The apostle John is called the apostle of love. The word love occurs 57 times in his gospel, more than the other three gospels combined. The word love occurs 46 times in his first letter, 27 of which are in chapter 4. That makes this chapter the other love chapter in the Bible after the famous I Corinthians 13. Twice John says God is love. Five times John says love one another. Those two themes go together. After all John has said about love and God, he is not finished, he still has more to say. And when he is done he will not have said it all. God’s love is unfathomable. That’s why Paul prays for God’s enabling grace
What a strange day Palm Sunday is. Here we are at the beginning of Holy Week enjoying our children as they wave palm branches and sing loud hosannas. And we have joined our voices with theirs. And yet we are like Jesus, we know what’s ahead, we know how quickly the hosannas will turn to crucify Him, crucify Him. How fickle is the human heart. How fickle is life. Everything can be going so well, and then suddenly something happens, some bad news, some accident, some change of events, and the darkness and fear move in. As we have been learning how to preach the Gospel to ourselves it became evident to me that the Gospel according to Palm Sunday is a great help and encouragement to us especially when life is unsettling or fickle or just plain hard. Let’s consider seven lessons from Palm Sunday, seven truths of the Gospel from this day.
Until the last century most scientists believed time was eternal. Only in the 20th century with Einstein’s theory of relativity was it discovered that time had a beginning. In other words, there was a time when time was not. Interestingly, if you read the religious books of most other religions they speak of time as eternal. Only the Bible claims time is not eternal but had a beginning. People say the Bible is not scientific and not accurate, yet from the beginning the Bible has been uniquely clear that time has a beginning, and that God was active before time. The reverse is the case regarding the Gospel. People think the Gospel had a beginning, maybe when Jesus was 30 years old and began proclaiming the Gospel. Or maybe in the OT, even as far back as Genesis 3:15 and the Gospel promise that the seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent. I want to explore with you this morning that the Gospel is in fact eternal, it has no beginning, it was with God before time.
A common feature of Buddhism is prayer wheels. Cylinders with a prayer mantra written on it and inside of it, the first syllable is Om. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition spinning a prayer wheel has the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. “Just touching and turning a prayer wheel brings incredible purification and accumulates unbelievable merit.” Each revolution is as meritorious as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll, and this means that the more prayer mantras that are inside a prayer wheel, the more powerful it is. One on-line site advertises their prayer wheel this way: “Our prayer wheels contain millions and even billions of the Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Om Mani Padme Hung." The mantras were carefully reproduced on microfilm to allow a large number of mantras to fit inside each prayer wheel.” Buddhist temples will have rows and rows of large prayer wheels that you just walk by to spin. And there are many that are powered by water, wind, solar panels or heat from a candle or fire. That sounds utterly foreign to all of us and we feel sadness for millions of people trapped in such a performance, merit-based religion. We can’t imagine ever doing something like that. Except that we all live in a performance-based world. We grow up in homes where our parents set demands and have expectations based on performance, obedience, keeping the rules. We can often feel like we don’t measure up, we can’t please them, no matter how hard we try.
The Bible has a lot to say about love, which should tell us something about the One who wrote it. There is a whole book on romantic love in the OT, The Song of Songs. There is a whole chapter on love in the NT, I Corinthians 13. The most famous verse is on love, John 3:16. John has been called the apostle of love. He loves to talk about love. John writes a lot about love in his Gospel and in his letters. He mentions love over fifty times in his Gospel (more than other three Gospels put together. He mentions love almost fifty times (in 26 verses) in this short letter, and 15 times just in our short text (15 times in 6 verses). John already talked about love in 2:7-11 as a sign one is walking in the light, and in 3:11-24 as evidence one is a child of God. But I John 4:7-12 is the fullest treatment of love. This is another great love chapter in the Bible, and appropriately it begins, Beloved.
So let’s talk about these four glasses of water. Four pictures of our spiritual life. A glass half empty/full. What do you see here? How would you describe this glass? Half full or half empty? Most of us view life according to this first glass, sometimes it seems half full and sometimes it seems half empty. If you are an optimistic person, like Tigger, more often you will see it as half full. If you are more of a pessimistic person, like Eeyore, you might see it as half empty. There are variations on this theme. Do we complain rose bushes have thorns, or do we rejoice that thorn bushes have roses?
We are getting used to John’s way of writing. He makes constant use of contrasts to help us understand the truth. If we say we have no sin, verses if we confess our sin. I am not writing a new commandment, but an old commandment. Darkness and light; hating our brother and loving our brother. Love for the world, love for God. False prophets and true prophets The spirit of the antichrist and the Spirit of God. In our text John says “from God” six times and “from the world” six times. John is very concerned about two spirits which lead to contradictory confessions concerning Christ. Here is the problem. Those who are from the world and not from God are now in the church. Therefore, we must learn how to discern the spirits, how to eat the meat and spit out the bones. If you don’t pray for and develop spiritual discernment you place yourself and your family in danger of being carried along by the popular winds of doctrine and making shipwreck of your faith. Countless millions have been led astray.
At our Men’s Study this last week on the life of Moses we studied the chapters around our text and I want to come back to it and look at one aspect of it is more depth this morning. With a sermon title, The Gospel is the Glory of God, you might be wondering what we are doing in the OT. We’re blowing up another myth. Last week’s myth was that the Gospel is just something we share with people who are not Christians. Rather the Gospel is something we need to share with ourselves every day. We need to cultivate the habit of preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily to counter all the other voices in our heads and lies in our culture. Today we will see the Gospel is in the heart of God and on display in all of His dealings with His people. God has lead His people, the nation of Israel, out of Egypt and has brought them through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 20 we read the Ten Commandments which are like marriage vows, covenant commitments, where God makes His covenant to be their God and they will be His people.