The old man sits hunched over his writing desk. Now in his nineties, he can no longer write as fast as he used to. But that doesn’t stop him. It’s been over sixty years, but the sights and sounds, the words and the events he witnessed as a young follower of Jesus have not dulled one bit. He had been close personal friends with God, how could he forget? The wine He had made from water, John could still taste it. The mud placed on a blind man’s eyes, John could still see it. The aroma of Mary’s perfume as it filled the room where she anointed the Messiah’s feet; he could still smell it. But he was the only one. Most of those who believed now, weren’t even born back then. He was the last of the apostles left in this world. The last to be called home. The others had long been gone: Peter, James, Nathaniel, Martha, Philip, even Paul the apostle who came late. He is the only one left … and so he rouses himself from his beloved memories and sets himself to the task at hand. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – “
And the task before this old man is all the more important when you understand what he was facing. A movement within Christianity was beginning to spread dangerous ideas. It was called Gnosticism. It taught that there was a secret knowledge one must gain if one was to be saved. It taught that the spirit is pure and good, while the body (and things physical) are by nature evil. It announced that the Christ only seemed to have a physical body. The divine spark, the “gnosis”, came upon Jesus in His baptism, only to leave him before the crucifixion. Because Gnosticism taught that spirit was good, and the things of this physical life ultimately didn’t matter, the concepts of sin and grace meant nothing to them. And that is why this man in his nineties sits there and writes. John is concerned with the inner life of God’s people, and so focuses on the need to live in intimate fellowship with God and fellow believers. And there is only one way to do that.
And that is a focus that we in today’s world are equally in need of. The ideas of gnosticism are alive and well 20 centuries later. Things ‘spiritual’ are seen once again as being very important to the average person. But somehow being spiritual has little to do with the church or the Bible to these very same ‘spiritual’ minds. There is a pride in modern man that centers around assumed knowledge, or works, or attitudes. The viewpoint of the church is seen as archaic, stuffy or oppressive. In every way, we are facing the same things John’s church was. How can we have that fellowship with God he writes of?
There is only one way, first sin has to be taken care of. Yes that’s right, I said sin! You know, that oppressive, archaic term used by the church to scare people into giving their money and time. The first step to walking in the light of fellowship with God is recognizing there is a darkness called sin. The now sainted, Central District president emeritus Roy Holm once shared this personal evangelism strategy. When in the course of daily activities someone asked him how he was doing, he would immediately chime in with the answer, “Great! My sins are forgiven!” You can imagine the responses he would get. Some didn’t know what to say, some looked at him like he was crazy. One man blurted out “But it’s not Sunday!” No one likes to be reminded of sin. Most people prefer to just pretend there is no such thing, at least not in their life. What ever happened to sin?
While we might be able to hide the fact of sin from ourselves (for a while), there is no fooling God. As John wrote: (5-6) “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 we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth” For decades now humans have tried everything to give sin another name. The sciences of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry have systematically cast aside such concepts as will, badness, laziness, stubbornness, pride, ego, guilt, shame, accountability. They have replaced them with such things as political or psychological repression, poor conditioning, diseased family interaction, bad genes, social conditioning. People will now only refer to lapses in judgment, or weaknesses when something goes wrong. One by one, human moral failings (SIN) have been re-designated. Responsibility and accountability have been shuffled off to someone, anyone, or everyone else. In connection with nearly every crime you are guaranteed to hear the defendant say: “I’m not a bad person, it’s just that . . . (insert their excuse here)”
What ever happened to sin? Almost no one will admit to sin anymore. And why should they. So much of what we do is done out of our human nature, right? We are programmed to do it, we have no control over it, right? Physical things have little or no bearing on my spiritual state, right? If it doesn’t hurt anyone else there’s nothing wrong with it, right? You’ve heard all the excuses before. Maybe you’ve even used one or two from time to time. To this our text says: (8) “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Perhaps you’ve heard these words somewhere before . . . like at the beginning of nearly every service we have together. No wonder the church isn’t as popular as it used to be! To say there is no such thing as sin, or that there isn’t any in my life, is to live life in the darkness of a lie, and the light of the church won’t allow that. But the consequences of denying sin go even deeper, in verse (10) we read “If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.” What is the Bible if it is not an indictment of sin? Right from the beginning, with the fall in the garden, straight through to the end with lake of fire and the punishment without end. Walking in the light means first of all admitting to God and our fellow man just how sinful we are.
But it doesn’t mean being resigned to sin. It doesn’t mean being enslaved to sin. And it most certainly doesn’t mean being damned for that sin either. Why? Jesus the Son of God, takes care of sin. After all, what is the Bible if it is not the account of how God redeems us from the indictment of sin? Right from the promise of the saviour to Adam and Eve all the way through to the Lamb seated on His throne, His victory won, and our place with Him as forgiven children guaranteed.
What ever happened to sin? Christ paid for it. He made himself the sacrifice, which would pay the debt sin incurred. (2:2) “And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” How did Jesus do this? Through His own death on the cross! It is in the cross of Calvary that God shows Himself to be the rightful Judge of sin, yes. But it is also in that same cross that God shows the depths of His love and forgiveness. The death of His own beloved Son, for the Life of every person who will ever live. One man cast off, so that all men might be brought back into the loving arms of God, to walk in the light once again. (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 cleanses us from all sin.”
Sin doesn’t have to burden our souls. We don’t need to hide from it. God didn’t. Jesus faced it head on. He brought it out into the open on the cross. He left it buried in the tomb. Sin doesn’t have to drag us down anymore. It has been paid for; even the stuff you have trouble admitting to yourself. None of it can come between you and God again. And to show you that it is forgiven God has called us to confess them to Him. (1:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These too are words that we use every time we have service together. When we confess our sin, God forgives it. Every time. Every sin. This confessing and forgiving is at the heart of everything we do together as the Church. The Word offers forgiveness. Baptism offers forgiveness. The Lord’s Supper offers forgiveness. Brothers and Sisters in the Lord forgive one another. One of the most precious but under-used gifts of the Lutheran Church is private confession and absolution. As your pastor, anyone can come to me at any time and privately receive forgiveness for those sins that specifically trouble them most, or are most burdensome. In my ten years of ministry I have only been privileged to do that honour once. But the joy was indescribable. The burden that sin had placed upon that person’s life was lifted.
God wants to do the same for you, every day of your life. He wants you to know that you are no longer accused of your sins, but are forgiven them. You have an advocate before God. (2:1) “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” Christ already willingly suffered for your sins. He doesn’t want you to suffer because of them anymore.
What ever happened to sin? The world needs to know. Your friends, neighbours and co-workers need to stop hiding in darkness and start rejoicing with us. Into a world so desperately in need of light and truth, you have been called to be witnesses to others by walking in the light. How? Just like the apostle John wrote: (1:1) “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,” We may not have been with Jesus in His earthly ministry, but we have the words of those, like John, who were. We have heard the Holy Scriptures, and they joyfully proclaim the good news of sins forgiven. “Which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon” Look around, here you see the presence of God. Maybe not in the same way John did, but still His presence here is real and unmistakable. In the written word, in the spirit of our gathering together, in the blessings of this congregation, in the lives of your fellow brothers and sisters, you have seen God. And finally, as John wrote “and touched with our hands” Have you not personally felt the touch of God’s forgiveness in the water of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine – the body and blood of the Lord’s Holy Supper?
YOU, dear friends, ARE witnesses of all these things. You have seen God’s answer to the reality of sin, won’t you join with John in sharing that answer with those who need it? (1:2-4) “Concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.”