Epiphany 3a

Preached: January 23, 2011

Knowing Jesus Moves Us to Love
1 John 2:3-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit connects us to our Savior is 1 John 2.

By this we are sure that we know him [Jesus]: If we keep his commands. The person who says, “I know him,” and doesn't keep his commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. Whoever keeps the word of Jesus -- God's love has truly reached its goal in him. In this we are sure that we are in him. The person who says that he remains in him is to walk [live] just as he did.

Beloved, I am not writing a new command to you but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word that you have heard. I write again a new command to you. It is true in him and in you, because the darkness passes away and the genuine light now shines.

The person who says that he's in the light and hates his brother is in the dark up until now. The person who loves his brother remains in the light and a trap isn't in him. The person who hates his brother is in the dark, and he walks in the dark. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:3-11)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

How important relationships are! It's no coincidence that Verizon markets a “Friends & Family” plan or Facebook sends out friend requests. So many of the stories that entertain us revolve around relationships, whether that's family relations such as in Father Knows Best from the 1950's or the relationships between the members of a crime scene investigation team as in several current TV dramas. And our own personal relationships can bring us to the height of happiness or to the brink of despair. How important relationships are!

The words the Holy Spirit gave John to write for us in the text here zero us in on our most important relationship. How well do you know Jesus? For you see, knowing Jesus moves us to love. Reflect on that theme, dear friends.

A. His word of truth calls for a response

1. What are two kinds of “knowing”?

How well do you know Jesus? John makes it clear that some who claim to know Jesus are liars. God's truth is not in them. What about you?

Here we must distinguish between knowing about someone and knowing someone personally. For examples, fans might know a lot about Brett Favre or Joe Mauer or the Hollywood star they idolize, but they don't know them personally, do they? The Greek of Bible times had two different words for knowing. One emphasized knowing about the information; the other personal knowledge. That's the one used here. In the Information Age we live in you can know about anyone. But I'm not asking how much you know about Jesus. Do you know him?

2. What truth does Jesus bring?

What's more, how can you be sure that you know him? John tells us. “By this we are sure that we know him: If we keep his commands. The person who says, 'I know him,' and doesn't keep his commands is a liar and the truth is not in him” (John 2:3, 4).

When we hear those words, our conscience may well jump to the Ten Commandments. Some translations pull us more so in that direction by translating: “If we obey his commands,” rather than “keep.” And who of us hasn't broken all the commandments many times? Do law-breakers like us dare to claim to know Jesus?

But when we know Jesus, we know that “the law was given through Moses; [but] grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV-1984). John does not write here: “If we keep Moses' commands,” but rather “his [referring to Jesus] commands.” Now Jesus did not come as a new lawgiver. His commands are not extra rules. The Ten Commandments, rightly understood, summarize all God's moral law governing our entire heart and mind, all our words and actions. Jesus didn't come to bring new rules; he came to bring grace and truth.

We begin to understand this word commands in this context when we look at how John explains it. In verse 5 John uses word as a synonym for command. In verse 7 he tells us point blank that the command is the word that you have heard.

Now, dear friends, what is the word of Jesus we have heard? John has just reminded his readers of that in the verses before the text. In 1 John 1 and 2 he writes: “[T]he blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin … If we confess us our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness … I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:7, 9; 2:1, 2 NIV-1984). That, dear friends, is the word of Jesus. That's the truth he brings.

3. Why does John refer to the truth of Jesus as commands?

But why would John call those truths commands? Because, dear friends, those gospel words call on us for a response, just like a command calls for a response. We could take the Gospel information about forgiveness in Jesus and file it away like words in a dictionary, books on a shelf, or data in a flash drive. Or we could respond to it. That's the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. His word of truth calls for a response.

4. What response do Jesus' words call for from us?

But what kind of response? Well, Jesus' words, his commands, are promises, aren't they? Promises that his sacrifice atones for all the sins of the world, that his blood purifies us, that he himself pleads in your defense. What kind of response do promises call for? They call for faith, don't they. That's why after proclaiming the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus, the Apostles would said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NIV). Jesus' promises command faith. That's the response his word of truth calls for. That's the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus.

But remember, dear friends, faith is not simply an information retrieval system. Faith is a living, active power that moves our hearts and hands. Faith takes action. That's also brought to mind by that word command. Faith delights in God's moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. Faith eagerly obeys. Faith gladly walks as Jesus' walked, moving us to live a life of kindness and love, of humbleness and gentleness, of devotion, obedience, and service -- just as Jesus lived. “The person who says that he remains in him is to walk just as he did” (1 John 2:6), John writes. For your faith knows how much Jesus loves you. He sacrificed himself for you and continually pleads in your defense. What a friend!

And though your sinful self works hard to trip you up, don't sell your faith short. Rather continually ponder what Jesus has done for you. Think about it. Your relationship with God was in ruins. Go back to the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden to see your relationship destroyed. Your inherited guilt and your daily sin continued Adam's rebellion. When God's voice called, you ran and hid. You hated God. He was your enemy wanting to control your life, so you thought.

But look! While we were still rebels, Jesus died for us. This isn't some abstract love doing it for some cause. He did it for you, dear sinner, for you. For you see, the goal of God's love was not only to give his Son for the world, but also to bring you to know his Son, to know him as your own dear Savior, your best friend. Knowing Jesus, knowing his love promised in his word, moves us to love, to love him, our dear Savior.

And not only to love him, but knowing Jesus also moves us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. His love shines out from us onto one another.

B. His love shines out from us onto one another

1. How is the command old and new?

Notice how John expresses that love, addressing his readers, addressing you and me, as “beloved.” And that's not just an empty word or formality. He says, “Beloved, I am not writing a new command to you but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word that you have heard” (1 John 2:7). Just like you, those first readers had already learned about Jesus. John isn't writing anything new that they haven't heard or believed before. In fact, the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus is what we learn from the very beginning of faith, from little on up.

But every time the old word of Jesus comes to us, it's also new. It renews our hearts and refreshes our souls. It renews our relationship with him and moves us with new power to love. So John refers to the old command as the new command as well. And as he uses that term, how can we not help but think of Jesus' words on the night he was betrayed: “A new command I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also, love one another” (John 13:34 NIV).

For Jesus' love shines as light into the darkness of unbelief. “As I have loved you,” he says. We see in him the truth of forgiveness through his blood, the truth of life and fellowship with God, a new relationship, the truth of eternal joy. As his love shines as a light into us, we reflect that light in ourselves, loving one another. Just as it is in him, so it is also in us. John writes “The old command is the word that you have heard. I write again a new command to you. It is true in him and in you, because the darkness passes away and the genuine light now shines” (1 John 2:7, 8).

2. How does Jesus' love shining on us change our relationships with other people?

Do you see what that means for our relationships with one another, right here and now? First, see what used to be, before the light of Jesus' love. Sin had not only destroyed our relationship with God, but look what had happened to human brotherhood as well. After the Fall in Genesis 3 separated us from God, then came Genesis 4: Cain and Abel. We were more concerned about ourself rather than others, “Am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 NIV). We lived in the darkness of jealousy and envy, loving others only if it suited us. But that's not love.

How the light of Jesus' love changed that! For you see, the same Jesus who bled and died for you, also bled and died for your fellow Christian, your brother or sister in Christ. How can anyone claim to be in the light of Jesus' love and yet hate a fellow Christian who trusts the same Jesus for forgiveness? Will not a person who has walked in such hatred up till now not be changed as Jesus' love warms his heart? To continue in such hatred blinds the eyes. He does not know where he is going until he sees the fires of hell. “The person who says that he's in the light and hates his brother is in the dark up until now. The person who loves his brother remains in the light and a trap isn't in him. The person who hates his brother is in the dark, and he walks in the dark. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11)

But you, dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, are no longer blind. In the light of Jesus' love, you are able to truly love one another. This is not a shallow, superficial love that trips others up in the faith so that they fall into a trap. Rather, your love imitates Jesus' self-sacrificing love. Yes, in this life you, like me, fall short. We struggle to love others as ourselves. We struggle against selfishness, coldness, hurt, jealousy, conceit. We turn to Jesus' blood to purify even our love from the sin that infects us. And in that light we begin to truly love one another, as his love shines out from us onto one another. How that changes our human relationships!

Knowing Jesus moves us to love. You, dear friend, know Jesus. You know him as your dear Friend, your Brother, your Savior, who gave himself up for you. What love shines on you! Reflect his love. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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