Sermon: 1 John 3:18-24
Easter 5 - April 29, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
What does God want from us? Those of you who go to work every day know what your job requires of you, what your boss wants and expects of you. Children generally know what their parents want from them. Children know their parents want them to be obedient to them and respectful to others. They know there are certain chores around the home their parents expect them to do. Children know that their parents expect them to obey teachers at school.
But what does God want from us, from you and me? If we went around the congregation this morning to get answers to that question we’d probably get a lot of different answers like we’re supposed to trust God, we’re supposed to love God, we’re supposed to keep God’s commandments. Those are good examples of what God wants from us.
Today we might ask what does God want most of all from the three young people who are being confirmed? What are they promising today to believe about God, to do for God? What does God want to see in these young people as they approach adulthood? What does God want to see in them throughout their lives?
We all, whether we’re young or old, whether we’re confirmed Lutherans or not, we all need to consider
WHAT GOD WANTS MOST OF ALL FROM US
The disciple John wrote this letter about fifty or sixty years after Jesus had risen and ascended into heaven. John was an old man by now, maybe ninety years old or even closer to one hundred. He had been a faithful follower of God all his life. He had become a disciple of Jesus when he was around thirty. He had come to know very well what God wanted from him. And God the Holy Spirit now inspired him to write down in this letter what God wanted from him and what God wants from you and me.
John didn’t always know what God wanted from him, at least he didn’t understand real clearly. There’s an account about John and his brother James when they were following Jesus that illustrates that John and James didn’t yet quite understand what God wanted from them. It’s an account that always makes me smile. It’s an account that many of you know.
James and John were both probably around thirty years old, maybe thirty-five. They were relatively young, new followers of Jesus. One day, a little bit full of themselves, they went to Jesus and asked if they could be the two most important people in Jesus’ coming kingdom. Today it would be kind of like two people going to the president of the United States and asking if they could be the vice-president and the Secretary of State.
I say that I smile at this lesson a little because we certainly know that James and John were filled with youthful self-centeredness. They were very naïve about what Jesus’ kingdom was going to be and what kind of service Jesus would want in his kingdom, what Jesus wanted from James and John. And what really makes me smile about this lesson is that James and John had their mother go to Jesus to ask that her two boys be the two most important men in Jesus’ coming kingdom.
I would imagine that John, now around ninety years old, often looked back on his request with a little embarrassment. But over the years, sixty years, John matured and knew quite clearly what God wanted from him. He shares that wisdom with us today.
Our three confirmands today are even a lot younger than James and John when they were Jesus’ disciples. And maybe today they’re not especially asking the question what does God want from me? They’re probably more focused on graduation from 8th grade and where they’re going to high school next year. They’re especially concerned about things that 8th graders are concerned about.
But I would tell them that they’re going to grow up. They’re going to grow up and mature just like John did. And I hope and pray today for them that this question will become more and more important to them: What does God want from me?
What does God want most of all from all of us? John writes first of all, “This is [God’s] command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” God wants us to believe to believe in Jesus. God wants us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. God wants us to believe that Jesus died on a cross for our sins. God wants us to believe that Jesus rose again from the dead. God wants us to believe that Jesus will come again to judge the world.
To prepare these students for confirmation we studied for two years from Luther’s Small Catechism. They know that there are six chief parts to the Small Catechism - the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and the Ministry of the Keys. But when we got to the Apostles’ Creed, and specifically the Second Article about Jesus Christ, I told them that they were going to study the most important thing they could ever learn in life - who Jesus Christ is and what he did to save them from their sins. I don’t know if young students quite grasp this importance at the time, but I remind them that one day when they’re old like John who wrote our text and perhaps are lying on their death bed, the only thing that’s really going to be important is that they know and believe in Jesus Christ.
That’s why John tells us that what God wants from us most of all is to believe in his Son for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s why the whole Bible points us to Jesus. From Genesis 3 where God promises a descendant of Eve who will crush the head of the serpent, to the Descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth, to the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and many others to the New Testament gospels and letters, all of scripture points us to Jesus. John in his gospel wrote, “These [accounts of Jesus’ miracles and ministry] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John wrote that what God wants from us most of all is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” John had clearly grown wiser as a child of God since that time he and his brother James asked Jesus for special places in his kingdom. At that time Jesus patiently taught James and John and all the disciples that the first in his kingdom are those who serve others. And John’s point here is that we serve others most importantly by loving one another.
We receive God’s forgiveness and eternal salvation by faith alone, by believing in Jesus as God wants us to do. But real faith makes itself evident in how we think, speak, and act. Real faith makes itself evident in how we love other people.
John writes, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Today as these young people are confirmed they are going to recite, say, the words of the Apostles’ Creed, what they believe about God and his Son Jesus Christ. They’re going to speak words of promise to be faithful to those truths by how they worship and live. It’s easy to say words, especially when they’re memorized, when they know what the questions and answers are going to be. It’s quite another thing to really believe those words and then in their lives to show that their faith is real by how they live, by how they love others.
So what God wants most of all from us is to believe in Jesus and to love others. But a practical question is, a question that we all probably wonder about sometimes, how do we know for sure that we believe in Jesus. This past week I asked the 7th and 8th graders in confirmation class how many of them believed in Jesus. There’s ten students in the class. Ten hands rather slowly and hesitantly went into the air. The slowness and hesitancy may have been because the question was a bit unusual, and the answer should be rather obvious. Of course they believe in Jesus. But sometimes Christians aren’t always so sure that they really believe in Jesus.
John tells us how we can be sure. We can try to convince ourselves that we believe in Jesus. But we can say “I believe in Jesus” a thousand times, but saying it a thousand times isn’t going to make us any more sure or confident. John’s point in these words today is that our acts of love that flow from faith make us sure that we really believe in Jesus.
He writes, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.” There will be times when our sins, our guilty hearts, are going to condemn us and make us feel like unbelievers headed for hell. But John writes, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” And what is it that God knows? He knows that we have faith. He knows that he has forgiven us. He knows the love that we show to others.
And there will be times when we are confident about our faith. John writes, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” What’s going to make us confident to stand before God to pray to him and ask for blessings from him? What’s going to make us confident that we believe in God and in his Son Jesus Christ? It will be the evidence of our faith. It will be the love we show to other people.
John had learned that being first in Jesus’ kingdom was not being the most important person or serving himself and getting what he wanted for himself. Being first in Jesus’ kingdom meant loving and serving others. When we get our minds off of ourselves and show love to others expecting nothing in return we’re going to begin to feel sure that we have faith and that we believe in Jesus - as a matter of fact when we really focus on loving others and serving others we won’t even have the time to wonder if we believe in Jesus. We just do, and our love will show that we do.
And when we believe in Jesus and love others the Holy Spirit will make us certain. “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” Love God. Love Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Love others like Jesus loved us. That’s what God wants from us most of all. Amen.