Sermon January 26

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

January 26, 2014

“Get a Life”

I John 1:1-4

One of the slang expressions that you sometimes hear is – Get a life! This is what you might say to someone who is shallow-minded in their thinking, someone who is pre-occupied with insignificant details, or just overly serious. There aren’t too many good comebacks for this one-liner. John has a little different reason for saying it, however, this also describes the message of I John – Get a life! John says – you need to wake up; you need to pay attention; you need to get a life.

The author of the letter of I John is the disciple John, one of the twelve disciples. He has written the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, and these three letters – I, II and III John. At this point John is an old man. He has long outlived all of the original disciples. He’s probably already endured his exiled imprisonment on the isle of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. And now, at the end of his life, John has some important things he wants to say to the church.

The first four verses of this letter are the prologue. It’s actually one long continuous sentence in Greek. And we are immediately struck by the similarity to the opening verses of the Gospel of John. The first verse of John’s gospel says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this letter, John writes: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”

There are three themes that run throughout this letter. They are woven in and out of the verses like the braids of a girl’s pigtail. John’s three great themes in this letter are: God is life; God is light; and God is love. In his gospel, John refers to Jesus as the Word of God, and here in these verses he is the word of life.

Of course we’re all interested in life. We want to experience life. We wonder about the meaning of life. We are disappointed when life seems unfair. People have lots of questions about life and there is disagreement about where to turn for answers. Scott Peck began his best-selling book, “The Road Less Traveled,” with this statement – “Life is difficult.” He said: “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.” “Life is difficult.”

When we look at the world around us we see that there is a real hunger, whether people perceive it or not, to know what life is all about. What is the meaning of life? We know how to make a living, but do we know how to live? The words to a song say: “It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. /It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. /It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give, /and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”

The opening line of Carl Sagan’s book, “Cosmos,” states: “The Cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be.” So where do we learn about the meaning of life? Where do we look to find hope for living? Leslie Weatherhead wrote a little parable that addresses this question. He said – “On a long sea journey round the world I once meditated on what would happen if the captain, one day, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, summoned us all to the saloon and said something like this: ‘There is plenty of food on board. Life will proceed as before. Meals will be served, games played, dances arranged, concerts provided, but I have decided not to make for a port. We shall just cruise round and round in the ocean until our fuel is exhausted and then I shall sink the ship.’”

“Mark this,” he says. “The next few days would appear just the same as those which preceded them. Only one thing would be different. The captain’s speech would have snatched from every mind the concept of purpose, meaning and goal. And, in my opinion, very soon afterwards, on a dark night, first one and then another passenger would jump overboard. The mind hates meaninglessness.”

I believe that life has meaning. You and I are not on this earth by chance. We did not come from nowhere and are on our way to nowhere. Life has meaning. Regardless of who you are, your life has meaning. John says – Wake up. Get a life. John points us to the word of life – that, he says, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and touched with our hands. John declares – Here it is. Here’s life.

In these opening verses to his letter, John makes two affirmations about life. The first is that life has its origin in the character and nature of God. God is the source of life. Whatever life is, we learn from John that it is derived from God. Just as John penned the opening verses of this letter to remind us of the opening verses of his gospel, the prologue to the Gospel of John is pointing back to the opening words of Genesis – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.”

John reminds us that God is the Creator of all that we see. If we want to know the purpose of our world, of our lives, we will discover that meaning in God. Creation was not a careless, casual, accidental matter. It has not come about by chance or whimsy. And the crowning act of creation is the creation of man and woman. God speaks the creation into existence, but God speaks directly only to human beings. You and I have a relationship with God unlike anything else in all creation. We have been made in the image of God.

We have been created for a life lived in relationship with God. This is remarkable good news. To not know our purpose in life is to be left to futility and despair. When we know our story, we know that we belong to God. It was Pascal who said that there is a God-shaped vacuum inside the heart of every one of us. This is what we were created for. The choir sang the words of Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”

The Bible talks about eternal life. Eternal life is not simply a life after death. Eternal life does not refer only to being with God in heaven. In fact, eternal life is not primarily defined by time, as in a life that is everlasting. The word “eternal” points us to that which defines God – the nature of God, the character of God. The eternal life we receive in Jesus Christ is a life that begins now, not after we die. It is a new spirit of life that alters the very manner of our everyday living. Eternal life is a quality of life characterized by peace and joy and fulfillment.

The second point John makes about life in these verses is that this life from God has come among us in Jesus Christ. John speaks of life as not merely a philosophy or an ideal. He says: “The life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.” John connects the Jesus Christ of his personal relationship to the very source and origin of life. In the prologue to his gospel John writes: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

In the Gospel of John the word “life” was continually on the lips of Jesus. Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” And at the end of his gospel account, John explained his reason for writing. He said: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

Jesus is the one who knows the meaning of life and the only one who can bring a true fulfillment to our living. At a particularly difficult time in Jesus’ ministry, some of those who were following him gave up on him and left. Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and asked: “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter’s response is one that speaks to our own search for meaning in life. He said: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

A life without God is a wasted life. Jesus said: “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus Christ invites us into a personal relationship with himself. The giver of life invites us to discover what life is really all about and to receive a life that will never end.

John concludes the opening verses of his letter with a sentence that comes out sounding like a sigh. “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” When John writes about life and about Jesus Christ he can’t help but connect it to joy. Shakespeare wrote: “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.” But that’s not what John is writing about. Lewis Smedes put it well. He said: “You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss the reason for our existence! Moreover, the reason Jesus Christ lived and died on earth was to restore us to the joy we have lost.”

John testifies of what he has seen and heard and touched. Life has its source in the character and nature of God. And this life from God has come among us in Jesus Christ. The testimony of my own experience confirms it for me. I have experienced no greater joy and peace than when I have lived with an acute awareness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in my life.

John says – Get a life – but not just any life. Get the life that God has given the world in Jesus Christ.

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