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A Christmas Message from 1 John ()
Message at SDBC Chinese congregations, 16/12/18
John Coulson
Text to be read: (NIV 2011)
Good morning. Thank you . . .
Is there anyone here who is excited about Christmas?
Christmas is a very precious time for many people, but especially for God’s people who understand what Christmas is about and celebrate its real meaning.
I pray for God’s blessing on you this Christmas.
Each Christmas I try to think more deeply about the meaning of Christmas.
Recently, I have been reading and meditating on John’s first letter. I have been thinking about what John would say to us about Christmas.Obviously, John does not talk about Christmas. It is a tradition that began long after him.John does not have Christmas trees and bells and lights; he does not have food and gifts; he does not have a holiday.But John does write about the central truth of Christmas: the coming of God’s Son into the world as a true human being.This is what Christian theology calls “The Incarnation”: “the becoming flesh” of God’s Son.
What would John say to us about Christmas?
I’m confident that he would draw our attention to the same basic truths that he writes to his original audience. John had thought for a long time about the truth of the gospel and what the Christian life is about.He is old when he writes this letter, perhaps 80 or so years old. In the letter he is giving the essence of what he has learned about the Christian life during 50 or so years. And remember, for us who believe that the Bible is God’s message to us: John’s letter is God’s Word to us. His letter is “worth its weight in gold.”
So what would John say to us about Christmas?
In his letter there are numerous references to the Incarnation—the coming of God’s Son.John says three main things about the coming of Jesus.And I think he would say the same to us.
The first thing that he would say is:
Be very careful that you believe the truth about who Jesus is. Because what you believe in your heart about Jesus is the difference between life and death.
John was writing to believers who had experienced other so-called believers
leaving them because they disputed the apostolic teaching about Jesus.
So what is the truth about who Jesus is?
John says it numerous times in the letter. A key verse is chapter 4, verse 2:
2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus
Christ has come in the flesh is from God (TNIV)
1 John 4:2 RCUV
John is affirming the truth of the Incarnation: that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”, that is, as a true human being.
In many places in the letter John calls Jesus God’s Son. John says in chapter 1, which we read earlier, that God’s Son was “from the beginning” (1:1). He is eternal. John says in chapter 1, verse 2, that “the eternal life, which was with the Father . . . has appeared to us.
1 John 1:2 RCUV
John believes that Jesus is truly God and truly human.
He is God’s eternal Son who became a human being in order to save us. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke teach us that he became a human being at his conception through the creative working of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary the virgin.
This is what the creeds of the church affirm—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed.
Until recently these creeds have been part of Western culture. But most people in the West never truly believed these creeds. They said the words but their lives were not lives of faith in God’s Son. And today most young people in the West don’t even know these creeds.
We live in a society that now generally rejects the truth of the Incarnation.
It believes that Jesus Christ is simply a human being, one among many religious teachers, not God’s eternal Son who became a human being to save us.
We are different from most people in our society, just as the early Christians were different from their society.
We believe in the incarnation of God’s Son. It’s what we celebrate at Christmas. Only God can save us; we cannot save ourselves. Jesus is God the Son who saves us. But only a human being can save us, one who shares our humanity, one who can then stand in for us and take away our sin, enter into our death, and save us from the power of sin and death. Jesus is the human who did this for us, who paid the costly price of his own unique, sinless, human life to bring us bring us back to God. And Jesus is alive today. In his resurrection he broke the power of death. The apostles heard, saw and touched Jesus in his earthly ministry. They also heard, saw and touched him as the risen Lord. John says in chapter 1, verse 1: “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled” (NASB).
1 John 1:1 RCUV
This is the One we believe in, the One we entrust our lives to.
We do not trust in ourselves. We trust in him alone. We have no hope apart from him. But in him we have an eternal hope. John says in 5:13:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 5:13 RCUV
Is your faith in the Son of God—not in yourself, not in how good you are, certainly not in how bad you are, but in him alone?
If you have not truly trusted in him yet: today, ask him to forgive you of all your sins; ask him to save you, and trust him to do it. He has promised that he will. We just read the promise. He is powerful. He is faithful.
The first thing that John would say to us this Christmas is about believing the truth.
This is how John finishes his letter in 5:20-21:
20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:20–21 RCUV
我們知道,上帝的兒子已經來到,並且將悟性賜給我們,使我們認識那位真實者,我們也在那位真實者裏面,就是在他兒子耶穌基督裏面。這是真神,也是永生。 孩子們哪,你們要遠避偶像。
John says: believe in the true God, not in false gods—not in idols.
Let’s be clear this Christmas about the One we believe in, the One we trust in.
The second thing that John would say to us this Christmas is:
Understand clearly the spiritual battle you are in. Live on God’s side, not on the devil’s side.
Let’s read :
8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.
1 John 3:8 RCUV
Notice the language of incarnation: “the Son of God appeared.”
Jesus came to “dismantle” the works of the devil—sinful works that the devil, and humans who follow him, have been doing from the beginning of creation.
The fundamental problem that we as humans have before God is our sin—our rebellion and the evil works that result from it.
We are so used to it that much of the time it hardly bothers us. We are hard-hearted, blind and deceived.
Johns says:
Jesus came to set us free from sin, to release us from Satan’s prison, to open our eyes to our real problem, to bring us into a life of being God’s friends—his children—who learn a new way of living—not sinning, but learning to do what is right, what pleases God, living in the way that he intended in the beginning. This is real freedom and joy.
John has a major focus on waking up his audience to God’s will for them.
He says: “Stop sinning; be serious about learning how to walk in righteousness.” The letter is full of this message. And it’s what he would say to us this Christmas:Don’t be deceived by sin. Don’t be complacent about it.Regardless of how long you have been a believer, sin is still your enemy. Deal with sin, and keep pressing forward in the joyful life of living righteously, of learning and doing God’s will.
John says: “The world and its [evil] desires are passing away, but whoever does the will of God remains forever” (2:17).
1 John 2:17 RCUV
It’s a life of following God’s Son, who lived a righteous life to set us free from Satan and sin, that we may follow the Lord Jesus in righteousness.
Listen to what John says (TNIV):
1:5-9 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] 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.
1 John 1:5–9 RCUV
上帝就是光,在他毫無黑暗;這是我們從主所聽見,又報給你們的信息。 我們若說,我們與上帝有團契,卻仍在黑暗裏行走,就是說謊話,不實行真理了。 我們若在光明中行走,如同上帝在光明中,就彼此有團契,他兒子耶穌的血就洗淨我們一切的罪。 我們若說自己沒有罪,就是欺騙自己,真理就不在我們裏面了。 我們若認自己的罪,上帝是信實的,是公義的,必要赦免我們的罪,洗淨我們一切的不義。
2:1-2 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.
1 John 2:1–2 RCUV
我的孩子們哪,我把這些話寫給你們,是要你們不犯罪。若有人犯罪,在父那裏我們有一位中保,就是那義者耶穌基督。 他為我們的罪作了贖罪祭,不單是為我們的罪,也是為普天下人的罪。
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
3:5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
1 John 3:5 RCUV
2:6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
1 John 2:6 RCUV
1 Jonn 2 6
3:24 And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
3:24 And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 3:24 RCUV
3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2 RCUV
2:29 If you know that he [Jesus] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
1 John 2:29 RCUV
3:3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
1 John 3:3 RCUV
This Christmas let’s be clear why God’s Son came into the world.
He came to save us from the penalty of sin: hell, eternal separation from God. He also came to save us from the power of sin so that we can live a life that pleases God our Father—doing his will, obeying his commands, becoming like his Son in our desires and actions.
You may be thinking: “Yes, I agree with everything you are saying, but my experience is that my Christian life is often a struggle and a heavy burden.”
I know what you are talking about. I feel the same way sometimes.
I am confident that John the apostle did too. But he learned that he could not rely on his own strength and wisdom, even on the wisdom that God had given him.
We cannot rely on wisdom alone; we must rely on the Lord himself.
And that happens through prayer—coming to him and asking for his help. Prayer, based on the Bible—God’s teaching, commands and promises—is at the heart of a joyful and confident Christian life. John says in 5:14-15:
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
1 John 5:14–15 RCUV
我們若照著上帝的旨意祈求,他就垂聽我們;這就是我們對他所存坦然無懼的心。 既然我們知道他聽我們一切所求的,就知道我們所求於他的,無不得著。
This Christmas, John would say to us:
Jesus came to get you onto God’s side in the battle for righteousness. Live on God’s side.And you can do it:
4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (5:4-5)
1 John 5:4–5 RCUV
因為凡從上帝生的就勝過世界;使我們勝過世界的就是我們的信心。 勝過世界的是誰呢?不就是那信耶穌是上帝兒子的嗎?
The third thing that John would say to us this Christmas is:
“Let us love one another.” (4:7)
Let us love one another
1 John 4:7 RCUV
It’s so simple. If we have been a Christian for a while, we know it.
It’s the new commandment that Jesus gave us in :
34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
John 13:34–35 RCUV
我賜給你們一條新命令,乃是叫你們彼此相愛;我怎樣愛你們,你們也要怎樣彼此相愛。 你們若彼此相愛,眾人因此就認出你們是我的門徒了。」
Jonn 13 34-35
John says much about it in his letter, even though he knows that the church already knows it.
John says much about it in his letter, even though he knows that the church already knows it.
It’s because it’s not easy to do it.
Love as Jesus practised it and as John defines it, is costly. It is not the self-indulgent love that Australian culture is increasingly promoting, which John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (2:16). John defines love in 3:16:
1 John 3:16 RCUV
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
Laying down our lives is not easy. It is painful and costly.
But this is how we learn what love is.
Mother Teresa said:
I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no more hurt, but only more love. (E. K. Rowell, Quotes and Idea Starters, 104)
As we love each other, we grow in our understanding of what Jesus did for us when he died for us.
We appreciate again that the cost to him was immeasurably greater than what it costs us to love.
John grounds his message about loving each other in the Incarnation.
In chapter 4 he uses the language of God sending his Son:
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
1 John 4:9–14 RCUV
上帝差他獨一的兒子到世上來,使我們藉著他得生命;由此,上帝對我們的愛就顯明了。 不是我們愛上帝,而是上帝愛我們,差他的兒子為我們的罪作了贖罪祭;這就是愛。 親愛的,既然上帝這樣愛我們,我們也要彼此相愛。 從來沒有人見過上帝,我們若彼此相愛,上帝就住在我們裏面,他的愛在我們裏面得以完滿了。 因為上帝將他的靈賜給我們,由此我們知道我們是住在他裏面,而他也住在我們裏面。 父差子作世人的救主,這是我們所看見並且作見證的。
In the Incarnation—when the Son of God came—he came in love.
He came to live and die, that we might have his life, and love each other as he loved us.
John teaches at length about living a righteous life.
What does it look like? Essentially, it is a life focussed on loving God and loving his people. That’s our calling.
The apostle Paul says in :
Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:10 RCUV
Let’s allow the message of Christmas to encourage us again to love one another.
Let’s keep growing in loving each other.
John says in 4:12:
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:12 RCUV
Some have called these three teachings of John three tests of true faith in Christ:
The truth test—what do you believe about Jesus?The obedience test—are you seeking to do God’s will?The love test—are you loving God’s people as he loved us?
If we are his disciples, we will take these seriously.
We have seen this morning that John traces these three things back to the Incarnation—the coming of God’s Son to earth, which we celebrate at Christmas.
This is what John would say to us about Christmas.As we worship the Lord this Christmas, let’s open our lives to him so that his purpose in coming may be fulfilled in and through us.
A little boy was with his mother looking at a Christmas tree.
He saw the star on top of the tree, and asked: “Mum, why is there a star on the top?” She replied, “Because a star shone above the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” Then he noticed a cross hanging lower down, right in front of him. He said, “Mum, it’s not Easter time. Why is there a cross on the tree?” She replied, “That’s why Jesus came.”
Let’s pray.
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