Sermon on 1 John 3:1-7, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter 2021 (B), "We Shall be Like Him"
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Hear this great resurrection truth: 1 John 3:2, 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. Jesus has risen from the grave and will return one day. Also, we are God’s children now, and will become fully like Jesus when He returns. These two points in our spiritual timeline are the “now” and the “not yet.” The gap is growing ever closer, as we move closer to our Risen Lord’s return. So, the great resurrection truth of 1 John 3, is that we are already God’s children now, and that we shall be like Jesus when He returns.
How big is Jesus’ Easter glory? How big a deal to be called children of God, aimed on a trajectory that ends in becoming fully like Jesus, our Risen Lord? Don’t take it for granted! 1 John 3:1 cries out in wonder: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Take notice! Pay attention! Compare! What kind of love does God give, to make us children of God? God’s love is incomparable.
Sadly, not all earthly children are born from a committed, enduring love. Many are, but not all. It happens that some children are conceived and born without earthly love to make them thrive and grow into who they are. But God’s love is infinitely better than even the best that human parents can give. God’s love is committed and enduring, and it succeeds in keeping us our whole life through, so we can thrive and grow into who we are meant to be as God’s children. His love rains down from heaven more abundantly than we can measure.
Look at the West Maui mountains. Beautiful, green, rugged. High above in the West Maui watershed is Pu’u Kukui, one of the wettest places on earth. Clouds drench the mountaintops with rain, which courses down the mountain slopes in waterfalls and rivulets and sinks into porous volcanic rock on its journey downhill from the mountaintops to our streams and rivers and groundwater below. Water, continuously pouring down from the heavens above, renews and supplies daily life to countless green plants and trees, farms, fish, birds, humans and their homes across the island. From the tops of the mountains to their bottoms, the abundant rain and sunlight carpet the earth with green, vibrant life. You can literally see the green life stretching down from the heavens to the ocean below. See what kind of water is pouring down from above! See what kind of generous, life-giving abundance is given!
Now think about God’s love that way. In the waters of baptism, God pours down grace on us continually, from heaven, grace upon grace. God’s love flows down like waterfalls and rivulets, permeating deep into our human “bedrock” and becoming springs of living water that well up to everlasting life (John 4:14; 7:38). In baptismal waters, we are created as children of God, and so we are! And everywhere God’s love and grace pours down, there is a rich carpet of green growth, of lives touched, healed, and made living children of God. Get to know your fellow Christians and you can see the love of God working in each of us, giving life!
To be called children of God is such a beautiful testimony to God’s love, because without Jesus we’re outsiders, aliens to God’s covenant, even enemies and rebels to God in our sin! We didn’t belong in the household. Had no legal standing as God’s sons and daughters. But for the salvation of Jesus, we are now called God’s children! Adopted into the family, baptized into the covenant, drenched under the waters with God’s love and new identity, pouring down from heaven to us. In Jesus we belong to this household, to this church, by grace. We have legal standing as God’s children, and a promised inheritance by faith in Him!
Who calls us children of God? Most importantly, God does! As Christians, we call each other children of God too. Does it matter when the world scoffs at your name? Does it matter the names people may call you when you are a child of God? Isn’t your identity in Him far more important than what anyone may think of you? May we never be ashamed of that name but wear it and sing it with grateful joy— “I am a child of God!”
This is all we already are now. I opened with the great resurrection truth of verse 2: 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. It points to what we are not yet. The future in store for us. Where we are headed. What God has underway for us. As God’s great love has already made us His children, it is also continually making us more like our Risen Lord. Jesus, risen from the dead, is coming again one day, and when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.
We already imagined God’s love like rain and sun pouring down from above. Now picture it as a powerful goodness drawing us up to Him. As though pulled irresistibly to Jesus by the power of His magnetism or the invisible force of gravity, God’s great love is drawing us ever closer into likeness with Jesus. His return completes the transformation, and we shall be like Him. How will we become like our Risen Lord Jesus? First of all, this glorious resurrection truth is that we will have a resurrection body like the Lord Jesus’.
He appeared to His disciples in flesh and bones, ate a meal of fish, allowed His hands, feet, and side to be touched and handled by curious hands and eyes, so eyewitnesses could proclaim this message to us. He rose from the dead with living flesh and bones, and we shall be like Him. Our resurrection body will still be the same me and you, but without the weakness of sin, death, or aging. All illness, genetic defect, pain, weakness, and infirmities will be gone. The perfect form, in the flesh, of who God made us to be. Recognizably ourselves, God-made-unique; but all the perishable faults, flaws, and evidence of sin and its work will be gone forever. A new, deathless body, ready for eternal life to the fullest with Jesus!
Can we pause again in thanksgiving to celebrate what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! Thank you Jesus! Not only will we be like Him in the resurrected body, but we will also be like Him in perfect holiness. Last week we talked about John’s theme of walking in darkness or walking in light. It carries over into today’s reading: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness… Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Children of God don’t “go to practice” to train in sinning, keep up a life of wickedness, or to live for our sin. Children of God “go to practice” to train in righteousness, to keep up a life of struggling against sin, growing toward His light, like plants thriving from the rain and sun reach up towards the heavens. We become like Jesus in perfect holiness. Children of God practice righteousness as God continually shapes us to be like Him.
God remakes His image that was lost in us at the Garden of Eden. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve once walked with God as children of God. No sin divided them from God. No rebellion, no disobedience or contrary spirit against His good Fatherly love. Made in the image of God, perfectly reflecting the Creator. Sin destroyed that. So, to become God’s children again now, and grow fully like Jesus, we will one day see Him as He is, and be finally transformed into His image. Hear vs. 2 again: “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.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 echoes that by saying: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Both verses tell us how we are transformed into Jesus’ image. By seeing Jesus as He is, eyes fixed on the glory of the Lord. Eyes on Jesus, that’s our return to holiness, to the perfect, childlike innocence of the Garden, a relationship with God that is not severed by walking in darkness, but freely joined to Him, walking in light. Eyes on Jesus, we become more and more like Him by the work of God’s grace and Spirit. God dismantles the rebellion, disobedience, and contrary spirit, and magnetically draws us up into the likeness of Christ, eyes on Him.
Once again, this resurrection truth is a “now, but not yet” thing. Started, but not complete. God’s love has already poured down and made us children of God. God’s powerful love is making us become like Jesus. We’re on our way and headed there. We don’t skip past “the now” to get to the “not yet.” There’s still plenty to live for and do here and now. We’re on earth to be His children and reflect Christ’s love to others. We’re not twiddling our thumbs waiting for the end result before we can enjoy the fruit of this resurrection truth. As plants continue to grow and thrive under the rain and light of the sun, so also children of God are growing and increasing in strength and rootedness our whole life long. His new life is already in us now, and it’s made for living outward in love toward others. That new life matters here and now, for you and for others, even as we are headed for the fullness of joy awaiting us in the “not yet” of Jesus’ return. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!