“But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.” John 1:12
Have you ever seen a ship in a bottle? That’s right! A true to scale, detailed ship with a rudder, sails, portholes and an anchor can sometimes be squeezed into a small bottle. It is a fascinating sight to see. Today’s text is much the same, for the entire message of the Bible has been put into one verse. Now that’s quite a feat as well! And it, too, is worthy of our inspection.
One of the first things we notice about this text is that we are asked to “believe in His name.” It does not say to be good or try to live a more moral life. It simply says to believe.
A young college girl asked a minister why Christ had to die on the cross. “God is God,” she said, “and He can do as He pleases, so why did He allow His son to die on the cross for our sins? Why didn’t He just forgive us and be done with it?” He had to explain to her that God’s love for man is not a romantic love. It’s the love of a judge.
I was riding through a small South Carolina town called Ware Shoals. I was on my way to preach and was doing about 50 m.p.h. in a 35 m.p.h. zone. A policeman coming toward me pulled me over and said, “You’re speeding, you’re under arrest, and you’ll have to come with me.” So I got into his car and we drove to the Justice of the Peace who was also a barber. He was shaving a man at the time, so he said, “Sit down, the court will be in session in a few moments.” So, I sat down and watched him finish shaving the man. Finally he took his apron off, walked to a desk in the corner, rapped a gavel and said, “The court’s in session. What’s the charge?” The police officer said, “Speeding.” Then without looking up he asked, “Guilty or not guilty?” I said, “Guilty, your Honor.” “That’ll be $85.” he said. So I reached in my pocket to get my wallet and pay the fine, when suddenly the judge raised his eyes and a look of recognition crossed his face. “Don’t I know you?” I gulped and said, “I hope not, sir.” He went on saying, “Aren’t you that young preacher who visited our church several Sundays ago? Aren’t you Stephen Crotts?” I said, “Judge, your Honor, Sir, I hate to admit it but, yes, I am.” He stood up and threw out his hand saying “Put her there, friend. I remember you! You helped my smallest son find Christ. My wife liked you and I do too. I’m glad to see you again!” Well, I dropped my wallet into my back pocket again and felt a little relieved. We talked over things for about twenty minutes and I mentioned that I was in a bit of a hurry and would have to be leaving. But as I turned to go he said, “That’ll still be $85.” Now he liked me. I was his friend. But he was still a judge. The crime had been committed and the penalty must be extracted. What kind of a judge would he have been if he’d have let me go free? The Bible teaches that we’re all guilty of such crimes and even worse. And we are all judged by Almighty God. But what God has done for us is this. He’s taken a five and four twenties, clipped them together, and put them in the drawer with the ticket. Then He has said to you, “The crime has been committed. You are guilty, but I’m not going to make you pay. I’m going to pay the penalty myself.”
That’s why Christ had to die. God is a God of Justice. Someone had to pay. But He loves you so much that He’d rather hurt Himself than let you hurt. He died so that you wouldn’t have to perish.
Now, all of this is wrapped up in the text today. God wants you to believe in what Christ has done for you. He says, “There’s my Son on the cross. He’s done all the work. Nothing else is required. All I want you to do is believe.” Now you can believe if you’re black, white, yellow or red. You can believe if you’re rich or poor. You can believe if you’re educated or illiterate. You can believe!
Belief is what God requires of you for salvation. It is the hinge on which eternal life swings. But what exactly is belief? How does one know he really believes? John 3:16 clarifies the nature of real belief. It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Notice that it says we should believe in Him. It doesn’t say we should believe about Him. There’s a real difference. I can believe about Abraham Lincoln or Patrick Henry. But my belief about them makes very little difference in the way I think and do. But when I believe someone, my whole attitude is changed. My life is not the same!
In 1858 a French acrobat named Blonden arrived in America. He announced that he would walk a tightrope across Niagra Falls on the Fourth of July. The newspapers immediately sensationalized the story. Some people believed Blonden was joking. Others believed he would kill himself in the venture. But one man from Buffalo, NY, loudly proclaimed his belief in Blonden’s ability. When the Fourth of July rolled around crowds of thousands lined both river banks. The high wire was stretched taunt between the Canadian side and the American side. Blonden stepped up and began his long journey of 975 feet. And oddly enough, the acrobat began walking the rope with a wheelbarrow. Slowly, gingerly, inch by inch the man toed the rope. The crowds were awestruck and silent. The falls thundered below. And the next thing anyone knew Blonden had done it. He had stepped off victoriously on the Canadian side. The crowds roared! One man rushed forward and embraced the daredevil shouting, “I’m the one who believed in you, Blonden. I knew you could do it. Everyone else thought you’d chicken out or kill yourself, but I believed in you!” Blonden squared his shoulders, looked the man in the face and said, “Great, this is just what I’ve been waiting for. You see, I want to go back across the rope and you can ride in the wheelbarrow!” Well, the man turned on his heels and sprinted away. He did not believe in Blonden. He only believed about him. Now, what about your beliefs concerning Jesus Christ? You know about the Easter story, the Christmas story, and all of the parables. But does it make any difference? Do you only believe about the man Jesus or do you believe in Him? If you believe in Him you will commit yourself to Him. You will do what He asks. You’ll trust Him. You’ll let your weight full down on His promises. St. Paul believed in Christ. He said, “I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to Him” (2 Tim. 1:12). How about you? Will you believe in Christ? Then get in the wheelbarrow! Commit it all to Him. Life, time, money, talents – put it all in the wheelbarrow with Him. That’s what it means to believe.
So, one part of our text tells us to believe in Christ. The other part now asks us to receive Him. The text says, “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power. . . .” Did you know God wants you to receive Him? That’s right! He wants to come into your life and live within you. We’re not talking about receiving an idea, nor a theological concept, or even a doctrine. What we’re talking about is receiving the very spirit of the Living God!
Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and have supper with him and He with me.” Here it is in black and white – a promise from God. If you hear His voice, open up your life and invite Him in, He will come inside you and have communion with you.
Sometimes a door-to-door salesman making house calls runs into difficulty. He rings someone’s front doorbell and gets no answer. From within the house he can hear the vacuum cleaner going, so he walks to the side door and raps loudly. Again there is no response and he hears the television blaring. So he tries the back door. But that is no good either. The youngest son is practicing on his electric guitar. So the salesman turns away and returns to his office. He wanted to get in that home so badly! There was need for his product, and he wanted to make a sale. So, as a last resort, he called on the phone, and you know what? The line was busy! The teenage girl was talking on the phone. Too busy! Too noisy. No one listens for the knock. Our lives can get like that, can’t they? Too busy for Christ. His knock is outshouted. His plea is unheard.
We hear a lot about heart trouble nowadays, don’t we? People are concerned with things like hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. But did you know the worst kind of heart trouble is a heart that has not received Christ? Let’s suppose that Christ is knocking at your heart right now. Do you hear Him? Will you let Him in? – or will you make an excuse? If He doesn’t get in He will knock again later. But you won’t hear His plea so clearly. Your ears will have grown dull. The walls of your heart will have thickened. And if you continue to refuse Him, your heart will become hard. His knocks will still be there, but you won’t hear them. The Bible gives wise counsel when it says, “Today, when you hear His voice, harden not your heart as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8). Receive Him! Open up your heart and let Him in!
When I travel to preach, people usually put me up in homes. The routine usually works like this. I’m greeted kindly at the front door, shown to a guest room, given the tour of the bath, sitting room and kitchen. Sometimes they’ll even show me how to cut the television on. What’s happening basically is that I’m being politely shown where I may go as well as where I may not go. The fact that I am not shown the basement, the study, and the master bedroom is just a way of saying they’re off limits. You see, in that home I am received as a guest, a temporary resident confined to specific quarters. And, oh, how I can’t wait to get home to my own house. For there I have the run of the place! I’m not a guest resident, I’m the president! And I can go anywhere I want!
Receiving Christ is much the same. He is not a temporary guest to be confined to quarters. He is Savior, God the Lord! And, as such, to truly receive Him is to allow Him to be in our lives who He already is in the universe – King Forever! And so what if He wants to putter around in the attic of your thinking or in the sun room of your emotions? Receive Him! Let Him have the run of the place!
But some of you look worried. You’re thinking, “What would God do to me if I receive Him?”
This brings us to the third point. God has asked us to believe in Him. He has asked us to receive Him. Now He wants us to become His likeness. Believe, Receive, Become – that’s the order from God to us in the Word. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God.”
It may help you to understand that God the Father envisioned salvation. God the Son purchased salvation, and God the Holy Spirit applies salvation. Thus, when we receive the Gospel we’re bound for some big changes!
The Bible makes it clear: anyone who becomes a Christian changes. Look at the Apostle Peter. He was a fisherman, uneducated, dirt under his fingernails, and a curse on his lips. He followed Christ. He left it all. But in a pinch he saved his own skin by denying Jesus. He did so by cursing foully as ever he had before, and then running away. He tried to forget he ever knew Jesus. But Christ met him on the shore, and over breakfast Peter started over with the risen Lord, and slowly, yet surely, in the pages of the New Testament we see Peter change into a rock sturdy disciple who led the church.
How about you? Have you changed? Are you becoming His likeness?
The Bible says, “We are being changed into His likeness from one degree of Glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit ” (2 Cor. 4:18).
When I was a child I wondered what it would be like to become a Christian. I figured all the older people had been around awhile and were close to being whatever it was you become. So I looked at them. To my dismay I found them cranky, worshiping like they’d been weaned on a dill pickle, enduring God as if they had Excedrin headache number thirty seven. This wasn’t what I wanted at all!
The text says this isn’t right. It reads, “He gave power to become Sons of God.” Now, to become a Christian is to become a Son of God. It is to become like Jesus. It is to become like the most attractive human being who ever lived! In Galatians 5:22 we are told the finished product of the Christian life is to be “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.” In other words, it is to become a person of godly character.
But be quick to notice, we do not become just individuals. We become family. The text speaks of “power to become sons of God.”
The Bible is a book of relationships, between God and persons, between Christian people, and between Christians and the world.
Actually, there are two sorts of relationships in the world – convenience relationships and covenant relationships. Convenience relationships are like which cafe you eat in, skiing buddies, fishing pals. They work as long as they are fun.
Covenant relationships are not always convenient. They work because they are God ordained and are maintained by sacrificial love. This is marriage, the Christian family, and, of course, the church.
We are children of God. This is our family of faith. Nope! It sure isn’t convenient! It is not always fun! But God has willed it, He’s sacrificed for us, and now He asks our sacrifice for Him, for one another, for the world!
Our world understands convenience relationships – the PTA, the Jaycees, the NAACP, the Junior women’s League. My, My! How the world likes to gather for causes! But when we gather to worship, to sacrificially love each other, to do missions for our sinful world, when we as young, old, middle-aged, rich, poor, emotional, intellectual, music loving and stoical come together – the world watches and is baffled. They think we ought to quarrel and split up. But when we don’t, when, instead, we edify one another, the world can only explain us in terms of the Divine.
Is your character becoming godly? Are you a part of this family? Is your commitment convenience or covenental?
“Under Your Skin”
As a sixteen year old boy, I ran away from home. I wandered into an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. There I walked in and out among the hippies and the derelicts and those just there for a good time. I watched as some smoked marijuana and I wondered if that was what life is all about. I stood looking as the well-heeled spent money and wondered if materialism was the answer. I even watched adoring lovers, arm in arm, find solace in romance, and I longed for it. Finally, my attention focused on an old man selling colored balloons.
The wind caught a white one and whisked it away. I watched as it floated high and free. Then a young Negro lad approached the balloon man and quietly inquired, “Mister, can a yellow one go that high?” The knowing man took a yellow balloon and freed it. Together they watched it go. “But, what about a red one?” The kindly vendor freed one and it too soared the same. Then the child lowered his eyes and mumbled, “But what about a black one? Can it go as far?”
That day, in the watching crowd, I learned a lesson. It’s not the size or color or shape that counts. It’s what’s inside. That’s the important thing! And it set me on a search that ended in Jesus Christ.
And here in the text Jesus offers you Himself on the inside! If you believe, if you receive Him, you can soar to the full height of a son of God. This promise is for the handicapped the athlete, the Black man, Hispanic, Oriental, and Anglo, its for young and old, man and woman. “To all who receive Him. . . “
All this truth squeezed into one verse – like a ship in a bottle. But do you think you can squeeze it into your life?
Lord Jesus, I believe you died for my sins. Come into my life. Help me to become like you. Amen.