My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.1 John 2:1-2
Later this week I’m going to Ipswich to visit Martin. As well as my former music teacher, Martin is something of a mentor to me, in terms of my life, my career and my faith. He’s been a source of guidance, support and inspiration to me since I first met him, nearly thirty years ago. I wonder if you have such a person in your life?
John saw himself as such a figure in the early church. He had first met Jesus when he was a fisherman working the Sea of Galilee, and had witnessed Jesus’ ministry first hand. Now, in his dotage, he has decided to write to the younger members of the church to share his wisdom and insight with them. We can see right from the start of this chapter the affection he had for Christ’s younger followers, referring to them as “my dear children.” We also see one of the reasons for John putting pen to paper; he writes, “so that you will not sin.” Straight away (and rather reassuringly after the last lines of the previous chapter), he offers reassurance. He says that “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus will serve as our representative before God in his heavily court, pleading our case and acting as our defence in our trial. Jesus is able to do this, since he is Righteous – he is sinless, blameless and therefore doesn’t share our guilt in the way that a fully human advocate would.
It’s great to have Jesus as an advocate, but as John continues he makes it clear that he is more even than this. He is the “atoning sacrifice for ours sins.” Our sin deserves punishment since we have time and time again turned from God’s laws, we have fallen short of the expectations that God has of us. We are, in a word, guilty. Yet the price of our sin has already been paid, our punishment has already been borne. Jesus, perfect and sinless, and God himself, took our punishment upon himself when he died upon the cross. Not just that, but he defeated death itself by rising again three days later. As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no longer a price to pay for our sin, there is no longer any punishment to be borne.
John makes clear that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not just for himself and the other apostles, nor just for the original recipients of this letter, but for all people. He is the atoning sacrifice “for the whole world.” Anyone who accepts that Jesus died in their place gains immeasurably from Christ’s sacrifice, since the price of their sin has been paid, and consequently they are admitted without cost to God’s eternal Kingdom. How remarkable!
John’s letter is intended to help us, as Christians, to not sin, but John is clear right from the outset that even when we do sin, all is far from lost, because Jesus is our advocate with the Father, and bore the punishment that we deserve in our place. What an awesome revelation this is, and how reassuring as we strive to do our best to live lives worthy of God, but fully aware of our own weaknesses and frailties. We can be confident of our salvation and so can be confidence of our faith. Let’s strive to live today knowing that we have every reason to be confident, whilst giving thanks to Jesus for his representation before God and for taking on himself the punishment that we deserve.