8 April 2018
First Reading—Acts 4
The believers share their possessions
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
New Testament 1 John 1
The incarnation of the Word of life
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. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
Light and darkness, sin and forgiveness
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
· Walk in the light 397
Gospel John 20
Jesus appears to his disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’
Jesus appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
The purpose of John’s gospel
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Barely a month has passed since the snow, and my last visit. We spoke about Zeal—for Law, Wisdom, Temple as Body of Christ. This time—clear choice of Jesus appearing to disciples—giving gift of Holy Spirit—Thomas not present—told to believe, not doubt—which he does “My Lord and my God!”
You’ve heard this many times before—sermons on Believing Thomas—but as we are in the Methodist church let’s heed the words of John Wesley:
“If the preacher would imitate any part of the oracles of God above all the rest, let it be the first epistle of St John” (Sermons on Several Occasions).
Why did John Wesley elevate 1 John in this way? The clue is in the content. The first century was something of a honeymoon period for the early Christian gatherings—followed the ideal of holiness and unity—led by the Holy Spirit—a period of fresh revelations, miracles, and rapid growth in numbers. But it was also a time of differing beliefs, strife, and splits in the church over passionate differences in doctrine.
One of most controversial splits was between those who differed fundamentally over the person of Christ and the nature of the Christian life. These dissenters denied that Christ was ever really human—they followed the model of the ‘spiritual’ Jesus—Christ they believed was heavenly, sinless and wise—they thought that made them the same. This same split in doctrine has never gone away—the church tried to reconcile differing views by asserting Christ was fully human and fully divine—but over the centuries this ideal of the early church gave way to violence, torture and death—but that’s another terrible story in the history of religion.
The writer of 1 John—we’ll call him The Elder—fearing the effects of dissent and fracture—wrote his letter to set the record straight, as it were. He wasn’t criticising anyone, but making a passionate appeal for the believers to join in their relationship with both Father and Son. Surprisingly, over the generations, this letter has never held centre stage—nor did people tend to agree with Wesley about it’s importance—but here we are in the shadow of John Wesley, so I’ll continue with 1 John.
According to Luke, when Paul was in Athens, he was engaged in discussion with Greek philosophers who enjoyed new teachings. Some early Christians were more interested in special wisdom—revealed especially to them—in Greek they were known as Gnostics—after the Greek word for knowledge—a special kind of revelation that only they had.
John the Elder therefore opened his letter by a restatement of the incarnation. What he has heard, what he has seen with his own eyes, what was from the beginning, what he has held with his hands, in short what concerns the Word of life—these are the things he declares to those who hear of read his letter.
John the Elder avoids personalising the Logos—although the opening of his letter sounds like the opening to John’s gospel—so he restates what he has seen and heard without immediately declaring the personality of the Word (Logos). This news sounds new and fresh—and so the dissenters would be all ears—but the news is old news—no secret wisdom or special knowledge—unchanged from the beginning.
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
It sounds strange to our ears that John says the word he declares has been touched by human hands. The Greek word here means something closer to grapple, wrestle, or physically examine. It’s interesting that Luke uses the same word in reference to his resurrected body:
“Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)
Instead of a new revelation of special wisdom, John the Elder’s hearers get the old, old story of Jesus and his love. This Jesus was a person, a human being. We cannot know Jesus—we cannot reckon with Jesus as risen and reigning Lord—we cannot do all this without engaging with the incarnation—the flesh and blood Jesus. We cannot do all this without Jesus’ early life on earth, the words he spoke and the things he did—and of course his death on the cross. All these are necessary before we can comprehend his divine nature, his resurrection, his ascension, and his salvation. Only then can there be fellowship for us with Christ as well as God the Father.
God is Light—we cannot have fellowship with Him without dealing with our sinful nature first. Justification by faith leads on to works—inspired and impelled by faith. God is Light. In Him is no darkness at all. So we must attend to sin. Not that we can make things right with God through our own power, but by grace. There cannot be light without darkness—but one banishes the other, however feeble is our reflected light from our personal fellowship with God the Father and the Son.
Salvation is not obtained by special knowledge, but by grace. This is the message of John the Elder:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Amen