December 18, 2005
Some year ago two people were discussing something that one of them had become concerned about. The one was telling the other one some things that she had heard that had her a little worried or upset. The other one responded to this person, “Things are not always what they appear.” You and I realize that being human beings, we do sometimes misunderstand and we get impressions that are not accurate. There are things that are not what they appear.
But do you realize that it is just as important for us to be aware that there are some things that are exactly what they appear. In a short letter that somebody has called the masterpiece of exhortation, John focuses attention in this little letter on certainty and assurance. And in order to communicate his message he uses one little word about nine times in this letter and maybe nine more times in the gospel of John, also. It is a concept that is crucial to the faith that Christians need to survive in this world. It is a word that is translated in a lot of English version, “manifest” or “to be made manifest.” In a lot of the modern speech versions it will be translated by words like “to become evident” or “to be shown” or “to be clearly seen” or “to be made plain” or even “to be disclosed or recognized.” It is a little term which means “to be open to sight” or “to be visible” or “to be in plain view.” From what I can discover, it is a term that comes originally from a root word which meant “shining.” The idea is that here is something that shines so openly that you can’t miss it. You know it is real. You can have confidence in the truth of it because you can see it. It is beyond question to you. Vine in his “Dictionary of New Testament Words” makes the point that manifest in the scriptural use of this term means something more than just to appear. He said, “A person may appear in a false guise or without a disclosure of what he truly is. To be manifested is to be revealed in one’s true character.” It is interesting that the inspired writers use this term to try to communicate to us the idea that something that is real but just beyond our visibility is manifested or made known so that we can see it. For example, look at some of the ways this term is used. In Acts 7:13, it is used to describe that time when Joseph there in Egypt away from his brothers for so long a time made himself known or manifested himself to his brothers. In Luke 8:17, Jesus used the word to describe the fact that those things that are hidden will eventually be made known or revealed. In John 2:11, when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, it says that this was the first sign in which he manifested or made known or made visible his glory. In John 21:1 after his resurrection when Jesus made himself known to his disciples by appearing and eating breakfast in front of them, he manifested himself. He made it clear to them that he was real and that he was alive and that he was there.
Now, in I John, this particular idea is used to make something known to Christians which is crucial to all of us. There are three ways in which this concept of being made manifest or appearing is laid out before us. I want you to consider three appearances that are what they seem from this letter of the apostle John.
In the first place, John emphasizes that Jesus has appeared. At a real time and place in actual history, the Son of God was made manifest. One who was already alive who is eternal in his nature who had been real with the Father always but beyond visible human sight was actually made known by being manifested in the form of the flesh? In I John 1, notice verses 1 and 2. John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the word of life, the life was made manifest and we have seen it and testified to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. That which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you.” You get the impression by his repetition of these ideas that he is talking about something which really is what it appears. The word, the one who was from the beginning, the life which was with the father, the eternal life, the one who is the light of men, the life of men. That one was manifested. Paul says in I Timothy 3:16 that he was manifested in the flesh. Peter says in I Peter 1:20 that the one who was foreknown before the foundation of the world was in the last days manifested to us. We have seen him. John emphasized here that we have seen him, we have stared at him, we have reached out and touched him, we have heard him. He is real. Someone gave me a perfect illustration of this thought: “When Jesus came … the Creator became creature; the Heavenly became earthly; the Promise became fact; the Divine became human; the Transcendent became imminent; the Invisible become visible; the Eternal became contemporary; the infinite became finite; the Hidden became manifest; the Spirit became flesh; the Truth became personal; the Word became audible.” Isn’t that great? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
When Jesus appeared in the flesh he appeared in order to deal with the devil and with sin. John says in I John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins and in Him there is no sin.” There is not only the fact that Jesus has appeared but also the emphases upon why. The term that is translated “to take away” means for someone just burdened down, weighted down by a load too heavy to be carried and for someone to reach out and lift that up and remove it from the shoulder of that burdened person. And John is saying, “That is why Jesus appeared: to take away this burden of sin which brings death and ruins our lives and condemns us.” He didn’t come to lay something on us. He came to take something away that was weighting us down.
You remember when John the Baptist identified Jesus in John 1:29 that behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We should be forever grateful that that statement is in scripture. Jesus came to take away sin. How did he do it? By giving himself. The idea of his being manifest takes in the fact that he came in the flesh but also the fact that he offered himself up.
My friend Bobby Dockery in Fayetteville wrote a few little lines that said, “Asleep in a manger, in Bethlehem, incarnated God, Savior of Men, praised by angels, by shepherds adored; matchless, exalted, omnipotent Lord. Honored by Wise Men come from afar, led to His side by Provident star. Unspeakable gift of incalculable worth lavished on man by the fact of his birth. The child in the feedbox – lauded by men, must die on a cross to pay for my sin.” That really is the point. It took who he was to do what he did.
Notice that John also says in I John 3:8 that “whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Think about that! The works of the devil can be described as threefold. He is at work to do three things. Morally he tempts us to do wrong. He wants us to do what is morally unclean and impure. Intellectually he works to deceive us and to lead us away from the truth. He is a liar. He has been a liar from the beginning. He always will be a liar. And physically, he works to inject disease and death in the human experience. Listen, we hear people say sometimes when someone dies that it is just the Lord’s will. It is not his will. God has worked and worked and given and given to redeem us from that kind of thing. The disease and death in this world is the work of the devil. Jesus, this passage says, comes to destroy that. It is a word that means to turn us loose from it, to take it away from us. In II Timothy 1:10, the apostle Paul points out that God’s eternal purpose and grace is given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but he said, “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus was manifested. He was manifested to take away sin and destroy the works of the devil.
And then John goes a step further in 4:9. He says the motivation for this work of Christ is the love of God. He says, “In this the love of God was made manifest (made visible, set out in open display, made clear, made plain) among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.” The idea that God’s love is made plain not merely by explanation but by demonstration. God’s love is demonstrated not merely by telling us what he has done but actually offering his gift. There is only one place where you will see love truly defined, and it is with the Son of God giving himself up for us all.
William Barclay has these little lines in one of his books. Speaking to God, “How Thou canst think so well of us, and be the God Thou art, is darkness to my intellect, but sunshine to my heart.” I can’t explain that kind of love, but that is what the Bible teaches. The Lord came and gave himself up for us to make it clear that God loves us, every single one of us. If we can’t understand that, we are not looking. Self-giving love that is not deserved which offers the highest price and the most expensive gift. That is what has been done for us because God loves us.
So John says he has appeared. Secondly, John turns right around and says, “He will appear.” That is just as important a theme in I John as the other one is. The one who has appeared will appear. Notice if you will back in I John 3 again. I want you to notice verses 1 and 2 especially. He says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God. And so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when He appears, we will be like him because we shall see him as he is.” Notice carefully that there is a straightforward assumption of fact in that passage that he will appear. When he appears. He will be made manifest again. In Hebrews 9:28, the Hebrew writer uses a little bit different word but he makes the same point. He says, “Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save those who eagerly are waiting for him.” He will appear again. That promise in scripture is stated as if it is a fact that will be accomplished. The one who now appears before the face of God for us will appear a second time for our salvation. When I read that, I cannot think of anything harder to believe than this idea. The world has been going on a long time. This promise has always been there; it seems like things go on like they are. People thought that way in II Peter 3, too. How can somebody that I can’t see just suddenly appear and every eye see him and then all of us have to appear before him. When you really think about that, the greatest evidence of what will happen when he appears the second time is what happened when he was manifested the first time. The fact that Jesus can appear again is no harder to believe than that he could appear the first time without an earthly father. There is no natural explanation for that. How could it be? How could that happen? The fact that Jesus will appear again is no harder to believe than that someone’s body, so mistreated and bruised and pierced by a spear, could be taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb and then rise up three days later and people could touch him and see him and hear him. There is no natural explanation for that, is there? But the fact that that can happen is reassurance to all of us that his promises can be kept and that Christians, because they believe that Jesus has earned the right to be trusted, actually believe that he will appear again.
Part of our Bible reading this past week has been the first chapter of the great book of Revelation. Let me read you what it says about Jesus. It says in chapter 1, “from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and domination forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Is that hard to believe? It’s a challenge. Do we believe he appeared the first time? Do we believe he appeared alive after he had been crucified? Do we believe he will appear again?
Here’s the idea. John says he has appeared, he will appear, and then John goes ahead to say that we who live between those two appearances need to be affected by both of them. There are some things that need to appear in our lives because we are convinced he appeared once and he will appear again. These appearances are ones which also need to be what we really are, who we really are.
I want to call your attention to what John has to say. In the first place, there is some hope and confidence that needs to appear in our lives. Some things need to be made manifest in us and in our experience. Did you notice that John said in I John 3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” My mind can’t take in exactly how he can transform us into glory. But that is what it says. And then he says something even more astonishing, “But we know that when he appears we will be like him because we shall see him as he is.” I Peter 5:4 said that when the chief shepherd appears, then we will receive the crown of glory. Colossians 3:4 says that when he appears we will appear with him. But this passage says that we will be like him. Bro. Guy N. Woods in his little book on I John said, “The wondrous blessing which this blessing includes of being like him should not be lightly regarded or passed over hurriedly. It is the summary of all the good things which the father has in reserve for his own.” To be like Jesus! Then Bro. Woods said, “There is a story of a group of heathen converts who when they came to this verse and trying to translate it into their language were unable to believe that such could possibly be in store for sinful man. And when they came across this ‘shall be like him,’ one of them said, ‘No, it is too much. Let’s write we shall be permitted to kiss his feet.’” They thought that would be a wonderful blessing. God’s idea is to make us like him, even at the price he paid.
Secondly, besides the hope and confidence that is here, righteousness needs to appear in our lives, righteous living, everyday behavior which is fashioned after the example of Jesus. In I John 3 again, would you notice that in between verses 5 and 8, John is arguing for a lifestyle which is characterized by righteousness, not sinfulness. This version does its best to translate the actual tense of the Greek terms that are used here. Notice what it has to say. “You know that he appeared to take away sins and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning for God’s seed abides in him and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. Whoever does not make a practice of righteousness is not of God nor is the one who does not love his brother.” We may have weaknesses from time to time that come from being human beings. If we were to say that we have no sin, we would be lying and the truth would not be in us. But on the other hand, those sins are not to be the normal lifestyle or the habits of God’s people. The normal lifestyle, the way of life, is to be characterized by righteousness.
Third, it needs to appear in our lives that we love one another. In I John 4 again, John is making the point that just as the Son of God loved us and demonstrated God’s love by being the propitiation for our sins, it goes ahead to say in verse 11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” The same self-giving love that God has shown for us needs to characterize our treatment of each other.
The fourth thing is that faithfulness to Christ to his word needs to appear in us. In I John 2:19, there were some who went out from us, he said, so it could be made plain that they were not of us. That is, they did not hold to the same convictions, the same truths. In verse 28 he says, “And now little children, abide in him (stay with him, make yourself at home in him) so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink back from him in shame at his coming.” He has appeared, he will appear, and in the meantime let it appear that we hope in him, that we imitate his righteous example, that we love like he did, and that we abide in the truth we have heard from him. When it comes time for us to appear before him, we will do so with the confidence and joy that this passage talks about.
In Revelation 3:18, John uses this term again when he pictures Jesus standing at the door of the hearts of people and knocking. He says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich and white garments that you may clothe yourself, and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen (not be manifested) and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” The choices laid before us who believe and the appearances we have been talking about today is for us to equip ourselves to see and to be seen. That is done by taking those garments that Christ has bought at great cost and clothing ourselves in them. That is what happens when a person obeys the gospel of Jesus. If you are here today and you need to make that purchase from him, confessing his name, submitting to the gospel of Jesus or you are here and need the prayers of your family in Christ, if we can help, would you please let that be known while we stand and sing.