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Monday April 27, 2020
1 John 1:1-4
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John starts unlike other epistles, or letters from apostles, which typically open with a formal greeting that identifies the author and recipients of the letter. John, affectionally known as “the Elder,” is believed to have written his epistles late in the first century as the lone surviving apostle from the church in Ephesus. We might infer that John’s old age coupled with an urgency to address a growing problem facing the early church led him to dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. What was the the issue of the day that posed such a challenge to the Christians in Ephesus? In a word, heresy; specifically the rise of Gnosticism. Gnosticism, deriving its name from the Greek word for knowledge, was a misunderstanding of Christian teaching combined with a mystical system of belief that claimed to hold exclusive and secret knowledge and in its basic tenets essentially viewed the material world as bad and the spiritual or metaphysical realm as good. For those who had obtained the secret wisdom, because everything in the physical realm was already corrupt anyway, it was useless to resist the carnal desires of the physical body. Along with justifying lives marked by gross immortality, one of the main claims of the Gnostics was that Jesus could not have truly been both human and divine because it would have been impossible for God to become physically human without corrupting His very nature. Instead, the Gnostics posited that Jesus was not truly a man, He only appeared to be a human, but was in actuality purely spirit.
Wasting no time, right from the opening line of the letter John weighs into the matter of the day with words that intentionally echo back to both the introductory lines of his gospel as well as the book of Genesis. The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning God” and the gospel of John likewise: “In the beginning was the Word.” Here, instead of “in the beginning”, we find “from the beginning” and then a series of brief qualifying clauses. What, or rather who, was from the beginning? At the end of verse one, John reveals the object is none other than the “word of life,” and he claims to not only have heard the word with his own ears, but seen the word with his own eyes, and touched the word with his own hands. How does one see and touch a word? The Word of Life was made manifest, in the gospel we read that the word became flesh, it revealed itself in an unmistakeable and personal way. Not only that, but the Word was with the Father prior to coming into the world. Jesus did not come into existence when He was born—some claimed that Jesus was the biological son of Mary and Joseph— He is eternal.
Why is this significant? The “Word of Life” was not a magical or secret word which was passed along only to the spiritually enlightened and intellectual elite, rather it was both eternal, existing from the beginning, as well as material, entering into and existing in the world. These are core truths, basic facts, of Christianity – Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of man. To deny either is to deny the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus was not man, He could not have actually given up His life on the cross or rose again from the dead. If Jesus was not God, His death would have been insufficient to pay for the sin of all who believed. These are the things that we must accept and believe about Jesus in order to enjoy true fellowship with His church, the body of Christ. But John explains that the real reward for believers is not entrance into an exclusive club of like-minded men and women, but communion with the all knowing, all powerful, God of the universe. Beginning in this life, and fulfilled in the next, the true Christian fellowship is with God the Father and God the Son through God the Spirit.
As in John’s day, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking the wrong things about God. Even those within the church at times succumb to very narrow views of God that reflect our own personal dispositions and proclivities; that He is only loving or only fair or only wrathful. Time and again, well-meaning Christians confuse the ultimate goal of Christianity in one of two erroneous ways. First, God hates sin and subsequently sinners, and unless a sinner stops sinning they will burn in hell for all eternity, turning faith in Jesus into nothing more than eternal fire insurance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many view the main point as unconditional love and acceptance, living in peaceful harmony with people of all beliefs and lifestyles, without regard for the truth of the Bible. These myopic portrayals of the person and message of Jesus underscore the fact that we don’t understand Jesus, the Word of Life, in the way that John did. True peace with others comes only through being at peace with God, and the ultimate joy of the believer is not escaping God’s wrath but being found in right relationship with Him, which we can begin to experience here and now.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, so often we see You as little more than a cosmic reflection of ourselves; either we look to you for unconditional acceptance or we look to you to judge and condemn our enemies. Forgive us for our ignorance, arrogance, and disobedience. We want to know and worship You for who You really are. Open our eyes and ears, speak to us through Your word today, for You are the Word of Life. Amen.