The Court is in session. There are witnesses gathered by the Almighty to give testimony to the Person of Jesus Christ. But it is not Jesus who is now on trial. You are.
Give attention to the Inerrant and infallible word of the living God as we find it in John’s first epistle to the churches in Asia Minor. I read from chapter 5 and verses six through eight.
“This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: The Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:6-8 ESV).
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord will endure forever. Let us pray.
Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable and vice side of the Lord our strength and our Redeemer. And let me preach as if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.
“What do you think of Jesus Christ?” I watched as the interviewer leaned into the celebrity. A slight smile — a smile of confidence or bewilderment? — and the actor answer, “I’m really not a very religious man, you know.” The interviewer took that response at face value. “Okay, then, let’s talk about your latest film!” He had no problem talking about that. The interviewer had to finally stop him from rambling on about himself. As I watched the interview on television, I didn’t particularly want to leave the question about Jesus! “But of course,” you say, “You are a preacher.” But what do you think? The interviewer inquired about an essential matter of life and history. For time itself is marked by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. His life and His death is an indisputable fact. The claim of His resurrection cannot be ignored. The Person of Jesus of Nazareth has influenced more people in world history than any other person. And yet, the grand fromage responded with an answer that had nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with himself. “I am not a religious man,” he whined theatrically with some hint of mystery and a good deal of self-satisfaction. I would have preferred that the interviewer follow-up with another question: “My dear Sir, I did not ask you about your religious life. I asked you about the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. What have you done with him? How do you respond to him? Will you answer the plain and simple question, please, Sir?”
Our response to the Person of Jesus of Nazareth is the single most important decision we will ever make.
It is, indeed, an incontestable truth that all of history swings upon that one perfect life. We tend to relate to God based on our feelings, our thinking, and even as Christians we sometimes relate our faith to the rest of the world only through our testimony. Now, to be sure, our testimonies, while not the gospel itself, must contain the gospel and point to the gospel, if it is a Christian testimony. Or, we should instead say that our testimonies should be filled with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like you, I’m sure; we’ve all heard statements of those who were down and made it back up again; who were bewildered then defeated and became self-aware and confident. Those are compelling testimonies, but if they do not have the Person of Jesus as the “hero,” the “Savior,” the meaning for new life, then the message is not a Christian one. The news that we preach is Jesus Christ and he crucified.
Now, this leads us to the Text before us today: 1 John 5:6-8.
When John was writing his three letters to the churches in Asia Minor, it was evident that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was faced with people who were not dealing straight-up with the person of Jesus Christ. They were responding to his person and his life with an emotional or metaphysical or mystic response. But Jesus Christ is a historical figure. He deserves to be taken as he was presented in his life and by the historical record that we have. The true nature of the Person of Jesus is the concern of John. And so, he writes in chapter 5 and in verses six through eight that the life and person of Jesus Christ have been witnessed by two events and one person that make his identity incontrovertible. John writes of the One “who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood. John, then, restates the case and rearranges the order of the witnesses: “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in 5.8. In the first place, the witnesses are ordered by events. In the second place, a Witness applies the benefits of the events. The Spirit applies the “water and the blood,” inseparably bound as much as repentance and faith.
This has been called one of the most enigmatic phrases in the Bible. I don’t mean to claim that my word is the final word on the matter. “Men of goodwill do differ.” But if we take the passage as it comes, without anticipating the introduction of mystery or an evasive move to obfuscate, I believe it is entirely possible to have an accurate meaning. Could we really imagine Pastor John seeking to be intentionally allegorical or vague? He was dealing with the very person of Jesus Christ. Any vagueness that we might find is in translation or over-reading the text. What do we know about Jesus’ life when we read these three words?
“The water, the blood, and the Spirit” as corroborating witnesses lead us to not only understand John’s meaning but also to discover our faith. Thus, the vital message of this remarkable text is as relevant to our lives today as it was to John’s readers in the late first century.
Unbelief and distortion of the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord creep across the panorama of human history like a radioactive cloud, raining down atheism and its deathly consequences. So, God has given us three unassailable witnesses to the incomparable testimony of Jesus.
How so? Each witness in 1 John 5:6-8 comes to us with a message about Jesus and ourselves.
The first witness is the water.
The apostle John wrote of Jesus Christ that he was the one who came “By water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by water only but by water and the blood (v. 6).”
The Apostle John is forcing his readers to concede the reality and the relationship between history and the Nazarene. But is he doing so with vague, almost mystical, references: water and the blood and the Spirit? Some have commented that “the water” is referring to his Virgin birth. The relationship between the water and the blood in the passage appears to be related to the role that Christ fulfilled for sinners. If so, then the water is surely referring to a historical event in the life of Jesus that singled him out for his unique mission. While the Virgin Birth most certainly did that, to read the text in context appears to point to another event (and, besides, equating water to the act of birth requires John to break from his plain-talking and borrow poetic license [if not Augustinian allegory] that he is not heretofore using). That event of “water,” then, was the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John the Baptist. Why does John mention this? Recall that Jesus said to John, whenever John the Baptist protested that he was unworthy to administer a holy anointing to the Messiah, that it must be done “to fulfill all righteousness.” Many of us believe that the righteousness being fulfilled was the righteousness of a priest at the age of thirty coming before his first cousin, a son of a high priest, John the Baptist, who was the son of the Aaronite, Zechariah. Christ appeared to be ordained as a priest himself. He was to become the very Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.  But we know that he was a priest not after the order of man but after the order of Melchizedek, that is, after a divine and glorious origin that cannot be compared to a human priesthood. Yet his baptism also pointed to his fulfillment of God’s requirement of a perfect life. He fulfilled all righteousness for us by living the life we could never live.
John Murray called this Jesus is “active obedience.” Jesus’ active obedience was his keeping of every commandment and pleasing God in every way with his life. Thus, what God required an analysis he provided through his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
John is calling his readers to come face-to-face with that verdict that God the Holy Spirit brings to us right now: we need a righteousness that is not our own to cover our sinful selves before a holy God. Jesus Christ possesses and supplies the God-ordained righteousness that we must have before a holy God.
Come unto this High Priest today and receive his righteousness. Turn to him in repentance so that his pure white covers you. To be washed by His life is like yielding yourself to the white caps of an Atlantic wave coming in at Cape Hatteras. You were all sandy, dirty, but the great white waves wash over you. The sanctifying life of Jesus, received by faith, removes the grit and the grime of Original Sin as well as the blemishes of actual sin. Oh, what a glorious Savior we have in Jesus the Righteous!
In the second component of this immortal couplet we have another divinely sent witness to Jesus’ testimony as to the one, true God:
The second witness is the blood.
When John spoke of the water he was speaking, no doubt, of our Savior’s holy anointing under the hand of John the Baptist, coming up to hear, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Thus, Jesus fulfills our need for a righteousness that is not our own.
“Therefore, we must always believe and always hope; we must always take hold of Christ as the head and fountain of our righteousness.”
But the water is interconnected with the blood. There is something remarkable about this phrase coupling. Yes, I do believe that the water is referring to baptism. But we cannot ignore that as Jesus was upon the cross and he was pierced for our sins, he not only bled but a post-mortem thrust of a Roman spear into his side brought forth blood with water. John saw this and wrote of it. No doubt, the awful scene created a combination of both horror and wonder that would be etched into the consciousness of the Apostle John forever. Thus, St. John spoke of deep theological truths about the Person of Jesus having witnessed the death of Jesus:
“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).
So, we have in this passage not only the righteousness of Jesus but his sacrifice upon the cross. We have the imputation of righteousness and the forensic act of justification. For, there can be no other verdict but that “the blood” is referring to the crimson life-force that flowed from that horrid, now beautiful, cross. Let us not render asunder what the Spirit has joined, “the water and the blood.”
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
The ancient arrangement conceived in the unfathomable and infinitely just mind of our Triune God was that obedience brought life. Disobedience brought death. God ordained a “federal” system of relating, a system that caused us to inherit the sin of our first father, Adam (but allowed us to claim the righteousness and the atonement of the Second Adam, our Savior Jesus Christ). And so, in Adam’s sin, the children of Adam are sinners. God will not withhold his wrath and just punishment against sin. Jesus Christ obeyed God as he went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and thereby fulfilling the Covenant of Works.
My beloved, on this very day, at this very moment, the ancient divine arrangement is yet in force: The Covenant of Works requires the punishment by death for your sin and mine. The question before every human being is this, “Will you pay the penalty, or will you receive the Covenant of Grace, the New Testament, the new gracious arrangement, whereby God will provide for you a Lamb, his only begotten Son?”
And this leads us to the final of the three witnesses of God to the testimony of Jesus.
The third Witness is the Spirit.
John will write forcefully,
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son. Whoever has the son has life; whoever does not have the son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11,12).
But how shall we know? How could that celebrity who was interviewed dodge the certain historical reality of this Christ? Let us be sure that he cannot dodge it forever. For the water and the blood testify. David would add to this and say,
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
The Bible tells us that over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus at one time (1 Cor. 15:6), in addition to numerous other appearances to smaller groups, like the two on the Road to Emmaus.
The courtroom is packed. All of the witnesses are gathered now. The question is pressed upon you, and you cannot escape it. You cannot avoid it. You cannot ignore Him.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
Without the power and the glory in the presence of the Spirit of Almighty God, we cannot repent and believe.
I must tell you with the highest joy, but also, because of my sin, the most enormous shame, that I had never known a day in my life when I did not hear the name of Jesus spoken or receive the testimony of these Witnesses that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. The widow who reared me, Aunt Eva, laid her hands upon my head every day and prayed for me. She witnessed to me from the Word of God. And all of her life and all of her teaching stood as principled prosecutors to appeal to the Great Judge of All and say, “This man is without excuse!” But I thank God that in his mercy he sent his Holy Spirit to open my heart and to apply the benefits of the Covenant of Grace to my life. I thank God that through the power of the Holy Spirit he testified to my spirit as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans chapter 8.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons[f] of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
How I thank God for his Holy Spirit, who not only awakened this poor, filthy sinner saved by grace but comforted and guided him even until this hour.
The Witnesses are present today. Shall they—the water, the blood, and the Spirit—be defense attorney or prosecutor?
The Bible assures even the most rebellious child, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). And, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Our repentance and faith are the works of the Holy Spirit, the silent and unseen Person of the Godhead, who has been guiding you all of your life to this moment. He even guides you to look upon the Holy Table of our Lord. He lifts up your head that you may see the emblems of your salvation: the blood of Christ, the body of Christ.
John has laid out a compelling and incontrovertible case that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Almighty God and Lord of all. He has established this fundamental verity by way of three glorious and illustrious witnesses: the water of baptism, the blood of sacrifice at Calvary’s cross, and the Holy Spirit of God who moved upon ordinary men and women to catapult them — and us — into fulfilling the mission of God on earth.
I served many years as a Chaplain to the military. One of the reasons that I loved ministering to Soldiers and their Families was that Soldiers played such an essential role in the drama of salvation in the Bible. Do you not recall the one who was a witness to the water into the blood? Do you remember the gospel reality of the Roman soldier who looked upon Jesus upon the cross and confessed his faith, “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
The Soldier is in many ways a straightforward man. The Soldier is trained to both command and receive commands with an economy of words. He is taught how to observe. He must answer to his superiors with clarity. If he is in charge, he must communicate in the simplest of expressions. There is no nuance. There are no shadows of meaning. There can be neither embellishment, nor flourish, nor disregard. He must face the facts as they are. The Apostle John is the mouthpiece but let us be certain that the One who speaks today is the risen Christ himself through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He says to you and me “This is my body. This is my blood.”
“What do you make of Jesus of Nazareth?” The interviewer leans in. “Who is he to you?” Indeed, what do you say? What is your testimony of God’s testimony?
John is saying that the three witnesses — the water, the blood, and the Spirit — speak clearly. But what do you say? What is your answer? Eternal life depends upon God’s testimony in your testimony. So, there is but one response, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (v. 10). Don’t be like the celebrity who said, “Well, I am just not religious.” Don’t attempt to avoid the Person of Jesus. Don’t evade this One who loves you. Don’t blame your inability to turn to Him on wrong-headed Christians or lousy personal experiences with the Church. Face the Witnesses. And believe. For this is the witness of God to the testimony of Jesus. And whoever believes has that testimony in himself. Your faith, given to you by a loving God, is the application of all of the benefits of Christ to you.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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 John’s doctrine of the Incarnation is addressed brilliantly by James D.G. Dunn in David Noel Freedman et al., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6 (Doubleday New York, 1992), 404.
 “Plummer, in beginning to comment on this passage says, ‘This is the most perplexing passage in the Epistle, and one of the most perplexing in the New Testament.’ No doubt . . .” See “1 John 5 Commentary – William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible,” StudyLight.Org, 1 John 5:6-8, accessed May 6, 2018, //www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-john-5.html.
 See, e.g., E. Hill, J. E. Rotelle, and Augustinian Heritage Institute, On Genesis (New City Press, 2002), 97, https://books.google.com/books?id=AXDYAAAAMAAJ.
 Again, see Augustine in Genesis. Ibid.
 See, e.g., an array of commentators from a wide spectrum of Christian traditions: John Brown, The Mode and Subjects of Christian Baptism: Considered in Two Discourses, Delivered in the Presbyterian Church, Cazenovia, Lord’s Days the 9th & 16th March, 1817 : With Some Additions and Alterations (Oran E. Baker, 1817), 72; The Lutheran Witness (Edited and published under the auspices of the Cleveland District Conference by C.A. Frank, 1913), 131; Hank Voss, The Priesthood of All Believers and the Missio Dei: A Canonical, Catholic, and Contextual Perspective (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016), 220; D. Van Dorn, Waters of Creation: A Biblical Theological Study of Baptism (Waters of Creation Publishing, 2012), 13, https://books.google.com/books?id=kXFyAgAAQBAJ; M. F. Unger, The Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Moody Press, 1974), 51, https://books.google.com/books?id=0KBGCUWNDaMC.
 J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), 21, https://books.google.com/books?id=la_y6y3EnpcC.
 See the defense of the framework of active and passive obedience of Christ, e.g., in John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Crossway, 2002), 124.
 Matthew 3:17.
 M. Luther, Selections from His Writings (Anchor Books, 1961), 147, https://books.google.com/books?id=ORzADF1E8gUC.
 Murray, Redemption Accomplished.
 For a study of the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace see Dr. Robert L. Reymond’s classic treatment of the Westminster Confession with Larger and Shorter Catechisms. R. L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition – Revised and Updated (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 31, https://books.google.com/books?id=wRYvCvkhwmAC.
 See, also, O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Baker Book House, 1980).
 “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely, he was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54, New International Version of the Holy Bible). See, also, Mark 15:39 and Luke 23:47.
 “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (1 John 5:10 King James Version of the Holy Bible).