Daniel L. Sonnenberg | December 24, 2012 Christmas Eve
Recording not available.
Verses 10 and 11 in the midst of this passage give us a rather depressing picture. They tell us that though Word – Jesus Christ – had come into the world, in his day, most of the world did not know who he was, and even many of his own people did not receive him as Savior and Lord. But the good news of verse 12 is that some did receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (Joh 1:12 ESV) The good news of this verse is that salvation is offered as a free gift apart from works and includes great privileges for all who will receive it.
[God’s children.] The Bible teaches that one becomes a child of God not by natural birth or by family or religious heritage, but by spiritual rebirth through faith in Christ.
However, today some folks believe they are children of God by means of the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind through natural birth. This is called universalism which believes since all are children of God all will be saved. Modern songs like “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “We are the World” still promote this concept. This notion existed even in the first century. Paul, in his message to the men of Athens quoted a Greek poet who wrote, “We are his offspring” (Acts 17.28).
Similarly, some of the Jews of Jesus’ day believed they were children of God through natural descent from Abraham by means of the God’s promise to bless his offspring forever. But Jesus told them their unbelief disqualified them as children of God and that they were in fact sons of the devil. “If God were your Father, you would love me…for I came from God… 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires…” (John 8:42). One becomes a true child of God not by natural birth or religious heritage, but through spiritual rebirth by faith in Jesus Christ.
[By whose authority?] What right do we have to call ourselves children of God? Isn’t it presumptuous to do so? It is not presumptuous because we do not call ourselves God’s children by our own authority but by the authority of Jesus Christ. Verse 12 says, “to all who received him who believed in his name, he (Christ) gave the right to become children of God.”
James Boice gives an illustration of this in his commentary. He tells of an incident that took place in one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaigns. Napoleon was looking over some paperwork while sitting on his horse. In doing so he dropped the reins and the horse began to rear up. A nearby corporal of the grenadiers noticed what was happening and leaped forward to steady the horse just in time. Napoleon turned to the corporal and said, “Thank you, Captain.” The soldier who had just been called a captain asked, “Of what company, sire?” Napoleon said, “Of my guards.” Immediately the soldier threw down his musket and tearing off his corporal’s stripes as he went, walked across to the headquarters of the general’s staff and took his place among the officers. When someone asked what he was doing he explained that he was a captain of the guards. “And by whose authority,” they asked. He replied, “By the authority of the emperor.”
It all depends on the authority of the commander involved. If he had replied that it was by the authority of one of his fellow corporals, they would have laughed him out of the headquarters. But because the emperor gave the order, he had the right to sit among his fellow officers. Our authority is Jesus Christ who said after his resurrection, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18. Heb 10:19 and 22 tell us that our confidence is not in ourselves but in the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” Finally, Eph 3.12 reminds us that because Christ has called us his children, we can be both bold and confident in our position as his children. “In Christ, we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”
[Faith in Christ.] That leads us to our final point. How does a person actually become a child of God according to the Bible? It takes place through faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 12 begins, “but to all who did receive him, who believed in his name…” he gave the right to become children of God.
Believing in his name means believing that he is the unique Son of God sent into the world to do the work of saving his people from their sins by his substitutionary death and resurrection. The corollary to that is turning away from believing that that you don’t need a Savior at all or that your own works can achieve salvation.
Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that faith in God is essential to becoming a child of God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that faith in God’s gracious gift of his Son, not our own doing causes us to become a child of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”
Finally Romans 10:9 reminds us that believing in your heart that Christ actually rose from the dead for you is essential to salvation and that confessing this truth with your mouth confirms that belief. “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee had heard the authoritative words and miraculous signs of Jesus, but when Jesus said to him (3.3-4) “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, he could not receive it – he could not believe it. He responded only with more and more questions, saying, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” How can these things be? (3.9) We never hear of an affirmative faith response from him. Apparently, He neither believed it in his heart and therefore was not able to confessed it with his mouth even after hearing Jesus’ famous words, ¶ “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 ESV)
By contrast, the Samaritan woman in John 4, though she too had questions at first, when confronted directly about her sin and Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, responded in faith. In vv28-29 we read, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”(4:28-29). Her confession bears testimony to her new-found faith.
On this Christmas Eve, each of us is challenged in a different way. Some of us are challenged to receive and believe Christ for the first time and become true children of God. Others of us are challenged to trust more deeply in his words and his power to work in our lives. Others of us are challenged to greater boldness as his children to draw near to him in times of need. And others of us are challenged to walk more boldly in the authority he has given us as his children. Whatever our individual response, let it resound in praise to the Lord Christ who has come into the world to save us from our sins, who will soon come again as King of kings and Lord of lord.
[Would you join me in singing a medley of songs of praise to Christ for his humble birth and loving sacrifice on our behalf? ]