Return to Sermons | Home

“God’s Triple Testimony”
1 John 5:7-8


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Sixth Sunday of Easter—May 17, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For our message this morning we consider the final verses of today’s Epistle Reading from 1st John: “This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”

According to tradition, John survived as the last of the Apostles, living into his 90’s.   And the five books of the Bible which he wrote, the Gospel of John, the Epistles, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and Revelation, were some of the final books to be written of the New Testament.

Sadly, by then heresies and false teachers had already arisen, as John writes a few verses before today’s reading: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

In today’s Epistle Reading, John is writing specifically to combat the most widespread heresy at that time.  These false teachers said that Jesus was not the divine Son of God throughout his entire life.  It was only at his baptism that he became the Son of God, and he gave up his divine nature at some point before he was crucified, so that not the divine Son of God, but only the mere man Jesus of Nazareth, died upon the cross.

This appealed to the Greek mind, which thought it inconceivable that God should die, especially upon a cross, which was the lowest, most degrading and humiliating form of execution.  As Hebrews says, “[He] endured the cross, scorning its shame.”

Interestingly, Islam has a very similar teaching rejecting Christ’s crucifixion.  The Koran says: “They killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was only made to appear to them. . . and they really did not slay him.”  

There is probably a direct connection between Islam denying that Jesus was crucified and the similar heresy which John was combating in today’s Epistle Reading.  Mohammed’s wife was originally a member of just such a heretical Christian sect, and that’s probably where Mohammed and Islam got the false doctrine that Christ was not really crucified.

Denying Christ’s crucifixion rips out the core teaching from the Christian faith.  We all deserve God’s wrath on account of our sins.  But, the core teaching of the Christian faith is that God poured out his wrath instead upon his own Son, on the cross.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Muslims believe that instead of Christ being crucified, Judas or someone else was substituted and crucified in his place.  But, actually, it is the other way around: Jesus was OUR substitute, crucified in OUR place.  As Peter says, “Surely he bore our sins in his body on the cross.”  Paul says in Romans, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. . .  He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.”

That is the core teaching of the Christian faith: Because the very Son of God died for you and rose again, you are justified, your sins are all forgiven.  Using “water” and “blood” as symbolic of Jesus’ baptism and death, John stresses that Jesus was the Son of God, not only at his baptism, but also in his crucifixion: “This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ.  He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  That’s John’s way of saying, “He was the divine Son of God throughout his earthly life, not only at his baptism (represented by the water) but also in his crucifixion and death upon the cross (represented by the blood).”

John then explains how we can be sure of this.  How you can be sure that Jesus’ death is for you, that Jesus’ death and resurrection forgives all your sins, justifies you, earns you eternal life.  “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”

This is the earliest reference, together in one passage, to what we call the three “means of grace”: the Word of God, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.  For, in this passage, the “testimony” of the Spirit refers to the Word of God, and “water” and “blood” refer now not to Jesus’ own baptism and death, but to your baptism in his name, and your partaking of his body and blood “given and shed for you.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus tells the disciples, “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.”  How did the Holy Spirit teach us, and remind us of everything Jesus said?  Through his inspiration of the Bible, including the Gospels, which record Jesus’ words.  As Peter says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  And Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

So, when John writes, “This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth,” he is saying to his readers: “How can you possibly believe this heresy that Jesus was the Son of God only at his baptism, but not at his crucifixion?  Haven’t you read what I myself, and Matthew and Mark and Luke, have written in the Gospels?  Haven’t you read what Paul and Peter and my other fellow Apostles have written in our Epistles?  We are writing this testimony by inspiration of the Spirit.  Don’t listen to the false teachers and their lies.  Listen to the Spirit, speaking through the inspired Word of God.  “And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”  Deuteronomy says, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses,” and in the New Testament both Jesus and Paul quote that passage.   In the Bible and other ancient courts, the testimony of only one witness was not considered valid without other supporting, corroborating witnesses. 

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”  John means that in addition to Spirit’s testimony in the Word of God, which the Spirit inspired, God has also provided two other supporting, corroborating witnesses, to assure you of the truth of your redemption in Christ.  These two other supporting, corroborating witnesses are “the water, and the blood,” the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Paul says in Titus, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” and in Acts, “Be baptized, and wash away your sins.”  “How can water do such great things?” Martin Luther asks in the Small Catechism.  “Baptism is not simple water only,” he answers, “but it is the water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s word. . .  with the word of God it is . . . a gracious water of life and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.”

Holy Baptism is not just symbolic, but a “means of grace,” through which God makes you born again as his child, and grants you the forgiveness his Son earned for you.  As Paul says in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit (the Word of God), the water (Holy Baptism), and the blood (Holy Communion).”  Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? . . .  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Holy Communion also is not just symbolic, but a “means of grace,” through which God grants you the forgiveness his Son earned for you, and strengthens you in the true faith unto life everlasting.  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus says.  “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . .  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”  A Sacrament is defined as act instituted by Christ himself, with the promise of forgiveness attached, and with a visible element, something you see, feel, taste, or touch: the water of Holy Baptism, and the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  Why did God give us the Sacraments?  Why not just the bare Word of God alone?

Modern psychological studies have demonstrated that the least effective means of communication is the spoken or written word.  The retention rate for something that you are only told or read is very low.  The most effective means of communication is when what you hear or read is backed up with input from your other senses: something you see, feel, taste, or touch.  People already understood this principle long ago and so came up with the old expressions, “Seeing is believing” and “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  In modern times, this is why they invented Powerpoint presentations, to reinforce what you hear and read with what you see.

Because God created us, he understands this is how we humans are wired.  And that is why, in addition to the Word of God, he also gave us the Sacraments, so that we not only hear and read about his love and forgiveness for us in Christ, but also tangibly see, feel, taste, and touch the message of the Gospel.  “Be baptized, and wash away your sins.”  “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 

The sacraments are God’s “power point” presentations of his love: “Power” from the Holy Spirit, to reinforce the “point” that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin,” as John says at the beginning of this Epistle.

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.”  The means of grace, the Word of God and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, are “God’s Triple Testimony,” to reassure you of your salvation.

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts