Sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 for Easter 2, April 8, 9 & 11, 2020
- The Second Sunday of Easter is known as the Sunday of St. Thomas because of the Gospel lesson that is read on this day every year. It’s easy to pick on Thomas—doubting when the other disciples had seen the Lord—but today we will hear from another disciple: John. John admits that at first he didn’t understand the Scripture that said that Jesus would rise from the dead, but when he saw the empty tomb with the grave clothes and cloths folded, he believed. (He had to see to believe, too.)
- John wrote his whole Gospel and he wrote his letters for one reason. He says it at the end of today’s Gospel: “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.” He wanted us to know with certainty who Jesus is, and what it means that he rose from the dead.
- After that first Easter, Jesus’ enemies were circulating stories that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and hid it (Matthew 28:12-13). Last week, Pastor Dorn told us that in the 50s or 60s, some people in Corinth were teaching that there was no resurrection. And much later, other people came up with other explanations about what happened. Some said “Jesus just fainted on the cross and the cold of the stone tomb revived him.” If you know what crucifixion is and what it does to the body, you’d know that is unlikely—especially since Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, and the water and blood may indicate that the spear pierced his heart (pericardial fluid and blood). Others claimed that the disciples hallucinated because they were hoping so much that Jesus would rise. Still others claimed that it was some kind of a plot and the disciples made a pledge to support one another in a lie. Toward the end of the first century, there were false teachers who were claiming Jesus was only divine and did not take on human flesh, and was only the appearance of a human being (See 1 John 4:2-3).
- This is why John tells us about Thomas. Thomas doubted, but all his questions were answered and his doubts were gone. Thomas had to see—to put his fingers where the nails were and to put his hand into Jesus’ side—and Jesus surprised Thomas both by appearing, and by repeating the very words Thomas had said a week earlier: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side.” And Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” And John writes about it from his own point of view in his first letter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have observed and our hands have touched regarding the Word of Life—the life appeared and we have seen it.”
I. “We heard him.”
- First, John says “which we have heard.” And both in his Gospel and here in his letter, John calls Jesus “the Word.” In other words, “We heard the teaching of Jesus from his own lips. What everyone else is saying is only their guess or their agenda. If you want to know Jesus, what we are saying is the teaching of Jesus. This is what we have heard.”
- You know the passages from Catechism class. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17). “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:17).. In John 20 it says, “These [words] are written that you may believe.” Faith is connected to the message. The “K” in “KAT” (our definition of faith) is that we know the Word and promise of God. So, the first thing John says in his letter, is that “we have heard.”
- John had been hearing Jesus for over three years—teaching about the kingdom of God, and teaching about himself as the Messiah. In that upper room that Thursday night, Jesus was teaching the height and depth of what it meant that he was the promised Savior. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” (John 17:3). And after his resurrection, Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). “…which we have heard,” John said.
II. “We saw him.”
And he also said, “…Which we have seen with our eyes.” For John at first, it was what he didn’t see—a body. He saw an empty tomb. He saw empty grave clothes, not rummaged and tossed about like a bunch of rags, but the main shroud lying where Jesus’ body had been, and other cloths neatly folded (John 20:7). Then, with the others, he saw Jesus and heard him say, “Peace be with you.” And he showed them his hands and side.
III. “We touched him.”
- In the Gospel of Luke we are told that the disciples were frightened when they first saw him and thought he was a ghost. Jesus said, “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Jesus invited them to touch, and John says, “our hands have touched…” Hallucinations are usually visual and auditory—seeing and hearing things. John says, “our hands have touched.” We didn’t imagine it. This really happened. And this is all much more than John establishing the fact of the resurrection. John explains what this means.
- “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have observed and our hands have touched regarding the Word of Life—the life appeared and we have seen it. We testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” For John, that’s the purpose of all his writing, traveling, preaching, and even suffering for the sake of Christ. Jesus is “the Life.” Does that remind you of the words of Jesus himself? At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” In the Upper Room Jesus told his disciples, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” And at the beginning of his Gospel, John says about Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind.” Calling Jesus “Life” means that he is the source of life. The Lord of life. And calling Jesus “Life” is in that special sense the Bible often uses the word—to talk about our restored connection to God. Adam and Eve were told “You shall not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for on the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). They didn’t fall over dead immediately—but their connection to God was broken. Now in Jesus, because he gave himself for the sin of the world and took it away, Jesus restores that connection. “I am the vine and you are the branches” he says (John 15:5).
- And John writes about that restored connection: “We are proclaiming what we have seen and heard also to you so that you may have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We write these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” Fellowship means a connection—a connection based on Christ and the truth of his Word.
- You have a living Savior, truly God and truly human. Truly risen. A Savior whose sacrifice counts for all. A Savior whose suffering was real. “For us and for our salvation.” For you. Because this Savior Jesus is truly human, he knows all our weaknesses, pain and heartbreak. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53). Because this Savior Jesus is truly divine, he gives health to the sick, worth to the worthless and life to the dead. John calls him “the Life” and that is also his promise. “Those who live and believe in me will never die” (John 11:25). That is the answer to our biggest unknown. “the Life.” Our Savior. Your Savior.