This is a midly edited transcript of a sermon that I preached at Trinity Baptist Church in February 2009. The audio file is available here
Hi everyone. If this is your first time here, then welcome to Trinity Baptist church. If you’re a member or a regular attender, then welcome anyway.
The passage we’re looking at tonight is found in the book of 1 John. It can be found on page 862 of your pew Bible in the New Testament. We’re looking at Chapter 1 verse 5 through Chapter 2 verse 2. Let me read that out to you now and then we’ll pray.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 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. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is God’s word. Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for your word. We thank you that you are a good and great and perfect God and that in you there is no darkness. And Lord we confess that in us there is lots of darkness. We thank you for your great mercy to us and your unfailing love through your son Jesus Christ. We pray that we’d listen to your word and know your truth and that the truth would set us free. We pray this in your name. Amen.
Ok. So welcome again. I’ve been asked to preach on this passage and it really is a wonderful passage to be asked to preach on. You know, Christianity is a religion. It’s one of the world religions. But at its root, Christianity offers a unique approach to God. And actually, the core Christian message, or the gospel is a completely different way of approaching God, of who God is, and who we are as human beings. And I think this passage we’re looking at tonight really encapsulates that core Christian message –that good news- about who God is and what He’s done for us. So I’d like to look at the text tonight under 4 headings: the first is the question “Who is God?” The second is the question: “Why is that a problem for us as human beings?” The third is the question: “What is our solution to that problem?” And lastly: “What is God’s solution to that problem?”
So let’s begin by looking at verse 5. The passage starts by saying: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God…” So we’ll just stop there with: God. Well, who is this God? You use that word God and have to ask, who is this God we’re talking about? And of course the context for this letter that John is writing to Christians is the entire Bible, this story, this history, of who God is and especially his relations with mankind. So I’d like to take a little time and look at the background that the readers of this letter would have understood when they talked about this God that John is referring to. So what do we know about God from the rest of the Bible?
First, God is creator of the universe. So Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And in the Psalms it says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” So God didn’t just create the Earth, this planet, he created everything in the Universe. Everything in the universe was created by God. I did some research online and I found some interesting facts.
If the diameter of the earth were a millimeter, then the distance from the earth to the nearest star besides the Sun would be roughly 2000 miles. And the Milky Way, in which the Earth lives, would be 46 million miles across, that’s if the Earth were a millimeter in diameter. There are approximately 80 billion galaxies in the known universe; 80 billion. And God created all of these things with a word of his power and sustains them with a word of his power. So I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of God as this terrestrial deity, floating up in the clouds, looking at Earth. That’s still pretty impressive, because there are six billion people on Earth. But I still think of God as this very earth-bound God. The Bible doesn’t say that at all. The Bible says, think about what a speck of dust the entire Earth is. The nations are a drop in the bucket to God. God is the God of the universe and the Bible gives us the perspective that God is incredibly infinite and glorious. He’s far more glorious, he’s far more powerful and wise than we could ever understand. So God created the entire universe, from every atom and molecule in my body to the biggest galaxies, to the black holes out in space. God created all of that. What in incredible, awesome, powerful God the Bible is talking about.
Second, God is the creator of each human being. We also read that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Gen. 1:27. So the Bible says that human beings have a special relationship to God because we were made in his image, both male and female. Well, what does that mean? It means that each one of us doesn’t relate to God in an abstract way as the creator of the universe, but in a personal way since he is the creator of each one of us. The apostle Paul quotes a Greek poet in Acts where he says: 'In [God] we live and move and have our being.' and 'We are his offspring.'” So because God is our creator, God relates to us like a father relates to his children. So we have this personal relationship with God as our personal Creator, each one of us even though God is infinite and we’re tiny. But because God is infinite, he cares infinitely about each one of us, because we’re created in his image and for his glory.
Third, the Bible tells us that God is good. He is infinitely good. The psalmist says “For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” – Ps. 33:4-5. I think about all of the goodness I see in the world, everything that I find beautiful and lovely: the sunsets, the animals, I think about my childhood and the love that my parents had for me, the love between friends. This is all just a reflection of God’s love and God’s goodness. Everything of which we say: “That is a good things” whether it is love, honor, justice, nobility, kindness, compassion, those are all good things but those are just reflections of God’s goodness. God is the source. So everything we see, we should look at it and say this is just a dim echo of God’s goodness in his own person.
This is the God that John is talking about. He’s the creator of the whole universe. He’s the creator of each one of us. And He’s good. He’s perfectly good. He’s loving, kind, and compassionate. He’s the source of all goodness in this world. That’s who God is. That’s what the Bible tells us about God.
Ok, we’ll that’s great. That’s inspiring. I feel inspired and uplifted. We can wrap this up; we can all go home; it will be a short night. There’s probably something good on TV. But wait, that’s only the first point. And it’s a little strange; why would my second point be “why is this a problem for us?” After all, I feel inspired; God is good. He’s loving; He’s kind. Why is this a problem for us? But let’s look at the rest of the verse. This introduction was just the background for the verse. Let’s look at the rest of verse 5. John says: “This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
What does it mean that “God is light”? Clearly, it does not mean that God is an electromagnetic wave propagating through free space. Light is being used as a metaphor here. Then what does it mean that God is light? “Well,” you say, “it sounds like some kind of high, lofty, spiritual language. God is light, God is love, God is spirit.” And it’s true, John does affirm that God is light and God is love and God is spirit. But what is John thinking about when he uses this metaphor of light? If we go back to the gospel of John, I think we understand what John is referencing when he says that God is light.
So let’s turn back to the gospel of John, probably written by the same author, and we read this in chapter 3: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” – John 3:19-20. So I think this is the metaphor that John is using here. This light that John is talking about is not very comforting. There’s something troubling about it to us. Let’s think a little bit more about that metaphor that John is using: what is it that light does?
First, light makes things visible. The electrical power went out at our workplace on Friday, and we work in the basement like all theoretical chemists do. So when the power went out, it was pitch black. You couldn’t see anything. You could open your eyes, close your eyes, and it made no difference. That was darkness. And light makes things visible. Without light, we walk around not knowing what is going on. We can’t see anything, even our own bodies. So light makes things visible. In the same way, everything is visible to God because God is light. In the Psalms it says “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” – Ps. 139:1-12. Similarly, Jesus taught that “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. ” – Lk. 12:2. It’s silly that we think we can keep secrets from God. God is omniscient; he knows everything. God is light; everything is visible to Him. So that’s one aspect of the metaphor. God sees everything that everyone does every second of the day because He’s God.
What else does this metaphor of light mean? Second, light is also a positive metaphor for purity. Light is pure. So it says in this verse that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Light symbolizes purity. So again, we read in the Bible “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.” – Ps. 5:4-5. Or in Habbakuk, it says “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” – Hab. 1:13. God in his nature is perfectly opposed to murder and hatred and racism. He’s opposed to our selfishness and pride and looking down on others. He’s opposed to adultery and rape and robbery. Because He’s good. He’s opposed to these things not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness. God is perfectly pure and because of that, there’s no tolerance in his character for any kind of evil. When we say that, when we say that God desires us to be perfectly good because He is perfectly good, we begin to say to ourselves: “That’s just unreasonable. We’re human beings. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. But I think God’s being unreasonable to ask us to be perfectly pure, perfectly good. I mean, is God some kind of strict bully, is he some kind of perfectionist.” But no, that’s not right at all. One of the metaphors the Bible uses is that God relates to us like a father relates to his children, but another metaphor the Bible uses is that God relates to us like a husband relates to his wife.
So let me ask you a question. I have a friend Rob who just got engaged. Imagine that he comes to me to tell me about his fiancée. He says to me “Neil, I’ve met the most perfect woman. She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she loves God, she’s kind, and I want to be married to her and be her husband for the rest of my life.” And I reply “That’s great, Rob. I’m so hppy for you.” And he continues, “I’m going to take those wedding vows with all my heart. I’m going to promise to be faithful to her, to love her, to honor, to cherish her forsaking all others as long as I live.” And I say “Whoa. Hold on a minute. You’re saying you’re going to be completely faithful, that you’re going to love only her. That sounds to me like some kind of perfectionism. Come on, you’re only human. I think it’s great to aspire to perfect faithfulness in love and marriage. That’s a great ideal. But I think a little bit of adultery now and then for human beings is only reasonable.” Now what would Rob say to me? I don’t think he would even argue with me. I think he would look at me with tears in his eyes and say: “How can you say that?” Adultery, even a little adultery, is horrifying to someone who loves his wife because of what marriage is. In the same way, when you say: “I think it’s unfair that God wants us to be perfectly good”, I have to ask you: “What are you saying?” You want to offend God a little bit? You want to commit a little bit of wickedness? You want to hate God and other people just a tiny bit? No, God wants us to be perfectly good because He’s perfectly good and anything less is actually horrifying given how evil sin is. So God is morally perfect and pure and requires us to be morally perfect and pure.
Finally, God is just. The Bible is very clear on this. God is not only the creator and sustainer of the universe, he is also the ultimate source of moral authority and the judge of the universe. The Bible says: “The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” – Ps. 9:7-8. “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” – Ps. 103:6. “I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” – Ps. 140:12. We don’t like the idea of a just God who punishes wrongdoing. But in the Old Testament, the Israelites loved the idea of God’s justice. Why? I’ll tell you why: because God works justice for the poor and the oppressed.
When you live in a world full of injustice, full of poverty and misery and the strong oppressing the weak, and you hear the widows and the orphans crying out, when you live in a world with 41 million AIDS orphans in Africa, you cry out to the God of justice to make things right. And the Bible says yes, because God is good He will one day make things right. We have this “problem of evil” which is “why does evil exist if God is good?” and the Bible’s answer is that one day God will entirely remove evil from his kingdom. He will judge evil. So God is a judge and that is a good thing because if you live in a world full of brokenness, it’s good to know that the omnipotent sovereign Ruler of all things is opposed to evil and will judge it one day.
I went down to Washington, D.C. a few years ago and we went to the Holocaust museum. Many people say “I don’t like this idea of God as a wrathful God who hates sin and is angry at human wickedness. I like to think of God as a God of love.” Now the Bible does say that God is a God of love. But because He’s a God of love, he’s a Gd of anger against evil. So we went to the Holocaust museum in DC and in it, you walk into this room full of shoes. Shoes of women, shoes of babies. The floor is just covered in shoes. These are the shoes of the men, women, and children that the Nazis marched into gas chambers, killed, and piled into mass graves. When George Patton who was a US general saw the concentration camps in Dachau, Germany, he –who was this fierce tenacious hardened army general- when he came to the concentration camps and saw the heaps of bodies, he went outside and threw up. This was a man who had seen death and destruction, and yet he was absolutely appalled at what he saw.
What kind of world do you think you’re living in? We don’t live in a perfect world; we live in fallen world full of evil and wickedness. And the evil is not “out there”. There aren’t a few bad people out there who are responsible. Each one of us is responsible. In my own heart are the seeds of the same sin that led Hitler to be Hitler. That led Pol Pot to be Pol Pot. The same sin lives in our own hearts: the same selfishness, the same self-righteousness, the same hatred of others.
I hope you see now why we have a problem. When people came to Jesus and asked him how to get to heaven, how to inherit eternal life, do you know what he said? He said, you don’t have to wear some kind of scratchy clothing, you don’t have to flog yourself on the back, you don’t have to abstain from meat on Wednesday, but eat meat three times on Friday. No, no, none of that. Jesus said, it’s simple; you have to love God your Creator and Friend and Sustainer with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and you have to love your neighbor who is created as yourself. Love God and love your neighbor – that’s what God requires. He doesn’t require all sorts of stuff. Just love God and love your neighbor. But if we really think about that command, we begin to say: “Boy, I wish it had been complicated.” But because it’s so simple I start seeing that I don’t love God, not with all my heart. And I don’t love my neighbor as myself. No, I love me; that’s who I love.
When you see that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all”, you begin to realize that we do have a problem. I hope that no one is saying out there “Yeah, that’s right. All those atheists have a problem. But I believe in God.” So what? You believe in God. I believe in God. That’s great; He exists. But we all have a problem as human beings. The Bible does not say that there are the bad people who don’t believe in God and there are the good, religious people who do believe in God. No, the Bible says that all have sinned, everybody has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Everybody. So please don’t think that because I am standing behind the pulpit I am somehow holier than you. Oh no. I am a sinner coming to sinners, a dying man preaching to dying men and saying that God is light, in him there is no darkness at all and because of that we have a deep, deep problem.
What is our solution to the problem? So far, we’ve only looked at verse 5. Next, John sets forth three couplets, three pairs of verses. I think he’s repeating himself because he recognizes that this is the part that we always are going to mess up. What does John say?
In verse 6, he says “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” In verse 8, he says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And in verse 10, he says “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” This is the first half of these three pairs of verses. So what does this mean “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.”
Let me tell you a brief story. Back in Berkeley, our church used to have a meal once every two weeks or so and a lot of the families in the church would help cook and prepare the meal. So I was helping cook one week and a mother brought in her two kids, a son and a daughter. The son was probably 7 years old; the daughter was around 9. And our job was to butter loaves of bread. We had a big bucket of butter and we had bread, and we were buttering it. While we were doing this, the seven year old took the spatula he was using to butter the bread, and he looked around to the left and to the right, and when he thought no one was looking, he licked it. And then he starts to put the spatula back in the butter container. Now his sister and I had both been watching him and when he started to use the spatula again, his sister says: “You just licked that spatula! I can’t believe you did that. That’s disgusting! You know better than to do that.” The little boy replies: “I didn’t do it.” His sister continues berating him and threatening to tell their mother and in response the little boy keeps repeating “I didn’t do it.”
At this point, I step in and tell him: “Look, it’s okay. I saw you lick the spatula. But it’s all right. We’ll get you a clean one. We have a whole drawer full of spatulas. It’s not a big deal.” But the little boy clutches his spatula and says: “I didn’t do it.” No matter how I insisted, he refused to admit what he had done even when I was coming to him with an offer of free forgiveness. Now it’s funny when a seven-year-old in Berkeley does that. But what about when a twenty nine-year-old theoretical chemist does that. To God.
This is our solution to the problem. When we hear about God’s goodness and that we stand condemned before him as unrighteous, ungodly, and wicked, what is the first thing we do? We say “I didn’t do it.” We “claim to be without sin”. This is exactly what John is saying. You know, there’s no hope for that. Let’s say I go to the doctor and I take some medical tests. Later, he brings me into his office and he looks at me very seriously and says: “Neil, I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but you have a brain tumor. You are dying. I know you can’t feel anything because there aren’t any nerves there. But it’s ok because I can know how to treat this kind of cancer; I can heal you.” What if I look at him and say: “Yeah, right. You’re doing this because you want to have power over me. You want to control my life.” The doctor would plead with me: “No, this is for your own good. Please, please, put yourself into my hands and I can heal you.” This is the same situation we have with God.
One of the things that is most moving to me is to see in the Bible that our sin doesn’t just enrage God. It does enrage God, but it also grieves God. The Bible says that God was grieved that he made man when he saw how horrible we are to one another. We bring God sorry. The God of the universe is sorrowful because of what we do. Yet he is still willing to call us to turn back to Him and tells us that there is still hope. We can’t have that hope if we refuse to admit that we are sinners, but that is the default position of our heart. We do not want to admit that we have a problem. We either want to say “I don’t believe in God” or to say “Well, I believe that God exists. But I don’t think he’s the just, holy God that you claim.” Look, I feel that way. We all feel that way. “Men loved darkness because their deeds were evil.” There’s part of us that wants to run and hide, that wants to retreat into the darkness and say “I don’t want to know about this.” But look, my friends, I love all of you out there. We are all dying of cancer and we need the Great Physician to heal us. We need a Savior. And pretending that we don’t have a problem is not the answer.
Not only that, John doesn’t just say that “if we claim to be without sin” then that’s incorrect. He goes further. He says “if we claim to be without sin, we make Him out to be a liar.” God comes to us in the Bible and says “I know you don’t feel this way, but you have a deep problem.” Go home tonight. Get on your knees. Open the Bible and look at what God commands: that we love him and love our neighbor. Do you do that? I don’t do that. I know I don’t. Not like God requires. God is telling us “You are sick. You are under my condemnation. Turn and be healed.” And if we say “No thanks,” essentially we’re calling him a liar. We’re saying “I know you’re a doctor. I know you’re the infinite God of the whole universe who is my creator, sustainer and friend. And you’re the source of all goodness in the world. But I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” That is the default mode of our heart. That’s our solution to the problem: we claim to be without sin.
What, then, is God’s solution to this problem? We’ve talked about what we would do. We want to hide, we want to run back into the darkness and pretend that we’re not sinful. But what is God’s solution? Let’s look at verses 7, 9 and Chapter 2 verses 1-2.
Verse 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.”
Verse 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
And verses 1 and 2: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Let me tell you a true story. Two thousand years ago, an angel came to a young unwed Jewish woman named Mary and told her that she would have a son and that she was to name him Jesus. Why? Because the name Jesus means “the Lord saves”. She was told that the son born to her would “save the people from their sins.” Jesus was born in a manger. When we think of mangers, we think of Christmas. It sounds very romantic. But actually, a manger was a filthy disgusting place to be born. It was where animals ate. It was like being born in dumpster.
He grew up in a poor family. Did you know that when his parents when to the temple to present him to God, they made the smallest sacrifice allowable, a pair of doves, because they were poor. He had brothers and sisters, he worked as a simple manual laborer, probably as a carpenter. He was not a professor; he was not a trained rabbi. He was a real human being who really lived and ate and slept and worked just like all of us. But he also travelled around Palestine teaching. What did he teach? He taught that we should love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. He said “love your enemies and pray for those who curse you; bless those who mistreat you.” He said “if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also”. He said “blessed are the poor; blessed are the meek; blessed are the sick; blessed are those who mourn”. He was a man of compassion. He healed the sick, he cared for the poor and widows.
But he did things that were even more amazing and more surprising. One day, some people brought to him a paralyzed man lying on a mat. And when Jesus saw his faith, he said to the man “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” How can he say that? A human being can’t forgive a person’s sins. Only God can do that. In fact, after this sermon, you need to ask me another question: how can even God forgive sin? We haven’t even talked about forgiveness yet. If God is a just, righteous, and holy God who gives people what they deserve, then how can he forgive wickedness. And here’s a puzzle. Look at verse 9. It says that if we confess our sins, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” It doesn’t say that God is faithful and merciful, but faithful and just. But how can God be just in forgiving our sins? Doesn’t justice demand that we pay for our sins? Let’s say I’m brought to court because I’ve been charged with some terrible crime. Not only that but I am really guilty and everyone knows I’m guilty. They have fingerprints, and videotapes and DNA evidence and eyewitnesses. I’m absolutely guilty. But the man next to me leans over and says to me: “Neil, don’t worry. You’ll be okay.” I answer “Why? How do you know that? You know I’m guilty, right?” And he says “Oh yes. Everyone knows you’re guilty. But the judge is a righteous and just judge.” I would look at him and say “That does not make me feel any better. In fact, that terrifies me.” But somehow, John is trying to comfort us in telling us that God is “faithful and just.” How can that be?
So we have two questions. First, how can Jesus forgive sin if he is just a man. But second, how can God forgive sins if he is a just God?
We need to continue looking at the life of Jesus. Unlike the founders of many other religions, Jesus did not live a happy, long and prosperous life. He died around the age of 34. We are told that he was a “man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” A few nights before his death, Jesus told his closest followers that he was going to be crucified. He gave them bread and broke it and said “this is my body, broken for you”. And he took wine at the meal and poured it out and said “this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He also told them, “I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” Later that night, Jesus was arrested by the Romans and the religious leaders. Remember, the religious leaders didn’t like Jesus. They took him away, and they dressed him in robes, and put a crown of thorns on his head and they said “Hail, King of the Jews. You thought you were something special. You thought you were the Chosen One of God, the Messiah. But look at you now.” Then they crucified him. Remember that crucifixion is a horrible death. You’re stripped naked and led through the streets while people scream at you and shout insults at you. You’re lead to a cross and nailed to it and you die of suffocation.
But when Jesus was crucified, he didn’t say: “How dare you? Do you know who I am?” Instead, he said “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.” There were two thieves who were crucified with him, probably not just thieves but murderers too. And one of them turned to Jesus and said, “Look, if you’re somehow God why don’t you save us and yourself.” But the other thief rebuked him and said, “How can you say that? We’ve sinned against God. We’re getting what we deserve. But this man Jesus has done no wrong. He’s not guilty; he never sinned in his life.” Then he said to Jesus, “Please remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus looked at this murderer and said “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus hung on that cross for hours and just before he died he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And he died and they took him down off the cross, buried him in a tomb, and rolled a stone over the entrance.
But the crucifixion was not the end of the story. Three days later, Jesus’ disciples came to the tomb to mourn for his body, but they didn’t find a body. They found a risen Savior. They found Jesus, alive. And he said “What did you think? Didn’t you expect this? Didn’t the Savior of the world have to by crucified and rise again? Wasn’t this always the way that God planned to forgive sinners? Wasn’t this all clear to you from the Scriptures?” And they said, “Um… we never really understood that.” But eventually they did.
What does this have to do with our problem with God? This is God’s answer to our problem. Our problem is that we stand condemned before God, like guilty criminals before a judge. Our problem is that we owe a great debt to God’s justice because of our sin, and we have nothing to pay it with. Our problem is that we all like sheep have gone astray. This is God’s solution: “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” “Jesus Christ, though he was rich, for your sakes, he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”, “We all like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Jesus Christ was not just a man; he was both fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life. He loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself. But then why did he die like he did? Why did he cry out that God had forsaken him? Because on the cross, God the Father looked at God the Son as if he were a sinner. He stood before the bar of God’s justice and was condemned in our place. He took the punishment that we deserve, so that we could have the blessing that he deserved. How can we be reconciled to God? Only through a substitute. Jesus Christ lived the life we should have lived, and died the death that we should have died, so that through faith in him, we could be completely forgiven.
That’s the crazy thing about us running from God and fleeing back into the darkness. We think that God is coming to us and saying: “You had better be good. You had better be holy. You had better be righteous and read the Bible and go to church and say your prayers.” Listen, those are all good things. I hope we all do those things. I do those things. But those things can’t save us. God is just and holy. The only thing that can save us is a substitute. We need someone to bear our sin, to bear our guilt, and Jesus Christ did that. God raised him from the dead to show that all is forgiven. It’s done. God accepts Jesus’ payment for our sins.
Let me repeat this. John repeats this, so I feel like I am justified in repeating it too. If the IRS comes to me and says, “Neil, you owe some back taxes” then I think it is good and noble for me to say “Well, how much do I owe? Because I want to pay you back.” That’s the right thing to do. That’s a noble thing to do. And if the IRS says that I owe a hundred dollars, I might say ok. Of if they say that I owe a thousand dollars, I might say ok. Or if they say, I owe a million dollars I might say ok. It will take the rest of my life to pay off this debt, but I am going to do it because it’s the right thing to do. That’s noble. But if the IRS comes to me and says, “Neil, you owe three hundred trillion dollars in back taxes” it’s not noble for me to say “let me get my wallet.” That’s just foolish.
Let me give you another illustration. If my next door neighbor comes to me and says, “last night, while you were driving drunk, you backed over my rose bushes”, I can say “I’ll write you a check.” But if my neighbor comes to me in the morning and says, “last night, while you were driving drunk, you killed my son”, what do I do? Do I say “I’ll write you a check?” Or do I fall at his feet and say “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
What do you think Christianity is? Do you think it’s a bunch of rules that you follow? There are certainly rules in the Bible. But Christianity is primarily the good news of what God has done on our behalf through Jesus. And our only response is to fall on our knees and praise the mercy and kindness of the God who does all these things for us. God would rather lose his own son than lose us. That is the message of the gospel. It is the only way to be reconciled to God and if we accept it, it will utterly transform us.
So how do I end this sermon? If you’re not a Christian tonight or you’re not sure if you are or you’re not sure what you believe: come to Jesus. You say “What do you mean ‘come to Jesus’? Where is he?” I say to you tonight: seek. Jesus told us to seek and we shall find, knock and the door will be opened for you. Seek him. Go to the Bible and read it. Ask questions of the text. Ask yourself who Jesus was. Ask yourself who Jesus is. Seek him. Come to him.
If you are a Christian, how should you respond? Come to him. You know, I wake up every day and say “I thank you God that I am not like other men. I read the Bible, I go to church, and I give a tenth of all I get.” Is that how I ought to be approaching God as a Christian? Should I be going to God and boasting in my own holiness and goodness? No! Why do we do that? That’s the way our heart works. That’s us living in darkness. That’s how our heart operates. We say “Now that I’m a Christian, I’m very good and deserve God’s blessing.” But that’s a lie and we’ll never know God’s love or God’s mercy or God’s goodness while we talk like that. If you’re a Christian, if anything, you are more aware of how far short you fall of God’s glory and God’s goodness. You should come to him every morning and say “My God, my God, you sent your only Son to die for my sins. Now I desire to live wholly for you. I desire to walk in your light and live a life of love for you and my fellow man.” That’s how we ought to come to God. Not boasting of our own goodness, but relying and trusting in Jesus’ goodness.
So whether we are a Christian, a non-Christian, a pastor, an atheist, or a preacher, John’s advice to all of us is the same: come to Jesus. Our sin was so great, that Jesus had to die for us. But God’s love was so great, that he willingly sent Jesus to die for us. The Christian gospel is not a system by which we try really, really hard to be good and to save ourselves. The gospel is the announcement of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, who is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins – and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Let’s pray.
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