1 John 5:9-13
Life seems to be filled with loss, doesn’t it? We lose people we love dearly. We lose things we treasure. We lose abilities, memories, trains of thought, momentum, and drive. These losses are painful. We grieve. We mourn. We long for things to be different. We cling to things because we don’t want to lose them.
Jesus comes and, knowing our desires to preserve what we have, turns our fears of loss on their head. For Jesus, losing is gaining. Giving up is receiving. Losing is winning. Jesus taught his disciples by saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what would it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:35-36).
My brother and I liked to torment each other as all siblings do. If one of us got up from our seat, the other would swoop in and take it. “You lost your spot,” we’d tease each other. Or, if one of us left one of our toys somewhere and the other found it, we’d taunt, “Finders keepers; losers weepers.” Even as children, we learn that loss is inevitable. We lose things we care about. We have things we enjoy get broken. And, we knew that would be a soft spot for getting each others’ goats, so to speak. I knew that taking something my brother enjoyed would get to him.
It gets to all of us when we lose something, and after a while we can become consumed with protecting ourselves and what we have at all costs. Maybe if we lock it all up, we can’t lose it. But, we still lose things. And it can disturb us very deeply inside. We lose things, and it reminds us in little ways – and in tremendous ways – that things are not the way we hoped they would be.
John was writing to a divided and hurting church. False teachers were coming in. There were divisions. Despite their best efforts, people were still sinning, and because of that, people were terribly afraid of judgment. John writes and urges them to love one another and love God, to believe in God, to walk in the light, and to trust the Holy Spirit. Here at the end of 1 John, John talks a lot about testimony – our testimony, and God’s testimony, but in order for any of that to make sense to us, we have to back up and read beginning with verse 6:
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.
No matter what people say about Jesus, the Spirit and the water and the blood continue to testify to the truth. In addition to that, God continues to testify, and what God says is trustworthy.
So, what does this all mean? One thing I absolutely love about both the Gospel of John and the 1st epistle of John is that both tell us exactly why they were written. Back in John 20:31 we read, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Everything written in the Gospel of John was written down so that we might believe in Jesus and have life in his name.
1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” The community that received this letter knew Jesus. They believed Jesus was the Son of God. They struggled with sin, and false teachings, and divisions, and all of the things so many of us in church communities find ourselves dealing with, and they were afraid. They were afraid they’d believe the wrong thing, embrace the wrong teaching, sin just a little too much, and that in doing so would find themselves removed from God’s love.
Everything John wrote in this letter was written because he wanted them to know that God never fails to keep God’s promises.
Even when human testimony is wrong, even when sin lingers, God is faithful. For this community that believed in the name of Jesus, they could rest assured that they would receive eternal life – not because of their perfection, but because of God’s faithfulness and grace. And isn’t that amazing news for us, too? The good news of Jesus isn’t something we can lose. It isn’t something we can have snatched out from under us. The grace of God is something given freely, and it’s the one thing in this life we can rest assured we will never, ever lose.
When I was a young girl, of maybe five or six years old, I was shopping with my mom. I was standing in the aisle looking at food- probably candy, knowing me – and when I looked up, I could not see my mom. To this day, I still remember the panicky feeling, the tears forming in my eyes, and the lump welling up in my throat at the thought of having been left in the grocery store. I managed to barely squeak out the word, “Mom!” over the tears. And there she was, standing just around the corner at the end of the aisle. She was only feet away from me, and I’m certain she had never taken her eyes off of me the entire time. But in that moment when I was certain I had been forgotten, I was petrified.
In moments of fear and doubt, we may feel forgotten by God. We might even be convinced that we sinned just badly enough to have used up all the grace God can muster. But just like the Lord said to Zion through the prophet Isaiah, God says to us today, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16a). John wrote this letter to the community and told them to stop sinning. He warned them of false teaching. He urged them to stay strong in the faith. But, at the end, what he wants them to know is that even in their divisions, and sins, and broken relationships, they still belong to God.
The water and the blood testify – a reference to Christ’s saving work on the cross. The Spirit testifies – by reminding us of the truth, encouraging us, and uniting us to Christ. And God testifies. They all testify together, and what they testify is the truth. They all testify, as verse 11 says, that “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” God gave us eternal life through Jesus, and this isn’t something we can lose. We cannot lose the grace of God because it is a gift given to us.
This is good news for us, indeed. And, it is especially good news for the Sunday right after Ascension Day. This past Thursday, churches around the world celebrated Ascension Day – the 40th day from Easter day – the day when Jesus was taken up into the clouds. The disciples watched him ascend, and Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with them. This is the beginning of the exaltation of Christ in glory. This is the moment when Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This is the time when the return of Jesus was promised by two men in white robes. But, it is also a moment that feels a lot like loss.
If we back up to the account of the resurrection in John 20, we can catch a glimpse of this. When Mary encounters Jesus, he says to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Why would Jesus tell Mary not to hold on to him? Some have wondered if it was because Jesus’ body wasn’t really tangible, but the Gospel of John goes to great lengths to show the reality of Jesus’ resurrected body. He eats with his disciples. He invites them to touch his scars. He breathes on them.
I think Jesus’ words to Mary get at the heart of what she must have been feeling in that moment. She had felt Jesus’ absence, painfully, after the crucifixion. In those days following the crucifixion, Jesus was gone. When she saw him, she wanted to make sure she never lost him again. She wanted to cling to him to make sure he never got away. And, can we blame her?
But, Jesus tells her, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The ascension of Jesus unites us to God, and because of the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church. Even though it seems strange and backwards, the ascension of Jesus is a vivid reminder that God never leaves us alone. The ascension of Jesus, and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit, unite us to God through Christ.
The movement of death and resurrection is a movement toward greater union with God, as it says in Romans 6: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The gift of the Holy Spirit was made possible because of the ascension. The Holy Spirit’s presence is God with us in a way that is not confined by space or time. The ascension makes it possible for us to have greater union with God through Christ.
“And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” Salvation is a gift freely given by God. We can’t lose it, and we don’t have to be afraid. So, let’s love God and our neighbors with reckless abandon. Let’s settle our differences, confess our sins, and strive to live more into the people we were created to be each day. And, in the darkest days and most difficult nights, may we be assured that we are never, ever alone because the gift of God’s salvation is not something we can ever lose.