We have found the Messiah

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

John 1:40-42

Sometimes something happens at work, or I read something in the news, and I can’t wait to get home to share the news with my wife, Claire. I think the last time this happened was when I read news that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was no longer advising against non-essential travel to the Canary Islands. We have no imminent plans to travel to the Canaries, but just the thought of flying to somewhere sunny, reading my book on the beach and swimming in the sea was enough to lift my spirits, and to excite me enough to want to pass this news on.

In John 1, two of John the Baptist’s disciples saw Jesus passing by. John told them that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” and they were inspired to follow Jesus. In the passage above, John tells us that one of these two disciples was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew was lucky enough to spend the day with Jesus. This must have been a powerful and memorable experience for Andrew, because he immediately sought out his brother, Simon Peter, to tell him all about Jesus. He could not keep the news to himself, and was desperate to tell his brother all that he had seen and heard.

What’s more, Andrew has a real sense of the significance of Jesus. He doesn’t simply say to Simon Peter that he’s found an inspirational teacher. He tells his brother, “we have found the Messiah”!
The Messiah was God’s promised deliverer, who the Jewish people had been waiting for for thousands of years. They knew that the Messiah would one day come to liberate God’s people, to save them. For generations, Jews had been praying for the Messiah to come, hoping that he would arrive in their own lifetime.

And now Andrew is convinced that he had encountered the Messiah! I wonder what it was that Jesus said and did in those few hours to convince Andrew that he was God’s deliverer? Whatever it was, Andrew is overjoyed, deeply excited and desperate to share the news with his brother.

That was undoubtedly a significant moment, not just for Andrew and his brother, but for the whole of humanity. Simon, known as Peter, would go on to become one of the most significant figures in the early church, teaching and preaching throughout the known world, telling people about Jesus, writing some significant letters, and ensuring that Christ’s message of hope and salvation crossed the ages, and eventually found its way to us.

Wow!

Do you feel as excited as Andrew when you encounter Jesus in scripture? Do you find yourself desperate to tell anyone who will listen that you have found the Messiah, God’s promised liberator who has saved humanity from our sins?

I wonder if you have considered the impact that you might have on others, and indeed the world, by sharing Jesus with those you know and love? Maybe you yourself will be a ‘Peter’ figure in the history of the Church. Or maybe someone you tell about Jesus will go on to play a prominent role in spreading the Gospel message around the world.

What do you want?

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.

John 1:35-40

What do you want? How many times have you been asked this? Quite a number I should think! Maybe when ordering your coffee. Maybe when entering a room. Maybe when thinking about important life decisions.

What do you want?

Sometimes the answer to this question might be simple. Sometimes the answer might be more complicated.

In a coffee shop my answer to this question is generally, “a flat white please.”

The Lamb of God

If you asked me what I want in life, it might take me slightly longer to come up with a response!

These are the first words that Jesus is recorded as saying in John’s Gospel.

John the Baptist is out with two of his disciples when they see Jesus passing. John immediately recognises Jesus, and tells his disciples that this is the Lamb of God. In five words, John conveys the entire purpose of Jesus’ presence on earth. Here is the sacrifice that God has provided to atone for the sin of all humanity. Just as Jewish people had for generations sacrificed lambs to try to make themselves right before God, here is the ultimate sacrifice, the ‘lamb’ for the sacrifice that has been provided by God himself. Indeed, this ‘lamb’ is God himself! And here he is, casually walking past!

I’m not surprised that John’s two disciples were inspired to follow Jesus upon hearing that he is the “Lamb of God.” I doubt that they grasped the full enormity of what John was saying, but they were sufficiently interested to follow Jesus to see what he was up to.

When Jesus saw John’s disciples were following him, he turned to them and asked them, “what do you want?” A natural question to ask, I suppose, when you become aware that someone is following you. This being Jesus, though, I’m, sure that he wasn’t simply asking them why they were following him. I have no doubt that he was asking them what they really wanted. Were they happy with their lives? Were they happy with their jobs? Were they searching for identity? Were they searching for meaning? Were they searching for truth?

What do you want?

The men’s answer, therefore, seems rather simplistic. “Where are you staying?” Perhaps they thought that he was simply a teacher who was passing through and would be gone tomorrow. Perhaps they wanted to spend time with him before he departed. Maybe they had questions that they wanted to ask him. I suppose we can’t really be sure!

Whatever the reason that they chose to follow him, follow him they did, the first of many billions of people who have done so. How lucky they were to have had the opportunity to spend the day with him. Of course, they subsequently went on to spend many more days with him, and are undoubtably continuing to spend eternity with him.

How would you respond to that question, “what do you want?”

What do you want from life?

Do you want fame, celebrity status, wealth and earthly satisfaction?

Good luck to you.

Or do you want to know God, to have a relationship with him, to know his presence in your life, and to enjoy eternal life in his new creation?

Ask and you will receive

Jesus does not just want to know what we want, but is able to give it to us.

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

In the next chapter Jesus says, “very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23b-24).

If we want want Jesus wants, and ask for it is his name, God will give it to us. What a remarkable promise!

Why? So that we display to the world that we, like John’s two disciples here, follow Christ, and so that we might be witnesses of the Gospel to those around us.

What’s more, if we want what Jesus wants, and ask for it his name, not only will it be given to us, but “our joy will be complete!” We will find true satisfaction because we have aligned our desires with Christ’s and will find that those desires are met. And that way lies true joy, true happiness.

What do you want?

Do you want what Jesus wants?

If so, ask for it, and it will be given to you.

Then you will find true joy!

We glory in our sufferings

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through him we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:1-4

2020 was a very difficult year for us all. 2021, in the UK at least, looks a little more promising, but certainly the first part of it has also been very tricky. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought difficulties to us all. Maybe our own health has suffered as a consequence. Perhaps we’ve lost loved ones to the virus. It might be that we’ve lost our job, or found our business forcibly closed. No doubt we’ve missed spending time with loved ones, going out for a meal, visiting the local leisure centre, or flying away for a week of sun. I suspect we’ve all, in our own way, experienced far more suffering in a single year than we would have liked. Like me, you’re probably desperately hoping for a return to some sort of normality soon.

The Bible has much to say about suffering. Paul writes about suffering to the Romans, as we see in the passage above, Sometimes we might think that being a Christian precludes us from suffering, but Paul is clear that this is not the case. It might be that our approach to suffering is a little different to those around us, but suffering is just as inevitable for a Christian as it is for anyone else.

So, what can we learn about suffering as a Christian from these verses?

Firstly, that we we can “glory in our sufferings” (verse 3). This suggests that as we contend with the difficulties life throws at us, we can maintain an attitude of joy. We don’t feel joy because we suffer, but we are able to feel joy despite our suffering. This attitude is possible for a Christian for the reasons that Paul outlines at the beginning of this chapter: despite our suffering, we know that “we have been justified through faith,” we “have peace with God,” because “we have gained access by faith into [Jesus’s] grace,” and because we are able to “boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Once we were God’s enemies, but now we are his friends, and because of our understanding of our relationship with God, our lives now have purpose and an eternal perspective. We can take a positive approach to life despite our suffering because our perspective is eternal, not limited to our earthly existence. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, we understand that our troubles are only “light and momentary,” and suffering is “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Secondly, we can draw comfort that despite our current difficulties, our suffering is teaching us perseverance. Paul tells us that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” When we find ourselves confronting dark periods in our lives, we can give up, or we can persevere. Since we have an eternal perspective we are more likely to persevere through our suffering, since we know that even when we find ourselves going through the darkest periods of our lives, we have a future hope to look forward to.

Then the question is – where do we find the strength to persevere when everything is so bad, so horrible, so bleak in our lives that we just feel like giving up? For Christians, we can draw that strength from our relationship with God. We can lean into God, and he will support us, and equip us to persevere. As the Psalmist sings,

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

A Christian is able to endure suffering, and cope with problems and trials, because they believe that their help comes from God. God supports us inn our perseverance by listening to us, offering comfort when we experience trials and tribulations, and by reassurance that ultimately, things will get better. He may not end our suffering straight away, but he does walk with us as we suffer, shares our pain, and gives us hope for a brighter future.

Thirdly, by choosing to place our trust in God as we suffer, our character changes and develops. As Paul writes, perseverance produces character.

It’s often said that we take on some of the characteristics of those we choose to spend time with. If we lean into Christ when we are enduring suffering, it is he who we are choosing to spend time with. It is Jesus, therefore, that we will come to resemble, it is his character that will shape our character. Simply by virtue of our suffering, and our desire to lean into Christ, we will become more like him.

Fourthly, Paul tells us that character produces hope – hope of a future with Christ in God’s new creation, where there is no suffering, no sin, no pain and no death. Hope of an eternity with Jesus as a consequence of his death and resurrection. As we become more Christ-like, we become more aware of our ultimate destiny, the final destination of our journey through life on earth – salvation, eternal life in God’s perfect new creation. 

There is no doubt that suffering hurts. It is painful. It can sometimes feel like it is more than we can bear. But because of our justification by faith, and our peace with God, we can find joy even as we suffer. We can be joyful because of the future hope that our relationship with Christ gives us. By leaning into Jesus and drawing comfort from him, we can find the energy to persevere, to keep going when life gets really tough. And by leaning into Christ, we find our character developing, and Christ in turn shaping our character. Our lives are transformed to more closely resemble Jesus’ life, and his character. Becoming more Christ-like, we can draw on new hope – a new hope of our salvation. We place our confidence and trust in Jesus, and consequently find hope in his suffering, and his death on the cross, and his resurrection. We trust that he suffered in our place. We trust that he died in our place. And we trust that just as Christ rose to new life, so too will we. After all, from an eternal perspective, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Yet not what I will, but what you will

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Mark 14:32-37

We all experience suffering in our life. Unfortunately it is inevitable that we will all find ourselves experiencing situations that we would rather not, situations that bring hurt, or anger, or upset, or frustration, or pain, or any combination of all of these. Those outside the church might see the existence of suffering as evidence for there not being a God. How, they might ask, could a God of love simply sit back whilst there is so much pain, hurt and upset in the world? For a Christian in anguish, it is only natural to wonder why God has led us into this painful scenario. We might wonder if we are being punished by God, and if so why? We may even begin to doubt our faith. Suffering is hard. Suffering can be really hard. Sometimes it can feel as if we are experiencing more hurt than we can possibly bear.

Writing in May of 2021, in a world that has been so significantly shaped by COVID for more than twelve months, I suspect that many of us have experienced suffering in a way that we wish we hadn’t.

What I find remarkable about this passage in Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus, too, experienced the same mental anguish associated with suffering that we all experience from time to time. He went to pray, and, as Mark records, “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” Jesus said to his disciples, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

I wonder how many of us have experienced such a deep, painful sense of sorrow that our soul, our very person, feels like it is broken? How many of us have been so overwhelmed that just carrying on seems more than we can bear. And here is Jesus, experiencing that same emotion, that same overwhelming burden of grief, of pain, of distress.

It’s not clear precisely what is the cause of Jesus’ anguish. Maybe it’s the prospect of what he knows is coming – his painful death on the cross. Maybe it is the realisation that his death is going to necessitate abandonment by his father, the breaking of that deep, mysterious bond between God the Father and God the Son. Maybe it is the prospect of the overwhelming burden of the sin of all of humanity being piled upon him. Maybe it is just the reality of the human condition, the sense of how broken, how fallen, how sinful, how far from God people are, and yet so many are completely oblivious to their condition.

Whatever the cause is, here is Jesus, the Son of God, overwhelmed by sorrow, experiencing those deep and bleak emotions that we all feel from time to time. Here he is experiencing the emotions that often drive people from God, feeling that God cannot understand the weight of their anguish, since they do not feel his presence. 

Yet Jesus can, and does understand our anguish, since he has been there for himself.

What is Jesus’ response to this overwhelming sorrow? He calls out to God with one of the most profound and moving prayers in the Bible: “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus knows that God the Father is in control. He understands that God the Father can do anything. And, whilst Christians believe that Jesus is God, we see Jesus here demonstrating his full human-ness too. He sets before God his Father what he wants – take this cup away from me. Stop my suffering, he prays to his Father. How many of us have prayed that very same prayer? Please, Father God, take away my suffering. Stop my pain and anguish. I know you can, Father, so please, I beg you, end my suffering.

When we think that God cannot possibly understand the depth of our pain and anguish, the hurt that we are experiencing, we should remember this moment of anguish that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. God does understand our suffering, because he has been there himself, in the person of Jesus Christ.

What a truly remarkable thought that is.

Jesus follows up this plea to his father with the affirmation, “yet not what I will, but what you will.” He affirms that he desires to bring his will in line with his Father’s will for his life. Whilst he might want his cup of suffering taken away from him, he understands that his Father has a plan, a plan that involves him experiencing despair and sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane, a plan that involves him experiencing separation from his Father, a plan that involves him suffering a painful death upon the cross.

Jesus knows and understands that there is a purpose to his suffering. The cup that his Father would have him drink is the cup of God’s wrath, God’s anger towards and judgement of all humanity because of our sinful nature. Jesus knows that if he drinks fully from this cup, his actions will save humanity, bring us freedom from sin, and allow us once again to enter into a relationship with God.

Whilst the cost to Jesus is immeasurable, the benefit to humanity is also immeasurable.

And so Jesus accepts his Father’s will for his life, even though it brings him “sorrow to the point of death.”

What can we learn from Jesus’ approach to his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane?

It’s alright for us to despair. It’s alright for us to feel sorrow, and pain, and anguish. Suffering is not necessarily a consequence of our own wrongdoing, but a consequence of living in a fallen, sinful world.

It’s alright to cry out to God. It’s alright to tell God how we’re feeling. It’s alright for us to beg God to take away our suffering.

But as we cry out to God and ask him to take away our suffering, we must remember that he might not do so. Jesus’ cry out to his father did not stop his death on the cross. Our pleas to God similarly might not end our own suffering.

Our suffering might be part of God’s will, or an enabler of God’s will, and whilst asking God to end our suffering, we, like Jesus, should affirm that ultimately we want to follow God’s will for our lives. And if that will involves suffering, so be it.

This is hard. This is tough and difficult. When we experience sorrow to the point of death, being told that it may well be God’s will for our life is incredibly painful. It can seem unfair and unreasonable.

But if it is part of God’s plan for our lives to suffer, we might find it reassuring to know that there is a purpose to, or despite, our suffering. There is a reason for the pain and anguish that we’re going through.

Jesus’ suffering led to our liberation from sin.

Our personal suffering might refine us, and mould us, and shape us into people that God can better use to bring hope and love to his creation.

Our personal suffering might teach us how to place our trust more in God, to be more faithful to him, to serve him better, to persevere more in our journey of faith with him.

Our personal suffering might enable us to get alongside others experiencing pain and anguish, and to understand them better, to empathise better.

It may well be that our personal suffering has no discernible benefit for us, or anyone else. It might feel that our suffering is utterly pointless. But even if this seems to be the case, we can draw hope from the fact that God can work through our pain and anguish, and that even if we cannot see it or understand it, we are playing a role in the creation of God’s kingdom here on earth.

There is no denying that this is difficult. This is really difficult. Yet I draw great comfort from understanding that Jesus went through exactly what we all go through, that he experienced the full range of human emotions and understands what it feels like to really suffer.

And Jesus’ prayer, “not what I will, but what you will”? What a challenging prayer to pray, but one which can bring us hope just by virtue of the fact that we are trusting that God has a plan for our lives, and that there is nothing better for us to do than asking God to bring this plan to fruition.

Remain in him

24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.
28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

1 John 2:24-29

GCSEs seem like a very long time ago to me now. Probably because they were. It was, in fact, 1995 when I sat my GCSEs. Whilst I don’t remember a huge amount about this process, I do remember my Year 10 History lessons. Partly because I loved History (perhaps why I’m a History teacher now!), but mainly because of the stand in teacher we had whilst our usual teacher was away from school on maternity leave. He was an interesting character to say the least. He used to carry everything around in a carrier bag – from Harrods no less! He used to challenge my friend Robin to chess matches. He gave every piece of work 30/30, then distinguished between a good and bad piece of work through the number of ‘v’s he awarded (for example, a less good piece of work might be graded 30/30 v v v good, whilst a superb piece of work might be graded 30/30 v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v good). But I remember him most of all because he taught us completely the wrong material for our exam. This meant that our usual teacher had a lot of ground to cover upon her return.

In this section of John’s letter, he warns about false teaching. The false teaching that concerns John, however, is the teaching of the ‘antichrists’ that has the potential to mislead Christians, to confuse them, and to corrupt the true Gospel message. John warns that those who engage in false teaching are deliberately trying to lead his readers astray. They are actively preaching an anti-Jesus, anti-Christ message in order to lead people away from the Church and its true teachings. This is, in fact, John reveals in verse 26, one of the primary reasons for him writing this letter in the first place.

Yet John says that those who hold firm to pro-Christ teaching, as opposed to anti-Christ teaching, need not worry. They have received an anointing from the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth to them through the Word of God in the Bible. They do not need teaching from elsewhere; the message in the Bible is sufficient. The Holy Spirit, through the anointing of Jesus’ followers, illuminates God’s word, and through this teaches us all things. Unlike the false teachers, whose message is, by definition false, there is nothing counterfeit about the Holy Spirit. His anointing of believers is real, and his teaching is not counterfeit. Of course, none of this negates the need to be taught, to have scripture explained, but it does mean that there is no need for any other teaching that is not already made known to them through God’s word.

There is good reason to hold firm to Biblical teaching. John implores his readers to “see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.” They need to keep in mind the Gospel message that led them to follow Christ. If they do, then they will “remain in the Son and in the Father.” By remaining firmly rooted in the teaching that lead to their conversion, their relationship with Jesus will be maintained, and, through Jesus, so will their relationship with God the Father. Ultimately, the result of this relationship is eternal life, a guaranteed place in the new creation, God’s perfect kingdom.

John concludes this section of his letter by imploring his readers to “continue in him,” to continue to place their confidence in Jesus and to strive to live lives that honour him. If we do, we can be “confident and unashamed before him at his homecoming.” Whilst those who have deliberately sought to mislead and deceive Christians will ultimately have to answer to Christ for their actions, those who continued to make Jesus the priority in their lives can be confident of being gifted eternal life by him.

Ultimately, if we know who Christ is, we know that everyone who honours and glorifies him has been born again as one of God’s children. We should be able to tell one of God’s people, a Christian, from their actions.

To conclude, we need to be aware of those who seek to mislead us with false or corrupted teaching. We need to ensure that we hold on to the established teaching of God’s Word, illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit which, if we are true believers, has anointed us. It is the Holy Spirit that will teach us real truths, not false truths. If we hold onto this then we will remain firm in the Son and in the Father, and can be confident before Jesus when he returns again. Ultimately will be rewarded with eternal life, eternity in God’s perfect kingdom.

You know the truth

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:18-23

It’s always sad when friends leave our church and head off to live or work in new areas. Of course, we wish them well and pray for them in their future endeavours, but it is sad to lose people who might have been close friends prior to their departure. This is particularly the case when these friends have not just been members of the same church, but members of the same home group. There’s a bond that develops between members of a home group that is always close. Studying the word together, sharing prayer together, will always develop that bond. It’s a closeness that we might not really experience anywhere else. Of course, usually in these circumstances our friends leave for positive reasons, and will quickly establish themselves in a new Church family.

Sometimes, though, people leave the Church because they have lost their faith. For whatever reason, they no longer believe that Jesus Christ was born on earth, the Son of God, who ultimately died on the cross, taking the sin of the world on his shoulders, and rising three days later.

In this passage, John is writing about the “last hour,” the time between Jesus ascending to heaven and returning to the world. He warns that this time is marked out by the coming of the antichrist. Even now, though, he says, many antichrists have come. Who are these antichrists? They are people who were previously members of the Church but have now left. These people are not like people who leave to move on to new Christian adventures; they have left because they have lost their faith. They are denying that Jesus is the Christ. Since Jesus is the only link we have to God the Father, they are denying not only Jesus, but God himself. 

The departure of these former friends reveals the sad truth; they were never really Christian believers at all. They might, for a time, have professed their faith with their mouths, but in their hearts, they had not been transformed by a genuine relationship with Jesus. They might have said all the right things to those around them. They might have signed up to the church rotas, and played their part in the life of the Christian community, but the sad truth is that they never really, fully believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. If they did, they wouldn’t have left. By going, they showed the truth; they were never really members of the body of believers at all.

These former friends haven’t walked away quietly. For John to refer to them as antichrists suggest that they actively taught a message that was counter to that of Christ, a message that was indeed anti Christ. They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Son of God. They may have been overt in their anti-Christian teaching, or they may have been more subtle, leading people astray by seeming to teach the Christian gospel message, but with tweaks and changes. Perhaps they were trying to make the gospel more palatable to those around them. Maybe they taught that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the offspring of Mary and Joseph, or Mary and a Roman centurion. Perhaps they taught that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, but that his body was stolen from the tomb. Maybe they taught that Jesus was not the Son of God at all, but simply a good teacher, or just one more prophet. Does it really make a difference, they might have said, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Does it really change your faith?

I sense in John’s writing that the people he was writing to were greatly concerned by this situation. It looks like they have been called liars by the ‘antichrists’ for holding firmly to the message that they had been taught. Maybe those who remained faithful were worried that perhaps it was they who had the message wrong after all. Maybe their former friends were right, they might have pondered. I’m sure that this was a worrying time for them.

John wants to reassure his readers, however. It is they, he says, who are right, not the leavers. They have been anointed by the ‘Holy One,’ unlike those who had abandoned them. In contrast to those who had left the Church, they acknowledged the son, and consequently, had a firm connection with God the Father. No lie comes from the truth, John tells them. It is not they who are the liars, but the leavers, who are denying Christ, and spreading false teaching about him.

This passage addresses two big issues confronting the Church at the moment. The first is one of declining membership of the Church. Scarcely a day goes by without the media reporting falling attendance at churches. Those of us who remain, reading this news so regularly, might find ourselves wondering if the Church has a future in our country. Yet John suggests that those who stop attending churches didn’t ever really belong to the Church. If they did, they would have stayed. They may have known the Gospel, they might have played their part in the organisation, they may even have had positions of leadership. Yet the harsh truth is that it is almost certain that their hearts and minds had never really known Jesus. If they had, they would not have denied him. If they had been anointed by ‘the Holy One’, they would have known the truth. In all likelihood, therefore, they had never known this anointing.

I remember, years ago, listening to Dick Lucas preaching, and hearing him say that he was pleased that church attendance was declining, because it meant that those who did not truly believe, for whom church was just a social club, had removed themselves. Those who remained were those who truly believed, who knew Christ, accepted his death and resurrection, and who strive to follow him in their daily lives. Lucas was suggesting that departures from the Church make it stronger, not weaker.

The second issue addressed by this passage is deceptive teaching by antichrists, deniers of Christ. The media regularly has stories of bishops outlining beliefs that run contrary to mainstream, Biblical teaching. It might be denying the virgin birth, or teaching that the resurrection did not happen. It might be bending of Christian teaching to fit the contemporary world, perhaps by attempting to redefine marriage or relationships. They might still claim to have a Christian faith, they may still identify themselves as Christians, but the reality that John sets out here is that these people are liars, who, in denying Jesus, are denying the Father. These are people who never really belonged to the Church, who have never truly experienced anointing by the ‘Holy One’.

We need to recognise antichrists when we see them. It is important, though, that those of us who remain in the Church hold firm to the truth, and don’t have our heads turned by the lies emanating from these antichrists, whether they speak from within or outside the Church. If we have been anointed, if we acknowledge Jesus as saviour, and if we consequently acknowledge God as Lord, master and creator, then we know the truth and will not be swayed by lies and half truths,

How do we know if we’ve been anointed by the Holy One? I would suggest that if we make following Jesus the centre of our lives, study his word and listen to all he says to us through it, and speak to him in prayer; if we put him first in all we do; if we humbly accept his will for our lives, then we can be confident of our anointing. If we’re worried that we haven’t, simply having that worry might suggest that in fact we have been. It nevertheless does no harm to pray that the Holy One will anoint us, and that God will equip us to stand firm against lies and deception.

It is clearly sad when we see people leave our fellowship. It is enormously sad when people we have looked up to start teaching ideas in direct contradiction of mainstream Biblical teaching. We should not dwell too much on the departed, though, or listen to teachings and philosophies which contradict the teaching of Jesus. Instead, we should hold firm to the traditional teachings of the Church, knowing that by doing so we are acknowledging Jesus, and through him, his Father.

Do not love the world

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

I used to be very politically active. I worked with a local “prospective parliamentary candidate” on two occasions to try to get him elected to parliament. (He wasn’t). I twice stood for election to my local council. (I wasn’t). I even went through the process of joining the party’s candidates’ list so that I could stand for parliament myself. (They rejected me). Something that I remember vividly from this time however, was that the party was absolutely insistent that membership of their party was incompatible with membership of any other party. I suppose it makes sense. But when I was just beginning out in politics at university, the idea of joining all the main parties was quite appealing. By keeping a foot in all the camps (aside from requiring me to grow more feet) would have enabled me to find out what each of the parties was really about. It would have given me an insight into who they were, of what they believed, and perhaps keep my options open with regard to my own potential political career. But I played by the rules, and joined only the one party.

John today tells his readers that citizenship of God’s kingdom is incompatible with citizenship of “the world” – the world of sin and darkness which is the realm of the devil. It is not possible to follow God and to live an actively sinful life. If we try to keep our feet in both camps, the truth is that we are not really part of God’s kingdom at all, since that incompatibility would show that ultimately we lack trust in God’s ability and willingness to transform our lives and open the gates of heaven to us. As John says, “if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” It simply isn’t possible to keep our options open; we either follow God wholeheartedly or else we are lost to him. If we fail to grasp the significance of who he is and what he has done for us, and strive to live lives that honour him, then the truth is that we don’t wholly love him.

John provides us with some specifics that might demonstrate to us that our relationship with the father might not be as secure as we might like to think. He lists three types of sin in this context. He talks about the lust of the flesh, which suggests that we chase after things that bring pleasure to our bodies but which are actually empty and meaningless. Maybe we stuff ourselves with food to bring ourselves pleasure. Maybe we drink to excess. Perhaps we use drugs that bring temporary satisfaction but which ultimately harm our bodies. Perhaps we chase pleasure by sleeping around or by using pornography. These actions are all incompatible with a genuine relationship with the father and suggest that “love for the Father is not in [us].”

The second sin John mentions is “lust of the eyes.” This suggests that we break the commandments against coveting and succumb to materialism. It might be that we lust after a new car, a bigger house, the latest phone, or a fatter pay check. It might also suggest that we lust sexually after someone to whom we are not married. Again, John stresses the incompatibility of these desires with a genuine relationship with the Father.

The third sin John singles out is “the pride of life.” If we find ourselves striving for recognition, praise, for applause then we have fallen victim to this sin and the Father is not genuinely in us.

To fall victim to these three sins is to follow the ways of the sinful world. Citizenship of that world is incompatible with citizenship of God’s kingdom. Ultimately, of course, if we pursue those things that bring satisfaction to our bodies, that make ourselves feel better about ourselves, we are pursuing a short term avenue. John tells us that “the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.”

It is foolish therefore to pursue short term pleasure. Instead we should fix our eyes on Christ, to reflect on his sacrifice, and strive to live as he did in the world – a life of sacrifice, a life in which we put God above all things, and others before ourselves. Not easy, but ultimately far more rewarding than living the way of the world.

The darkness has blinded

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:9-11

A few years ago I was hurt enormously by someone who was in a position of leadership over me. Even after several years have passed, I still bear the emotional scars caused by my treatment at the hands of this person, and I suspect I will carry these to the grave. What I found particularly difficult was that this person claimed to be a Christian. I found it hard to reconcile his treatment of me with Christ’s commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. Managing my feelings towards this person is an ongoing project; just as I think I have put my anger towards him aside and forgiven him in my heart, something happens that pushes me away from forgiveness and towards raw hatred towards this person.

There are times when loving someone is incredibly hard, almost impossible, yet this is the expectation that Jesus has of his followers. He provided us with an inspirational model of this behaviour. As he hung on the cross, he prayed to his father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). My incident pales into comparison with this. I find it hard to forgive, yet Jesus, in agony on the cross, asked for forgiveness for his executioners!

John told us at the beginning of this letter that he was writing so that we will not sin. He wants his audience to understand our wrongdoing and assure us of our salvation. He has told that that God is light and that there is no darkness in him at all (1:5). He has told us that if we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and reassured us that if we confess our sin will be forgiven (1:8-9). He has told us that we must strive to live as Jesus did (2:6). Now, in this passage, he gives us a specific example of how some might fall short of the expectations Christ has of us. Anyone who claims to follow Jesus but hates a fellow believer “is still in the darkness.” Such a person is outside the love of God and falling short of the expectation that God has of us. John warned us in 1:6 that “if we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” If we call ourselves Christians and yet hate a fellow believer, we are, John tells us, liars.

If we hate a brother or sister, we lose our sense of direction and will struggle to follow God’s plan for our lives because we have been blinded by the darkness of the world. We have removed ourselves from God’s guiding light and opted instead to follow the ways of the world.

This is an incredibly hard message for us, yet it is resolutely a call for action. We need to reflect on the relationships that we have with our fellow believers and ensure that these relationships are based on love. That’s not to say that from time to time we will not fall out or fail to see eye to eye with other Christians, but the overriding emotion we have towards these people – even those who have, inadvertently or deliberately set out to cause us hurt – should be love. If we feel anything less that that towards them then we have lost our orientation and allowed the darkness of the world to nudge us out of our relationship with God.

I wonder if there are brothers or sisters, fellow believers, who you feel hatred towards? Do you need to ask God to initiate a process of healing, to remove this hatred, and replace it with love? I have no doubt that there will be many people who without God’s intervention will find it practically impossible to turn hatred into love – I count myself amongst that number. Yet John is absolutely clear that if we are not to be liars in our faith, we have no option but to replace hatred with love.

Having established the primacy of love in our relationships with our fellow Christians, the question follows – how do we express this love? Do we put others before ourselves? Do we recognise the needs of others – material or spiritual, physical or emotional – and help to fulfil these needs? Do we know each other well enough to recognise where there is a need? Do we build relationships that are open and honest enough to admit when there is a need? This all to me suggests the need to forge incredibly close relationships with our fellow believers, to go significantly further than the typical Sunday, “how was your week?” greeting and to foster relationships that are more than simply brotherly or sisterly in name, but in practice too.

How will you attempt to develop and deepen your relationships with your Christian brothers or sisters in order to love them more? Perhaps your Church has small groups that you could join? Perhaps you could put together a prayer triplet? Maybe you could have someone round to lunch or meet them for a coffee?

The true light is already shining

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:3-8

Did you see “The Generation Game” on television recently? This classic game show is (or feels) almost as old as time itself, and has itself been regenerated many times. I remember the show being presented by Bruce Forsyth and Jim Davidson when I was younger, but this time around the show was presented by those former stalwarts of “The Great British Bake Off,” Mel and Sue. There’s been much written about the revival of this show on social media and in the press; apparently, despite its relaunch, it is very similar to the previous incarnations, which, depending on your view is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

In today’s verses from John’s first letter, John focuses on God’s commands and whether these are new or old. Before he reflects too much on this point, however, he makes clear that in his view, keeping God’s commands is an indication of whether or not someone truly knows God. It is not possible, John maintains, for someone to say that they know (and follow) God, whilst simultaneously ignoring the commands that he makes on our lives. Once again, John uses the term “liar” to refer to such a person. On the other hand, if someone knows God and strives to obey his commands, then “love for God is truly made complete in them.” In other words, striving to lead a life that is obedient to God demonstrates that an individual truly loves God and wants to honour him in all that they do. John extends this by saying that if you want to see if someone genuinely loves God, then they will be striving to live as Jesus did, striving to reach the perfection of Christ.

John makes it clear that there is a continuation between the commands that Christ gives and those “old” commandments which the Jews amongst his readership would, in particular, be familiar with. The “old” commands have been around since the beginning, and would probably be most familiar in the Ten Commandments given to Moses. John stresses that what he is writing here is not replacing these commands but rather building on them. At the same time, the command is also new, since it has been interpreted by Christ and fulfilled through his death and resurrection. Whilst the old command dealt heavily in guilt and punishment, this new command is best characterised by love, specifically the love that Jesus has for all his followers, as seen in his willingness to die in their place upon the cross. The call that Christ makes on the lives of his followers is in a way new, and is evident in Jesus and his followers. As a consequence of Christ’s commands, the world is slowly beginning to change. Jesus is the light of the world, the one true light, the source of all goodness in the world. This light shines not only from Christ himself but from all those who chose to follow him, to honour him by living according to his commandments.

It’s not enough just to honour Christ with our words; we must also honour him with our actions. Those of us who claim to follow him have a responsibility to live as Christ did, and to be beacons of Christ’s light and love in the darkness of the world around us. Each day as I read the news it seems to be that this is more important now than at any point during my life. Let’s all strive to follow Christ and to be beacons of the true light in the world we encounter each day of our lives.

We have an advocate

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.