Today is the fourth in a 7-part summer sermon series called “Going Deeper.” This series is intended to inspire worshipers to proactively go one step deeper in their walk with Jesus Christ.
Read: 1 John 2:28-3:2
When we were going through pre-marriage counseling, Caroline and I were each asked to identify a married couple we we’d like to emulate in our own marriage. After giving it some thought, we both ended up writing down the same couple. There was a strength and health about this particular couple that both of us saw, and wanted our own marriage to reflect that same health and strength. The thinking is, if we could emulate certain aspects of their marriage, we ourselves would have a positive experience of marriage. That was the hope.
Who’s been your model, the person you most want to be like? Professionally, I can think of many colleagues I try to emulate in my own leadership. Like the group of clergy I met with each week during my year-long field education stint in Wisconsin during seminary. Some of them we currently serving in local churches, some were retired. But what I most remember was their exceptionally positive attitudes about being a pastor.
To be honest, there’s a lot one can complain about when it comes to pastoral ministry – and I know some who live in that place most of the time. But these seasoned clergy hadn’t gone down that path, and it was clearly evident in the way they talked and encouraged each other that each one of them loved pastoral ministry despite its many challenges. And so I’ve tried to approach my pastoral experience the say way. I try to avoid focusing on the things that will bring me down with the hope that keeping my eyes on what God is doing – not the hurtful things that certain people do – will enable me to remain in love with doing what I do. That is my hope. And so far it seems to be working. After 25 years I still love being a pastor. I want to be like those men (in that situation, they all happened to be men).
Whether related to your career or your personal life, who do you want to be like?
I know it seems almost prosaic, even obvious, to say, but as Christians Jesus would be the ultimate model for us. Even non-Christians would probably admit that he’s a good example of the kind of person we all should be like. What are some the qualities of Jesus people most admire? Even the unreligious among us would say that they can appreciate his faithfulness, humility, wisdom, obedience, patience, charity, and willingness to forgive. We could also point out his compassion, his love for the unlovable, his gentleness, his concern for the powerless (like women and children), and even his servant-attitude. SeekThisJesus.com has identified sixty character traits of Christ that we should try to follow.
So, what might be the benefit of emulating Jesus? I’d like to say that it would make life easy, but that can’t be true. Why? Because Jesus’ own life experience was difficult. He literally began life on the run when his family had to flee to Egypt after learning that Herod was trying to kill the boy. Around the age of 30, following his baptism, he spent forty days going toe-to-toe with Satan. That was probably stressful! And once he went public with his ministry, he constantly found himself at odds with the religious leaders who, eventually, actually tried to kill him because. By reading between the lines, it’s possible to infer that his relationship with his brothers was stressed during the years of his ministry. And, of course, in the last week of his life he was betrayed by a friend, denied by a good friend, tried in a kangaroo court, and crucified for something he never did. So simply emulating his life probably won’t result in a life of ease and being liked. In fact, Scripture actually has a warning for anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps: life will be hard! There’s a reason Christendom is full of martyrs.
So, what are the benefits if a life of ease and being liked isn’t one of them? I would say that one significant benefit of following after Jesus is the experience of having hope; of living with an overall sense of hope for the future. Both the distant future and the immediate future: tomorrow, next year, the next ten years, etc.
I suggest this particular benefit because I think we’re living in a period of time when many people in our country are feeling hopeless in ways they haven’t before. A 2015 Psychology Today article entitled An Epidemic of Hopelessness? uses studies and statistics to show that as a nation we are, in fact, showing signs of increased hopelessness. Where other 1st world nations have maintained a slow increase in mortality rates, only the U.S. has shown a decrease. And the increase in deaths weren’t the usual suspects, such as heart disease. instead, our mortality has been on the rise because of higher levels of suicide and greater numbers of drug and alcohol overdoses and diseases. Even right in here in Adrian, we can document an increase in things like student homelessness and drug addiction. By and large, hopeless certainly seems to be gaining greater traction these days. This is why I’m pointing out hope as one “benefit” of being in relationship with God.
Simply put, hopelessness is the result of not having a vision of well-being for the future. The problem for most of us comes when our hope is placed in human being and in human systems. When our sense of future well-being depends upon people and people-run systems, then it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll become disillusioned and lose hope. Why? Because people and human systems will let us down. Our hope has to be in something – or someone – that can truly provide what we’re ultimately looking for.
Listen to how John begins today’s short reading, starting a 2:28. “And now, little children, remain in relationship to Jesus, so that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed in front of him when he comes.”
Let me quickly unpack that one verse. Little children. Think back to last week. “Little children” is his designation for those who are relatively new to the faith, who are learning the basics. They are also the most vulnerable; those who are most susceptible to being swayed and pulled away from the faith; those who are most likely to lose faith in times of hardship. And to those he says once again, remain in relationship to Jesus. Staying connected to Christ is priority number one when it comes to growing.
Why? So that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed. ‘When he appears’ is a reference to what today we often call ‘The Second Coming of Christ.’ Christians believe that Christ will return to earth at some point in the future – a date we’ll never know until it actually happens – at which time he will usher in the full Kingdom of God here on earth. And when this happens, John tells us that we can stand before him in confidence, not shame. That is, on account of our sins having been washed away by the blood of Christ, we’ll be able to stand before God confident that he will smile upon us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In 3:1 John reminds us that we are God’s children. See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! To be sure, when John refers to us as God’s children, this isn’t his way of saying that we’ve simply been created by God, which is true for every human being ever made. No, John’s point is that on account of Christ living in you, of the Holy Spirit in you, the same spiritual DNA that comprised Christ’s body comprises your body as well. In Christ, you are child of God in the same way Jesus was a Child of God. What Jesus received as the Son of God will also be given to us some day.
And what, exactly, will we receive? Look at 3:2: Now we are God’s children (Jesus lives in us; we have one foot in the Kingdom of God), and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. But we know that when he appears, we will be like him.
Please don’t miss the significance of what John’s telling us. When Christ returns, we will fully become like Jesus. When we see him at that point, we will be as he is. Think of it this way: he exited the grave with a resurrected body. He could eat and drink and talk and walk; but he could also pass through doors, and suddenly appear and disappear. In that bodily form, he wasn’t limited to the physics of our cosmos. And John’s point is that when he returns, we will be given that same glorious, resurrected body. A body that will never die.
I think John’s pointing to that date that’s way, way in the future as a way of giving us hope for today and tomorrow and next year, and even 10 years from now. He’s reminding us that no matter how terrible things get now, our Heavenly Father is still in control, and still holds the future in his hand. And that if we remain as faithful as we possibly can today – if we remain in relationship with Jesus through the ups and downs of today – we’ve been promised a glorious eternal future. The Psalms are full of verses that remind us that even though it seems like the “bad guys” are getting ahead, it’s already been deemed by God that their days of being ahead are limited. And conversely, even though many of us never seem to catch a break because of injustice, it’s already been deemed by God that we will have the last laugh.
And what makes this possible? Remaining in relationship with Jesus Christ. There’s an hold hymn that goes, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness….On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” We stand on this solid rock not because we’re able to emulate Jesus and live the way he lived. Rather, it’s because we’re in relationship with him, and he lives in us.
The hope of Christ’s return means that your past does not determine your future. It means that day by day you are becoming the person you long to be…the person you were born to be when you put your faith in Christ,…and the person you one day will be when you see Christ fact to face. We have hope for our future because we are in relationship with Jesus Christ today!