John is especially interested in encouraging and promoting holiness and righteousness. He is motivating us to walk just as He walked (2:6). Last week John did that using the second coming of Jesus. I John 2:28 Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. This week John will encourage and promote holiness and righteousness using the first coming of Jesus. This would work as a Christmas sermon. I John 3:4-10. I don’t know about you, but when I read this passage at the least it is perplexing and at the most it is discouraging. It sounds like John is saying if we are Christians then we will stop sinning, and we won’t be sinning anymore. 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 3:10 whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God. 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning I sinned yesterday, I sinned today, I keep sinning. What is John saying? Does he really mean if we are in Christ we will be righteous and we won’t sin anymore? We need help. And where should we turn for help? What is the number one rule for understanding and interpreting Scripture? Scripture interprets Scripture. Use God’s truth to understand God’s truth. Use clearer passages to shed light on less clear passages. And guess what? We find help right in John’s letter. What did he say in chapter one?
It’s the new year, the time of year when we resolve to do things differently, to make resolutions and changes. This is the time for fresh starts. The gyms are full, lots of new memberships. This is the time of year people start new diets. I can’t believe how many there are, ones I have no clue what they are. Keto diet, DASH diet, Paleo diet, Whole30 diet, FODMAP diet. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and propose a new diet this morning. I think any diet worth its salt (pun intended) should involve marinating. Give me a big hunk of meat, let it soak about two days in some good marinade, now that’s a diet I could keep. One of my favorite restaurant meals was the Kensington Club steak at Steak and Ale. The reason it was great was because they marinated it for 72 hours. I called the manager of the restaurant one time and asked if he would tell me the recipe and to my shock he did. So, if I am going to invent a diet and I get to pick what is in it, I am going to pick something marinated. Here is my diet proposal for all of us this morning. Beginning today we all get marinated in the Scriptures. The more we become saturated with Scripture, the more it will get in us and permeate all the pores of our lives, our parenting, our grand parenting, our business dealings, our work ethic, our relationships, our choices and decisions, our communication, thoughts and desires, everything. My diet proposal comes with a guarantee. If we follow this diet for 2019 we will be blessed and healthy beyond what we can imagine. And if we don’t follow this diet we will be in danger of become seriously malnourished and sickly, more discouraged or depressed or directionless, caught up in sin.
Each generation has its favorite TV shows, for some it was Cheers or Friends or The Office or Parks and Rec or some Netflix series. This will date me but back in my day it was MASH. I saw every episode many times. The setting was an army hospital in South Korea during the Korean war. One of the characters was a Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy. He wasn’t a surgeon or a nurse, so whenever he would ask if there was anything he could do to help they would tell him just to pray and he would respond, “Darn, that’s all they ever let me do.” That line betrays an attitude that many people have about prayer. It reminds me again of the quote of Winston Churchill that I have paraphrased. Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” We could also say, “You can always count on Christians to pray – after they’ve tried everything else.” The truth of the matter is, in the spiritual realm prayer is actually the greatest and most powerful thing anyone can ever do. As someone has said, when we work, we work. When we pray, God works and there is no greater power than that. But too often it is thought of the way the MASH script writers thought of it. Where is the power in our world? Where does our help come from? Where do we turn, where do we look? Now days Google is god, the all wise dispenser of wisdom and help. I went to Google on Friday and typed in the healing power of …, and got an astonishing list of places to turn for power for healing and help. The healing powers of tea, herbs, ginger, vinegar, honey, lavender, crystals, essential oils, aroma therapy, feng shui, music, laughter, yoga, nature, the sun, the waters of the Ganges River, baking soda, drums, sand, mushrooms, sugar, cats purrs, and the positive thinking. I scrolled through a dozen pages of the 300 million search results and prayer was mentioned exactly once. Today when we hear the words of Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” the answer is not “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We seek wisdom and power and help and healing in knowledge, technology, fashions and fads, in everything in creation, but not from the Creator. What God has created is good and useful, but it was never meant to be primary and replace God and prayer. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Who is from everlasting to everlasting the same.
John is writing out of a heart of love and he is writing to those he loves with all his heart. Notice the manner in which he addresses them. My little children, beloved, little children, children. This is not meant to be demeaning or derogatory, but terms of endearment. He is like a loving and caring father to them, he has their spiritual interests at heart. So when he commands them, he is commanding them not as a master or a boss, but as one who is seeking their very best. He is persuading them out of love, not guilt or shame or self-interest.
We want to say thank you again for all the gifts, cards, pictures, notes of encouragement and delicious Christmas goodies. Some of them we don’t know who gave them, so thank you. We love the privilege of sharing another Christmas with you and we thank God for all of you. We have been celebrating with all our family, five sons, three daughters-in-law, two granddaughters and two more grands on the way, eating and sharing gifts and lots of love. This advent we have spent a considerable amount of time in a fairly small but densely packed part of God’s Word seeking to understand the heights and depths of what happened on that first Christmas. In this short passage the apostle John makes at least 20 amazing affirmations about Jesus. 20 ways we beheld His glory.
Our faith is born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Our faith rests on the supernatural. Christianity is a supernatural faith. A virgin birth, a God-man, a sinless life, many miracles, a substitutionary death, a bodily resurrection, an ascension, a second coming. Our faith is a supernatural faith that starts with a supernatural life born in a supernatural way and ends with a supernatural death and resurrection. To reject the supernatural is to reject Christianity and Christ.
What’s the worst gift you ever received, some gift you didn’t need or didn’t want? An ugly sweater, a music cd you don’t like, wrinkle cream. I hear fruitcake is a real crowd pleaser. One of my worst gifts ever was in college when someone gave me a gerbil in a cage for my birthday. I lived in a dorm, it smelled, it had to be fed and the caged cleaned. I had to keep telling myself it’s the thought that counts. My dear wife says she has forgiven me but she has not forgotten the year I gave her hubcaps for her van, or the year I gave her a fire extinguisher for Christmas. She totally misunderstood it as a statement about her cooking. What makes a gift especially great? It’s something you really need or want. The person knows you so well that they just nail it, like how did they know, it’s amazing. I am impressed with those people who are paying attention and listening and pick up on something you said six months ago, and they remember and there it is at Christmas. I have received some of those. The very best gifts come from a giver who really knows us well, who knows our deepest and most heartfelt needs and wants. And when this happens there is a connection between both parties. The giver and the receiver both know the gift is perfect and both are blessed in the exchange. Both receive joy. God’s gift to us was tailor-made, custom fit, it was just right, the absolutely perfect gift, the gift better than any other gift we have ever receive. If we truly knew our deepest needs we would truly rejoice over the gift God has given us.
As we come back to this same text again this week I want to encourage you to do something with this text during Advent. Read it once a day. Read it yourself, read it during family devotions or at the dinner table. Read it each day. And if you really want it to sink in, try memorizing it. Have you ever been on a really big roller coaster like the ones at Six Flags? Back in my college days I rode one of the highest wooden roller coasters at Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois. You know how it works, they start out by taking you up as high as they can and then drop you as far and as fast as they can. The really brave/foolish people do it with no hands. Last week I tried to take you up as high as I could into the heavens, as high as our finite minds could fathom the Son of God. Jesus existing without time or limit, infinitely big and powerful, creating everything from the vast universe filled with trillions of galaxies and stars, quasars and blackholes, down to the trillions of living creatures that inhabit our planet, and then sustaining everything He created every second of everyday. When a text starts out that way, you expect it to continue that way. You expect it to continue with grand and otherworldly language, magnifying the splendor of Jesus as God enthroned above the heavens, ruling and reigning on high. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word created everything that is. But then there is a twist, an unexpected turn. This week we are going to plunge to the depths in a most precipitous fall to earth. I probably can’t create that sinking feeling in your stomach as the roller coaster drops over the hill, but I hope to create profound sense of what Jesus did for us.