Sermon series: What Does Jesus Do For Us?
It is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave. As a Christian, one who believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, it has been interesting to watch how our culture continues to reinterpret this holy day.
A quick internet search shows more attention given these days to Easter sales and Easter getaway air fares than to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world around us, unaware of the eternal significance behind this celebration, is more concerned with candy eggs and new clothes than they are with a risen Savior and the new life He offers.
As followers of Jesus Christ, it is of absolute importance that we not allow the meaning of this day to in any way be diminished by the pagan world around us. To the contrary, this holiday, like Christmas, presents us with the unique opportunity to discuss the reason behind the season. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
We hold to the Creed of Nicaea, which says:
"We believe in one God the Father, All-sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaves, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried , and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end"
Scripture tells us the reason Jesus went to the cross was to pay the price for our sins. His resurrection assures us of His, and ultimately our, victory over death. Simply put, Jesus died so we would not have to experience eternal death. He rose again so that we could experience eternal life.
That is what Easter is all about. It's about having come to a point in our lives where we understand that we are sinners in need of a Savior. It's about recognizing that nothing can save us from the penalty of our sins except the blood of Jesus. And coming to that recognition, we must accept the forgiveness of sins Jesus offers and place our lives under His control. That's what it means to be saved.
Many people have a superficial understanding of what it means to be a Christian. They think that holding to a certain moral or ethical code will get them into heaven. Others think that joining the church or being baptized will do it. But scripture tells us we must be born again, we must be made new in Jesus, we must pass from the death of trespasses and sins into the new life found only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
But not only is it a time to celebrate the new life we have in Jesus because of His resurrection, it is also a time for us to reflect upon what the resurrection means in our everyday experience.
Our text today speaks to us about having passed from death unto life, and it tells us what that new life in Jesus should look like.
As the apostle instructs the early church he wants to draw a sharp contrast between those who are merely religious and those who have a true, vibrant relationship with the risen Savior - those who have experienced the new birth and walk in newness of life.
We have seen examples of this as we celebrated the ordinance of baptism. Baptism is a picture of death to self, immersion in Christ, and a resurrection to walk in the new life Jesus gives.
Our text speaks to how this passing from death unto life unfolds in the everyday life of the believer. This concept of passing from death unto life is the backdrop for what John is saying.
Notice four things in our text.
I. Contempt because of the new life - v. 13
No doubt many of the early Christians encountered opposition from folks who they once thought to be their friends. They were being persecuted, ostracized, and discriminated against because of their faith in Christ Jesus. So John writes to them to remind them that fellowship with God means being at odds with the spirit of the world.
Belonging to Jesus means you are no longer of the world. You may be in the world, but you are no longer of the world, and thus you will ever be at odds with the world.
In John's gospel, chapter 15, Jesus said
"If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (18-20a).
The human heart, by its very nature, is rebellious against God. The natural man does not want to submit to anyone or anything. By our very nature we want to do things our own way. We want to be free, to be liberated from any kind of restriction.
The reason the spirit of the world is at such enmity with the Spirit who lives in us is that our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord says that every person must submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The reason the message of the gospel is so odious to the world is that it says man is not free, but in fact, is in bondage to sin. It says that man, left to his own doings, will end up in hell. The gospel says that all of us are sinners and need to come in humility and repentance, seeking forgiveness for our transgressions against God. The gospel is offensive to the pride of man.
If we are living examples of the gospel, it is not difficult to understand why the world would hate us. The world hates us because our new life in Christ is such a contrast with the life they live. When we are surrendered to the point that the life of Jesus is seen through us, our lives serve to convict the world around us of their sin. Our lives force them to see themselves for what they really are, and it's not something they want to see.
So, don't be startled if the world hates you. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and falsely say any kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt. 5:11-12).
We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive in Christ. We have been born again. We live in a realm the lost world cannot understand. Because we have this new life, because we have been spiritually raised from the dead, our life is different from that of the world.
This brings us to the next thing John addresses.
II. Characteristics of the new life - vv. 14-18
In the next six verses, John points to the fundamental difference between the world and us. The one distinctive we should possess that makes us different is love.
Notice three things John says about love.
A. The evidence of life is love - vv. 14-15 (read verses)
We know that we have passed from death unto life. Do you want to know if you are saved? Are you wondering if you really have eternal life? Are you curious as to what kind of evidence to look for in your life that substantiates your claim to be a Christian?
Many people who claim to be Christians simply are not. Many people claim to belong to Jesus who do not. Many people who think they are headed to heaven are not. How do we know we have eternal life?
Listen to what verse 14 says: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers."
The word "know" is used 27 times in 22 verses in this book. There are two different Greek words translated as "know". One of them has to do with perceived knowledge the other has to do with certain knowledge. The one employed here has to do with certain, definite, and absolute knowledge.
John says the evidence of the life of God in us is the love that flows through us. No love, no life - it's just that simple. That's what verse 15 says. If you hate your brother you are a murderer and you don't have eternal life dwelling in you.
In the April 14, 2006 edition of USA Today, in the Money section, there was a feature article on what they called, "The Waiter Rule." Leading CEOs use this rule to help them decide whether or not to hire high-level executives. Bill Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon, coined the rule: "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter or to others is not a nice person." Put another way, pretty is as pretty does. Actions speak louder than words.
There's a message here for all of us, and even the world recognizes this. Our attitudes about one another give evidence as to whether or not we are really saved. If we are saved, if we have eternal life, then His love flowing through us will give witness to that life. If we do not have the love, we do not have the life.
And how do we know what love is? How do we define it? What kind of love is Scripture talking about here? Look at verse 16
B. The knowledge of love is Christ
We know what love is because Jesus demonstrated it to us when He laid down His life for us.
Love is more than words, or God could have just said He loved us but done nothing about it. Love is more than a feeling, or God could have just felt sorry for us and we would still be headed to hell. Love is a determination of the will that manifests itself in concrete action.
Romans 5:8: "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!"
John 15:13: "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends."
From before the foundations of the earth, the will of God was set to love His supreme creation, humanity. When His creations separated themselves from Him and condemned themselves to hell because of sin, God manifested His love in a tangible way. Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for our sins.
So catch what John is saying. "Here is how we know that we have passed from death unto life: we love one another just like Jesus loves us, we put that love into practice."
And that's the next thing he shows us.
C. The practice of love is . . . - vv. 17-18
John says two things about the practice of love.
The love of Jesus was sacrificial. He laid down His life for us. We had a debt we could not pay, and He paid a debt He did not owe. Even as Jesus laid down His life for us we are to do the same for others.
Verse 17 tells us that if the love of God is in us, the question of helping others in need will be a forgone conclusion. The love of Christ is not stingy, it is not selfish, it is not cold and uncaring, it does not seek its own. It always looks out for others.
One of the reasons many Christians do not help others in need is because they consume everything God gives them on personal, selfish desires. All of us love our families and would be willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary to make sure their needs are met.
In Matthew 5:46 Jesus says, "For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same?"
The sacrificial element of God's love is seen not solely in the fact that Jesus died for us, but in the fact that He laid down His life for us while we were still in rebellion against Him. What does that say about His love? What does that say about the kind of love we are to have for others?
If we have eternal life, we will practice sacrificial love. But it must be tangible.
When we claim we have the love of Christ, but that love never expresses itself tangibly, we invite the criticism that we are hypocrites - that we talk the talk, but don't walk the walk.
In John's day, even as in ours, there were many people who were filled with spiritual platitudes, but lacked practical action.
James 2:15 says, "If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you don't give them what the body needs, what good is it?"
John says that real love always expresses itself both sacrificially and tangibly.
When we see the evidence of love, when that love is in consonance with the love Jesus showed us, when it is expressed sacrificially and tangibly, this brings assurance and confidence to our hearts that we belong to Him.
III. Confidence in the new life - vv. 19-22
There are two areas where we are assured of confidence.
A. Confidence that He knows us
This is the assurance love in our life brings, assurance that we are His.
"That is how we will know we are of the truth, and will convince our hearts in His presence."
The love of God flowing through us gives us the assurance that we belong to Him. It is the chief characteristic of those who are part of the family of God. And when we have this assurance, we have confidence, confidence that enables us to live as over comers in this life.
But what about those times we don't feel like we belong to God? What about those times when our fears begin to get the best of us and the devil causes us to doubt not only our salvation, but God's love?
Listen to the Contemporary English Version of this passage. I think it sums up what the apostle is saying rather well. Let's go back to verse 19 and go through verse 22.
"When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in the presence of God. But even if we don't feel at ease, God is greater than our feelings, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if we feel at ease in the presence of God, we will have the courage to come near Him. He will give us whatever we ask, because we obey Him and do what pleases Him."
In the original language, the key word here is translated "confidence." It can be translated as courage, assurance, boldness, or fearlessness. In context John is telling us that even our heart condemns us, or if we don't feel like God should love us, when the devil causes doubts and uncertainty about our salvation, we can still have confidence because God is greater than our fears. He is greater than our doubts. Our salvation, after all, is not based upon how we feel, but upon our faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us.
John is saying, "You can have confidence, not based on how you feel, but based upon who your faith is in." Our salvation is certain and we can have confidence that He knows us because He is greater than our fears.
B. Confidence that He hears us
But not only can we have confidence that He knows us but we can have confidence that He hears our prayers. This word also carries with it the idea of boldness, or the ability to speak without reservation.
John says, "Because your salvation is fixed, because it is dependent upon Him and not on you, if you have been born again and you are walking in fellowship with Him, you can ask what you want and he will do it."
A word of caution is needed here. Notice two things about verse 22:
First, notice the context. We can be certain of our relationship with God because of the evidence of His love in our lives, which necessitates walking in fellowship with Him. You cannot expect to receive what you ask from Him if you are not walking in fellowship with Him. And if you are walking in fellowship with Him, if you are under His Lordship, your requests will be in keeping with His will and not your own.
In John 14:13 Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
So the context clearly states that what we ask must be within the scope of the Father's will.
Secondly, notice the last phrase of verse 22: "because we keep His commands and do what is pleasing in His sight."
The word "because" here makes this a conditional promise. We have the confidence that He will answer our prayers, because of one condition. What condition is that? That we obey his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
Our ability to go boldly to His throne, make our requests, and have those requests answered is dependent upon our obedience to His commands.
Many people wonder why the get no answers to their prayers. They wonder why they don't see God actively at work in their lives. The problem is not with God, but with them. God is under no obligation to answer the prayers of disobedient children.
What are His commandments and what is pleasing in His sight? He tells us in verse 23.
IV. Commandments for the new life - v. 23
It's really rather simple: He asks us to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another. Two things then: Trust and obey.
A. Trust - In the Name of the Son of God
This is the commandment of faith.
What does it mean to trust in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? It means to accept as true all that the name of Jesus stands for. It means to place all of your hope for here and for eternity in Jesus Christ. Implicit in this act of faith is the abandonment of faith in anyone or anything else. It signifies surrender to Jesus and to His Spirit's presence in your life. It speaks of saving faith.
Many people believe Jesus was a good guy. Many think He was a prophet or a teacher. But they do not hold to the reality that He is God. This is not faith, and this kind of belief will not save you. Others do, in fact, believe that He is God, but they have never trusted Him to the point to put their lives in His hands. They have never surrendered to Him. This type of faith is not real because it has not trusted Jesus with anything. It merely gives mental assent to that which is true. The Bible tells us that the demons believe and tremble.
The kind of belief John is talking about causes one to trust Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life - to forsake hope in all else and trust in Jesus alone. This is saving faith, and this is His first commandment.
The second command is naturally sequential. Once you have trusted Him and surrendered your life to His control, you are to allow Him to live through you and to love as He loved. This is a commandment of action.
B. Obey - Living out the love of Christ
If you really know Him, if you've really trusted Him, then live like Him. Don't be a hypocrite. Don't profess one thing and practice another. If you have really trusted Him, your actions will demonstrate it.
Do you know Him? Is the evidence of His love visible in your life? Have you ever trusted Him? Are you walking in obedience to Him, or are claiming to be a Christian without any substantiating evidence?