I John 3:1-7
“A Diamond Someday”
April 26, 2009 - Third Sunday of Easter
“I’m just an old lump of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” Thus sings John Anderson, whom a few of you might remember by his country-western hit, “Swingin’.” You may not like that kind of music, but Anderson singing that old Billy Joe Shaver tune expresses the kind of hope offered by our text this morning.
Verse 1 lets us feel John’s own delighted surprise in just how much God really loves us. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” In a huge and expansive love, right along with His own true and beloved Son Jesus, God calls you and I His children. “That is what we are!” says John, full of amazement and joy at the thought.
That’s what makes Christians so hard for others to figure out, says John. “The reason the world does not know us is that they don’t know him.” They don’t know this God who loves like a Father. They imagine we’re being arrogant to think we’re blessed with God’s love and salvation while everyone else is lost. They imagine our God is picky and judgmental and cruel, selecting a few chosen ones to love and rejecting everyone else. They haven’t yet discovered that God loves anyone who comes to Him like a child, like someone who haven’t grown up yet, like someone not yet what we’re meant to be.
What the rest of the world hasn’t understood yet, and what we need to remember ourselves is what verse 2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” We are children. We are an unfinished product. We have not yet become all that we are going to be. We don’t even know all that we are going to be. All we know, says John, is that “when Christ appears, we shall be like him…”
Whether Christian or not, almost everyone agrees that it would be a good thing if more people were like Jesus. In all the dirt and garbage of human history, Jesus shines out like a diamond. He is human being at it’s best. He is everything you or I or most anyone would like to be. And John says the day will come. We will be like him. Everyone who trusts Jesus can say what Shaver said, “I’m gonna be a diamond someday.”
What keeps all this from being the arrogance the world imagines it is, is that becoming a diamond is not your own accomplishment. John says that, “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In the end, our diamondhood, our purity and clarity as precious stones in the crown of Christ, is not our own doing. It’s because we will see Him, will see Jesus.
The rest of our text asks us to purify ourselves, to quit sinning. It even suggests that those who live in Christ just don’t sin. But ultimately, when the last day arrives, when Jesus appears in all His glory, it’s not what we’ve done which redeems us. It’s the sight of His own shining purity that will do the job, that will make us into diamonds.
This is the answer to the theological conundrum about whether we will be able to sin in heaven or after Christ comes again. Why won’t we just blow it even then? What will keep you and I from repeating the same sins we do all the time now? What’s going to be different about eternity so that we don’t find ourselves taking all God’s joy and peace and love and ruining it with stupid outbursts of anger or lust or pride?
It’s explained right here, “we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” To see and love the Lord in all His glory is what we’ve always wanted, even if we don’t know it’s what we wanted. St. Augustine prayed to God, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
G. K. Chesteron is supposed to have said something like, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is… looking for God.” We might say that every time you go shopping, you’re shopping for Him. Every time you sit and daydream about the car or the house or the job or the friend you wish you had, you’re dreaming about Him. Every time you get on an airplane to visit some wonderful place you’ve always wanted to go, you’re wanting to come into His presence. That’s why, when you finally are there, when you really see and have Jesus, it will change you, because you won’t want anything else.
Take the worst and greediest bank executive you can imagine. Put, what seems to you, a lot of money in an envelope, say ten thousand dollars. You couldn’t bribe, you couldn’t tempt that executive with it. He wouldn’t lie or break the law or abuse the public trust for your envelope… because it’s not enough. He’s already got way more than what you’re offering. Having millions, he can be entirely righteous about a few thousand. He desires and has so much more. That’s how it is for you and I to be in the presence of Jesus.
As bad as we might be, when we come to see Jesus in the end, when we can perceive clearly and completely just how He is everything we’ve always wanted, how all our desires and hopes and dreams are totally fulfilled in Him, we won’t be able to be tempted by anything else. We won’t want anything else. His light in our eyes will be so bright that it will pass clear through our whole being, making us as transparent and pure as diamonds.
Yet verse 3 wants us to know that becoming diamonds begins now. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” If we believe our greatest desire and hope is to see Jesus, then let us act on it now, let us be ready for the day we see Him. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The rest of our text is hard, even discouraging. Verse 4 tells us that sin is simply the breaking of God’s law, whether that’s the Ten Commandments or the moral law written on our hearts through conscience. As James 4:17 says, “If you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.”
Verse 5 goes on to say what we heard last week in the second chapter of this letter. Jesus “appeared so that he might take away our sins.” Then John adds, “And in him is no sin.” So verse 6 draws the scary conclusion, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”
O.K. Amen. Time to go home. That’s it. We’re done here. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” I don’t know anyone who doesn’t keep on sinning. Do you? Jesus set the standard high. Even our thoughts are sin. Just this morning, have you been angry with someone? Wished you had a thing that belonged to someone else? Maybe looked at somebody attractive too long? Perhaps failed to help or do a good deed you could have done? That’s sin, and we’re all guilty. And John says that if we know and live in Jesus we won’t do it. But we do, all the time. So maybe we should just give up.
John never meant to discourage us. He said “all who have this hope in him purify themselves.” This is a text to encourage us, to give us hope for something better, not to dishearten us enough to quit.
So verse 6 sets a standard. It’s prescription, not description. In my Confirmation class, a student may let fly with a inappropriate word. It might be a put-down or a profanity. I may respond: “We don’t talk like that here.” As a description, it’s not true. One of us did just talk like that here. It happens. But as a prescription it’s absolutely true. As we learn to be Christians, we learn not swear or hurt each other with words. I say, “We don’t talk like that,” as the standard, not as a description of a life we can’t possibly live up to.
Remember last week, we heard John say in chapter 1, verse 8, that anyone who claims to be without sin is lying. But that doesn’t mean sinning is what Christians do. Christians, says John, are children of God. He wants us to remember what children of God do. So we look at God’s only begotten Child Jesus, and want to be children like Him.
And we remember that we are children of God not by right, but by gift and by love. To succeed in living His ideal for us, we depend on grace, not determination and strength. Billy Joe Shaver, God bless him, wrote,
I’m gonna kneel and pray every day,
Lest I become vain along the way.
I’m just an old lump of coal, now Lord,
But I’m gonna be a diamond someday.
It’s a good start at recognizing that the source of purity, of diamond-likeness, comes from God. But Shaver goes on to suggest his own efforts that will make him a diamond:
I’m gonna learn the best way to walk.
I’m gonna search and find a better way to talk.
I’m gonna spit and polish my old rough-edged self,
’Til I get rid of every single flaw.
Shaver wrote that at a time when a new faith was helping him quit drugs and straighten out his life, but it’s not quite the hope we have in Jesus. You can’t polish yourself into a diamond. All you can do is rub yourself and everyone around you raw trying. It has to happen to us. It’s the grace of God in Christ, not our efforts, that produces diamonds.
My wife hates it when I bring some of her favorite poetry on stage right next to a country-western song, but Christian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins also imagined becoming a diamond someday. Yet Hopkins wrote that it only happens by the incarnation and grace of Jesus Christ:
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
That’s how it happens, that’s where it comes from. Because Christ was what we are, we can become what He is, once we see Him clearly. “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Our hope and our effort is not to “spit and polish” our souls, but simply to see more and more of Jesus, and in the end, to see Him as He really is and then to be like Him, to be diamonds.
It’s real hope. It’s not a message for a few spiritual athletes who can jump all the hurdles and race forward into a purity that all the rest of us never hope to reach. It’s for everyone. We can all look for Jesus. We can all want more and more to see Him and in seeing Him become like Him. Any of us, any old lump of coal, can be a diamond someday.
I want you to hear this hope today if you are discouraged. Maybe yesterday you committed the same old sin you’ve committed a hundred times. You feel like a dirty old lump of coal, but you can be a diamond someday. Maybe you haven’t been able to find a job. You feel worthless, but Jesus wants to make you a diamond someday. Maybe you’re lonely and feel like no one cares about you, but Christ your friend will make you a diamond someday. Perhaps you’re not getting the grades you want and you feel stupid, but what Jesus would like you to know is Him, and that you will be a diamond someday. You could just be scared and feel very frightened of the future, whether you’re young thinking about getting married or having a baby or whether you’re older and wondering how you’ll live when you retire. In Jesus Christ, your future is to be a diamond someday.
The grace of Jesus is to take the lumpiest lumps of coal and turn them into diamonds. Anyone, no matter what, no matter how lumpy, can be a diamond in Christ. We live in that hope and we live better because of that hope. For, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” God will surprise you with what He can make of your future.
By now, I imagine many of you have heard of Susan Boyle and seen the YouTube video of her appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent,” England’s version of “American Idol.” In it we see a pudgy, even homely woman in a house dress walk out on stage in front of television cameras and hundreds of people. We see the judges and the audience roll their eyes as she tells them that she’s from a country village, that she’s 47 years old, and that her dream is to be a professional singer like Elaine Paige. It looks like she’s one of the jokes, one of the performers these shows bring out just so they can humiliate themselves and the audience can have a few laughs at their expense.
But then the music starts and Susan Boyle begins to sing. And with just one phrase out of her mouth, no one is laughing. They are clapping, they are cheering. Her voice is strong and rich and beautiful. She is an incredible surprise to everyone. Her video has had over 100 million hits on YouTube. Dowdy, lumpy Susan Boyle turned out to be a diamond.
God means to make that kind of surprise out of each and every person who will believe and trust in Jesus Christ and hope in seeing Him. He will take all the lumps and rough edges of your life and polish them into something beautiful. No one is beyond His power, no one is too dirty or too lumpy or too far gone. If you are discouraged, please remember that. He came to be like you, so that you could be like Him. Jesus came so that you can be a diamond someday. Live in that hope.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj