Thursday, January 30, 2014

In With the Old; In With the New (A sermon based on 1 John 2:3-11)

Love one another. Jesus gave a new command on MaundyThursday. But the Apostle John says this command is something we've had since the very beginning. How is it old and new at the same time? We are still commanded to love one another. But knowing that we have forgiveness in Jesus for every time we fail to love, we have a new motive to keep that old command: out of love and thanks to him. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 John 2:3-11 and be encouraged to keep the old command in a new way...

In With the Old; In With the New
A sermon based on 1 John 2:3-11
Sunday, January 26, 2014 – Epiphany 2A

Out with the old, in with the new! You’ve probably noticed, the remodel in the school hallway. If not, go check it out after worship! The old carpet’s out, the new carpet’s in. The old benches will soon be out, new benches will be in. Old paint, covered up, new paint giving a fresh, clean look.
Out with the old, in with the new. Not just for remodels. Out with trash, in with the groceries. Out with the old threadbare clothes, in with the new purchases. Out with the old way of thinking, in with the new as a book or passage gives you new insight.
But this morning the Apostle John gives us some confusing words. He says, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one” as he reiterates God’s commands to love another and the necessity of our obedience to God. But then he says, “I am writing you a new command” and seems to only repeat that old command to love God by loving one another. In other words, “In the old and in with the new.” What does he mean? Let’s take a look at 1 John 2:3-11 and find out…

3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk 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 you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

I.              In With the Old

He carried his Bible around wherever he went. Talked about the blessings of the Almighty in his life. Talked about the Christian confessions that would guide him in his life. Declared that he drew his strength not from himself, but the Word of God. Thousands thought he was a man sent from God and followed him eagerly. His name was Adolf. Adolph Hitler. He sure sounded Christian, but what a hypocrite!!
A lot of people are hypocrites, aren’t they? A lot of Christians are hypocrites! I’ll bet you could name a few right now—you know, friends who claim to live in Jesus, but don’t walk as Jesus did, who claim to be in the light, but hate someone else, who claim to know God, but don’t do what God commands or keep the old command.
But what is the old command? Why doesn’t John tell us? He doesn’t need to! It’s too obvious. “We know…” John writes. It’s nothing new. “You’ve had it since the beginning!” And you know what it is too. But just in case you’re a bit sleepy this morning, let me help you out.
Paul had written in Romans 13(:9-10), “The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40)
The old command is simple: Love one another. Choose to serve other people ahead of yourself. Look to their interests, their preferences, their needs ahead of your own. We know what that looks like because that’s what Jesus did. He loved others. He lived to serve them. He shared difficult truths they needed to hear with no regard to what they thought of him. He humbled himself to wash people’s feet.
And that old command is still in. We are still called to obey his commands, to love our brother. Jesus didn’t change it. In fact, Jesus magnified it. He said in Matthew 5(:17-20), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them… I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law… For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Be just like Jesus. Walk as he did. Then you know you belong to God. And note that John didn’t write, “We know that [they] have come to know him if [they] obey his commands.” No. He wrote, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” This is not a call to judge who is and isn’t a Christian, but a call to an honest self-assessment. So how about it? Are you just like Jesus? Do you obey his commands? Do you walk as he walked? Do you love your brother from your heart? Do you live to serve God and others, not just in public, but in private? Do you behave the same at home or all alone as you do in church?
Feeling uncomfortable? Me too. We know the old command. But we don’t do. A lot of people are hypocrites. A lot of Christians are. …I am… I know what God wants me to do. But I don’t do it. Not always. And you are too. You look nice, but you’re not. Not always. Not in your heart. Ever lost your cool at home and shout at your spouse or kids? Or maybe you kept control, but did you love from your heart? Are you different at church than you are in your kitchen? I admit, I am. In fact, there’s plenty of sin in me that my family—those who know me best—can’t see.
And if we’re honest with ourselves and with God, we’ll admit that we’re like the actor, Robert Redford, who, when spotted in a hotel lobby and asked by an excited woman, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” replied, “Only when I’m alone.”
A hypocrite is literally an actor—one who wears a mask. And we all act every day don’t we? Mark Twain once said that we’re all like the moon in that we all have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see. But God sees. And through the apostle John, he calls it like it is. “Liar!” “Hypocrite!” “Still in the dark.” “Full of hatred toward others.” And John later wrote, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:15) We surely deserve the eternal darkness of hell.
So much law in these verses! So much truth in their accusations. So much truth in their accusations… against me. So what do we do? I can’t change my heart! I can act different, but I can’t be different. I can’t keep the old command that we’ve all known from the beginning! And neither can you!
Well… you know… You the solution. And you know that it doesn’t lie in you. “[The] truth is seen in him [in Jesus]… the true light is already shining.”

II.            In With the New

There is a lot of law in these verses, but the Gospel’s there too in that verse. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” But what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s look at the context. If we go back just a little bit, to the two verses immediately preceding our text, we see. There John writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
Jesus is the true light. By his perfect life or righteousness, by his innocent death as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, we are forgiven. That’s why John could say in the very next verse after our text, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12)
In the Alchoholics Anonymous Handbook it says, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” And how true that is! “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
So quit being a hypocrite. Take off the mask (at least before God). Confess your sin. Confess your loveless actions. Confess that you haven’t followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Confess that you have loved the darkness, chosen hatred, preferred your pride. Confess your hypocrisy to God. Because you know that he’ll forgive that too.
You remember that line in Silent Night: “Silent night, holy night. Son of God, love’s pure light,”? Well that line’s not saying that Jesus (the subject) loves (the verb) pure light (the direct object). There’s a comma there and an apostrophe. What it’s saying is that the Son of God (Jesus) also goes by another name: Love’s Pure Light. He is the pure light of God’s love—the image of God’s love for you and me shining brilliantly in this dark world. He loves us so much he sent his Son. Jesus loves us so much that he willingly lived and died for you and me and rose to give us the assurance that all is right with God. God loves you so much he shined the light of his grace into our lives personally through baptism and the Word. So now you know, that “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world.”
But we still haven’t answered that question in the introduction: What is the new command? It could be, “Believe in what Jesus has done for you,” as Jesus said in John 6(:29), “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” But I think that the context here suggests that the new command is still “Love.” On Maundy Thursday Jesus told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
But wait a second! The old command is “Love”? The new command is “Love”? What’s different then? What’s new? The key to discovering what’s new is in that second sentence: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The new commandment isn’t really love one another. That’s the old part. Love as Jesus loved. That’s the new part.
So how did Jesus love? It wasn’t a forced love. It wasn’t a “have to,” but a “get to.” He wasn’t driven by the law, but an eager desire to do what God wanted. I think the new command is a matter of motive. Now that you know the True Light that is already shining, you have a new way of thinking. You have a new approach to life. You have a new desire to serve Jesus, a new motive to love. You don’t have to do any good works to get to heaven. But because you’re going to heaven, you want to do good works.
I recently read about a neighborhood with a terrible crime rate. The residents pleaded with the police to patrol the streets more often and they did. But it had a minimal impact on the crime rate. So they came up with a new plan. The city installed bright streetlights all throughout that neighborhood. And almost overnight the crime rate dropped drastically. Where the light is shining the darkness disappears.
And that same is true in Jesus. The Light of the World exposes the darkness in my heart and in my life. But I don’t need to be scared of that confrontation, but can be thankful for it. Because I know the Light also blasts away the darkness of guilt and shame. I don’t have to look good to other people or be good enough for God. He has made me good enough—perfect—in Christ. And now the Light enables me to see things clearly and approach my other problems with a different perspective, in a new light. They’re challenges meant to cut away what’s holding me back, to test me, and to make me stronger in my faith.
And that faith—that trust in forgiveness of sins I have in Jesus—becomes much more than just an information retrieval system, where I learn the right answers, and nod and smile. It doesn’t just clean me up on the outside so I can be better hypocrites. It is living and active and changes me from the inside out, as Jesus moves me to want to live for him and not myself, and as Jesus moves me to want to live like him, in eager obedience to the Father, and sincere love for my brother.
And I know it does the same for you. Having seen what Jesus did do, we now can ask, “What would Jesus do?” in any given situation. We ask, “How can I serve as he’s served me?” Instead of losing our cool, we’ll show love and kindness. Instead of raging inside, we’ll see a fellow sinner in need of Jesus, and find patience. Instead of loving the shallow and empty entertainment of this world, we’ll love the Word of Truth that shines in our lives and put Jesus first in our hearts and in our schedules. And we are empowered to do it! To be obedient to God’s commands! To walk in the light! To walk just like Jesus did! To love as he loved us!
In with the old command to love one another. It still stands. But we have perfect forgiveness in Jesus for where we have and will fail to love. So in with the new motive to carry out that command. We get to show our thanks to him for shining in our dark lives and for rescuing us from our hypocrisy, from ourselves, and from hell.  We get to live in the Light. In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
(907) 690-1660

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