Series: Real or Fake Christianity?
Title: Jesus: Myth, Fact, or Something More?
Text: 1 John 1:1-4
Our sermon text this morning is 1 John 1:1-4. I invite you to follow along as we read. If you do not have a Bible, feel free to use the Bible under the chair in front of you on page 1021. Page 1021 in the Church Bible. And that’s 1 John 1:1-4. This is God’s Word: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
Let’s pray together. Where else can we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life. God, you have spoken in your Word, you the Creator God of the universe, the one who is all-good and all-powerful, you have spoken words of eternal life to little people like us. Thank you. Yet, we admit that though we have come to know there is life in no one else, we do not regard your Word as we ought. We are prone to dismiss it and listen instead to the words of the world. But we praise you that your Son perfectly obeyed all of your commands. In fact, he said, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” And yet you were pleased to place our punishment on him and his reward on us, not because of our righteousness, but because of the blood of your Son. Thank you. So please now, we plead with you, pour out your Spirit upon us, because of the blood of your Son, that we may hear what you are saying to your Church. In the name of Jesus, we pray, amen.
Once again, I want to thank you for having me come to be your pastor. You have given me such a great honor and privilege, one which I don’t take lightly. It will be one of the greatest joys of my life to unfold the Scriptures up here week in and week out that we may all with unveiled face, behold the glory of our Lord and so be transformed into his same image from one degree of glory to another. So, thank you.
As I was praying and studying this summer, discerning where the Lord may lead us first, he brought me to the book of 1 John. First John was written by the same John who wrote the Gospel of John as well as Revelation. Tradition teaches us that he was the youngest of the 12 Apostles, and that he was the last one to die. And it was when he was an old man, the last of the Apostles that he wrote this letter. At that time, his church network in Asia minor, around modern-day Turkey, was going through some serious trouble. There was an off-branch of Christianity growing there that was not true. It was leading many astray. It was so alluring, because this “version” of Christianity was easy. It was comfortable. It was unoffensive. It didn’t make demands on you. They taught, “The only thing that matters is your soul, and so you can do whatever you please with your body, as long as your soul is towards God.” John then spends the whole of this letter correcting this false view. They taught that because the soul is the only thing that matters, why would Jesus then need to come in the flesh? They said that Jesus just appeared to have a body. They claimed that living in sin was not all that bad, because your soul remains undefiled from what your body does. And the effect of all this is that these false teachers created a Christianity that was incredibly comfortable: you didn’t really have to change much of your life.
And of course, the simple problem with this is that a god that looks at the world and doesn’t make offensive, uncomfortable demands of it is a god who looks at the world and doesn’t see a problem. Think about it. What sort of parent sees their children going the wrong way in their life and doesn’t speak into their lives? Now, the child may or may not listen, but the parent must speak up. What sort of god would see the problems of the world and not speak up? One who either really doesn’t care, is too concerned about how he thinks he will be received, doesn’t see a problem, or is flat out malicious. In every case, he would not be God; he would be imperfect at some level. So, if God never made demands, it would mean he really isn’t God. But obviously we see many problems with the world. And if we allow ourselves to be honest, we will admit that the problem of the world, at least in my little pocket of it, starts here. And the problem of your little pocket of the world starts in your heart too. A god who does not correct us is no loving God. And so, we see that for God to be God, he must speak into the world’s problem and correct it.
But we can go further than that. For a god whose correction does not make us feel uncomfortable or even threatening at times is a god who can only see the problems we see. Let me say that again. A god who does not correct us is no loving God. And a god whose correction does not make us feel uncomfortable or even threatening at times is a god who can only see the problems we see. Let’s think about this. When someone corrects you in an area you already know you need to grow, it feels more like a helpful reminder, “Yes, I know. Thank you, thank you. I really need to get better at that.” Correction is only threatening when you disagree with it, or in other words, when you don’t see your problem. A god who never makes you feel uncomfortable is a god no bigger than yourself. If there truly is a God who speaks, we would expect him to correct us in ways that make us at times uncomfortable, but who only does so because he knows that it will make us happier in the end. And this is exactly the type of God we read in the Scriptures, and specifically in 1 John, as 5:3 say, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” My paraphrase: “This is how we are to love God: by obeying his commandments. And though you may feel like these commandments are uncomfortable at times, they are not to hurt you; they are for your good always.” Moses said the same thing in Deuteronomy 6:24, “Yahweh commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Yahweh our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.” So, it is a good thing that God speaks to us, to correct us, in ways that make us feel uncomfortable, because it is for our good. The alternative is to leave us without help for the only one who can truly change us in the worst of our problems that we don’t even know we have. I’ll choose some discomfort over ignorance any day.
All this to say, the book of 1 John is about discerning between real and fake Christianity, avoiding the easy road this world is enjoying, but instead, walking in the light as God is light and enjoying life to its fullest, even eternal life. We must learn to see the difference between real and fake Christianity, and in this day of ours with fake news abounding and everybody wanting to claim Jesus as on their side, may God be pleased to teach us together what does real Christianity look like.
So, where does John go first? The first place John goes to distinguish the difference between real and fake Christianity is teaching on the historical Jesus. We call this doctrine the Incarnation. The word “incarnation” means “to put in a body.” John is teaching that God actually became a man 2000 years ago as Jesus of Nazareth. John will claim that Jesus is no myth, nor is he merely a fact, but that he is our very life. The main point of this passage is that Jesus is no myth, nor is he merely a fact, but that he is our very life. Let’s see how this unfolds.
First, the incarnation is not a myth. Verses 1-2 reads, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”
First note how John describes Jesus. He says that he is “from the beginning,” that is to say that he existed at the moment of the beginning of all things. Jesus had no beginning of his own, but was present at the beginning and is the cause of the beginning of everything else. Our minds can’t grasp this thought well. It’s sort of like the feeling when you are at the shore of Lake Michigan and look out and see nothing but water, as if it just goes on out forever and ever. You start to have something like a respect or a caution towards the lake it light of how much bigger it is than you. And that even more so when you are looking at the ocean. I always get that feeling when I am swimming in deep water that I can’t feel or see the bottom of. You are just so aware that this is so much bigger than you. That’s the feeling that ought to arise when we think of the eternality of the Son of God. This person is bottomless, limitless, actually without end. The old catechisms teach us that God is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. To think that there is a being out there that has no end to his justice. He always makes the right call, in the most difficult of situations, he always decides what is fair. His wisdom and understanding are so keen, and his passion what things being done right so intense, that there is never a chance a wrong call will ever be made. He’s the one I want ruling my life, and it’s a good thing he is!
Saying that “Jesus is from the beginning” is like the feeling when you go on Google Earth, find your location and just keep zooming out. It doesn’t take much time at all until your house is just a speck, and then the Milwaukee metro is a speak, and then Wisconsin, and then America, and soon enough the world and the galaxy and it’s nothing but empty space, but you know each speck of emptiness is bigger than galaxies. And you start to marvel at how big and grand everything is as if it doesn’t have an end to it. I know the times I have done that; it makes me walk down my street in a different way, thinking that all the distances I have ever traveled could from that perspective look smaller that a fraction of a pixel on my computer screen. It’s like it lowers me to the size of an ant. And then you think there is a person who makes all of everything in all existence look like a speck compared to him. John wants us to marvel at who Jesus is. And then you think that all of us are so prone to revolve our entire life around a speck of a speck, that is ourselves. Imagine a man who has dedicated his whole life to caring for a speck of dirt. He grabs it with tweezers, puts it in a glass container, maybe installs some spotlights to shine on it. He checks on it every day, wears sanitation gloves to polish it and make it look nice every morning. We would look at that person and cry out, “What’s wrong with you?! It’s dirt! A speck of a speck!” But that is exactly what we do when we are so concerned about ourselves. How do I look today? Do these clothes look good? Are they noticing my work? Will I get the employee of the month award? Is my hair just right, (well I suppose I don’t have to worry about that one!). Is my beard trimmed well? Will I be able to attain all my dreams and hopes? Will my hunting trip be successful? When will I get my promotion? And we need to preach to ourselves, “Danny, you are a speak of a speak. Get over yourself. Get your eyes onto someone who is truly glorious and wonderful and worthy of centering your life around!” Jesus is from the beginning. He alone is worthy of all of our attention and worship.
But John goes further than this. He goes on to say that this one who makes the oceans look like a drip from your faucet, this one John saw. He didn’t just see the ocean from on top, he was invited in to the depths. He heard him. He touched him. He saw the one from the beginning walk on water and heal the sick and cast out demons. He heard the voice of the one who said, “Let there be light.” He heard him say to the storm, “Peace, be still,” and to a dead man, “Lazarus, come forth.” He saw his body shine brighter than the sun in his glory. He saw an empty tomb. He touched a resurrected body with nail-pierced hands and a spear-driven side. He saw him levitate off the ground up into the clouds. In other words, John is saying that he can personally attest that this was who was from the beginning became a man, that Jesus existed, and that he was God.
But he doesn’t say this as if he alone witnessed these things, but notice the pronouns “we” and “our” and “us” running through this whole paragraph. He as one of the groups of the Apostles who witnessed these things. It’s not like he was some kooky old man who claimed to have had these incredible stories all by myself. Instead, he was part of a group of people who could say the exact same thing. John is claiming that God actually became a man. The incarnation is true; it is no myth.
Now, I can imagine there being a bug in our ears saying, “But why should we take his word for it?” Is there any modern proof that the incarnation actually happened? Let me help to squash that bug. The fact that this claim is so far-fetched, so unheard of, but yet so widely believed to the extent that they would die for their faith has to convince even the most avid skeptics that at least something was utterly unique about Jesus. Even non-Christian historians from the first century come to the conclusion that “Jesus actually existed as a teacher and miracle-worker in Roman Palestine, was publicly executed under Pontius Pilate’s rule, and that his followers claimed to see him alive after his death and worship him as God.” We can break this into three facts. Fact 1: There was an empty tomb. Fact 2: The early disciples claimed Jesus appeared to them. Fact 3: Those to whom Jesus appeared were so convinced that they died for their belief. If you take these as facts, the only explanation that makes sense is that Jesus actually rose from the dead, proving to be God.
You can’t say the disciples stole Jesus’ body and faked the resurrection, because nobody dies for a hoax. Even when a child pulls a prank, when it has gone on so far that they start suffering for it, they tell the truth. Even if one poor person would be so embarrassed that they would rather die than tell the truth, it’s hard to conceive that hundreds of people would do the same without exception. Furthermore, the fact that this is the rumor the Jewish authorities spread to dismiss their claim further adds weight to the fact that the tomb was empty.
You also can’t say that Jesus really didn’t die, because it’s medically impossible. The Romans perfected the art of crucifixion. You can’t say the Apostles just got the wrong tomb or they saw a hallucination, because all these arguments fail to account that Jesus appeared at multiple events, in multiple locations, to multiple people, individuals and groups, believers and even nonbelievers. Jesus appeared to his skeptical younger brother James and to Saul the enemy of the Church so persuasively that they too believed, dedicated their lives to the Church, and died for their faith. The fact that they didn’t think they were just seeing things or saw at least Jesus’ ghost, is evidence enough that Jesus in fact did raise from the dead, proving himself to be who he said he was: The Son of God.
The only other explanation one may come up with is that the whole story, that is, each individual document in the Bible was fabricated later or was slowly blown up out of proportion. The obvious problem with this is that the claim that Jesus is God is so life-encompassing it just can’t be made up. For someone to think Christianity is made up is not understand the claim Christianity is making. It’s not as easy as deleting one letter. “Jesus is good.” G-O-O-D to “oops!” “Jesus is God” G-O-D. Nobody in my sixth-grade class is going to say that Mr. Letcher is God. No body mistakes people to be gods, unless they at least claimed it. And Jesus was the only one to prove it.
This argument is really bullet-proof, and it’s not new. So why doesn’t everybody believe it? I’ll tell you. They don’t want to. It’s not a matter of argument, not being convinced intellectually. You can deceive yourself all you like saying that Christianity just doesn’t make sense to you. But the real reason someone doesn’t believe in Christianity is because they don’t want to. It’s comfortable living in ignorance. Before you are diagnosed with brain cancer, your headaches were just a nuisance. Once the real diagnosis comes, you know everything is going to change. If the incarnation is true, you can’t call the shots on your life. God has showed up, and if so, you are accountable to him. As one of my professors once said, “If God really did become a man, then man can no longer pretend to be God.” This is why God calls us to have faith and repentance. With faith we cling to God and trust him, trust his plan for our life is good, trust that he will declare us righteous based on the blood of his Son, trust his Word is always good for us, trust our whole selves to him. But with repentance, we renounce the other things in our life that we used to cherish. We repent of clinging onto the things our hearts want above all else that makes us resist and squirm at the thought of turning our whole selves to God in faith. You know what yours is. We all have our own cross to bear. And God will be glorified as a supreme treasure if you renounce it and turn to him, declaring that he is far better, of infinite more value than the little specks we revolve our lives around. The incarnation is no myth
Now, there is a second ditch John warns us of in this text. Not only is he attesting to the reality of the incarnation, but he warns us of not doing something with the incarnation Let me explain what I mean, and kiddos out there, ears up. I think you can understand this. Imagine your favorite storybook right now: maybe Charlotte’s Web or The Chronicles of Narnia. It can be in one of three places in your home: it can be on the bookshelf or whoever you keep your books. This next one is kind of silly, but it could be in the garbage, and let’s hope not. Or it could be in your hands. Can you read a book in the garbage? No, you would have to take it out. Can you read a book that’s on a shelf? Only if you take it off. The only way to read a book is if you open it up. In the same way, for some people Jesus is in the garbage. It’s sad to say, but some people think that Jesus can’t really add anything to their lives. For others, Jesus is just on their bookshelf. They like him, they want him in their house, but they never choose to actually spend time with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just want to be in our house, he wants to be in our heart.
Now, this is what I mean by this. Regarding Jesus as a myth is one type of fake Christianity. But regarding him as only history is also fake Christianity. Look at how John says it in verse 3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” A Christianity that never has fellowship with Jesus is fake Christianity. Do you really think that God is only interested in your intellect and not your heart? Is salvation a multiple-choice test? “You believe as true that Jesus is the Son of God? Okay, come in.” Real Christianity is fellowshipping with God. It is saying the truth of the story of Jesus and living in it; it’s reading the book, not just shelving him. A book on the shelf and a book in the garbage are both dead in that moment. A book only becomes alive when it is picked up and read. So also, Christianity is only living when you are continually, constantly, every moment of every day pressing in towards fellowship with God. This is the first distinctive mark of real Christianity; it is a fellowship with God. Did not Jesus say to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures in vain, for you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about me.” We cannot imagine because we can intellectually believe everything true about Jesus that that is what makes us saved. If that’s the case, Satan and the demons have a far greater chance of being saved, because they know God way better than we do, but they hate him. You see! There it is. It’s not so much what you affirm with the mind, but what you love with the heart and how that love manifests itself in a life centered around God and delighting to fellowship with him. As James says, “You believe that God is one? You do well! Even the demons believe and tremble.” Faith without a life centered around him is dead faith.
The new creation will be no paradise if it is filled with people who can say all the right answers, but don’t have fellowship with God. I yearn for the place where everybody will have perfect fellowship with God, where we see everything that God values and we value it to exactly the same degree, where we have a fellowship with each other that mirrors the fellowship that God the Father and God the Son have shared since eternity, where our hearts love the things that God loves and his joy is placed inside of us without limit. Real Christianity regards the incarnation not as a myth, not as a mere fact, but as the foundation of our very life.
Notice how John describes Jesus. He calls him the Word of Life; he calls him eternal life. He is our life. In John’s Gospel, he calls Jesus the bread of life, living water, the resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life. What does it mean that he is our life? It at least means he is our reason for living and our greatest joy. Is Jesus your life? Are you living for your family, your children? Are you living for retirement? Are you living for the weekend, the next vacation, the next concert? For a particular political agenda? Or a hobby? What is it that you are living for? I tell that that the only acceptable answer to that question for God is Jesus Christ and having fellowship with him. To delight in hearing his voice sung to you in the Scriptures, to commune back to him, pouring out your heart to him in prayer, constantly thinking towards him, thanking God for all his blessings, hoping in his promises in every trial. And this life, Jesus himself said, “The thief comes to steal and kill and to destroy, but I have come that they may have life and have life to its fullest.” The world claims that the full life is found in having all the money, all the vacation, all the great experiences, or having perfect relationships, having exceptional children, having good health. All of these come and go, but the one thing that will give you limitless joy in the midst of all this being taken away is fellowship with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Nothing, I tell you nothing, compares to this. Jesus is no myth, nor is he merely a fact; he must be our life.
Now, how do you know if you have come to this state? Look at our last verse. Verse 4 says, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” You may think that he ought to say we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.” The KJV and some other faulty translations do have that. But if you look in the Greek, the most reliable manuscripts have the word “our.” Why is that? Why would John be writing this for his own joy? It sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? If you read all of John’s letters together it starts to make more sense. It his third letter in verse 4, this is what he says, 3 John 4, ” I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” The heart that sees Jesus as his life will have no greater joy that to share the joy, he has found in Jesus with those he loves. In fact, that would be the most loving thing he can do for them, so it is the exact opposite of being selfish. Oh, to hear of someone else coming to embrace Jesus as their savior as well! Nothing is better than that. The best evidence of a heart that has constant fellowship with God is in how he yearns for others to share his same joy in God. We do this well enough with other things we love, don’t we? “Oh, did you see the game? You didn’t?! Let me tell you about it!” “I just went to this great restaurant. I got to take you there sometime.” The things we love the most we want to share with others. Here at Beloit Road Baptist Church, let’s be the type of people that yearn to share with each other, “Hey brother, let me share with you what I read in the Bible this morning. It blessed my socks off.” I think this is the reason why John wrote verse 3 the way he did. He didn’t say “so that you too may have fellowship with God,” but he said “fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with God.” God wants us in community so that we may all together in one accord with one voice see the glory of our Lord and be transformed together into his same image from one degree of glory to another. Knowing God and fellowshipping with him is not some mystical experience. It’s the daily, ordinary practice of delighting in the character and perfection of God as seen in the Bible as a community. The incarnation is no myth, nor is it merely a fact. Instead Jesus is our life. So, let us together take our eyes off of ourselves, the little specks we are, take Jesus off the shelf, and gaze together at the glory of our great God.
Let’s pray. Father, we don’t deserve the privilege of seeing your beauty. We are born rebels against you. Yet, you in your kindness have opened a door for us to have everlasting life and joy in having the greatest experience in the world: seeing your glory. Thank you for opening our eyes, and Lord we pray that you would open the eyes of all of West Allis and the Milwaukee metro to see the treasure we have found in Jesus Christ. Be with those of us who are in trials, sustain them with your love. In Jesus name we pray, amen.