1 John: The Lavish Love of God

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  This morning we continue our series on the first letter written by the Apostle John to the early church.  This letter was written probably in about 80 AD or so.  John was an older gentlemen by now.

And today we are going to read one of the most beautiful outbursts in the Bible.  This is the time when Pastor John gets choked up in his letter to his churches.

But first a word about Bible Translations?  NLT – Thought for thought – making it as easy to understand as possible.  NASB – or the New King James – word for word.  Choppy at times but they are less concerned about readability and more concerned with accuracy.  The NIV is in the middle of the two.

When we preach we try to use the NLT as often as possible.  But we are always trying to give you the best picture of what is actually going on in the story.

If I’m reading – I’ll just read the NIV or NLT – if I’m studying I will open up biblegateway.com – and have three versions all in a row so I can compare.

Now let’s talk about the day John got choked up in his letter to the churches.  What prompted the emotional outburst in 1 John 3?

And as a way of introduction, allow me to share two stories about the Apostle John – The first story appears in Luke chapter 9.  And it’s the story of the time Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and Jesus decided to go through Samaria to get there.

Now for centuries the Jewish people and the people of Samaria hated each other.  How much did they dislike one another?

53 But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?”

 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.  NLT

This story would be a hilarious story about how much John and his brother James – if it weren’t so awful.  If it weren’t so brutal.  These brothers are asking Jesus to burn an entire village to death – because they were inhospitable?   

By this point by the way John has been a disciple of Jesus for a couple of years.  In fact – Luke 9 is a power packed chapter.

In Luke 9 it talks about how Jesus sent out the twelve and they performed miracles and healed sick people in Jesus name.  In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish…

In Luke 9 Jesus heals a demon possessed person that literally leaves the people who saw it flabbergasted – and here’s what verse 43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power.

The passage just before this talks about the transfiguration of Jesus – which was the time when James and John and Peter were with Jesus and when Jesus was praying he suddenly began shining and then Moses and Elijah appear and they all talk about what’s about to happen in Jerusalem.

John has seen so much – but here’s the interesting thing – none of what he has seen has yet transformed him.  He sees all of it and somehow in his head he sees power is to be had here.  The power to rain down fire on enemies…

Let’s kill some people Jesus.  Teach these people who’s boss.

Now – another story about John – this one comes from church history – a man named Eusibius – one of the earliest church historians – records this story about the Apostle John now as an old man.

Eusibius records a story about the time John traveled to the city of Ephesus to attend to some church matters there and while there leads a young man to faith in Christ.  John brought the young man to the local pastor of the church and told the pastor – see that this young man is discipled in the faith – help him to grow.

At some point though the pastor lost track of the young man – and Eusibius writes, some other youths his own age “idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

And the young man, believing that his opportunity to walk with God had now forever vanished – threw himself headlong into a life of crime and became the leader of the this gang of violent people.  He himself becoming the most violent and brutal of them all.

Eventually John returned to the city and asked the pastor – where is that young man?  And the pastor said – he’s dead!  Dead to God at least – he returned to a life of violence and crime.  And is now a leader of a band of thieves in the hill country.

John – says, bring me a horse!  And heads off into the very wilderness where the gang was known to be hiding.  And sure enough he is taken captive by the gang.  John says – Good!  That’s why I’ve come.  Lead me to your captain.

But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame and ran away!

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, ‘Why, my son, are you running from me, your own father!  pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, confessed his sins and baptized himself a second time with his tears.

John led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various teachings, he did not depart until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of new birth, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

Two Stories – a young John asking for permission to rain fire upon people for being rude to them.  And a story of a much older John risking his life to pursue a violent criminal with hopes of bringing him back to faith in Jesus.

What changed John?  What happened in John’s life that lit the fire of transformation within his soul?

It wasn’t more power stories.  It wasn’t seeing more healings.

What changed John is the same thing that will change you and me.

Let’s read this outburst of emotion from John in 1 John 3 this morning.  Let’s read John getting choked up as he talks about his favorite subject – that of love that comes from God and works through us.

1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God!  NKJV  This morning I’m using the New King James Version which I think does the best job of capturing the emotion that is in this outburst from John.  For instance the NLT uses the word “See.”

And they are doing that because they think – well, no one uses the word “Behold!” anymore.  But we do – kind of.

Let me give you an example – I want you to think of one of the most beautiful sunrises or sunsets or display of nature – something that took your breath away when you saw it!

Do you have that in your mind?  When you saw it – did you say – see.  Look.  No – You said – Whoa!  Man!  That is something.

That’s the spirit behind John’s use of the word Behold!   It’s almost like when you bite into something delicious and you say – Hhmmm!  That’s good stuff!

Which happens to be the word that God uses after he creates the world in Genesis chapter 1.  He shows off to Adam and Eve – Behold!  Check that out!  That’s good stuff right there!  Behold!  Not see – what I did.  Behold!  See – I made a giraffe.  Just for the fun of it.  He said – Behold!  The giraffe!

John says Behold!  Check it out!  Hmm! Now what has John tasted that makes him go hmm!??  It’s the otherworldly incredible lavish love of God.

Next – let’s talk about this term “What manner of love?”  What manner of love is this???  You know what this phrase means literally?  From what country does this come from?

It is as if the Father’s love is so unearthly, so foreign to this world, that John wonders from what country it may come.  John is blown away, astonished by a love that is literally out of this world.  Hmm!  What kind of love is this?

Whoa-  Check it out.  From what universe does this kind of love come from?

But more – not only is John astonished by the beauty of God’s love – not only does he wonder from what planet this kind of love comes from – but note what God has done with this incredible foreign to us kind of love of God…  the verse says…

He bestowed it upon us…

When was the last time you used the word bestowed?  Probably when you were hanging a gold medal on some athlete’s neck at the Olympics.  You don’t give someone a gold medal.  You bestow it upon them – it’s an honor!

Right?  You don’t bestow the salt shaker to someone at the table.  You can hand it to them – give it to them – but you don’t bestow it to them.  You bestow knighthood upon someone, am I right?  That’s bestowing.  It implies a tremendous honor.

Behold what manner of love is this that the Father has bestowed upon us…., that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Now sometimes people try to cheapen the power of this reality by saying things like, “We are all God’s Children.”  Right?  And they mean, there’s no difference between any faith or that faith doesn’t even matter – we’re all God’s children.

But that idea is soundly rejected in scripture.  You are not a child of God until you place your faith in Jesus.  There are conditions attached.  Now that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you before you come to faith, he certainly does.  God loves the world, but you are not a child of God until you place your faith in Jesus.

Listen to John explain it this way…

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. 

1 John 5:1 NLT


In other words you believe Jesus really was the God’s son who came to earth to die for your sins in order to be able to deliver to us the “with God” life – if you think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with every aspect of your life from now and forever more – then you will be adopted into God’s family.

God loves you, like you love your own child!  But only because that is what you are!  God loves you like you are his cherished daughter – because that is what you are!

When Jesus was baptized and the heavens opened up and a voice from heaven said – this is my beloved son, – that is what you are!

Through faith in Jesus we move from outside the circle to the most inside you can possibly get.  We are adopted by God, and we are treated as his children.

You know you can make this decision right now.  You can make the call to enter into the Love of God and believe in Jesus.  Become part of his family.  And you too will begin to experience what John experienced – you will begin to experience a changed life.

What changed John?  He moved from being a witness to Jesus’ power to being an object of Jesus’ love.

That’s what happened.  John at one point sat above those Samaritans.  It was natural for him to think of that village as subhuman – beneath him.

But then something unexpected happened.  Jesus hung on the cross.  And John realizes that he is there for him.  He was the one who deserved the fire from heaven – and yet here he is watching Jesus take it, so that he might escape it – and yet even more than escape the penalty of our sins – the love of God was lavished upon us and swept us into God’s very own family.

John looks up and sees Jesus on a cross and asks – what kind of love is this…

Now in closing, I want to talk with you who struggle with the love of God.  You don’t feel you deserve it.  You aren’t sure you qualify for it.  I want to close with a story.

It is a story told by author Brennan Manning.  In 1950 Brennan joined the marines and was sent off to boot camp to prepare to go to war in North Korea.  While in boot camp he became great friends with a guy named Ray.   Ray and Brennan did everything together.  They bought a car together, double dated together, even visited each others parents and families.  They became as close as brothers.

One night while sitting in a foxhole Brennan was reminiscing while Ray ate a chocolate bar.  Suddenly a live grenade appeared, thrown by an undiscovered North Korean soldier.  Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his candy bar and threw himself on the grenade.   It exploded killing Ray but leaving Brennan unharmed.

Years later he visited Ray’s mother, whom he adopted as his own, and at the time Brenan was feeling rather discouraged and full of self-doubt – and at one point in the conversation he grew sullen and grim and he turned to Ray’s mom and asked,  “Do you think Ray loved me?”

Manning writes that Mrs. Brennan shot up off the couch shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “Jesus Christ, what more could he have done for you?!”  Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? and Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “Jesus Christ–what more could he have done for you?”

The cross of Jesus is God’s way of doing all he could for us.

Behold!  Hmmm!  What kind of love is this?  Form what planet does it come from?  Behold – what manner of love the father has bestowed upon us – that we might be called children of God.