That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write these things to make our joy complete (1 John 1: 1–4).
Christianity is rooted and grounded in the reality of geography and history. We are not mystics. We are not feel good hippies. Christianity is not merely a philosophy of life; it does not simply offer psychological comfort to unhappy people. On the contrary, the message of the Christian Gospel is founded upon real Person who came from eternity, assumed our humanity, and dwelt in reality. Our faith does not rest upon abstract ideas or wishful thinking; rather, our faith rests upon a real man; the man who is God. The reason you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of lost mankind, is because it is true. The message we proclaim is a Person. Our message is Jesus Christ Himself — the Word of Life — whom John had seen with his own eyes, and looked upon as he was crucified, and had touched with his own hands. There is a reality to this message. It is not abstract. It’s not speculation. It is real. It is authentic. It is personal. The Apostle Paul could say, ‘We preach Christ’. My friends, we lose sight of the Gospel when we lose sight of the Lord Jesus. He is the sum, the centre, the very heartbeat of our faith. Our message is real. It is grounded in the narrative of Scripture. The shepherds who came to the manger looked upon the Son of God and held Him in their hands. The wise men came to visit the holy child; they looked upon Him and offered Him gifts. When Jesus gave His parents the slip in Jerusalem, the religious leaders in the temple heard the voice of the God-man as He spoke with them about His heavenly Father. His disciples and followers listened to Him as He preached the Sermon on the Mount, they heard Him preach the Good News, and they were amazed by the One who spoke with such authority and power. We are talking about things that really happened. We are talking about a person who really lived and died and rose again. The Christian Gospel is about a real person who could be heard, seen, and even touched.
John, the author of this letter, is the disciple whom Jesus loved; the one who leaned upon the Lord Jesus at the last supper and felt the beat of His heart. He was the son of Zebedee, the brother of James; He was formerly a fisherman upon the Sea of Galilee, but He became a fisher of men to win lost sinners for Jesus. The Gospel of John, and these letters, and the book of Revelation were written by a man who personally knew the Lord Jesus Christ. He was one of His apostles and a dear friend to our Lord. So we are not talking about a paper pack novel here. The message of John is not fiction, it’s not sci-fi, it’s not fantasy. It is truth. The first letter of John was written for congregations across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the late first century after the death of our Lord. That’s what I mean when I say we are talking about geography and history. We are dealing with facts. We are dealing with reality. John was an eye-witness to the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He had seen the Lord Christ heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead. He saw the glory of His transfiguration. He saw the face of our Lord shine with brightness of a thousand suns. He had seen that the Lord Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature; He had seen the face of the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power. He saw the bloody sweat, tears and the agony of our Saviour in the Garden. He heard Him crying out in Gethsemane to His heavenly Father. He saw the blood trickle down His face where the crown of thorns had been pressed into His head. He watched as the nails were driven into the hands and feet of the Lord of Glory. He saw the King of the universe crucified, dead, and buried. He saw the risen Lord Jesus. He touched Him. He saw the nail prints in His hands and feet and the scar of the wound where the spear had been thrust into His side. He even ate breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus. He saw the face of the One who had conquered sin, death and hell forever.
Our Gospel is grounded in sense experience. It is based upon empirical evidence. John had heard the Lord Jesus, seen the Lord Jesus, looked upon Him, and even touched Him. These things are so real as to be tangible. Now we may not be able to see and touch the Lord Jesus today, but we have a written record of these wonderful truths in the Bible. ‘These things are written,’ says John, ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name’ (John 20: 31). That is why John wrote His Gospel, that’s why He wrote these letters, that’s why he calls Him the Word of Life, and that is why He wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Christianity does not ask you to abandon your reason and ‘just believe’. I am not asking you to give up your intellect and make a leap of faith in the dark. I urge rather to consider Christ, consider His person and work, read His Gospels, read the letters, read about Jesus Christ, think about Him this day as you hear the Word of Life preached, and then ask yourself: ‘what am I going to do with this man Jesus Christ?’
1] Firstly, we learn that the Lord Jesus is from eternity (v. 1a). The text says, ‘That which was from the beginning’. Now the message and the person, as far as John is concerned, are ultimately one and the same thing. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Good News. He is the message we proclaim. He is the Word of Life. He is the great Sermon of the Church. And so John is saying that the Lord Jesus Christ was from the beginning. He is taking us back to opening words of His Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1: 1–3). The Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is one with the Father and the Spirit. They are co-equal and co-eternal. He was there in the beginning, before space was fashioned, before time began, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of Life, was there with the Father and the Spirit. The Lord Christ is eternally divine. It was by the word of His power that universe was made. The Word of Life is God the Son, the Creator of the vast Cosmos, and the Saviour of the World.
The theologians would say that John has a Christology from above. He begins in eternity. He begins with the deity of our Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ was there from before the foundation of the world; He was there at the beginning of all things; He was there before the stars were made; before the galaxies spiralled out and formed this vast cosmos; He was there before the singularity; before the beginning of time. He was there in fellowship with His Father and the Holy Spirit even from the depths of eternity past before all worlds were made. We sing this truth in our hymns:
Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son,
God manifestly seen and heard,
And heaven’s beloved one.
It’s a glorious thought! At the back of all created reality stands an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Person – even the Word of Life, our blessed Lord Jesus. Christianity is not an impersonal religion. It’s not an abstract philosophy. Christianity is grounded rather in an absolute personality – the infinite personal Son of God whom we can know and love by faith. There is nothing worse in life than loneliness. It’s a horrible thing. You feel unloved, isolated, and miserable. The atheist wants us to believe that we simply a cosmic accident; the by-product of a chaotic universe; that we are completely alone in this vast cosmos. He says in his heart, there is no God. For him, reality is simply a vast, bleak expanse of emptiness. We here for moment and then snuffed out of existence forever. That is all we have.
Surely, my friends, we must see that John is right. Is the human personality simply the result of time plus chance, or are we not rather the creation of an infinite-personal God? How do we explain that we are here in this universe as personal beings? How do we explain art and music, society, culture, science, and football? If we are simply a cosmic accident, then what’s the point? Why bother? Why live each day? Why is it so unreasonable to say that there is an eternal God who has made us, and loves us, and longs that we come to know Him by faith? The Christian believes that we were created for a purpose; to know and love this infinite and eternal Person; to serve Him and live for His glory. We ask these grand questions: what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is my purpose? As far as John is concerned, man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; to glorify the loving Lord Jesus was there in beginning with God, and who indeed is very God of very God; the eternal Son of the Father’s love.
And He is always there, He has always been, and forever shall be. He is always ready to listen to us. You may feel you have no one to talk to, you may feel completely lonely and helpless, without God and without hope in the world, but Jesus Christ is there and He is ever ready to listen to your prayers. Why not approach Him in faith and find in Him an eternal friend who sticks closer than a brother? You’ll find in Him an infinite person, the One who is the same today, yesterday, and forever; a friend who will never let you down. ‘Him that cometh to me’, He says, ‘I will in no wise cast out’. Why not come to the eternal Lord Jesus today and find in Him everlasting rest for your soul? He is the Word of Life; ‘In Him is life and that life is the light of men’ (John 1: 4a). He says, ‘Everyone who believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life’. ‘Look unto me’, He says, ‘all the ends of the earth, and be saved, for I am God and there is none else’. Salvation is found in Him alone. Eternal life can only be given by the eternal Son of God. Complete joy, everlasting happiness, fellowship with God, and a home in eternity – these things are found in Jesus only. My friend, what are you waiting for? It is the most unreasonable thing in the world not to commit your life to Him? Will you not bow before the Lord Jesus and say ‘You are my Lord and my God’? My friend, you will never go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as the eternal God.
2] Secondly, we learn that the Lord Jesus came into history (v. 1b). He is from eternity; He came into history. John says, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched’. Go back as far as you can imagine, before anything, before everything, and you will find the eternal Son co-existing with the Father and Spirit, before all worlds were made. The Word of Life did not come into existence as the baby child in Bethlehem; He had already existed from the very beginning; from eternity, He had enjoyed a personal, face to face, love-relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He didn’t become God at some point in time. He has always been God. But He came into history. I am reminded once again of the words from John’s Gospel, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1: 14). He was not always flesh. He was not always a man. But He was always God. What John is saying is that the infinite, eternal, creator God came into space and time, took a body, and dwelt among us. He became flesh. The everlasting Word assumed a human nature. There was no subtraction of deity; only the addition of frail humanity. He didn’t give up being God when He became flesh. Remaining what He eternally was, He assumed a human nature. He became a real man. He took a real body and a reasonable soul. He came into the reality of history. He came into space and time. He came to Bethlehem in Judea and dwelt among us 2000 years ago. Paul says that ‘when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law’ (Galatians 4: 4). The eternal Son of God came into this world as a little child.
Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies.
The child in the manger was a Supernatural Person. That’s the real miracle of the incarnation. The baby at Bethlehem was the Son of God in the flesh. There was never a moment when the Word of Life was not God, but there was a very definite moment when He appeared in the flesh. Yes His glory was veiled, yes His majesty was hidden from human eye, but that little child in the manger was upholding the universe by the word of His power. Here is God incognito. He came undercover on a mission to rescue sinners of lost mankind and bring them back to God.
In our text, John is emphasising the reality of the incarnation by saying we heard Him, we saw Him, we looked upon Him, we touched Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was a real man. There was no unearthly glow about Him; there was no halo about His head. He was a real man. He had hair, skin, nails, teeth, bones, lungs, capillaries and organs like us all. He had a human heart, a human soul, a human mind, a human psychology. He was in every way a true man of reasonable body and soul, but this wondrous man of whom we tell was true almighty God. We believe that He is fully God and fully man in one glorious person. He is not half God and half man. He is not a demigod. He is not like Hercules or the Pharaohs of Egypt. He is very God of very God, and He is now a very real man. He is God and so mighty to save us. He is man and so gentle to sympathise with us. He is not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man; upon whose Almighty saving arm we can rest and to whose compassionate heart we may appeal. His humanity means that He was fit to represent us, to keep the law for us, to go to the cross for us, to suffer and even die for us. He entered into full identification with fallen men and women (yet He was pure and without sin), and He carried our sins and our sorrows, He made them His very own, and He faced the wrath of God in our stead as our substitute upon Calvary, and thereby He procured an eternal redemption for all those who put their trust in Him. His perfect deity and true humanity mean that His obedience and sacrifice are of an infinite value for the people of God. You sins may be great indeed, but His saving love is greater still.
The miracle of the incarnation is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who created the vast starry heavens, the One spoke light into being, the One who formed man out of the dust of the earth, came into space and time, was born as a little child, to rescue sinners of mankind lost. This child grew in wisdom and stature, and throughout the whole course of His life He lived in perfect obedience to His heavenly Father. We have failed God. We have broken every law. We have smashed every commandment. We are sinners, condemned and unclean. But the Lord Christ was spotless in every way. ‘He fulfilled all righteousness’ (Matthew 3: 15). The Lord Christ did everything which the Law of God required. He obeyed the Law on our behalf. Where we were disobedient, He was obedient. And His obedience extended even to His death. He lived the life that we should have lived, and He died the death that we deserved to die. Paul says to the Philippians, ‘And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death upon a cross’ (Philippians 2: 8). You see, the incarnation alone was not enough to save us; the Lord Jesus had to go to the cross and face the wrath of a holy God in our place. You will never understand the cradle without the cross. You will never understand the incarnation without the crucifixion. Our guilt, our sin, our shame was transferred and imputed to Him and He suffered the penalty which was due to us upon the cross. He suffered as a real man. The Lord of glory was crucified. He suffered the agony of Calvary in His own body. The nails driven through His hands and feet caused excruciating pain; the cross made breathing immensely difficult and painful. He suffered psychologically; He heard the mocking crowds and the insults of the Roman soldiers. He could hear His mother weeping. And He suffered spiritually, in the depths of His being. He faced the wrath of a sin-hating God and in my place; he was condemned in the sinner’s room, and He sealed my pardon with His blood. ‘God made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5: 21). The stain of sin could not be removed without His blood: ‘For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins’ (Hebrews 9: 22). The Lord Christ came into the reality of history. He came into space and time. He came to a place called Jerusalem and was crucified outside the walls of the city at Golgotha – the place of the skull. We are not dealing here with mysticism. We are not dealing with hocus pocus religion. These things truly happened at a particular moment in space and time. The Lord Christ died as a sacrifice for sin 2000 years ago upon a cross of wood. It was so real that if you were there at that time, you could have seen with your own eyes the cross of wood, you could have heard the crowds mocking, and the soldiers cursing, you could have watched as the Lord of Glory bled, and suffered, and died for sinners of lost mankind.
John emphasises the reality of these things. ‘I saw Him’, He says, ‘I saw Him in the Garden in an agony for my sins. I heard Him cry in anguish from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”(Matthew 27: 46). And I looked upon Him as He was crucified for sins not His own. And I watched as He struggled to breathe, and bled from hands, and feet, and side. And I saw the King of Glory crucified, dead, and buried. And I saw that great big stone they rolled over the tomb where His body lay. And I saw the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes’. My friends, ‘could John ever forget the invitation of the risen Lord to His bewildered and frightened disciples, who were convinced they were seeing a Ghost? “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24: 39)’ (David Jackman). There is a glory to be seen in these things. John says in the Gospel, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory; glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1: 14). Oh my friend, have you seen the beauty and glory of Christ? There was glory in His birth, and glory in His life, and glory in the Garden, and glory on the cross, and there was glory in tomb, and glory in that upper room. Have you seen it? Have you seen His glory? Moses great desire was for God to show His glory. ‘Show me thy glory’, He said. That was His prayer. Have you said that? Will you make that your prayer? Oh Lord, give a sight and sense of Thy glory!
The Lord Jesus Christ is the most blessed, the most glorious, the most wonderful man who has ever lived. He is altogether lovely. He is the lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon. His hair is white like wool, His eyes are a flame of fire, His feet glow like burnished bronze and His voice is the roar of many waters. He is the fairest among ten thousand. He is great and glorious. He is merciful and mighty. He is worthy to be loved, and worshipped, and adored. He is worthy indeed to receive the best of our love – the cream of it; the quintessence of our affections. Will you not love Him? Will you not worship Him? Will you not come and bow the knee before Him? Why not come to Him? He desires to save lost sinners. He took such pains to come and rescue lost mankind. He says, ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. Come now, come today, come and find a Saviour glorious. Come and see the glory of the King!
3] Thirdly, we learn that the Lord Jesus was proclaimed by the Apostles and the early Christians (v. 2–3a). The Church of Jesus Christ is a missionary Church. The first Christians couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. John says, ‘the life was made manifest to us, and we have seen it, and we testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and made manifest to us; and that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you’ (v. 2–3a). It was not enough to see and hear; they had to testify and proclaim the Word of Life. They didn’t tell stories about themselves, they weren’t selfish, and self obsessed, they told others about Jesus Christ. He was their great concern. They proclaimed the Word of Life. ‘Have you heard about Jesus?’ they would say. They had a message to proclaim. They had a Gospel to tell. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2: 2). They weren’t cool. They didn’t follow the latest trends. They had no stage lighting; no fancy music. They didn’t have the latest gizmos and gadgets, or hip-hop preachers wearing trendy jeans. They didn’t print Church growth manuals; or depend on American courses and programmes. They simply had this message: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. They talked about Him. They worshipped Him. They sang His praises. And the Gospel spread throughout the whole world and multitudes were saved. Do you remember when David prepared to fight Goliath? Saul suited him in best armour and gave him the finest weapons. And David couldn’t move! He had too much stuff to carry and worry about. Oh my friends, do we not very much need to shed Saul’s armour and take up the five smooth stones of the Gospel and watch giants come crashing down?
Our message is very simple. Ours is a Gospel for sinners. It is a Gospel for the helpless and hopeless; a Gospel for men and women ruined and broken by the fall. It is Good News; it is the best news that sinners of lost mankind will ever hear. ‘It was our sorry case that caused the Word of Life to come down; our transgressions called out His love for us, so that He made haste to come and help us, and appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form; it was for our salvation that in His great love He was both born of a Virgin and manifest in the flesh’ (adapted from Athanasius). It was for our sins that He went to Calvary. And it was for our shame that He died. It is by His blood and sacrifice that we have peace with God. He so loved us, He so desired to save us, that He was willing to give His last to rescue us and bring us back to God. You may feel that you are the worst sinner in the world; you may feel beyond redemption; but there is hope for you. Indeed there is hope for every sinner who comes to Jesus Christ in true faith and true repentance. John holds forth the Word of Life to us. This is the message the Church of Jesus Christ has been called to proclaim. We bear witness and we testify to His saving love and matchless grace.
Christians are called to be missionaries in this world. If we are not missionaries, then we are impostors. We are called to tell others about Jesus Christ and His wonderful love. We may not have great gifts and many talents, we may not have Saul’s clunky armour, but we have all that we need in Jesus Christ. We have a wonderful message to proclaim. As the Angel said to the shepherds, we have ‘Good News of great joy, which shall be for all the people’ (Luke 2:10). Oh that we might be more willing to tell others about Jesus! There are sinners each day passing into the night. Let it not be said that anyone should perish for lack of knowledge concerning Jesus Christ. Are we going to be like that worthless servant who buried His talent in the ground? Are we going to be like Jonah, the runaway preacher, who refused at first to take the Gospel to Nineveh?
My friends, there are sinners perishing, thirsting, longing, dying – and all stand in need of Jesus. ‘To be without Christ is a terrible thing! Oh the dreadful condition of a man without Christ! He is naked and without anything to put on; he is sick and without a physician; he is famished but there is no bread for him; guilty and there is no righteousness for him; vile and no fountain to wash in; lost and without a Redeemer; damned and no salvation for him’ (John Elias). The man without Christ is the most miserable man on earth. But we have the Word of Life and any man without Christ need not be so any more. He can have Christ this very moment. You might feel yourself to be a rotten sinner, but the Lord Christ is willing to wash you with His own blood, to clothe you in the robes of His own righteousness, and present you faultless before the throne of mercy. My friends, we must not think harsh thoughts of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of Life and He is willing to give eternal life to all who call upon His name. ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Romans 10: 13). Eternal life is found in Jesus only and to know Him is life eternal. Do you know Him? Do you love Him? Do you trust in Him? He says, ‘Whosoever believes in Me shall not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3: 16).
Believers, let us long for lost sinners to be saved! Let us do everything to proclaim and testify concerning these things. This is a matter of utmost urgency in our generation. When did we last drop a tear for the lost? When did we last pray for lost people? Have we no concern for our neighbours, for our friends, our colleagues, even our enemies? What of our family members who are without God and without hope in this world? There is but a step between them and death and hell, and if they unbelieving, they will perish eternally, and be lost forever. Can we not pity men and women in this state? These things should move us to tears. Oh let us seek God for compassionate hearts! Oh that His Spirit would move us to win souls for Jesus! Oh that He would move us to pray for sinners of lost mankind! Oh that He would unseal our lips and fill our hearts with a message of love for broken people! Do we live with lost people? Do we see them at work or on the street? Do you sit with them and talk with them? Have you ever said, ‘I’m a Christian; I believe in Jesus’? If their houses were on fire, you would surely run and help them? Will you not help them when there is but a thread of life between them and eternal condemnation?
The desire of these early Christians was for others to come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘This we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father with His Son Jesus Christ’ (v. 3b). The Gospel is a beautiful message. It draws us together into a living love-relationship with God Himself and with the Son of His love. We live in a society that is so cold, individualistic, and self centred. It’s all about me, myself, and I. But the Gospel brings us in to a community of believers who love God and who love one another. Men ought to look at us and say, ‘See how they love one another’ (John 3: 35). And oh let them see above all how much we love the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘For we are never nearer Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement at His unspeakable love’ (John Owen). My friends, there is great joy in living this way. John says, ‘And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete’ (v. 4). Is your joy complete? What do we know of this complete joy by experience? There is fullness of joy to be found in Christ; there is joy in telling other about Him, and there is joy in living lives of love and holiness for His the sake of His glory. ‘And though you have not seen him, yet you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1: 8). Oh that we might love Him so and know such joy unspeakable! Amen.