‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1).
The apostle John begins his first letter, in the New Testament, with an exclamation of astonishment. He was an old man when he wrote these words. It’s safe to say that he had seen more astonishing things than any man his age.
He had seen Jesus make the lame walk, the deaf hear and the blind see. He had seen him cast out demons, still storms, feed multitudes and even raise the dead. John was present on the mountain when Jesus’ robe of humanity was temporarily pulled back so that his heavenly glory could be seen. To top it all, John had also seen the risen Christ.
It would seem that John had reached the limit in the astonishment category, so much so that nothing could now astonish him. But it was not so. As an old man, he still felt astonishment and expressed it in the words above. And the thing that still astonished him was the love of God.
So what is it about the love of God that John found so thrilling? He answers by pointing his readers first to what the love of God had already accomplished.
The love of God had bestowed on John and his readers the title ‘children of God’. John could lay claim to many titles: apostle, author of Scripture, pastor. But this is the thing that thrilled him — child of God! And this is the thing that he wanted his readers to be thrilled about — they also could lay claim to the title ‘children of God’. But it was more than a title. It was a reality. So John, according to some translations, writes: ‘And so we are!’
This matter of being a child of God was not something that John had achieved on his own. Children don’t birth themselves. It was rather a matter of God in love giving spiritual life to him and bestowing on him the title ‘child of God’.
We will never appreciate to the degree we should this reality here described, until we understand the incredibly wide chasm represented by two words in this Bible verse: ‘Father’ and ‘us’.
The ‘Father’ is this One who is light, without any hint of darkness at all (1 John 1:5). This means God is perfectly holy. And ‘us’? We are anything but holy! God has given us commands to obey and we have broken every one again and again.
This chasm is infinitely wide. We could not cross it, and God was not obligated to do anything to cross it. But here is his love: he did cross it in and through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In love for sinners, God sent Jesus to live the life those sinners refused to live and die the death they deserved to die. Now on the basis of what Jesus did, God freely and gladly invites sinners everywhere to come to Christ and be saved, pardoned and forgiven.
John could not get over this love. So he exclaims, ‘What manner of love is this!’ Literally translated, he writes, ‘From what country is this kind of love?’
It is as if he is saying, ‘I am familiar with various kinds of love. I have a category for this kind and that kind, but I have no category for the love of God for sinners. It transcends all my categories’.
Christmas is the celebration of the love of God that sent the Lord Jesus Christ into this sinful world (John 3:16). How often we take that love for granted! But have you received and embraced that love for yourself?
The apostle John calls us away from any dull familiarity with it to a new sense of astonishment. John Cotton says, ‘The apostle doth here correct our squint’.
Christians today may also have a tendency to ‘squint’ at the love of God, even during the Christmas season. Let us re-read carefully John’s words, so we can completely open our eyes to see anew the astonishing love of God.