John 1. 9-12 & 35-51
We are keen on our rights and get very upset when they are objected to or taken away. We prize our right to freedom, to live our life as we choose, which is why imprisonment is the strictest sanction our society imposes. A high profile professional footballer has been in trouble this week because according to the Greek courts he thought his wealth and celebrity status gave him the right to get away with abusing and attempting to bribe the police as they broke up a fight. Even following a death family disputes can become highly vitriolic if some believe their right to an inheritance has been denied when they are the deceased’s child. Wars have been fought because a monarch’s ‘illegitimate’ child has believed they have been denied their right to succession.
The right to be recognized as our parents’ child goes to the heart of our sense of self. Who then has the right to be called a child of God and if we are what is our inheritance? There is a common assumption that we are all children of God. This can be associated with a belief that people are naturally good and that it would be unfair of God to differentiate between people including people of differing faiths.
The priests and Levites sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to investigate John the Baptist v19 believed they had a birth rite because they were the chosen people of God. The Pharisees would have narrowed it down even further to those who obeyed their strict laws, many of which were additional to the laws passed on by Moses. The apostle John though gives a very different perspective.
John says that our starting point is that to be a child of God requires a spiritual birth that comes from the will of God. v12 He clearly differentiates between natural birth and spiritual birth as a child of God. Spiritual birth as a child of God is in the gift and will of God. If natural birth does not automatically give us the right to be a child of God then race and natural parenthood are not qualifying factors.
The qualifying factors are our responses to Jesus, who in the early section of John 1 he calls the Word and the Light because he is the one who reveals God and the way of being in relationship with God. The default position for people is not recognizing Jesus for who he is. ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.’ v10 This sadly included many of the Israelites including the majority of the religious leadership. It took a brave and honourable member of the leadership to stand out against their peer pressure.
However, in the crowds of people who travelled to hear John preach there was a deep sense among ordinary people of their need. They knew their lives were not right, they knew they needed a fresh start. They would have been of all ages from the poor to the rich. When John condemned their lifestyle and told then to prepare for the promised Messiah confessing their sin and being baptized as a sign of repentance they did so in large numbers. John called it making, ‘straight the way of the Lord’. v23 But, was that enough? John, the gospel writer, makes the point that simply wanting to start again and live a better life is not the whole journey to becoming a child of God. One needs to receive Jesus. v12 I find that term receive him difficult to pin down. The NIV study bible (2015) helpfully clarifies what receiving or believing in Jesus means. Receiving or believing in him includes, ‘personally welcoming, trusting, and submitting to Jesus’.
When John the Baptist and Jesus met up the day after Jesus’ baptism two of John’s disciples make that step with the blessing of John. One was Andrew, Peter’s brother, and the other is unnamed but assumed to be John the gospel writer. vv 35-40 It is of great significance that Andrew’s first instinct after making the decision to follow Jesus was to invite his brother to meet him as well. ‘ “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.’ v41
Have you the right to become a child of God?
Have you invited someone close to you to meet Jesus?
Who You Say I Am – Hillsong Worship