Christ, the Gift of LifePastor Lutzer | December 9, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Apostle John calls Jesus the Life. What a fitting topic for our time, especially when people are obsessed with physical health. But while that has some benefit, John calls us to the Christ, the only One who can give us eternal life.
Are we sharing this gift with those around us? Enjoy God’s presence through Christ and show the world that Jesus is real life.
Well how are you all doing with Christmas? I always remind you every year of the little boy who used to pray, “Forgive us our Christmases, even as we forgive those who Christmas against us.” (laughter)
Christmas is a very busy time of year and it’s a time also when people begin to think about their health. And I think it’s true to say that we live in a society that is somewhat obsessed with good health. There is some goodness to that. There may also be some negatives.
By the way, I heard of a husband who gave his wife a membership to a health club one Christmas and he promised her that she would lose weight. That’s a very bad Christmas present to give your wife. A year later she said, “You promised that I would lose weight and I haven’t lost a pound.” He said, “I forgot to tell you that the membership itself isn’t enough. You actually have to go there once in a while.” (laughter)
Yes, people are obsessed with their physical health, but you know, in the end we lose that battle. Like a hen before a cobra the time is going to come when there’s nothing that we can do, no matter how we dance, no matter how we try to talk ourselves out of it. Suddenly there we will be and death will come to us.
Now the Bible teaches that every person who has ever lived upon the planet and who is alive today has eternal existence – conscious eternal existence. But there’s also a category of people who will have eternal existence but they will have what the Bible calls eternal life, and what a difference that is.
You know, C.S. Lewis said some remarkable things, and I’m going to read one of those remarkable things to you. He said, “Every human being is in the process of becoming a noble being, noble beyond imagination or else, alas, a vile being beyond redemption.” He exhorts us to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you’d be strongly tempted to worship. Or else that person might be a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if only in a nightmare. He says there are no ordinary people. It is immortals whom we joke with, whom we work with, whom we marry, whom we snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. Wow! That’s what happens one minute after you die, and we’re all going there.
But C.S. Lewis is referring to eternal life regarding those categories, who if you saw them now you would be so tempted to worship them because of their beauty. Those kinds of beings are the ones who have eternal life. And later on in this message, if you stay with me for the next few moments, I’m going to explain to you what that eternal life is, how you can have it, and why it’s something that you ought to have. I want your mouth, so to speak spiritually speaking, to be watering, and say, “That’s exactly what I want – the eternal life that the Bible lays out for us.” That’s where we are going.
Well our text today is actually in First John. First John is near the end of the New Testament and it was written by the same apostle who wrote the Gospel of John, and he wrote three small letters, and this is known therefore as First John. Then we have Second John and Third John, and these are his writings. And what I’d like us to do is to see, if we can, the aspects of eternal life that he lays out here for us – not eternal existence but eternal life.
Let’s just open the text to First John 1 and begin reading. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard.” We have to stop. What beginning? Well I think it’s the same beginning as in John 1:1 because he says there, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” In what beginning? In the beginning for all of eternity, because for God there was no beginning. In the beginning was. No matter whether you take the beginning to the creation or any other point in time, the fact is God existed before that. He existed from all of eternity and it is this Word that became flesh, as John is going to explain it to us.
The first aspect is simply that the word is manifested. That’s the translation that we have here. It says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest.” Now that’s an old word, isn’t it? We don’t use that in regular English. We don’t talk about something being made manifest. It really means revealed.
What John is saying here is that in Jesus, in the Word, God showed up. There are some of you who would say that you are seeking for God, and if you are, I’m so glad that you are listening, and the fact that you are a seeker is great because that means something good about you, and maybe something wonderful is about to happen.
In the Bible you really come to the end of your search for God because in Jesus God is revealed. He is manifested. And John wants to talk about Jesus in His post-resurrection appearances, that is after Jesus was raised from the dead. You’ll notice it says, “That which we have seen, that which we have heard.” He begins by hearing. He says, “We actually heard Jesus speak.”
Now creation speaks about God but it does it with a great deal of ambiguity. In creation you would never know that God loved the world, given all of the various kinds of natural disasters in the world. It speaks about God. It speaks about His love and His judgment, but you couldn’t figure Him out. But Jesus actually spoke to us. So John says, “We were alive, we knew Him, we heard Him,” and then it says, “We have seen Him with our eyes,” and just imagine Jesus making this statement as He does in John 14. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Oh, that’s so important. If you want to see God you read the New Testament, and you read about Jesus.
And then he goes on and says, “Whom we have touched.” Now why would he say, “Whom we have touched”? Why is that important? Well, you know, during these days there was Platonic philosophy. Do you remember the days of the da Vinci Code and the Gnostic Jesus? Gnosticism was basically an attempt to unify Christianity with Greek philosophy, particularly Plato’s philosophy. And that’s why the Gnostic gospels (and I have in my possession a Gnostic Bible because I wrote a book about the da Vinci Code) make no pretense to be a historical document. It makes no reference to cities, towns, rivers and so forth. It is not like the New Testament. It is the musings of Platonic scholars trying to unify the Bible with Platonism, and because Plato says that all matter is evil, it was unthinkable in the minds of people that God could become a man. It would be like saying God is becoming evil. And so they believed that when Jesus showed up, He wasn’t really a man. And so they tried to take away the humanity of Jesus, and say that He was some kind of an appearance. He was some kind of aberration, and that why in the Gnostic gospels they put into the mouth of Jesus anything that they wanted because He’s not the Jesus who died on the cross and was raised.
So John is saying, “We actually saw Him, and we touched Him. He was real.” The most explosive verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, though that’s the most known and the most beautiful, and the most Gospel-centered. But the one that just shattered the philosophical world of the day is actually John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh.” God became man. It was unthinkable to the Greeks, but thankfully known to us as God, a very God.
Soon after we were married my wife, Rebecca, worked at Allstate actually as a secretary and she had a boss who once said to her, “You know, if when I die I show up and God is there I’m going to ask Him, ‘Well, where have you been?”
Well, where have you been? Certainly he should have seen God in creation, and that should have created within this man a desire to seek for God. That’s number one, but God will say to him someday, “I did show up.” Jesus came to reveal the Father, and whoever saw Him, saw the Father, because it was in Jesus that God showed up.” And this man, born in the United States of America, would have no excuse because he could go into a bookstore, he could buy a Bible, or he could go to churches that preach the gospel. If he were really seeking God, God was there for the finding. But he said, “I want to say to God, ‘Where have You been?’” Well, I’ll tell you where He’s been. He’s been here on earth. He was in Bethlehem, and He died on the cross. That’s where He’s been. (applause)
Do you remember Phil Donohue and those talk shows that he used to have? One day he said, “If God loved the world why did He send His Son to die? Why didn’t He do it Himself?” Phil, in Jesus He did it Himself. God was in flesh, reconciling the world unto Himself.
So John says the light was manifested, and then he says in the third aspect, “The light was proclaimed.” You’ll notice he says, “It is this Word.” He uses the word we. We have heard, we have seen, we have handled, we have touched Him, and we now testify and proclaim to you this eternal life. I think it’s in verse 2. “We proclaim it to you.” And why wouldn’t you proclaim a message like this and spread it abroad?
Now the first time this particular message was proclaimed it was by angels on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and then later on the shepherds themselves proclaimed the good news, and then beyond that even we have, of course, the wise men. But they didn’t understand everything that John understood because they didn’t understand the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus with the clarity with which John did because he was there for all of the events. And so he says, “We proclaim this message to you, first of all by words because you need to know the gospel. You need to know that Jesus died for sinners, and that His death is a substitute for those who believe on Him.” So you proclaim it, but you also have a sense of authenticity. You proclaim it with your life.
You know you’ll notice in John 2:6 (at the bottom of the page in my Bible at least) John says, “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” Why wouldn’t a Christian who has come to saving faith in Christ and who understands the glories of the gospel share it with his colleagues at work? To me it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t. Why wouldn’t you give them a book to read or a small booklet and say, “Read this booklet and then we’ll talk about it in two weeks”? Let’s go out for lunch and let’s talk about it,” and to share the good news?
Remember in Second Kings 7 in the Old Testament there are four lepers and they are dying. They are starving and they say, “We are going to go to the camp of the Syrians, and if they kill us that’s fine; we’re dying anyway, but they might take care of us.” And they go into the camp and they discover that there is no Syrian there because what happened was they had a false report, and they all ran and they left all of their food and all of their belongings, and all of their money. And so these four guys are just having the most unbelievable party. You just read about it. I read it this morning. I meaning they are hauling off stuff for themselves, and then they think, “You know, we’re not doing this right. We ought to actually tell other people what we found.” Great idea! How can you know Christ and not proclaim Him? That is to say, how can you not share Him with your colleagues and those at work? Of course, you’ve been changed. You understand the gospel. You understand the need. You understand the predicament that people are in. You know that Jesus is the answer to their predicament and you and I perhaps are not sharing with others the good news of the gospel?
So first of all he says that God was revealed. He was manifest. Secondly, he says, “We proclaimed the message and we shared it,” and then third, he says, “We enjoyed this eternal life.”
This past week someone said to me (and I do not remember who, whether it was a staff member of someone else), “I am surprised at the number of people at Moody Church to whom I talk who do not understand the gospel and who probably therefore are not saved.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “That’s disappointing because I thought I preached the gospel almost every Sunday – virtually every Sunday.” If you are listening for it I think you’d know that it’s here. (applause)
So what I’m going to do is to take just a moment so that you better understand eternal life, and then the purpose of eternal life, and I want you to leave absolutely excited about eternal life, and to let you know what Christmas is all about.
This eternal life begins by being born again. Six times in this little letter of three or four chapters, John mentions the phrase “born again.” He says, “If a person is born again,” “He who is born of God does not do this,” and “He that is born of God lives this way.” Who in the world is this person who is born of God?
Many years ago Rebecca and I were in Germany, and we rented a car and we drove to Herrnhut. You know that’s where the Moravians lived. And I wanted to go to the cemetery there. They lived there in the seventeen hundreds, and the reason (Choir, listen carefully) why I wanted to go to the cemetery was because the Moravians were so into music that sometimes they sang music up to six hours at a time, and they were buried in accordance with the choirs. For example, if you belonged to that choir, this is your plot to be buried in. Could you imagine a cemetery here in Chicago? This is the Moody Church choir from the year 1970 to 1990, and then you have the other folks buried over here, because I suppose in the day of resurrection they’d all just be ready to get up and sing (laughter) and everybody would be in tune, and they’d be ready to go. Tim, you’ve got a job to do. Get them ready not just for tonight’s concert but also a little bit beyond it.
So anyway we were looking for the cemetery and through a stroke of providence that I will not take time to tell you about, but it was just of God, we met a man who was on his way to the cemetery, and who had a key to take us into a tower in the cemetery. Now he spoke only German so I had no alternative but to try my German on him, and as we were walking along, I knew that I had this guy for only five or ten minutes, so obviously I wanted to share the gospel with him. So I began asking him in German whether or not he was wieder geboren. Did you hear that? I asked him whether or not he was born again. And he said to me, “Born again?” He said, “I was born once. Why would I want to be born twice?”
I just smiled. That’s exactly what Nicodemus said to Jesus. Jesus said, “You must be born again,” and he said, “Can I enter into my mother’s womb and be born a second time?” He said, “Obviously not,” so I had to explain to him he had to be born of the Holy Spirit through personal faith in Christ. And I said to him in broken German that it doesn’t happen through baptism, it doesn’t happen through confirmation and it doesn’t happen by going to church.
You know there used to be an evangelist by the name of Billy Sunday. Maybe you’ve not heard of him, but in the 1920’s he was a great evangelist, and he was actually buried here, and when I came to Moody Church a woman wrote me a letter who remembered Billy Sunday. I suppose by now she is in heaven, but she said he used to hop from this platform that I am standing on to the lower one without using the stairs, and vice versa, because he was into baseball, and he’d say, you know, he hit a home run for Jesus and slid into home plate. He must have been a very interesting guy to listen to, but I remember a quote from Billy Sunday because he was right on when he said this. “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than driving a wheelbarrow into a garage and it becoming a car.” And Billy Sunday was right. You are not born again by going to church (though to go to church is good), by listening to sermons or by admiring Jesus. You are born again by faith when you recognize that you need a savior and you transfer all of your trust to what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross. (applause) And when that happens something else happens.
It is not just that God creates within us a new nature so that we begin loving God, etc., though all of that happens, and we become partakers of the divine nature and God gives us brand new loves and we begin to love Jesus, and we begin to love God. All of that happens, but something else happens, and this is why it is so critical for you to listen to this message. And that is that the whole sin issue between us and God is actually resolved and taken out of the way, and that, of course, is only something that Jesus can do because (listen to me carefully) for us to meet God we have to meet Him on His terms, and not ours.
Now the text is open and you’ll notice that John says, “We have fellowship. We proclaim to you (verse 3) so that you too may have fellowship with us,” and don’t we ever? We can meet believers all over the world and there’s a sense of instant connection – fellowship and sharing a common life. “And indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete,” so that really our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ. May I read one more phrase, and this is in verse 5? “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”
Wow! It’s time for us to catch our breath here. God is light – no darkness. You know that scientists, and you can find this on the Internet, have argued for years about whether or not light is particles or whether it is waves, and actually I think it is both, but I checked it yesterday and the scientists say that light is very complicated. And if they think it is complicated, I happen to agree with them. All right?
Now here’s the thing. Do you realize that God is uncreated light – uncreated. All of the light that you and I see is created. You know, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Created! It’s very difficult to understand but that’s what happened, but someday we will see God and we will walk with Him in His light – totally uncreated light. In God there is light. He gives light, in fact, and in Him there is not even a particle of darkness, and not the slightest bit of sin. It is impossible for you and I to visualize how pure God really is, and now, we as sinners are supposed to meet Him on His terms and not ours. How are we going to do that?
The only person who can prepare us for that is Jesus Christ, who not only creates that new nature within us, but takes our sin and puts it to the side and takes it away so that now we can walk in the light as God is in the light, and when we do we have fellowship with His Son, and with Him and we have a connection because the sin issue has been put away.
Now John is going to go on to say that if we say, “Oh yeah, I’m walking in the light,” and yet we have darkness in our lives (we tolerate sin and we have darkness), we lie and do not practice the truth.
But now your Bibles are open. I want you to show you something that ought to just bless you so much you ought to start hollering, but maybe I’ll give you the signal first. All right? Look at this. Verse 6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie.” Are there Christians who lie? Yes, there are Christians who lie. They say, “Oh yeah, yeah, I’m walking with God.” Oh really? Look at the sin in your life that you haven’t confessed and dealt with. “We lie and do not practice the truth. But (verse 7) if we walk in the light, as He (that is God) is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
What is the antecedent when it says, “as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”? You say, “Well that means that I have fellowship with you, and you have fellowship with me, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” That’s not the antecedent. That is true that we have fellowship with one another. Do you remember the word antecedent? A little boy was making a grammatical error and a neighbor said to him, “Little boy, where’s your grammar?” He said, “She’s upstairs there with grandpa.” (laughter)
Here’s the deal. The real antecedent to this is God. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light,” who’s the “we”? God and I! We have fellowship one with another. God has fellowship with us and we have fellowship with God and it is reciprocal. Fellowship one with another is a reference to God. Oh yes, we have fellowship one with another here as human beings, but imagine living in fellowship with God, and we’re doing it on his terms, namely walking in light as He is in the light, thanks to Jesus who came to take away our sins so that the way to God becomes clear and unmistakable. It is all because of Christ.
Imagine! No wonder John can say, “I am writing these things to you so that we might be joyful, and that your own joy may be complete.” I mean imagine walking with God and there’s no sin in between, and when sin come in between you deal with it. You confess it, you deal with it, you put it behind you, and you and God have fellowship together.
Christmas story! That’s Christmas! God says, “I want to be your friend and I want to be your friend eternally.” That’s what the whole thing is about, and Jesus is the only one, as we shall see, who can bring it about. And so what you really have is fellowship with God.
Do you remember the words of the creed where the chief purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever? And I think that John Piper is right when he says that what it really means is the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
Do you know I say I want God to be glorified in my life. Well let me tell you how. When fellowship with God and passion for God is greater than your passion to sin, God is glorified because our joy is in God. And that’s the purpose of it all.
Rebecca and I have been to Europe a number of times, and when we drive from Germany to Switzerland we always go through a little town called Lichtenstein. People go to the post office there. There is a post office in Lichtenstein. I don’t think that there is a street lamp but there is a post office because people want to say they bought a stamp in Lichtenstein. And one of the things about it is that high on a cliff (really high on a mountain) there’s the palace of the king of Lichtenstein, this wee little postage stamp area. And they tell us that when the flag is up that means that the king is there. Well the day that we were there the flag was up. The king was in residence.
Do you know what joy is? Joy is the flag that we put up when the king is in residence, when Jesus Christ is the one who is the Lord of our life, and King and God. And the purpose of it all is that I might have fellowship with God and God have fellowship with me. Can it get any better than that? (applause) And that, by the way is what eternal life is, you see. Jesus said, “I came to give them life and that life more abundantly.” And what is the eternal life? It is life with friendship with God forever.
Now, let me say a couple of things as we nail this down. First of all, if you’re wrong about Jesus you are wrong about God. In fact John says later near the end of the epistle, “He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son does not have life.” It’s that simple and yet that profound. He who has the Son has life because Jesus is the only one who can do it for you. Prophets and gurus can say, “Live better. Do this. This is the way you handle reality. Check out.” Whatever! But only Jesus is actually able through the power of the Spirit to create within us the new birth (sometimes called being saved) and also to give us eternal life, and to take away our sin. You know, all these other religions (and I’m acquainted with some of them) are talking about meeting God, getting to God. None of them have a clue about the huge gap between themselves and God. They all avoid the sin issue. But you can’t. You have to get to Jesus on God’s terms and the only person who is able you to enable you to do that is Jesus to meet God’s terms. And He Himself becomes our holiness and becomes our righteousness so that we can stand in God’s presence.
And then there’s another line. First of all, if you’re wrong about Jesus you’re wrong about God. Jesus made that very clear. He said, “If you don’t receive me you don’t get the Father.” You don’t bypass Jesus and get to God. Sorry! Thanks for the attempt but it can’t be done.
Now there’s something else and that is that Jesus not only wants to be trusted. Jesus wants to be enjoyed. That’s why the Bible talks about fullness of joy. It talks about the fact that we should enjoy our relationship with God, and as I mentioned, having a passion for God that is greater than our passion to sin brings glory to God and reminds us of the fact that we do indeed belong to God forever.
You know one of the great problems of the world is this. We are deceived by the world because people confuse pleasure and joy. It’s a huge confusion, and I’m thinking of the wrong kinds of pleasures. They forget the fact that there’s a great difference between the pleasures and joy. You know it was Robert Burns who wrote,
“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white--then melts for ever.”
What we’re talking about is eternal life. Eternal life begins now when you receive Jesus Christ as your savior. It begins now but it extends throughout all of eternity. The enjoyment of God begins in this life, and continues in the life to come, and that enjoyment is what eternal life is – to be in the presence of God, beholding his face, enjoyment without sin ever coming between us. I mean it is unthinkable to me (That is to say I can’t get my mind around) what it would be like when we are in a position with our new bodies to see God as God finally, because nobody can see God as God today. No man can see Him and live, but don’t you look forward to that day when you’ll be able to look upon God, uncreated light, and to do so without sin ever messing it up? I mean wouldn’t it be wonderful if you’d behold God without sin ever messing it up?
You see, if you have never been born again, that won’t be your experience. What you must do is to personally receive Christ. If you don’t know the day you were saved, you probably aren’t. That’s not to say that everybody knows the day, but almost everyone who comes to saving faith in Christ knows that it happened in a period of time. You know for me it was when I was 14 years old. Maybe for you it was when you were six. Maybe you were 20. I was talking to some people last Sunday. They were saved as adults, but everybody knows because it’s not something that just happens to you because you happen to like church, you happen to like Christmas music, and you happen to think that Jesus was really wonderful. No. It’s the transfer of trust that brings about the new birth. “These things I write unto you,” John says, “that ye may know that you have eternal life,” and you know it because of who you are depending on, and who it is and where you are going.
There is a story that comes to us from the days of Michelangelo. Apparently one of his students made a sculpture of an angel. He worked on it for an awfully long time and hoped that his mentor would really like it, and actually put it out there, and then hid so that he would hear what Michelangelo had to say about it, unvarnished. And Michelangelo came along and looked at it for a long time and said, “It’s beautiful, but it’s missing one thing.” Well the student could hardly sleep. What could it be that’s missing? And then he learned what it was later, as he talked to the great master who said, “What I meant was it was missing life.”
That’s not something that a student can give to an angel or to any sculpture, and that’s not something you can give to yourself, and it’s not something that you can give to your children. Life is something that can only be given by God. Only he can give it to you. John says here, “We are proclaiming to you the word of life,” and that’s what Jesus came to bring us – the word of life. And those of you who kind of know that you like Christianity and you like Moody Church and you like the music, but you’ve never received Christ as savior, God is talking to you right this moment. He’s prepared you for this moment that you might come to saving faith because the life has been manifested. We proclaim it to you and it is to be enjoyed. It brings us to the Father now and forever.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
All right now, I’m speaking to you as a congregation, and those who are listening by whatever means, by radio or whatever. Here’s the bottom line. Do you know that you have eternal life? Have you nailed this down through faith in Jesus? If not, even where you are, you can cry out to God in your heart and say, “This moment I receive Christ as Savior. I receive the life that He came to give me and to bring me that I might have fellowship with the Father now and forever.” Nail that down in your mind and heart.
Father, cause those who have never believed in You but think they have to finally do so with intentionality with the full knowledge that they need a Savior. And may they know that when they come to Christ He is trustworthy to receive them, to forgive them, to take away their sins, so that they too can have fellowship with the Father on His terms. Whatever work you’ve begun as a result of this message we pray that You will finish it, even if it isn’t in this moment, in the moments to come. And we thank You for our Savior whom we do adore. In His name we pray, Amen.