Even with all the huge amount of different television, cable and streaming sources today – and even with all the constant changes in what is popular for people to watch today — there are still some shows that are timeless, aren’t there – shows that seem to have been around forever – shows that seem to involve mostly soap operas and game shows… Soap operas like The Young and The Restless and Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, the soap that has run the longest of all – over 14,000 episodes in some sixty years. Or game shows like Jeopardy, The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune. But even with all the thousands and thousands of episodes that have been produced for those shows over many decades, there still is something unique about one particular game show called which may not be as well known as some of the others, but a show which has continued with various changes and updates since 1956 – 65 years ago — and still going – the show called To Tell the Truth.
If you are familiar with that show, you know it has a pretty simple format. A panel of judges has to figure out which of three contestants is telling the truth about being a certain person or having a certain job or a certain talent that few people have or would dare to try. After the panelists ask their questions and then pick whom they think is telling truth, the contestants kind of take turns quarter standing up and half standing up, until finally the one telling the truth fully stands up to applause and often a lot of laughter. And then they talk about themselves or actually show what they do that makes them unique. There really is nothing super complicated about the show, but in its simplicity, I guess, there is a certain appealing timelessness that has kept this show going – To Tell the Truth.
Today there is nothing super complicated about the apostle John’s words. They are pretty simple and straightforward. And there is also an extremely important timelessness to them — though they are not needed for just sixty-five years, but for all the years of the world’s existence and for all the years of our entire lifetime as well. Throughout the world’s existence, however, there has been a timeless rejection of these words by the vast majority of people. The majority of people don’t want to know the truth that God wants all of us to know. But in God’s love there are also many, many people who love the truth of God and who know they need to keep hearing the truth of God so they can keep believing the truth of God. They know – as I pray you and I today will confess with all humility and with total joy – there is A Timeless Need to Tell the Truth.
On that game show the “lies” that people tell to try to trick the judges cause some people to laugh, but obviously it is no laughing matter to try to trick the Judge of all, our holy God, because life obviously is no game. John talks about that three different times. Let’s look briefly at verse 6, verse 8 and verse 10. Verse 6: “If we claim to have fellowship yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” Verse 8:“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Verse 10: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives.” These words aren’t complicated, are they? If you and I don’t think the things we do wrong – our sins – are so bad; if you and I don’t think we need to ask God every single day to forgive us and have mercy on us; if we don’t think that God cares about every greedy or jealous thought, every lustful or angry look, every gossipy or filthy word, what does God say we are? We are liars, deceivers, the truth is not is us. And even more. If we lie about these things, who are we calling a liar, even if we never say them out loud to anyone else? God says we are calling him a liar. “We make him out to be a liar,” John says, “and his word has no place in our lives.”
This is heavy stuff to think about. We are people of God’s Word. God’s Word is everything – and has to be everything – in our lives. But if our lives are lives which walk in the darkness of challenging God or correcting God or not even thinking about God all that much, God says his Word has no place in our lives. Or to use the term John uses, we have no “fellowship” with God, no unity with him. We are not part of his family, if we don’t walk in the light of the one in whom there is no darkness at all.
But this is the very thing that makes Christianity what it is. The God who created us – yes, the God who made us part of the family of the people on this planet — also wants to fashion us into a member of the family of the fellowship of faith. That, in fact, is the very purpose of John’s words, as much as some of these words hit us right between the eyes with their hard-hitting truth. Look at verse 3 to see why John was writing these words in the first place. Verse 3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
The point is that the reason God wants us to confess to him how much we don’t deserve to be in his family, is because he knows the more precious his promises will be that he has done the work of making us part of his family, as undeserved as that is. That’s why he says in verse 9 those words which at various times during the year we speak to one another as we prepare for the reception of the Lord’s Supper: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The truth of the matter is that there is a timeless need for us to tell God the truth about ourselves so we can hear God tell us the timeless truth about himself.
And if the devil fails to get us to deny the seriousness of our sins as we listen to the promises of God, what does he do next? He will try to get us to fail to believe or to doubt the promises of God about how much he loves us, because we know we keep giving God every reason to stop being patient with us and forgiving of us. That’s when we can ask God, in a sense, to be part of a spiritual exercise of To Tell the Truth, as we ask him to answer honest, humble, heartfelt questions that may be troubling our very souls. “God, how can I be sure that I really am a Christian and part of your family? How can I be sure you really have wiped away from your memory everything I have ever done wrong, including those things – or that thing – that constantly torments me? How can I know that you will always want me to be in fellowship with you and with Jesus Christ, your Son?”
There are two wonderful answers that our Savior gives us in these words from his disciple John – one at the beginning and one at the end. Look at verse 1 at the beginning, if you would. What is John saying there? He is talking about Jesus, and he is saying this is not make believe. We heard Jesus speak with our own ears, John says – telling demons to come out, telling dead people to stand up. We saw Jesus standing right in front of us with our own eyes, John says – calming a storm, walking right past people who wanted to throw him off a cliff, conversing with Moses and Elijah of old on a holy mountain. And besides that, our hands have touched him, John says – his hands, his side – and before that the bread and the wine, which he told us was his very body and blood – given, he said, for the forgiveness of our sins, just as many of you will hear and see and touch in a few moments.
And then in the last verse at the end, the second answer our Lord gives us: verse 2. Right after John assures us that when we sin, the holy Jesus speaks in our defense to the holy God as our holy Substitute, he says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” If Satan ever tries to get you to believe the lie that any sin is too bad to be forgiven, or that there is no way you could ever be part of God’s family, put this truth from God into your heart. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of “the whole world” – and praise God, that means me, too, because God cannot lie. In our timeless need, our dear Lord God has a timeless, eternal desire to tell us the truth about who we are as a child of God, because of who he is as our forgiving Father. And that’s why not just one of us, but all of us, can stand and tell the truth that “I am the one.” I am part of the family of God through Jesus Christ my Risen Lord! So let’s all stand to ask our Risen Lord to create that kind of clean and true heart in us day after day after day, just as he has promised he will do. Amen. (Sing Create in Me a Clean Heart.)