Raise your hand if you have ever been called to jury duty. Imagine with me for a moment that you receive that letter in the mail. So, you show up to the courthouse, go to that big room, they do the intake interview, and you’re selected. When they start calling on the witnesses you realize that this is a case of auto-theft. Someone stole a car and is now being judged for it.
Then they get to this witness called Mr. Jones, who supposedly saw the theft take place. The prosecutor asks him: “Mr. Jones, tell us what you saw that day.” Mr. Jones replies: “Motor vehicle theft is a crime that is plaguing our nation,” and he keeps going saying all these fancy words and statistics, until the prosecutor interrupts him and asks again: “Mr. Jones, tell us what you saw that day.” “Well, as an expert in auto theft prevention, I believe that it is rather necessary for the common good of our community” and off he goes again with all the fancy words, until the prosecutor asks one more time: “Mr. Jones, do you have anything to say about what you saw that day?” Mr. Jones nods quietly and he is dismissed.
Mr. Jones was indeed an expert in auto-theft prevention, one of the best in the state, but on that trial he wasn’t called as an expert, but as a witness. He wasn’t called to share his thoughts, but to give an account of the facts. He was called to proclaim what he saw, what he heard, what he experienced. He was called as a witness, just like we are.
John reminds us that our ultimate calling is not to be experts, but witnesses. Because we proclaim the One we know.
We Proclaim as Authentic Witnesses
Look with me at verses one and two: “what he have heard, what we have seen, what we have touched.” John repeats those statements several times because he knows that people listen to authentic witnesses over detached ideas. We proclaim the One we know because people listen to authentic witnesses over detached ideas. John is writing to a community that is struggling to believe. They are struggling to believe that Jesus was a real human being; someone with flesh and bones like you and me. And even though John is a pretty good writer, as you know, the Johannine community is quite educated, he knows that no amount of philosophy or fancy words will convince the audience. So he tells them about his personal experiences with the Word of Life. Because he knows that people listen to authentic witnesses over detached ideas.
The words of a preacher to a suspicious community should sound alarm bells in our postmodern minds. It’s not hard to relate. We could argue that our problem runs even deeper. John’s audience doubted that Jesus was a real man. Our contemporaries doubt that Jesus was real. And to be fair, postmodern secularism doubts not just Jesus or Christianity, but pretty much everything. French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard defines postmodernity as “incredulity toward metanarratives.” In other words, people of our time are conditioned to doubt anything that tries to explain everything: people are suspicious of religion, of course, but also of science; people reject pastors and theologians, but also doctors and researchers. We live in the age of doubt.
But the thing about humans is that we have to believe in something. We are made to latch onto something, and what we have seen lately is that people believe in people. We ignore experts but flock toward influencers. We buy things on Amazon not just because it’s cheaper or more convenient, but also because we can read the reviews. We get to learn from real users, authentic witnesses.
And that’s the exact model that Jesus left for us! He didn’t say “you will be my experts.” He said “you will be my witnesses!” You will proclaim the one you know! You will proclaim the one you experience Now, at this point you may be asking: “if that’s the case, why are we here? If it’s all about my experience with Jesus, why do I have to spend 3, 5, 7 years of my life in this building?” Well, because it is not about my experience alone. It’s about the experience of the community of saints. Notice the first-person plural. It’s about the witness of the entire community of faith: the witness of the prophets, of the apostles, and of all the saints of the church that point to Jesus Christ together! We are at Truett Seminary during the week and at church on Sundays not to become experts on God, or to “master the divinity.” We learn all to join our voice to the that great cloud of witnesses proclaiming the one we know, the one whose life has changed everything.
We Proclaim as We Stand Amazed in His Presence
We proclaim the one we know as we stand amazed in his presence. Before John got to hear, to see, and to touch the word of life, he already was. Look with me at verse 1: “That which was from the beginning,” those are the exact first words in the Greek text. “That which was from the beginning.” Does it ring a bell? I sure hope so, because this text is closely connected with the Gospel of John, which is closely connected with Genesis: in the beginning God created … in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” “That which was from the beginning.” That through whom all things were made. That is who John is talking about! He is proclaiming the creator of the universe, he is proclaiming the word of life, the Word of eternal life! He is proclaiming the One who do be, has been, and will forever be God. He is proclaiming One who is much greater and completely independent from us, but who chooses to reveal himself so that John could see him, hear him, and touch him. So that you and I could see him, and hear him, and touch him.
Friend, you are here today because somehow you have been touched by God. In some mysterious way, you felt called to follow him. At some point in your life you have seen his glory shine forth. You are here today not because you worked really hard to receive a scholarship, or because that tenure committee said you could stay, or because a church called you as their pastor. You are following Christ today because that which was from the beginning, the glorious king of the universe, chose to reveal himself to you and me.
And in light of such a wonderful miracle, Barth reminds us, there is no such thing as a great theologian, or Bible scholar, or preacher, there’s no great Christian. In the face of Jesus Christ, that which was from the beginning, we are all little theologians. Yes, even those of us who have published more than two dozen commentaries on New Testament books while also being a pickleball star. Yes, I am talking about Dr. Garland.
On my second semester at Truett, Dr. Garland divided our class into groups and assigned each one a 45-minute presentation on a portion of the book of Revelation. If you ever had to do such a long presentation, you begin to really value the work of your professors, because it is hard to fill up time! So, when I noticed that our portion included chapter 5, I suggested we played that video of the Revelation Song sung in several different languages you have seen it, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, holy holy is he...” . The video ends, we switch the lights on, and turn to Dr. Garland because he’s supposed to wrap up class; but he can barely say a word because tears are flowing from his eyes as he stands there in awe of the future that is promised to us. He stands there not as renowned scholar, but as a little theologian. As one who proclaims as he stands amazed in God’s presence.
I had spent an entire semester learning great things about the Bible from that man. But after that moment everything made sense in a whole other level. That moment changed my life as I realized that faithful theological work leads us not to fame, but faithful theological work leads us to wonderment. And in awe of Dr. Garland’s reaction, I found myself in awe of his God. Because we proclaim the one we know as we stand amazed in his presence.
We Proclaim so that People May Have Fellowship with Us
We proclaim the one we know because people listen to authentic witness over detached ideas. We proclaim the one we know as we stand amazed in his presence. And, finally, we proclaim the one we know so that people may have fellowship with us.
We proclaim the one we know so that people may have fellowship with us. Look with me at verse 3: “What we have seen and heard we also declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us.” The natural consequence of having seen and heard that which was from the beginning is that we desire others to have fellowship with us. When I realize that this love extended as far as to touch a sinner like me, I can reach no other conclusion than to believe that there is room for everyone. And that room is right by my side
When I served in college ministry intern at a church, we were constantly running through a list to identify students in our ministry who could be feeling isolated for one reason or another. And I remember one time, we got to this student’s name and I said: “well, it is not really our fault, this person is just a bit socially awkward.” And my pastor looked at me and graciously said: “I understand what you mean, but if not here, where?” In other words, if this person doesn’t have fellowship with us, where will they find it?
The thing is, folks, there is no remote work in gospel work. If we were called to be experts, maybe we could have told that student about the love of Christ and let them be; if we are called to be experts you could get away with just writing a bunch of good papers and getting As on all your classes; if we were called to be experts, maybe it would be enough for you to do some groundbreaking research and publish a few bestsellers; if we were called to be experts, maybe I could just preach some moving sermons; if we were called to be experts, we could just tell people about the one we know and hope that they find the way. But we are not called to be experts, we are called to be witnesses. Witnesses don’t give instructions, witnesses walk alongside. Witnesses don't point away, witnesses call people to come closer, to have fellowship with us.
Because we proclaim the One we know: the one who is not a detached idea, but an embodied reality; the one which was from the beginning and chose to reveal himself to us, the one in whose presence we stand amazed; and amazed we are humbled, in such a way that we cannot help but invite others into our fellowship.
And our fellowship, friends, is with the Father and the Son. That is what John says, our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, and we invite others into it so that our joy may be complete! Or is that your joy? The Greek is unclear there, but allow me to tap into my Latino heritage and say: por qué no los dos? It is our joy, it’s your joy, it’s all of y’all’s joy! So as you finish this semester, be it your first or last one in this place, remember that you were called here to proclaim the one you know. This week, amidst papers, presentations, finals, and all other deadlines, remember that the one who was from the beginning has called you to this place; to this chapel, to this seminary, to a life of faithful witness to Jesus Christ. So in the middle of everything, take a moment to stop and notice his revelation, take a moment to encounter the truths of God that you read in the books embodied in your life, in the lives of your classmates. Because as much as we learn, teach, read, or study, we can only proclaim the one we know.