Jesus, Our Advocate and Atonement
1 John: The Light Already Shines • Sermon • Submitted
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Last week, Pastor Aaron Pendergrass took us through 1 John 1:5-10.
We can see John’s pastoral heart for his readers throughout the letter. You’ll remember back in chapter 1 verse 4 that the first reason he gave for writing the letter was for fellowship - for his readers to have fellowship with the apostles and with God - and that fellowship with his readers would complete his joy.
John’s readers are in the midst of a distressing and confusing situation that still plagues the world today: There are tons of people who claim to know God <<PAUSE>> when they don’t. We find out here in 1 John that some of these people had started out in the churches, and their message was extremely seductive. But it was a lie that could only lead to death and eternal judgment.
God’s own Word declares that our only hope for true life, eternal life, is found in the finished work of Jesus Christ in the cross and the empty tomb. But inventive and smooth-talking liars rise every generation, claiming that we’ve had it all wrong, and for all their innovation, their lies always come back to the same thing that the original liar said to our first parents in the Garden of Eden - they twist God’s Word and then reject His clear testimony about Himself.
In the context of 1 John, the liars denied the truth about Jesus, the truth about sin and forgiveness, and the truth about love.
But the truth matters.
Last week, we saw that our participation in fellowship with God and one another is completely dependent upon the work of Jesus on our behalf. We find hope and truth in the fact that we are sinners, that we have sin and we have sinned, and yet God in love has given us cleansing, forgiveness, and fellowship through the blood of Jesus. God is faithful and just.
Today, we turn to chapter 2. Verses 1-2 continue the same themes as last week’s text, but they also propel us into the rest of the chapter.
John has more to say about sin, and more to say about what God has done about it.
Here in verses 1-2, he’s going to give us the wonderful answer to the question:
Q. How does Jesus answer the reality of sin in our lives?
We’re going to divide the text into three points, beginning with those first three words, “My little children,” which are a very encouraging way to begin.
I. The Assurance of Fellowship (v1a)
I. The Assurance of Fellowship (v1a)
“My little children.”
John has several ways that he refers to his readers. He calls them “beloved” in verse 7, in verses 12-14, he uses four different terms of affection. But these three words are particularly special not just for what they say about John’s love for his readers, but also his confidence about them.
John writes as an apostle, entrusted by Jesus with the authoritative proclamation of the truth. His little children are the ones who have shared in the same life that he has. The other apostles used similar language - Paul called Timothy and Titus his true sons in the faith; Peter called Mark his son.
And Jesus called the apostles his little children
33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Just as John has warned his readers that anyone who denies that they are sinners are completely outside the fellowship of God, he immediately says, “My little children.”
What a wonderful encouragement. Any difficult words or harsh statements that John must deliver are couched in terms of his affection and confidence about his readers. John says, here, that he is confident that he is not writing to those who would claim to know God while walking in darkness, that his readers are in full agreement with the authoritative message about God that Jesus Himself delivered and John proclaims. That whatever else might be true, however much they struggle against indwelling sin and doubts, that they are his little children, and therefore they are children of God.
Like the prodigal son, who feared that when he had squandered his inheritance, that his only hope was to be accepted by his father as a slave, but his father ran to him, threw his arms around the filthy wastrel, robed him in finery, and called him “my son;” like the older son, who hated his father’s generosity and forgiveness, who refused to celebrate his brother’s return, but his father came out to him and pleaded with him to come in, saying, “All that I have is yours,”
John says to all of us who read his words and wonder, “What if I’ve flirted with the edge, what if I’ve not always trusted God’s Word as I should?” and to every reader who belongs to Jesus, he says, “My little children.”
APPLY: Stop with me for a moment and hear the assurance of fellowship in those words. Are you a Christian, someone who has put your trust in Jesus alone for salvation? Have you believed the testimony that John and the apostles have proclaimed, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb who died for your sins? Then you are a child of God, and John would have called you his own child.
After this assurance of fellowship, John continues with an appeal not to sin.
II. The Appeal not to Sin (v1b)
II. The Appeal not to Sin (v1b)
John continues verse 1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
And since chapter 1 already established that the Christian can never say he does not have sin or that he hasn’t sinned, John can’t be talking about some kind of sinless perfection here. So what does he mean?
In John 5, Jesus approaches an invalid at the Bethesda pool, and heals him. Later, he sees the man in the Temple, and he tells him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
Jesus does not merely heal the man, he calls him to new life. And He does the same for us. When his birth was announced to Joseph, the angel told him to name him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” And He did not save us merely from the consequences of sin, but also from slavery to sin.
The people trying to mislead John’s readers told two different lies about sin that were very appealing. The first one was that you could be sinless, either from birth or after becoming saved. The second lie was that sin was irrelevant.
In last week’s text, John gave us a dose of truth - if you think you’re sinless, you’re self-deceived and you’re not a Christian.
But some people don’t deny sin so much as they deny sin’s relevance.
This is the person who claims to be a Christian, but then says that whatever they do doesn’t matter at all. In John’s day, they would have said that all sins happen in the body, and the part of you that really matters is the soul, so whatever you do in the body is irrelevant.
The modern version of this error goes something like this:
Yes, I sin, but nobody’s perfect, so it doesn’t matter.
Or: Since sin is everywhere, God can’t possibly care about it.
Or: “I prayed a prayer when I was a kid, so I can do whatever I want because I already got that taken care of.”
These are three different versions of claiming to have fellowship with God while walking in darkness.
In contrast, after giving us assurance of fellowship, John appeals to us not to sin.
John’s pastoral heart for his readers, starting in chapter 1:5 and carrying through to this moment, is that they would recognize sin in themselves, and respond to it with confession and repentance. That they would see it for what it is - darkness and lies - and continually pursue Jesus in the light.
Later in the letter, in chapter 3, John will distinguish between the person who has been born of God and the person whose life is consumed by running after sin.
The person who claims to have fellowship with God while he walks in darkness denies his sin, all the while he pursues it. He is a pretender. In John’s terminology from chapter 3, he makes a practice of sinning. He’s not a Christian who falls into sin, he’s a liar who pretends to be a Christian.
In contrast, every single Christian - everyone who has been born again by faith in Jesus - sees that he or she is still a sinner in need of grace. The most godly Christians I’ve ever met - the ones who seemed to know God well - were also the most amazed that God would love them in spite of their sin. And they longed to walk more faithfully than they did.
And even after decades in the Lord, they look at themselves and say, “Even today, I have no righteousness to plead before God except the righteousness of Jesus in my place.”
If John’s message was, “I write these things to you so that you may stop yourself from sinning under your own power,” it would be a counsel of despair. Christian, you have never been able to do something righteous on your own, and you can’t start now. Jesus is working through these words that His Holy Spirit gave us through John. When you read them, you say, “But I do sin.” Without these words in 1 John 2:1, you might think your sin didn’t matter. But it does. And through these words, His Holy Spirit is continuing the work of shaping you, of reminding you that you have been called to walk with Jesus, saved by grace and sanctified by grace.
Some Christians read this verse and despair. They want to rip it out of their Bibles. It stings, because they’re constantly accused by their own consciences and the lies of the devil. “If you really love God,” their hearts say, “Why do you keep falling into sin?” Their consciences say, “Shouldn’t you be done with this sin by now?” And the devil adds to the chorus with lies like, “You must not really be a Christian.”
But remember how John began the sentence: “My little children.” That note of assurance is not supposed to disappear in the second part of the verse. If you read this verse and it throws you into all kinds of doubt and despair, read it again as a child.
Like a good dad, John wants the best for his little children. He wants them to reach the goal. He wants them to experience the joy of walking in the light. And he wants them to watch out for the alternative.
But he also knows that just like he has sin, they do too. So he doesn’t stop with “that you may not sin.” He continues, and so do we, with the rest of the verse and the verse following.
And this is our third point:
III. Our Advocate and Atonement (v1c-2)
III. Our Advocate and Atonement (v1c-2)
The heart of verses 1-2 are the words “Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is the Gospel, and the source of our hope. Chapter 1 told us that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all - He is entirely righteous.
The words “Jesus Christ the righteous” tell us that our advocate and our atonement is entirely righteous. He is the eternal life, and He came in the flesh to redeem us. The centerpiece of the Gospel is Jesus Christ the righteous.
He is the advocate for sinners. He stands in the presence of the Father on our behalf, as our mediator, and His righteousness is what makes all the difference. His righteousness.
The liars didn’t think they needed an advocate before the Father because they had righteousness of their own. They thought they could stand before God on their own merits, either because they had stopped sinning or because their sins didn’t matter. On the contrary, John says that for those who have eternal life, their present hope is that they have a righteous advocate today.
The word “Advocate” here is the same word Jesus uses when He says that He was going to send the Holy Spirit as another comforter. The Holy Spirit advocates for us on earth by speaking the Truth on Christ’s behalf; Christ advocates for us in the presence of the Father by being the Truth on our behalf.
So how does Jesus advocate for us with the Father, according to verse 2? As the propitiation for our sins.
Propitiation means a sacrifice that turns away wrath. This is very different from the worldly way of thinking about anger. A noble who makes his king angry might try to come up with a gift that will change his king’s mind. The ancients thought of their gods like that - they offered sacrifices sort of like bribes to keep them appeased.
But the Biblical idea of propitiation isn’t appeasement. It’s atonement.
As our propitiation, Jesus Christ takes away our sins, covers our guilt, and cleanses us from unrighteousness. Like the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus and Passover in Exodus, his blood - his death - washes us clean. And in Leviticus it is absolutely clear who is giving the sacrifice of propitiation. Israel did not give or make the atonement. The LORD says in
11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
If you remember our Easter series last year, we looked at the idea of atonement carefully. Our sins alienate us from God - they separate us from the Life Himself and incur His righteous anger. Unless we are reconciled to God, upon our deaths, we will experience His holy judgment forever in hell.
But God loves the world that He made, and from all eternity He purposed to redeem the world. So God Himself has provided atonement for sins. Jesus Christ is not only our righteous advocate, but our righteous atonement - He is the sacrifice that perfectly and righteously reconciles sinners to God.
In Romans 3, Paul says it this way:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
And Peter says,
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
He is our advocate and our atonement - Jesus Christ the Righteous - His blood is our redemption and reconciliation.
He stands in the Father’s presence with His own righteousness on display. Today, right now, Jesus stands in the Father’s presence with nail-scarred hands and feet, bearing the proof that your atonement has been completed once and for all.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about that before. When Jesus died and rose again, in Acts 1 we are told that He ascended to the Father and the angels told the apostles that He would return in the same way they saw Him depart.
When Jesus returns, He will still bear those scars for you.
In eternity, in the New Heavens and New Earth, He will still be the Lamb who was slain for you.
Do you know that? He still bears the scars, right now. And Christian, when you sin, your ADVOCATE, Jesus Christ the Righteous, does not hide those scars from the Father. Your sin today cannot hinder the atonement already made for you. If you belong to Jesus Christ by faith, then take note of this truth and bask in the full assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ the Righteous, your Advocate and Atonement, was shed once for all, once for your sins past, present, and future.
Verse 2 concludes, <<READ v2>>
In John’s day, it was commonly believed that when you went from one region to another, you left the territory of one god and entered another god’s realm. Travelers to Ephesus, for example, would be expected to make sacrifices to Artemis of Ephesians, even if they’d never heard of her or had their own gods back home.
In the Roman Empire, one of the most offensive claims of Christianity was that Jesus was the only LORD, and that Christians were not to make any sacrifices or offerings, not even mere formalities, to other gods. But Jesus was not only the propitiation for present believers; He is the propitiation for the whole world. He is the only propitiation available for anybody.
This truth is just as offensive to the world today.
And this is why the world so badly needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
There is no propitiation to be had apart from Him. Open up Google Maps, swipe up, right, down, or left as many times as you want, and drop a pin where it lands.
Jesus is the only propitiation for the people there.
Do it again, and wherever your finger lands, the same is true.
As a note of assurance, this means that no matter where in the world you go, no matter what chaos you find yourself in, Jesus is the only advocate and atonement that you need.
And as a reminder of our calling, this means that in our society, which is just about as pluralistic as the first century, no matter how much the world wants to tell you that sin doesn’t matter, or that you should just stop talking about Jesus and let people believe what they want, the only hope for anyone you meet is that Jesus is their Advocate and Atonement. And His Advocacy and Atonement are effective only for those who know Him.
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
This is why John wrote and proclaimed the Gospel.
And this is why Jesus has sent you and me to proclaim the same.
The mission of Jesus’s church is to make disciples by the proclamation of the Good News for God’s glory.