Sunday, October 14, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "A Letter Arrived from John"

“A Letter Arrived from John”
Essential Christianity: The Message of 1 John
October 14, 2012
1 John 1-5

Now, this is the time when I normally tell you to turn in your Bibles with me to some particular book, but today, it’s going to be a very different message.

We are going to be starting a new sermon series on a new book of the Bible. And the book is First John, which starts on Pew Bible Page #1207.

But, like I said, this is going to be a very different sermon time today.  You don’t have to turn with me to 1 John.

I’m going to read the whole thing to you.

Why 1st John?

Well, it’s been quite a while since we studied a New Testament epistle together.

We’ve been in the New Testament with Luke and Acts, three years running.

But we haven’t spent much time in the epistles.

Anybody remember what an epistle is?  We found out at Family Bible Week one year that an epistle is not a female apostle.  What is an epistle?

It’s a letter. Does anybody remember when I preached through the book of Titus? That was the last NT letter we worked through together.  It was in the year 2008, if you can believe that!

So, it’s high time that we returned to the New Testament epistles.

And I’ve never preached through 1 John before. I’ve preached from it, it’s one of my favorite books in the Bible, but I’ve never preached all the way through it.

And I think it’s time for us to hear the message of 1 John which we’re going to call “Essential Christianity.”

1 John is all about the essentials of Christianity: the essential things to believe, the essential things to do, and the very essence of Christianity.

That’s why we will call this series “Essential Christianity.”

And who doesn’t need that?!

We all need that.

One of the things I love about 1 John is that it uses incredibly simple words in incredibly profound ways.

This book is about life, light, joy, love, truth, sin, world, devil, darkness, fellowship, hope, children, God.

Those are short little simple words but so full of meaning.

I love to memorize verses from 1 John. It is eminently memorizable.

I’ll bet that if I started a few sentences, you could finish them for us.

Let’s try.

“If we confess our sins, he is ...”
“God is ....”
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought...”
“Perfect love drives...”
“We love because...”

Those are all from 1 John, and much of the rest of it will be familiar to you, as well.

It’s that kind of a book.

I’m looking forward to getting into it with you.

But this morning, I’m basically just going to read it to you.

Because 1 John was not sent as Facebook Status Update or a Tweet on Twitter.

It as sent first of all, as a letter.

“A Letter Arrived from John” [Hold up envelope.]

Now, this letter was different from most letters.

It wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t addressed. The oldest copies of 1 John do not bear his name or the name of the recipients, but tradition (and internal evidence) has it that it most probably came from the disciple of Jesus named John son of Zebedee.

The disciple whom Jesus loved, a member of His inner circle. One of the first witnesses to the empty tomb, and the author of both the 4th Gospel and the book of Revelation.

I believe that is who wrote this book. It sure seems like it from its wording, its themes, and its style.

A letter arrived from John.

It didn’t say “1 John” on it like this one does, and it wasn’t very thick or long. It was probably rolled up in a scroll and hand-delivered to a local church or group of churches that John cared for and exercised some authority over.

In the original, it only had about 2000 words that have been divided up for us into 5 short “chapters.”  It doesn’t take long to read. (I promise.)

It was, apparently, written to a church where some of the people left believing a different gospel than John had taught them and who were enticing the believers to follow them instead of the truth. 

They were teaching a gospel with a different essence to it, and it was dangerous to them. It was a false gospel with theological traits that eventually grew into something big and ugly and dangerous called Gnosticism.

And those lies are still at work in the world today.

So, John takes time to write this church or group of churches a simple but profound pastoral letter.  

And he does it because he wants them to grasp (and not let go of) the essence of genuine Christianity.  He wants them to have joy and eternal life and fellowship with him and with God.  And He wants them to KNOW that they have joy and eternal life and fellowship with God.

And so he writes.

Now, I’m going to read it you. And I would suggest that you close your Bible and just listen this morning with your ears.

Next week, use your eyes as we get into the details of the text.

But the first people who encountered this letter probably encountered it first with their ears.

A letter arrived from John and the church assembled on a Sunday like today, and one of the elders probably read it out loud to the church.

And it sounded like this:

1 ἦν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς, ἀκηκόαμεν, ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶνἐψηλάφησαν περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς— [copied from here]

Let’s pray together, and then I’ll read it to you in English.

This is the word of God. 1 John.

[Read 1 John.]

Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear that read the first time?

Powerful. Simple words.

Life, light, joy, love, truth, sin, world, devil, darkness, fellowship, hope, children, God.

John said, “We write this to make our joy complete.”