Get a life

  • 1 John 5:9-13

    9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have 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 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever 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.

     

                Can I get a witness? This is a phrase that you sometimes hear in churches as someone is giving their testimony, sharing a particularly difficult story, or a particularly inspiring story from their life. Essentially the speaker is asking if anyone else has been through the things that they have been through. Oh, I’ve known trouble. I’ve been down and out. Even my dog stopped loving me. Can I get a witness? Amen! Have you been where I’ve been? Have you seen what I have seen?

                John writes in verse nine that we accept human testimony, or some versions say “witness,” but that God’s testimony, or witness, is greater. If I say I have seen something, I hope that you will believe me. But if God says something, you can feel pretty safe that it is true. Usually I think of a witness or testimony being about something bad that happened. In a court of law you might bring in a witness to testify or to describe the person that they saw rob a bank. I was told when someone stole some things from my car a few weeks ago that I might be subpoenaed to testify about the items that were taken from me. But we can be witnesses to good things as well. I hope we are all witnesses to random acts of kindness; people picking up litter along the road, people holding doors for others, or someone giving generously to others.

                So the point that John is trying to make is that there is an eye witness to something and that eye witness is God. God’s testimony is even more weighty, more powerful than the testimony of regular people like you and me, which we tend to believe. God is the witness to something, and God is testifying about it.

                John gets a little tough here and he says, “If you believe in the Son of God, you accept God’s testimony. But if you don’t believe God, you’re calling him a liar.” John hasn’t even said what this testimony is yet. He is really building up to it! Finally, he tells you what God’s testimony is in verse 11, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

                God’s testimony is that God has given us eternal life through his son. Can I get a witness?

    This isn’t the first time that we hear this kind of language in the writings of John. In John’s Gospel, chapter 5, verses 36-40, he writes:

    36 I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

    This passage begins with Jesus mentioning his cousin, John the Baptist. Remember that John’s role was to point to Jesus. John was to direct the people’s attention toward Jesus to help them to see that he is the one that they have been waiting on; the long-expected messiah. But there was an even stronger testimony than that of John. God working through Jesus to heal the sick, raise the lame, feed the hungry, and teach the masses are nothing less than God’s testimony that Jesus is the messiah. And if that isn’t good enough, Jesus says look at the Scriptures, the very documents that you pore over day and night. They too testify that Jesus is the messiah. And Jesus wonders, Why don’t you come to me to have life?

                Life. This word comes up a number of times in John’s writings. You can have life!! Don’t I already have life? My heart is beating, my veins are full of blood, and my mind is working (somewhat). I am going to have a physical soon where a medical professional will take my vital signs, height, weight, and do a little blood work. All of that is intended to say I am in no immediate danger of dying. I think I am alive. I have never met anyone that doesn’t think that they have life.

                I remember when I was in high school we had a saying, and maybe the kids still say this today, I don’t know. But when someone was being exceptionally goofy or exceptionally boring, we would tell them to “get a life.” I think that this was usually directed toward younger siblings and parents.

                My parents and younger sibling were alive and breathing human beings. They had a life, but what I was suggesting was that they do something more exciting, more fulfilling with their life than to bother me with questions about my life.

                I think that when Jesus and John talk about “getting a life,” what they are saying is that there is more to life than what they are experiencing. Jesus isn’t talking about regular, daily life. He is talking about enduring life. John calls it eternal life.

                In the church we often talk about heaven, going to heaven when we die, being reunited with friends and loved ones. That is great and I believe that the Bible does indeed tell us that Jesus died on the cross so that we can be forgiven of our sins and go to heaven when we die. But the Bible is not just a manual on how to achieve life after death. It is the story of God’s redemptive work through a particular people which culminated on the cross so that we can have life. Not just life after death. Life that starts right now.

                When we use language like “salvation” in the church, I think we need to move past the overly simplified understanding of salvation as forgiveness from sins. Indeed, it is that. But it is so much more. Perhaps we need to not simply ask what we are being saved from, and start asking what we have been saved for or to. And we have been saved for or to life. Dallas Willard writes, “The simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is ‘life.’” Salvation is life. Verse 12 from our passage for today says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

                In John 10:10, Jesus says that he has come to give life; life to the fullest, the abundant life. Tell me the truth: When you see a Christian, how many of you think to yourself, “There is a person full of life!”? There are some Christians that I think are already practically dead. We make rules that Jesus and the Bible never even spoke of and then force others to follow them as well. (Didn’t the Pharisees do that, too?)

                I think we are moving away from this, but there are still some Christians that say that in order to be a Christian one shouldn’t do things like dance, play cards, go to movies, listen to secular music, participate in athletics, even seek higher education. To be a Christian means that you always vote a certain way. To be a Christian means that you are always home by 10:00 pm, because nothing good ever happens after 10:00 pm.

                I have a friend that I went to seminary with whose name is Jake. Jake was studying for a second career in ministry, which is to say that he was a little older than the rest of us. One year, for Jake’s birthday, Jake decided that he wanted to go bowling. I think it was his 48th birthday and Jake had never been bowling before.

                Jake grew up in the Amish church and had been a part of a conservative Mennonite church for most of his adult life. And Jake had been told, and I quote, “If I ever went into a bowling alley that God would strike me down with lightning.” So at his request, some of our seminary friends took Jake and his wife, who grew up in a similar church and had never been bowling, to hit the lanes in Harrisonburg.

                Guess what. Jake was not struck by lightning. He did not lose his religion. And his wife beat most of us.

                Becoming a Christian does not mean that life stops being fun. In fact, the Bible teaches us that real life begins when we become a Christian. Because our life, real life, doesn’t come from obeying certain rules, avoiding certain bowling alleys, making more money, or having more friends. Real life is found in Christ alone.

                I struggle with this daily, but I believe that in Christ we are called to shed the things that keep us from living the abundant life. I spend too much of my time comparing myself to others. I walk into the YMCA and there are many people who are in better shape than I am. I walk down the street and there are many people who are better looking than I am. People are driving nicer cars, living in bigger houses, making more money than I am. And some people’s kids figure out potty training in only three days.

                My instinct is to compare myself to them and usually that means that I try to find something that I do better than they do. And right there, when I do this comparing myself to others, I fail to be like Jesus. I am trying to look down on someone else because I do something better than they do.

                When am I going to learn to stop this? Why do I constantly compare myself to other people when I already know that I am loved with the infinite, unconditional love of the Father? It doesn’t matter who is better looking or drives a nicer car because those things don’t give me life. My life is found in Jesus Christ and in him alone. Can I get a witness?

                I heard a devotional reading this week from Jesus CEO, by Laurie Beth Jones and I want to borrow from that devotional reading just a bit here. Jones asks the question, “Which would you rather receive as a gift: A packet of seeds or a bouquet of flowers?”

                Most of us would probably say a bouquet of flowers. We want the flowers right now and we don’t want to have to work up the soil, plant the seeds, water the plants, weed the garden, and harvest the flowers. But Jesus didn’t just give us a bouquet of flowers. Jesus gave us seeds. And the seeds that Jesus gives to us are the seeds of life.

                Yes, it would be easier to just move to the bouquet, but those of us that put out a garden year after year know that there is joy in that as well. The work, the sweat, the soreness are all worth it because you are making the world a little more beautiful every step of the way. And when all is done, you can enjoy the bouquet.

                The life that Jesus has offered us is a life that will last forever. That is why John refers to it as eternal life. But the life that Jesus offers is not just life after death. It is the abundant life that begins today. And yes, that abundant life requires some work on our part. But Jesus has promised us that it will be worth it.

                In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, we have one of the first known records of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. In this passage, Paul retells the story of the events that took place in the Upper Room the night that Jesus was betrayed and handed over to the authorities to be tried and crucified. Paul tells us that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it, and broke it, and told his disciples, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

                After the supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Drink this in remembrance of me.”

                Paul then adds a thought of his own. He says in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

                Communion isn’t just about remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Communion is a proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we gather together for a shared meal, when we come together to the table, we are not simply filling our bellies. We are giving a testimony of the life that we have in Jesus. Can I get a witness?

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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