1 John 5:4-10
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
You and I are natural people. We doubt. We doubt what He says. We doubt if He even exists. If we deign to let Him exist, we fashion Him after ourselves, and if He fails our tests for Him by being different than we expect we stop believing in Him. Though you people sitting here are people of faith, nonetheless, moments hit you where you wonder, “What if it is all fake? What if God does not exist?” You harbour those secret doubts in your soul. That is the sin of our age. We would rather worship man and His so called wisdom and the self-abortive culture of death we have created than the God who puts death to death, bringing life for all through His Son. Repent.
To this Jesus answers, “You do not believe in Me? Fine. But do so with the clear warning that you are ignoring what is right in front of you eyes if you do not believe in me. You are being willingly ignorant of established fact. Die to yourself. Believe on Me and be raised to new life in Me.”
For our God has conquered death. Hundreds witnessed Him alive, in multiple locations and instances after He rose. This is not the result of mass hypnosis. It is a historical fact attested by numerous witnesses, even by hostile sources outside of the Bible. It is not a conspiracy of the Eleven remaining disciples whom He sent out. For those cowards, like most common men, fled in fear when the soldiers came for Him. Yet while cowering in fear, with the doors locked, depressed, unsure, disbelieving, those average, fearful, normal men were transformed. They went boldly out of that locked room. They proclaimed this miracle that a man came back to life to the world, to kings, to the powerful. They could not help but speak of what they had seen. Even when threatened, imprisoned, beaten, flogged, exiled, and killed (for all but one of them died for this message) they could not be shut up. They had to speak of this Master of theirs who against all odds had come back to life proving Himself the Master of death. He is the speaker of life and truth. He bends the physical laws of the universe to His will, for He is their creator, redeemer, and master.
What could compel them to give up their lives for this? What impelled them to keep speaking even when suffering and death were imminent? It is certainly not an elaborate hoax. If it was it was the worst conspiracy ever. For though over the ages many have benefited from preaching Jesus risen from the dead, not these guys. They did not enjoy worldly wealth because of it. Nor was their health greatly improved or their life span lengthened! Nor did they receive the many "benefits" of fame such as womanly companionship, for these men preached and practiced a level of commitment to their wives and physical chastity that is considered foolish and prudish today.
What compelled them to preach this man as Lord and Christ? Nothing but the fact that they were convinced by what they had seen and heard. They could not help but give witness to what they had seen.
John writes that Jesus did many other signs that are not written in this book but these are written that you should believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and so that believing you should have life in His name.
What signs was John convinced would cause you to believe? Two in particular that we heard this morning. First, that Jesus is risen from the dead, conquering death. He is not merely some phantom, not some ghost, but a living, breathing, physical man who eats, who really had died, who had fatal scars that left marks, great holes through His wrists you could put your finger through and a spear-shaped pocket in His flesh you could put your hand in. It happened. His own disciples who had heard Him say it would happen did not believe it. But they became convinced not merely that He was a live again, but that He was their GOD, the creator of all, the saviour of all. This is why they preached.
That was the first and foremost sign that should give you faith. But even though His resurrection is a fact of history, many do not believe He is God’s answer for sin. And so He who has all authority in heaven and on earth left another sign that gives faith. First, He exercised His authority to turn His own body into a vessel for your sin, a vessel of wrath committed to destruction by God His Father, so that the eternal destruction your sin merits would be turned away from you and poured out on cross of Calvary. That skull shaped hill with His cross like a dagger sticking out of it is the sign to the world that eternal death is dead. No one need die eternally. Death’s power is gone. There is no need to fear death. But the second sign that we heard about this morning is the one that gives and sustains faith. The sign is that He gave His authority to men to forgive sins. So that when those eleven disciples proclaimed people forgiven in Jesus’ name and they really were. And they passed that authority to others. That means that His death destroying power is in the hands of His Church. His Church’s sent ones have power to free souls from eternal death (or power to bind souls in eternal death as long as they do not repent).
That is the sign that gives and strengthens faith: the proclamation that your sins are forgiven. A proclamation that delivers what it says. Your sins really are gone. You are innocent before God. Your heart believes it! It is true. What a sign! Death is defeated. Life is granted.
And because of this sign, now though people on earth may be living dead, rotting, zombie half-lives, when Christ’s word is proclaimed, for some of them their skin is restored, new life is granted to them, their mind and flesh are quickened! And of course no one who receives such a conversion, such a gift, just goes back to lurching around eating brains as they were before. No. Such a change really changes you. You are different.
But since on this side of the Resurrection of all flesh we still have that undead desire called sin lurking in our members we can, and we do, forget who we are. We go back to our deathly biting and clawing at the living. We forget that we were once alive. We forget who is our life, our eternal, physical resurrection on the Last Day. We live as though we are still just zombies with nothing better than lurching around the world looking for fresh brains or whatever has caught our attention at that moment.
That’s why that second sign is so important. Because until the eternal resurrection of our bodies we have a spiritual resurrection to undergo regularly. Life needs to be imparted to our scabby souls by this Word of Christ proclaimed by His sent ones.
And there is not merely one witness of death’s defeat on the cross but three. The Holy Spirit flowing from the power laden Word of Christ gives life when heard. It imparts life to the water poured over our heads and the blood poured down our throats. These three signs bear witness and are one in agreement that anyone who receive these signs has the Son of God in himself, which is to say, through them you have life in yourself. These witnesses are powerful for it is not merely men’s witness of what they have seen, it is God’s testimony to you of what He has done: water, blood, and Spirit crying out from within you that though you lurch back and forth between your real life and the undead life of this planet, God’s witnesses are within you unleashing His life upon you. You will not be able to stop what He works in you. Life, everlasting life that starts here and now is yours.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON