I was driving my late-model Neon down the right lane of a busy four-lane street in Brampton a few years ago. The air-conditioner had broken down a year earlier, so I had the windows rolled down. Traffic was moving at an aggravating pace. Rush hour. I pulled up alongside a gas station with a driver who wanted to make a left-hand turn across traffic. In order to complete the turn, he had to cut through two lanes of vehicles and merge into the traffic flowing the other way. Some people just don’t get it.
In a moment of charity, I decided to do “the Christian thing”. I stopped my car and let the driver pull out in front of me. That wasn’t the only miracle, though. The driver to the left of me stopped to let the driver across too. Seizing his opportunity to make a quick break to the other side of the road, the driver with a full tank of gas stepped on the accelerator.
He didn’t see the third car that was racing up the left turn lane.
Few sounds are more sickening that the crunch of fender-on-fender. With my windows down, I heard the plastic fold and shatter—the metal creak and bend. I was even able to see the damage that was left behind. Two drivers that wanted nothing more than to get home on time wound up waiting to file a police report as they backed up the already clogged roadway.
Events like that—things out of the ordinary—have the ability to imprint themselves deeply on our minds. It was an event far more extraordinary than any car collision that had imprinted and transformed the mind of John.
. . .
There was a problem in the churches John was looking after. Itinerant speakers were traveling from church to church preaching and teaching things about Jesus that were simply not true. Since Jesus had ascended decades earlier, there was a new generation of people who had to trust others for their information on this ‘Christ of God’. This is why at the beginning of this tract to his churches, John reminds them of his qualifications as an eyewitness: “We declare to you,” John writes, “what was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1, NRSV).
John, having lived into old age (unlike so many other apostles) was able to remind his people to follow the truth as it was revealed from the beginning—not as invented for financial gain. Listen to John state his qualifications:
- “What we have heard,
- what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at
- and touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1, NRSV).
Three different senses—sound, sight, and touch. It’s as if John kept piling on the phrases to stress his authenticity as a true witness of Jesus. I love how John Stott commented on this verse:
To have heard was not enough; people ‘heard’ God’s voice in the Old Testament. To have seen was more compelling. But to have touched was the conclusive proof of material reality, that the Word ‘became flesh, and lived for a while among us’ (The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, 65).
Jesus was real. John heard his teaching, saw with his eyes, and touched with his hands the very Word of Life himself. We had better listen to him!
. . .
John’s Gospel (which was likely written by the same author), has a paragraph near the end that helps to shed light on John’s authority:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:19-21, NRSV)
This passage highlights a second aspect of John’s qualifications. Not only was he an eye-witness who could “testify” [martureō] (1 John 1:2, NRSV) about what he saw, he was a commissioned apostle who could “declare” [apaggellō] (1 John 1:2, NRSV) Jesus’ teaching to the churches. This double-edged authority demands and commands our attention.
. . .
There are many different permutations of the gospel today. For some, it’s essentially a social activism agenda. For others, it’s a document for political liberation. Some read the gospel as a way to become financially prosperous, while others like to extract lessons and principles for moral living. While there’s a glimmer of truth in many of these readings, they’re all distortions.
Jesus was far more than another acquaintance for John. John calls him the “Word of Life” and “Eternal Life” personified. He’s still far more than what most people think he is today. Take some time to reflect on how you understand the gospel. In the coming weeks let the beloved apostle—that trustworthy witness—draw your mind back to the core of the faith.