If you would, turn in your Bibles to 1 John chapter 5, verses 6 through 13.
Jesus Christ—He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and these three are in agreement. If we accept the testimony of men, God’s testimony is greater, because it is God’s testimony that He has given about His Son. (The one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony within him. The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has given about His Son.) And this is the testimony: God has given us Eternal Life, and this life is in His Son.
The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have Eternal Life.
This is the word of the Lord.
Buckle in, because we are about to get very Baptist. I have three points, because there are at least three story-threads that John is pulling together from the Old Testament in this passage.
The first of the story threads that John is pulling together here is that, verse 11, Jesus is the “Eternal Life” that we lost in the Garden.
At the very beginning of the story that the Bible tells, God creates the world and it’s good. And Genesis chapter 2 says that God “plants a garden” in a place called “Eden,” and he places the people he created there. And Genesis 2:9 says that there was a tree called the “Tree of Life.” And the tree was important, because God had given it to Adam and Eve to eat from, and as long as they’d continue eating from it they’d continue living. But there was another tree called the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” and it was important, too, but God told Adam and Eve that they weren’t allowed to eat from that tree any time soon, and that if they ate from it they would “surely die.”
No one on planet earth knows what the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was created for. But God doesn’t create things for no reason, and he doesn’t create things for evil purposes, so all we know is that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil existed for some good purpose before the Fall, and that whatever that good purpose was, it wasn’t time for Adam ad Eve to have it.
But instead of submitting to God’s command, Adam and Eve took one of the fruit from the tree because a talking snake suggested that God was lying to them – that he was holding back the fruit from that tree because he wanted to be more powerful than they were. The snake said, “God wants to keep y’all in your place, so he’s keeping that tree to himself.”
But that couldn’t be further from the truth: God didn’t create Adam and Eve in order to have a set of servants who could wait on him hand-and-foot; he wasn’t bored, or lonely; the problem wasn’t that there was nothing good on TV; God created everything we see because God was already happy, he was already perfectly satisfied in himself and with himself and he created us to share his own infinite satisfaction with us.
We exist to share God’s happiness, and so when God didn’t share the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with us it was because it wasn’t something we should have yet.
Right? Like, when God forbids us from something it’s because we shouldn’t have it, at least not yet.
But when we stole the fruit from the tree, it changed the world that God created. And this is important: Our sin in the Garden didn’t change God, it changed us, and it changed the universe that God created to share with us.
We were made to work the fields of creation arm-in-arm with God but we rejected God’s blessing when we rebelled against him. Eating from the tree isn’t just breaking one of God’s rules, it’s refusing to join into the infinite joy that God created us to share with him. It’s shutting our gates with God on the outside.
So when God kicks us out of Eden in Genesis chapter 3, he’s just declaring what’s already true. We were already gone. We’d already moved our citizenship outside God’s gates. Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden because they’ve turned themselves into something terrible by rebelling against God, and we see that in the fact that when God comes and finds them after they’ve eaten the fruit, instead of apologizing and asking for forgiveness, they blame each other, then they blame the snake, then they blame God himself.
They haven’t just broken one of God’s rules, they have become the kind of creatures who could never live with God amidst the joy and goodness of his creation. So he throws them out, but they’re already gone. And as God is banishing us from the garden, he says, “They must not be allowed to reach out their hands and take from the Tree of Life and live forever.”
So far the book of Genesis plays a lot like other Ancient Near Eastern myths. Nearly every ancient myth begins with a golden age where everything was perfect but ends with a tragedy that hurls the universe into chaos. The difference is that most myths end their creation stories with an explanation for how humans today can keep the chaos of the world under control by carrying out certain rituals that ward off death or disease or demons or worse.
But the Genesis story takes a sharp left turn where the others stay relatively straightforward. Instead of elaborating on a set of rituals to keep the chaos of the world at bay, the God of the garden tells Adam and Eve that a day will come when he leaves the Garden and comes to rescue them. Instead of telling us how to keep the chaos under control, he promises to come and rescue us from the chaos himself. In Genesis 3:15, he turns to the snake and says that one day, a savior will come, and that the snake will “strike his heal” but the savior will “crush his head.”
God tells Adam and Eve, “I’m banishing you from the garden because you don’t belong here anymore, but one day I’m going to come and make you belong here again. I’m going to do whatever I have to so I can bring you back to live with me again. I’m going to un-banish you no matter what it takes.”
And so we fast-forward to Nazareth in the first century, and a guy named Jesus is walking around healing the sick, forgiving sins, and pissing off the religious leaders – all the things you’d hope for in a Messiah. So the first question on everyone’s mind is, “Will this guy help us overthrow the Roman government so we can get our land back – or what?”
Which is not the right question to be asking. The Hebrew people were under occupation by Rome, and as far as they were concerned getting rid of Rome and getting their land back was priority number #1. Which makes sense.
If North Carolina was a colony under some Empire – like, y’know, Britain, or something – I’d be eager to kick off the American Revolution and gain independence. But all throughout the gospels, you see the same thing play out:
Somebody will ask Jesus, “Are you gonna restore the nation of Israel now?” And Jesus would say something evasive, and then follow it up by saying something like, “I am the resurrection and the Life.”
Or they would say, “Are you almost to the part where you kill Rome and we get our land back?” And Jesus would sidestep the question and say something like, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life.” And then some Pharisees would come to him and say, “Hey Jesus, should we pay our taxes to Caesar, since those taxes pay for Rome’s mercenary soldiers to come and keep us down and steal our produce and put us through hard labor?” And Jesus would give them a non-answer, like “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s,” and then walk away and go raise somebody’s daughter from the dead, or heal a leper so he can come back from his exile, and so on and so forth.
And a picture emerges over the course of the four gospels that John sums up here in verse 11 that Jesus is the “Eternal Life” that we lost in the garden. Jesus is the one God promised in Genesis 3:15. He left the Garden to come and get us and bring us back with him to the Father. So when Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth, and the Life,” he’s not just talking about how great he is, and he’s not just talking about “how to get to heaven,” he’s telling us who he is:
Jesus is what we lost in the garden, and Jesus is what we get when God saves us through the cross and resurrection – that’s the heart of that verse we use to teach the gospel to children, John 3:16, which says that God “loved the world” so much that he “sent his only Son” so that “everyone who believes in him” will not perish, like Adam and Eve perished when they ate from the tree, but will have “Eternal Life,” like they would have had if they had stayed with God forever in the Garden.
In Jesus Christ we see that God made good on his promise to “come and get us” from the darkness we’ve created. Jesus Christ is God un-banishing us from his presence. He is bringing us home not by pulling our souls out of our bodies and taking us up to heaven but by bringing his presence out of the Garden and into our world.
That’s why in the book of Revelation, we don’t see everybody filing back into the Garden of Eden to live the way things were before the fall; we see God overlaying our fallen world with his own glory, paving our streets with his own goodness, turning our bad world into his good world, turning all of the darkness we’ve created here into his own glorious light.
We don’t see God’s whisking us away and throwing this place in the trash, we see God un-wrecking this world and making it every bit as glorious as it would have been if we had never fallen.
We see God “wiping away every tear,” righting every wrong that’s ever been, turning all of our suffering into joy, all of our misery into peace. Jesus is the “Eternal Life” that we lost when we were banished from the garden, but God does not leave us to our misery, he comes and gets us, and brings us back to himself. So John says in verse 12 that “Whoever has the Son has life.”This is what the God we meet in Jesus Christ is like.
But that’s just the first of the story-threads that John pulls together when he talks about who Jesus Christ is. Because he says in verse 6 that Jesus is the one who “came by water and by blood.” And when he says that, he’s drawing a connection between the “Passover lamb” in Exodus chapter 12 and the crucifixion of Jesus.
A long time after Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden, they have children, and those children have children, and over time the earth becomes populated, people section off into different tribes, and different cities, and eventually we get to a place where the whole planet’s divided into different nations who’re all playing tug-of-war for the earth’s resources.
For a long time, the nation of Egypt was at the top of the food-chain. And since they wanted to stay at the top of the food-chain, they made a habit of conquering large tribes of people and using them for slave labor.
And the problem with building a prosperous nation on the backs of slaves is that the only God who actually exists can see you, and sooner or later he will grind your face against the pavement just like you ground the faces of your slaves.
So the Lord comes to a man named Moses one day while he’s tending to his flocks, and says, “I’m going to spring Egypt’s labor force out of slavery, and you’re going to lead them.” So Moses delivers God’s message to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh laughs it off.
And so God sends a series of plagues, to take a hammer to the kneecaps of the Egyptian economy, and with each new plague, God wears Pharaoh down just a little bit more. And after nine plagues, God gives Pharaoh one last chance to let his slaves go free, and Pharaoh digs his heels in and refuses, so God says, “Tonight I am going to kill every firstborn child in Egypt.”
But God’s goal here isn’t to kill a bunch of kids, obviously, and he says, “I will spare anyone who spreads the blood of a lamb on their doorpost tonight.” So they spread the word throughout Egypt, and all the Israelites and all the Egyptians who believe them spread lamb’s blood on their doorposts, and when midnight strikes, every single firstborn child in Egypt dies except for in the houses that were protected by the blood of the lamb.
So Pharaoh finally gives up and lets his slaves go free, and so the Israelites and all of the Egyptians who believed them fled from Egypt and followed Moses through the waters of the Red Sea, through the waters of the Jordan, and into the land that God brought them to.
But throughout the Old Testament God told the people of Israel that this Exodus was pointing forward to a “better Exodus” that he would bring about one day when he would come to “crush the head” of the serpent like he promised in Genesis 3:15.
So when you fast-forward to Galilee in the first century, you see Jesus walking around, healing the sick and forgiving sins, raising people from the dead, and so on. But he isn’t just a “healer” or “magician.”
In John’s gospel, we see Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his disciples instead of staying in the countryside where it was safer – to celebrate the “first Exodus” from all those years ago. We see Jesus sharing the Passover lamb with his disciples at the last supper and then heading out to be arrested by the temple police, tried for rebellion by the Roman government, and then executed in our place, just like the “Passover lamb” was executed in place of the firstborn children in Egypt.
John says that Jesus “came by blood” because Jesus became like our Passover lamb on the cross; he died the death we should have died instead of us; and when the blood of Jesus is on our doorpost, we are spared from God’s vengeance against the evil we’ve contributed to the world. But God doesn’t just not punish us. That’s good, but we need more than that.
Just like in the first Passover, the sacrifice of Jesus sets us free from our slavery to a worse Egypt than Egypt.
Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that “all of creation has been enslaved alongside us” but that now, through Jesus, “all of creation will be liberated from its slavery” and “brought into the freedom and glory” that Jesus has bought for us on the Cross. Jesus is the God who sprung us out of slavery in the Exodus, and he is springing us out of our slavery to sin and death and all the brokenness we’ve brought into the world since we were banished from the Garden.
So Jesus is a greater “Passover lamb” than the Passover lamb, and he’s a greater “Exodus” than the Exodus. Jesus has purchased our freedom from every slavery we’ve sold ourselves into. And that means that the sins that entangle you have been conquered on the cross.
I’m gonna press this: The specific sin that you actually struggle with has been conquered on the cross. You don’t have to do that any more. Your freedom is purchased by the blood of Jesus. It’s bought. You have it. You are free. And you will be free from it, not just in heaven when you die but now. Today. You are free to turn away from that sin because the blood of Jesus paid every debt that you owe and bought you back from the slave auction you were chained up in. So quit.
I am dead serious. If your problem is pornography, install one of those browser filters. Ask your pal to call you once a week and heckle you if you gave in. If it takes you six years to overcome it because you’ve leaned on it so deeply for so much of your life, do it anyway.
If it’s something else, the same principle still applies. Jesus has purchased your holiness, and he will have it. He will make you holy, however slowly that goes. However long it takes. Jesus will have you spotless. He will see you free from sin. He will walk alongside you as you lapse back into your old patterns, repent, find your footing again and carry on.
He will patiently mold you into his own image, cut out every part of your life that’s in rebellion against him, because he paid for your freedom. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but stop dragging your feet against the freedom that Christ has bought for you in the cross. It’s yours. Submit to it. Let Jesus set you free from whatever sin’s got you wrapped up in its clutches.
Because the last of the story threads that John pulls together here is that Jesus is the God who gives us the Holy Spirit to “guide us into the Promised Land.”
In the book of Exodus, we see God guiding the Israelites through the wilderness as a “pillar of smoke” by day and a “pillar of fire” by night. In the book of Acts, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see him guiding the earliest Christians on God’s mission – so the Holy Spirit would take them to their neighbor’s houses to share the gospel with them, he’d take them to beggars where they’d gather them up and bring them back to the church to have their needs met, or he’d take them to the sick to heal their diseases and cast out their demons.
The Holy Spirit actually exists, and he makes weird stuff happen. He guides us on the mission that the Triune God has invited us to join him in, as he “comes and gets” sinners banished from the Garden in the Fall and reconciles them to himself through Jesus Christ.
So every Southern Baptist’s favorite passage of the Bible, Matthew 28, 18 through 20 tells us that because all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth, our job today is to make disciples in every corner of the earth, especially the corner that we live in.
The problem with that is that we can’t make disciples out of anybody in our own power. Y’know? I can’t make you love the Lord any more than you can make you love the Lord. That same darkness in us that got us expelled from the Garden, that moved Egypt to enslave people from the surrounding nations, that moved us to crucify Jesus instead of worshipping him, turns our hearts away from God’s goodness.
So our fundamental problem isn’t that we can’t earn God’s mercy – it’s that we wouldn’t want to even if we could. Our hearts are catastrophically closed off to God – so much so that more people than anyone can count will spend an eternity in a Hell they’d refuse to leave even if they were invited to.
I’m gonna be as direct about this as I can be: If everything I’m saying to you sounds ridiculous, part of that is because I’m ridiculous, so everything I say will naturally sound ridiculous; but it’s also because your heart is closed off to God’s mercy.
You would never willingly return to God’s presence for all of eternity – you probably don’t even want to spend the hour and a half it takes to worship him alongside the believers at church. So don’t kid yourself. Our hearts are closed off to God’s love, and we need the Holy Spirit to break through the walls we’ve built up to keep God out.
And the Holy Spirit will do that. He will change your heart so that you’re broken over your sin in ways you’ve never been before. He will give you the desire to be reconciled with God that you do not currently have.
And I may never see it. The people in this church may never see it. Your parents may die before they see it, but you will repent and believe the gospel, not because God coerced you but because he changed you. Not because he threatened you, but because he drew you to himself.
John says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the “Son of God” has this testimony within them.” Everyone who believes God’s testimony about Jesus is adopted by the Father – this story becomes our story; we are given the “Eternal Life” that Adam and Eve abandoned in the garden; we are rescued from our slavery to sin and darkness; we are given that same Holy Spirit who guided the Israelites as a “pillar of fire” and drove the earliest Christians to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17); and one day Jesus will bring us “across the Jordan” and “into the Promised Land” with him.
And we would like you to be there with us. So I’ll be at the front as we sing. If you would like to know the Jesus that John is talking about, here, come talk to me. Let’s pray.