Pastor Gary Wong, June 7, 2020
1 John 5:5-13
5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 6 This is the one who came by water and blood-- Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
To say that our current situation has been challenging is an understatement. For what seems like an eternity, our lives have been turned upside down by the COVID – 19 pandemic. And just when we thought we were seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, our nation is being rocked by riots sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. In these trying times, it’s easy to have doubts. We sometimes wonder whether God is in control. Unbelievers mock Christians, saying, “If your God is powerful, wise, and loving, where is he?” Many people ask, “How can God allow all this suffering?” Today’s lesson comforts and encourages us in all our difficulties. God’s Word calms our fears and dispels our doubts. On this Holy Trinity Sunday, we hear the testimony of our Triune God that Jesus, our Savior, is the Lord of heaven and earth. Through faith in Christ, we have eternal life in him.
Today’s lesson is a portion of Scripture that our bibles call 1 John. While we know what was written in this letter, there are many things that we don’t know. For instance, we really don’t know the identity of the author. Even though the name of the author doesn’t appear in this epistle, it has been universally accepted that John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James (whom Jesus nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder”) was the author of these three letters. We also don’t know when John wrote these letters. But since John calls the recipients “his dear children” and also identifies himself as “the Elder” in 2 John, most scholars assume that John wrote these epistles in his later years. Speaking of the recipients, we don’t know who they were, either. John doesn’t identify any specific individuals or groups; but many historians believe that these letters were written to the Christian congregations in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey) that St. Paul had established.
A question we might ask is why did John write this letter? The Christians to whom John was writing were living in times even more trying than our own. First, they were suffering from intense persecution. Christianity had been declared an illegal religion by the Roman government. So, if someone were to be identified as a follower of Christ, his property could be confiscated; he could be beaten and thrown in jail, and his wife and children could be sold as slaves. Believers could and sometimes did suffer a martyr’s death for confessing their faith. Second, Christians were being attacked by enemies from within the church. False teachers from within the ranks of their own leaders were undermining the very foundation of the Christian faith. John exposes these agents of Satan who disguised themselves as messengers of the truth. John declares, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist” (1 Jn.2:22).
These false teachers also claimed to have more spiritual knowledge than the apostles and the Bible. They falsely taught that Jesus was not the Son of God, that he wasn’t born of the virgin Mary, that he did not die for our sins, and that he did not rise from the dead. They acknowledged that Jesus was a great teacher, but that he definitely wasn’t the Savior. Now, these false teachers were intelligent and well-spoken. So, what effect did these charismatic speakers have on these Christian congregations? Sadly, many believers were being led astray. They were losing confidence in the Bible and in the certainty of their salvation. They were losing their ability to distinguish between the truth of God’s Word and error. Worst of all, they were in danger of losing their faith. John wrote this letter as a powerful blast of truth, a strong rebuke of false teachers, and a passionate plea to bring God’s people into a stronger, more vital relationship with Jesus, their Lord and Savior.
So, how did John go about refuting these false teachers? Remember that one of the most damaging effects of their false teachings is that they cast doubt about the truth of the Bible and what it says about Jesus. The Christians to whom John was writing were confused and wondered, “How can anybody be sure of anything about God?” Well, God, in his wisdom, actually established a procedure for finding out what the truth is. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, whenever a dispute was brought before a court of law, the procedure was to find two or three objective witnesses besides the person bringing the charge. That way, the plaintiff could say, “You don’t have to take my word for it, even though I swore before God that I am telling the truth. Listen to the testimony of these witnesses who are honest, respected men in the community. Their testimony backs up my claim!”
Following this procedure that God had established in Scripture, John makes a fascinating and somewhat mysterious statement. The apostle declared that there are three unshakable witnesses who testify that Jesus is our Savior: the water, the blood, and the Spirit. Now, we know who the Spirit is: the Bible testifies that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. But what did John mean when he said, “[Jesus] is the one who came by water and blood. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood” (1 Jn.5:6)? Over the centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the meaning of these verses. Theologians have come up with three interpretations of these unusual words. One of the earliest ideas was that the “water and blood” referred to the separated fluids that came out of the side of our Savior when the centurion thrust his spear into our crucified Lord. When someone dies, his heart stops pumping and the fluid that had been flowing through his arteries and veins separates into red blood cells and clear plasma cells. Since John was an eyewitness of Jesus’ crucifixion, his testimony about the “blood and water” coming out of Jesus’ side was proof against the false teachers’ claim that Jesus did not really die for our sins.
Another theory is that the “water and blood” refer to the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. False teachers, both then and now, deny that Jesus is both true God and true man in the same person. Some wrongly teach that the promised Christ came from heaven and only entered Jesus’ body at his baptism in the Jordan River. This same divine Christ then left Jesus’ body before our Savior shed his holy blood on the cross. In effect, these false teachers claim that the Jesus who died on the cross was only a human being. Therefore, Jesus’ death could not pay for the sins of the whole world.
The third interpretation of these words, which is totally scriptural, is that blood, water, and Spirit refer to the means of grace—the gospel in Word and Sacrament that creates and strengthens the faith in our hearts. It is by water and the power of God’s Word at our baptisms that the Holy Spirit washes away our sins and gives us the gift of eternal life. In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we receive Jesus’ true body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine that assure us that all of our sins have been forgiven in Christ. Finally, it is the Spirit who calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and gives you and me the gracious gift of faith. It is the Spirit, working through the inspired, inerrant word of God’s prophets and apostles, who convinces us that Jesus, the divine Son of God, came down from heaven and became a human being to redeem mankind. By faith, we believe that Jesus lived a perfect life in our place, died on the cross to save us from our sins, and rose from the dead on that first, glorious Easter Sunday. The testimony of God convinces us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior!
This portion of 1 John answers the question of how anybody can be sure of anything about God. We have the testimony of three unimpeachable witnesses. John declares, “There are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 Jn. 5:7). You know, people of all cultures and countries are used to hearing the testimony of a witness in a court of law and then determining how credible the witness and his testimony are. How much more weight does the message of salvation through Jesus have since God is the one who is talking! St. John tells us that the Spirit, the water, and the blood guarantee that a bridge has been built that reconnects our holy God with sinful mankind, and that Jesus is that bridge.
The objective works and word of God assure us that Jesus is our Savior. The problem is that even though we know that Jesus is with us, we can’t see him. The Bible reminds us that we live by faith and not by sight. But when we look at our present situation where we are experiencing the effects of COVID-19—a friend or loved one infected with the coronavirus, having a hard time making ends meet because our work has been shut down; wondering if or when students and teachers can go back to school, whether life as we know it will ever return to normal---our doubts can overwhelm us. Rather than being discouraged and abandon our faith, we turn to God’s Word for comfort and assurance. Look to the cross to see that Jesus has died for your sins. Look at the empty tomb and see that Jesus has risen to give you eternal life. Look at the baptismal font and rejoice that through water and the Word, you ae a baptized child of God. Taste and see the goodness of God when you receive the body and blood of Jesus as you eat the bread and drink the wine at the Lord’s Supper.
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, John teaches us that the testimony of the water, the blood, and the Spirit assure us that Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary, is our Lord and Savior. Was there another reason that John testifies to this fundamental truth? John concludes our lesson in the last verse of our text. John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (v.13). Therefore, do not doubt. Believe in Jesus. No matter how challenging our lives may be, through faith in Christ, we thank and praise God knowing that we have eternal life in him. Amen.
“Christ High Ascended” (CW 558 vv.1, 3 ,5)
Text: Timothy Dudly-Smith, b.1926
Christ high ascended, now in glory seated,
Throned and exalted, victory completed,
Death’s dread dominion finally defeated-
We are his witnesses.
Christ, who in dying won for us salvation,
Lives now the firstborn of the new creation;
To win disciples out of ev’ry nation,
We are his witnesses.
As at his parting, joy shall banish grieving,
Faith in his presence strengthen our believing;
Filled with his Spirit, love and pow’r receiving,
We are his witnesses.