Epiphany 3

January 21 & 22, 2017


Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

   Out with the old, in with the new! If you have ever remodeled, that is the adage you go by. Old paint covered up and new paint giving a fresh, clean look. Out with the old, in with the new. Not just for remodels. Out with trash, in with the groceries. Out with the old threadbare clothes, in with the new purchases.

   In our text today the Apostle John gives us some confusing words. He says, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one” as he reiterates God’s commands to love another and to obey God. But then he says, “I am writing you a new command” and seems to only repeat that old command to love God by loving one another. In other words, “In with the Old and in with the New.” What does he mean? Let’s read our text, 1 John 2:3-11, and find out…

   We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.  Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

   He carried his Bible around wherever he went and talked about God in his life. He talked about the fact that he drew his strength not from himself but from the Word of God. Thousands thought he was a man sent from God and followed him eagerly. His name was Adolf. Adolph Hitler. He sure sounded Christian, but what a hypocrite! A lot of people are hypocrites, aren’t they? They claim to live in Jesus, but don’t walk as Jesus did.  They don’t do what God commands or keep the old command of God, as John calls it.

   And what is the old command? Well, John implies that it is obvious. We know,” John writes. It’s nothing new. And you know what it is too. But just in case you’re a bit sleepy today, let me help you out. Paul writes in Romans 13: 9-10, “The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘LOVE your neighbor as yourself.’ LOVE does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore LOVE is the fulfillment of the law.”

   The old command is simple: Love one another. Choose to serve other people ahead of yourself. Look to their interests, their preferences, their needs ahead of your own. We know what that looks like because that’s what Jesus did. He loved others. He lived to serve them. He healed them.  He taught them the Word of God. He humbled himself to wash people’s feet.

  And that old command is still in. We are still called to obey his commands, to love our neighbor. Jesus didn’t change it. In fact, Jesus magnified it. Be just like Jesus. Walk as he did. Then you know you belong to God. And note that John didn’t write, “We know that [they] have come to know him if [they] obey his commands.” No. He wrote, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” This is not a call to judge who is and isn’t a Christian, but a call for an honest self-assessment. So how about it? Are you just like Jesus? Do you obey his commands? Do you walk as he walked? Do you love your neighbor from your heart? Do you live to serve God and others, not just in public, but in private? Do you behave the same at home or all alone as you do in church?

   Feeling uncomfortable? Me too. We know the old command, but we don’t always do it. A lot of people are hypocrites. I am. I know what God wants me to do. But I don’t always do it. And you are a hypocrite too. Ever lost your cool at home and shout at your spouse or kids? Are you different at church than you are in your kitchen? I admit, I am. In fact, there’s plenty of sin in me that my family—those who know me best—can’t see. And if we’re honest with ourselves and with God, we’ll admit that we’re like the actor, Robert Redford, who, when spotted in a hotel lobby and asked by an excited woman, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” replied, “Only when I’m alone.”

   A hypocrite is literally an actor, one who wears a mask. And we all act every day, don’t we? Mark Twain once said that we’re all like the moon in that we have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see. But God sees. And through the apostle John, he calls it like it is. “Liar!” “Hypocrite!” “Still in the dark.” “Full of hatred toward others.” And John later wrote, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:15) We surely deserve the eternal darkness of hell.

   There is so much law in these verses, so much truth in their accusations against us. So what do we do? I can’t change my heart! I can act differently, but I can’t be different.  That sin is so inside of me. I can’t always keep the old command that we’ve all known from the beginning! And neither can you!  

   There is a lot of law in these verses, but the Gospel’s there too. John says, “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” But what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s look at the context. If we go back two verses before our text, we see. There John writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

   Jesus is the true light. By his perfect life, by his innocent death as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, we are forgiven. That’s why John could say in the very next verse after our text, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12)  So quit being a hypocrite. Take off the mask before God. Confess your sin. Confess your loveless actions. Confess that you haven’t followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Confess that you have loved the darkness, chosen hatred and favored your pride. Confess your hypocrisy to God, because you know that he’ll forgive that too.

   You remember that line in Silent Night: “Silent night, holy night. Son of God, love’s pure light,”? Well that line’s not saying that Jesus (the subject) loves (the verb) pure light (the direct object). There’s a comma there and an apostrophe. What its saying is that the Son of God (Jesus) also goes by another name: Love’s Pure Light. He is the pure light of God’s love—the image of God’s love for you and me shining brilliantly in this dark world. Jesus loves us so much that he willingly came into this world and took on human flesh so that he could die to pay for our sins.  He loves you so much he suffered the torture of hell so you don’t have to.  God loves you so much he shined the light of his grace into your life personally through baptism and the Word. So now you know, that “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world.”

   But we still haven’t answered that question in the introduction: What is the new command? The context here suggests that the new command is still “Love.” On Maundy Thursday Jesus told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

   But wait a second! The old command is “Love”? The new command is “Love”? What’s different then? What’s new? The key to discovering what’s new is in that second sentence: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The new commandment isn’t really love one another. That’s the old part. Love as Jesus loved. That’s the new part.

   So how did Jesus love? It wasn’t a forced love. It wasn’t a “I have to,” but a “I get to.” He wasn’t driven by the law, but by an eager desire to do what God wanted. I think the new command is a matter of motive. Now that you know the True Light that is already shining, you have a new way of thinking. You have a new approach to life. You have a new desire to serve Jesus, a new motive to love. You don’t have to do any good works to get to heaven. But because you’re going to heaven, you want to do good works.

   Having seen what Jesus did do, we now can ask, “What would Jesus do?” in any given situation. We ask, “How can I serve as he’s served me?” Instead of losing our cool, we’ll show love and kindness. Instead of raging inside, we’ll see a fellow sinner in need of Jesus, and find patience. Instead of loving the shallow and empty entertainment of this world, we’ll love the Word of Truth that shines in our lives and put Jesus first in our hearts and in our schedules. And we are empowered to do it! The Gospel empowers us to be obedient to God’s commands, to walk in the light, to walk just like Jesus did, to love as he loved us!

In with the old command to love one another. It still stands. But we have perfect forgiveness in Jesus for where we have and will fail to love. So in with the new motive to carry out that command. We get to show our thanks to him for shining in our dark lives and for rescuing us from our hypocrisy, from ourselves, and from hell.  We get to live in the Light. So, go and do that.  Amen.

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