May 6, 2018-A Propitiation Not an Initiation

Let us pray…Father, let me live in Your’ love through believing that Jesus is the Christ, the divine Son of God. AMEN.

1 John 2:29 Says,

“If you know that he (Jesus) is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

The reality, according to John 3:3-5, it that, “We cannot begin to truly fear, love and trust God or love our neighbor the way Jesus loved us unless we are first born of God.”(Lutheran Study Bible Note 2:29b Pg. 2175)

This is the very framework and foundation for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Elder John’s letter; for today’s lesson.

Jesus says specifically in John 3:3,

“…truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God!”

I know what many of you are thinking right now, “My bible says born again, not from above!”

And I will allow, that some theologians suggest; this word is ambiguous and can have both meanings. 

Let me explain why this is not ambiguous to me!

My first trip to the Seminary where I was trained to be a pastor, before I was accepted to the program, included a welcome Bazaar run by the 1, 2 and 4th year students.

The 3rd year of Seminary was traditionally our internship year, known as vicarage; it required service at a congregation usually out of state, hence the absence of any 3rd year students at the Bazaar

One booth I came upon was attended by two 4th year students, soon to be pastors at their 1st call.

I noticed one of them was wearing a traditional style sweatshirt with a university style seal emblazoned on the front.

I loved these styles of sweatshirts and had made it a habit of wearing similar styles from the two universities I previously attended.

I asked him what the Greek Phrase on the Seminary Seal, “ἄνωθεν τὸ φῶς” meant.

Not being able to read Greek yet, I wondered what it said in English, his reply could not have shocked me more, as he laughed saying,

“I don’t know…that’s first year stuff…I don’t remember that anymore!”

I made up my mind right then and there that I would make sure I learned what that said before I ever wore that style of sweatshirt and never forget it!

In fact that moment made such an impression on me, whenever I see Micah wearing anything with Greek letters on it for his fraternity I always make sure he knows what it says as well.

And it’s not just Micah, anyone with any foreign language unfamiliar to the vernacular; I ask them as well on my own personal mission to make sure everybody always knows what their shirt’s say.

What my Seminary seal says, “ἄνωθεν τὸ φῶς” translates to literally, “The Light from Above”

The Word that translates to “From Above” is the exact same word Jesus uses in John 3:3, and let me be clear, it is no more ambiguous in Jesus usage then it is on my Seminary Seal.

If it had that double meaning, my Seminary seal would ridiculously be “The Light Again!”

So if we say in John 3:3 “unless one is born again”, the “light is again” rather than “from above”: And that just doesn’t make sense.

Even worse than not making sense it moves our salvation “from above” and moves it once “again” to our own works righteousness and means we have to save ourselves.

I for one simply cannot save myself.

I can barely drive across the county without being in a regular panic about all the cars on the road and my increasing discomfort in navigating through them.

I can barely manage this church without the constant efforts of Michael, Janet, Shanon and Mike tirelessly working endless hours, not to mention the Holy Spirit’s Real Work, replacing my constant failures.

I can’t even make a decent dinner without Marcy by my side or mow the lawn without Matthew doing the heavy lifting.

Man sakes alive I can’t even sit in my recliner and watch movies without the close captions on and my dog curled up comfortably on my lap.

Needless to say I am a mess.

So if I can’t do any of that without all the help I can get.  How am I supposed to save myself?

How do a I whip and scourge myself until I nearly bleed out?

How do I nail my hands and feet to the cross?

And when I am finally dead and payed the price for all my sins, how do I spear my side letting the blood and the water gush out to prove that I am dead?

I think we all know I would not and I could not even if I wanted to.

If this is the only command by which we must be saved, and we can’t…how can anyone be saved?

Thanks be to Jesus there is hope, and thanks to His Holy Spirit that makes it all happen.

1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

A few years back our Monday Morning Devotion Group Studied all these Johannine epistles back to back.

We talked endlessly about the importance of the word propitiation.

We asked ourselves: What does this mean?  Does it have a modern equivalent that does it justice? How should we properly define it and use it?

In the briefest definition we could use faithfully we finally agreed that propitiation meant, “Satisfaction for the demands of God’s Law.”

God’s law is relentless and absolute.  It shows us our sin, it curbs our evil behavior and it guides us by telling us clearly what is right and what is wrong.

It has been cut in stone and utterly unchanged for over 4000 years and understood by God’s people for over 5,000 years!

All orthodox interpretation has never turned away from it, ignored it or denied it.

It was never that we didn’t know it or believe that it was true…it was that we, sinfully, did not keep it and treasure it.

Only Jesus was able to keep it perfectly to the “Satisfaction for the demands of God’s law” His crucifixion being his final act of absolute obedience.

Because of Jesus, what we could never do, no longer burdens us, rather it is enabled in us by Him. 

God enables us now to carry out His will and that is why it is no longer burdensome.

When verse 3 says we keep His commands, it doesn’t have the meaning of perfect obedience rather it has a decidedly different emphasis.

The meaning is like that of a precious box a child might have that has their most treasured possessions in it.

Then that child gives it to mom and dad to keep whilst they go off to school or visits grandma and grandpa.

Jesus has left us with His treasured teachings, sacraments and Holy People to keep until he returns in glory to take us home.

These commands, teachings and sacraments are our treasured possession, and not burdensome at all, for everything that God gives to us is indeed good.

Today’s Epistle in verse 8 tells us why we can be sure Jesus is authorized as our beloved and trustworthy savior. 

It is because it brings to mind the propitiation he made for our sins, by bringing to mind the very words of John 19:34 which says,

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear and at once there came out blood and water.”

Verse 6-8 today reminds us of that very moment, “This is he who came by water and blood-Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.

And the spirit is the one who testifies, because the spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the spirit and water and the blood, and these three agree.”

Jesus’ sacrifice is the only place where the blood and water were shown undeniably together, and the Holy Spirit affirms that truth again and again and again in Holy Scripture.

No one could do more than what our savior did for the salvation of our souls.

Not an initiation, rather a propitiation for all our sins.

LET US PRAY: Heavenly Father, let us abide forever in Christ and never doubt the testimony you have given about Your beloved Son.  AMEN.