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There are times when it’s hard for us to believe that the authors of the Scriptures actually were real people.  That they lived real lives.  They had real struggles.  They had real joys and real successes.  The author of 1 John is a man by the name of John.  He was a real person who had some pretty unique experiences in his life.  He was one of the best friends of Jesus while Jesus walked the earth.  He was one of the twelve disciples, but he seemed to have been in the inner circle.  He had access to things that not everybody got access to.  The evening Jesus was betrayed, he had his disciples around the table.  They would sort of lounge, in those days.  John was the one who leaned right on Jesus.  Pause for a moment and imagine what that might have been like.  To smell Him.  To have Him rub up against you.  To hear Him laugh.  To hear Him chew (maybe with his mouth open).  John goes on to write in that same chapter of his gospel that he was the one that Jesus loved.  Evidently, the Apostle John and Jesus had a fairly unique and deep and meaningful friendship.

In fact, it was John in John 19:26-27 who records the words of Jesus as Jesus hangs on the cross.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved {He’s talking about himself here.}  standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”   Here’s what’s going on — Jesus is hanging on the cross, dying for the sin of humanity and he looks down at his friend, he looks down at his mom and says, “Hey, John, from now on, you’re taking care of my momma!”  John takes this seriously.  I almost expected to read, “Um, excuse me, could you repeat that?!”  What would somebody have to do to let their mom move into your house?  Probably die for you!  But even then, some of you are going, “Well, I’m not even sure I’d do it then.”  But here’s what John does:  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.  From that moment on, John is caring for the mother of the Messiah.  Do you think he heard some stories?  Moms love to tell stories about their kids; if you think Mary was any different, you’re wrong!  To hear the stories about what Jesus was like when he was a little kid.  To hear the stories about the way he frustrated her.  Can you imagine telling somebody, “Oh, that Jesus really frustrated me one time!”  Can you imagine what John has seen and what John has been through?  The fact that Jesus says, “Hey, John, will you care for my mom?” tells us something about the character of the person who’s writing this letter.

Would you open with me to 1 John?  For the next six weeks, we’re going to be walking through this letter, this epistle.  It’s John who’s now Pastor John.  He’s writing to a group of churches that are in the region of Ephesus, where he lives.  There’s a number of them around and John is sort of seen as the patriarch.  He’s the one who’s walked with Jesus, he’s the one who’s talked with Jesus.  He’s writing to churches that are in a bit of a pluralistic milieu….much like the society we live in today.  There’s a number of people looking at them going, “Well, we’re not so sure that we really believe that Jesus actually came and lived.  We’re not so sure it has any sort of implications for our life today.”  In light of that, in light of the sort of status of the culture that the church was not only birthed in, but living in, John picks up the pen and he puts it to the parchment and he records this letter that’s intended to be read by the churches in that region.  Here’s what he says:  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—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…  (1 John 1:1-2)

What you can’t see in the English translation of this passage of Scripture is that verses one through four are all one, long run-on sentence.  It’s as though John is sitting there, in his study or wherever he was in Ephesus, and he picks up his pen and he starts to write.  It’s like this almost word vomit type of writing where he’s going, “You guys, you guys, you guys….we’ve seen him, we’ve touched him, we’ve heard him.”  I leaned up against him at dinner.  I took care of his mom.  It was……all of that.

Last week, Kelly and I watched our son, Ethan, who’s eight years old, perform in their third grade performance at Runyon Elementary.  It was a shadow play, where they use backlighting to act out Aesop’s fables.   They’re taking Aesop’s fables, which are essentially morals.  You’ve heard of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare,’ right?  The long, steady, slow eventually wins the race.  They’re all made-up stories; the tortoise did not actually race the hare.  It’s what we’d call fable with a moral attached to it.

When John starts to pick up pen and parchment and says, “We’ve heard him.  We’ve seen him.  We’ve touched him,” he presses on us, as people who now read the Scriptures, to not have the option to put Jesus in the category of fable.  We don’t get the option to moralize Jesus.  To say He just came to give us an example of what it looks like to live an exemplary life.  We don’t get to do that.  Because He actually came!  And He actually lived!  And He actually walked!  John’s writing to address two misconceptions people had in the first century, and specifically in the region in which his churches are starting to be birthed.  Here’s the first misconception, the narrative that people had about spirituality.  It was called docetism.  The docetists believed and taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body.  That he was not actually incarnate.  That you couldn’t actually touch him, you couldn’t actually pat him on the back.  He didn’t actually smile or eat, those were all figments of the disciples’ imaginations.  The second heresy that John is addressing is related but nuanced.  It’s called Gnosticism.  The Gnostics asserted that the physical (matter) was inherently evil and spirit was good.  The Gnostics believed that anything done in the body—even the grossest, most heinous, most evil, most vile sin—had no meaning in life, because real life existed in the spirit realm ONLY.

Imagine that there is a group of people saying that they walk God, saying that they interact with God, and then using it to justify all sorts of crazy, ridiculous things.  Can you imagine that?  It’s not that far off, right?  We often go to the Scriptures and go, “Man, a lot’s changed since then.”  Certainly a lot has changed, but not everything.  They want to claim that they are spiritual and they may even want to be spiritual, but in a way that has zero impact on their every day, actual lives.  That’s what they want!  In the most recent survey done of Americans, 27% of Americans would say that they are spiritual but not religious.  In large part they’re saying, “We want to be spiritual.  We believe that at the core of who we are, wired into the fabric of our being, we’re spiritual people.”  But, we don’t want a spiritual being to be above us and tell us how to live.  We just want it to be beside us, and to pat us on the back, and to give us encouragement, and to make our life, whatever we decide we want to do with it, better.

It’s the exact same thing that was going on when John in writing to the churches at Ephesus.  Part of what they want and part of what we want is something that makes our life better, but that doesn’t tell us actually how to live.  I remember a number of years ago when I was standing in line at DIA waiting to go through the security checkpoint.  I walked past a guy and I read this tattoo he had on his neck.  The tattoo said carpe diem….seize the day.  I thought, “This guy’s hard core!”  Carpe diem tattooed on his neck, and his shirt said, “I’m allergic to mornings!”  Carpe afternoon!  Carpe evening!!  I think a lot of people want that same thing.  They want the best of both worlds.  I want to say that I’m spiritual, I even want to BE spiritual, but when it comes down to it, I do not want that spirituality to impact the way that I live.  I want to be able to do whatever I want.

John wants to say that it doesn’t work like that.  You don’t get to incorporate Jesus into whatever life you want to live.  Why?  Because he actually came, he actually lived…..we saw him, we heard him, we touched him.  John would say that true spirituality is not some figment of our imagination, it’s not some ethereal ascent to some cognitive belief.  Genuine true spirituality is experienced in reality.  In the every day.  In the normal, ordinary, talking, hearing, seeing, every day.  Here’s the way he says it (1John 1:5) — This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If a Hebrew mind would have heard ‘God is light,’ they would have immediately gone back to the very first chapters of the Bible.  God speaks light into existence and it starts to shine.  A Greek mind would have been a little more philosophic and they would have heard (and it’s certainly true) ‘God is light’ in the sense that God is goodness, and God is love, and God is beauty, and God is meaning, and God is truth.  It’s a multi-dimensional term.

Isaac Newton started studying light centuries and centuries ago.  He started to make some discoveries that eventually Albert Einstein built upon.  Albert Einstein found that light is one of the most complex things in our universe.  Scientists have a hard time pinning it down.  It’s slippery to try and describe light.  Here’s why.  Light, unlike most other things in the cosmos, is both wave and particle.  Light is both matter AND energy.  When John starts talking about light, imbedded in what he’s saying is that there’s an energy coming from God, but it doesn’t just stay in that ethereal, hypothetical plane, it actually intersects with our every day life.  He goes…..it’s BOTH!

Would you agree that knowing about something cognitively and experiencing it in reality are two different things?  When you walked in you received a Snickers bar.  Will you take that out?  I want some interaction here.  Describe to me the Snickers bar.  Delicious!  It’s brown.  It’s chewy.  It’s fun.   If you were to describe a Snickers bar to someone, you might say it’s a nougaty inside that has peanuts on top of it, caramel on top, and it’s covered in chocolate.  Now, open it up and take a bite.  Now, if tasting a Snickers bar is fundamentally different than having it described to you, will you just raise your hand?  Yeah.

That’s what John says.  That’s John’s point.  Experiencing Jesus is way different than just hearing about Jesus.  It’s way different than just having the stories passed down to us.  The invitation of the Christian life, as the psalmist says in Psalm 34:8, is to taste and see that the Lord is good!  The Christian journey of understanding  the heart of Jesus and living in the way of Jesus is always, always, always more than an experience.  There’s something transcendent, there’s something true, that goes beyond your experience.  {Will you look up at me?}  But being a follower of Jesus is never less than an experience.  It’s always more, but it’s never less.  You can see this in John 9:25.  There’s this man that’s born blind and he’s healed by Jesus.  Everyone goes up to him and wants him to explain how it happened.  He goes, “Listen, I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know the mechanics of it.  I can’t explain it to you.  All I know is that I was blind, but now I see!”  I’ve experienced it and it’s changed everything!  That’s what John wants to press on to this community……that when you taste it, when you touch it, when you see it, it fundamentally changes everything.  I think too many followers of Jesus today have the opposite anthem — I’m still blind, but come and read what I read.  Come and believe what I believe.  Come and hear what I hear.  But early Christians have this anthem — We’ve experienced the living Christ.  We saw him, heard him, touched him.  We saw him die.  We saw him rise and it’s changed everything!  We don’t get the option to just believe in the morals and fables of Jesus.  We either believe that he came and lived, and died and rose, or we don’t.  He doesn’t give us another option.  When we believe, the Scriptures say that when we live in his way, it changes everything.

If I’m you, here’s my question:  Well, that’s really good for John, the friend of Jesus.  He ate with Jesus, he talked with Jesus, he high-fived Jesus, he heard stories from his mom.  That’s great for John, but…..what about for us?  Jesus has been ascended for roughly 2000 years, what are we suppose to do?  I’m so glad you asked that.  John’s going to explain to us how we experience the light.  1 John 1:3-4 — 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.  John is saying that you and I, by faith in Jesus, have the unique, beautiful ability to step into fellowship with God.  Fellowship in the Greek is the word ‘koinonia,’ and it literally means ‘to share life together,’ to have things in common.  So before he ever gets to alright, we should have fellowship with one another, he wants to set a foundation for our fellowship as a church, as a community of faith.  He says that our fellowship is based on the fact that you and I, together, have shared-life with God.  Before we go on, will you just pause for a moment and let that sink in.  The Scriptures say that you, in all your humanity and all your frailty, have shared-life.  He also says that we would have shared-life, or fellowship, with each other.  He says that that fellowship is for your joy.  You and I experience the light when we taste genuine fellowship.

Early followers of Jesus were all over this.  This was a huge calling card for their communities.  They shared life together.  They took seriously the words of Jesus as he’s praying for his disciples that would come after him.  You and I.  Here’s his prayer for us:  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, {You’re a glorious person.  You’re filled with glory.  You’re filled with beauty.  You’re filled with a weightiness about you, because has spoken over your life.}  ..that they may be one even as we are one. (John 17:22)  So you go and read the book of Acts and you see in Acts 2 & 4 that the early church had this ethos, where if there were people in need in their community, others sold property and cashed it out and shared with people who had needs that they just couldn’t meet on their own.  You see people gathering in homes and praying together.  You see people studying the Scriptures together.  You see people eating together.  You see people looking at Caesar, who claimed he was lord, and saying, “Hey, Caesar, we don’t need you to care for us, we’ve got each other.  And this just in, Jesus is our Lord!”  It was a community that turned the world upside down.  You start to fast forward a few hundred years, and in the 200s and 300s, the early church was KNOWN as a community of love.  When the plagues were ravishing the world at the time, followers of Jesus would go and would take who their own families had cast into gutters because they had the plague and were afraid of dying.  They would go and say, “We do not fear death.”  They would care for the sick and bring them into their homes at the cost, oftentimes, of their own life.  You know what happened?  People started to go, “That’s light.  That’s love.  That’s totally different than anything we’ve ever seen.”  It turned the world upside down.  They had extreme influence and no power.  Extreme influence, zero power.   I’d argue that in our current status, right now, we have a lot of power, and I don’t know if we have the type of influence that Jesus would say his church was intended to have as light.

I know, we hear ‘genuine fellowship’ and we go, “That would be real easy if everyone were exactly like me.”  Or, fellowship would be amazing and joyful and fun if weren’t for the people!  We love the idea of sharing life, we just don’t like when it actually gets on the ground.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his great little book entitled Life Together, says that actual true, genuine Christian community only begins when the ideal dies.  Community only really starts when you want to leave and decide to stay.  Genuine Christian community only begins when people hurt you and you choose to forgive them.  That’s when it actually begins.  It’s this type of community—in friendships and marriages, in churches, in neighborhoods, in workplaces—that have changed the world! So here’s the deal—-When we say, “Would it be possible for you to come to one service and attend one service?” it’s not so that we can fill a slot that we need filled.  Our hope and our prayer is not to get something FROM you, we want something FOR you.  Our hope and our prayer is that you would experience the Light.  His name is Jesus.  Maybe it’s shaking hands at the door, realizing you’re part of a mission bigger than your own.  Maybe it’s holding a baby who’s crying.  Our hope is that you would experience light.  We don’t want to just have a bunch of life groups; we want to have a bunch of people doing life together.  We believe that you actually taste and see the goodness of God as you live in community with one another.

After saying that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, John goes on to make three ‘if we’ statements.  He’s going to start verse 6,  verse 8, and verse 10 with this phrase ‘if we…’ and he’s going to draw out one of the biggest inhibitors to walking in the light.  Here’s what he says:  If we say we have fellowship (or shared-life) with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.    He’s not talking about the ways we all genuinely screw up, the way we all make mistakes, he’s talking about a pattern of life that exhibits a continual darkness rather than being in the light of Jesus.  There’s a word that Jesus would use to describe that kind of a person.  You can read about it in Matthew 23.  He would use the term ‘hypocrite.’  Someone who says one thing but actually goes and lives in a completely other type of way.  Oh yeah, we believe that Jesus is Lord, but then it doesn’t get out of their life in any way, shape, or form.  The great pastor and author, Brennan Manning, put it like this:  “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  The first century term for that was the Gnostics, it was people who just wanted the spiritual experience, but had no intention of actually living it out. {Will you look up at me for a second, friends?}  The unbelieving world around us is longing….is longing….for the church to actually live out what we say we believe.  And they’re looking on.  It’s either our greatest apologetic or our greatest detractor.  Will we say we believe one thing and live in light of it?

Here’s the second ‘if we say…’ that John points out.  If we say have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  John was dealing with a number of spiritual elitist types of people.  They believed they climbed the ascension to the point where their lives no longer were impacted by brokenness, or impacted by sin, and that they were just living in the way of God all the time.  John goes that’s not who we are as followers  of Jesus.  We do not claim perfection.  If you’re new to a community of faith who believes in Jesus, can I just tell you right up front, we are a bunch of people who and messed up and saved by the grace of God.  We’re people stumbling and struggling along the road, knowing and convinced that God loves us, but also knowing that we fall short of his beautiful, glorious invitation and he’s there every time to pick us up.  That is who we are.  If you think you have not sinned, can I encourage you to….maybe there’s some friends you have around…or maybe you’re married and you say, “Hey, are there any ways you see sin in my life?”   Then just get a real clean notebook and a good pen and just…..    Good friends can do this to.  This just in—the reason we call them blind spots is because we cannot see them ourselves.  This is where community comes into play.

John lands this and says:  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  This is an unwillingness to be honest. See, you guys, it’s the light of coming to terms with who we actually are that leads us to experience Jesus.  If you want to keep wearing masks and you want to keep pretending, then you’re going to go through your entire life playing a charade with the King of kings and the Lord of lords, when the invitation is in front of you the whole time.  John gives you the invitation in 1 John 1:9 — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We do not confess in order to pry something out of God’s hands, we confess in order to remember that God is a forgiving God.

So, we experience the light when we walk honestly and forgiven.  The light both exposes and extinguishes sin.  It’s the beautiful, refining fire by God.  It points it out and it kills it.  Confession does two things for the life of the believer.  One, it says that there is always, always, always a platform to be honest.  This is what I’m wrestling with.  This is what I’m struggling with.  This is the darkness in me.  And it also reminds us that there’s a pathway home, as verse 7 says:  …the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  Literally, has made us pure and clean beyond anything we could possibly imagine.  Ironically, Christian fellowship is formed around the light of forgiveness, not around the facade of perfection.  We’re all broken and we’re all on this journey together, which is why the Apostle Paul will write:  …bearing with one another….   {I love this verse because it’s so un-idealistic.  There’s times when you’ve just got to bear with each other.  It’s like he’s saying, “You’re not going to like everybody all of the time.  Get over it!”  You’re not circled around liking each other, you’re circled around Jesus.}  …and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:13)  

I heard a story this summer about Corrie ten Boom.  In 1947, she had just given a talk in Munich.  If you know anything about Corrie ten Boom, she was in concentration camps and her sister died there, along with a number of others.  The guard her worked at the concentration camp she and her sister were in happened to be at the talk that she gave.  He had come to know the Lord.  He walked forward and he held out his hand to her and said, “Corrie, will you forgive me?”  The person who took the life of her sister!!  She writes that she knew that forgiveness was an act of the will, as much as it was an emotion, and she said, “I didn’t feel the emotion, but I knew that I could step into the moment without feeling it.”  She said she reached out her hand and said, “I forgive you.”  As she described in her book, as she reached out her hand and he reached out his and they locked hands, a feeling tingling in my shoulder moved all the way down my arm into my hand and I felt a rush over my entire like nothing I’ve felt before.  Her concluding thought was this:  I have never known God’s love as intensely as I did right then!  Do you want to experience the forgiveness of God?  FORGIVE!  Forgive those who’ve wronged you and step into the light.  John would argue that we’re a band of imperfect people forgiven by a perfect God.  We’re a community striving to be honest and living in the light of grace.  We reject the narrative of perfection and cling on to his mercy.  It’s all we’ve got.

He concludes with this:  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  {Notice, he’s pushing back against the Gnostics and docetists who said it doesn’t matter how you live.  He’s going I want you to live in light, I want you to live in truth, I want you to live with God.}  But if anyone does sin,  {In the Greek, the mood is the subjunctive and you could read it ‘WHEN you sin.’ }  we have an advocate…  (1 John 2:1-2)     We have someone who stands at our defense.  We have Jesus the Messiah who says no, no, no, no, no, they’re with me and all of their sin has been carried into the ground and I rose out the other side.  We have an advocate who stands at our defense.  It is so important that you recognize you have an advocate because you also have an accuser.  You have an enemy of your soul that actually hates the fact that Jesus is your advocate and so he whispers things in your ears like, God’s angry at you, or He could never that sin, or you’re always going to be on the outside, you’re always going to be lonely, you’re always going to be rejected, you’re always going to be this….   The extent to which you trust and know you have an advocate determines the volume of the voice of the accuser.  He’s for you.  He’s good.  In Him there’s no darkness at all.

John goes on to say that when we sin on this journey that we’re all on together, we have an advocate that stands at our defense — We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  The word propitiation is a Greek derivative of a Hebrew idea that meant ‘the mercy seat.’  It was the place inside the Holy of Holies in the temple, where blood of an animal was sprinkled in order to have forgiveness, or cleansing, from God.  The pagans had this idea about propitiation too.  Their conviction was that something perfect had to die in order for an angry god to be not angry with you anymore.  You made god happy by killing something, then he was okay with you.  The Christian idea is starkly different.  John Stott writes:  “Such ideas are rightly dismissed as pagan and inconsistent with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.”  It was NOT that God was angry and killing something or someone made him happy.  It’s that humanity was dead and Jesus carried our sin into the ground to make us alive.  That’s the beautiful truth of the gospel, friends.  He takes the wrath of God, which IS death and banishment and exile, and takes it upon himself into the ground and walks out, creating a new humanity.  Lest we think this is limited to some, John would say this is the most inclusive exclusive group in the entire world.  He didn’t just bury OUR sins, carry them and bury them, He carried the sins of the whole world!

We experience the light when we trust that it is finished.  As John writes this, I wonder if he thinks back to the cross, sixty years before, looking back and remembering the words of Jesus as Jesus is on the cross when he says not well, I’m mostly done…    He says no, no, no, no, no.  IT. IS. FINISHED.  When you get that it turns out it’s light.  It creates a light in people that is impossible in any other way.  Friends, I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that this morning.

In January of 2002, a friend of ours, Bob Easton, who’s in our congregation today, got a phone call from a friend.  It was a friend who worked for the City of Littleton and was organizing the security for the Olympic torch being carried across Colorado.  It left Greece and was on its way to Salt Lake City.  They asked Bob to carry the torch for a stretch of this journey.  It was lit in Greece and made its way here.  When Bob got it, he lit it and it was this symbol of the Olympic games.  When John writes in 1 John 1 that God is light, implicit within his statement is that you and I are also people of the light.  We have common life with the light.  For 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have been passing this light down from generation to generation.  They’ve been passing this love, they’ve been passing this beauty, they’ve been passing this goodness, they’ve been passing this conviction that Jesus really does change the way that we live on an everyday basis, and you can experience Him as you walk in fellowship, and as you walk in forgiveness, and as you walk in His finished work.  Friends, as you and I experience the light, we also get the chance to extend it to the world around us.  John would say that being a follower of Jesus, living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, is a feet-on-the-ground not thing-in-the-air experience.  My hope and prayer for you and I is that as we study this book and as we live life together, that we would taste and see that He is good.  And that we would hold out that light and that love to the people around us.  Amen.

Lord, we long for that to be true of us.  To be a community that’s gathered around the Light, experiencing it, touching it, seeing it, hearing it….in each other, in your creation, in your Scriptures, by your Spirit, that it would be all around us in a way that we wouldn’t be able to help but let it get out of us.  Father of Light, we pray that you would illuminate us, that you’d light us up like a city on a hill that we would shine of your goodness, because we believe that there is no darkness in you at all.  May we live in your way, with your heart, we pray.  In the name of Jesus.  And all God’s people said….Amen!