Rev. Kurt Lantz 5 Easter B 1 John 5:1-8
May 09, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:8). As he stood at the foot of the cross with a weeping Mary watching her Son die in agony, as the religious leaders hurled insults and passersby shook their heads, John saw three things issue forth from the dying body of his beloved Lord. Jesus said, “’It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit” (John 19:30). “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (19:34). “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
Of what do these three testify? What is it about the Spirit, the water, and the blood issuing from Jesus’ crucified body that is the ground of faith for John? John the Apostle and Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who rested on the chest of his Master at the last supper, wrote a magnum Gospel (not only a fourth testimony to the events recorded by the other three, but providing a deep reflective reservoir of teaching and insight into the salvific life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth); and writing down the great revelation that was given to him of the great victory of Jesus the Lamb of God in vivid apocalyptic imagery; this John later wrote short, brief letters to his beloved church. The letters of 1, 2, and 3 John get shorter and shorter until one of John’s disciples recorded that the great elder of the church would only preach three words, “Love one another.” As he advanced in years and declined in word count, the ponderous apostle pointed us to three things. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
These are the witnesses, the proofs that John holds before his own dimming eyes. These are the truths that John lays out for his beloved church as she faces persecution and watches her apostles snatched away to become martyrs. John knew that his time was coming and he pointed his beloved to the three: the Spirit and the water and the blood.
These are the same three witnesses that are set before your eyes as you deal with the same things that John and his church dealt with. After all, you are his church, his beloved. He wrote to you. The risen Lord Jesus Christ had John write these words to you to point you to the Spirit, the water, and the blood. As you deal with your own decline through age and illness; as you suffer to live your faith in a hostile world; as you experience the loss of your loved ones and great heroes of the faith, the risen Lord Jesus sets before you the Spirit and the water and the blood.
John saw them (all three) flowing out of Jesus at His crucifixion for the sins of the world. But He also recalled the other events in the life of Jesus concerning the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
As one to whom John the Baptist indicated that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Apostle and Evangelist recalled the testimony that when Jesus was in the water of Baptism the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove (1:32). The Spirit and the water testify that Jesus is the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John also recorded Jesus’ nighttime discussion with Nicodemas when the Lord told the curious ruler of the Jews, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Spirit and the water testify that in Holy Baptism you are born of God and enter His kingdom.
After Jesus miraculously fed more than five thousand people, John heard Him preach: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him” (John 6:53-56). The blood testifies that when you drink of it in the Lord’s Supper you have life, you will be raised on the last day, and you abide in Christ.
When many of the disciples of Jesus could not swallow this teaching, He continued, “It is the Spirit who gives life... The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life” (6:63). The Spirit testifies that you have life in the words of Jesus. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:8). John points us to these three witnesses when in our lives we face trouble and doubt and fear. We have these three witnesses for us in the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These three testify as pillars for us when everything else is crumbling and falling.
The baptismal font stands like a bulwark against all that would try to storm the gates of God’s holy sanctuary. And yet, it is your passage and entry into the household of God. But it is a barrier and blockade against all that would rob you of the safety that you have in Christ’s kingdom. The water of baptism testifies that you are God’s child, that all your sins are washed away, that Christ’s Church gathers here around His promises and all her enemies are drowned in the raging flood while we are kept safe and secure in the ark of the holy Christian Church.
The Holy Spirit led Peter to go to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius. Peter went and told the whole household (parents, children, servants, everyone) about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit testified that these Gentiles (young and old, slave and free) were welcomed into God’s family, too. The Spirit testified that God shows no partiality, not against the members of Cornelius’ household and not against you. And to bring in another witness Peter declared, “’Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47-48) who purchased them with His own blood. The Spirit and the water and the blood testify that with God there is no discrimination, and He has opened the way for you into His family.
These three testify, the Spirit in the words of Jesus; the water in Holy Baptism; the blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They testify that Jesus of Nazareth came from God. That He has made us children of God, and that as such we love God and His children by keeping God’s commands.
What are those commands? We can summarize them in the Ten Commandments and explain them in catechisms as a very useful aid to living the holy life which we have been given through Jesus. But when it comes to having them as proofs that we are God’s children, that He has not cast us off, that we are among the beloved of His Church, then those commands are simple and not burdensome at all. God’s commands amount to abiding in the forgiving love of His Son, Jesus Christ.
“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love” (John 15:9). Do we abide in His love? Do we love God? Do we love those who are begotten of God, His beloved in His Church? How do we know? “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:8). The Spirit, the water, and the blood testify that we abide in the forgiving love of Christ. We live there. We make it our abode. The Spirit who moves and acts in the Word of God, the water which turns us in repentance to our baptismal grace, the blood which we drink for the forgiveness of sins; these three testify that we are living in the love of Christ.
His forgiving love is given to us in Word and Sacrament as we abide in the things He has commanded us to do in order to receive His loving grace. “If you abide in My word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19); “Take, eat; this is My body... Drink of it all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28). The children of God gather to hear His Word and to receive His gifts. This is the proof, the testimony, that you are God’s child, beloved, forgiven, protected, secure.
In the waning years of his life, the beloved disciple John, pointed us to the three witnesses, the three things that issued forth in love from our Lord Jesus Christ as He laid down His life for His friends: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
These witnesses testify for you that as Jesus overcame the hostile world, even death and the grave, so you have victory in Him. Faith is your victory; faith that looks to the promises He has given to you, to the places where He pours out His love for you. In whatever trial or trouble or fear you face, your faith is firmly set when it looks to the witnesses that God has provided. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:8).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.