Reading Time: 5 mins

John 3:1-12: Doppelgangers of Jesus

Reading Time: 5 mins

Hope is found precisely while we’re dead.

We were sitting on the couch in the family room of my grandparents’ home in Shamrock, TX. It was the year of our Lord, 2000. A Christmas tree, winking with lights, festooned the corner. The snapshot captured all four of us, lined up, from gray-headed to diapered. My granddaddy was 83 years old, my dad was 59, I had just turned 30, and my baby son, Luke, had made his grand arrival in our lives a couple of months prior.

This was Luke’s first Christmas and—although we didn’t know it then—my Granddaddy’s last.

Four generations of Birds in that family photo. I can see myself in the faces of my father and grandfather, at various ages. And, during Luke’s twenty-one years, I caught glimpses of the same resemblances. I wonder: what would Luke have looked like at 30, 40, or 52 (my current age)? Maybe a little like me, maybe a little like my father. Familial doppelgangers.

After all, for better or worse, there’s plenty of dad in the children men father.

The day a father buries his son might be warmed with sunshine, with birds singing in nearby branches and soft clouds gliding through the heavens, but it won’t matter. The day will always be ugly, dark, and storm-laden. When old Adam laid his youngest son, Abel, to rest, he who had been slaughtered by Cain, that was a day without light.

I suspect it was then, and only then, that Adam tasted the full bitterness and toxicity of the fruit he had swallowed from that forbidden tree. God had told him that henceforth Adam would have to work stubborn soil by the sweat of his brow; he’d not said Adam would have to dig a grave in that same hard soil. But there stood the father, shovel in hand, head hung low.

One of the clearest messages emerging from Genesis 3 and 4 is this: the devil lies in order to deprive us of life with God.

Who murdered Abel? Cain, of course, but the heart that made that bloodshed possible, the proclivity to evil embedded within Cain, all the eldest son’s unrighteous deeds—they all had their genesis in Adam’s own earlier rebellion. So sin began, so sin spread. As an old hymn puts it: “from sire to son the bane descends.” There stood a bereaved father, bereft of both sons, counting the cost of listening to the lies of the evil one when he hissed, “Did God really say….?”

There is an unforgettable lesson here. One of the clearest messages emerging from Genesis 3 and 4 is this: the devil lies in order to deprive us of life with God. He is, as Jesus tells us, “a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Now don’t miss that connection: mendacity and murder, untruth and unlife.

Not blades or clubs or guns, but lies are Satan’s weapon of choice.

It was only in retrospect, many years ago, when I realized how this worked in my own downward spiral into lust and rebellion and death. I began to lie, first off, to myself. Then, having perfected self-deceit, I began lying to my wife. Then, having sharpened that skill, I cast my net farther and began lying to still others. Lying became my chosen medium of communication.

And in lying, I died. And in dying, brought the pangs of death-like suffering into the lives of others. All the while, he who had been a murderer from the beginning, the father of lies, was sitting back, smacking his lips, having just sunk his teeth fang-deep into my soul.

Now here is where God outsmarts the devil. When we find ourselves dead in sin, punctured from head to toe by the fanged lies of the evil one, it might seem as if all hope is lost. Or, if there is hope, it’s found only in a long and painful road to recovery, making all the wrong things right, keeping your nose clean, proving you’re a changed person, and so forth.

Absolution through self-improvement. You know the drill.

But, no, hope is found precisely while we’re dead. That hope is found in finally speaking the truth about ourselves, saying, “I am a sinner.” One of my profs, Ken Korby, would tell us, “The only time a liar speaks the truth is when he says, ‘I am a liar.’” That is the tinder into which the spark of hope falls; and, soon, a fire of joy blazes. Why? Because, as John affirms, if we say we have no sin, we not only lie to ourselves but, even worse, call God a liar.

But when we speak the truth, “I am a sinner. I am a liar. I am a rebel. I am Cain,” well, then, that makes the Lord smile. Nothing makes God happier than forgiving sinners. Our advocate with the Father, Jesus, who is the propitiation for the sins of the world, says, “Father, looks like we have ourselves a forgiven child of our family. He says he’s Cain, but no, this one is Abel. He is righteous, by faith in me.”

I don’t think I will ever get over the astonishment of knowing that, according to Jesus, when we do the will of the Father, we are his brother, sister, and mother.

That’s what happened in my life: my undoing, which took years of lies upon lies, was immediately and irrevocably redone through three simple words of truth spoken by my Father through Jesus, his Son: “You. Are. Forgiven.” The devil’s lies, which I had swallowed and then died, were no match for the Lord’s truth, which resurrected me and suffused me with divine life. From a Cain to an Abel, from unrighteous to righteous, in Jesus.

See what kind of love the Father gave to me, and to you, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (cf. 1 John 3:1). I don’t think I will ever get over the astonishment of knowing that, according to Jesus, when we do the will of the Father, we are his brother, sister, and mother (Mark 3:35).

When we have family reunions, Jesus always shows up, not as a guest but our next of kin.

Our family member, Jesus, is also a destroyer, for he “appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Of course he did. Do you think he who is Truth itself is going to sit idly by while the father of lies wrecks his people? No, Jesus came to cast fire upon the earth, to leave as an ash heap all that the devil had done to pollute our world with lies and death.

He did this by speaking the truth, all the time, in every circumstance, knowing that eventually, such truth-telling would get him killed by a world of liars, inspired by the father of untruth. The cross was the result of refusing to lie. One little lie would have saved Christ’s life. But he did not come to save his own life but ours. And the only way to do that was to let liars—you, me, the Jews, the Gentiles, all of us—have our way with him.

All our lies, lawlessness, murder, adultery, you name it, came to rest, like billions of buzzing flies upon a carcass, when God hung dead upon that cross. He died. But not he alone. So did our lies, lawlessness, murder, adultery, and every sin that can be named. Here was the place where life and death came together to die.

Therefore, when that dead Brother of ours walked out of the tomb, alive again, grinning from ear to ear, he opened his mouth with this incredible truth.

Jesus said, “Peace to you.”
“What, to me, the sinner who got you crucified?”
“Yes, peace to you.”
“You’re not mad at me.”
“Not at all, brother. I love you.”
“So…we’re good, you and I?”
“Good? No, better than that: you are my sibling, a fellow beloved child of our Father.”

That is what we are in Jesus: siblings of our Savior. And if that seems awesome, well, hide and watch cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. “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).

One day, O glorious day, a grave in Shamrock, Texas, that now holds the body of Lee Roy Bird, my grandfather, will explode and that man will be alive again, his body glorious, gazing upward at his descending Lord. One day, O magnificent day, a grave at the United States Naval Academy, that now holds the body of Luke Gabriel Bird, my son, will explode and that young man will be alive again, his body dazzling and perfect, gazing upward at his descending Lord.

My brothers and sisters, we shall be doppelgangers of Jesus, you might say, for we shall be like him, as we see him as he is. That family resemblance of the resurrected will be obvious. We shall stand, a great and noble throng, with angels and archangels, to uplift our voices to the Lamb of God, Destroyer of Death, Truth-Teller, Son of the Father, our Brother in resurrection.

Come, Lord Jesus. Make it so.