(Heard, Seen and Handled 1)
In a Nutshell
John commends faith in Jesus Christ
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How does what is written in this letter challenge our conventional understanding of faith in Jesus Christ?
How does a person who has heard, seen, looked upon, and touched the One he believes to be Israel's Messiah subsequently live out his life in the years allotted to him? This is a question that not only refers to the life of John, who wrote one of the gospels, and also these three letters, but to all the New Testament writers along with other apostles and disciples mentioned in the New Testament writings. In particular, we not only think of John the Baptist's disciples (see Acts 19), but John the Baptist's extended family among whom were, we are told, John and his brother James, the sons of Zebedee, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus' own brothers and sisters. What John has told us in his gospel is that Jesus Himself, directed him, from the cross, to look after His mother. Here then is a question that is worth reflecting upon. How does John's care for Jesus' mother relate to his authorship of the gospel and these letters? We might also reflect upon the fact that, after Jesus had left and, as we confess, ascended into heaven, Mary had to live out her days as the one God had chosen to birth and mother the one who had been crucified, who then not only rose but also ascended. How was that latter event of Jesus' risen life to be understood by the disciples He had taught when they walked with Him through Galilee?
Just think about it.
This person, Jesus of Nazareth, a member of this extended family, is believed by them to be none other than the Hope of all Ages. This is the person one's ancestors have been longing for! This is the Promised One who has now turned up. At this point, let's keep our focus upon John, and what we know, or think we know, about him from the gospel records and elsewhere in the New Testament.
Who has ever had to live his or her life after meeting someone who rose from the grave? That is one question we should keep in mind. What does any person do once they have actually seen a resurrected Messiah, or more specifically in John's case, knows that the Rabbi who suffered a very painful death has returned and made Himself known? And then He left again! How does one continue to live with all that?
One of the things such a witness might well do is to ensure that the story, the witness to these things, is written down.
It is John who tells us how Jesus arranged for His earthly mother's care from the cross, before He died. John himself was given this task. And then He rose. Is it not noteworthy that we have no New Testament account of Jesus meeting with Mary, his mother, after His resurrection. Nevertheless, Mary was clearly with the disciples when they gathered together in Jerusalem in accordance with Jesus' parting commands to them. So, are we to consider John's writings a record that also gives expression to what Mary kept in her heart? (Luke 2:19, 51). This would seem feasible.
Further, John was there, he tells us, during Jesus' trial. In answer to the High Priest's questions about his disciples and his teaching, Jesus had said:
I have spoken openly to all the world. I have taught at all times in synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews congregate. Not a word have I spoken in secret. Why are you questioning me? Ask those who heard me what I have told them; they know what I have said (John 18:19-25).
But John was not speaking up at this point. He had known the thuggery that had arrested Jesus. He also knew that his own life was in the balance too. This was right at the moment that one of the police struck Jesus a blow accusing Him of lacking respect for the High Priest. And so, this would mean that, when he wrote his gospel, John was setting the record straight allowing his readers to recognise him for his inability to step forward and defend his Teacher. This is the one who, throughout the gospel, refers to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved". None of Jesus' disciples came to their Rabbi's defense; most had fled. He, John, was there in the house of the High Priest to witness this event, but he too is among those who had forsaken their Master when, He stood in need of their support. Peter denied Jesus openly. John simply failed to speak up.
But now, after Jesus' resurrection, this Messiah had not only gladly made Himself known to His disciples, and to Peter and to John. He reassured them that they were indeed His friends (John 21), just as He had told them (15:13-16).
And so, John's indirect message is also that it is possible for disciples of Jesus to be confronted with their own weakness even while they are on a steep learning curve to appreciate that indeed "God is greater than our hearts when they condemn us" (1 John 3:19-20).
John's letter explains first this way, then that way, why he had taken up his pen. Despite his previous silence in that Sanhedrin meeting - despite his involvement in that sin of omission - his guilt had been taken away. The sin was not deadly because Jesus had interceded for him. The One for whom he didn't speak up had prayed for him, and this One's prayers were answered and John's life was granted in answer to this Person's prayers (1 John 5:16-17). How did John know? Jesus was raised from death for precisely that purpose and that is also why John was not neglected by Jesus after His resurrection.
So what was the consequence?
It is as if John's literary contributions to the New Testament are a persistent reiteration - I was dragged into the light by my Rabbi, Jesus Christ, the belovéd Son of God, who was raised from the grave and certainly didn't avoid me. That is how I now live. And that is why I continue to write - I wrote a Gospel to give an account of all of this and my dear, dear friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord, I now write this letter to you children, fathers, young men for the same reason that I have written previously. Your sins are forgiven, you have come to know the Father, you have gained mastery over the evil one. (2:12-14). That's what I have written, that's what I am writing about, that is what my life involves - I keep on writing this message to you so that if you sin you may be reminded that we do indeed have an advocate .... a real peace offering from our side at our side, given to us by God Himself .... and despite our feelings of grief and guilt we know that God is greater than our hearts ....
This is why I am suggesting that we read John's gospel and letters by keeping in mind that they are the exposition of a profound self-criticism. A self-critical attitude in the light of God's word cannot descend to self-hatred. Since God loves us, since God is love, we have no reason to remain mired in hate. We come to know of our utter wretchedness apart from Christ when His Spirit reassures us that nothing can separate us from His love.
And also, it should be kept in mind, that the genre for beginning a letter is quite similar not only to John's Gospel but to the letter to the Hebrews. Whereas Hebrews refers to ongoing traditions and piety of Jewish and OT believers, here, it seems we confront a person of Jewish background who has been confronted with the awesome reality of Jesus' Messianic rule of all the princes of all the peoples of the Earth.