Christmas is definitely a wonderful time of year. But it's also a bit of a production, right? On average there will be $800 spent for every man, woman, and child in this country. Almost two billion Christmas cards are going to be sent. So it can be a very big production. But of course the problem is that you could buy all of the presents, send the cards, attend parties, and decorate your house and Christmas tree and still not be experiencing what Christmas is really all about. What I want to do this morning is have us listen to someone who discovered the meaning of Christmas. He personally met the meaning of Christmas.
So let's turn in our Bibles to 1 John 1:1-4. 1 John was written by John the Apostle. John was a fisherman, lived in Palestine in the First Century A.D., was powerfully transformed by meeting Jesus Christ, and wrote the Gospel of John and 1, 2 and 3 John. This letter, 1 John, is all about how he discovered life, what life is really all about. There's more to life than just working, eating, sleeping, and playing; you can do all those things and not really experience life as it was meant to be experienced. John writes this letter to tell us about the life that he discovered. That's what I want us to look at this morning. But before we dig into this passage, just think about yourself. What do you pursue to feel alive? What do you run after in order to be filled up, energized, and passionate about life? What do you pursue to really live?
Eric Weiner, author of Man Seeks God, wrote a fascinating article, in which he describes his search for life. Listen to what he says and see if you can relate to this:
The 17th Century French philosopher Blaise Pascal coined the term "God-shaped hole" to describe the yawning void that is the human condition. Over the years, I've attempted to fill my God-shaped hole with all manner of stuff—food, sex, [leather-tote] bags, success, more food, travel, drugs, books, more food, leather-bound notebooks, Red Zinfandel, Cuban cigars, yet more good food, pretentious foreign films, and once briefly and ill-advisedly a concoction of Guinness and Jack Daniels imbibed through a plastic funnel.
He concludes, "None of this has worked." He describes the human condition as having a yawning void. We're all looking for something to fill up that yawning void, something to give us life. But nothing that Eric Weiner pursued gave him the life he was looking for. Nothing filled that void. Nothing gave him the life that he was seeking. John tells us how he found life and how he filled his yawning void.
That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
What "life" is John talking about in these verses? 1 John is all about this "life" and he gives us enough clues in these first four verses to figure out what the "life" is. I notice first of all the words of verse one, "That which was from the beginning … ." So this "life" that satisfies our yawning void was in existence before the Civil War, before the Roman Empire, before creation. From the beginning it has existed. That's important because if I told you that the solution to your yawning void kind of popped into being maybe ten years ago you'd think, "Well, I don't know about that." This has stood the test of time. So this "life" was from the beginning.
Second, I noticed in verse 2 that this "life" is eternal. Notice how John says, "The life was made manifest, and we've seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life … ." It's eternal, it lasts forever. Once you taste of it, it will last forever for you. That's helpful because you know that jobs come to an end, careers move into retirement, movies all end up running the credits. Death will bring everything in this life to an end. But here is "life" that is eternal, eternally filling that yawning void.
From the beginning it's eternal—what is it? A huge clue comes in verse two, "The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father." So the life that fills our yawning void was from the beginning, it's eternal, and it was with the Father. Now, if you've read John's gospel you know what John's talking about here. Who or what is he talking about? He's talking about Jesus Christ. You can see that crystal clear in 1 John 5:12. So let's turn to the last chapter of 1 John. Look at what he says in 1 John 5:12. We'll see that the "life" is Jesus. 1 John 5:12, "Whoever has the Son [the Son of God, Jesus Christ] has life. Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." So the "life," John says, that has filled his yawning void, the "life" that will fill your yawning void, is Jesus Christ the Son of God. Now, how can John be so sure? How does he know that?
Life made manifest
You might think, Well, it's just that John had a lot of faith. You know, faith doesn't need reasons; faith just kind of closes its eyes and leaps out. Isn't that what the Bible teaches we're supposed to do? No. The Bible is full of reasons. God gives us reason after reason after reason. Here in these verses John tells us how he can be absolutely sure that Jesus is real and that the life he gives us in himself is absolutely real. Look at what he says in verse two. He says, "The life was made manifest." That word, "made manifest," means it was made real, became visible, and tangible. "The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (made real to us, made visible to us, made tangible to us)." So God had this Life become tangible, real, and visible to John and the other disciples.
So when did God do that? Turn back to John's gospel, chapter one. Notice all the parallels between what he says here and what he wrote in the first four verses of his letter. When did God make this life manifest to us? Verse one, "In the beginning was the word." Now, in John's gospel he describes Jesus as the Word. Jesus is the Word, the message from God to us. So "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse four says, "In him was life and the life was the light of men." And then skip down to verse 14, "And the Word [Jesus Christ, the Son of God] became flesh." Jesus Christ, who was fully God, became a man. So here's the manger, the Word became flesh, became not just fully God but became fully man. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us," John says. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. So when did God make this life manifest to John so that he could touch and see and hear? It was 2,000 years ago in a little town outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. A baby born to Mary and Joseph named Jesus. No room for them in the inn. Laid in a manger.
Now, with that picture in mind, go back to 1 John 1. How did John know that this life is real, that Jesus is really the life that we were meant to have, the life that would fill our void? It's not because he took some blind leap of faith. He says, "That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the Word of life." That's how John knew. He heard Jesus teach, and when Jesus taught, the things that he said filled John's soul with peace and caused his heart to leap with joy. John goes on to say what he saw with his own eyes. His own eyes saw Jesus talk to blind Bartimaeus whose eyes were dead, and he said, "Be healed," and his eyes were healed. Remember the story about the gale-force winds in the Sea of Galilee and the disciples are all afraid for their lives and Jesus says, "Quiet," and the gale-force winds stopped. John saw that with his own eyes. He saw Jesus commanding Lazarus, whose corpse for four days was decomposing and stinking, "Come forth, Lazarus," and he saw Lazarus come out of the tomb alive. John heard with his own ears and he saw with his own eyes, and he touched with his own hands. There's a verse in Luke 24, after the resurrection Jesus says to the disciples, "See my hands, nail-pierced hands, see my feet, nail-pierced feet." He says, touch me and see that it's me. John touched with his own hands, he heard with his ears, he saw with his eyes, and he touched with his hands. God had made the reality of Jesus, the Son of God, our Life, manifest to John and to all the disciples.
This is huge. Lots and lots of people have opinions about what life is all about. Okay, you can go down to Barnes and Noble, check out the self-help section, and you'll see all kinds of answers. Let's say there's a curtain up here on the stage and we're all on this side of the curtain and behind that curtain is what life is all about. So we're all out here and we're wondering, and people have all kinds of ideas. Some think it's the Buddha who is life and some think it's just the unity of all things in creation and the universe—that's what life is all about, getting in sync with the universe. Other people think it is Krishna or Muhammad. Some people think there's nothing there; this is all that there is and then it's over. We're all here on this side of the curtain having our opinions about what life is really all about.
But here is what God has done: he has opened up the curtain. This is what life is really all about—the Word, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. God opened up the curtain and said, "You don't need any more opinions, you don't need any more people wondering, I'm showing you. You can hear, you can see, you can touch, you can feel. I'm making this real to humanity. The curtains are opening and I'm manifesting what life is all about to you. It's all about my Son, Jesus Christ, knowing him. Knowing him is what life is all about." That's what John says, that's why John knows for sure this is life. "I've seen, heard, touched, and my yawning void has been satisfied in knowing God through the person of Jesus Christ." So John experienced this and he turned from whatever else he was trusting to satisfy him, put his trust in Jesus and for the first time filled, yawning void satisfied. That's how John can know for sure that this is all true.
Now also in these verses he talks about what it means to experience this life. What does it mean? Look at how he describes it in verse three, it was manifested, " … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." So John wants us to enter into the fellowship that he has with the Father and the Son. Now, the word "fellowship," what does that mean? It means that you share in something, you experience something, you personally know something. So this life is all about sharing together and having fellowship with and sharing in the real experience of God the Father through Jesus the Son, s haring together and experiencing God the Father and Jesus. That's what life is all about. Now, this is important because a lot of people think that what Christianity is about is agreeing to certain truths about God, Jesus, the cross, and so on. These truths are really, really important, the truths are essential, but Christianity is much more than just agreeing to truths. Christianity is about experiencing the presence of God the Father through Jesus the Son. It's not just about agreeing to truths about God the Father and Jesus, but experiencing the presence of God the Father and Jesus the Son.
I'll give you a little illustration. Here's a jar of honey. I assume, you all agree to truths about this honey. Do you all agree that this honey bear exists? Do you believe that this honey is sweet? So you can believe these truths. Now, believing truths about honey, though, is profoundly different than experiencing the reality of honey. See, up to this point I have just believed the truths about honey, but now I'm going to move into a whole new dimension by tasting the honey. Not only that, but if I come down here and I can have fellowship with my wife in this. See, now we've moved into a whole new dimension in the fellowship we have in experiencing the reality of honey. That's a huge difference.
Many people think that Christianity is all about believing truths about God or about Jesus, and that's important. It starts there. But that's not the whole sum and substance of faith in Christ. It's fellowship with the Father and fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. It's experiencing the presence of God the Father and the presence of Jesus Christ and sharing in him and having fellowship with each other in our fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son. That's what fills the void. That's what fills the yawning void. It's the reality of God the Father through Jesus the Son. It's a honey tasting real thing. So the life that fills our void is fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son, experienced with others. That's what fills the yawning void.
Life made real
One last question, why does John tell us this? In these four verses, why does he write this letter to tell us about them? First, he wants us to experience it. He wants you to experience this. Look at what he says in verse three, " … that which we've seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." See, you could think that the only people who get to experience this are the disciples who lived back there, but John says no. Here's why. Jesus taught something very interesting. He said to John and to the disciples, "I'm going to go after my death and resurrection and ascension, I'm going to ascend into heaven, I'm going to be gone. But it's going to be better for you that I go because I'm going to send the Holy Spirit who will make me as real to you as if I was here with you physically. It's better for you that I go because I'm going to send a Helper. He will make my presence and God the Father's presence real to you."
See, this is the main job of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity: to make God the Father and Jesus the Son real to us in our experience, to glorify Christ by opening the eyes of our hearts, and to help us see and taste and feel and experience the very glory of Jesus Christ and of his Father. So the Holy Spirit is given so that even though Jesus isn't physically here right now (he's in heaven now with the Father), he has poured out the Holy Spirit and it's by the Holy Spirit that you can have a "honey tasting" real experience of God the Father and Jesus the Son. So who can experience this life? Everybody reading this letter. John writes this letter so that we can experience this fellowship with each other in fellowshipping with God the Father and Jesus.
Now, how do we experience this? Let me give you two crucial steps. The first is found in 1:9 where it says, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." There's a big barrier that keeps us from experiencing the life that God has sent to us in the person of Jesus. That big barrier is our sin. Sin means pursuing other things to satisfy that yawning emptiness. We pursue all kinds of other things, but that's at the root of all sin. That is what racism is about. That is what is behind greed, bitterness, pride, hatred, animosity, and covetousness. All of these things have one thing in common: they're attempts to pursue something besides Jesus Christ as my heart's satisfaction. So we have to confess that sin to God and ask him to forgive us.
How can he forgive us? There needs to be forgiveness because God is holy and righteous and every sin has to be punished because he is just. But the good news is Jesus came to earth. One of the reasons he came was so he could die on the cross in our place to pay for our sin. So the most amazing thing happens when you confess your sins to Jesus Christ and you say, "I'm sorry, I'm turning from those other things I used to trust to satisfy my heart, now I'm turning to you, forgive me, change me, help me." The moment that you pray that prayer all of your sins are forgiven—past sins, present sins, future sins. His power goes to work and starts to change you, and at that very moment you're adopted into God's family. God is your Father, and he will pour the Holy Spirit out upon you and you will taste. The first step is to confess your sin to Jesus.
The second step is to trust and seek Jesus as your void-filling treasure. When your heart is empty, turn to Jesus Christ. Say, "Help me." Open up the Word of God, ask brothers and sisters what Scripture would be helpful, pray with others, follow Jesus, and obey him. As you obey him in the path of obedience, he will be manifesting himself to you, making himself real to you. Trust Jesus as your void-filling treasure. As you live a life of confessing your sins to Jesus and trusting him as your void-filling treasure, you will experience this fellowship that John is talking about. Your heart will be filled, satisfied, at peace, content, and you'll be alive. You can work, sleep, eat, drink, and play and not live. This is living.
1 John 5:12 says, "He who has the Son, Jesus Christ, has life. He who does not have the Son does not have life." One thing I love is that this life does not depend on your circumstances. Isn't that amazing to think about? I mean, you might look at your life right now and say, "I need to get a life, my circumstances are a disaster, everything's going wrong." The beautiful thing about what John has experienced here, what he's describing in these words, is that he's describing a life that is not dependent upon any of your circumstances. So today you can turn your heart towards Jesus Christ, cry out to him, confess, meet him, ask him for help and he will meet you even if your circumstances haven't changed at all. You'll be alive in him. Sickness, financial pressure, relational difficulties, and discouragement—none of these circumstances affect the "life." The "life" is independent of those circumstances. It's an amazing thing that God has given to us. So that's the first reason John wants to tell us about this life, because he wants us to share with him in it.
But there's a second reason. It's very interesting what he says in verse four: "We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." His joy may be complete. My dad likes to quote a Swedish proverb, "A shared joy is a doubled joy." See, that's how fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son works when we share with other people. Here's what happens. When you feel and experience the truth of God in Jesus, the glory, beauty, majesty, faithfulness, love, tenderness, gentleness, and compassion—when the Holy Spirit works in your heart and you go from believing those truths to seeing them with the eyes of your heart and feeling them—your heart is so full that you want to share with others. You're filled and you want to share.
One reason you want to share it is because it's for their good. But another reason you want to share the good news of Jesus is because it's for your joy. Because when you share, it's like when you read something funny and you want to tell your spouse or a friend, "Hey, did you see this?" Why do I want to call my wife after I've read the Dilbert comic strip for the day? Because when she laughs about it I enjoy it even more. A shared joy is a doubled joy. When you experience the reality of God the Father and Jesus the Son, you will be so filled that you will want to share it with everyone you meet and everybody you talk to, for their good—because they can have life—and for your joy because as they get drawn into that then your joy will increase.
So here's my challenge to you: step out of your comfort zone. Between now and next Saturday night/Sunday morning, everywhere you go, everyone you meet, seek to share with them what you have in Jesus Christ. Seek to show them the life you have in Jesus and to share with them the life you have in Jesus. Seek to draw people with humility and not presumption into the fellowship that you have with the Father and Son so that they can share in the joy. Do that with fellow believers, do that with neighbors who don't know Christ yet, and do that with work associates. Because as you share that joy, a shared joy will be a doubled joy. It will be for their good and it will be for your joy. And as you do that, you will be experiencing what Christmas is really all about.
Steve Fuller is lead pastor of Mercy Hill Church in San Jose, California.