sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/30/2011
This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
1 John 5:6-12 (NASB)
What this passage is getting at is the answer to the question, “How can we enjoy real, deep, rich, satisfying life?” We who live in a chaotic, insecure world. We who have so much hurt and brokenness in our lives. We who have this ache inside for something more, who get tastes of it from time to time. Is there a way for us to drink deep from a river of life that doesn’t change with changing circumstances and moods, that isn’t subject to forces beyond our control, that isn’t fickle and fleeting?
And what John writes in this passage, which is what he’s been writing throughout the letter, is that the answer is YES! Those who “have the Son” have that kind of life.
Which is good to know, but which also brings up a few other questions, doesn’t it? Such as, “What does it mean to ‘have the Son’?” and “What’s up with all the water and the blood and the testifying and what does that have to do with all this?”
So here’s what we’ll do today:
1. Explore what the water and the blood and the spirit stuff is all about. At least as much as we can.
2. Try to understand the testifying stuff.
3. Describe what it means to say that he who has the son has life.
4. Practical Tips
Traditional Water & Blood interpretations, in reverse chronological order:
· Luther & Calvin: baptism & communion; we should be baptized and take communion.
· Augustine: water and blood flow out from Jesus’ side after being pierced in side by spear (eternal life flowing from Jesus).
· Tertullian: water and blood a reference to the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry (baptism & crucifixion)
My take? Tertullian’s explanation brings us nearest to understanding what John is up to. Especially in light of what more modern archaeological findings have revealed about the gnostic heresy (“a different opinion”) that was probably a divisive influence in the church to which first John was written.
If you’re unfamiliar with Gnosticism, a very brief primer is in order (this will be very brief, and therefore oversimplified, but nonetheless, helpful). One, the gnostics taught that spiritual things were good and true and trustworthy, and that material things were fundamentally evil and false and unreliable. And secondly, as a result, the way to eternal life was through attaining rarified spiritual knowledge and insights. And thirdly, because material things were fundamentally evil, Jesus the Christ and Jesus the human being were separate and distinct from one another. The divine Christ had come upon Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism – which is why Jesus was able to do all the amazing things he did - and then left to go back to the heavens sometime before his crucifixion, because death is only something evil material things experience, but never something experienced by the divine Christ.
You see where this is going?
John is saying Jesus the anointed one (which is what “Christ” means) was anointed by water at his baptism (when the Spirit came from heaven and landed on him, and a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.” And John is saying, not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. In other words, the blood of his crucifixion was also an anointing. Blood ran down his body when the crown of thorns was placed on his head, just as water had run down when he was baptized by John the Baptist. And when the crucified Jesus bowed his head – just as he might have in baptism – he gave up his spirit. Only to have the Father re-animate his body with the Spirit on Resurrection Sunday. The same Spirit that Jesus breathed on his disciples that same day when he anointed them to carry out the mission that had begun with Jesus’ baptism.
In other words, John is saying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ – the anointed one – through and through: fully human, and fully God. That the Spirit of God was joined to the stuff of the old creation so that the stuff of the old creation could be joined to God and made new again. John is saying that the good news is that the life of the heavens – eternal life – is through Jesus, getting all mixed up with the life of the earth. That the end, when the heavens and the earth are made new and unified again, has already begun in Jesus’ resurrection. And so eternal life is not something we have to wait for the future to enjoy, and then only if we’ve achieved the right level of rarified spiritual knowledge, but instead is something already present among us through Jesus the anointed one.
But maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s slow down then.
It is the Spirit who testifies…
The Greek word for testify is the word martyr. Martyr just means “to bear witness.” So for example, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit (wind, breath) bore witness that Jesus was God’s son when the voice (breath) from heaven said: “This is my son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is always what the Spirit is bearing witness to, no matter when we encounter him/her/it. The Spirit is always bearing witness to Jesus as the author of life. And John knows that the gnostics trust the Spirit, because the Spirit is good and true in their view. So he’s saying, “Listen to what the Spirit is bearing witness to in Jesus. Not just in his baptism, but always, everywhere we look.”
Some of you have the Spirit of God bearing witness to that in your soul right now. It’s an invitation from the God to trust Jesus. Listen to that invitation.
And John says that the water and the blood are also bearing witness to the same truth.
This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who [bears witness], because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that [bear witness]: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in [one/unity; i.e., unified in their witness]. If we receive the [witness] of men, the [witness] of God is greater; for the [witness] of God is this, that He has [borne witness] concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the [witness] in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar [made him out to be a false witness], because he has not believed in the [witness] that God has [borne witness to] concerning His Son.
At a deep level, what John is getting at is that all of the life in the universe bears witness to the truth of who Jesus is. The eternal life-filled Son of God, through whom all things were created and who has come that we might have life and have it to the full, if we will only hold on to him in faith.
Water is the life-blood of the natural creation. Every living thing depends on water for life, flora and fauna, from the largest mammals to the smallest microbes. No water, and life ceases. It’s no surprise that God would use a moment when Jesus was immersed in water to bear witness to Jesus as the Life from whom all life comes.
Blood too, is at the heart of the human organism, bringing life-giving nutrients to every cell and oxygenating the furthest reaches of our bodies. No blood, and life ceases. It’s no surprise that God would use Jesus’ bloody death to bear witness to Jesus as the Life from whom all life comes.
And Spirit, which means equally breath and wind, is central to what it means to be alive. Winds blow on a living planet, and breath courses through our living bodies. No breath, and we die. The water and the blood and the spirit are all bearing witness in one accord. With Jesus, there is life. Without him, there is none.
[additional note for the blog version: notice the courtroom image of witnesses. Multiple witnesses make everything more reliable; here we have 3. Also, notice how those who trust Jesus (…believes in the Son of God…) bear witness in their lives to the truth of the life of the ages. We don’t just have to go on faith, as it were – we can see this truth at work in some people’s lives. And beyond that, there is this exhortation to the gnostics that if you don’t believe what God himself has said about Jesus through the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, you are in essence making him out to be a false witness. Which would be a sobering thought in that culture.]
And then John brings it all home, all down to earth, all rubber meets the road. Let translate in way that helps us see a little more clearly what John is getting at specifically for us.
And the [reality borne witness to] is this, that God has given us [the zoe-life of the heavens], and this [zoe-life] is in His Son. He who [echo/holds (keeps hold of in his hands)] the Son [echo/holds] the [zoe-life]; he who does not [echo/hold] the Son of God does not [echo/hold] the [zoe-life].
This is what the gospel, the good news, boils down to. God has given us this incredible gift of aionios zoe, the life of the heavens, eternal life, life all life flows from, life that’s deep and undisturbable and overflowing and insistent and joyful. Not he will give it to us someday in the future or that he might but that he has. It’s here now. Here among us. As close to us as our next drink of water, our next heartbeat, our next breath. And this zoe-life is in Jesus. The gift of Jesus and the gift of life are one and the same. You can’t separate them. You can’t have one without the other. The good news is all wrapped up in Jesus.
And so, for those who want this life that God has given us as a gift, John says it’s very simple. It’s not about a complicated ladder of ever more elusive knowledge and learning. It’s about keeping hold of Jesus. Like the way a student driver keeps hold of the steering wheel the first time she gets on the freeway. Like the way a toddler keeps hold of their first helium balloon. Like the way a best man keeps hold of the rings before the wedding. Like the way a special teams player keeps hold of the football when the onside kick comes his way at the end of the game. Like the way a pit bull keeps hold of a tennis shoe. Like the way a mother keeps hold of child in a riotous crowd.
[on stage illustration…?]
Keep hold of Jesus, John tells us. Which means the same thing as seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you. The path to life is in giving our focused energy to Jesus. Where is he today, in this circumstance, in this situation? What is he saying to us? Inviting us to? Desiring for us? Desiring from us? Commanding us to do? Teaching us? Showing us?
Which has implications for the whole of our lives, work, relationships, body, money, and so on… [examples]
And also for our lives of faith, what it means for us to be religious (religion coming from the word for “ligament” – our connection to God.)
One of the ways we think about this here at the Vineyard Church of Milan is in this centered set model…
(diagram, show how focus is on the center, on Jesus, on the next step in discipleship…)
Life is in keeping hold of Jesus, not in fixing our eyes on the boundaries, or on others’ relationship to the boundaries… (we can’t know from the outside looking in what is keeping someone from their next step of discipleship with Jesus….)
Because he who keeps hold of the Son has life; he who does not keep hold of the Son of God does not have life.
1. Fill in the blank. I don’t have time or energy to look for/listen for/talk to/pay attention to/take the next step in discipleship towards/hold on to Jesus because of _________________.
2. Go Dr. Phil on yourself. “And how’s that working for me?”
3. Put Blank in your Blank. Make a settled decision to move whatever you put into the blank out of the blank, to be replaced by nothing.
Prayer of surrender…
Jesus of Nazareth,
I acknowledge before you my thirst for what you have to give.
I surrender myself, whole and entire — what was, and is, and is to come — to you.
Plunge the wrongs I have done and the wrongs done to me into your fathomless mercy.
Receive me as I am today.
Make of me what I am meant to be, and let me walk in the path of your new creation.