Believe the Witnesses (1 John 5)
St. John writes this morning, "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son" (v9). What is the testimony of God? "For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree" (vv7-8). God's testimony is threefold: the Spirit, the water and the blood. The Catechism asks the question about Baptism, "How can water do such great things?" We remember the answer (SC IV III; Titus 3:5-8):
- "Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God's Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: 'He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.'"
These three things--the Spirit, the water and the blood--come together in Baptism to make it a life-giving water that brings God's testimony to us through His saints. Let's set our minds on God's testimony through these witnesses and see where it takes us.
We receive man's testimony for so many things. Should we not listen to what God has said more often? St. John tells us, "Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar" (v10). By not believing the testimony of the three witnesses, you say God is a liar. Think about it for a moment. Fishing opener was last weekend. We understand fishing stories. Fishermen tend to exaggerate their stories. You're not inclined to believe their fish stories.
But God's Word is not a fish story. "It is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23), but also "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). God's testimony is the proclamation of the Law against hardened sinners and the Gospel to the penitent. Those who hear God's testimony in faith the Holy Spirit draws closer to Jesus. Those who hear it without faith are kept at arm's length from Jesus. Jesus only calls to be with Himself those who believe in Him. Only those who respond in faith are brought into His midst and given the great power of God's testimony.
Those who don't believe the witnesses of the Spirit, the water and the blood find any and every excuse they can not to be in worship, receiving their Lord's gifts. They don't believe that Christians need to be TOGETHER to worship. But Jesus said, "Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them also" (Matthew 18:20). So, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples went back to the upper room and "with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).
As summer approaches, the three witnesses brought to you in your Baptism beckon you to be in worship with your brothers and sisters. You still have time to get out onto the lake after ten and not lose out on much. The fish will still be there. Your jet skis and boats can still be used. Being in your Father's house for an hour on Sunday isn't a burden. It's a joyous time of receiving and giving back God's great blessings. When you go on vacation, find a church to go to while on vacation. If you need help, I can point you towards nearby churches. Might even have to be an hour-long one-way commute, like our Sunday morning excursion from Yellowstone last year. Nothing should get in your way of being where the witnesses call you closer to the God who created and saved you.
Cole, Devin and Kyle, a big challenge stands before you. As you enter college, the challenge will be tougher, the temptation will be greater to skip church on Sunday morning. Mom and Dad aren't there to say, "It's time to get up for church." You're all on your own. It's all up to you to get up and get ready for church on Sunday morning. It's a testing of what I tried to instill and drill into your hearts and minds before I confirmed you four years ago. Four years ago, you stood before this congregation and confessed that the faith you had been taught is YOUR faith and not your parents' faith. You stood before the congregation and vowed that nothing--not even death--would separate you from your Savior and from hearing His testimony and receiving the gifts of His body and blood. College will test your faith and your will. Whether it's wanting to sleep in on Sunday morning or professors attacking your Christian faith or regular ol' peer pressure, you WILL be challenged. Let these three witnesses John brings before you this morning take root in you that you may stand firm. That you may be like God wants you to be (Psalm 1):
- Blessed is the man
- who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
- nor stands in the way of sinners,
- nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
- but his delight is in the Law of YHWH,
- and on His Law he meditates day and night.
- He is like a tree
- planted by streams of water
- that yields its fruit in its season,
- and its leaf does not wither.
- In all that he does, he prospers.
- The wicked are not so,
- but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
- Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
- nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
- for YHWH knows the way of the righteous,
- but the way of the wicked will perish.
Jesus wants you to be firmly planted in His truth. He gave us three witnesses to believe. Those who believe the witnesses have everlasting life. So believe the witnesses: the Spirit-breathed Word of God; the water of Baptism; the blood of Jesus that makes each of them effective. The Holy Spirit breathed God's Word to His prophets so that we might learn His will. David prophesied Judas' betrayal of Christ in the Psalms(Acts 1:16-22; Psalm 69:25; 109:8). This Spirit-breathed Word makes ordinary water a Baptism. Without God's Word the water is just plain water and not a Baptism. But God's Word makes it a life-giving water that brings salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus brings you salvation. Salvation is yours because you believe the witnesses. Faith is not your own creation or work. God gives you faith through the Word and the blood in the water. Faith makes you a disciple of Jesus Christ and brings you into everlasting life.
St. John wrote his first epistle with one simple purpose: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life" (v13). John writes this entire epistle to remind you of the great gift you have. John writes the epistle to remind you that God loves you. He writes the epistle so that your faith may be strengthened through his encouragement. He writes the epistle so that you know your victory over sin, death and the devil is sure and certain because you follow the One who has defeated death, hell and the devil forever. Believe the witnesses. They point you back to Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen and ascended for you. Amen.