The theme of the implications of the resurrection of the Son of God continues this week. Parishioners should sense the impact of the resurrection is far-reaching. Indeed, it changes everything. The preacher will want to turn conventional thinking upside down considering the resurrection. Death has been defeated and the Holy Spirit is being poured out on Jew and Gentile alike. The result is not only justification for those who otherwise are rightly condemned, but also life in the Spirit; a new ethic, a new way of being human. Within 1 John 3:1-7, preachers are called to consider how the resurrection reverberates in the present but also the future. The author of the Proverbs says, “There are three things here that are too amazing for me, four that are too wonderful for me to understand!” This is what we find conveyed from the pen of the Apostle John — amazing things consequent upon the resurrection.
The first amazing thing is this: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are” (3:1).
John’s words are simple, but they show the depths of God’s grace. Whenever our relationship to God is expressed in Scripture in terms of “Father” and “children,” we, as Gentiles, should be amazed. It is a stunning reversal of our natural condition and standing in original sin outside of the covenant people of God. Then, we stood condemned. Now, we stand as justified. And not only justified but adopted. We are the children of our heavenly Father. After all, remember how the Jewish people—His chosen People—regularly prayed to God in Old Testament times? They said, “O Lord, King of the Universe.” The “universe” includes the “world” of Gentiles. God calls those who are dust and ashes and unworthy because of sin and renders them His children because of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus the Son. Martin Franzmann calls this great reversal an “impertinent familiarity” which allows us to call the Creator God, “Abba, Father.” See what kind of love the Father has given to us...!
God calls those who are dust and ashes and unworthy because of sin and renders them His children because of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus the Son.
What is more, note how John declares with emphasis, this is not fiction. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are.” True, Jews, but especially Gentiles, do not deserve this grace of the adoption-as-sons, but we are truly His children; buried in the watery tomb of baptism into the death of Jesus Christ and bound so closely to Him there that we rise with Him to new life, reborn as the children of God. It is a new reality freely given by grace. Here is the first wonder of this text: The lavish love of our Father has made us His children in Christ Jesus, our brother.
The second amazing implication is, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him” (3:1). In other words, the world does not understand Christians, because it does not understand the nature and love of the true and living God. Indeed, the world rejects its Maker in favor of itself and its own arrogant self-understanding. As a result, it does not understand or tolerate the children of the heavenly Father, either.
This is perhaps a sad and difficult contrast to the wonder of being the children of God by grace. With the promise of future glory comes life presently under the shadow of the Cross. And John as a true theologian of the Cross does not hide from the truth of what it means to be God’s child in this world. John had been at Jesus’ side on the first Holy Thursday evening. He had the Lord’s words preserved in his heart and mind so he could deliver them years later in his Gospel for God’s children to consider as an abiding reality:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).
The reality of the Cross in the Christian’s life must be taken seriously, but even under the Cross, God’s lavish love can still be seen. Saint Paul was no stranger to the world’s malice for those who are the Lord’s people, yet he reminded the Romans:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:1-5).
The reality of the Cross in the Christian’s life must be taken seriously, but even under the Cross, God’s lavish love can still be seen.
The third amazement in this text is, “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” (1 John 3:2).
Here our eyes are drawn out from behind the shadow of the Cross and this perishing world to the light of the promise of eternal life, to the joys of Heaven. But John must tell us our assurance of heavenly blessedness, rooted and certain as it is in our relationship to our Father by grace, is nonetheless a mystery to us here in its fullness. He says, “What we will be has not yet been made known.”
Jesus gives us reason to have excited anticipation regarding the future: “I have gone to prepare a place for you...” (John 14:3). “At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore...” (Psalm 16:11). Interestingly, of course, Heaven is often described for us in the Scriptures in terms of what it is not, or what will not be there. What comfort, for instance, for weary soldiers of the Church Militant to hear:
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the Throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 11:16-17).
We have a longing to be there, a longing to see finally and fully the bliss of eternal life. Even though it is hidden from us now, we have His promise it is sure.
Finally, there is the wonder which is closely tied to the contemplation of the joy of our heavenly home. John declares, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Theology calls this wonder the “beatific vision,” the direct knowledge of God such as the angels have which will be ours in Heaven. If we ask the “good Lutheran question” about this, “What does this mean?” we cannot imagine the fullness of the reality awaiting us. But we shall see God! “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What John especially reminds us, however, is of Jesus in this regard. When Jesus returns to gather His people, His brothers and His sisters, “We shall be like Him.” Our Lord Jesus took our flesh upon Himself in His Incarnation. He is God and man in one Person, and we shall see Him in His glory. We shall see Him, literally, in heavenly flesh, in His resurrection body. And we are promised we will also be before Him as true persons, that is both soul and body, a resurrected and fully redeemed human being.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 John 3:1-7.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 John 3:1-7.