28 August 2011
I'd like you to quickly read through the 1 John 5:1-12 passage printed on the Message Guide. And I want you to use your imagination. If you were a non-believer -- that is someone not committed to Christ -- and perhaps that's really where you're at -- indeed you're welcome to enter into this, too -- What in this passage would you find objectionable? Go ahead and underline it or mark it in someway.
What did you underline? Why?
In my mind 1 John 5:12 has got to be one of the most ucomfortable verses in the entire Bible. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”
The person who has Jesus Christ has life but the person who is not in relationship with Jesus does not have life -- as he defines it. Very black and white – very plan and clear – no wiggle room or waffling whatsoever. And in our age of intolerance of anything that lacks tolerance this is disturbing.
I remember a speech I gave as a freshman in college. It was your basic speech to persuade.
I talked about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how according to the gospels there was new life exclusively through him.
The professor thought it was a great speech -- well-delivered, well structured. It was textbook and I got an "A."
My classmates, however, had somewhat of a different opinion. I could see it in their eyes. They stared at me with that look of disbelief. Then they more or less said it in the debriefing.
"We can't believe that you are actually assaulting us with your religion. From which crack in the dark ages did you crawl?"
“What gives you the right to say that this Jesus stuff is the only way?”
Are we too narrow? What gives us the right, in this enlightened day and age, to claim that life comes only through Jesus.
"If religion is relevant," the critic would argue, "it's relevant because it teaches us tolerance for each individual who is seeking to find his or her own way to God."
There is something terrible audacious about claiming that life comes only through Jesus.
This is why the exclusive claims of Jesus and the apostles seem so embarrassing.
This is, after all a pluralistic society. Our culture is built on options -- choices -- and valuing these choices. I like that there are many good choices.
When I grew up there were Cheerios, Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops -- perhaps a few others -- in the cereal aisle.
But now there are 11 different kinds of Cheerios alone -- Honey Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, Yogurt Burst Cheerios, Oat Cluster Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios... You get the idea. There is no one Cherrios anymore and the cereal aisle is a lot longer.
In 1937 there was one kind of Spam and it didn’t even take up a single shelf in the canned foods aisle. Today there are at least 14 different varieties of Spam.
When I went into the grocery store on the island of Weno in Chuuk it looked like half the store’s food stock was Spam and Spam knock-offs -- all the varieties. Islanders love Spam so they sell all the choices.
It used to be that when you bought a car, you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black! Today, the rainbow spectrum is the limit.
There is no ONE right religion. There are many paths from which to choose. In our world, it's okay to be a Christian -- as long as you acknowledge Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Baha'i, and Wicca all as legitimate choices, too.
To claim otherwise is to set yourself off as narrow-minded and intolerant.
I remember a comment from someone who got into an online church leader’s forum that I was a part of. Someone from the outside but obviously frustrated with Christians. “Why do Christians feel such a need to impose their narrow beliefs on others who do not share them? Why can't you just leave the rest of us alone?”
Maybe my classmates were right. Maybe the troll who got onto our computer forum has a point. And perhaps we need to re-evaluate our faith system in light of modern pluralism. I mean, why must we be so narrow? Why must we be so exclusive? And why can't we be more accepting of other religions and ideas?
Actually, these aren't totally new questions. In 1 John the apostle is responding to some teachers who were offering an alternative to apostolic Christianity.
They were offering religious enlightenment through special knowledge -- a knowledge that, while recognizing Jesus as an important religious figure, down played his importance as the incarnate son of God.
John responds to these teachers in the beginning of chapter 5, as he begins to draw his book or letter to a close with this statement: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God.”
We might paraphrase the verse to pick up John's emphasis: We believe that Jesus is the Christ because we are children of God or born of God.
The emphasis is on belief as evidence of being born of God. Being born of God is a biblical metaphor for being in relationship with God. And that's what John is talking about here – being in relationship with God, being born of God.
In verses 2-5 he goes on to elaborate on the chain of evidences that go along with being born of God. His argument is a little difficult to follow because it's so tightly packed, and it is rabbinical in style -- something we're not used to. But essentially he is talking about belief in Jesus, love, and obedience as marks of being born of God.
He is emphasizing this birth from God as a foundation for the exclusive statements in verses 10-12.
In other words, being born of God is the source of our standing with God. It is the source of our relationship with God. And such a relationship with God is possible only through Jesus Christ, says John.
As he rhetorically asks in vs. 5, “And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
In the face of opposition John is adamant in his exclusivity and narrowness. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”
Why? Because it is through the son that life is given -- that one is born of God. Just as the sun – S U N is the sole source of energy and life on our planet -- so is the son – S O N, the sole source for life in relationship with God.
As a matter of fact, says John, we've got testimony to the effect that Jesus is the source of life from God. Verses 7-8 – “So we have these three witnesses—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree.”
These three things are evidence of God working through Jesus Christ to bring eternal life. Now, we're not exactly sure as to what John is talking about when he referred to the WATER, the BLOOD and the SPIRIT.
You can be sure that the Christians of John's day knew exactly what he was talking about. We can only speculate -- offer educated guesses. In all likelihood:
- the water refers to Jesus' baptism,
- the blood, to his crucifixion,
- and the Spirit to the Holy Spirit who extends his ministry to the present.
These three are testimony in agreement – that Jesus is God's Son and that we know God through Jesus.
As John says in vs. 11: “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
Furthermore, according to vss. 9 and 10, John says that this testimony has its origin in God -- although it now resides in all who believe in the Son of God.
So, why then do we continue to make exclusive and narrow claims about Christianity?
Well, it's not because we feel that we're better than other people. And it’s not because we believe that we have this iron clad system that any thinking person will understand. And it's not because we think that other people are cosmic bozo's for believing otherwise.
And we never want to communicate that.
- We don’t make fun of other people for their beliefs and we don’t belittle them.
- We don’t make people out to be idiots if they don’t believe in God.
- We don’t make jokes in which someone’s religion or non-religion is the brunt.
But we do believe that we’re right and they’re wrong.
It’s certainly not on the basis of our superiority -- that’s an understatement! No, plain and simply we rest our case on God's testimony -- his WORD is that he has given life in his Son.
Jesus himself is the Word -- the revelation of God -- and as John elaborates in vs. 12, thus whoever has God's Son has life; whoever does not have his Son does not have life.
It’s just as Jesus says in Matthew 7: “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Personally, I'd love to just say, "Hey, it's okay -- believe whatever you want to believe. Just be sincere and earnest. But believe as you chose for there are lots of choices. Go to the religious grocery store and chose a cereal that suits you and get behind it."
Wouldn't that be nice and wouldn't that make me out as a warm and tolerant fellow?
But that's not God's testimony. It's not what he says. God offers eternal life to all who have his Son.
To say otherwise and to accommodate ourselves to the flow of the world or to personal opinion puts the individual in the driver's seat and in doing so denies what we understand God is saying.
This isn’t something we’ve made up. It’s not that we have created this spirituality to meet our needs or to give up an edge in life.
And that’s hard to understand in a world where everyone is supposedly designing their own spirituality. People pick and choose so they assume that we pick and choose to believe the things which work on our behalf.
But if we accept alternative religion or paths to God as legitimate -- if we accept a self-designed spirituality then "we make God out to be a liar," as John puts it in vs. 10.
“Those who don't believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don't believe what God has testified about his Son.”
We would be contradicting God's word, for he is the one who says “whoever has God's Son has life; whoever does not have his Son does not have life.”
It’s certainly NOT my idea! It’s not how I’d do things. But it’s how God chose to do things. And really when you think about it – what better way could there have been?
It comes out of God’s love – as we talked about last week – not out of God’s anger. And God’s solution to our problem isn’t a program or a set of mechanical hoops you jump through – but it’s relational.
Whoever has the Son has life! Whoever chooses to relate to me through my son has the life I’m chomping at the bit to give.
One of the radio stations that I enjoy listening to is Classic FM out of London. I listen to it streaming live on my phone. And I remember a commercial that they ran for Jaguar cars. Somewhat humorous – in a British sorta' way -- A man is buying a car and he keeps trying to buy extras like dual climate control and leather seats.
But the salesman says –- I’m sorry we can’t add that on because it’s already included. It’s kind of dorky but effective. I remember it and I’m not at all interested in buying a Jaguar.
It’s already included. It’s already being given to you – why are you working so hard at trying to pay for it. It’s not an extra! It’s a part of God’s package.
Perhaps then we’re asking the wrong questions when we say, “But isn’t it kind of narrow to say that you only come to God through his son Jesus Christ – and that is the only way that we relate to him?”
The real question is, why should we try to relate to God in any other way?
God has made himself know through Jesus Christ. He has given us eternal life through his Son.
The solution has been clearly presented to all who will accept it -- and yet, in our own quest for power and personal control or expression we each want to come up with our own cures. We all want to reinvent the wheel -- to customize it for our personal tastes and preferences.
Unfortunately, none of us are capable -- no matter how gifted or sincere we might be, in coming up with a true wheel.
A certain man, who shall remain nameless, once locked himself outside of his house. The wind blew the back door shut when he'd gone to take out the garbage.
He went to his neighbor and asked for help. So there were two men trying to get into the house. They walked around the house and rattled all the windows. They got tools and tried to pry some sliding windows.
They even tried to get into the crawl space under the house (obviously not in Arizona) so they could work their way around and come up through the trap doors that homes without concrete slabs have. But to no avail.
After a hour of industrious activity a little neighborhood boy came by and asked the two men what they were doing. After a brief explanation he decided he'd help. And in his naiveness he went to the front door and turned the knob -- and... the door opened.
The men had been so intent on getting in through a window or a crawl space that they'd forgotten to check the other doors. Talk about embarrassing!
Since God has unlocked the front door to his house. Why are so many intent on trying to find another way in?
It's interesting, Jesus once said of himself: "I am the door." He also said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me."
If this generous insight is too narrow to make some people happy -- so be it. But truth by definition is always narrow. It always eliminates more possibilities than it recognizes.
- 2+2 always = 4
- It is never 11, 8, 15, 301
- Even if someone else says they'd rather experience it as 5 or
- even if the country votes in a law that says we will now teach that 2+2=3 --
That doesn't change the narrow truth. Truth is always narrow.
Last night the Phoenix Cardinals played the San Diego Chargers. One team won and one team did not.
And no one complains that the idea of having one winner is too narrow.
No one will say that we should take into account the sincerity of the other team or suggest that each team should be able to make up their own rules. Narrowness isn't bad when you're talking about football or mathematical truth. But the very fact that people are so sensitive when it comes to spiritual matters suggests that it’s important to them. And that’s good news.
You know, if I had to redo my college speech to persuade I’d probably do it differently today. You see, while the speech itself was structurally sound it didn’t really take into account the audience and how skittish they’d be on this topic. I learned something from giving that speech.
Yes, I’d probably still talk about the resurrection but I’d use more humor -- perhaps make fun of myself for choosing to talk about something so controversial. And I’d publicly acknowledge that there are people who disagree. I recognize how uncomfortable sounding it is when we’re so narrow sounding and it may make us unpopular.
But then I’d shift it all back to Jesus -- for he majored in making people uncomfortable -- forcing them to show their hands -- to take a stand. And that cost him his life. Fortunately, it also opened the door of life -- the door which stands open -- unlocked and ready for all who will simply walk in. There is no lock-out.
But there are only two kinds of people -- those who have the life that God offers and those who do not. "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
So here is the question -- has the narrowness of Jesus' way ever been a stumbling block -- spoken or unspoken with you -- or the people with whom you’ve talked? How did you handle it? And I’m not just asking this rhetorically -- how do you talk about Jesus’ claims to be THE way in a world that SEES many ways?
Heavenly Father--We are not always comfortable with the truth -- especially when it makes us look like narrow-minded religious bigots. We are too often embarrassed into silence. We confess that and acknowledge our silence as sin -- as an unwillingness to step out with faith and trust you. Forgive us. Renew our confidence so that we can be bold -- not brash or abrasive -- but bold.
Give to the one who has been standing on the outside of the door -- wanting but unwilling to walk in --give to her or him the reassurance that it's okay and good to take that step forward. Give them the words of freedom as they speak from the heart and say: I want to be with you and have the life you offer and I want to have Jesus. Please God let's get together and be together forever. That is my sincere desire. Amen.