“The Word of Life”

It is easy to imagine that a community of believers quickly gathered in the wake of the resurrection; that they shared in amazement and joy; that they instinctively knew what to do and proceeded to do it.


The book of Acts gives that impression: “All who believed were together and had all things in common … Day by day, as they spent much time in the Temple, they broke bread … and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”[1]

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​1 John 1:1-2:2

April 11, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright


It is easy to imagine that a community of believers quickly gathered in the wake of the resurrection; that they shared in amazement and joy; that they instinctively knew what to do and proceeded to do it.


The book of Acts gives that impression: “All who believed were together and had all things in common … Day by day, as they spent much time in the Temple, they broke bread … and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”[1]


But just like John is a very different gospel from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with different stories and a different slant, 1 John offers a different window into the early church.


It is only one community in one place in time, but it seems like it might offer some interesting insights into our origins … and where we find ourselves now.


So we will spend five weeks mining 1 John for diamonds and scraps. Let’s begin!

 

Eugene Peterson introduces 1 John in the Message this way:


“The two most difficult things to get straight in life are love and God. More often than not, the mess people make of their lives can be traced to failure or stupidity or meanness in one or both of these areas. If [Christians] want to deal with God the right way, we have to learn to love the right way. If we want to love the right way, we have to deal with God the right way. God and love can’t be separated.”


It seems though, that the two had become separated in the community to which 1 John


was written. Scholars believe that community was located in and around Ephesus after the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD drove survivors to flee and seek refuge. They found themselves living and working (and probably worshipping) with immigrants from all over the known world. Those immigrants brought their food and their language and their gods with them.


Peterson writes, “There are always people who don’t want to be pinned down to the God Jesus reveals, to the love Jesus reveals. They want to make up their own idea of God, make up their own style of love. John was a pastor to a church disrupted by some of these people. In his letters we see him reestablishing the original and organic unity of God and love in Jesus Christ.”[2]

 

From the start John probes the dispute-caused-wound. He writes that Jesus, the word of life, the Son of God, was able to be seen heard by a multitude of witnesses as he taught and preached and healed. That’s how we know what love looks like. That’s how we know how we are to live. He was not some deity wearing a mask of flesh, as some believed. He did not pretend to suffer and die.


When 1 John presses the point: “What we have looked at and touched with our hands ...” he uses a particular Greek word for touch that means “physically examined” – like Thomas demanded to do with Jesus wounds.[3] He is saying that Jesus’ scars were proof that he could bleed like us.


He is trying to reason with those who are sparking the controversy while also instructing the faithful – if you misunderstand something so basic about God – that Jesus was both divine and human – then you will misunderstand how to live in response. If you indulge in some conspiracy theory about the devastating brutality of the cross being a hoax; if you think you are brighter than the rest of the community (and the gospel story); if you claim to be above the shared snare of sin, then you will feel no great love for your fellow pilgrims on the way, no compassion for the fallen, no desire to help others with their physical needs. In short, you will not feel the need to act like Christ.


Will his appeal work? Stay tuned.


But as you wait for next week, consider how 1 John’s argument has molded this church:


both our understanding of who Jesus is and what our community should be like.


Years ago, I stood outside this church one morning as a woman pulled up in a rusty sedan, rolled down her window, and asked, “Is this the church that helps people?”


I think she was looking for the Pay-it-Forward event; I think she was searching for a coat and a few toys; but more importantly, I think she was looking for a place that loves as Jesus loved.


So I said, “Yes! Yes, it is! Come on in!”


I think the writer of 1 John would have smiled! Amen.


[1] from Acts 2:44-47
[2] also from his introduction to 1 John in The Message
[3] This tidbit is from Nijay Gupta’s commentary on the text for workingpreacher.org, 4/12/12
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