Most of us head for church on a Sunday morning without a care in the world. Our biggest worries are whether the sermon will go long and where we’ll go to lunch afterward. Occasionally we’ll thank God in a prayer for letting us worship free from molestation, but we’re mostly thinking about folks in places like Afghanistan or China who face danger every time they mention the name Jesus. But not here in America. And then our world changed.
Illustration – Church Shootings
• Sept. 15, 1999, an armed gunman walked into the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth on a Wednesday night and started shooting people. Killed 7, wounded 7, and finally turned his gun on himself.
• May 18, 2001 - Hopkinsville, Kentucky - Greater Oak
Missionary Baptist Church - 2 killed
• March 12, 2002 - Lynbrook, New York - Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church - 2 killed
• Oct. 5, 2003 - Atlanta, Georgia - Turner Monumental AME Church - 2 killed
• March 12, 2005 - Brookfield, Wisconsin - Living Church of God - 7 killed, 4 wounded.
• Feb. 26, 2006 - Detroit, Michigan - Zion Hope Missionary Baptist Church - 2 killed
• May 21, 2006 - Baton Rouge, Louisiana - The Ministry of Jesus Christ Church - 4 killed
• Aug. 12, 2007 - Neosho, Missouri – First Congregational Church - 3 killed
• May 20, 2007 - Moscow, Idaho – Presbyterian Church – 3 killed
• December 9, 2007, a young man walks into the New Life Church in Colorado Springs on a Sunday morning and begins shooting, killing 2 and wounding 3 before shooting himself.
• 11 years, 18 separate church shootings, 53 dead.
Who would have though church was a dangerous place? The danger was no longer “out there.” It isn’t just in places like Yemen or China or Afghanistan. It’s kids who go to school with our kids, it’s middle age men who live next door and work across the aisle. And we never saw it coming. This battle isn’t being fought on TV from distant lands, it’s just down the road and too close to home for comfort.
And sometimes the enemies aren’t just among us, they are within us. And they torment us and lie to us and tell us we’d be better off dead, and some of us believe them – and families are devastated and churches and communities are traumatized when a disturbed person decides to end it all and take as many others with him as he can.
It just feels like someone with an axe is hacking away at the ropes with which we have anchored ourselves. Our security is threatened, our anxiety is high, our fears come true.
And so, our first reaction is to buy bigger locks for our doors and bars for our windows and tell our kids they’re never leaving the house again.
But that’s not going to solve the problem – you can’t live your life in fear of what might possibly happen. Nor is that the response Jesus calls us to. Jesus prayed for his followers, not that God would take them out of the world, but that he would protect them from the Evil One. He didn’t hide them and isolate them, he sent them back into the world and told them to be salt and light. People would hate them and persecute them and they would suffer and some of them would even die for their faith. But Jesus never said to hide away and live in fear.
From Jesus to Paul, the NT proclaims that we are living in the last days. The last days is that time between the first coming of Christ and his second coming. There is an imminence and an urgency to what we are about, and how we should live.
But John alone says, “this is the last hour.” There has been a lot of “last hour” kind of feelings recently – feeling like everything is coming apart at the seams, wondering if the whole world is going crazy. World unrest, financial meltdown, violence in our streets, the dissolution of families, devastating tornados and tsunamis and earthquakes.
It’s interesting then in our passage here in 1 John, that John describes – in the spiritual realm – some people that are hacking away at those ropes of security and threatening their souls and whose efforts are so ungodly and so devastating that John calls them “antichrists.” “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.”
“Antichrist” is an interesting term – let’s not confuse it with the man of lawlessness in 1 Thessalonians or the beast of Rev. 13, or any of the hundreds of speculative identifications that people have come up with over the years – from Nero to Hitler. The term occurs only here in 1 and 2 John. And in John, the antichrist is not some apocalyptic boogeyman – but literally one who stands “anti” Christ – “against” Christ. John says four things about these antichrists:
1) they went out from us,
2) they did not belong to us,
3) they deny Jesus is the Christ,
4) they deny the Father and Son.
Specifically, they were real people who had been a part of their fellowship. But they were false teachers who denied that Christ really came in the flesh, or that he really died for our sins. And in denying his humanity, they denied him and they denied the Father. And so John told the church to put them out and have nothing to do with them or their teaching.
John talks about these same ones in 2 John 7, Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
You may wonder why John was so concerned about whether Jesus came in the flesh. There were all kinds of religions across Asia Minor where John was writing – mystery religions, mysticism, early forms of Gnosticism, paganism, and Judaism – and it was into this melting pot that Christianity was introduced, and many of the followers of these various religions and philosophies became Christians, but brought their beliefs with them. Among those beliefs, especially among those incipient Gnostics were the teachings that matter is evil and God would have nothing to do with flesh and certainly not be contaminated by suffering and death.
So how do you deal with Jesus? You say that he just appeared and seemed to be in a human body. You dismiss his birth, you explain away his crucifixion, and you have a Jesus who was simply a Spirit being who came to enlighten his followers, not take their sins upon himself and die on the cross for them. John says that is denying the Father and the Son. It was a heresy that cut to the very heart of the gospel. If Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, if he didn’t come in the flesh, if he didn’t die on the cross for our sins, if his body was not resurrected – then the Bible is a lie and our faith is a sham. But John affirms that what they have been taught and what they believe is true. In vs. 24 he writes, “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us – even eternal life.”
We immediately become defensive and protective and rightly upset when our children’s physical lives are threatened. But do we get as quickly protective when their spiritual lives are in jeopardy? Are we as concerned with those who can kill, not the body, but the soul? John is. He sees these doctrinal issues as just as dangerous as a madman walking through the church and shooting people.
But God does not leave us vulnerable. We aren’t defenseless and unprotected. John gives us insight into three lines of defense which God has put into our lives – Three ways in which we cope with the uncertainty and the disruption of the world around us.
The first one is found in vs. 20: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One.” Did you know you have an anointing? The apostle Paul talked about it in Titus 3:5-6 – “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
We’re not talking about something mystical and magical. We’re talking about God’s provision for his presence in our lives – His Holy Spirit, whom he has sent to dwell in us.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to leave them, but he would not leave them orphans – John 14:16, 26. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
There are numerous passages in the NT that confirm that when we become children of God we receive God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us:
Romans 8:9-11 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Ephesians 1:13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And so, here in 1 John, John reminds them of something that they already know and understand: As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27)
We don’t have to face the trouble in this world alone – when we are baptized into Christ, we have his powerful presence – his Holy Spirit living within us.
Our second defense flows out of the first: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.”
“You know the truth.” There is an incredible power in knowing what you believe in – having certain non-negotiables in your life nailed down. It doesn’t mean you don’t keep learning, but you have a foundation laid and you aren’t going to be shaken up every time somebody comes around saying “You aren’t really a Christian if you don’t know what I’ve come to teach you.”
That’s what these antichrists preyed on – uncertainty and insecurity. They promised a higher knowledge, an entrance into the spiritual elite if only you knew what they knew.
John says, “… you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.” (1 John 2:20-21)
John tells them, You don’t need some new teaching, some special knowledge, you already have the truth.
You’ve heard the old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” That’s what John is telling us. Take confidence in what you’ve heard and learned. Stand in it, and your faith won’t be easily shaken.
The third defense flows from the second: vs. 24 “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”
This truth, this knowledge isn’t ultimately a body of information, but a relationship.
Five times in these 11 verses John uses the word “remain.” “Remain in him.” One of the marks of the antichrists is that they did not remain in him – or remain in us. They bailed out, they didn’t stay faithful, they left the Lord and they left his church.
You know where you’re going to find the greatest strength and security from the fears and insecurities out there? Right here. “Remain in him.” Take courage from the relationship you have with God. Nurture it and strengthen it here in the surroundings of faith and faithful people.
Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about in his prayer with the Father in John 17? He is getting ready to be crucified and he prays for his disciples, and he is praying for us – listen to John 17:20-23 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Hang in there, don’t bail out and run, but know whom you can depend on – whom your faith is in.
Three things are going to give you an anchor of security in insecure times:
• The Holy Spirit dwells in you – remember, God is at work in your life;
• Be confident in what you know and believe;
• Remain in him.
Illustration – Monument at Saratoga
On the historic battlefield of Saratoga there stands a monument – a 154 foot obelisk commemorating that decisive battle where the British made their last stand over two centuries ago. About its base are four deep niches, and in each niche appears the name of one of the American generals who commanded there. Above the names stand giant bronze figures – Horatio Gates, Philip John Schuyler, Daniel Morgan. But the niche on the fourth side is empty. The name appears, but the soldier is absent – conspicuously absent. As one reads the name of the brigadier general who once commanded West Point, the major general who distinguished himself with valor in battles along Lake Champlain, Mohawk Valley, Quebec and Saratoga – but who committed treason and died a synonym of disgrace – the infamous Benedict Arnold. The historian Clarence Mccartney wrote, “The empty niche in that monument shall ever stand for fallen manhood, power prostituted, for genius soiled, for faithlessness to a sacred trust.”
There is another empty niche, far more famous and in sharp contrast to the one in NY. It, too, stands in memory of a battle, but not a reminder of treason and faithlessness, but of a powerful testimony to the faithfulness of God who allowed his only Son to go to the cross and die for our sins, and then raised him from death, out of the grave. And that empty tomb is a reminder that God has never made a promise he hasn’t fulfilled.