During Honest Advent we are looking at what gifts we can give Jesus. Last week we learned that one of the gifts he wants is our vulnerability. What we are starting to find in this Advent series is that the gifts Jesus wants are gifts that he first gave us. Think about how Jesus gave us his vulnerability. He left the perfection of heaven to become human, and not just any human, but a baby human. A baby is completely vulnerable in this world, dependent on the care, the protection and the provision of other people, primarily the baby’s parents. But Jesus went even further, way further, to be vulnerable. As God he could have chosen to enter the human world from a position of power, such as being born into a really wealthy household, or a really influential household, like that of a King. Instead he entered our world in the household of lowly peasants, who were part of a people group that had almost no power or influence, the Jews in first-century Palestine. There he existed in obscurity, living a perfect life, and after three short years of ministry, he died a criminal’s death. Talk about vulnerability. The all-powerful God became a totally vulnerable baby, and then that same all-powerful God entered into death. Why? Love! Love is the next gift that we see God has given us, and that we, in turn, give back to him.
To understand this love, let’s open our Bibles. You might be familiar with the love chapter in the Bible, 1st Corinthians 13. You know, the one that say, “Love is patient, love is kind…etc.” That love chapter gives us an amazing definition of love, but I want us to turn to the love book of the Bible because of how it focuses on God’s love. 1st John.
So turn to 1st John 1:1-4 and read what it says. There he writes to the Christians in his day, and all others who would read this, “I want you to know that what I am writing about, that what you have heard about from the beginning is the truth, because I saw it with my own eyes and I touched it with my own hands.” What was the author an eyewitness of?
To answer that, we need know who this writer is! From ancient times, Christians identified the writer of this letter as John who was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. John wrote not only 1st John, but also the two other letters (epistles) that bear his name, 2nd and 3rd John, and the Gospel of John, as well as the book of Revelation. When he wrote, we believe he was the only one of 12 disciples still alive, and because life expectancy in the First Century was so much shorter than it is now, John was the rare man who might have been living into his 80s or 90s.
John has seen a lot in his years. The church has grown, but it has also faced persecution, false teachers, and the normal inner growth pains any organization faces. Furthermore, as the years go by, memories of Jesus fade. Imagine the weight of responsibility John might feel as the last of the original eyewitnesses of Jesus. What must it have been like to be the last person alive that actually walked with Jesus, talked with him, learned from him, saw his miracles, his death and resurrection? I can see John wanting to preserve the true memory and teaching of Jesus for future generations. So this is a letter about Jesus. In particular it is a letter about the love of God that John saw and felt in Jesus.
Look ahead to what he writes in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” God initiated this love. God’s love flows from who he is, John writes in chapter 4, verse 7. God’s love is entirely consistent with the kind of God he is. Love is God’s core. “God is love,” John writes in 1 John 4:16. All of God’s other characteristics are adjectives that describe his love. God is holy love. God is gracious love. God is merciful love. God is just love. God is truthful love, faithful love, and on and on we could go describing his love.
That love pours out of God. You cannot separate God or any part of God from love. It is who He is.
Here is what we read in 1st John chapter 3, verse 1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” This is an astounding truth. God has lavished his love on us to the point where we have the opportunity to be part of his family, to be his children!
But how do we become his children?
Keep your finger in 1st John 3, and turn to John’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 12, where we read a bit more about how God’s love made it possible for us to become his children. There we read, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children not born of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” God did it. That’s how much he loves us. God made it possible for us to become his children, John says, for all humans to become his children, by receiving him, by believing in his name.
How did God do this? Why did God do this? And what does it mean to receive him and believe in his name? Check back in to the next post as we’ll seek to answer these questions.