A sermon on 1 John 5:6-12 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 9 May 2021
The process of a court trial depends on two things. The testimony of witnesses and evidence. A witness is someone who has first hand knowledge of the matters in the case. They didn’t learn it from someone else. They know it for themselves. They might have seen something. They might have heard something. They might have expert knowledge that will shed light on the facts.
But the case will not only rest on this personal testimony but also on evidence. Finger prints. Foot prints. Blood stains. Letters, emails and texts that establish the facts. Together, the testimony of witnesses and evidence lead the court to a right judgment about the accused. Everything else is just hearsay and speculation.
In the letter of 1 John we see Jesus Christ on trial. The church that John wrote to had split in two over different opinions and claims about Jesus. Claims which could not both be true and between which there could be no compromise. Each and every believer had to choose.
It is into this bitter division that John weighed in with his letter. Other people might have played personalities. “Trust me,” John could have said, “not them. Believe me.” Other people might have pointed to the institution of the church, underpinned by the authority of the apostles themselves. But John pointed to Jesus Christ. In a sense, he had to. John had made bold claims about Jesus. In chapter 5, verse 1, John said,
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.
In verse 5, he said,
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
So John had to point not only to Jesus Christ, but also to the evidence about him. To the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood.
John went on in verses 6 to 8,
This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
It is clear that the Spirit of God gives testimony in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. At his baptism the Spirit came down upon him like a dove. It led him into the desert where he was tested by the devil and defeated him. And the Spirit worked through Jesus in his miracles. As Jesus read in the synagogue of Nazareth, quoting from the prophet Isaiah,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
No wonder the people believed that God was among them. They travelled for miles, they travelled for days just to see him. And they brought him their sick. Their blind, their deaf, their lame. And he healed them. He brought them life. He brought them relief from their suffering. And he taught them. He taught them with authority. He taught them like the Spirit of the prophets of old was at work in him.
The Spirit certainly testified to Jesus. Its evidence was compelling and hard to ignore. And to this point the false teachers might have agreed with John. But they differed over precisely what was the source of Jesus’ divine power. The false teachers argued that it was the gift of the Spirit. That Jesus was an extraordinary man but only a vessel, a container for the power of God. They argued that it was right to give Jesus some credit, but that it was wrong to give too much.
But John wanted to say more. He was not content to simply point to the testimony of the Spirit. Instead he went to the heart of the matter, to the core of the dispute in the church by pointing to the testimony of the water and the blood.
The testimony of the water points not just to the Spirit which came upon Jesus at his baptism, but to the water of his baptism itself. When Jesus went to the river Jordan and lined up with those who had gone to John the Baptist to hear his preaching and to receive his baptism, his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, John tried to stop him. “I need to be baptised by you,” he said, knowing who Jesus was.
But Jesus insisted so that all righteousness could be fulfilled. He was dipped into the water of the river and as he emerged he heard the voice of God say,
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.
The water of his baptism testifies to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. That Jesus possesses the power of God, not because the Spirit came upon him, but because of who he was and because of his relationship to his Father. He was no mere vessel or container of power. But had been sent by his Father to do a job that no one else could do.
The water of his baptism also testifies to that job for which he’d been sent. Because the false teaches looked down on the humanity of Jesus. They said that it was only the Spirit that filled him that made him able to do anything at all. But the water of his baptism shows that it was as a human being of flesh and blood that the Son of God came to stand with and identify with sinful men. Of course he had no sin. John had tried to stop him because he thought that Jesus was too good for his baptism. But Jesus knew that he was too good not to submit to the water. For Jesus came, Jesus was sent, not just to be blameless, not just to be without sin, but to fulfil all righteousness, to do what was right in his Father’s sight, to heal the breach that lay between sinful human beings and the holy God.
The false teachers looked at Jesus’ baptism and saw only weakness. People like them only see a man covered with soot, or a woman with blood on her hands, and they can only see the filth. They only see that they need a wash. They can’t see the man under the soot, a firefighter who has battled the flames for days. They can’t see the woman behind the blood, the surgeon who has saved someone’s life in the emergency room.
But this is what real life is all about. Getting involved. Its raw need and pain call us to get involved. To roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty with other people’s mess. The false teachers looked at Jesus’ baptism and saw only weakness. But the testimony of the water points to Jesus so that we will see his greater strength with which he came to save us as one of us. The Son of God, sent by the Father, standing in line with the rest of us, sleeves rolled up and ready to get his hands dirty.
The testimony of the water points to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And the testimony of the blood points to its end. Not just to his death, but to his life’s goal, the sacrifice of his cross. Now I can only imagine the pain and the humiliation involved in crucifixion. But if there is one thing I know it is that it usually involves the loss of very little blood. The purpose of this execution is to crush the breath out of the victim and to literally break his heart. But there is very little bleeding, unless, in Jesus’ case, it was from the thorns in the crown the soldiers twisted together and from the blows of the whip on his back. So for John to draw attention to the testimony of Jesus’ blood serves two purposes.
Firstly, it confirms that his death was a sacrifice. In the sacrifices of the Old Testament there was always the shedding of blood. The bull or cow or sheep or goat was slain. Its blood was poured out or sprinkled upon the altar. And its carcass burned in flames. The blood was thought to be the power of life. It’s very basic medicine. Blood on the inside, good. Blood on the outside, bad. Blood on the inside, alive. Blood on the outside, dead. The difference between life and death was the blood. And it was poured out in the sacrifice to confirm that a life had been given for a life. That the worshipper’s death that their sin deserved had been paid by a substitute. That a debt had been incurred by one, but that it had been paid by another. That the sentence had been carried out for the sinner’s life, without requiring their death.
The reference to Jesus’ blood in 1 John chapter 5 is not so much to the nature of Jesus’ death that involved very little bleeding, but to the purpose of his death. As a sacrifice to fulfil all righteousness. It points not to the dead end of Jesus, to the end of the road for him but to his arrival at his life’s destination. The job that he had been sent for. The job that only he could do. As a human being for human beings. One taking the place of many that our debt may be paid.
Secondly John’s mention of blood serves to remind us of the finality of Jesus’ death. At his crucifixion the soldiers broke the legs of the thieves on either side of him. But they found that Jesus was already dead. To confirm it one of them took his spear and thrust it into Jesus’ side and out came water and blood. This evidence shows that Jesus didn’t come close to death, but that he fully experienced it. He didn’t risk his life to save us. He gave his life. “It is finished,” he had cried. And he gave up his spirit and died.
Again the false teachers would have looked at the cross and seen only weakness. But again the testimony of the blood summons us to see that it is in this weakness, in this pain and humiliation, precisely in this mortality, in his death, that Jesus shows himself to be the Son of God. Obedient to his Father’s will. Not weak, but strong enough to save us.
Spirit, water and blood. Their testimony joined together shows that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The one who is life. The one who has life to give. John wrote in verses 9 to 12,
We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
This is what is at stake in the dispute over who Jesus is. Nothing less than life and death. Because Jesus is not the only one who is on trial. For each one of us is on trial and the decision depends on the verdict we give to Jesus.
What do we see when we look at him? When you see him queued up for John’s baptism. When you see him sleeping in the boat as the disciples crossed the sea of Galilee. When you see him standing by the tomb of Lazarus and weeping. When you see him sweating drops like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. When you see him hanging from the cross. Do you only see his weakness? Do you see a man who is unfit to be admired or followed or obeyed? Or do you see his greater strength? Who overcomes not despite his humanity, but in and through his humanity. Who in our flesh and blood shows himself to be the Christ, the Son of God. Who with the Father and the Spirit is to be worshipped and adored.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” In the midst of our pain and weakness and mortality we long for that life. We long for life to come upon us, to overwhelm us. We long for power to overcome all our weakness. But life comes from the one who knelt in the water of the Jordan, who stood in the place of sinners. Life comes from the one who hung from the cross, who paid the debt of sinners. And power comes from the one who chose our weakness. So that life and power is most clearly seen not in the way of wonders and miracles, but in the way of obedience, in the way of Jesus, in the way of the cross. With sleeves rolled up and hands dirty with the mess of life.
This is eternal life. This is the life that lasts forever. This is the life that conquers death. Not just a second helping of life when this life is over. But the life of Jesus Christ, the son of God our Saviour, who demonstrates his greatest strength in our weakness.
Because it is a package deal. You can’t have one without the other. The testimony of Spirit, water and blood points to the fact that God has given us eternal life. And that life is in his Son, Jesus Christ. Refuse him, reject him, and you reject God’s only offer of life. Accept him, have him, and you have life.