Let Jesus Plead Your Case

Nathan George, Speaker

1 John 2:1-2 | July 9 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
July 9
Let Jesus Plead Your Case | 1 John 2:1-2
Nathan George, Speaker

Good morning, Christ Covenant. It is good to look into the Word of God with you. We’ll be looking at 1 John, chapter 2, and just two verses, verse 1 and verse 2.

My outline is very simple. It’s just walking through each phrase of these two verses: Little children, may not sin, but if you do, we have Jesus Christ our righteous advocate. He is our propitiation, it’s not just for us, He’s for the whole world.

There’s the sermon. That’s the whole thing.

You have probably noticed that certain brands of Presbyterians like to talk about sin a lot. I wonder if you ever get tired of it. I hope not. Because if you do, you may get tired of your Bible, too. It seems to come up a whole lot. It’s either directly or indirectly almost on every page of the Lord’s Word. For some this is annoying, perhaps even depressing.

However, I hope that for those of you that love the Word of God, you know that the discussion of sin leads directly to the discussion of grace. In other words, whenever we talk about sin, we get to tell the old, old story again.

If we emphasize the truth that sin and guilt enslaves us, we get to double down and say, “Yes, but mercy relieves us, grace relieves us from the prison of guilt, and the steadfast love of the Lord gives us new desires.”

If you’ve become a little callous and are less grieved by your sin, if you’re tired of preachers talking about the sin, then perhaps my voice will be a noisy gong, or for some it will be a sleeping pill. But if you have the courage to soften your heart, then what we read in the Living Word may actually pierce your heart. You might be freshly stunned at the Son’s sacrifice. Or perhaps you just need to sit back and wonder at the depth of the comfort that John offers to us in these two short verses.

Because the deeper you know your sin, the deeper you know God’s grace.

I want you to take away two prayers this morning. My whole application is just for you to take away two prayers. I want to encourage you to pray, “Lord, help me hate my sin,” and “Lord, plead my case for me.” Help me hate my sin, plead my case for me.

Let’s read. 1 John, chapter 2, just two verses: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

I know Derek has already prayed, but would you pray briefly with me?

Father, we come to You and we do ask that You would prick our hearts, that You would teach us to hate our sin, and, O Father, Jesus Christ, we are so grateful that You plead our case for us. Open Your Word to us, I pray now. In Christ’s name. Amen.

This is one of those passages that is really, really well-known and I’ve heard Kevin say often that preaching on passages that are really well-known he finds to be a little bit harder than preaching on those passages that are obscure. He likes to explain the obscure. I find that a little bit the case. As I read this a couple weeks ago, I thought, yep, there it is. That’s what it says. It’s clear. Let’s leave it at that.

So I kind of love it when commentary says something that sparks my imagination. I was reading a commentary from David Jackman and he relates this story that St. Jerome, writing in the late 300s/early 400s, somewhere in there, he relates the story about the Apostle John. John had become weak, old, tired, and he could no longer preach, and yet they would still carry him into the congregation at Ephesus and he would content himself with a single word of exhortation. This is the story from Jerome. He would say, “Little children, love one another.”

Jerome goes on to say that the hearers kind of got tired of old man John saying this over and over and over again. They asked him why he so frequently repeated it. It said that he responded, “Because it’s the Lord’s command, and if this is all you do, it is enough.”

Jackman says that if you’re a student of John’s letters, this story has a ring of authenticity. Whether or not that’s exactly how it happened, it paints a picture that we can understand. We understand that as age begins to strip away the trappings of this life as the strength of youth dissipates, as you begin to see yes, moth and rust really does destroy, the most important things actually begin to be the most important things.

The latest car means a little less. The latest gadget holds onto your heart a little less. Even your home, the back garden that you have fixed up, your favorite guitar, means less. Maybe even picture albums. It all gives way to what is most fundamental, most important, most vital.

Perhaps it was this way for John as well. He looks out at this beloved congregation, his little children, and he says, “Love one another.”

Can you imagine a trembling John? An old, weak John, whose mind is now focused on the most important? To give his children, as Tom Groelsma called it just last week, the core of Christianity?

John speaks like a father to his children. Some of you may have had a father who exemplifies this kind of loving kindness, this tenderness. Maybe you even enjoyed a father or a grandfather who was this way, but some of us, I would guess, probably had a difficult relationship with a father, or no father at all.

A lot could be said on the subject of fathers just from 1 John, especially spiritual fathers. Though that’s the main subject of this passage, allow me just to point out a couple things.

Number one. A father’s love is tender. You see this in the text the John gives us. A father’s love is tender. We’re going to see in just a moment that John understands the daily struggles that his children are going through. He’s a realist.

Number two. A father’s love is clear. John says what needs to be said.

Number three. A father’s love is balanced. So he says what he needs to be said but he seasons his speech with grace and love and familial language like “little children” and he goes on to give encouragement and warning and courage and protection and mutual submission and encouragement toward practical love. That’s throughout the rest of the book and we’ll see that. John’s letter seems to be a great place to go to see an example of a godly, spiritual father and authority. It’s one that seeks the best for his children.

Now that doesn’t mean that you’re always going to love what your loving father has to say. Presumably if we take chapter 1 into account, some of his children didn’t want to hear what he had to say, or perhaps they were resistant to it. Perhaps they didn’t want to hear from John. Why? Because they had been told their sin is not really sin, it’s not a big deal. Well, if they listen to John, they’re going to have to do what? They’re going to have to give up something they like perhaps. May have to quit what they like.

But even so, John addresses them as little children and he’s going to say what is best for them: “My little children. I am writing these things so that you may not sin.”

Here we see a purpose statement. This is the reason John is writing. Of course, in chapter 1 verse 4, we saw perhaps the over-arching reason that he’s writing – he wants their joy to be complete. Here he goes on and says, “I’m writing that you may not sin.” Of course, not sinning would help that bigger purpose of joy.

But after his emphasis in chapter 1, especially verse 8, which is to say, “Look, people, you’re sinning. You do have sin,” John seems to feel the need to provide balance. He says, “Yes, we sin.” He insists upon it. But we come to here and we find out but that’s not the goal. That’s not what we’re trying to do. Do we sin so that grace may abound? You know that. Never, may it never be. You know this.

So while we understand that sinlessness is not achievable in this life, the goal of the Christian life is to sin less and less and less. To become more like Jesus, more like God, not less like Him.

There are many good goals in life, but some goals can get a little out of whack or become a distraction. The goal of the Christian life, for example, is not to change the world, not to build the Church. That’s Christ’s job. Not to take over the government, not to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, not to start more Christian businesses. All fine things. Well, maybe not taking over the government. But not to be more winsome. These are not the main goals of Christianity. It’s not to get our position just right on the millennium. The list can go on and on.

No, the goal of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus, as long as you have the Gospel in mind to support that. Or in the words of the Apostle John looking further into the book, I’m not going to preach on the whole book, but he says this, that you may not sin, that’s our passage, chapter 2 verse 4, to keep His Word; chapter 4 verse 17, to do the will of God; chapter 2 verse 27, to abide in Him; chapter 2 verse 6, to walk in the way that He walked; and all that supports his first purpose statement in chapter 1 verse 4, so that your joy may be complete.

It strikes me that a purpose of every worship service that we have here is to shape us more after the likeness of Christ, to have truer fellowship with God the Father, to walk in better step with the Spirit. Of course, that’s a pretty lofty goal.

John took great care to remind his readers that they sin but that he doesn’t want them to. He doesn’t want us to be deceived into thinking we have no sin because then you don’t really need Christ, but at the same time he’s writing so that we won’t sin.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung has stated several times, “God doesn’t want you to sin.” He puts it like this: “We are never better off for having sinned. The goal of the Christian life,” he says, “is to walk in the light as He is in the light.” Which is essentially a quote from here.

So the goal of the Christian life, for example another goal that gets a little out of whack sometimes in our Reformed circles, the goal is not to revel in the fact that we’re always failures, that we are just the way we are so thank God for grace, we’re never going to change so thank God for mercy. We are just all ragamuffins so we’ll never get out of the miry pit.

That’s not the message of the Gospel. John writes so that we might not sin.

So let me ask: Do you hate your sin? Do you wish that you did not? Or have you slowly become just sort of resigned to it? Are you grieved when you get angry? Or do you feel defensive after you’re angry? Do you say, “If they were different, I wouldn’t have gotten angry. If they had treated me different, I wouldn’t have sent that text that way.” Turn out, we’re more like Adam and Eve than we’d like to admit, blaming others.

Do you feel grieved? Do you hate it that you clicked that link? Do you notice your critical spirit, mumbling under your breath after you leave a meeting or leave an interaction? Have you developed a holy hatred of your sin?

Yet John is a realist. He says, after saying he wants us not to sin, but if anyone does sin. Here John provides more balance as well as some great comfort. The balance comes in the overall context. We’ve already looked at that. Chapter 1 says yes, we do sin. Chapter 2 begins by saying we should not sin. It goes on to say but if you do, you have an advocate.

So John is not setting up a situation that’s hopeless or depressing for us. He’s providing balance for us. On the one hand he says this: Don’t be so hard-hearted as to say I don’t have sin or that sin is no big deal because Christ took care of it. On the other hand, this ditch over here, don’t be so undone by a sin that you forget to run to Jesus. This is what he’s balancing. John knows there’s a ditch on both sides of this issue. He approaches it with care, tenderness. He doesn’t want us to be unconcerned with our sin, but he also doesn’t want us to lose heart if we fail. He wants them to know that the Creator of the universe, the One righteous man, the Christ, the Messiah, the true high priest, is on your side. He’s praying for you, interceding on your behalf.

You see, their joy is not complete because sin is no big deal, your joy is not complete because you have no sin; yes, not sinning is more joyful than sinning; but your joy is complete because you have Jesus. He’s your advocate and you’re representative. Your friend. Your helper. Your teacher. Teaching you to hate that sin.

Now before we go on and think about Jesus as our advocate, let me insert a comment here about sinning and not sinning. Verse 1 seems to hold out the possibility that perhaps we won’t sin if anyone does. So he’s hoping that you don’t.

In my view, John is not dealing with the concept of original sin here, in his opening section of the book at least. I see no evidence that he’s denying original sin, but simply that he’s dealing with a people who say they don’t sin at all. So that’s the problem that he’s dealing with. He’s not having a theoretical discussion about whether or not our natures are corrupt. He’s dealing with someone who might say, “Sleeping with my neighbor’s wife is no big deal because Christ took care of that. He’s dealing with that sort of thing.

St. Augustine famously put forth what we call the Doctrine of Man, so here’s this bit about sinning and not sinning.

Pre-fall. So think who we were before the Fall. Pre-fall, we were able to sin or not sin. Right? But Adam and Eve sinned. Post-fall, we were able to sin. Period. Post-redemption, that is post-salvation, we are able to sin and not sin. Post-glorification in heaven, we are able to not sin. That’s the formula that Augustine gives us.

Should I repeat that? Did you get that? There was a lot of “nots” in there.

So pre-fall we were able to sin or not sin. Adam chose otherwise, or chose to sin. Post-fall, all we could do was sin. But with Christ redeeming us, now we are able to sin or not sin. Once again, we’re not dealing with the discussion of the nature of humanity here. But then post-glorification, we are able to not sin. Praise the Lord. Yes, in heaven you will have no more tears, no more suffering, but the best part, the reason that it’s true, is there is no more sin. That’s the glorious part of that message. Our joy will finally and ultimately be complete.

Now I bring this up because of this. Sometimes we in the Reformed community, we emphasize the fact that we can never get away from the stain of sin, and rightly so. We rightly emphasize total depravity, which is that our nature is corrupt in every part, that sin touches every aspect of who we are. This is certainly true. It helps us see the need for Christ.

Yet sometimes with that emphasis, I’m afraid that we can inadvertently communicate some sort of foregone conclusion that we’re always failures. You have heard from this pulpit, and Kevin’s written a whole book, I don’t think it’s out quite yet, but he’s written a whole book on the idea that following Christ is not impossible. You can please your Father. You can not sin. You can not take a second glance. You can not click that link. You can resist sending that text. You can resist that extra drink. And the list goes on.

Now I’m not trying to sneak in through the backdoor and say sinlessness is achievable. I’m not doing that. But I am trying to follow John in the balance that he provides for us in practical life. He writes so that we may not sin, but he also writes with compassion and reminds us that if we do, we run to Jesus and we ask Him to plead our case.

It would be a grave mistake for me to say, “Now go and sin no more, because then you’ll have a really good case before God the Father.” That would be a grave mistake. What would you say to God the Father? “Well, I didn’t sin that once.” No. He requires perfection and that requires Jesus.

David Jackman, back to the same commentary, he writes this: A true Christian does not make false claims about his perfection, but neither does he become careless and blasé about his behavior as though sin did not matter.

I believe we should allow our hearts to rejoice in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, but without letting pride slip in unawares. Thank God for the fruit that you see in your life. Then rest your head of the breast of Jesus Christ and let Him pray for you, let Him plead for you. Perhaps you have sinned already today, or you will. Have you noticed that thought of grumbling comes in pretty easily? That second glance can happen so naturally. The memory of those failures from years ago may still haunt. That frustration with your spouse, that defensive tone rises up in your heart so quickly, that better than they attitude rests easily on our hearts, especially when we start thinking about the LGBTQ crowd. Have you come to Jesus to ask His help? Will you pray, “Lord, help me hate my sin.” Will you then allow Jesus to plead your case?

You see, Satan will be happy to continue to accuse you, but if you are a child of God, another person, a perfect righteous person, has walked into the courtroom and He will plead your case. Don’t try to defend yourself; allow Jesus to plead on your behalf. Jesus is your righteous advocate. We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Jesus is called many things in the Scriptures. He’s called Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Friend. You would come up with several names, I think.

Here He’s called an advocate. That’s the same word that Jesus uses in John 14 verse 16. Jesus says this: “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper,” same word, “helper to be with you forever.” This word “helper” or paraclete we most often associate with the Spirit and rightly so, but notice the words “another helper.” God sends another, presumably He’s already sent one, Jesus. Jesus is a helper just like His Spirit. Here Jesus is our helper, our paraclete, our advocate.

We have already referenced how Jesus helps us. I referenced Hebrews chapter 7. He always lives to make intercession for them, for us. So He prays, He pleads. Perhaps this praying and pleading overlaps a little bit, but in any case, it is Jesus alone who is able to do this. He alone was fully righteous in divinity. He alone was fully righteous, always doing what is holy as He walked on this earth. He is our perfect and righteous advocate.

I told my wife this morning that I’m going to tell a story that exemplifies the opposite of Jesus Christ and she said, “Oh, Satan?” I said, “Well, close. It’s my brother.” My older brother. My poor mother had to raise four boys and it didn’t happen often, but once in a while four boys would get into mischief. Once in a while it was hard for my mother to distinguish which of the four boys had done the deed. She asked and we were all a little silent. I don’t remember what we did, but I guess we were thinking we shouldn’t tattle on each other and so we were all silent. So mom had a brilliant idea. She lined us up against the back of the couch, she made us drop our pants, and she spanked all four of us. She figured she was going to get the culprit somehow.

Last month in June I was visiting my parents and I found out it was my older brother. He didn’t advocate, he didn’t intercede for us, and he allowed us to take the punishment that he deserved.

The exact opposite of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Now the Lord works miracles. He’s now a chaplain and he intercedes for many. That was just between boys.

The situation for us is much worse. When Eli was speaking to his rebellious sons, he said this. This is from 1 Samuel chapter 2: “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

Job laments the very same thing in chapter 9. Eli puts his finger on the problem, and Job picks it up. He says, “For He,” that is God, “is not a man as I am that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us who can lay his hand upon us both.”

But John, John says, “Little children, that’s not your situation. Jesus fixed that. He is your arbiter, your go-between, a man who can lay His hand upon us both. Your advocate, your helper, and He did this by being the propitiation for our sins.”

Now there’s a $10 word – propitiation. Behind this word “propitiation” is the idea that the wrath of an angry God was appeased.

Now as you know, many in our society like the idea that God is love, less are okay with the idea that God is wrathful.

First of all, like all the attributes of God, you can’t have one without the others. For example, love is not truly love unless it’s jealous love. Holiness is not holiness without a hatred of sin. Mercy is not merciful if there’s not such a thing as wrath.

But it’s not just a philosophical construct, a philosophical reality. It’s very natural as well, because it extends from the nature of our Creator. It’s natural to us to think this way. Because we’re made in the image of God, even those who do not claim the name of Christ don’t want a world in which dictators who mutilate and kill millions to not come to justice. All of a sudden we all agree that some wrath is appropriate.

But most of all, the idea is thoroughly biblical. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

Romans 12:19 – Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.

I could go on and I could keep choosing from the New Testament. Those were all from the New Testament. This truth is woven throughout the Word.

But would you think with me for just a moment before we move on. I think we can quickly get the wrong idea of God’s wrath. Unfortunately, because we’re emotional creatures, we somehow place that upon God. It’s natural for us to think that God is sitting in heaven and getting redder and redder in the face every time someone sins. But that’s not the picture.

Allow me to read this quote once again from David Jackman. He writes this – His wrath, God’s wrath, is neither an emotion nor a petulant fit of temper, but the settled conviction of righteousness in action to destroy both sin and the sinner.

Do you hear that? He’s saying the wrath of God is a settled conviction of righteous action against sin and sinner. God’s holiness demands wrath towards sin.

But he goes on. This is just wonderful. I love it: The glory of the gospel is that we have an advocate who pleads for mercy on the ground of His own righteous action when He died the death that we deserved to die.

And it gets better: Once the penalty has been paid, there cannot be any further demand that the sinner should be punished. God Himself has met our debt. He came in person to do so.

You see, God’s wrath is not arbitrary. He is not capricious. He doesn’t strike you down in a fit of wrath because you messed up. No. His Son took that blow. His wrath was poured out upon Jesus. There’s no more to pour out on you. There’s nothing more for you to do but to live in gratitude, letting Jesus plead your case and learning day by day to hate your sin more and more.

Finally, what’s more is that this propitiation is sufficient for all who wish to come to Christ. It will not be effective for those who reject Him, but all who will may come.

John writes, “Not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

At this point, most commentaries will attempt to deal with this phrase, because at first glance it causes some questions. Right? Maybe even a contradiction. Some want it to mean universalism, that all are saved and God’s wrath is removed from everyone, no matter their opinion of Jesus Christ. Others following N.T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and so forth, say that it means Christ is the covering of the world, meaning both the firmament and all humanity, but that doesn’t solve the problem of universalism either. Both of those positions are fairly confusing and inconsistent with the rest of 1 John.

I think the best writers often take the simplest approach, and John often uses the term “world” to mean unbelievers, and weren’t you once part of the world?

John claims that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 29: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him,” this is John the Baptist, “and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'”

1 John 4:14, just a little further on in this book: “And we have seen and testified that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Or you know John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever should believe in Him might have eternal life.”

John really likes that phrase. He uses it a whole lot.

John Stott, different John, lots of John’s here, says this: “This cannot be pressed into meaning that all sins are automatically pardoned through the propitiation of Christ, but that a universal pardon is offered for the whole world and it is enjoyed by those who embrace it.”

Wasn’t the temple curtain torn in two? Didn’t that say this is now for everyone?

You see, this is not a statement here of universal salvation, it’s a statement of universal evangelism. Jesus Christ has come to save the world, all kinds in the world, and in all parts of the world. He has come to save poor and rich, straight and gay, perfectionists and failures, black and brown, those who are confused and those who thought they had it all put together until they realized it all falls apart.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but is passed from death to life.”

Would you like to avoid that judgment? Would you like to avoid that condemnation?

Then pray, “Jesus, plead my case. Jesus, help me hate my sin.”

To conclude, John tells us that we are not without sin. We got that from chapter 1. But of course, he doesn’t want you to sin, but if you do, you have an advocate. The good news is that this advocate makes a pretty good case. He makes a really good case. He pleads His own perfect righteous life and blood. He makes the case that the wrath you deserved was already poured out on Himself while hanging on the cross, and the accuser will have nothing left to say.

Let’s pray. Father, I ask that as You teach us in Your Word that You would cause us to hate our sin. Father, as we read the good Word, the good news in Your Word, we are so thankful that we do not have to plead our own case, but that Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son, will do so on our behalf. Father, would You grow in us gratitude and gratefulness, that we might walk with You all the days of our lives. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.