Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

A child’s self worth thrives from receiving parental unconditional love and grace that says, “You are valuable to me because you exist, and I love you because you are you.” Such love molds their self image and informs their image of Creator and creation. 

None of us gives or receives perfect love to or from anyone in this world.  We are broken and sinful.  Some of us have been blessed to have loving, healthy and nurturing parents; while, some people have suffered from a failure to receive such love at all from their parents.

I think no matter who we are or what sort of situation we grew up in, we come to associate receiving love with having to earn or deserve it some way.  Because we are no longer little children, we think we must perform for our love, change in order to get it, pay for it in some way or go without real love.

Unconditional love is hard to give; it is also hard to receive.  This fact is just an indicator of how broken we are as humans.  Due to our sinfulness and woundedness, we have a difficult time expressing and receiving love.  In order to love God and love others, we need rescue and healing.

Our distorted attitudes and expressions of love negatively influence our relationship to God.  How would you answer these questions,  “Why does God love you?”  Or “How can you get God to love you?” or “What does it take for God to like you?” Or “Has God ever stopped loving you?”

Often we answer these sorts of questions by answering something like, “Well, you know, you have to…” or “Well, if you ….”

We find ourselves trying to earn God’s love, make God love us, prove ourselves to God, change ourselves for God, get God’s attention or do something else for God’s love.  We may sometimes think that God doesn’t really love me…How could he?

What might be even worse is when get to a point in life and we think something like, “Ahhh….Now God will love me” or “Well, I did that, so now God will hear me” or “I think I’m almost someone God will really love.”  Or “I am living right, so of course God loves me.”

What is the truth about God’s love?

The apostle John is probably one of the persons in history who knew God the best during his life.  He writes in his letter, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4.8)  Among other attributes like holy, mercy and just, love describes the essence of God.  Love flows and emanates from God.  All creation exists in God’s love.  To exist is to be in God’s love.  To be human, is to be a recipient of God’s love—regardless of who you are or what you have done.  God’s love pours out toward you.

God’s love is amazing.  We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we are pretty good, and since God is love, of course he is going to love us.  Even when we acknowledge that we have sinned, we may pretentiously think “God is love and ‘love covers over a multitude of sins,’ so that is what God does…he loves us.  He sort of has to do that, right?”

Right and wrong.  God loves us, and he is love; however, God does not have to save us and reconcile us to himself.  And, we are not just sort of sinful or bad; we are the worst!  And we have no chance of making ourselves better or more loveable to God.

God is a holy Creator and we are sinful created things.  God says things to us like this, “Psalm 50:21   “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”  And this, Hosea 11:9  “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.” And this, Numbers 23:19  “God is not man, that he should lie.”  Over and over, God tells his people, “I the LORD your God am holy.”  And we are unholy, ungodly.

But God loves us in the midst of our sinful wretchedness.  That is what is amazing about God’s love; not only is his love unconditional, it is unconditionally poured out toward absolute miserable wretched sinners who keep on sinning and destroying themselves.

The “good news of great joy” for humans is that God “justifies the ungodly.” (Luke 2.10; Romans 4.5) That is, the Lord loves sinful people so much that he declares them good, holy, innocent and righteous.  How does that happen and why?  It happens because God loves people.  It happens through the sacrifice of Jesus who demonstrated the greatest love by giving his life for us objects of God’s wrath.

The apostle Paul, who is another person who knew God better than most people in history, writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  By the blood of Jesus, we who are ungodly sinners are justified and made as perfect as Jesus in God’s eyes.  And we have not done a single thing to earn it in any way whatsoever.  This love is generously and indiscriminately poured out for all people who have ever lived or will ever be conceived.

John records Jesus declaring, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  For love of people, God the Father sent God the Son into the world to die and rise again so that people might receive salvation.

God’s story in the Bible begins with God creating the universe and all that is in it including humans made in his image.  The story shows how God desires for people to live eternally in a garden of paradise enjoying all his creation and having fellowship with him.  He delighted to create people and called his human creation “very good.”

After humans sinned and spiraled downward into rebellion and severe perversion, God did not wipe them all out and begin again from scratch.  The story of the Bible leads to God’s rescue mission in sending his Son to save humans from bondage to sin, Satan and death.  Rather than starting over, God recommitted himself to these same people.

God does not just put up with people in as if he must begrudgingly clean up his mess and fix his mistakes.  God the Father, acting as parent, actually wills to give new birth to humans from himself by his own heavenly womb through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit’s conception of Jesus Christ in Mary and Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we are able to be conceived and born again by God from above as his children and citizens of his kingdom.

Jesus tells us that we must be born again from God, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3.3)  How and where are we born again?

In the same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus emphasizes that we are born again from the Holy Spirit.  We must be born of the Spirit.  Being born of the Spirit is being born in God’s kingdom having eternal life from Him, in Him and with Him forever.

God does not give birth to us reluctantly, and he does not give birth to spiritual children who will be neglected, abused or punished.  God gave Jesus to sinners, because he wants them to be born again and have eternal life.  John writes in the first chapter of his gospel, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

God wills for people to be born again through Jesus.  God, the perfect and loving heavenly Father, decides, determines and works for people to be born again as his own.  God, who is love, wills and desires for you to be born from the Trinity and really wants you to be his sons or daughters.  God not only gives birth to you, He will raise you and care for you now and eternally as a Father who is good beyond our imagination.

He even gives us his Holy Spirit to live in us and assure that we have been reconciled to him as a child with his or her Father.  The Apostle Paul writes, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:15-16)

The Holy Spirit works in the world to lead sinners to become born again, and when we are born again, he works to assure us that we are God’s children.  We are adopted and beloved by the Father in Jesus Christ solely because of his grace and love.

If God has loved us so much to give new birth to us into eternal life, won’t he surely reveal himself to us as a loving Father during our lives?  Jesus rebuked his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their little children for him to bless them.  Mark writes, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 10.14)

If Jesus demonstrates his desire to bless children this way, will not God the Father strive to bless his own children born of his will even more earnestly?

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and gave him the message that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John the Baptizer, he referenced the prophecy of Malachi to indicate the work of God through John.  Gabriel said that John would be great before the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he would go before the Messiah in power to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. (Luke 1:15-17)  If the work of God through his prophets and Spirit is to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, how much more will his own heart be turned in Fatherhood to his own beloved children born of his will?  He will pour out his heart and love to those who belong to him.  He will be the perfect Father to us throughout our lives, as we mature from spiritual infants to adulthood.

The Roman Catholic priest Father Raniero Cantalamessa describes the joy of a child who lives assured of his father’s love.  He writes, “If a child is certain that his father loves him, he will grow up sure of himself and able to face life.  A child out walking holding his father’s hand or being swung around by his father with exclamations of joy or who talks to his father as man to man is the happiest and freest creature in the world.”

This image describes those people born again and living in the assurance of their heavenly father’s love and presence in their lives.  This is the posture we will have towards life in the new earth and heavens.  This is life of a child in the kingdom of heaven.  This is the life God gives us in our relationship with Him—The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Holy Family