Summary: A sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Series B preached 5/10/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Audubon, Iowa.
Easter 5A 1 John 4:1-11 “Testing the Spirits and The Vision of Ministry of OSLC”
5/10/2009 Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa
In our Epistle reading for this morning, we hear St. John, the last living Apostle, tell the church of his day: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (v.1) While he was speaking of his time, this statement is most certainly true in our 21st century church, nearly 2000 years after these words were written. Do these words still apply to us today? How do we go about testing the spirits to see if a particular church, or preacher, or ministry is truly of God? Can we be sure what we are doing as a congregation is of God, or of ourselves? And for our graduates, who we’re recognizing this morning, how can you, as you go out from this community and off to your separate ways after you graduate from high school in a week, be sure that whatever message you are hearing out there in the world, is truly from God? We’re going to find that St. John gives us the answer to those very questions, and how that answer is going to dictate what we proclaim as a congregation, and to whom we will listen when it comes to matters of faith and life.
In telling us to “test the spirits”, John gives us a clear way of testing the spirits to see if they were of God or of man: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (v.2-6)
Before we go any further, it’s helpful to understand what it means to “confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” To confess something is to state “This we believe”, that’s why each week when we recite the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed in worship, we are “confessing” our faith, that is, we are making a statement that this is what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This past Wednesday, in reading their essays entitled “What it Means to Me to be a Christian”, our 8th grade Confirmation students confessed what they believe, as they have learned it from the Scriptures and summarized in the Small Catechism. As Christians, we base our faith on the Word of God, what it has to say about Jesus Christ. And through the Scriptures, we learn that we are sinful, and unable to pay the tremendous debt of our sins, and deserve only hell and punishment. But, we also know that Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity, was born of Mary, suffered, died, and rose again to be our substitute for God’s Wrath, and now freely gives us the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation through the Word of God purely taught and the Sacraments administered according to His Word. That was the message of the early Church, and it is to remain the message of the church today.
Often, there’s a sentiment in the church today that the early church had it all together, and never had to deal with heresy, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The church of John’s day that he writes to was already in the midst of a crisis. While it was still pretty early on in the history of the church, there were already false preachers that were popping up and proclaiming different messages. The particular heresy that John had to deal with at this point was a teaching called Gnosticism. Gnosticism essentially teaches that God can only be spirit because anything physical was evil. Thus, if everything physical, including the human body, is evil, then there’s no way that the Son of God could possibly have come in the flesh. Being holy, God wouldn’t dare come near the earth, but would stay as far away from it as possible. Thus, Jesus could only be spirit, not flesh, in other words, he wasn’t a man at all, only a spirit or ghost. Gnosticism is a very dangerous heresy, because if Jesus was only a spirit, then he wasn’t fully man, and he couldn’t fully offer up His body on the cross as a substitutive for you and me. That would mean that the price of salvation would not have been paid, and you have to try to pay it by your own works and labors, in other words, you better do a good enough job of saving yourself, or else judgment and hell await.