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John Reflects the Heart of the Good Shepherd

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Sermon on 1 John 4:1-6 for Easter 4, B April 22, 23 & 25, 2021

  1. The disciple John is my favorite. He wrote the gospel and the three letters that bear his name, along with the Revelation. In his gospel he refers to himself very humbly as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Through the traditions of the early church (not on the same level as the book of Acts, but sometimes informative) we know that John was still around at the turn of the first century—so John was likely the youngest of the disciples. He was the only one to die a natural death—exiled on Patmos. In his last years before Patmos, he worked with the church in Ephesus. It was said that when he was asked to speak, he would put up his hands and say, “Little children, love one another.”
  2. Some of our Easter traditions come from John. “This is the Feast of Victory” (Dignus est agnus) has been called a “Johannine Canticle” because the text is taken from Revelation. And the fourth Sunday of Easter is observed as Good Shepherd Sunday, and part of John 10 is always read, where Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd.”
  3. John reflects the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. John shows himself to be a Good Shepherd, too. He is watchful over his readers, and he calls his readers to be watchful, too.
I. He points us to Jesus.
  1. John is a good shepherd because he points his readers to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In his gospel he said, “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.” In 1 John 4, we see John is distressed because “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This reminds us of “hallowed be your name” in the Lord’s Prayer. “God’s name is hallowed when his Word is taught in its truth and purity.” False teaching is never harmless. If people don’t know God or his name as he reveals it in Scripture, they won’t know God at all. Teaching false things about Jesus really is inventing a different Jesus. “Antichrist” can mean something else in the place of Christ. John saw, heard and touched the real Jesus—and he wanted his readers to know the real Jesus.
  2. John states the standard for faith first in the positive: “Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” …and then in the negative, “every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God.” We don’t know everything about the false prophets John was warning about—but we do know what John was emphasizing in both his gospel and letters. “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” In the first chapter of his gospel, John says, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” We know of later false prophets and cults that mixed ideas from Persian religion with Christianity. They thought everything spirit is good. Everything physical, fleshy, material is bad. They invented a Jesus that was only divine, only spirit. What people saw was only an appearance, a projection. John says this teaching is not from God. “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” He lived in the flesh. He suffered for our sins in the flesh. Our redemption and salvation—we belong to God and we are safe and secure in him—because we have one divine and human Savior who came to live and die for us. And then he rose again. “I have authority to lay down my life and I have authority to take it up again.”
  3. Because we have the Savior, we are in him, that means we are connected to him, protected by him, covered by him, blessed by him. And he is in us, … another Lord’s Prayer thought, he rules within our hearts as we hear his Word, believe it, and live it. And as that kingdom is at work within us, he works through us. He speaks through us. The work of his church is done by us. “You are from God, and you have overcome the false prophets, because the one in you is greater than the one in the world.” John is probably thinking of the words of Jesus himself, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As the last of the Twelve Apostles, John knew about the deaths, martyrdom and sacrifice of the others for the sake of Jesus and his gospel. But John knew the reality of even those tragedies. He wrote about it in his last book. “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). That was overcoming the world through Christ, too. (Another Lord’s Prayer thought—God delivers us from evil when he takes us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.) This is a special comfort to us. In our time, too, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  And in our culture, it looks like the Christian faith is losing the battle with the world. Violence is on the rise. Politics is a mess. Love is growing cold. John speaks to us, too. “The one who is in you is greater than the one in the world.”  
II. He warns us with love and care.
  1. John tells us to stay close to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. He warns us, “Every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God.”  In his gospel, John very carefully and very intentionally shows us Jesus as Savior. “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “Those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.” “The Bread of Life.” “The Light of the World.” “The Living Water.”  As in John’s time, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Once I visited a different church and the preacher said, “Jesus is our teacher. He tells us how to live. That is how he is our Savior.” That teacher, by trying to explain the Christian faith, or trying to explain Jesus as Savior, explained it away. What about “for us and for our salvation… he was born, suffered, buried”? What about Good Friday? What about Jesus taking away our sin? That preacher confessed a Jesus who tells you how to save yourself–but we can’t save ourselves. We need the Savior.
  2. John lovingly and carefully warns us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirit to see if they are from God.”  A modern way to put that would be, “Don’t follow every trend. Carefully evaluate everything. Remember what you learned in catechism class. Test and compare.” There are many things out there that are meant to be spiritual or inspirational. And as positive as “Believe in yourself” may sound, in myself there is a broken human nature—stuck in sin—and without Jesus, I’m powerless to change. I need his forgiveness and power to change. As attractive as the message like this may be: “Enjoy life. Be your best self today!” …it forgets the greatest blessing of being in Christ, connected to him, protected by him, covered by him and blessed by him in all things—even the things that aren’t that enjoyable—even things that look like losses and failures. He’s with us in those, too. It also forgets the greater blessings to come. We pastors also serve the dying. “Enjoy life. Be your best self today! Have your best life now!” is a message that really excludes the dying. It’s a message from a worldly perspective, and the world listens to that message. It’s a message from an antichrist—a fake Jesus. What encouragement can they have? They have the promise of the real Jesus. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you that where I am, you may be also.”
  3. Our real Jesus, our flesh and blood Jesus, our truly divine Jesus is our Good Shepherd who laid down his life and took it up again. He has gathered us with his Word. He gives us the promise that because he lives, we will live also—and that no one can pluck us out of his hand. That’s a promise that covers all things, all situations, all hardships—even in the valley of the shadow of death. We will fear no evil, because Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is with us.
Amen. 1 John 4:1-6 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and is already in the world. You are from God, dear children, and you have overcome the false prophets, because the one in you is greater than the one in the world. They are from the world. That is why they speak from a worldly perspective and the world listens to them. We are from God. The one who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. That is how we can distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

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