There’s something odd going on in the lectionary this week. The Epistle reading at Holy Communion for Tuesday (John, Apostle and Evangelist) was 1 John 1; the reading today is 1 John 2:3-11. What happened to 1 John 2:1-2? It’s part of the separate series for Morning Prayer on the 27th – but if a church is holding morning communion services then these readings won’t be used.
So – what is the content of these two short verses which someone apparently saw fit to skip? At the risk of undermining their careful work, allow me to share them with you (ESV):
1 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. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Hang on… aren’t those really important verses? We learn such amazing things here… why cut them from the start of the reading?
- We learn of the reality of sin in the life of a Christian, and the conflict between what how we are called to live, and how we strive to live – and the fact of continued sin.
- We learn that if we do sin, God has already appointed us an advocate – Jesus Christ. From this are show the great folly – and even sin – of presuming to appoint and call upon our own advocate, whether Mary, a Saint or anyone else other than Jesus Christ the righteous. When we presume to do so, we stand against the will of God himself and raise someone or something else up into the place of Jesus Christ. As Calvin writes “the intercession of Christ is a continual application of his death for our salvation. That God then does not impute to us our sins, this comes to us, because he has regard to Christ as intercessor.”
- We are reminded that Jesus Christ is ‘the righteous’; that he alone is without sin, and so that he alone is qualified to reconcile us to God. Any who is guilty of sin is already barred from standing as advocate, indeed it is our sin which requires us to have an advocate in Jesus Christ.
- We are taught of Christ as our propitiation. Notice that John chooses to tell us of Christ the propitiation, not Christ who propitiates. The sacrifice made as offering and satisfaction for sin is none other than Jesus Christ the righteous, our advocate in heaven. It is true that he offered up the sacrifice once and for all, but also true that he himself was that sacrifice. Thus, we learn not steal from Christ this role – there is no offering, sacrifice, penance or work we can render to God to reconcile us, and if we so much as try we deny Christ: he himself is the only propitiation for our sins.
- We are told that it is the end of Christ’s death to make propitiation for our sins. Our sins are the problem he died to resolve; and if we explain away his death as to solve some other problem we greatly err. In particular, his death was not an example for us to follow: although we are buried with him that we might rise with him, it is because of his death as the propitiation for our sin that we are able to pass through death in him. We do not, by our life – or by our death – make our own propitation. It is a work that Christ did for us, once and for all, and one which we can only receive with faith and gratitude.
- And finally, we are assured beyond any doubt, that Christ’s death extends to every single person who receives this Gospel of salvation by faith. His self-propitation is for the sins of the whole world: and is in no way limited to one race, one denomination, or in any other way. If we presume to say that Salvation requires any additional qualifying work or membership beyond what is set out in plain Scripture then we contradict God himself. Nobody has a monopoly on Salvation, and nobody – of any position – has any right or power to place barriers before the Throne of Grace.
For my personal study, I find the M’Cheyne bible reading plan to be a great way to go through Scripture — without missing bits out. I wonder if it’s not time for the Lectionary to be revised to make sure there are no other central and deeply edifying passages missed out from Sunday and weekday readings? At a minimum, given that the majority only hear the Scripture on Sundays, the whole Bible without omissions should be heard on Sundays – even if it takes a few years to go through the cycle. On a related note, the Russian evangelical idea of having two sermons within a service (the second shorter one being for more junior preachers, and for shedding some light on another of the readings) is growing on me, and will likely be the subject of a future post.
Yes, it is the responsibility of the congregation to study the Bible at home with their families; but it is also the responsibility of pastors and teachers to understand that many (most?) don’t do this – and preach accordingly. God gave us all of Scripture, and whilst we may not know the reason we need any given part, yet we should not presume to censor God and cut bits out we don’t like. As A. W. Tozer wrote, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian”.
Edit notes: I misread the table at ‘when will it be read’; in fact it will be read once each three years at the end of a reading from I John 1 (although the rest of the I John 2 does never get read. Refer to the excellent when will it be read page). There’s other chunks missing from I John; and don’t bother trying to find readings from II John or III John… there aren’t any at all!