Text: 1 John 3:1-3
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
As you look around you this morning in church what do you see? Or, better yet, who do you see? The same people you always see here? Your friends, neighbours, relatives, and fellow church members? You probably know the names of all of these people who are here, you probably know them better than I do because you have known them longer than I have. What kind of people are these gathered around you? Nice people, friendly people? Sure. Sinners? That too. But also children of God.
As you look around the church this morning or as you came into church this morning and said your hellos and good mornings to people were you thinking about how all these people you see here are children of God? Probably not. They don’t always look like the children of God so it is completely understandable for you not to recognize them right away as such, but that is what they are. That is what you are. You are a child of God. When you looked in the mirror this morning before you left for church did you recognise a child of God? You might not look like it much either sometimes, but that is what you are. That is what we are, the children of God gathered together in His name to hear His Word and receive His forgiveness.
John says quite emphatically here that we are the children of God here and now. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are,” he says. See what kind of love that God would give to us, even to us, that sinners like us would be called the children of God! And we aren’t just called the children of God, but in reality, in the most real way possible, we are the children of God. It’s not just a name or a label, it is our identity. This is a wonderful thing, a wonderful gift from God, that through His only begotten Son and His death that we have received adoption as sons and daughters, children, through baptism into His name.
But, children of God seem to be difficult to recognize. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him,” John says. We don’t even recognize each other sometimes as the children of God. So how come? Why doesn’t the world recognise the children of God? The simple reason is that in this world the children of God don’t always look much like children of God. When the world looks at us they don’t see perfect, holy, pious, saints. They don’t see people who seem to do everything right and for whom everything seems to go the right way. They look at us and we look at each other and see ordinary people.
The reality of who we are is hidden right now under a lot of other stuff. Under our sin that continues to live in our mortal bodies and under the consequences of sin that we struggle through every day. In our gospel reading (Matthew 5) Jesus talked about these struggles that the children of God face. He said, blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek (weak/powerless people), the ones who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness (which means they have none of their own!), and even the ones who are persecuted. These people don’t seem blessed, they seem miserable. But Jesus says that these people are blessed because their needs, their lacks, the thing that is missing for them that they hunger and thirst for, will be provided by God. They are blessed because they are children of God and God their Father will provide for their every need. Though they suffer and lack any goodness in themselves they are blessed children of God and so are we.
We don’t look like children of God all the time in this life because we are sinners. People outside the church who have a problem with Christians and the Christian faith like to point out the Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites, they have all these rules and commandments that they think people should follow, but they don’t live up to those rule and commandments in their own lives themselves. They tell other people what to do, but don’t walk that walk in their own lives. And the funny thing is that they are right. We don’t live up to God’s commandments in our own lives, we are not perfect, holy people, we are sinners. The church is full of sinners. What these people don’t understand is that we do not claim to be able to live up to these commands, instead we live under the grace and forgiveness of Jesus that was poured out for us on the cross. What these people don’t understand is Jesus.
John tells us here in 1 John that the reason the world does not recognize us as the children of God is that the world did not recognize Jesus. When Jesus was hanging on the cross people ridiculed Him and said, “If you are the Son of God come down from there, save yourself!” These people also did not understand who Jesus is. They did not understand that He needed to die for the sins of the world and that in that death He would win the eternal victory over sin and death. Sometimes I wonder if people today look at us, the Church, and say, “If you are the children of God then you should be better people, you should be more successful in life, your church ought to be bigger and growing…” The world still does not understand Jesus. The world does not understand the cross. The world does not understand that through weakness, suffering, and even death that God has brought about salvation and eternal life for sinful, mortal human beings like ourselves.
The world we live in does not understand Jesus and so it does not understand us, the children of God gathered in the Church of God. The Church in this world and the children of God in this world are unrecognizable apart from Jesus because Jesus makes us what we are. Jesus makes us the children of God right now even if we don’t look or feel like it. His forgiveness is sure because it was sealed on the cross and our adoption as sons and daughters of God through Him is equally sure. Because we know Jesus we can look around at our brothers and sisters in Christ and see other forgiven sinners just like us who struggle in life just like us and who hold on to one hope, one faith, one Lord just like us. We are the children of God gathered in this place.
What we are right now might not be easy to see or recognize, but it will not always be that way. John tells us that “when [Jesus] appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.” That’s amazing stuff, we will be like Him, we will be like Jesus. When Jesus appears, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, we will be like Jesus. The sin that clings to us now will be long gone, we will be like Jesus, the sinless Son of God. The suffering, mourning, frustration, and emptiness that we know so well in this life will be long gone too. We will be like Jesus the risen Son of God who conquered death and the grave and who lives forever more. We will be like Jesus.
Really that is what it means to be the children of God. It means that right now we look like Jesus because we are covered with Jesus and His blood shed for us. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin. But now we only see that faintly, like in a foggy mirror that does not reflect all that clearly. But a day is coming when we will be revealed for what we are, the children of God. On that day we will be like Jesus. There will be no questions then, no doubts, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is.
Look around you today, what do you see? Fellow sinners covered in Jesus. But faintly in the distance there is something greater, something more. That great multitude that no one can number that our reading from Revelation 7 talked about, that multitude from ever tribe, nation, and language gathered around the throne of God and Jesus the Lamb. We might not feel like a multitude this morning and I could easily count you if I wanted too, but we are that multitude, we are the children of God. Even here and now as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we can see faintly in the distance that great multitude that we are a part of through faith in Christ. And on the day when Jesus comes again we will join the full force of that multitude and we will be with Jesus and like Jesus, our Saviour, who lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen.