Several years ago, I served on a jury hearing a case involving shoplifting at a hardware store. The prosecution’s case rested on a plain clothed security guard who followed the suspect through the store. After deliberations, the result was a hung jury. Half of the jury believed one credible witness was enough to convict while the other half thought the prosecution needed a stronger case.
One or more credible witnesses can change the outcome of a court case. It shifts the evidence from circumstantial to verifiable. It makes the difference between a weak case and a strong case, from the jury having doubts to developing settled convictions.
In 1 John 5, the apostle John teaches about putting our faith in Jesus Christ. In verses 1-5, he speaks of the experience of faith, while in verses 6-12 he focuses on the object and content of our faith. His argument rests on the evidence produced by key witnesses. It is so important that he uses the noun or verb form of the word “witness,” “testify,” or “testimony” nine times in verses 6-12. John’s point is that when it comes to Jesus Christ, the evidence is overwhelming. We must believe the evidence if we want to enjoy eternal life.
The witnesses all agree: There is more than enough evidence to believe (6-9). John explains that there are three witnesses to the identity of Jesus—the water, the blood, and the Spirit. Over the years, there have been three primary theories as to what John meant by “the water and the blood.” Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin thought it referred to the ordinances or sacraments of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, John is talking about a completed event, not an ongoing practice. Augustine believed it referred to Christ’s death when blood and water came out of Jesus’ side when he was pierced by a spear (John 19:34). However, this reverses the word order. The most likely explanation was offered by the early church fathers such as Tertullian who believed it pointed to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and his death on the cross. These two events at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry point out that the same man was involved in both. They sum up the totality of Jesus’s ministry on earth.
If one credible witness can change the outcome of a court case, and two witnesses can prove a fact, how much more can three witnesses do? Deuteronomy 19:15 explains that two or three witnesses can establish a charge against someone. As John asks, if we take the word of earthly witnesses, how much more should we believe God when he provides three reliable witnesses?
Those who believe the testimony enjoy eternal life (10-12). The purpose of John’s letter is not to win an argument. Rather, he is trying to promote fellowship and joy. He wants to encourage people to believe the message, not merely be convinced it is true. John explains that eternal life is not possible apart from true belief that Jesus is the Son of God (10a). To reject the testimony is to impugn God’s character and call him a liar (10b).
There are three primary ways to reject God, all of which reveal attitudes of pride:
- “I can handle this myself.”
- “Why would he do this for me? I’m nobody.”
- “He better not ask me to do something stupid, because I won’t do it!”
We must believe the testimony about Jesus in order to enjoy eternal life (11-12). We either believe the message or we reject it. We either have Jesus or we don’t. We either enjoy eternal life or suffer eternal punishment. There is no middle ground.
After examining the overwhelming evidence, how will you respond? Are you a sinner? Do you want forgiveness of sins? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for you and rose again? Are you willing to surrender yourself to Christ? Are you ready to invite Jesus into your life? Believe the evidence and enjoy eternal life.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 14, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.