Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity September 14, 1997
1 John 3:1-5
12, 342, 552, 334
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. This is the Word of God.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“To them that believe on His name He giveth power to become the sons of God.” -Recognize those words? I’m sure you do—they come from our Order of Morning Service. You’ve heard me say those words many times as part of the Sunday worship. But I have to say that, from the expressions I see on some faces, I don’t think people always pay real close attention to what they’re saying in the liturgy!
The reason I bring it up is because our Lutheran liturgy is so beautiful and precious—it contains words much too precious to let them slip by without thinking about them. And this is a good example: “To them that believe on His name He giveth power to become the sons of God.” Just think of what that’s saying! That’s saying that God has made you his own child by faith! And in case you’re tempted to take that for granted, our text for today spells out exactly what that means. If you’ve ever felt that you were plain or ordinary, that your life was nothing special…then has the Apostle John ever got good news for you! He reminds you, in the words of our theme, how important it is that…
What does it mean to you to be called a “son of God,” or a “child of God”? A lot? Not much?—Some people use language like that to describe purely symbolic relationships; they call themselves “children of the 90’s” or “the sons of Norway.” But that’s not what the Apostle John means in our text. He’s not saying that you and I are God’s children in some obscure, symbolic sense…he means it literally! He wants you to think about the fact that God has literally made you His child!
Has anyone here had any experience in setting up an adoption proceeding? If you have, you know that adopting a child is one of the most difficult and time-consuming things imaginable for everyone concerned. There are dozens of separate steps involved in bringing a person who is not your natural child into your family. Well, difficult as that process may be, it’s nothing compared to what your heavenly Father went through to make you His child. He took a person who was by nature His enemy, who by nature was under the condemnation of the Law, and he formulated a plan to adopt you into His family. The plan? Paul tells us: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” —Gal 4:4-5. God gave up His natural Son unto death—even the death of the cross!—so that He might make you his own!
The really comforting thing about all this is that it demonstrates just how deeply the Lord cares for us. John says, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” Christian, be COMFORTED…for you are deeply loved.
The text goes on, “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” Does the world ignore you? Despise you? Make fun of you? Do the non-Christians around you consistantly fail to notice anything special about you?—The Bible says you can even take comfort from that, because the exact same thing happened to your Savior! Jesus reminds us, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” —John 15:18.
A Lutheran missionary named Ziegenbalg recalled how, in his seminary days, they were required to translate this section of John’s First Epistle from the Greek. Eventually they reached this verse: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.” Well, their old professor considered this verse so precious that he wouldn’t even let them write it down in English! “If you want to write something down,” he told them, “write: ‘God has granted us to kiss His feet.’” He was right, though, wasn’t he? This verse has got to be considered “holy ground” for us believers. When you’re weary and discouraged, this is a treasure you can come back to again and again for comfort. “Think of it—God actually calls me His child!”
But the good news doesn’t end there. As the Apostle Paul rightly remarked, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are all men the most pitiable.” — I Cor 15:19. No, we haven’t seen the half of it yet. If you think being God’s child is wonderful now, John says, just wait till we get to Judgment Day! “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” As a child of God, you can be HOPEFUL…because you are bound for glory.
Appearances can be deceiving. In this present world, the children of God look just like other people, at least on the outside. But it’s not always going to be that way. On the Day of Judgment the glory of God’s children is going to be revealed to everybody. Then all people will see that there really was something special about us Christians all along! What will our glorified bodies be like? We don’t know, exactly. But John does reveal that “…we shall be like Him”—like Jesus. Well, what was Jesus’ glorified body like? You remember that Peter, James and John got a a look at their Lord’s glorified body on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Bible says that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” —Mat 17:2. My fellow Christian, be hopeful…for you are bound for that same kind of glory! Scripture promises that God is going to “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” —Phil 3:21.
Our text also tells us that “we will see Jesus as He is.” Can you imagine? After all the years of bringing our cares and our sins to Jesus, after all the years of receiving His forgiveness, His comfort, His encouragement, leaning on Him and finding strength…we are finally going to get the chance to thank Him face to face. All ignorance and doubt and confusion will be cleared away. We’re finally going to get to know our Lord, and really understand Him as well as He’s always understood us. Paul says, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” —1 Cor 13:12. What a thing to look forward to! What a prospect to encourage us and make us hopeful!
God has bestowed this title upon you: He has called you His child! You have that, it belongs to you, and nobody can take it away from you. The question is, how are you going to live, now? How silly it would be to live as though you were not a member of God’s family—to go on living just like the unbelievers around you live. To conduct yourself as if you had no more purpose to your life than they do. It would be silly…and irresponsible. Our text tells us that there’s a certain responsibility that goes with being God’s child: “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” The Lord urges you to be RESPONSIBLE…for you are called to purity.
The surface of the eye is the most sensitive tissue in the human body. The slightest speck of dust, the smallest impurity, is enough to irritate it. But you know, even with the human eye—if you leave that impurity in there long enough, you’ll eventually get used to it and it won’t bother you so much anymore. Just ask someone who wears contact lenses. The same thing’s true about sin. The impurity of a particular sin will irritate your conscience once, twice, three times…but eventually your conscience quiets down, and you get used to it. Here the Apostle John says, “NO!” It’s time to wake up and get responsible. It’s time to put behind us the sinful impurities that we’ve been tolerating in our lives. Now that we’re members of God’s family, it’s time to restore that sensitivity—that healthy intolerance for sin. For instance, you sit on the telephone with your best friend sharing malicious stories about your neighbors. The world calls it “harmless gossip,” but we need to call it what it is: slander. And it’s a sin. The world can call it “sowing your wild oats” when young people engage in sex before marriage, but we need to call it what it is: fornication. And it’s a sin. The world can wink and call it “padding your company’s expense account,” but we’ve got to call it what it is. Stealing.
All these things are sins—they’re breaking God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. And we can’t let them continue to infect and corrupt our lives as God’s children. Fill in the blanks—only you know which are the sins that trouble you the most. Be responsible…you are called to purity! Paul quotes the Old Testament promise: “‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’ Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” —2 Cor 6:18-7:1. Let’s ask for the Lord’s strength—He’s promised to give it to us—and then let’s get down to work. Let’s rid ourselves of the habits and activities that have no place in the lives of Christians. There’s nothing else we can do once God calls us His children!
Well, someone once said that if verse four is for careless Christians, then verse five is for care-worn Christians. It’s for those of us who feel deeply the impurities and the failings and the shortcomings of our lives as Christians. For those of us convicted sinners, John has a final word of peace: “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” As God’s child, you can be AT PEACE…for your sins are taken away.
Here’s God’s peaceful solution to the clamorous problem of sin. In order for us to be released from the punishment our sins deserved, a scapegoat had to be found. You know what a scapegoat is, don’t you? The term comes from an actual practice among the Old Testament people of God: the sins of the people would all be symbolically placed upon the head of a goat. Then the animal would be banished from the camp, turned loose to die in the wilderness. Well, Jesus was our “Scapegoat.” All the sins of the world were placed upon Him—not symbolically, but for real. Then our Scapegoat was sent forth to die—not in the wilderness, but on a hill called Calvary. He took away the sins of the whole world, yours and mine included.
But maybe you’re not convinced. Exactly how far “away” did Jesus “take” your sins? Could they ever come back? Is there the slightest possibility that you will ever called to account for them yourself? Well, I’ll let the Psalmist answer that: “As the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” —Psa 103:11-12. Child of God, this morning I tell you: you may be at peace…because your sins are taken away!
Consider this: if you had never seen a rose in full bloom, you wouldn’t be very impressed with a rosebud, would you? I mean, it’s sort of scrunched up, and there’s usually just a tiny bit of color showing… But precisely because we do know what it’s going to turn into, that’s why we consider even the bud of the rose to be a thing of beauty. Christians are like rosebuds in this world. We’re God’s own children, and one day everyone’s going to see our great glory. But that doesn’t mean there’s no beauty in our lives now. There is! Even now, we can be comforted, hopeful, responsible and at peace. Let’s live like God’s children, and show everybody around us…what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us. AMEN.
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