John 1:3c-5, 12-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 3, 2017
Ken was a lackadaisical sort with no passion or drive. When an acquaintance told a co-worker that Ken had died, the co-worker without thinking blurted out, “How could they tell?”
Many of us were in our younger years taught the children’s bedtime prayer that begins, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” The prayer includes the line, “And if I die before I wake…”
It’s always valid to wonder whether we’ll die before we wake, but it’s also valid to wonder whether we’ll wake before we die – that is, whether we’ll grow alert and take notice of the greater possibilities for living, and wonder whether we’ll really live before we die.
John tells his readers, in 20:31, that he wrote his gospel that they might find in Jesus the hope of a better, flourishing and thriving life. Jesus Himself claimed, in 10:10, that he came that they might have such a life and have it abundantly. Jesus actually claimed, in 14:6, to be “the life” – a truth John echoes here at the opening of his gospel when he declares, “In Him was life!”
The Bible asserts that our sin has cut us off from life in its fullness, and that until we live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us, we cannot be said to live at all.
Christopher Parkening knows how this is so from personal experience. Not many years ago, Parkening was considered to be someone who really had “the life”. When he was still in his early thirties, he was celebrated as the world’s greatest classical guitarist. He had fame, wealth and success.
Yet, “having it all” failed to bring him happiness and satisfaction. He experienced his “perfect” life as an empty thing that left him restless and discontented.
Thanks to some friends who felt that their lives had been wonderfully changed by a relationship with Jesus, he started to attend church. Eventually, he struck up his own personal friendship with Jesus, and joined Him in serving God and others. Parkening says that was when he began to come fully alive. He now says, “I have a joy, a peace and a deep-down fulfillment in my life.”
Any of us may hope for such a life as that if only we turn to Jesus, in whom is life and life at its best: a fulfilling, abundant, eternal life. Jesus gladly and freely gives to any, who trust Him enough to open themselves to Him, a quality of life that can found in nothing else and no one else, a life that has something of the health, wholeness, holiness, happiness and vitality of God’s own life. In this life, the God-Man Jesus lives in us, and we in Him, in a close and deep interaction of love.
None of us has what it takes to obtain this life on our own. It can only be ours if we are given it as a gift of grace from the Lord Himself. Thus, verse 12 here says, “To all who received Him [that is, Jesus] and believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”
To become a child of God – in the sense of coming into an intimate, interactive personal relationship with God as a full-fledged member of His family – is to enter a new and better life, as our life and God’s, by means of love, intermesh.
Our coming truly alive in Jesus does not happen by our initiative or our efforts. We have to be born a second time, and that is an accomplishment of the Spirit of God – not, verse 13 here says, “of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God”.
We cannot make it happen. But we can prevent it from happening, or permit it to happen. We choose. We decide whether to do what verse 12 talks about: receive Jesus and believe in his name.
To receive Jesus is to open our life to Him and invite Him to come into it to be Himself in it: the Savior and the Lord, the One who liberates and gives new life and the One who takes charge of that new life to make it everything it can be.
To believe in His name is to trust Him, which doesn’t mean to convince ourselves that His trustworthiness is proven beyond all reasonable doubt, but to take the risk of hanging all our hopes for life upon Him. That leap of faith involves taking the One this scripture calls the Word at His word and allowing Him to take over our life and take it where we never could.
Some of you may be wondering about the Bible’s talking about believing “in His name”. In the ancient mindset a person’s name represents their essential self. Thus, to know a person’s name is to know more than what they are called – in this case, Jesus or Yahweh – but to know what their character is like. That then is how it makes sense, say, for King David of the Bible to pray, in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name put their trust in you.” In other words, those who perceive the Lord’s character see how smart it is to rely on Him. To believe in the name of Jesus is then to depend on His character: His kindness of heart, generosity of love, and faithfulness in keeping promises.
If we choose to open our lives to Jesus and turn them over to His control and care, we can hope to really live before we die, and after we die to live infinitely better and infinitely longer.
Apart from Jesus, we all are under a diagnosis of “FTT” – those dreaded initials written on a baby’s medical chart that are almost an assertion of imminent death. “FTT” means “Failure to Thrive” and very often indicates the end of all hope for a child’s survival.
With Jesus, however we are not in a situation of despair. There is still hope of our living and growing into our God-given potential. For Jesus is like a Great Physician who can heal everything that is wrong in us; and Jesus is like a perfectly loving Mother or Father who can so nourish and nurture us that we will live and even thrive, grow and even flourish as never before.
Of course, we are not babies but adults, and we choose what happens. It is our decision whether we allow Jesus to save and elevate our life, drawing our life into His own, and putting His life into our own.
All we have to do is choose to receive the gift as we believe in Him who is the Giver of the power to be born anew and to become children of God. Let us pray.