Tim Keller was pottering about the house, listening to some Christian music, when his heart was stirred by a line from a song. The song quotes Isaiah. ‘He will see the results of his suffering and be satisfied.’ Jesus suffered infinite depths of pain on that cross. He was in agony. Worse than any physical pain is that fact that he was abandoned by his Father. Yet he sees the results of his suffering and is satisfied. How can that be? Keller realised. ‘It was because he saw me.’ Jesus saw those who would be saved by his death and it made it all worth it. He saw our forgiveness, our justification and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, and it consoled him. How amazing is that?
I want to encourage you to never lose the wonder. We are going to look at a little outburst of delight that occurs in the middle of John’s letter. He is writing with the purpose that we might have assurance that we have eternal life. But in the middle of his reasoning he breaks in with an exhortation. Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God. And that is what we are.
Be amazed that he poured out his love on someone like you
Max Lucado writes, ‘if anybody understands God's ardour for his children, it's someone who has rescued an orphan from despair, for that is what God has done for us. God has adopted you. God sought you, found you, signed the papers and took you home.’
But don’t be overly romantic about this adoption. He didn’t find us as a little baby, irresistibly cute, bundled at his front door. We were more like an obnoxious youth who wanted nothing to do with him. We were ugly, evil and rebellious. We did not promise to be an easy child to deal with. He knew that we would cause him much grief.
You see John puts full weight on the word ‘us’. Before Christ came into your life you were a natural born rebel. So was I! Before he softened your heart you were hostile towards his holiness, his gospel and who he really is. The apostle Paul says that before we became Christians we were objects (literally ‘children’) of God’s holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3). You were both an object of his kindness and his righteous anger. It is amazing that God would chose to love someone like you and me.
J. I. Packer writes, ‘We are not fit for a place in God's family; the idea of his loving and exalting us sinners as he loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.’
Be amazed that you are a son of God
Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God. And that is what we are. If you are in Christ then you are a son of God. You have been adopted into his family. In that culture sons had a special place. That place is yours. J. I. Packer writes, ‘In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater’.
Of course no family adopts without considering the cost. John Piper, who adopted a disadvantaged child when he was fifty, explains that ‘there were legal realities God had to deal with. His own justice and law demanded that we be punished and excluded from his presence for our sins. Righteousness was required and punishment demanded. God had to satisfy his justice and his law in order to adopt sinners into his family. This he did by the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ’. The Father gave his one and only Son that you might become a son.
Think back to Jesus’ most beautiful parable—the wonderful father of the prodigal son. When that young son goes off to the distant land the father is heart-broken. Every day he scans the horizon in the hope that the boy would return. One day he sees the boy in the distance his heart is filled with compassion. Jesus says that the father literally raced to the boy. In that culture there was a proverb that said you could tell the dignity on a man by the way he walked. This man would not have run for decades. But now he lifts his robes and exposes his knees—it is all highly undignified. Then, when he reaches his son, he falls into his neck and kisses him again and again and again. Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished onto us.
His love is out of this world
Don’t lose the wonder. Behold what manner of love this is. John actually uses an idiom here. Like when people used to talk about it raining cats and dogs. John literally says, ‘behold from what country this love is from.’ He seems to be saying that the love that God lavishes upon us is from another country altogether. We might say that it’s out of this world.
God’s love is compared to that of a shepherd for his sheep, but it is also from a different country. This is a shepherd who has infinite affection for that straying lamb. God’s love is compared to a father for his children, but it is also from a different country. Even the best of fathers cannot love you the way your heavenly Father does. God’s love is compared to the delight of a groom for his bride, but it is also from a different country. Even the most adoring husband does not love his wife the way God loves you. So do never lose your wonder at the love of God for you. Behold what manner of love the father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God. And that is what we are.