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Jesus has been under attack in our world for many years. I invite you to consider the first four verses of 1 John. These verses contend that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Although much of our culture disagrees with this idea and poses clever arguments against it, this passage shows that Jesus Christ fits the qualifications for being fully God and fully man.
The attack on Jesus Christ is carried on both overtly and covertly. Overtly, we hear people using the name of Jesus in hard swearing and slang cussing. Covertly, the music, the news media, and the books of our culture carry a subversive element that mines away at the person and character of Jesus Christ. His name is polarizing, and when His name is used in public, charges of exclusivity are raised. The speaker is blamed for excluding others by saying Jesus is the way to God. Those who use the name of Jesus with respect are accused of discrimination and divisiveness. Bringing Jesus into a conversation often creates tension, making people uncomfortable.
You’ve no doubt seen the bumper sticker that says “Coexist.” It uses symbols to spell out the word. The first symbol is the star and crescent representing Islam. The second symbol, popularly known as the peace symbol, originated in the counterculture of the 1960s. The third symbol, an “e” with an arrow and cross off of it, suggests different meanings to different people. Some say it shows the necessity for cooperation between males and females. Others see it as a plea for gay rights. The fourth symbol is the six-pointed star representing Judaism. The fifth symbol is an “i” with a pentagram above it. The pentagram is used by the Baha’i religion and by Wiccans as well. Satanists use an upside-down pentagram. The second from the last symbol is used by both Daoism and Confucianism to represent the energy of life, the yin and the yang. That’s Eastern religion. Finally, the symbol at the end is the cross of Christ.
Recently, another bumper sticker appeared that says, “Take that Coexist bumper sticker off your car because it is ridiculous.” This message recognizes the competing ideas of these religions and that they’ll never get along because of the differing beliefs they represent.
Well, the implication of the Coexist bumper sticker is that we should all just get along. Everyone should lay down any discrimination, divisiveness, or exclusivity because Jesus can be one among many ways to God.
Jesus also was under attack in the Apostle John’s world. In his letter, the apostle fights tooth and nail for truth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He exposes false teachers who were threatening the young church in his time.
John addresses a long-standing menace known as Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed a person experienced salvation through special knowledge. They taught that a radical dualism exists between God, who is spirit, and the world, which is material. Historically, Gnosticism was divided into two camps based on that dualism. Both groups maintained that the human body is evil. The one group, believing salvation for this evil body is attained by treating the body harshly, promoted asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1–3). The other group concluded that because the spirit remains holy, separate from the body, the body may do whatever it desires. According to this group, the body can live licentiously, muck around in the mud, and do whatever it wants to do, enjoying all manner of sensuality. It’s like a piece of gold that falls into a mud puddle. The gold is still gold, and the mud doesn’t affect the gold. We see this view addressed in 1 John 2.
Because they believed the material world is evil, the Gnostics taught that the Son of God never actually became man. Some of them, called Docetists, said the Son’s body was only an illusion—not a true human body. Other Gnostics said that the Son of God possessed the body of an actual human named Jesus but then abandoned this body before the crucifixion, leaving the hapless man Jesus to be crucified. Then there was Cerinthus, who taught that Jesus was just a man, not a spirit—not God, just a man.
As you can see, false views of Jesus have been around for a long time. Many current views are old ideas that have been reinvented many times in the last 2000 years.
In our day, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the eternal existence of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was begotten of God as His first and highest creation.
The Jewish religion refuses to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Many Jews are still waiting, anticipating the day when the Temple Mount in Jerusalem will be brought back under Jewish control. They believe the temple then will be rebuilt to their standards of what the temple should be, and temple sacrifices will be reinstated. However, the book of Hebrews, written specifically for the Jews, makes it sparkling clear that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and the only way to God. But the Jews are still waiting.
A Jewish soldier who had been attending Christian services heard much about the character and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. He went to his rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, the Christians say Christ is already come, but we as Jews say He is yet to come.”
“Yes,” said the rabbi.
“Well,” asked the young soldier, “when our Christ comes, how will he be better than Jesus Christ?”
That’s a very good question. How could you improve on Jesus Christ? What could the rabbi say?
We must know what we believe about Jesus. Many in our world are confused. Multitudes are unsure what to think about Jesus. Some say He was a good man but not God. That is a ridiculous statement. If Jesus was just a good man, His claims about Himself are fantastic absurdities. Others say Jesus likely was a fraud. But Jesus’ enemies show that they did not think He was a fraud. Their recorded testimonies prove otherwise.
Still others say Jesus was a myth, a fabrication. But Otto Betts, a German professor and New Testament scholar, says, “No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.” In other words, if you venture to say that Jesus did not exist, you cannot be serious. Nobody who has really studied the question dares to say that Jesus didn’t actually live. The evidence is too great. So we can’t just say Jesus is a myth, a fairy tale, if we want to be honest with ourselves.
Many years ago at an assembly of ministers, the late Dr. Mason and Dr. Channing were present. Dr. Channing was strongly suspected of having Unitarian tendencies.
Dr. Mason asked, “Dr. Channing, how long have you been in the ministry?”
“Sir, may I ask you once again, what are your views of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
Dr. Channing hesitated, and then his face began to flush. He was embarrassed and finally said, “I have pondered the subject deeply but have not exactly made up my mind.”
I hope we are not in that position. We must be clear about who Jesus is.
Some preachers of the Gospel emphasize the deity of Christ and minimize his humanity. Because He was not really like us, they say, we cannot really live the life He lived. Others deny His deity and, like Thomas Jefferson, try to imitate His matchless example through human effort. However, the New Testament repeatedly presents Jesus Christ as completely God and completely man.
Alexander Mackenzie said:
In my earlier days—and yet I was old enough to be a lecturer in Andover Theological Seminary—I wanted a new way of teaching my students the doctrine of Christ, so I came up with this idea. I thought I would tell them to get a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column, they would write every passage where Christ is spoken of as God-man. In the second column, they would list all the passages where Christ is spoken of as God alone, just God without reference to His humanity. In the third column, they would list all the places where Jesus is spoken of as man alone without reference to His deity.
Mackenzie was shocked to find that the balance sheet was in fact very unbalanced. It had numerous passages referring to Jesus as God and many passages referring to Jesus as God-man. “But,” he said, “I couldn’t find any passage that referenced Jesus only as man.”
In the first verse in our text, the Apostle John describes himself as a witness. Imagine a courtroom with you as the judge. Imagine evidence being presented. I wonder what you would think if a witness came forward and said, “I heard from so and so that this is what happened.” As the judge, would you accept that kind of evidence? When we were growing up, weren’t we all warned to be careful about hearsay? That kind of evidence is pretty shaky and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Well, how about a witness who says, “Your Honor, my guess is that this is the way it happened. I think you should listen to me.”
The judge probably would not even chuckle. With a wave of the hand, he likely would say, “Be gone.” Assumptions. Rumors. These are not the kinds of things judges want to hear in a courtroom.
Please read 1 John 1:1–4. John is a true witness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Note the phrasing of the first verse: “That which was from the beginning.” This phrase carries not the slightest hint that the Word, which is Jesus, had a beginning. John simply says, “That which was from the beginning.”
John is referencing the eternality of Jesus, insisting that Jesus always was. John says He “was,” not He “became.” That is important. Jesus didn’t start to exist at the beginning. This is mentioned again in verse 2 with the words “which was with the Father.” Thus, the eternal aspect of Jesus is referenced twice in the first sentence.
Next, John substantiates his reliability as a witness. First he says, “This is what we have heard ourselves.” Then, as further proof, he says it is also that “which we have seen with our eyes.”
Third, John says Jesus is that “which we have looked upon.” The term he uses is a strong one that means he was able to examine something up close. If I stand at the other end of a football field, you can’t very well see how big my nose is. But if I am close to you, then you may suddenly say to yourself, “Wow! I didn’t notice that before.” You see, you’ve had an opportunity to examine the evidence.
Likewise, John says, “We have heard Him ourselves. We have not only seen, but we have had opportunity to examine Him with our own eyes.” That’s good evidence.
Finally, John describes Jesus as that “which our hands have handled.” Prosecutors and defense attorneys often bring specialists into the courtroom who take a piece of evidence, perhaps a rifle shell, and say, “Your Honor, here is the physical evidence. We have handled it, and this is our conclusion based on a close physical examination of this tangible object.” Judges characteristically view this as strong evidence to be considered.
That’s what John is telling us here. He says, “We ourselves have heard, we have seen, we have had opportunity to examine, and we have handled the evidence.” Physically we have handled Christ, the Word of Life. Wow! Can you touch God?
John says, “We did! Our hands have handled the Word of Life.”
The confusion in our world is great about who Jesus was. Do we have eyewitness testimony? Do we have people who handled the evidence and left the record for us? Yes, we do. And it doesn’t come from some auto-generator speculating about who Jesus is or could have been or should be.
John says, “I was there. I know.” That kind of evidence can hardly be ignored, and we shouldn’t ignore it. The facts about Julius Caesar, for example, are hardly based on better evidence, yet nobody questions them.
On the other hand, Joseph Smith, who penned The Book of Mormon, said, “I saw a vision.” That would be poor evidence in a courtroom, poor evidence for someone who wants facts. That’s not what we are looking for. But here we have a man who says, “I have physical evidence as a credible witness to Truth.”
In verse 2, John insists that he saw the Life he describes in verse 1. He says, “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life.”
This Life was revealed when Christ came in actual human flesh. This Life did not begin to exist at the incarnation but was revealed in the incarnation. During the physical existence of Jesus on earth, this eternal Life was revealed to us. That’s mind shattering—eternal Life visible to us in human form! In the first chapter of the Gospel that John wrote, verse 4, he explains that “in him was life; and the life was the light of men.” John found this real Life in fellowship with Jesus, according to 1 John 1:3. So that’s the objective—fellowship with the eternal Christ.
Stating his second objective in verses 3 and 4 of 1 John 1, John says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” He goes on to explain his reason for presenting this evidence. He in essence says, “If you believe as we believe—that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, and God—then you have fellowship with us.
Then John says, no doubt with a smile on his face, “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
A paraphrase of what John is saying might go like this, “I know. I have the evidence in my heart that my fellowship is with God the Father and with Jesus Christ Himself.” He is saying in a roundabout way, “If you believe as we believe, then we have unity of mind. We have agreement of the faith. And guess where that puts you? In fellowship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ! You indeed join the ranks of the believers who are now in direct communion with God.”
Verse 3 continues with this mind-boggling objective—fellowship with God Himself! By the way, the word for fellowship is koinonia, a popular word in the 1970s and 1980s, especially among Pentecostal believers. Used three times in Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, koinonia is variously translated as “communion, “to share with,” “to go back and forth with,” “to have that common unity.” That’s the reality described in verse 3. John is saying, “If you believe in Jesus Christ, that’s the key to fellowship with God the Father.” His words also clearly imply that if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as God, you don’t have fellowship with the Father.
“God made flesh” is a great miracle. But I suggest that God having fellowship with you is an even greater miracle. I can kind of imagine God becoming flesh. Yet my mind can’t completely comprehend even that. But when I stop and think about God having fellowship and communion with me, that’s even harder to grasp. He is so different from me—perfect! But He wants that fellowship. He wants that communion with me. It is made possible through Jesus Christ. He is the only liaison, the only go-between who can bring us together with God.
This reminds me of the story about a Persian king who sat with a lowly worker in his house. When the worker realized who his guest was, he said, “You may give gifts to others, but to me you gave yourself.” That’s what Jesus did. That’s what God did when He sent Jesus. He gave Himself.
Verse 4 explains the result of this fellowship with God Himself. John says, “These things write we unto you that your joy might be full!”
That’s exciting—joy complete and full! You want fullness of joy? Recognize both the deity and the humanity of Christ. Without His deity, He can’t save us. Without His humanity, His sacrifice won’t suffice. He must be one of us. Only God could originate such a plan.
“That your joy may be full!” I want to emphasize that you can’t have joy in your heart, not the deep, true joy that God gives, unless you come through Jesus. He is the only Way.
The words of Joseph Smith or Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are poorly substantiated. But John is saying, “We bring you concrete evidence. This is the way it is. You must come through Jesus—He who is fully God and fully man. John convincingly combats false doctrines with his facts as a firsthand observer.
In the remainder of 1 John, he points us to the way of Christ, calling us to practice what Jesus clearly taught. We find the clear teachings of Jesus in such scriptures as Matthew 5, 6, and 7. But some say, “Those teachings are for a utopia, the Kingdom of God in the future. They are impossible for sinful ‘believers’ to practice now.”
No, true believers through the centuries have insisted that Jesus taught us to follow Him, to be like Him—now! They found that as believers give themselves up to Him in complete surrender, He works in them and changes them.
Jesus is the foundation, but He is also the pinnacle. Jesus is the center of it all, but He is also the circumference of everything, holding it all together. Jesus is the starting point, but He is also the culmination of all things. Jesus is All in All. Thus, His character and His example are given as a pattern for us. This is not just a theory, an ungrounded idea spun from questionable evidence. It is not idealistic, something beyond our grasp. It is not moral relativism taught by those who say, “Everything is negotiable, and what is true to you may not necessarily be true for me.” It is not a pragmatic humanism that says, “Well, just do whatever works for you to get you to God.” Without Jesus, we have nothing.
Jesus is the key to knowing God. Jesus is the key to true living. Jesus is the key to real joy. Jesus is the key to reaching heaven. We must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.
Finally, a look at Luke 24, beginning with verse 36, shows us something exciting. Jesus appears to His disciples, shocking them. Their Messiah had died, and they believe He is in the grave. But here He is—alive! Can they believe their eyes? As they talk among themselves, Jesus stands in their midst and says, “Peace!” They are terrified, fearing this to be a spirit, a ghost. So Jesus questions them and then offers them physical evidence (verses 39 and 40). We read in verses 41 to 43 that Jesus takes a physical piece of food, puts it in His physical mouth, chews it with His physical teeth, and swallows. Then He talks to them again. As He finishes His words, He lifts up His hands and blesses them. While doing so, His whole body goes up with His hands, right off the ground and into the sky. Are the disciples terrified all over again? No, they are not! Look what verse 52 says. They went back to town with “great joy!” They had positive proof in front of them that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the body of Jesus standing in that room with them didn’t convince them that He was God, then surely His ascension into heaven must have been the final proof. He disappeared from their view right into heaven!
Observe the result—great joy! Our world would be characterized by joy if its people recognized Jesus as fully God and fully man, which is the only way to knowing God and having communion with Him! The disciples were convinced and filled with great joy! Our world needs Jesus. Believers must not be ashamed to put the name of Jesus out there in the public forum. It will bring tension and discomfort for some, but it is the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.