Part of the Family

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 1:12-13

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:12-13 rsv

GOD’S CHILDREN

Have you ever felt like you wanted to become a little child again? Most of us know something about that longing, don’t we? If we could only start over again! If we could only recapture the adventure of youth and its beckoning possibilities! Oh, to be young once more, no longer trapped by mistakes we’ve made, given another chance at things left undone! Who wouldn’t want that?

Listen to these words, friends. They hold before us an almost undreamed of possibility: “. . . to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” That’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verse 12. This is the unimaginable marvel, not only that you and I can become children again, not only that we can be born over again, but that we can become part of the family of God. We can become, says this grand word from the gospel, God’s own children.

I can imagine a boy growing up with limited means surrounded by poverty, dreaming of what it would be like to belong to a wealthy family, to be born, as we say, “with a silver spoon in his mouth,” to come into the world as the heir of a vast fortune.

I can imagine common folk in many ages fantasizing about what it might be to have royal blood, to be born into the family of a reigning monarch. What would it be like to have royal parents, to be destined to wear a crown, occupy a throne?

More poignantly, I can imagine how an orphaned girl must feel, or someone who never received much affection and care in her early years. She dreams of being born into a family where she would be genuinely loved and wanted, where she would belong. Every heart yearns for that.

In the gospel, friends, we learn of a prospect even more wonderful. Think of what it would be like to become God’s son or daughter, to be a member of His family. Picture first the relationship involved, God your Father in heaven, you His child. There’s a special bond between you. You are loved by God more deeply, strongly, abidingly than any earthly parent could ever love you and you can approach Him with more confidence, joy and affection than any little child ever knew when running into a father’s arms.

Then, think of what it would mean in terms of the family likeness. As a child of God, you would be the image of your Father in heaven. You would share His life. You would begin to manifest more and more the various traits of His character. In the richness of interaction within the family, you would become increasingly like Him. You would be recognizable to anyone who met you as one of God’s own.

And think of this: you would also be one of His heirs. Talk about riches! This Father so lavish in love that He gives His own dear Son for us will surely, with Him, give us everything else. We are His heirs. All that God has made, all that He has to give, is our inheritance. It’s His good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

Talk about royalty! This would mean belonging to the King of Kings, before whom all the tiny potentates of earth will finally bow. Children of God are the truly regal ones, those destined to reign in a kingdom that will never end. If you were a child of God, you would rule with Him through all the coming ages.

BEYOND OUR REACH

But after we get a glimpse of this overwhelming possibility, here comes a sobering word. Apparently, there is no chance that we can achieve this. People who become the children of God, says the evangelist John, are “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, the new birth is something totally beyond our reach.

That shouldn’t be hard for us to grasp. Think about your birth. What did you really have to do with bringing that about? You’re right. Absolutely nothing. Birth is the great mystery that simply happens to us. We don’t choose to be born. No one consults us about it or asks for our permission. One day we simply appear. We had no foreknowledge about the event and no hint of what to expect. It’s plain that we don’t engineer any of the circumstances of our own birth. We don’t pick out the family that will be ours, the time in which we arrive, or the setting we’ll encounter.

What’s more, there’s certainly no element of our deserving in the whole process. If we’re born into happy, favorable circumstances, we can take no credit at all for that. And if we are born into poverty and trouble, we obviously do not bear any blame as a result. None of us can be held responsible for anything that had to do with our birth. It just happened to us. We were born.

That natural birth did take place, of course, through our human parents. Their choices were involved, their actions obviously played a major role. In a very real sense, they bear responsibility for bringing us into the world. But the new birth we’re thinking about today, this becoming God’s child, doesn’t even involve human parents. It’s not a birth that has to do with human blood lines. It’s not a matter of DNA, of genes and chromosomes. Nor is it by the will of the flesh, says the evangelist. No desire of a man and woman for each other could ever generate a child of God. It’s not by human means or devising at all, not by the will of man in any sense. A husband may take a wife and plan to have a family. He may enter into marriage with a deliberate plan to raise up heirs, but none of this avails in the least to bring children into God’s family.

So, friends, if we think we can manage this miracle ourselves, we’re mistaken. Perhaps naively we imagine that we can. We’ll somehow make ourselves into God’s children, win His favor, commend ourselves to Him. Perhaps we’re people with a religious heritage. Our parents and grandparents have been devout believers. We come from a nation of God-fearing people, we say. That ought to get us in, or so we think.

Perhaps we’ve kept or tried to keep God’s commands. We’ve known what He wanted. We’ve made attempts to obey. That must count for something, we imagine. Maybe we come from a group that makes us feel somewhat superior to others. We wouldn’t come right out and say it, but we tend to feel we must have an inside track, at least, in becoming God’s children.

Maybe we think we’ll get into God’s family through certain religious disciplines. We’ll try fasting, pilgrimages, self-denials. But God’s Word to all of that is an emphatic No! Listen. Children of the heavenly kingdom are “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man” but only of God. This is a birth from beyond, from above, a gift only God can give, a miracle that only He brings about. It’s not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit alone that we are born into God’s family.

A GIFT TO RECEIVE

So you and I can’t do it – in any sense. We can’t make it in this matter of getting into God’s family. But I can tell you something else – something encouraging. I can tell you the sure sign that this has happened in your life. Listen. This is the apostle John writing about the everlasting Word of God now become flesh, “He was in the world and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Do you get the drift of that? This earth, friends, is a visited planet. God Himself has chosen to step into our history, to walk around on this world and to taste our human life. The Word became flesh. The eternal entered into time. In Jesus of Nazareth, the almighty God actually became man.

He must have known that He wouldn’t be recognized when He came. He must have realized that even His own people might not welcome Him. Still, God embarked on the great adventure. He came down. He tabernacled here among us. He came knocking at our door. This is the stupendous message of the New Testament. God has come seeking for us.

Isn’t it tragic how we responded? In spite of all the evidence of His shaping hand around us, we haven’t recognized and honored God as our Creator. Even more, when He came to us to share our life, to reveal Himself in human terms, we didn’t welcome Him. Think of it. When God visited us, when the one and only came, when the unspeakable event took place, we didn’t want Him around. We gave Him not a crown but a cross.

Thank God there were some who felt differently. There were some, says John, who believed in His name. Some received Him. They trusted in His name. What does that mean? In biblical language, a name represents a person. It expresses who that someone is. People believe in the name of Jesus (which means “God saves”) when they trust in Him as their Savior, when they believe that He has come in person to save them, to bear their sins and give them life. They believe in Him when they set their hope in Him, when they take Him at His Word, rest on His promise, put themselves entirely in His hands. They believe “into Him,” as John puts it, enter into relationship with Him, become sharers of His life.

But the term that speaks to me powerfully here is this idea of “receiving.” What does it mean to receive someone? He knocks at your door and you invite him in. He holds out his hand to you and you take it. He offers his friendship and you give him a place in your heart.

What a moving and humbling thing it has been for us to travel in other lands and to see the way Christian people have again and again welcomed us there. They’ve been attentive to our smallest wants, incredibly solicitous for our welfare. I’ll never forget a visit we made to Moldova, one of the republics in what used to be the Soviet Union. We heard about the beautiful Moldavian shirts and blouses that are embroidered there. We went about admiring them in the shops one day. They were strikingly handsome, but we regretfully decided that they were also too expensive. Do you know what some of our Moldavian friends did? Unbeknownst to us, they went out and bought a shirt and a blouse for us. These Moldavain people, who had so little, did this lovely thing for us Americans who customarily have so much! That’s a glimpse of how graciously they received us.

There were some who received the Lord of glory in that way. They were happy to meet Him, glad when He had come, welcoming Him for who He was, their Lord and Redeemer. There are people like that today who receive Jesus as their Master, Savior and Friend. When He comes knocking at their door in the preaching of the gospel, they receive Him, they invite Him into their lives, enthrone Him in their hearts. They trust Him entirely.

And listen, wherever people do that, wherever they receive Jesus as the Father’s Son, wherever they place their trust in Him as God’s salvation, they receive the power, the right, the authority to become children of God.

The great New England preacher Phillips Brooks once said that “the only way to realize that we are God’s children is to let Christ lead us to the Father.” That says it. Do you want to be a part of God’s family? Do you long to be one of His own children? Let Jesus, His well-beloved Son, lead you to the Father. Recognize today that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to make yourself a child of God. Then with an empty-handed, grateful faith, receive this Jesus as He is offered to you in the gospel. Receive Him as the One who died for you and rose again to give you life.

I once heard a man named Shadrach Meshach Lockridge preach the gospel. What an experience that was! He was talking that day about the “God is dead” movement. With the whimsy of faith, he was poking fun: “`God is dead?’ you say. Who pronounced Him dead? What was the cause of death? Where are the remains?” I especially liked his last question, “And why wasn’t I informed? I’m one of the family!”

I hope you can say that today. If you trust in Jesus, if you give yourself to Him, receiving Him as your Lord and Redeemer, you can know beyond all doubting that you’re part of the family!

Prayer: Father, for this great miracle we give You thanks, that receiving Jesus we become Your beloved children. Let that be true for everyone sharing this program. In the name of Jesus. Amen.