Summary: Because we are God’s children and because our cross will soon turn into a crown we will be cheerful no matter what our circumstances in life.
One day the reformer Martin Luther was feeling rather down. The Pope was after him. His colleagues were bickering among themselves. He felt the heavy pressure that came with being a professor, pastor, and father. And he was in excruciating pain from kidney stones. As he moped around the house muttering underneath his breath, his wife Katherine announced in a solemn voice, “God is dead.” Luther looked at his wife with puzzlement and replied, “God is not dead!” Katherine went on to say, “It sure seems like God is dead by the way you are acting.” Luther thanked his wife and etched a Latin word on his desk: vivit. Vivit means, “He lives.” Whenever things weren’t going well and Luther was tempted to complain about them, he looked at that one simple word and was invigorated. Because Jesus was alive Luther had every reason to be upbeat.
I know I’ve shared this story with you before but it seemed a fitting way to begin this sermon for the Apostle John tells us what Katherine told Luther: “Cheer up, Christian!” John urges us to cheer up no matter what our circumstances or our prospects because we are God’s children, and because we will soon exchange our cross for a crown.
In the opening verse of our text the Apostle John sounds like a child who has just received a surprise package in the mail. He is hardly able to contain his excitement as he exclaims: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a) Do we get that excited when contemplating God’s love? Do we sing the Gloria In Excelsis (or its equivalent) with gusto, or polite indifference after hearing that our sins have been forgiven? Just how great is God’s love? Well, what would you do with a pet dog that had become rabid and attacked your family? Would you keep it? Would you let it have free reign of your house, eat at your table, and sleep in your bed? No! Wouldn’t you have that dog destroyed? You certainly wouldn’t send away one of your children so you could keep the dog! Yet that’s what God did. He sent his Son away to die on the cross so that he could adopt us sinful rebellious people and welcome us into his home! It’s no wonder John exclaimed: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1a)
If God has adopted us into his family, we should expect to receive good things from him right? I mean if we were adopted into the family of a billionaire, we would expect to drive a fancy car and wear nice clothes. Should we expect anything less from God? Why then doesn’t anyone here live the charmed life of the rich and famous? Could it be that we’re not God’s children? No. Our baptism and the faith God created or strengthened there assure us that we are his children. So why isn’t life sweeter for us who are members of God’s family? One reason is because the world does not know that we are God’s children. John said, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1b). Just think of how the world treated Jesus; they laughed at his claims, beat him, and eventually murdered him. If that’s the way Jesus was treated we shouldn’t expect to be treated any better by the world. Indeed that was the case with Peter and John in our first Scripture lesson this morning. They had been thrown in prison because they were believers (Acts 3, 4).
While we can understand that we’ll be persecuted and mocked by unbelievers, we may wonder why God doesn’t at least protect us from cuts, bruises, and diseases if we are his children? The Bible makes it clear that God uses those things to purify our faith and make it stronger. You see we are like rough diamonds. Before we can shine with brilliance we need to be expertly cut and polished. That’s what God is doing with the trials he allows into our life. Oh, don’t worry. God will never cut us so deeply that we lose our faith – at least not so that it would be God’s fault should that happen. He paid dearly to make us his child and he promises that the cross you now carry will soon be exchanged for a crown!
I’m not kidding when I say that God is preparing us for a brilliant future and that we will receive a crown. John said in our text, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). John wants us to be certain that God has something better in store for us than life in this world. Exactly what that is will be revealed when Christ reappears. What a wonderful day that will be when we get to see Jesus with our own eyes and see him as he really is in all of his glory. That will be some sight. Consider how John described Jesus in the book of Revelation. “11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True... 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16).