November 5, 2017 “Pure Hope” – I John 3:1-3
I John 3:1-3
November 5, 2017 – All Saints Sunday
We like things to be clean and pure for our children. You change the sheets in the crib and carefully rinse out those little onesies she wears. You wash your hands after you change a diaper and later you teach a toddler to wash his own hands. In order to protect other children, you have her cover mouth when she sneezes or coughs and keep her home from school or the church nursery when she has a cold or is running a fever.
We also watch our language around children. We try not to expose them to news or movies that will frighten or hurt them. As they get older, we pay attention to the friends they hang out with and perhaps put filters on the computers or phones they use. We try to give them good habits of telling the truth and avoiding bad influences. We direly warn them not to use tobacco or drugs or alcohol.
We want to protect and raise our children in “purity.” God wants that for His children too. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Our short Scripture text today begins in verse 1 with this wonderful word about our relationship with God. In other places in Scripture we are described as our Master’s servants, as our King’s people, even as our Savior’s friends. But here in this precious verse which we repeat when we hold up a little one after an infant baptism, we are told God wants to relate to us as Father to children. Just as we want the best and purest kind of life for our children, our Father wants that for us.
The next bit of verse 1 gives us “The reason the world does not know us…” What does that mean? Here in this world, not everyone understands or has the same standards for raising children. I hope that most of us want to protect children with protective immunizations, shots to prevent measles, mumps, polio and other diseases some of us older folks had the misfortune to experience or see in others. But some folks don’t get that, don’t comprehend that those immunizations are a good thing.
Likewise, many people in the world don’t get, do not understand what it is to be children of God, to live under His fatherly protection and guidance and standards for human life. They don’t get who we are, what our lives are like, because they do not get, says John, who God is. “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him,” did not know God.
Notice that phrase “did not know” is in the past tense. John is talking about the fact that people did not recognize, did not know God even when He showed up in their presence. John is saying what he said over in the first chapter of his Gospel, verse 11, that when God came down in His Son Jesus even His own people did not recognize Him, did not accept Him. But then verse 12 of John 1 says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
That’s how we can be children of God, the only way we can be His children, by receiving and believing in Jesus as God’s Son who died and rose again to forgive our sins and to transform us into pure and holy children of God. My hope for everyone sitting here today, adult or child, is that you will receive and believe in Jesus. If you haven’t done that yet, I’d love to talk with you about it. If you’ve received and believed in Him but haven’t sealed and professed that faith in baptism, I’d love to talk with you about that.
For those who have believed in Jesus, John repeats it in verse 2, saying “Beloved, we are God’s children now…” Our relationship with God as our Father is not something we are waiting for. It’s present reality. Being children of God is who we are, our very identity. The world around us may not get it, but we can get it, we can know it, right now.
The rest of verse 2 adds an awesome dimension to our status as children of God. To be God’s children now means that there is hope and promise yet to come. “We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” It’s like that in being children of human parents. First, there’s a genetic background, for good or ill. That blond hair she was born with could turn coppery red like her father’s. That little guy could grow up tall like his mother. On the downside, diabetes or cancer or heart disease may be lurking there in the DNA a child inherits. Children will grow up to be physically like their parents.
Children also inherit from their parents in other ways. It could be financially, if parents have money or property to pass on. That may or may not happen, but there will definitely be a psychological and social inheritance. If music is played and sung and listened to by parents, children will grow up making music part of their lives. If violence happens in a home, violence or the pain of it will likely be part of who an adult child is. We pass ourselves and who we are to our children in all kinds of ways we may not even know or acknowledge at the time. The same is true for God’s children, “what we will be has not yet been revealed.” We haven’t been told all the wonderful and glorious ways in which we are going to inherit a life and an identity from our heavenly Father.
Like it or not, good or bad, children will be like their parents. We know this. So in the rest of verse 2 John says, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will like him, for we will see him as he is.” One limit on the human parent and child relationship, on all human relationships, is that we never quite see each other exactly as we are. The hope and promise from God our parent is that we will see Him as He is, that we will one day look directly into the face of Jesus and “know as we are known,” as Paul says in I Corinthians 13.
That is our destiny as children of God, to be like Him, to be like Jesus, God’s own first and eternal and perfect child, the only begotten Son. When it comes to human parents, we may hope in any number of ways not to be like them. I hope that I won’t have to repeat my mother’s diabetes and heart disease. I have desperately striven all my life not to repeat my father’s unfaithfulness and alcoholism and wasted life. Yet when it comes to being children of God we have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. We want to be like Him in every way. We will arrive happy and blessed in His presence and look into His eyes seeing everything that we want to be forever.
To be like God, to be like God was revealed to be in the perfect life of Jesus—that’s our hope. It’s a sweet hope, a glorious hope, a spiritual genetic inheritance that goes beyond anything we can imagine. That kind of hope should encourage us, should change us…, and it should challenge us. That is exactly what John tells us next in verse 3. “All who have this hope in him, purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
There, says John, is one huge part of what it means to be like God, to be pure like He is pure. It’s one of the Beatitudes we heard together this morning, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Jesus made the same connection John does. To be pure in heart is to be ready for that moment when we will look directly at God, when we will see Him as He is. Later on in that same Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We are celebrating All Saints Sunday. That word “saint” means someone who is holy, pure, as John says here. Part of remembering the saints is remembering those who really lived like that, who lived better and holier lives than most of us. We think of the Apostles or Mary the mother of Jesus. We remember St. Francis or Juliana of Norwich or Eric Liddell or Mother Teresa. But the Bible also applies that word saints to all God’s children, to all who have received and believed in Jesus and become God’s children. We are all meant to be holy ones, to be purified children of God.
In our text from Revelation chapter 7, that great crowd of saints around the throne of God is seeing hope fulfilled. They are there looking directly at the Lamb, at Jesus Himself, seeing Him as He is. And they are being made pure like He is pure. It says they are dressed in white robes, symbols of their purity, of their sainthood. And it’s everyone, not just a few extra-holy saints, but a great multitude no one can count, people of every nation and tribe and race and language on earth. They are the children of God, as I read to the children from Desmond Tutu’s book. They are the children who trusted in Jesus and in that hope and trust purified themselves for that day.
Your surgeon washes her hands and puts on sterile gloves before she cuts into you. Your pilot has an eight hour “bottle to throttle” rule that he is to have no alcohol in the time before he steers your plane down the runway to takeoff. You get pregnant and swear off caffeine and sweets and alcohol. You get a shaky EKG report and give up smoking in the hope of a longer life. In all these ways and more, we “purify” our bodies in anticipation of what is to come.
In verse 3, John tells us to purify our whole selves in the anticipation, in the hope that one day we are going to be looking straight into the face of God. Think of pregnancy again, and all you give up, both as mother and as father. Consider all the ways you reorder your life in anticipation of the birth of a child. Then consider what you are doing right now in anticipation of your own birth as a pure and holy child of God.
Jesus talked about being born again because receiving and believing in Him is supposed to be that kind of radical change in our lives. Your sins get forgiven, yes, but there’s more to it. A child of God is meant to grow in that new life, to sin less, to be pure just as God is pure. If that’s our hope, then let us live like it, let us purify ourselves.
Our daughter Susan’s in-laws, Neil and Kathy, visited us two months ago. I assure you, we cleaned the house from top to bottom in anticipation of their arrival. We scrubbed the bathrooms. We vacuumed under the beds. We mowed the lawn. We dusted all the furniture. We wanted Andrew’s parents to find his wife’s parent’s at their best. When we finally got to spend some time with them, we didn’t want them distracted by a dirty house.
That’s the way you and I are meant to prepare for our time with the Lord, to clean house in our souls, to scrub out everything that is going to detract from simply being together with Jesus, from seeing Him, as John says, as He is.
We all know we’re not really ready yet. Our hearts are not completely pure. After Kath and Neil left in September, Beth went into the bedroom where they had stayed. She found that in order to lay out some of their own things they had moved a family picture on a dressing table. Beth was mortified to see that she hadn’t dusted under that picture. There was a very visible untouched square of dust there on the surface. I tried to assure her that it didn’t matter, that everything else was beautiful and that our guests probably didn’t even notice it. But I think it still bothers my wife.
John would like us to be bothered in that sort of way about the purification of our hearts and souls and minds in anticipation of being with our Lord. He wants us to notice in ourselves what still needs a good cleaning, what is still covered in the dust of sin. We have this hope, this beautiful sweet hope of being with Jesus, and everyone who has that hope will want to be pure for that day.
That’s why we are going to confess our sins in a moment. It’s a way to do a little house cleaning, to purify our hearts in preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table. Communion in itself is a rehearsal for the day we see Jesus. Jesus told us that this bread is His body and this cup is blood, sacrificed to make us holy, to make us pure. He is here at this Table. When we look at these things, at bread and at fruit of the vine, we are seeing Jesus.
Right now, we see only dimly. There is still lots of dust in the corners. But we confess and we repent and sweep away as much as we can, because we have the hope that we will one day see clearly. We are His children, but then, then we will be even more, we will be everything He wants for us. We will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. Let’s get ready for that sight together now.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj