Prize the real Jesus
Series: Advent 2020
Prize the real king of glory. This raises a critical question: why? 1. He is the word of life. 2. He is our fellowship. 3. He is our joy.
The Western States 100 is the oldest, most prestigious, and one of the toughest 100-mile trail running races in the world. In 2016, a 26-year old trail running phenom named Jim Walmsley entered the race as a favorite and was on pace not only to win Western States, but to shatter the course record. While most Western States participants lofty goal is to complete the course under the 24-hour cut-off, Jim was on pace to finish the 100 mountain miles in less than 15 hours! But after 93 miles, Walmsley disappeared. For well over an hour, an eternity even by ultrarunning standards, the Flagstaff native was nowhere to be found. Walmsley had missed a tight left turn and furiously ran miles off course in the wrong direction, without even knowing it. 1 John, the letter from which our passage this morning is taken, was written to a group of Christians in danger of making a mistake similar to Walmsley, but spiritually. The Christians that John wrote to, began the race of faith incredibly well, but some false teaching about Jesus cropped up around them. They were tempted to believe that the Christ wasn’t truly human and also truly God. They were tempted fix their eyes on the wrong Jesus and veer off course into eternal destruction. Friends, we face this same danger. We are all tempted to overemphasize Jesus’ humanity to the exclusion of his divinity or his divinity to the exclusion of his humanity. Some of us are tempted to see Jesus as friend, life coach, and a friend of sinners who would never command, confront, or contradict us. This life coach knows us, but he can’t save us. Fix your eyes on him and you’ll run off course. Others of us are tempted to see Jesus as only Almighty God, not Almighty God who took on flesh for us. Life coach Jesus can’t save you and Almighty Jesus won’t save you. Follow either and you’ll veer off course into destruction. But the big idea of our passage this morning: Prize the real Jesus. Prize the real king of glory. This raises a critical question: why? 1. He is the word of life. 2. He is our fellowship. 3. He is our joy.
HE IS THE WORD OF LIFE
1 John 1:1-2: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…” John’s main message in these first two verses is that Jesus, the word of life, is truly human and also truly God. First, the word of life is truly God. We see this in the first and last phrases of our verses. John begins the verses by telling us that the word of life is “That which was from the beginning,” meaning that the real Jesus has existed forever, even before the creation of all things. He is truly God. Then John concludes the verses by telling us that the word of life is “the eternal life, which was with the Father…” The real Jesus has existed forever with the Father. He is truly God. These verses sound a lot like the beginning of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2). The word of life is truly God. Secondly, we learn that the word of life is Jesus; truly human. Notice the sensorial repetition in these first two verses. God the Father sent the Son into real time and history, he was made manifest and visible to John, and John heard him, saw him, touched him, and proclaims him to us so that we can prize the real Jesus. The word of life is Jesus; truly human and also truly God.
Why is it so important that we believe that the word of life is truly human and also truly God? The answer is found in a little phrase in verse two. Do you see it? The eternal life. Only the real Jesus who is truly human and also truly God can redeem us from our sins and be eternal life to us. Believing that the word of life is truly human and also truly God is what it means to prize the real Jesus and it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Only One who is truly God could obey the Father perfectly in our place, die in our place, and rise for our salvation. Only a One who is truly human could be tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin, and sympathize with our weaknesses and temptation as a loving Savior. Eternal life is found in prizing the real Jesus, the word of life.
Question: How are you tempted to run off course? Most of us are tempted to run off course by following a Jesus who is only human or only God. If you follow a Jesus who is only God, only high and exalted, but not humble and lowly, then you follow a Jesus who can command you, but can’t have compassion on you. You follow a Jesus who wasn’t really tempted as you are, so he can’t sympathize with your weaknesses, save you from your sins or be near compassionately near to you in seasons like the one we are in. If you follow this Jesus who is only God, but not also man, only truth, but not also grace, he will lead you on a path to eternal destruction that is marked by always trying to measure up and perform for Jesus, all the while keeping him at arm’s length, never receiving and resting in Him alone for salvation. But if you follow a Jesus who is only human, you’re following a Jesus who can have compassion on you, but never contradict or command you. You’re really following a life coach who exists to make your life that’s all about you a little better or a moral teacher who mysteriously seems to always agree with your moral preferences. In my decade of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen time and again friends who embrace only human Jesus, or progressive Christianity, are really only a step away from not claiming to embrace Jesus at all. Friends, don’t settle for less than the real Jesus, the word of life, who is truly human to sympathize with you, truly God to save you, is full of grace and truth, and is your only hope in life and in death. Prize the real Jesus because he’s the word of life. The second reason to prize the real Jesus is…
HE IS OUR FELLOWSHIP
1 John 1:3: … “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.” In verse three, John begins by re-emphasizes the miracle of Christmas, the incarnation; that God took on flesh in the person of Christ. The word of life, the Christ is Jesus who John proclaims. Then John tells us the goal that he’s aiming at when he proclaims the word of life in word or writing: fellowship. The purpose of John proclaiming Jesus is not just forgiveness of people’s sins (as a simplified view of evangelism would have it) but is far richer, because Jesus binds together those who receive Him: so that you too may have fellowship with us. Yet the purpose is still richer than mere human fellowship, for believers’ fellowship is with the Father and with his Son. Such “fellowship” is personal communion with the Father made possible by the mediation of the Son. John proclaims the gospel for the purpose of bringing us into intimate relationship and sharing of life with one another and God himself.
Question: Is that how you view fellowship? Imagine for a moment that we’re close friends and I buy you a new toaster for Christmas because I know you and know that you really want a toaster. Now imagine that I come over to your house and notice that you’re using the toaster as a doorstop. What might I say? I’d probably say, “Hey bro, good use of the toaster. Doorstops are vitally important (any parent knows that door stoppers save you from having to patch your drywall once a week), but if you let me plug that thing in, I’ll show you something truly extraordinary that it can do.” Friends, let’s not settle for using the gospel as a doorstopper. The gospel is not only the message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus. It is that, but it’s more. It’s the message that because your sins are forgiven, you’re now adopted as God’s children and are brother’s and sister’s with one another. It’s a message with a purpose: fellowship. Do you view fellowship that way? As something Jesus died so that you can enjoy it with God and one another? If you’re struggling to enjoy regular and rich communion with God or you’re struggling to prioritize regular and rich fellowship with other Christians in Citylight, could it be that you’ve forgotten that the whole reason the word became flesh and dwelt among us is so that we can have fellowship with God and one another. But it doesn’t have to be that way in 2021. Very practically, this part of our passage reminds us that if we aren’t enjoying rich fellowship with God and people, then we need to come back to the real Jesus. If you’re not motivated to pray and enjoy fellowship with God, then come back to the real Jesus whom the Father sent to save you from Hell, cleanse your past, and bring you to God. When you see all that the Father sent the real Jesus to do for you, then your longing to pour out your heart to God in praise, request, confession of sin, and thanksgiving will grow and grow. In the same way, if you’re not motivated to share life with God’s people in the church, then come back to the real Jesus. See again that he died to reconcile you not only to God, but to people so that our relationships can portray the very beauty of Jesus. Let go of pretending, performing, and prioritizing lesser things and throw yourself into relationships in your Citygroup and our church. Come back to Jesus, prize him again because the real Jesus is our fellowship with God and one another. And the final and ultimate reason to prize the real Jesus is…
JESUS IS OUR JOY
Let’s briefly review how John has arrived at this point. John is showing us who the king of glory, who the real Jesus really is so that we’ll prize Him instead of running of course. Why should we prize him? He’s the word of life; He is truly God and came into the world at Christmas truly human. John heard him, saw him, touched him, spent year with him, and proclaimed him as eternal life, and the One in whom we have forgiveness and freedom to have fellowship with one another and God the Father. John now concludes everything he’s said about Jesus’ divinity, humanity, and ongoing work in our lives by looking us straight in the eyes and saying, “now I want you to know the ultimate reason why I wrote all of this about Jesus and his wonderful work. Here it is…” 1 John 1:4: And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. Now, it can be easy to read a verse like that and throw up our hands and say, “see, I can’t do this. I can’t prize and proclaim the real Jesus because I’m not full of joy like John. I’m not the real deal.” Wait! Read the verse again. Notice that it doesn’t say, “And we are writing these things because our joy is complete.” It says, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John’s joy is deficient too. He doesn’t tell others about the real Jesus because he has joy. He tells others about the real Jesus because that’s the only way to complete his joy.
Two summers ago, back when traveling was a thing, my wife and I took a trip to Switzerland. A year earlier I had been bumped from a flight and got these tickets for free and this was the trip of a lifetime. We love to hike anywhere, but the Swiss Alps were unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Believe it or not, when I’m not preaching, I’m not the most naturally chatty person in the world. But on these hikes, I could not stop talking Andrea’s ear off. Around every turn on every trail I was pointing out and proclaiming the majesty of the views and the mountains. Why? Because my enjoyment of the Alps wasn’t complete until I shared it with Andrea and helped her see what I saw. The joy was incomplete until it was expressed. That’s what John is saying: my joy in Jesus isn’t complete until I proclaim him to others. You experience more of Jesus when you give him to others.
Question: Are you lacking joy and deep satisfaction these days? I know there are a million explanations for why we’re not happier, but maybe John is right. Maybe our joy in Jesus is incomplete until we make a life out of sharing him with others. Friends, we double our joy in Christ by expanding our joy in him to others. Evangelism, speaking about Jesus with the aim to persuade others to follow him, is for our joy. Discipleship, doing intentional good to other Christians so that they’ll become more like Christ, is our joy. The happiest times in my life have been when I’ve been evangelizing and discipling. Joy in our beloved is not complete until it’s expressed and shared. Let’s get busy making ourselves as happy as possible in Jesus by praying, evangelizing and discipling. Prize the real Jesus because he’s the word of life, our fellowship, and our joy.
Now, let’s get back to our friend Jim Walmsley and the Western State 100 endurance run. After running miles off course in the wrong direction and being out of sight for an hour, a crew of photographers finally found Jim lying down on the 105 degree pavement of California’s Highway 49. The crew thought that Jim would surely drop out of the race; he was too off course to get back on the trail and finish. But with the help of his support group and pacers, Jim made his way miles back to the racecourse and completed the western states 100 in less than 20 hours. Friend, maybe you’ve veered off course big time in 2020. Maybe you’ve followed life coach Jesus or angry, distant Jesus to your destruction. I have good news for you. The real Jesus came into the world to save sinners just like you through his perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection. Receive and rest in him and he’ll bring you to the path of eternal life and he’ll never let you go.