Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sermon: St. John

27 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 John 1:1-2:2 (Rev 1:1-6, John 21:20-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. John, the evangelist and apostle whom the Church around the world commemorates today, wrote about Jesus: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Indeed, if there were an account of every work carried out by Jesus – from the Creation at the beginning of time, to the miracle of people around the world who are being baptized this very moment, to those whose sins are being forgiven right now, to all the millions in far flung nations of the world receiving the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ unto forgiveness and life on this very day, even the universe would begin to run out of room.

The works of Jesus are beyond comprehension – and yet, they are personal. The Lord Jesus is not about racking up big numbers on a tote board, rather He comes to us as His humble and beloved people – for as St. John also revealed what was revealed to him, this same Jesus “loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.”

And instead of giving us a book bigger than the world itself chronicling every work of Jesus, the blessed evangelist wrote that which the Spirit impelled him to write, proclaiming the Word necessary for our salvation and life, as he also testifies: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

“…written that you may believe” and “have life in His name” – this is the work of the holy evangelist. As his own gospel teaches us, St. John’s task is “bearing witness about these things,” and he “has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

St. John was not a blogger, a fiction writer, an essayist, a philosopher, or a wit. Rather he was an eyewitness, a disciple, an apostle, a preacher, a minister of the Gospel, a bishop, a man to whom the Lord appeared miraculously, giving revelations to John, and commanding him to “write what you see in a book.”

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life,” writes John, “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.”

And because the Lord used faithful John to record His Word, we Christians living twenty centuries later can continue to read, pray, meditate, sing, memorize, teach, and proclaim God’s Word. St. John was called to write the Gospel that bears witness to the life of our Lord, unambiguously declaring Him to be God in the flesh. He also wrote three letters to Christians teaching us how to live out the faith, teaching us that God is love, and warning us about false teachers in the last days, antichrists who will deny the incarnation of God in the flesh. And John also penned the final book of Scripture, the Revelation, the Apocalypse of our Lord Jesus Christ, Scriptures that comfort us in showing us the glories that await all believers in heaven, as well as putting forth prophecies that will be unsealed when the time of their fulfillment when the Lord’s return draws near.

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” is also beloved by the Church. St. John remained with our Lord and the Virgin Mary at the cross, and was entrusted by our Lord to take care of His blessed mother. John was persecuted by the emperor Domitian, being exiled to Patmos where he received the Revelation that became the Bible’s final book. St. John served the church in Ephesus and was the last living apostle, dying around 100 AD.

St. John was himself a teacher to many other bishops who served under him, who later transmitted the faith to future generations, such as St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. St. John was revered as the last living link to our Lord, the “apostle whom Jesus loved.” His students were particularly careful to transmit the Word of the Lord faithfully and precisely, and to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel they were taught so forcefully by their own teacher and bishop, the beloved apostle and eyewitness of the Lord.

St. John’s testimony is so powerful in part because of its simplicity. John’s Greek is the easiest to read, and his portrait of Jesus most clearly confesses our Lord’s divinity and His humanity. The beloved summary of the Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” of course is from the Holy Gospel According to St. John, 3:16. Many of the texts in the Christian liturgy, Scriptures used in funerals, and words used in the creeds of the Church come directly from St. John’s Gospel. And the formula of confession used in many Lutheran churches is word for word out of John’s first epistle: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As a preacher, John did not shrink from proclaiming the law, nor did he hold back in lavishing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, tenderly calling his hearers “my little children” and constantly pointing them back to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he calls the “propitiation of our sins, and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.”

We celebrate St. John in the Church because we celebrate John’s Lord, the Lord of the Church. St. John provides all of us, pastors and laity alike, with an example of holiness and single-minded sense of purpose to hold Jesus before the world in thought, word, and deed – just as He is, was, and is to come.

St. John and his writings constantly hold before us the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the sacrifice whose blood sets us free, and that Jesus is also a real physical man who dwells in real space and time. Motivated by love and carried out by blood, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” He is “an Advocate with the Father” and “the propitiation for our sins.” He is the “Light of the World.” He is the “resurrection and the life.” He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” He is the Word that was God, was with God, and the Word that became flesh.

We know all of these things about our Lord Jesus Christ because of St. John’s faithful ministry as an evangelist and preacher of the Good News, one sent out by the Lord to proclaim the simple truth that “God is light” and “if we walk in the light, 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.”

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom of priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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