The Third Sunday after Easter April 29, 2007
1 John 3:1-2
370, 201, 437, 528 (1-2)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, continue to guide, protect, and care for you—ever supplying all your needs. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Would you recognize the Devil’s voice if you heard it? I doubt it. The Devil often speaks in familiar, soothing, reasonable tones—logical in the extreme. Peter failed to recognize the Devil’s voice when he urged Jesus to stay away from Jerusalem and to thus avoid the cross and the tomb. Jesus, on the other hand, recognized the voice of Satan even when it sounded a lot like the voice of Peter: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Matthew 16:23). It is important that we stand on guard and be watchful lest Satan’s voice come and persuade us unawares.
As children of God, there is another voice that we seek to recognize, hear, and follow. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life” (John 10:27f). Today we will seek to learn how and why Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and why our God is the only fitting object of our worship. More than that, we will seek to identify and thank our gracious God for all of his unseen blessings. The part of God’s Word that we study today is found in the first epistle of John, the third chapter:
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.
These are the words of God. They are also the words of life eternal. With confidence that our merciful God would work in our hearts through the study of these words, so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
It is a rather strange characteristic of human beings—including Christians—that we crave some of the very things that we despise. Who, for example, hasn’t experienced a level of repulsion over the immoral antics of movie stars? And yet we pay good money to see their films and even look forward with a certain degree of anticipation to their next production. Who doesn’t express disgust and outrage at multimillion dollar salaries? And yet can you honestly say that you would refuse such money if it were offered? Who isn’t sick to death of the inane media frenzy over the lives (and deaths) of lunatics and criminals? And yet who doesn’t find the idea of being broadly known and universally respected somewhat appealing, at least on certain levels?
The point here is that Christians are also tempted by the superficial. The dark side in us craves whatever feeds and flatters our egos, while ignoring or despising that which tends to benefit others. What is especially interesting is how we downplay or disregard the reality that is ours, while we gaze longingly at the fantasy that is not.
But just what is ours? What do you and I have, right this very moment, that we tend to take for granted or despise? The answer probably ought to be obvious to every single one of us, but we will take the time to leave no doubt.
In our text we just read these incredible words: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” [v.1] The fact that we hear such words without pausing to appreciate their gravity and meaning ought to bring the blush of shame to each Christian countenance. Take a moment to consider what it is our text is telling us. To have a general knowledge of God is one thing. To be known by him to the point of being adopted as his child is something else altogether—something altogether grand and inspiring.
The problem, of course, is that the world around us ridicules this truth. Tell someone that you are on intimate terms with the President of the United States and society’s reaction would be instant awe and respect. Tell those same folks that you are on such intimate terms with God and that He has adopted you as a son or daughter, and they’ll likely look at you as if you’ve just grown a third eye or a second nose.
The world likes showy stuff. What the Christian has does not qualify as desirable in the world’s estimation. The value of what we have is beyond calculation, but it is basically foundation stuff.
What in the world does that mean—foundation stuff? Look at any famous building and you will probably find that the part most admired is the least important as far as the function of the building is concerned. Drive down to Chicago and stand in awe of the sheer size and (to some eyes) beauty of the Sears Tower. What you cannot see is the foundation that reaches ten stories into the ground, anchoring the massive structure to the bedrock that lies beneath. So also tourists might marvel at the ornate décor of the Library of Congress in Washington, but no one gives a second thought to the complex climate control and ventilation systems that allow guests to breath clean, fresh, temperature controlled air.
Christians are the very foundation of any God-pleasing nation. Unseen and unheralded, Christians tend to those things that are pointless in the eyes of the godless, but that nonetheless form and sustain a nation. Things like morning devotions to start the day and family devotions after the evening meal. Tedious little things like showing the young girls how to dress appropriately and the young men how to respect women and to regard them as more than human toys. It is the day-by-day struggle to teach the next generation to hate all lies and to recognize and love the truth in all that they think and say and thereby to glorify their God in all things. It is the struggle to teach them that true character has a daily cost for it requires a near constant denial of certain thoughts and desires. There is, in short, no better way to make your mark on the world and to leave it a better place than to do foundation work with our children. It is vital work, but it has fallen almost completely out of favor in our society, where, as a whole, we are sacrificing our children on the altar of glamour and materialism.
That the world has come to despise true foundation work among our children should not surprise any of us. There is much they cannot recognize, and what is not seen has probably always been under-appreciated. Our text tells us that the world doesn’t know a really good thing when it sees it. So we read, “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.” [v.1]
If the world cannot recognize God and if the world rejected God’s Son, what would lead us to imagine that the world will recognize Christianity and its adherents as valuable members of society? A better question might be: “What does it really matter if they do or don’t?” Whether recognized or not, the value of Christians to any society simply cannot be measured. The Word of God tells us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34) Again God’s Word says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29) It is, therefore, true and right to say that it is for the sake of the very ones who are despised by the world—the ones the world knows not—that God spares our beloved nation. Christians are the foundation. Take away the foundation and the rest will fall to ruin.
We could obviously spend hours talking about all that is wrong with the world. What about us? Lack of appreciation for God’s unseen blessings is certainly not restricted to the unbelieving world. In fact they have something of an excuse. They are ungodly. What is our excuse—we who bear the name of our Savior Jesus? How is it that we have come to be so unappreciative for so much that the Lord does for us day by day? So it is that we take time this morning to look at some of those unseen blessings we tend to take for granted. Our Savior is the perfect example of the unsung hero who faithfully and anonymously carries out his simple duties without praise or fanfare. How fitting then to take some time to examine just what Jesus Christ does for us day by day.
It is probably safe to say that many of you have, in the past, walked away from potentially serious accidents virtually untouched. This is a recognizable blessing—a blessing that is seen. What about the unseen? How many times has God prevented your injury or death in the past week? The past year? The past decade? You will never know, which is exactly the point. Nearly every time God prevents accidents from happening to you, God’s mercy and protection go undetected and usually unappreciated.
The sum total of all the unseen blessings of our Lord is actually beyond our ability to fully comprehend. That is not to say we are right in our lack of appreciation, nor that we ought not struggle to recognize our Lord’s hand in our lives. To this end it might help to bring to mind some of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. How many times has God heard and answered our petitions in the Lord’s Prayer though we had absolutely no idea how he was working in our lives?
In the Fourth Petition we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When was the last time you went hungry? Do you even fear hunger? Of course not. God has always blessed us with so much food that we have to pay our farmers not to farm. We spend more on weight loss than many countries spend on food. We take for granted that if we place a seed into the ground it will germinate and grow. God has never let us down. His perfect consistency is not a good reason to stop thanking him.
In the Sixth and Seventh Petitions we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We would probably be absolutely terrified if God notified us each time He has honored these petitions in our lives, but we would undoubtedly also be more appreciative. How many times has He steered us away from a temptation that would have caused great damage to our marriage, our family, or our personal health and wellbeing? How many times has He delivered us from evil of which we were completely unaware—evil of an unseen, spiritual nature against which we remain powerless apart from our Savior? How many times has Satan asked God to torment us—as he asked in connection with Job—only to have our God withhold His consent? How many times has God kept the plane aloft in which you were traveling, cleansed your body of a disease that never materialized, prevented a thief (or worse) from targeting you or your home? Occasionally He gives us a brief glimpse of His loving protection, but for the most part we live in blissful ignorance of His countless unseen blessings.
The greatest blessing is the unconditional forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ. Who among us does not take for granted the universal justification of the world—God’s declaration that the sins of the world have been paid for by the life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ? How often do we contemplate the sublime fact that God knew us by name before the creation of the world and chose us to be His own from eternity? When was the last time we even considered the fact that Jesus continues to act as our Mediator speaking to God the Father on our behalf? Or that Jesus is with us always just as He promised? Or that the Holy Spirit continually intercedes for us as Paul revealed in the letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26)?
The world knows nothing of such things. Nor do they care. Although this is a great shame, a far greater shame is the fact that we do know better, but fail to give our God the thanks and praise he deserves.
Dear Christians, one glorious day things will be different. Our text assures us that the full glory of our Savior God will not always remain hidden. “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.” [v.2] Think of it! We have God’s promise that we will one day be like Him! Think of what that means! Our Lord Jesus Himself also once told us, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26). This fact strikes terror in the hearts of the unbeliever, but it should hold only joy and comfort for the child of God. The record of our sins will not follow us into heaven. By God’s grace, all trace of sin has been removed from our record. The Holy Spirit has worked saving faith in our hearts and God the Father now credits that faith as perfect righteousness—the same righteousness that was found in Jesus. In God’s eyes our record is as spotless as is the record of His own Son. Only those with such a perfect record could ever be called “children of God.” The world sees no value is such a title. To the Christian there is no greater honor. Though unseen and unappreciated here in time, the honor and glory of the privilege to bear the name “child of God” will one day be revealed. How greatly we have been blessed.
May God grant you, here in time, an appreciation for His unseen blessings, the greatest of which is your adoption as His child through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.