16 [Jesus said:] “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (ESV)
1 John 3:1–3
1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (ESV)
There are different kinds of seeing. There is a seeing which really isn’t a seeing at all. “Did you see a new Starbucks coffee shop is now open in Virgil?” “Well, no. I’ve been driving past it all week, so I must have seen it, but I guess I didn’t notice.” That kind of conversation happens all the time, doesn’t it? We see, but we do not perceive.
Today’s Epistle begins with a command: See what kind of love the Father has given to us. The Greek word St. John uses for “see” means to fix one’s gaze upon, to pay attention to something or someone. It is the kind of word that tells you to stop whatever you are doing and to focus intently on what I am about to reveal to you. This word reminds me of my high school gym teacher. At the start of class, the students would be slouching on the bleachers gabbing away. And suddenly the gym teacher would stroll into room, snap his fingers, and then bellow out: “okay, people, listen up!”. And then he would explain the day’s activity. And you had better pay attention or else later, when he saw you did not know what you were doing, he would call you out on it.
Now, paying attending to the gym teacher involved a certain amount of dread—the fear of being ridiculed in front of your classmates for flubbing up. But today’s Epistle is not like that. Rather, John’s command to pay attention is meant to give us the greatest comfort ever. When John tells us to see, to fix our gaze on, to pay attention to the love given us by our heavenly Father, it is if he is saying: “you had better sit down for the news I have to tell you because this news is so good that if I told it to you while you were standing, you would faint!”.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us. These words are yours to contemplate deeply your whole life long. But your problem is that you do not take these words to heart. You get so caught up in your daily chores and your future plans that you live as though you do not even have a heavenly Father. At times, you get so weighed down by your pain and suffering that you question whether your heavenly Father loves you at all. And over time, you grow lukewarm toward spiritual matters, and your heart becomes bitter, filled with despair, and resentful towards God. Repent! Confess that you are as ungodly as the worst sinner you could imagine, that you are indeed the chief of sinners. Confess that among your greatest sins are the shameful ways you have thought about your heavenly Father. And then trust your heavenly Father to nonetheless be gracious and merciful to you for the sake of His dear Son, Jesus your Saviour. Yes, trust your Father to forgive you and to fill you afresh with the Holy Spirit, in whom you receive the strength to amend your sinful life and to think rightly about your heavenly Father.
This morning, I proclaim to you the gift the Holy Spirit gives you as He renews you in the one true faith—the gift of thinking rightly about your heavenly Father. See what kind of love the Father has given to us. Now, we must understand that in John’s day, a father had the authority to abuse and even do away with his children. When they were born, a father was free to order them to be “exposed”, taken to an out-of-the-way place and left to die. The church father Tertullian notes that across the empire children were killed “by drowning or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs” (Apology 9). And the times have not changed all that much. For here in Canada, abortion is permitted throughout all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason, up to the moment of birth; the state of New York has gone ever further by recently passing a law allowing for babies to be aborted even during labour; and there is now talk among so-called ethicists about allowing parents to euthanize their children up to six months after birth!
Even the best earthly parents fail to love their children as they should, and the worst parents actually put their children to death! How great is the contrast to our Father in heaven. No matter how many times you sin, your heavenly Father will never take you to an out-of-the-way place and leave you to die. And your sufferings are never the act of your heavenly Father abusing you on some cosmic torture rack. Our Father who art in heaven never abuses His children and never leaves them out to die. Let these words sink deep into your heart: your heavenly Father will never abuse you nor leave you out to die! Rather, in Christ Jesus, He loves you. And His love exceeds your sins and suffering as eternity exceeds a day.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us. God loves you, the sinner, not because He is drawn to you by your lovableness, but because, in spite of your unloveliness, God sets His mind and will on seeking your highest good. This is what is amazing about God’s love. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Roman 5:8). Contrary to your opinion, the highest good that God can give you is NOT to spare you from pain, sorrow, suffering, and death in this fallen world. The highest good God can give you is an eternity spent with Him in heaven. That is why He demonstrated His love for you by sending His Son to die for you while you were yet a sinner.
God so loved the world that He gave His beloved, His one and only eternally begotten Son. Begotten in time through the seed of the Spirit, God’s Son came to be one of us. He came as Abraham’s seed, as David’s seed, as the promised seed of Eve, come to crush the head of Satan (see Genesis 3:15). God’s Son came to do love’s work. And the work of divine love is to cover sins, to cover our sins but not by sweeping them under the carpet. Rather, as St. John says in the chapter following today’s Epistle: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Propitiation and another closely related biblical word, expiation, mean that Christ’s atoning sacrificial death on the cross satisfies God’s wrath and removes our guilt. The blood of Jesus covers up and washes away our sins. God Himself has provided the means by which sinners can avert His anger and be set free from guilt. Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the altar of the cross, shedding His blood so we would not have to shed our own, dying sacrificially so we would not have to die eternally.
Jesus’ death has brought about an eternal atonement, an eternal peace between God and sinners. Of course, many sinners reject Christ’s atonement and still fight against God. But the truth remains firm and unmovable: Jesus, the true light [… came] into the world. […And] to all who … receive[d] him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:9, 12). And so, we see that Jesus came not only to atone for our sins but also to provide the way for us too to be born of Him and of the Father through the very same seed of the Sprit. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!
We say it every Sunday in the Nicene Creed: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. Baptism is where we are born from above, born of water and the Spirit, born again as children of the kingdom of God, set free from our sins. We truly are God’s children.
But the world does not recognize us as such. Rather, the world makes fun of Christians and even despises and persecutes those who confess the Holy Triune God as the one, true God and Jesus Christ as God-in-the-flesh, come to save sinners. Don’t expect the world to praise you for being a Christian. But count yourself blessed nonetheless. For remember our Lord’s promise: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12). The world does not know you for who you really are because the world refuses to know Jesus for who He truly is, the world’s Saviour.
But it is not just the world questioning your God-given identity. We ourselves often question our status as God’s beloved, forgiven children. What can you point to within yourself that proves beyond all doubt that you are God’s child? Absolutely nothing! Rather, when you look within, you see a sinner often defeated by temptation and bouts of depression, anger, and fear. You do not see the person you really should be in Christ, and so you may wonder whether you actually are God’s child. In light of your many failures, it is tempting to become discouraged, just as the disciples gave themselves over to sorrow when Jesus was crucified.
A Christian is God’s child and already in heaven. But this is still hidden so that we cannot see it. Nonetheless, remember this: every child of God must live through a little while of walking by faith while suffering. The disciples endured a little while of three days from Good Friday to Easter. During that little while, they did not do so well at walking by faith but rather hid themselves behind locked doors in fear and despair. But then on Easter, they saw the risen Christ and their hearts rejoiced with a joy no one could ever take from them.
And the same is true for you. You are currently living in a little while in which what you will someday be as glorified children of God has not yet appeared. And in this little while, you often struggle with doubts and fears, with sadness, despair, and anger. But your loving heavenly Father—the same Father who so loved you that He gave His Son to die in your place—your Father is calling you to persevere through your struggles, to walk by faith, to know that the day of the Lord is coming. And on the day Jesus appears, you shall be like Him, because you shall see Him as He is, in all His glory. And in His glory you will dwell for all eternity.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Our little while of struggling here on earth will one day come to an end. And we will longer need to walk by faith, for we will see Jesus as He is. This is the blessed hope that sustains us. To live in this hope is to live for Jesus’ sake, so that in this fallen world, we desire to walk as Jesus walked—to live in faith toward God and in fervent love for one another. That is why each Lord’s Day we feast on our Lord’s true Body and Blood, that we may be strengthened in the blessed hope of seeing Jesus in His glory and of being like Him when He appears.
There was once a man who had gone blind in early adult life. He had then, subsequently, got married and had children. They could all see him, but he had never set eyes on them. Then, one day, the medical breakthrough came, the operation was a success, and he could see at last. What an amazing moment! To come face to face, eye to eye, with the people he had loved but never seen (From N.T. Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah). But what an even more amazing moment it will be when the little while of your earthly struggles is finally over and you see Jesus as He is and you shall be like Him. No longer will you be besmirched by sin and sorrow; rather, you will be shining in glory. On that day, you will come face to face, eye to eye, with the Saviour you have loved but never seen. And then, for all of eternity, your hearts will rejoice in Father’s love in making you His dear children. And no one will ever take your joy from you. Amen.