Sermon for April 18th

First Reading Acts 3:12–19

Epistle Reading: 1 John 3:1–7

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:36–48

Sermon: “What We Are”

The first letter of John is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and of all it’s verses, these are some of the best: (1 John 3:1-2 NIV) “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Our text today boldly proclaims several great truths about those who belief in Jesus Christ and yet poses an interesting question. This verses are just one of many in the New Testament that tell us of the great gift we have been given – adoption as sons and daughters of God. That is a truly wonderful gift that we sometimes glibly toss off with the well intentioned phrase “We are all Children of God”. That is not actually correct and perhaps surprising to some, but the testimony of scripture is pretty clear – Being part of the family of God is not our default status. Now true enough: We are all created in the image of God; we are all loved by God; and with apologies to John Calvin, I believe we are all called by God – but tragically, some will not answer that call. That does not mean that they are of any less inherent worth than you or I, nor does it mean that they may not yet join the family under grace by the urging of the Holy Spirit. It simply means that our Adoption may be declined.

John writes very early in his gospel (John 1:9-13 NIV) [9] “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. [11] He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. [12] Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— [13] children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. It is a very special and precious thing to be called a child of God and I want to spend a while with you today exploring what that means by taking a trip through this passage in 1st John and pulling in several other passages to help us think about what this means.

John is clear, first of all, that this new status is the result of the birth of something new and wonderful in us. It’s not the result of dusting off and shining up what we were. John reminds of of this when he described the conversation between Jesus and a devote Pharisee named Nicodemus: (John 3:5-8 NKJV) [5] Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This explains what was read earlier in John where it said “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

The new life is born of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior enabled by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. God has said it – God does not lie – We ARE God’s children – right now. But what exactly does that mean? Well it means several things – lets list some:

What are we now? Greatly loved for starters. 1st John says “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

What are we now? Graciously saved. The gospel of John says (John 3:16 NKJV) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

What are we now? In relationship – part of the family. In relationship with God the Father through his Son Jesus and also in relationship with each other. Paul writes (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV) [26] So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, [27] for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The old ways we defined ourselves are superseded by the new – we belong to Christ and to a family far greater than ourselves.

Fair warning – it makes us stick out. John warned us right up front: “Therefore the world does not know us, b because it did not know Him.” You see, in a culture that prizes individualism, we belong to the body of Christ. In a world that seems always to seek security through force, intimidation and violence – we seek reconciliation, solidarity, forgiveness and peace. In our modern society where too many seek personal identity through social networking and carefully crafted profiles – we find our true identity in baptism, where we are named a child of God. We live that identity out in following Christ. Let’s face it – this family is quite odd by the standards of this world. If perhaps we feel too comfortable, it fair to wonder wether we might have traded the joy of Divine love for love of worldly acceptance.

To continue with the list – What are we now? Works in progress. John tells us: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” That’s a big part of what it means to be a child isn’t it. We are meant to grow and get stronger. We are meant to gain wisdom and perspective. Joining God’s family is but the first step on a life long journey. God sees us differently than we do. The story is told that when a great big piece of marble was brought in to him, Michelangelo walked around it, looking at it, and then said, “My, isn’t it beautiful!” One of his helpers who was standing there said, “Well, all I see is a great big piece of marble—that’s all.” Michelangelo exclaimed, “Oh, I forgot. You don’t see what I see. I see a statue of David there.” The helper looked again and replied, “Well, I don’t see it.” Michelangelo said, “That is because it is now in my own mind, but I am going to translate it into this piece of marble.” And that is what he did. God says, “It doth not yet appear what you shall be.” He sees what He is going to make out of us someday. We are discouraged when we look at each other as we are now, but God sees us as we shall be when He shall appear and we shall be like Him. What a glorious prospect this is for us!

Of course we all look to the day when we will be raised with our risen Lord and live in eternal bodies with him for all of eternity. But don’t jump that far ahead just yet. This present life has great significance and great value – here and now. As we continue through 1st John’s message, he will continue to urge us to shun sin and live a Godly life. That too is part of being a child – they make mistakes, but when loved and graciously guided, they learn and develop. We are God’s children – he has claimed us. Never mind that sometimes we may not appear to be God’s children – never mind that we have many changes yet to undergo. We will not be fully formed until Jesus comes again. When that great day comes, we will become visibly and eternally like him – radiating outwardly the truth that was hidden inside until then.

So it is that today, we are incomplete, strained and broken in places, yearning for a peace and a holiness that we don’t yet posses. So we live double lives, still struggling against temptations and sin, but determined to do better and not repeat past mistakes. We submit our new lives to the will of God. We may be rough marble – awkward, jagged and gritty where a graceful masterpiece should stand, but never fear, we are in the hands of the Master, and what he has begun, he will finish. Paul writes: Philippians 1:6 NKJV

‘… He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”

He also assures us that we don’t need to have it all figured out. Our maturing in grace is part of God’s plan(1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NIV) [9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10] but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. [11] When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. [12] For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. [13] And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

John is going to have a lot more to say about love in the coming weeks – About God’s love for us, about our love for God, and about our love for each other. Our Savior came to this world because of love. Love held him to the cross and love raised him to glory. How so? John tells us that God is Love. God has loved us and claimed us as his own in a quite wonderful way. Thanks be to God our Father, through the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Sprit. Amen.