Christmas Eve, 2011
“To those who received him, who believed in his name he gave power to become the children of God.” Those are the words from this amazing passage of scripture which has come to be known as the “Prologue of John.” That passage is considered to be among the greatest words ever written in the history of the English language, or of any other language. We’re going to read that passage in just a few minutes.
Well, I have to tell you, those words have gone by me countless times without really sinking in. But this time, as is often the case with how the Holy Spirit works, those words stood out. They grabbed me, and drew my attention like never before! “…he gave the power to become children of God.” Some versions say “he gave the right to become Children of God.”
Why did John say it that way? Did he mess up? Didn’t he mean to say, “…those who believed him his name he made to be children of God?” Or was this just an elegant and stylish way of saying that? After all, these are some of the grandest and most majestic words ever written. So it would make sense that a flowery, stylish wording might be the reason he said it this way.
But I don’t think so. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I believe John knew exactly what he was saying. There’s no getting around it. Jesus gives us the power and the right to be his children. He doesn’t make us his children. I know that might sound strange to you. But I believe it’s true.
Let me explain by first saying that too many Christians live as though John wrote that. They live as though this says, “He made them children of God.” And what I mean by that is that they live as though what Jesus did was the only thing in their spiritual lives. They live as though their salvation is all that matters. “Jesus saved me. I’m going to heaven. End of story.” But that is never the end of the story with Jesus! In fact, it’s really always just the beginning!
But some people get no further than that. And yes, we are justified. And that’s wonderful. In Jesus we are “born anew.” John says that here. And that’s amazing. We are forgiven. And that’s great! But that doesn’t make us children of God. It gives us the power to become God’s children! It gives us the right to become. And where I’m leading us is that it is in how we follow Jesus that we become his children. (Are you with me here?)
We say this a lot. Though we might not realize it. Remember the old song. It’s not “I have decided to believe in Jesus, I have decided to believe in Jesus…” It’s “I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.” That’s how we become his children. We become his children when we follow. Yet how many live as though believing is the only thing? And don’t get me wrong. Believing is a wonderful thing. In fact it’s the first thing! But then we have to follow!
Look how what was said about that during the ministry of Jesus. John (the Baptist) started out the whole thing saying, “Do not presume to say you are children of Abraham. God is able to make children of Abraham out of the stones lying around you.” (Matthew 3:9) In other words, it’s not simply “who you are” that matters, it’s “how you live!”
Later on, people came to the door of a house where Jesus was speaking, and then told him his mother and his brothers were outside. Do you remember that story? Do you remember what he said? In a “teaching moment” he said to the crowds, “Who are my mother and brothers?” (…and my sisters and my children.) Was it “Whoever believes in me”? No, it was “Whoever does the will of my father in heaven. They are my sisters and my brothers and my mother (and my children).” (Matthew 12:46-50) Whoever follows. Whoever lives for me.
Another time he told the people that “In the end there will be some who come and say they are mine, and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you.’” But to others he will say, “Come blessed of my father…” And why were they blessed? Because they did his will! The loved and ministered like he did! They followed!! They were children of God!
Now, I know this doesn’t exactly sound “Christmas Eve-y.” Maybe you’re thinking “Hey, what about all that stuff about the angels and the shepherds and the baby?” Well, all of that makes this picture complete. We already have those images in our heads this whole season. I want you now to take all of that, and think of how the baby who was born that night, was the light of the world. And remember that Jesus used that phrase “light of the world” twice. He said, “I am the light of the world,” and he said “you are the light of the world.” It is in following him that we become children of God.
This “Prologue of John” will be the final scripture this evening. Listen to it’s words as I read them. And know that indeed, “The true light has come into the world… and to those who received him, who believed in him, he gave the power to become children of God.” We have that power, that right, to become children of God.
So, let us become!
Eternal God, in your great wisdom and love, you came to be one like us. We are amazed by that story this evening. Help us not only to believe in this child of Bethlehem, but to follow him as Savior and Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.