A SERMON FOR PENTECOST
SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2018
LELY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
JOHN 3:1-7 Ted W. Land, Interim Pastor
I am fascinated by the personalities and character of the New Testament writers.
John wrote a gospel, the Book of Revelation, and three letters. Paul wrote thirteen letters. Between them, they are the major contributors to the second half of the Bible.
And what contrast between the two! John was a youth, a teenager, when Jesus called him to be a disciple, and he was present on the first Easter, running with Peter to the tomb. But John’s writing came late in his life. He was an old man, probably in his nineties, when he dictated his words. In his letters, he referred to his readers as “little children” more than once. He was a grandfather figure to the early church, loving and beloved.
Paul, on the other hand, was a persecutor of the early Christians. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there when God struck him down, blinded him, and Jesus spoke to him, calling him by the name he was born with, Saul. Jesus cried to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, and the one who had been the fiercest persecutor of the church became the staunchest defender of its faith.
One of the things that Paul and John had in common was their belief that we become children of God. I don’t think there is a more beautiful passage in the Bible than the first verse of our text this morning: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.”
But we are not born as God’s children. Jesus Christ, though the first born among many brothers and sisters, is the only begotten Son of the Father. Jesus is uniquely God’s son. We confess that He was born of the virgin, Mary, born as no other child has ever been born. And we affirm that He was one with the Father and the Spirit (see the Nicene Creed), and John tells us (see John 1) that He was in the beginning with God and without Him nothing was made. Jesus was God in human vestments, human flesh, fully God yet fully human.
We on the other hand are simply mortal flesh. We are not gods. We will never be gods. We are human. Some of us have to work very hard just to be human, to overcome our animal instincts, our animalistic behaviors.
But John tells us that we can become, that we indeed are already, children of God.
How did we get to be God’s children? Well, someone might say, “God made us”. That is true.
Someone else might add, “God created us in His own image.” That is true as well.
But the Apostle Paul would tell us that we become God’s children through a process of adoption.
The church from which I retired was full of adopted children. Many of them are adults, some with children of their own today, but that congregation had a long history of adopting children. I think that was cultivated, fostered, encourage, by the presence of the Florida Baptist Children’s Home there many years ago. But it has been half a century since the home moved to Lakeland, and the tradition, the custom, continues.
On any given Sunday, there would be three, four, five, children in our Sunday School classes or in our worship service who were adopted in infancy.
This has not been the case in other churches I’ve served. I think it says something about the love, the character, of that church.
I had no adopted children in my first pastorate. In my second, there were two darling brothers, one of whom was adopted and one of whom wasn’t. Will, the younger of the two, came up to me one morning and said, “Reverend Land, did you know that one of us was adopted?” I said, “Yes, Will, I’ve heard that.” He said, “I can’t remember which one it was.” I told him I couldn’t either.
A few years later, Will told his brother, Dan, that he was the special child, because he was adopted. They’d chosen him. Dan they had to take.
Often, people adopt a child because they can’t have one of their own. And as we all know, it often happens that once that first child is adopted, here comes another little blessing. That’s happened two or three times in our former church family.
But other parents adopt a child because they have so much love to give that they want to share it with a child who might not be in a loving home, who might need the love they can give.
That is why God adopts us: God sees us in our sins, God sees us in our anger, our fear, our doubt, and God, in love, claims us as His own.
The word “adoption”, huiothesia, literally “placing as a son” occurs only five times in the Bible, all in the letters of Paul.
In Romans 8, he tells us that we have received the spirit of adoption, not a spirit of slavery. And then he says, “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!” it is that very spirit bearing witness that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (8:15-17a)
A little later he tells us “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:21-23)
In the ninth chapter of Romans, verse 4, Paul tells us that the adoption belonged first to the Israelites, but he stresses that all can become God’s children. (see 9:25-26)
Paul teaches again in Galatians 4 that we are no longer slaves but children of God, and heirs of God, because of our adoption.
And then finally, in Ephesians 1:5, we learn that God destined or predestined, depending upon your translation and denomination, us “for adoption as His children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
My mother used to say that when she was a little girl, and her parents were being particularly gruff and stern, and punishing her by sending her to bed early, she would lie there in her bed and say to herself, “These aren’t my real parents. My real parents wouldn’t treat me like this. I must have been adopted!” She came to understand that real parents, loving parents, are parents who discipline, who train up a child in the way it should go, and that adoptive parents are just as “real” just as strict, just as stern, as “birth” parents.
One of my brothers once asked mother if he was adopted. She answered, in her quick witted way, “Yes, but they brought you back!”
God adopted us, not while we were infants, not while we were innocent new born babies, but while we were sinners. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sins, and in that death upon the cross for our sins, we become His brothers and sisters. We are truly “blood brothers” and”blood sisters to Christ.”
Remember the story of the prodigal son? If there was ever a son who deserved to be disowned, cast out, denied, disinherited, he was the one. But remember how the father greeted him, running out to meet him, welcoming him with a new robe, a ring, new shoes, a banquet?
That is the loving father who adopted all of us, all of us sinners, all of us His children.
We’re adopted. It means we are loved. It means we are special. It means we are chosen. God loved us so much that He let His “real” son suffer and die on the cross for the sins of those of us whom God adopted.
I’m so glad to be one of God’s adopted children. Aren’t you?
Let us pray.
O Loving God, we thank you that you chose us, adopted us, love us. Help us to behave as your children, to do right and be righteous, through Jesus Christ our brother and our Lord we pray.