He was there when Jesus was transfigured. He couldn’t stay awake in Gethsemane while Jesus prayed. He was there standing at the cross. He was there running, out running Peter to the empty tomb. And he was likely there in that room in our gospel lesson when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. We often talk about Peter. We often consider Judas, but we don’t say as much about him, about John. Today though, we get a lot of John, at least his words, his thoughts. He is the inspired writer of our gospel lesson and the inspired writer of our sermon lesson.
John in our gospel lesson shares that familiar story of Jesus’ disciples confused and bewildered. Jesus had been killed. There were rumors he was alive – some had seen him. Thomas, he especially was full of doubt – that’s why he has the nickname. But, finally, to all of them Jesus appeared. He directed their eyes, their faith, their trust back to him. “Here I am! I am alive. I kept my promise to you. See my hands, my feet, my side.” John ends that section of scripture with these words, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John must have realized he was on to something with those last words because he repeats them, not word for word, but close, in our sermon lesson. Look with me at verse one, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Stop there for a moment. In both lessons, John hits on one major, important – don’t miss it – truth. Believing in Jesus as the Christ, as your Savior, leads to life.
That’s not an overcomplicated statement, and yet we’re really good at making it complicated. Maybe think of it this way. I see this all the time. I even do it. You take out your phone. You take a picture, a selfie maybe, and what often is the first thing you see someone do after they take a picture? They look at it. Which by itself is kind of funny, “Oh, let me take this picture. Hey! I wonder what we looked like a moment ago. Let’s check.” And, then you do, and who do you look at? Yourself. Do I look good? Is my forehead greasy looking? Nope, still got that double-chin though – better take another picture. So, you do. We do because, you see, we are very good at focusing on ourselves. When it comes to salvation, when it comes to heaven, when it comes to being a believer, we are also very good at focusing on ourselves.
You look at that selfie of your life and you have expectations. There is often this general thought that the mark of being a child of God comes with some sort of physical blessings. A good life, happiness, wealth something like that, and, if I don’t have those things, if I don’t see those things, I’m doing something wrong…or maybe God is. Other times we might think we have a more active role in all of this. I gotta win God’s favor. I have to live in such a way, and do A and B, and C, and hopefully then I’ll feel and see that I am that child of God that I want to be. I’ll have earned it. But John doesn’t say that here.
You want to know if God loves you and cares for you and wants what is best for you…Jesus. You want to know your standing with God…Jesus. It’s not complicated. Don’t overthink it. Everyone, John says, it doesn’t matter your race, sex, past sins, current sins, if you’re rich, poor, good looking, ugly, everyone who believes in Jesus has the love of God, or, as John puts it, is born of God. You a believer in Jesus are born of God! Key point. Highlight it. Underline it. Tattoo it on your arm (maybe not). This is a fact: You are born of God.
And don’t miss this. It was no generic announcement of divine generosity that called you out of the shadows of sin and hell. It was the voice of a Father who called you by name, and loved you as Dave, or Sarah, or Amy, or whatever your name is. And, whoever you are, your Father loves you differently than he loves other people. You are more than a grain of sand in the vast desert called humanity. You are a person in the truest kind of personal relationship, for you are in a relationship with your Father. He formed you in the womb, has plumbed the depths of your being, and is intimately acquainted with every minutia of who you are.
You, as an individual, are what Jesus was thinking of on the cross. Just as you are, he died for you. Fully and yet uniquely, he loves you as his child. There will be times when you will doubt it. There will be days when you misunderstand his love. But one thing is certain: you will never escape it, for love is who God is, and therefore loving is what God does. And you…have been born of God, you have this awesome, one of a kind relationship with your Lord. So, this is now what you do. You love. John makes that clear at the end of verse one and then through verse three.
“…Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome”
Imagine for a moment a wedding. The bride and groom are standing here up front and I’m the pastor. We are doing the vows, and I look at the groom and I say, “Steve do you take Shelly to be your wife? Do you promise to cherish her, and love her, and provide for her, will you be there in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? Something like that. And Steve, good old Steve, says, “No! Pastor, why are you talking to me about rules! Shelly knows my heart. She knows I love her, I don’t need these rules.” Ladies if that were to happen, run. Get away from guys like Steve.
A guy who doesn’t care about the rules, who doesn’t care about loving you and cherishing you, and treating you like Jesus treats his church, well that’s not a relationship at all. And, it’s not the rules that make the relationship, but a person has to care and try, or else there really isn’t a relationship there.
God created a relationship with you. And he has made a ton of promises to you, and he has and will continue to keep every one, but in this relationship we have a role to play too. God has rules and commands he would like us to follow, and we could just say, “No, no thanks.” But then I might question the relationship you have with your God.
Doesn’t it bother you when you hear how a religious leader or maybe one of your religious friends who claims to have a relationship with God then goes and breaks all the rules, about integrity, or money, or sex? When you hear about that, you don’t say, “Well, that’s fine, they have a relationship with God.” No, that’s messed up. God thinks it’s messed up too.
Jesus talked about all kinds of rules while he walked this earth. He talked about love and peace, but he also called people out for their sin and looked for repentance. He judged the religious leaders. He called out those who misused their bodies and abused their wealth. He brought up heaven and hell. Jesus wasn’t just famous for going around hugging people and approving of their lives. He cared about rules. He took them seriously, and he was clear, if you don’t want a relationship with me, one that includes rules…Well, hear his own words: John 15:6, “If you don’t remain in me you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up thrown into the fire and burned.”
That’s not what we want from God. We want a relationship, but we are not perfect, we can’t keep the rules, often we full on break them, but that’s where Jesus comes in. He was perfect. He kept all the rules for you. And, remember, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” That’s you. Through Christ, you are in that relationship, so now, in love, you can care and you can try to keep the rules, and it’s not a burden. You do it willingly. It’s love. This is your Father, and you want to give him your best. And when you don’t or you can’t, again, there is Jesus. There is forgiveness. It’s for you, one born of God. And listen to this, verse 4 and 5, “everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Your relationship with God comes with a victory. One final promise that God kept for you. And we’ve already seen it; an empty tomb – Christ risen! All this your God did because he loves you personally. Individually. How can you not love him back? How can you not care and try to keep his rules and give thanks that, when we fail and fall, there is Jesus with a love that never fails and falls – it held him to that cross.
And, you know, I can’t help but then think of John standing, not in that locked room, but near that cross. There at the cross Jesus told John to care for his mother, Mary. And what do we read? “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” As his Savior hung there and loved him and died for him, John learned to love too. And that love for others, well, it runs in the family, that’s what people born of God do.
So, God bless as you learn to love him and one another that together we might all overcome the world. Amen.