“In Light of the Resurrection” on 1 John 5:13-21 – by Joe Ellis — Easter Sunday April 17, 2022
For the past several months, we have been journeying through this letter of First John, and now we’ve come to the end of the letter. In preparing for this Easter Service, I was debating whether to preach this final passage in First John, or to choose a text that has to do more explicitly with the Resurrection. Because there doesn’t seem to be anything in this passage that has to do with Resurrection specifically, I was thinking that maybe we should press pause on working through this letter and choose an Easter scripture passage. I wondered if it would be more fitting for us to reflect on one of the Resurrection stories from the Gospels, or maybe my favourite passage from 1 Corinthians 15, which is perhaps that most beautiful passage on the resurrecting ever penned — the one that ends triumphantly with Paul saying: “Death has been swallowed up in victory! “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is in the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Paul is revelling triumphantly in the fact that as Christians we share in the Resurrection victory of Easter! I wondered if maybe we should have something like that. By comparison, this passage in 1 John seems a bit like a shabby Easter passage. So, I got to thinking, “What makes something an Easter Passage?” How explicitly does it have to be about Resurrection in order to be read on Easter Sunday? Is it possible that the passage we read this morning could count as an Easter text? I think we can — even though it doesn’t outright mention the Resurrection.
Think of it this way. One of the best movies ever made is called “It's a Wonderful Life,” starring my favourite actor, Jimmy Stewart. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. If you are going to watch it, I need to apologize, because what I am about to say is a major spoiler. The main character, George Bailey, was going through some real tough times towards the end of this movie. He believed he was failing his family, his community and his business, and he started thinking some pretty dark thoughts. He started thinking that it might’ve been better if he’s never been born and began thinking he might end it all by jumping off a bridge into an icy river. In the movie, God sends an angel named Clarence to help him out. What Clarence did was transport George Bailey into an alternate world, as if George Bailey never existed. George Bailey’s eyes became opened to all the tragedy and heartache that would have taken place if he were never born. He began to see a world without his influence and was horrified: the people, the places and things he cherished most were destitute — his brother was dead, the town was impoverished, his wife lived a lonely, solitary existence, and it went on and on. George Bailey, horrified, began shouting for Clarence, crying out that he wanted to live, he wanted to go back to his life. Clarence granted his wish — He returned to his family, hugging them, and was again part of his community with a new look on life. He's so happy to be alive!
I started going down that same road with the Resurrection. What would this world be like if the Resurrection never happened? What if Jesus never rose from the dead? Of course, this alternate world would be far more horrifying than what George Bailey saw in his dream. We cannot really fathom what rough shape this world would be in if the most significant event in world history had never occurred. It would not be good. Think of all the beautiful and good Christian lives that have been lived as a result of Christ rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and sending his Spirit to his people. The world would never know the likes of St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa with their obedience to Christ’s command to serve the poor. The world wouldn’t know the likes of William Wilberforce, who was stirred by the Gospel to influence the British Parliament to eradicate slavery. The world wouldn’t have writings like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. The world wouldn’t have the record of the thousands of nameless Christians who have started schools and universities, hospitals, and orphanages. Think about even our own church. If the Resurrection had not happened, we would not be gathering. We would not be an influence in our community and this world. Think of the refugee families this church has sponsored, and the ripple effect of their lives in Canada. Think of the thousands of small, unremarkable, unnoticeable things Christians do for others because of Christ's spirit and his teachings. The way Christians refuse to retaliate, the way they care for the poor, pray for an enemy, share the Good News of Jesus, and speak words of love instead of hate. Imagine a world without a Christian witness.
If the Resurrection had not happened none of this would have happened, I promise you. Take out your Bible. Thumb through the pages until you find the first chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. Now flip to the last chapter of the last book of the Bible — Revelation. If the Resurrection had not happened, if Jesus had not physically rose from the dead, I promise you that we would not have the New Testament. None of that would have been written. There would be no need. Without Resurrection, we would know nothing of Christ and we would know nothing of his teachings. If the Resurrection had not happened, we would certainly not have the letter of 1 John. If the physical event of the Resurrection had not taken place, we would have none of this.
Let’s continue imagining, and imagine that the life of Jesus took place as it did — yet without the culmination of the Resurrection. Imagine that Jesus still taught what he did, he still worked the miracles he worked, he still claimed to be the Messiah, yet without the Resurrection happening. What do you think you’d know about Jesus? To answer that, think about what you know about the other Jewish men who claimed to be the Messiah and were executed by the Roman State. If your mind is drawing a blank, that’s probably what would happen if someone mentioned Jesus of Nazareth if he had stayed dead. A dead Messiah is a failed Messiah. There is no reason to revere, venerate or deify a failed Messiah. Think of all the dead men you don’t know about. Why would you know about Jesus?
Let’s take a walk on the Road to Emmaus, you can find it in Luke 24. There you have these two disciples walking along feeling depressed because, as they said, “We had hoped that Jesus was going to redeem Israel.” If Jesus had stayed dead, that’s as far as things would have gone. Those disciples would have kept walking feeling pretty depressed. Yet, that’s not how that story goes. They don’t know it yet, but they are talking to Jesus, who has risen from the dead. Jesus is walking with them on the road. He begins speaking to them. He shares with them about the necessity for the Son of Man to suffer. About the need for the Messiah to die so he can be resurrected. He teaches them about the Christ as they walk together along that road, into their house and up to the dinner table. Then, at the table Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Luke says, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” That is what the Resurrection does — Resurrection opens our eyes to see what we otherwise would not be able to see.
The Resurrection is like the sun rising on a darkened world. By the light of the sun we can see what otherwise would be in darkness. So, bringing us back to our passage in First John — John is only able to see what he sees and says what he says because of the Resurrection. As John thinks back on the life of Jesus, everything looks different in light of the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection, everything would be darkness and death. Yet everything looks different in light of the risen Son.
As I’ve said throughout this series on John’s first letter, the letter is in many ways a commentary on the Gospel of John, on the teachings and life of Jesus as remembered in John’s Gospel. So, when John says in the passage we heard this morning in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life,” John is only able to say such a thing by the light of the Resurrection. John is only able to talk about the eternal life that we currently enjoy in Christ Jesus because of the Resurrection. If it were not for the Resurrection, John would have simply remember times Jesus spoke of the life he offered with sadness. John likely would have been depressed when he remembered Jesus saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3;16) Had Jesus himself perished and remained dead, nobody would be looking to him for life. Yet by the light of the Resurrection, we are able to see that in Jesus we might too have life. By the light of the Resurrection, John is able to say, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Let’s keep working our way through this passage in John’s letter. Look next where John says in v. 14,15, “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.” John is thinking back to what Jesus said the night He was arrested, when He said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Without the Resurrection, these words would be remembered with great sadness, as words uttered by one who was tragically deluded. Perhaps John would have wondered how he and the rest of the disciples could have been taken in by Jesus for so long. Yet in light of the Resurrection, these words by Jesus to us, commanding us to pray in the name of Jesus, are transformed into words of incomparable power. These are not the words of a failed Messiah, but these are the words of the incarnate Son of God who rose from the dead and conquered all. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. These are words that promise a power to those who believe and trust in His name. These are words that fill us with confidence and boldness, boldness to come before God and intercede on behalf of saints and sinners alike. The one who has risen from the dead, is now seated at the Father’s right hand, and we have His ear. In light of the Resurrection, these words contain a power we can scarcely fathom.
In verse 16, John goes on to say, “If anyone sees a brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” Throughout the New and Old Testament, it is a given that all sin leads to death. That is what sin does, it leads to death. When you read Genesis 3, you’ll see that when sin entered the world, death followed soon thereafter. Yet here, John talks about not all sin leading to death. John is only able to say this by the light of the Resurrection. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus took the punishment for our sins. Yet we only know this because of the Resurrection. Only through the Resurrection does Jesus's death have meaning. Further, because he rose from the dead, this means that our sin does not necessarily lead to death. We die with Jesus for our sin, and we also rise with him! When we sin, and we all sin, we can receive comfort, assurance and hope that our sin does not have the final word. By God’s grace and Spirit, we are empowered to rise out of our life of sin and walk in new life. All passages in the NT are Easter passages!
I want to close with one of the final and most significant truths of the Christian faith. I’m going to quote from the Nicene Creed, one of the earliest statements about who Christians believe God is. The Creed says, “We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all creation, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.” John says essentially this when He says in 1 John 5:20b, “We are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” He is the true God! Again, John is only able to say this in the light of the Resurrection.
Let me take you back to an Easter story in John’s Gospel. After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to all of the disciples. They had locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews. Jesus walked through those locked doors, and said “Peace be with you.” He appeared to all the disciples except Thomas. When they told Thomas about their experience, he responded like any one of us would have, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John then tells us, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your fingers here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” after he encounters the resurrected Messiah. John echoes this at the end of the letter, saying, “He is the true God.”
Thomas, John, and the rest of Christendom are only able to confess this in light of the Resurrection. Only through touching and experiencing Resurrection was our faith born. Today, we are carried into our faith by the Resurrection experiences of those first Christians. If they hadn't experienced the risen Lord in person, we wouldn’t have the Scriptures. Because of their witness, we are able to read about it. We are able to gather together, confess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is light of light, very God of very God. The Resurrection is not simply one aspect of our faith. The Resurrection is not simply a doctrine that we remember once a year on Easter. The Resurrection is the pinnacle and foundation of our faith. The Resurrection illumines every aspect of our hope. The Resurrection illumines who we know God to be, it shows us our hope for eternal life, and it challenges us how to live in the present. The Resurrection is the light through which we see God and each other.