We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 1 John 1:1 (NLT)
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)
Those who are sincere followers of Jesus have a story to tell. Though each story is unique, there are common themes you hear in all of them. The author of 1 John is one of those with a story to tell. John was among Jesus’ inner circle. During the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, John was there to witness it. He heard Jesus’ teaching. He saw Jesus’ miracles. John traveled with Jesus and camped out under the stars with Him. John alone, of all Jesus’ twelve disciples, stood at the foot of the cross and witnessed Jesus’ death. He was there at the empty tomb and was with Jesus after the resurrection.
It is interesting to contrast what we read in John’s letters and what we learn of John in the four biographies of Jesus presented in God’s Message: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Jesus called John and his brother James “Sons of Thunder” for their fiery temper. The two were in the thick of arguments among the twelve disciples about who was greatest. When a Samaritan village wanted nothing to do with the controversial Jesus, it was John and his brother who wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn the town to the ground. The initial accounts of John describe a loud, angry, and self-seeking young man.
Fast forward to the aged man who writes today’s chapter as the beginning of a letter. Along John’s journey of following Jesus, temper and selfishness gave way to love and selflessness. John took Jesus’ mother, Mary, in and took care of her. John wrote about love, he spoke about love, and above all he encouraged fellow followers of Jesus to act out love. Tradition states that in his final years when he was old and frail, all that John would say is “Love one another” over and over again.
With this in mind I find it interesting that at the beginning of this letter, John begins by claiming that this is his personal testimony. He saw Jesus’ with his own eyes and heard Him with this own ears. He touched Jesus with his own hands. Just a few sentences later John gives testimony to the changed life he himself has experienced. By confessing his sin, he has experienced spiritual cleansing and life change. The “Son of Thunder” is transformed by God’s unmerited favor and forgiveness into the “Disciple of Love.”
Being a follower of Jesus is not about going to church or being a particular political persuasion. It’s far more than being labeled whatever popular culture and current media portray it to be. Being a follower of Jesus is a life story like John’s. It is entering into a relationship with and following Jesus for one’s self. It is about listening and hearing; it is about looking and seeing. It is a journey of transformation as we confess our spiritual need and experience God’s life-giving provision.