If you have your Bibles, turn with me to 1 John chapter 5, verses 1 through 5.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the word of the Lord.
I had a really moving story about a chicken that lived in Oregon, and I was gonna kick off today’s message with it. But I figured that would set the wrong tone – the chicken story is way too serious. So I’m just gonna bypass the chicken story and jump straight into our passage for today.
John says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of him.” That verse could be a sermon in itself, but I don’t want to spend six years on First John, so I’ve resisted the temptation to devote a whole sermon to everything that I find profoundly interesting.
He says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God,” and that means that most of the people in this room have been “born of God,” and it means that some people probably haven’t.
Every book in the Old Testament in some way points forward to a Messiah that was going to come to rescue us from the brokenness of the world around us, and to rescue us from our role in keeping the world broken. All the way back in Genesis chapter 3 when Adam and Eve rebel against God’s authority and are kicked out of the Garden and expelled from God’s presence, God makes a strange promise to them while he’s cursing at the snake – which is weird – and the promise that he makes is that he would send a Messiah who would “crush the head” of the snake.
There were a lot of commas in that sentence, but track with me: John says that “Jesus is [that] Messiah, and if you believe that he’s the Messiah you’ve been ‘born of God’.”
And that’s good news, because after Adam and Eve get kicked out of the garden, there is a long genealogy that talks about the descendants of Adam and Eve; and the thing that Moses draws attention to in the early parts of Genesis is that Adam had a son, and that son died. But before that son died, he had a son of his own, and that son died. But not before having a son of his own, who had a son of his own, who had a son of his own, and so on.
And as you look through those genealogies, you’ll notice that the common denominator between everyone who has been “born of Adam” is that they’ve died. We were “born of God” when he created us however many years ago, but we rebelled against his authority and we broke the world. We were kicked out of God’s presence and ever since then we’ve been “born of Adam” rather than “born of God.”
And when you’re born of Adam, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Right?
No matter how cute we are when we come out of the womb, we grow up into people who uphold the brokenness of the world, whether we mean to or not, and we make bloody well sure the world stays as broken as it was before us, or gets worse in the process. We are all “participants” in the darkness that God is bringing an end to.
Which means that when the Messiah comes to “crush the head of the snake,” to “purge the world of darkness” and to “fix what’s broken,” that’s bad news for us, not good news: Because we are part of the darkness of the world, and if we want God to “un-break the world,” if we want him to “destroy all the evil in the world,” we’re asking him to break us apart just like we broke his world.
So something needs to happen if we want “the coming of the Messiah” to be good news rather than bad news for us. And John tells us exactly what that “something” is: John says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God.”
That’s a really anti-climatic way to solve that problem. Right?
If I were “inventing my own religion,” I would have made a special ritual that you could go through that would show that you were worth not destroying. But with this God, it’s the opposite: I would have created a religion where there is an increasingly difficult set of tasks that you could perform that set the balance of the scales back in your favor, but with this God the tasks have been performed for us. John says that Jesus is the Messiah but he is not the Messiah we would’ve asked for.
The people of Israel were waiting for a Messiah to come who would rescue them from the oppressive Roman Empire, who was occupying them, stealing their land, subjecting them as cheap labor and gutting them for tax money every time they ran out of petty cash for military campaigns. So Israel wanted a Messiah who would come and kill Rome and give them back their nationhood, but the Messiah that came got killed by Rome and invited them to come get killed alongside him. Not the Messiah we would’ve asked for.
Instead of killing our enemies for their sins, Jesus came to earth as a human, lived the life that you and I, and Adam and Eve, and all the sons and daughters who came after them should have lived, and then got arrested by Rome, nailed to a cross, and then died while you and I laughed at him alongside our enemies. We wanted a Messiah who would kill for us, but the Messiah that actually exists died for our sins and then raised us up with him when he came out of the grave on the first Easter.
So John says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God,” because the God who died to rescue us from the brokenness that we created and continue to perpetuate in the world requires exactly one thing from you, and that is that you “believe in him.”
If you’re in the sanctuary today, you were “born of Adam.” And I know that because you were born. But if you “believe that Jesus is the Messiah,” you’ve been “born again.” You’ve been “born of God.” You have been “given a new birth,” to use James’s language from our last sermon series, and in that “new birth,” your sin is “nailed to the cross with Jesus,” and his goodness is given to you so that, as far as God is concerned, the goodness of Jesus is your own goodness.
You’ve been forgiven with a forgiveness that God won’t unforgive. You’ve been credited with an obedience that you can’t sin your way out of. And because of that, the fact that “God is healing the world of its brokenness” is good news instead of bad news for you: When God “destroys all the evil that’s in the world you won’t be part of it.” You’ll be on the ark, not under the water. /
Most of the time when you hear this story, it stops there. Somebody knocked on your door and shared the first half of the Gospel with you, wrote it down on their “statistics sheet” and put it in the database somewhere that the people at your house were reached. I’m not making fun of them – they were doing that out of obedience. They were doing that because they care about you. They told you the truth. If they’ve passed on into the presence of God, they heard “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” But there is more to that message.
Because John doesn’t stop his gospel proclamation at, “Jesus Died For Your Sins, Now You’re Going To Heaven Instead Of Hell, Congratulations, I’ll see you on Sunday.” He says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of him.” In the same way that God “gives us the goodness of Jesus” when he “raises us up from the grave with Jesus,” he also he gives us God’s own love for one another.
You know what I’m talking about? I have this problem, and the problem is that I don’t just particularly love God on my own.
When I was 16 years old, I very specifically did not love God. I very specifically did not want to be “reconciled to God.” I very specifically did not want to hang out with him; we weren’t friends. Because I knew that being reconciled to God would also mean I had to obey him.
Because “being friends with God” is not like being friends with your pal Derek. When you’re friends with Derek from across the street, you go fishing together; you go see the new Clint Eastwood movie, or whatever; you walk alongside Derek when he’s having financial trouble, or marital trouble; if he and his spouse die, you might be next in line to take care of his kids – human friendship comes with obligations, that’s true. But your friendship with Derek is a “friendship among equals.” You and Derek are on the same playing field.
But when you’re friends with God, you’re friends with the one who created the universe, who continues to sustain it, who owns everything, everywhere, including your body and your soul; you are friends with the King of the universe – you are friends with Someone who knows your most intimate thoughts, and motivations, and so on; you’re friends with somebody who knows you better than you know you, who loves you more than you love you, who cares about the goings-on of your life more than you care about the goings-on of your life, and who loves your neighbors in ways it hasn’t occurred to you to love your neighbors.
Your friendship with God is not a “friendship among equals.” It’s a friendship between the Creator and one of his creations. That changes the dynamic.
So being friends will cause you to obey that God in ways that you will not if you are not friends. And I did not want to obey that God, so I did not want to be his friend. There’s a very long and not particularly exciting story about how that changed, regular attenders have heard it too many times, and I won’t dive back into it, but when I finally gave up trying to not believe in God and became a Christian, I didn’t just suddenly like God out of nowhere.
It’s true that in an instant, when God rescued me, the reality of God stopped being bad news and started being good news for me, but that didn’t mean that my soul just immediately did a one-eighty. I didn’t just suddenly start loving God with a love that I didn’t used to have. Because God saves us in an instant, but he changes us over the course of a life.
Some Christians believe in Purgatory – and they believe that in Purgatory, God continues to sand down the rough edges, to set you free for whatever remaining love you have for the sin and darkness and brokenness in you until you are every bit as holy as you have been declared to be in Jesus Christ.
We don’t really have that tradition as Baptists, but we still believe that God changes our nature, he “fixes our souls” over the course of our lives, and part of that is that God causes us to love him by giving us his own love. So the love that God pours out on us eventually turns back around and flows back towards himself: We love God with the love that he’s given to us.
And the same goes for each other. We talked about this a couple weeks ago: Because of the Fall in Genesis chapter 3, another thing you’ll notice in that genealogy is that everybody’s turned against each other. Today we have a lot of laws that they didn’t have back then and they prevent us from stealing each other’s stuff and killing each other and so on, and that’s a good thing – to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “The law can’t make a man love me, but it can stop a man from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
Part of the brokenness that God is rescuing us from in the world is the fact that we do not just naturally love each other. And while the laws that we have to protect ourselves are good, we need something more than just laws. And for John, the “something more” that we need is for God to cause us to love one another in a way that doesn’t come naturally to us by pouring his own love out on to us so that our love overflows out onto our neighbors, because “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of him.” Because we’ve been “born of God,” the Holy Spirit has given us God’s own love for one another. And as God’s children, the Holy Spirit will move us to love one another in ways that we didn’t beforehand.
But he makes another strange statement. He says, “This is what love for God is, to keep his commands.” I don’t have enough hands to count the number of times that people have made it out like you have to choose between keeping God’s commands and loving your neighbor, but I think that’s got it backwards: When God begins to give us his own love for one another, part of the way that works itself out is that we start to keep his commands in ways that we had no interest in doing so beforehand.
I can think back to when I first became a Christian as a 17-year-old, and weird things started to happen. And this is the dorkiest sermon illustration you are ever going to hear – which is saying something because you’ve had to deal with my sermons for a few months now – but it was the end of my 10th grade year, and I’d cheated my way from, like, 6th grade all the way to 10th grade. From about the time that your grades start to matter, I found ways to copy other people’s homework.
As a result, I was a straight-C student. When my mom and dad would get on to me about my grades, I’d start shooting for an Oscar by drawing up tears and insisting that it was the best I could do. As emasculating as that whole process was, I was pretty content with it. I was in a terrible metal band called Cannibal Catfish, and I wanted to be a rock star when I grew up, and I figured I didn’t need anything above a C to make that happen, so I just kept at it.
But I remember one day shortly after becoming a Christian, I got out of my car and took my unfinished homework to the cafeteria, and I ran into one of the friends I usually copied off of, and he gave me the answers as usual. And I headed to class, and the teacher was taking up our homework, and as he looked at me, I suddenly felt extremely guilty about the fact that I had walked into school and copied somebody else’s answers on my homework – I felt like I was doing the teacher wrong, even though I couldn’t place exactly why I felt that way.
He said, “Do you have your assignment?” as I was reaching into my backpack to pull it out. And I stared vacantly at him for a second, and he stared back at me, and I said, “No. I completely forgot about it last night.” And he said, very teacherly, “I’m not sure you can afford to get a zero with your average.” And I said, “Won’t happen again.” And he walked away.
And so that night, I sat down to do my Geometry homework, and I said, “I’m going to get a zero on this, because I have no idea how to do Geometry, because I have been copying somebody else’s homework for God-knows-how-long.” And for some reason, the thought of getting my own zero made me really happy.
When I walked into class I got this weird sense of pleasure in turning in my terrible homework, I got this weird sense of pleasure when I got back the F-minus that I got on the assignment because I didn’t know how to do geometry and it was, like, mid-April. And so I went home again and I kept doing my homework, and gradually my F-minus turned into a D-minus, which turned into, like, a D-plus, which turned into a C, and eventually I figured out that I was a little bit better at geometry than the people who were willing to let me copy off their homework.
And the point of that is not that “things will go better for you if you decide to stop breaking God’s commands,” it’s that loving your neighbor and obeying God’s commands are usually the same thing. Because God doesn’t give commands just to give them. He commands the things that he commands because they are good for us.
I know that we’ve all been told to be terrified of Leviticus. But Leviticus is only terrifying until you read it. There was a reason that Jesus says that God’s commands can be summed up in “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is because all of God’s commands – even the weird ones about eating shellfish and wearing mixed fabrics – boiled down to “love your God by loving your neighbor.”
Love for other people is in the DNA of the Law, and what most people have found, is that if the Old Testament laws seem scary or strange or gross it’s usually because you haven’t quite grasped what they’re getting at. What you’ll see if you give those first five books of the Bible a good read is that if you are loving your neighbor well, you’re probably already getting at God’s commands whether you mean to or not. You know what I’m talking about? If you are obeying God’s commands the way God commanded them, your neighbors are going to notice the depths to which you love them.
So if you’re not a Christian – because I don’t want to assume – you might be a very neighborly unbeliever. In all likelihood, you are pretty good. The world is not divided between “morally upright Christians” and “morally bankrupt non-Christians.” Some people will tell you that. Don’t believe it. That’s stupid. And you know that. There are “morally upright everythings,” and “morally bankrupt everythings,” right?
Most of the best people that I have ever met, and most of the best people you will ever hear about, do not share my faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sin. But according to John, your neighborliness isn’t just neighborliness. Your goodness isn’t just goodness.
There’s something in you that wants to commune with the Father. You were created for it. And when you go out of your way to love your neighbors in practical ways, you are getting at God’s commands in ways you probably didn’t intend to. It’s your soul reaching out towards God.
But it’s also God reaching out towards you.
Because John says that “The love of God is that we obey his commands.” So it’s not just that our soul reaches out towards God and that causes us to try and love our neighbors without being told to, it’s also that when God reaches out to us, he prepares our hearts to meet him.
He creates a desire in us to please him, even if we don’t notice that’s what’s happening. So we will attempt to love our neighbors, almost on instinct, because our souls are reaching out towards God and God is reaching out towards us and prepares our hearts for him in ways that we rarely notice or even asked for.
That’s part of why John says that “God’s commands aren’t burdensome.” God is not the middle school basketball coach you hated. He’s not barking out orders just because he enjoys feeling powerful. What’s “burdensome” is the brokenness of the world. Right?
What’s burdensome is turning on the television and hearing about the newest “school shooting” or “sex scandal” or whatever, and then going to the store and getting cut off by somebody in the parking lot, and flying into a rage before quickly calming down and recognizing something in your rage that looks a lot like the folks that scare you.
What’s burdensome is hearing that your neighbors are getting divorced because what’s-his-name had an affair with the school librarian, or the lady at his office, or whatever, and recognizing something of yourself in what he did, seeing that there’s been times you wanted to do the same thing, or came close to doing the same thing, or knowing that you have done the same thing and “got away with it,” that your wife doesn’t know about it, your mom doesn’t know about it, the folks at your church don’t know about it.
What’s burdensome is getting away with sin. What is burdensome is seeing your own sin in other people and knowing that you’re looking at your own reflection, that other people’s “badness” reminds you of your own “badness.”
Sin is burdensome. The darkness of the world is burdensome. But God’s commands are the opposite of burdensome.
Loving your neighbor is difficult because it doesn’t come naturally, but “burdensome” is the furthest thing from what it is. All throughout the ministry of Jesus, he never “does away with the law,” he never says, “My commands are burdensome so just don’t worry about doing them.” He fulfills the law. He lives a life of perfect obedience to the commands that he gave us through Moses and the Prophets, and when he dies on the cross, our disobedience is nailed to the cross with him and we are “raised up with him.” His obedience is given to us.
And over the course of our lives, we learn that his yoke really is easy and his burden really is light, because the Holy Spirit sets us free from the burden of participating and maintaining the brokenness of the world by setting us free from the sins that entangle us.
So the thing that is burdensome is succumbing to sin. The thing that is restful is obedience.
Obeying God’s commands is restful. It’s the only thing that’s restful.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is ‘born of God’,” and John says that “Whoever has been born of God conquers the world.” And when God “conquers the world” through us, it doesn’t look like taking up swords and running this place, it looks like loving your neighbors until they aren’t weary anymore like you’re not weary anymore. It looks like loving God and loving your neighbors with God’s own love, poured out onto you so that it spills out onto everyone else and draws them to the rest that they can find in Jesus.
And if you’re visiting, or you’re new, I don’t want to assume that you have been “born of God.” So as we sing, we’re gonna open up the altar. And if you would like to “throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus” to be “born of God,” to have your sin “nailed to the cross with Jesus,” to have his obedience “given to you” – to be “born again,” “adopted into God’s family” – you can come talk to me.