Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
The Testimony of God - May 17, 2015 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: 1 John 5:9-15
Last Thursday was an important day in our Church calendar. Unfortunately, not too many people celebrate or make a big deal about it, but Thursday was Ascension day. Ascension day is the day we celebrate, or at least are reminded of Jesus’ ascension into heaven after showing Himself alive for forty days. And now, today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which means next Sunday is Pentecost. The following Sunday we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday and then we will be back into what is called the non-festival portion of the church year and the Sundays after Pentecost. So, today and this week we complete the Easter Season, but of course, we never complete our Easter celebration. As Christians, we now worship on Sunday because each and every Sunday is for us a mini-Easter celebration.
In our first reading for this morning, from Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke gives the account of Peter giving testimony of Christ. Jesus had ascended and the disciples had returned to Jerusalem. They were all in the upper room when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit spoke words concerning Judas’ demise and the election of a disciple to take his place. And of course, we remember that Mathias was the disciple who took Judas’ place.
In the Gospel reading for this morning we have the account of Jesus in prayer, giving testimony of Himself. This prayer was offered by Jesus before His death and resurrection and in a sense, as we heard the first lesson from Acts we heard how this prayer was indeed answered. Both the first lesson and our Gospel lesson speak of this testimony, this witness of Jesus Christ and who was and is.
In our text, the Apostle John writes to help us to understand and to have confidence in the testimony of Holy Scripture. First, he compares the testimony or the Word of God with the testimony or the word of man. The word of man may give some testimony of this world. Anyone can pick up any history book and gain insight into the events of history during any particular period of time. However, most people, as they read books of history, also understand that even books of history are written according to the writer’s perspective or presuppositions. It is known for a fact some history writers, at times wrote in a particular way in order to save their own skins. In other words, if they had written simply the blatant facts, they may have lost their lives. So, instead they wrote in order to make a particular ruler look good in the history book.
On the other hand, the Bible gives God’s testimony of Christ. God, being God, is not concerned about His own skin. And, God, being God, was there at the beginning and has been everywhere through all of time, so certainly He can attest to and we can believe His word of testimony. Here in our text, in particular, John tells us we can believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus. So, we may believe that the word of man may be true or not so true, but the Word of God we know is always true.
Yet, there is more about the Word of God. The Bible, the Word of God is not just a book like any other book. Take for instance a math book or an English book or a social studies book or a science book. These may be good books to help one understand numbers, language, peoples, or how things function in our world, but that is the extent of their usefulness. The Bible, on the other hand, is a book with power. The Bible is not like these other books, because these other books can simply teach, instruct or inform. The Bible actually does what it says.
We call the Bible a means of grace. The Bible is one way, one means, through which our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts and blessings He has to give. We understand the other means of grace are confession and absolution as well as the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Speaking of the Bible as a means of grace, we know the Bible is the Word of God. It does not simply contain the word of God as if we would need to be a detective and find which is and which is not that word of God. To reduce the Bible to merely containing the word of God would be to undermine its very foundation. As we understand, know and believe, the Bible is the Word of God, it is a means of grace and as such it gives gifts. It gives faith. When we read or hear the Word of God proclaimed, the Holy Spirit works through that word to give us faith. And even more, it works to give us faith in Jesus. We recognize that not only is faith important, but the object of faith is just as important. To believe in a tree, no matter how strong your faith or how sincere your faith in that tree we know that tree will not save you. To believe in Jesus will and does save you. The Word gives faith.
The Word gives forgiveness. Yet even as the Word gives forgiveness we know that this forgiveness may be refused and we do refuse forgiveness all the time. Whenever we fail to acknowledge and confess our sins, we are refusing forgiveness. Thus, we see the importance of the Word of God proclaiming the Law which tells us what sin is, how often we sin, and indeed, how great a sinner each one of us really is. As we confess at the beginning of worship, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we believe we are without sin this shows our lack of understanding what sin is and it also shows our refusal of forgiveness, because if we have no sin then there is no reason to seek forgiveness. But, “when we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we recognize how sinful we really are, that is that we are the reason Jesus had to die on the cross, then we confess and our Lord opens the floodgates of forgiveness and pours out His grace on us. It is when we realize how sinful we are that we realize how great God’s love for us is, a love which gives life and sheds blood.
The Word gives faith, it gives forgiveness and with forgiveness it gives life, even eternal life. The greatest gift we are given by God is forgiveness of sins. It is forgiveness that opens the door to eternal life. Without forgiveness we remain in our sins and we have only eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness we are declared righteous, we are declared saints, and we are given eternal life.
So, John shows us that God’s Word is a Word which is greater than man’s word and is a word which does what it says. John also tells us, then, to not believe is to call God a liar. To not believe the Word of God is to refuse the gifts of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To not believe would be similar to having a check which you would refuse to attempt to cash because you believe it has no value. To not believe would be similar to having a large denomination of cash and refusing to spend it because you believe it to be a counterfeit. To not believe is to call God a liar, because normally one would not believe a liar.
What does this mean? This means we understand the importance of recognizing that the Bible is the Word of God. Some of you may have a Bible which states that the word of Jesus are printed in red. If that is the case, and the Bible is the Word of God, and Jesus is God, then would not the whole Bible be printed in red? If we take serious what we believe, that the Bible is the Word of God, then this would be a logical suggestion. Unfortunately, we tend to fail to recognize that the Bible is the Word of God, because on a daily basis we ignore and outright disobey God’s Word. But our disobedience does not take away the fact that it is God’s Word.
This means that we understand the importance of making regular and diligent use of the Word of God. Here again, as I stated many times before our priorities are not necessarily what we state them to be, but are actually what we live. We make time to do what we believe is important. We make time for our priorities. A musician makes time to practice playing the instrument he or she plays. An athlete makes time to practice his or her sport. A Christian makes time to listen to his or her Lord who speaks to him or her through the Bible which is His Word. Just as a musician or an athlete might get rusty as we say, from failing to practice, so we might get rusty in our faith when we fail to read and hear God’s Word. And we do know that ultimately, one could fall away from the faith if one makes it a regular habit to refuse to make use of the means of grace.
This means that we understand the importance of believing the Word of God. To simply be able to read the Bible or to simply accept the facts, the historical fact of the Bible will not save a person. James reminds us that the devil knows the Bible better than we know the Bible and yet he is condemned. To believe the Word of God is not simply to be able to recite Bible passages, but it is to believe with your whole heart, to stake your life on the fact that it is God’s gift to you. In essence the Bible truly is God’s love letter to us, showing His love for us, even to the point of His own death for us.
This means that we understand the importance of being given the gifts which God has to give. Faith, forgiveness and eternal life are not things we take from God, they are not things we claim for ourselves. Instead they are gifts which are given. How absurd for a child celebrating his birthday, to sit down in the middle of all his gifts, to open a gift and to announce, “look what I got for myself.” Even more absurd it would be for us, who have been plucked out of the mires of sin, death and hell, cleaned up, washed in the blood of the lamb, clothed with His righteousness, seated at His banqueting table, lavished with the best of foods, how absurd for us to spoon up a bite and say, “look what I got for myself.” No, these things are all gifts from God, gifts He has chosen to give to us, to bestow on us, to lavish on us. Gifts He has purchased and won for us.
Finally, I appreciate John’s words in verse thirteen. John writes and he writes for a purpose. His purpose in writing is so that “[we] may believe in the name of the Son of God and that [we] may know that [we] have eternal life.” The reason we have the Bible, the Word of God, is to give testimony of Jesus, His life, His suffering, His death and resurrection, His oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit, that He is the way, the truth and the life. And John’s testimony is trustworthy and true.
If we believe the word of other people, how much more willing are we to believe the Word of God? The Word of God is that Word which is efficacious, that is, it does what it says. It testifies of Jesus Christ, His life, suffering, death and resurrection for our salvation. It gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. It gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It gives eternal hope. And our response is to be given to, to believe and to declare, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.