Tag Archives: evangelism

The incarnation of Jesus and the thoughts of St. John

The apostle John was fixated on the physical reality of Jesus–on the fact that in Jesus, God became a man. In becoming a man, He loved John and became John’s closest friend, and John never forgot the friendship.

In 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle is giddy to be remembering Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the sight, sound, and feel of being with the Messiah (“heard… seen… looked upon… touched”), and how the physical reality of Jesus is related to John’s fellowship with God and with the people reading the letter (which includes you and me):

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched…the life was made manifest, and we… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father… so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son… And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

The reality of God in a physical body fascinated John for his entire life. In the verses above there are echos of the opening words of John’s gospel–Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is life; and Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Word in physical form. 

When Peter and John were defending themselves in the temple in Jerusalem, the reason they gave for talking about Jesus was, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Having seen Jesus was irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ reality as God, and John implies this in the verses above and in John 19:35. Referring to himself, John says, “He who saw it has born witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you also may believe.” Peter was also captivated by his physical experience of Jesus, as he mentions in 2 Peter 1:16 (“but we were eyewitnesses.”)

Perhaps Peter and John learned their fascination with Jesus’ physicality from Jesus Himself, who emphasized this to the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24:39-43 (“see my hands and my feet”) and famously to doubting Thomas in John 20:27 (“put out your hand, and place it in my side”).

But in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle also refers to Jesus briefly as “the word of life–the life was made manifest.” Jesus himself also said that He was “the life,” and the reality of Jesus’ physical existence makes His life exuberant and powerful, powerful enough to light a fire under John, and powerful enough to unite distant Christians in fellowship with each other and with the Father.

And the power of Jesus to catalyze fellowship is why John is writing. As he says in verse 3, “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.” In the friendship of Jesus and His disciples, the love of God began to spill over into humans, so that if we come to know Jesus, we also can have fellowship with the Father. And through fellowship with the Father, we have better fellowship with other believers.

This is why John was “writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John already had fellowship with Jesus–it had changed and motivated the entire course of his existence. But his joy was completed when he shared this fellowship with other people, when he could participate in the work of Christ on this earth.

Jesus had spent time with John, and John shared these experiences with other people. These people told other people, who told other people. The cycle continued over millennia, while the Spirit worked in the lives and minds of generation after generation of believers, until eventually somebody told me, and now I am telling you.

I’m writing this post for the same reason John wrote His letter. Jesus is real, and He has lit my life on fire. When I meet other believers, or when I pray, or when I read Scripture, the energy is electric. The Spirit is at work in me, and He is at work in all believers.

“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.”

This.

Fundamentally, we were made to love God and to love people. This is why Jesus called this the greatest commandment–first to love God and second to love people. We all fail at this. Because we fail, we need to be redeemed, otherwise, we cannot be with God. Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men”–follow Me, and I will help you to love people so I can change them into people who love Me.

Behold I am sending for many fishers

God is a God who pursues us. He pursues us with friends, with preachers, with experiences, with His Word, with thoughts and feelings that come to us in our quiet times. He pursues us to make us His, to bring us back to where we belong, where we will be most satisfied. He won’t relent, because He loves us. We’re in trouble in this world, and we need Him more than we know. So He pursues us relentlessly, into our darkest hours and our saddest times. God is a God who fights for us, and when He’s rescued us from our sin and self-interest, He makes us fishers of men, so that we can pursue, fight for, and rescue others, just as He has rescued us.

“For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
‘Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.'” 
-Jeremiah 16:15-17 (ESV)

The major rift between Christianity and culture is not belief or disbelief in absolute truth

I’ve often heard that the major rift between Christianity and US culture is this: Christians affirm absolute truth, but culture affirms that truth is relative and not absolute. That is, Christians affirm that we’re correct about God and that contrary thoughts are incorrect. Culture at large affirms that there is really no truth, and that people can choose their own truth, follow their own religion, and that it’s most  important for us to all get along.

However, I don’t think this is the fundamental discordance between US Christians and US culture. The idea of relative truth is certainly in our culture, but the silly thing about this idea is that it’s self-refuting. To claim that “there is no absolute truth” is to claim that the statement itself isn’t necessarily true. Because there is no absolute truth, the statement that “there is no absolute truth” can’t be absolutely true. Disbelief in absolute truth is an obviously inconsistent and illogical thing to believe.

I don’t think that most people in the U.S. are actually this dense. Common, everyday people are intelligent enough to see that disbelieving in absolute truth is nonsense. I’m sure you can find a number of philosophy professors who would take issue with this, but I doubt you can find very many everyday people to agree with them. People are smart enough to believe in absolute truth, and I don’t think this is the major rift between Christianity and U.S. culture.

Rather, I think the major discordance is between our values. The general culture in the U.S. believes that the most important virtue is to avoid causing harm to other people–whether that harm be physical, psychological, social, or otherwise. Some particularly virtuous people might say that the most important virtue is to do good to other people and that nothing can be more admirable and moral than to seek the good of others.

The difference between these values and the values of Jesus seems slight if you’ve never thought about it before. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus told us what our chief virtue as His disciples should be:

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” -Matthew 22:35-39

As Christians, our most important virtue is to love God. Secondly, we’re to love people. The central truth of being a follower of the Messiah is that God can satisfy us more than anything else on earth. If we have faith in Jesus’s sacrifice, we can be made spiritually alive, and in this redeemed state we can love the God who saved us.

But our second imperative is to love other people–and this means telling them about God, about Jesus who came to die for us, and about how they too can be made spiritually alive. For each and every person who lives, loving and knowing God is the most satisfying thing they can do. Because of this, there’s nothing more kind than to tell another person about Jesus, and about how He can save them as He has saved us.

And this is where Christians clash with most non-Christians in the US. If you tell someone to seek God, they may not like hearing that. They may want to go on believing that there is no God, or at least that God doesn’t matter. If you tell someone to seek God, you may cause them to be uncomfortable–and this is counter to the number one imperative of our culture: do no harm to other people.

As followers of the one true God, there is no way we can get around this disagreement. It’s the core of our faith to believe that by knowing God, any and every human will be infinitely better off than if they did not know God. If we ourselves know God, then we’ll tell our friends, family, and acquaintances that they should know Him too. It is secondarily important that we all get along and be kind to each other, but it’s far, far more important that as many people as possible come to know Jesus as their Savior.