April 14: Look Who’s Smiling!

April 14: Look Who’s Smiling!

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

April 14 – 3rd Sunday of Easter

Other sermons in this series
“Depths of Love”

Scripture Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

Here’s a question: What makes God smile? What brings the Lord happiness and joy?

man with long hair and a beard laughing
Laughing Jesus

One of my favorite artistic renderings of Jesus is this. It’s commonly known as Laughing Jesus. Taking a cue from this painting, here’s a similar rendering of Jesus. And another one. I like these paintings of Jesus because they depict him the way I think he truly was: happy…joyful. I think in real life, Jesus laughed a lot.

Here’s another painting of Jesus with a big smile on his face, and it provides at least one answer to my opening question. Children bring a smile to God’s face.

It’s probably the truth that lots of things make God happy. And one of the things I know is that most of us are trying our very best to live in a way that pleases God. We want it to be such that when God looks at us each, he smiles.

Another way of looking at this aspect of ourselves is that it grieves a part of us to think that something we’ve done or something we do makes God sad or upset with us. Through the years, I’ve had lots of conversations with folks for whom this is a very real concern. They want to please God, but they also know that they do things which are generally accepted as not pleasing to God. We can all related to that quandary, can’t we?

If this describes you, remember that you’re in the very best of company. The Apostle Paul, the great man of faith who wrote most of the letters in the New Testament, who established churches throughout the Roman Empire, who faced persecution and imprisonment for his belief in Jesus—he experienced the same internal conflict, which he wrote about in Romans chapter 7. Here’s what he said: “I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do” (Romans 7:15, 18-19). Any one one of us could have written that statement. The desire is there to please God, to do the right thing. But then, what we often end up doing undermines that sincere desire. Again, as Paul put it, I don’t do the good that I WANT to do, but instead, I do the evil that I DON’T want to do. And because of this reality, it doesn’t take a big theological stretch to reach the conclusion that when God looks at me, it probably makes him sad.

It doesn’t help that certain Bible passages, like the one Deb read for us, could be seen as lending support to the idea that we’re probably displeasing to God. I’ll be the first to say that John’s wording in today’s reading can be difficult to interpret. Let’s take a look.

  • 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! Ok, we’re children of God; that’s a good thing.
  • Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. Ok, even in this life God has declared us to be his children; that’s a good thing.When Jesus returns to earth to redeem all of creation, we’ll be made to be just like him somehow.That seems like a good thing.
  • All who have this hope in him purify themselves even as he is pure. Well, that sounds good, too. We do have this hope in Jesus, and that makes us pure in God’s eyes. So far, so good!
  • Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. Uh oh, this doesn’t sound good; it could spell trouble for us. We all do sinful things. So, does this make us rebellious in God’s eyes? Let’s keep reading.
  • You know that Jesus appeared to take away sins, and there is no in him. Yep, we agree with that. Jesus is sinless and came to take away the guilt of our sins. That’s a good thing.
  • Every person who remains in relationship with him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him. This doesn’t sound good! Every person who remains in relationship with Jesus does not sin. Does the fact that I sin then mean that my relationship with Jesus is bogus? Any person who sins has not seen him or known him. Does the fact that I sin mean that I don’t truly know God?
  • One more statement from John, v. 7. Maybe this verse will help us feel better about ourselves. Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous in the same way that Jesus is righteous. Well, that didn’t help much. I can’t say that I’m very good at “practicing” righteousness. Going back to how Paul put it, I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do” (Romans 7:19).

You can see how it’d be easy to read this and conclude that in God’s eyes, I’m a disappointment.

But that would be a wrong reading of 1 John 3, a misunderstanding of what he’s saying.

Let’s go back to verse 1. Verse one is our starting place, and it’s an anchor of truth, if you will. It’s a given reality, and nothing changes it. Verse one clearly states that God has declared us to be his beloved children. Individually, you are God’s beloved child. By virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ, you are God’s beloved child in the same way that Jesus is God’s beloved Son as declared at his baptism. “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!” Please, please hear that important truth and let it sink in. In Jesus Christ, you are a beloved daughter of God. In Jesus Christ, you are a beloved son of God. That is what you are! That is who you are! This reality clearly indicates that we are in fact in relationship with God. That is, in Jesus Christ, your relationship with God is intact. So, let this be our starting place from which we come understand the rest of what John writes.

In v. 4, where it says, “Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion,” the key word to understand is “practices.” That word implies something we purposefully do over and over in order to perfect that behavior. To “practice sin” in this regard is to knowingly and intentionally act in sinful ways and not care that you’re doing so.

But there’s a big difference between “practicing sin” and doing what most of us are guilty of doing. You see, it’s quite possible, and probably quite common, for committed, devoted Christians—persons who love Jesus and want to please him—to do sinful things consciously aware of what we’re doing, and even doing so intentionally—that is, not on accident—but to do so with a heavy heart because we know it’s wrong; because we feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit within ourselves; because we hear the Spirit whisper, “You’re dead to sin and no longer a slave to it; you don’t have to do this.”

When some part of you hears that voice, or feels that tinge of holy shame or guilt, that’s actually a good thing! That means you haven’t turned you back on Jesus. You haven’t kicked him out! He’s still there with you and within you. He’s just trying to get your attention! And confessing that sin—even if it’s the 1000th time you’ve done so—results in your being forgiven and made whole and clean in the Father’s eyes. In Paul’s confession in Romans 7, he said something that probably doesn’t get emphasized enough, because it really does shed an important light on what’s happening in the life of the believer when they don’t do what they want to do but do what they don’t want to do. Everything in chapter 7 is leading up to this statement of truth in v. 20. I’ll start in v. 19. “I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.

Did you catch that? Paul makes an important distinction between the new, redeemed self that lives in this human body and the unredeemed sin nature which continues to reside in this human body. According to Paul, these two realities are at work within the believer after they come to faith in Christ. First, their “old sinful self was crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in their life” (Romans 6.6). In other words, your old, sinful self died. Simultaneously, though, the believer is given a new nature, a holy nature, one that’s in union with God (see Ephesian 4:24). Both natures exist within us at the same time. We still have a sin nature—although Christ’s death destroyed its power over us. And we have a resurrected nature at one with God. Paul says that for the believer in Christ, the new nature is our true self. It’s the real you, the real me. This real you and this real me cannot sin because by nature it’s in union with God who is light and truth. According to Paul, when in our body we commit sinful acts, it’s the sin—or our sin nature within us—that’s doing the sinning, not the real me, the real you. Again, in Paul’s words: “But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore.  Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it” (Romans 7:20).

And this brings us back to our opening question about what makes God smile. The answer is this: through Jesus Christ YOU make God smile! Through Christ, I make God smile! Even though we all do things that are contrary to God’s will and desire, because Jesus Christ the sinless one lives in us through his Holy Spirit, that’s who God sees when he looks at us. When he looks at you, he sees your redeemed and holy self which is alive and in union with himself, and that brings God immense joy! Isn’t that great news! Let’s pray…

Father, your Word tells us that when Jesus was baptized, you called out from heaven and proclaimed that Jesus is your beloved Son and that in him you find great pleasure. We can only imagine that in that moment you were smiling upon him. He, being your beloved Son, whom we now know to be the Second Person of the holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—brings you great joy. This is good news for us, God, because his presence within each of us, and maybe even us collectively, means you’re smiling upon us as well. We really do want to make you happy, Lord. We’re truly sorry for the way too many times we do and say things that fail to reflect this earnest desire of ours to please you. We hate it when we say we’re going to do one thing but then do another. How many times have we scolded ourselves for doing such, then committed to do right by you only to fall back into old patterns and behaviors? Honestly, too many times to count. Father, we’re all too aware of this vicious cycle. But even so—and this sometimes just seems too unfathomable for us to accept—you still love us and are somehow pleased with us, not because we’re innately good or righteous—because we’re not!—but because the Son of God, Jesus, lives within us. He has made us right in your eyes. And so we praise you, God, for this reality! We praise you for what you’ve done in us to restore a right relationship with you. Thank you! And because he lives within us, we know that when we call out to you, you hear us and will always answer us. Admittedly, Lord, we don’t always hear your answer; sometimes we even misunderstand what you’ve said. But don’t give up on us, Lord. When you walked among us, we know there were times when you became frustrated with your disciples. A couple of times you were recorded to have said, “You faithless generation! How long will I have to put up with you?” Again, we’re sorry for the times when our lack of faith causes you frustration. But don’t give up on us. Continue to work in us. Continue to call to us. Continue to draw us forward into your will and purpose. We trust you, God. Increase our faith! Shine the light of your face upon us, O God! By your Spirit, empower us to undertake ministry that requires us to trust you for the outcome. Use us to transform the lives of people in our community so that they know your love firsthand. God, we love you, but only because you first loved us. You demonstrated this love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to share this same love through our own acts of service and sacrifice….Again, knowing that you hear us, we want to take a moment to lift up to you the names of those we’re especially concerned about, people we know and have heard about who are hurting or in need of you care…..Touch these folks with your hand of grace. Bring healing to them where needed. But mostly, let them know that they’re not alone. [Lord’s prayer]

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