When you stop to think about it, the longevity of the church of Jesus Christ is pretty remarkable. Over 2000 years and the church still stands, proclaiming the miracle of transformation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus – who was, is and will always be the Son of God, embodying for the world the essence of God’s love. Just last week – churches all over the world walked through Holy Week, climbing to the cross in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death. And just yesterday, we celebrated the glory of the empty tomb – the perfect picture of the new life found in Jesus. The vitality of our story is unchanged over time; the center remains.
Because let’s face it, without Jesus right there at the center of it all – the church is not the church. And the writer of 1 John wants to remind these early believers to hang onto to Jesus for dear life. He writes from the loving heart of a concerned pastor, someone who cares deeply about the believers in and around Ephesus. And he writes to remind them to be the church.
This group of believers has been torn in two because some in their fellowship have let go of the center. They have moved away from the unifying teaching of the apostles and their departure has caused emotional and spiritual upheaval. By the time we get to chapter 5, this small epistle is winding down, yet the message remains constant: Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is where we find LIFE. Stick to the gospel good news, cling to the One who saves you.
“Water and blood…” these are the opening words of the section of 1 John before us today. These are words that carry layers of meaning, words that spark memories and images, words that trigger deep-seated emotion. They are also words that echo the gospel of John, which many scholars believe was written by the same hand as the letter we’re studying. What floats to the top of your mind as you read them?
The sacraments, perhaps? The waters of baptism, the ‘body and blood’ of the Lord’s Table? Maybe you hear echoes of John 4, when Jesus offers the woman at the well “living water,” or John 7, when Jesus calls out from the temple, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink…” Now couple these images of water with the powerful word-picture ‘blood,’ and remember the events of last week. What picture, what memory comes first to mind now? Yes! The wound in Jesus’ side, as he hung lifeless on the cross. The wound from which flowed water and blood together and which is described for us only in John’s gospel.
There is a lovely thread which connects all of these images – from the waters of baptism to the water at the well to the rivers of living water of John 7 to the water and blood flowing from the side of Jesus’ body. And that thread is the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer points to Jesus as the one who ‘baptizes in the Spirit;’ Jesus talks of himself as the source of the ‘water gushing up to eternal life,’ and John 7 hints that the Spirit can only be released upon believers through the death and resurrection of that source of Spirit-life, Jesus himself. And now, here in 1 John 5, all of them are drawn together in a beautiful three-sided gift –‘three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.’ That gash in the side of our Savior literally poured out the possibility of the Spirit of God as a living presence in the life of every one who names the name of Jesus.
So here is the truth, the wonderful, transformational truth: You have the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God within you. You have this testimony in your hearts – you have LIFE, eternal, Spirit-infused, Jesus-paid-for LIFE in you. Now live like you do. Hang onto the center, and be the church.