Sermon Text: 1 John 1:5-2:2
Date: April 29 & 30, 2017
The Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
1 John 1:5–2:2 (EHV)
5This is the message we heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him but still walk in darkness, we are lying and do not put the truth into practice. 7But if we walk in the light, just as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his Word is not in us.
1My children, I write these things to you so that you will not sin. If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate before the Father: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.
God’s Truth Rescues Us from Our Deceptions
If there’s one thing we’re really good at, it’s deceiving ourselves. We sit on the couch on a weekend afternoon watching sports while covered in potato chip crumbs and we say to ourselves or out loud, “Well, I could have done better than that!” But then when we take to the court or field our ability perhaps puts an end to that deception. We perhaps convince ourselves that we’ve not gained that much weight until we step on the scale and put an end to that deception.
How many of us have even actively sought to avoid having those deceptions ended? Have we actively avoided trying to play that sport so that we don’t have to learn what our real ability is? Have we avoided stepping on that scale to avoid the truth? Have we avoided going to the doctor simply out of fear that our assumption of health would be shattered by a check-up? We’ve bought into the often-self-destructive notion that ignorance is bliss.
What happens when you’ve talked yourself into being healthy when you’re not? What happens when you’re sure the roof is fine, but it’s not? Reality eventually makes itself known, but by the time it does, it might be too late to do anything about it. Maybe the illness is too far along or the water is pouring into the living room.
We tell ourselves lies spiritually, too. We tell ourselves that God really should be happy with us because we try our best. We think, even if it’s subconsciously, that we’re better than others because well, we’re here on the Third Sunday of Easter, not just on Easter Sunday. Or our offerings regularly and generously support our congregation which is a lot more than other people do. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God should love us all the while dancing around the reality that our sins are an ugly, dark offense to the God of Light. Thankfully for us, God’s truth rescues us from our deceptions.
We’re once again in John’s first letter in the New Testament. You’ll remember from last week that he’s writing this letter as parting words of wisdom before he, likely the last of the apostles, goes to his eternal home. He’s focusing his readers on things that are truly, eternally important.
John begins by saying that we have choices in the way we walk, the way we live our lives. We can either walk in the darkness or we can walk in the light. In other words, we can walk in the way Satan and our own sinful flesh would want us to live or we can live the way God would want us to live.
So often, the light seems like a lot of work, though, right? It’s much easier to just let our natural, sinful impulses drives our decisions, the way we behave, even the tone of our voice when we speak to other people. To tweak John’s metaphor, it’s much easier to just pull the blanket of sin over our eyes and shroud ourselves in darkness than it is to get up and face the light of day to live as God would have us live.
We like to have our cake and eat it too, though. We like to deceive ourselves that even as we’re doing what we know is wrong that we’re ok with God. Do we think that God somehow doesn’t see our sin? Do we think he’s just going to smile and wink at us and let it slide? Or that maybe, for us, he makes an exception, that this behavior or those thoughts are clearly wrong for others, but not for us? I don’t know. We lie to ourselves all the time. John cuts through the self-deception: If we say we have fellowship with him but still walk in darkness, we are lying and do not put the truth into practice…. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…. If we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his Word is not in us.
Ouch. There’s not really any explaining our way out of that. If we think that we’re somehow ok with God even though we regularly let our sins take control of our lives we are in rough shape. If we are saying that we don’t have sin, or that our sin is “not that bad” or “not that big of a deal” we are telling Jesus, “Thanks, but no thanks” to his forgiveness. This self-deception puts us in danger of the fire of hell—the punishment that our sins deserve.
I think we can all be in agreement this morning that that is not what we want to do. That would be an eternal disaster. Thankfully, John helps us to set things right today. Starting right now, as you look at your life and I look at mine, let’s not be content with any sin in our lives. Let’s not make any more excuses for what we say and do because it was “the end of a difficult day” or “a moment of weakness.” Let’s stop the deception and see sin for what it is and see how firmly it has its grips on us. Let’s own up to our sin and acknowledge what it is: often hurting those around us and always hurting God.
As we see our sin in all of it’s stark, dark reality, there’s a temptation to despair. When we really see how bad things are, we can be tempted to treat it as the terminal diagnosis from a doctor that we were trying to avoid, to treat it as a problem with no solution. Our conscience might even tell us, “You’re too far gone; there’s no hope.” But all of that, too, is a destructive self-deception.
It’s certainly true that our sin is horrendous, awful, and dire; but our situation is not hopeless. Far from it. John sets up the hypothetical situation of people who do not sin: My children, I write these things to you so that you will not sin. That’s always the goal, but in our honesty we note that it is never going to happen. We’re never going to be perfect. Our sin will always be present with us always on this side of eternity. But John also doesn’t leave us without hope, chasing fanciful dreams that will have no solution: If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate before the Father: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
That picture of an “advocate” is a beautiful one. When you’re in a dire situation the thing that can make it better is having an ally, someone you can depend on. When you’re in legal trouble, there’s nothing better than a trustworthy, knowledge lawyer. When your taxes are a mess, an accountant that can work through it with you is invaluable. And when you are a sinner who has sinned against the perfect God, having someone like Jesus plead your case before him is exactly what you need.
Now to be clear, Jesus doesn’t just say to his Father, “Can’t we just cut these people some slack and let these sins slide? Can’t you lighten up a little bit?” No, Jesus as our advocate doesn’t just use words. He uses action. John says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
What is an “atoning sacrifice”? To “atone” means to repair a broken relationship. You can take the word “atone” apart and think of it as setting two separate parties back “at one” with each other. That’s exactly what Jesus did. We were separated from God, we were walking in the darkness far from God’s light, and Jesus’ death and resurrection changed that. His death paid for our sins and thus stopped the war that was going on between us and God. Jesus’ sacrifice has set us “at one” with God. As we mentioned last week, in Jesus our eternal family is put back together again.
Jesus, then, brings us from the lies of self-deception and helps us to see our problems and then also see that he is the solution to all of those problems. John had said that instead of deceiving ourselves into thinking we have no sin or it’s no big deal, we should see the solution to that very real sin in Jesus: if we walk in the light, just as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin…. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our sins are real, but they also have a real, complete, and free solution: Jesus’ sacrifice in our place.
Jesus is not only for us. He’s for all people, everywhere. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world. Jesus death has paid for the sins of the whole world. That means that your sins are gone. That means that your neighbors’ sins are gone. Take this message, take God’s truth that cuts through your self-deception and share it with others who need it to cut through their self-deception. Jesus’ resurrection is real, his forgiveness is real, and this truth means our eternal life. Rejoice in these truths throughout this Easter season and through eternity.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.