walks in darkness, that is, lives in deliberate and persistent sin, lies and does not obey the truth (1 John 1:6). Light and darkness are not merely intellectual realities, but moral and spiritual ones.
The term “walk in the light” means to live in obedience, following God’s will. When we do this, we align ourselves with God’s will and we shall have communion with God and with his people, since we are living in obedience to his commands. Not only this, but as we live obediently in every area of our lives, the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). This assurance is not given to those who persist in some form of sin, who walk in the darkness.
On the other hand, the fact that Jesus daily cleanses the lives of the faithful as they walk in the light and live in obedience to God, does not mean we can claim to be sinless, for all of us are guilty of sin. That is why we come humbly before the Lord every day, confessing our sin, while we endeavor to live lives that please the Lord. St. John assures Christians, that if they confess their sins, the Lord Jesus Christ will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
According to this passage, there are two requirements for Jesus to cleanse his people from their sins continually: they must “walk in the light,” that is, live obedient lives, and secondly, they must confess their sins regularly to God.