Wednesday, December 30, 2015

So that you might believe. . .

Sermon preached for the First Sunday after Christmas, the Festival of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, December 27, 2015.

   It’s very appropriate that today, two days after Christ’s birth, we commemorate St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, because Jesus is the very center of all that John wrote and proclaimed.  John was an eyewitness of the Incarnate God, and he gave testimony to this.  He wrote about what he heard and saw so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior, and that by believing we would have everlasting life. 
I.    The apostle John was one of the inner circle of the Twelve, along with his brother James and Peter.  He refers to himself in the gospel that bears his name as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  Of course Christ loved all of His disciples, but it does seem that John was especially close with our Lord as He walked on earth.  John witnesses many things that some of the other disciples didn’t.  He was present on the mount of Transfiguration and saw Jesus in His divine glory.  He sat next to Christ at the Last Supper.  He was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed before He was betrayed.  John was the only one of the Twelve present as Jesus hung on the cross, and Christ even commended His mother Mary into the care of John before He died. 
Besides being a witness to these significant events of Christ’s life, John witnessed everything else Jesus said and did.  He heard all of Jesus’ teachings.  He saw all of Christ’s miracles, His healings, the feeding of 5,000, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and of course, Christ’s resurrection.  This is where our Gospel reading takes place, during the third time the resurrected Christ revealed Himself to His disciples. 
Seven of the disciples, including John, went fishing one evening, but they had no success.  That next morning, Jesus was standing on the shore, but they were unaware that it was Him.  Jesus instructed them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, and they did.  Miraculously, they caught so many fish that they were unable to haul it into the boat.  Right then, John knew that it was the Lord.  John was once again an eyewitness to one of Jesus’ great miracles. 
The job of an eyewitness is to give a testimony.  In a courtroom, witnesses are called before the judge and jury to tell what they have seen and heard.  It is their responsibility to give an accurate and truthful account of what they witnessed so that others may know the evidence and judge rightly a person’s innocence or guilt.  As an eyewitness of Christ Jesus, it was John’s responsibility to testify to others what Jesus said and did, and this is what John tells us He is doing in all of his writings.  At the end of the Gospel of John, he attaches his name writing, “This is the disciple [that is, the disciple whom Jesus loved, John] who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (Jn 21:24).  John, and those who helped him put what he saw and heard down on paper, assure us that he was an eyewitness and that what he has testified to is truthful. 
In 1 John, the apostle again explains that he was an observer of Christ, the second person of the Trinity who was from the beginning.  John heard the Almighty God speak, he saw the eternal God with his own eyes, he touched the Incarnate God with his own hands.  And it is about this God, Jesus, that he writes about.  In the book of Revelation, John testifies to the revelation of Jesus Christ, the revelation that was made known to him by and angel.  Everything that John wrote was a testimony of what He saw and heard.  Everything he wrote was about Jesus. 
II.    There are many reasons for people to write today.  Authors of novels write in order to tell stories and to entertain their readers.  Journalists write in order to pass along information and the news.  History writers write in order to record and preserve the past.  Some people write with hope of becoming famous and making a name for themselves.  Others write with the hope of not being forgotten after they die.  And still others write just for the pure enjoyment of it.  There are many reasons to write, but John only had one.  He wore to proclaim Jesus so that we might believe in Him and be saved. 
    Everything that John wrote about Christ was for us.  He wanted us to know, believe, and trust in Jesus our Savior.  In his first epistle, John wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3).  And he continues, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:1-2). 
    John wrote to tell us who Jesus is and what He has done for you.  From the very first word of his gospel to the very last word of Revelation, John points you to Christ Jesus your Savior.  He points you to the cross where Jesus was the propitiation for your sins, where He shed His blood and gave up His life to pay the penalty for your sins.  He took the punishment you and I rightly deserve from God and He appeased God’s wrath, all for you.  And then, three days later, with His resurrection from the tomb, He defeated death, your death, and He won for you eternal life.  This is what John wrote and proclaimed, so that you might hear what Christ has done for you, so that you can believe and trust in your Savior and have life in Him. 
    The Gospel of John tells the history of Christ Jesus as He walked on this earth.  However, John would fail today as a modern history writer, because John didn’t include everything that Jesus did.  Today, biographers and history writers include everything: a person birth, their childhood, where they went to school, everything they did as an adult, and their death.  John doesn’t do this.  His gospel is void of Jesus nativity.  There’s no mention of His childhood, and there is much that Jesus said and did that John doesn’t include, and he admits this.  In John 20:30 he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.”  And then again, the last words of his gospel are this, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).
    John doesn’t tell us everything that Jesus said and did, just like the whole of Scripture doesn’t tell us and explain everything.  There is much about God, the world, and how He interacts with us and the world that we don’t know, and we don’t need to know.  God doesn’t give us an answer to all our questions, but He does give us what is necessary for faith and everlasting life. 
    Through the writers of Scripture, like the apostle and evangelist John, God tells us what we need to know, and what we need to know is Christ Jesus and what He has done for us.  We need to know that He died for our sins so that we may be forgiven.  We need to know that He rose from the dead, giving us life even when we die.  This is why John wrote what he wrote.  The teachings and deeds of Jesus that he records were written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn 20:31). 
    As an apostle, John was sent out to give testimony of what he heard and saw.  As an evangelist, John proclaimed, by mouth and pen, the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Today we commemorate John, not because of his good works, but because of the message he proclaimed.  We remember him because he wrote about Christ our Savior, and through his writing we have faith and everlasting life in Jesus.  In His name...Amen.

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