3rd Sunday of Easter (B)
I John 3:1-7
April 15, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
When friends and family members see newborn babies for the first time, it’s not unusual to hear their opinions about which parent the baby looks like. Does she have her mother’s nose? Her father’s eyes? Some parents like the family resemblance because it means that the baby is part of them, it’s a reminder of who the parents are. Those who are adopted are just as much their parents’ children and part of the family as a biological child would be. The only difference is their resemblance to the parents. It just makes sense that, outside of certain circumstances, adopted kids are going to look different. You and I are also adopted, but because we’re adopted by God there’s a very strong family resemblance.
It would be a very strange world indeed if newborn children determined what their parents looked like. Can you imagine if your appearance changed just a little bit every time you had a child? Happily, family resemblance always starts with the parents, and in our case God the Father. He makes us look like Him and it starts with His love. This is John’s point right from the beginning of this chapter – you are made His children by His love. He writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” John is saying, “Look! Look at God’s love that is so immeasurably huge and deep that He adopted you!” And He did! He wanted you to have a Father, a home, and an inheritance. You’re not someone tagging along or a friend who doesn’t get all the rights of a child. He adopted you so you’re a real part of His family, with all the benefits that come from belonging to God.
John wants us to look at God’s great love because we’ll never see anything better or lovelier. Most parents would willing give up their own lives to save their children. I know I would. Some would give their lives for a child that wasn’t theirs, but not one of us would give the life of our biological child to adopt a different one. See what kind of love that God has for you? This is why God’s love is so incomprehensible. He does what we would never do. God the Father, gave His Son, over to death for you. Jesus’ death wasn’t a partial death or a fake death or a painless death. It was a real death brought on by whips, nails, and your sins. He endured real hell, he took on His Father’s anger over our sins, and He died to pay the price demanded for you to be adopted. The average adoption can cost up to $50,000, but that’s nothing compared to what God paid to adopt you.
When a child is born they don’t get to choose their parents. A parentless child can’t force an unsuspecting couple to adopt them. It’s the same thing with God. All the choosing was done by Him according to His incredible love. As Paul writes in 2nd Timothy, God saved us “not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” God’s love is unbelievable when you think about it. A couple would never adopt a child who was filled with hate and violence. And they would never expose their family to an evil and exceedingly disobedient child. But here again we see God’s love that while we were still sinners, He sent His Son to pay for our adoption. We were hate filled and violent in our sins. We were exceedingly disobedient spiritual orphans, but He adopted us anyway. He took us from sin filled gutters and alleyways and made us His children.
God didn’t just adopt us and accept how we came. He adopted us and then He changed us! He gave you His Holy Spirit who, as Luther says, keeps you in the one, true faith. His Holy Spirit shapes you so that you resemble God and His love for you. We love because He first loved us, and now we use the Holy Spirit to work on changing our appearance so we resemble Him.
This is the hard part! Normal kids don’t have to work to resemble their parents. The genetics that they’re born with determines how much they look like their parents. But don’t parents sometimes dress their children so they look like them or fix their hair a certain way? They want the kids to resemble them more than genetically. In a way, this is what God has done for us. He adopted us and then He began forming us so that we look like Him.
Children will often copy their parent’s behavior, whether it’s good or bad. More than one parent has been proud of the family resemblance and more than one has been appalled when their child mimics them. We only have to resemble God’s good behavior, because there is no bad, and to do so, He gives us the Holy Spirit in our baptism. He gives us the Holy Spirit and strength in His holy Word and Lord’s Supper. These are not just rituals or empty actions, they’re the empowering gifts that can only come from God. We need these gifts because to resemble God we are going to have to fit our sinful nature. We’re going to have to fight the impulses and temptations to resemble the father of lies and lawlessness.
We must fight because when we embrace lawlessness as John calls it, we’re renouncing our resemblance to God. John says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness…No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.” You have seen God in His Word, through faith you know Him and He lives in you, so choose to fight sin and refuse to tolerate it in yourself. This battle against lawlessness occurs every day and we’re going struggle, but that’s not the end of it. Martin Luther said that when we get knocked down in battle we don’t surrender, we get back on our feet and we continue to fight. God gives us what we need to fight. More than that, He fights for us, and nowhere is that more evident than at the cross where He whipped Sin and Satan and gave us the victory. John says, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” We put our hope in Him, our trust, that He has given us the victory through our adoption, and we resemble Him through the forgiveness of our sins.
It’s because of His victory that we look forward to the day that we perfectly resemble our God. John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Right now we’re like uncut diamonds. We appear to be dull and not worth much, and maybe that’s how we feel about ourselves. But what awaits us is greater than what we see now. For when we die, when we rise from our graves as Jesus rose from His, we’ll be holy and perfect in every way. We’ll be transformed by God’s grace as we take on a perfect resemblance to our adoptive Father. This is the end result of our adoption by God and it’ll be wonderful! See what love the Father has for you! He has promised this, and He keeps all of His promises to us.
It’s funny how in some families the members look so much alike it’s kind of eerie, while in other families it’s not clear who the children look like. But the parents know who their children are even if they don’t necessarily look like them. This is the same thing with God. Sometimes you’re not going to resemble your Heavenly Father, but He knows who His children are, and He forgives you. You’re His child and you can rest assured that since He has adopted you He’s not going to give you up or give you away. But He will guard and keep you until you perfectly resemble Him in Heaven.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen