When I was a kid growing up we used to love to tell jokes about names, for instance.
What do you call a guy:
hanging on a wall? - Art laying on your doorstep? - Matt
in your hot tub? - Stu in your fireplace? - Bernie
in your mailbox? - Bill under a bed? - Dusty
struck by lightning? - Rod in a pile of leaves? - Russel
We did the same with girls. What do you call a girl:
on the grill? - Patty blowing in the wind? - Gail
in a pond? - Lily on a fence? – Barb
in a vase? - Rose on a tennis court? – Annette
Well, even though we sometimes like to joke about names they have tremendous importance. For instance, you need a name to get a driver’s license or a credit card. You need a name to make reservations at your favorite restaurant. You need a name to apply for a job. And you need a name in order to receive mail, whether by the US Postal service or by e-mail on your computer. In short, you need a name so that you can function in this world of ours.
Well, from the standpoint of our text, you and I have a very special name - a name that not only helps us function, but a name that literally gives us life. Verse one of our text says: “HOW GREAT IS THE LOVE THAT FATHER HAS LAVISHED ON US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED THE CHILDREN OF GOD!” To be called the Children of God is the Biblical way of saying that we have been given the name of God. It’s like when a man and woman get married. Usually the woman gives up her last name and take’s on the man’s surname. And any children born to that couple receive the same surname, to identify them as belonging to that family.
In a sense, that is what St. John is talking about in our text. You and I have been given God’s name to identify us as belonging to His family. There are instances of this in the Old Testament. Take for example, Abraham. Originally he was called Abram. But then the letters ‘A’ and ‘H’ - taken from the word Yahweh, which is the Hebrew name for God - those letters were added to his name and he became Abraham. That new name identified him as belonging to God. As a matter of fact, James 2:23 tells us that Abraham was known as God’s best friend!
My friends, like Abraham, we too are God’s best friends. We too have received God’s name, for we are called Christians - we belong to Christ’s family. And as we noted earlier, because we share that name, we now have life. You see, to the ancient Hebrews a name meant existence. If you did not have a name, you did not exist. A name equals life. In our case, the name we’ve been given - the name Christian - means eternal life. Because we have been given the gift of faith in Jesus, that name is our guarantee that we will receive everlasting life. In fact, without that name we would be kicked out of the kingdom of heaven. That name is our ticket to paradise! For as God promised us in Isaiah 56:5, “TO THOSE WHO HOLD FAST MY COVENANT, I WILL GIVE A NAME BETTER THAN THAT OF SONS AND DAUGHTERS. I WILL GIVE THEM AN EVERLASTING NAME WHICH WILL NOT BE CUT OFF.” In Biblical terms, ‘to cut off’ someone’s name means to erase them out of existence. But God’s promise is that by faith in Him, our name will never be cut off. We will live forever, never to be uprooted from His family. That’s what John meant, when he said: “HOW GREAT IS THE LOVE THAT FATHER HAS LAVISHED ON US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED THE CHILDREN OF GOD!”
Yet, in what way have we received our new name? Obviously we did not start out with it. When we were born we were not close to God. Rather, we were as far away from Him as possible. We were born as the fallen children of God’s archenemy, Satan. As Ephesians 2:3 puts it: “WE TOO FORMERLY LIVED IN THE LUSTS OF OUR FLESH, INDULGING THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH AND OF THE MIND, AND WERE BY NATURE CHILDREN OF WRATH.” Simply put, because of our sinful nature we behaved like spoiled brats, thus bringing God’s wrath and condemnation upon us. Indeed, sometimes even now we slip back into those old behavioral patterns hurting other people and our relationship with God by our lies and curses, ignoring Him in our pride and selfishness, alienating Him with our lust and greed! How, then, do we switch over from being children of wrath to being children of God? How do we transfer from the family of Satan to the family of God? Well, in the words of Ephesians 1:5, “GOD PREDESTINED US TO ADOPTION AS SONS, TRHOUGH JESUS CHRIST, UNTO HIMSELF!” Adoption - that is how we receive our new name and are transferred into God’s family.
In Roman practice, adoption was a very moving experience. You see, the Romans had a custom known as the patria potestas - the power of the father. Roman law held that no matter how old a person was, as long as his dad was still alive, that child was under the absolute control and possession of his father. Cassius, the Roman historian, tells us: “The law of the Romans gives a father absolute authority over his son for the son’s entire life. It gives him authority, if he so chooses, to imprison him, to scourge him, to make him work on his estate as a slave in fetters, even to kill him!” Such was the patria potestas - the extreme power that a Roman father has over his children.
Therefore, in order for a child to be transferred from one family and adopted into another, the patria potestas had to be broken. The power of the child’s birth father had to be abolished, so that he could come under the power of his new adopted father. This was done during the adoption proceedings, by having the adopted father symbolically purchase the child from its birth father, using precious copper coins. However, the birth father would act as if he did not want to give up the child and would offer money to keep him. We can envision it like an auction, where the two fathers are trying to outbid one another for the right to have the child. In the end, the adopted father would offer the highest bid and the adoption would be complete. The patria potestas was now broken and the child had a new father, a new family!
Such is the type of struggle that God went through to make us His own. Only it was not symbolic; it was real! We were born under the patria potestas of Satan, under his power. And he used that power to imprison us, scourge us, enslave us in fetters and even kill us. He imprisoned us with guilt and shame; scourged us with accusations; enslaved to himself and our own sin-fallen natures. But God our loving heavenly Father broke Satan’s patria potestas and abolished the evil one’s dominion over us by outbidding him. God gave the highest offer, for He bid His only-begotten Son. He did not use copper coins. He used the precious blood of Jesus Christ, poured out on the cross to erase our guilt and sin. In fact, that’s what we celebrate today -- All Saints Day -- is all about. We are reminded that God chose us to be His saints, His holy ones adopted by grace, redeemed, restored and forgiven, through the death of His son. That is the high price, the unsurpassed bid that God the Father offered to purchase you and me as His children, to bring us under the shelter of His House, and make us His adopted children.
It reminds me of the cute story about a man who needed surgery. When he checked into St. Mary’s hospital the nun who was doing the paper work said: “I notice here that you don’t have any insurance. How do you plan to pay for this operation?” The man said: “I don’t know. I don’t have the money for it, but I really need this surgery.” “Well,” said the nun, “do you have any family that could pay for it.” “Not really,” replied the man. “I only have one sister, in fact she’s a spinster, a nun, like you.” “Now, wait a second,” said the nun, “We are not spinsters. We are called the Bride of Christ!” The man thought for a moment and replied: “Well, then why don’t you bill it to my Brother-in-law!”
In a way, the man was right on the mark. We do bill it to our brother-in-law, Jesus Christ. All our debts of sin and guilt were billed to Him. And He paid the bill in full, when He died on the cross. He paid the full price to adopt us into God’s family. And God proved that the price was sufficient, when He raised Jesus from the dead. That is our assurance that we have all the rights and privileges as God’s adopted children. In fact, in Roman legal terms the most astounding right and privilege that an adopted child received, was that his former life was snuffed out. All records of what he had done were burned. If he owed someone money, he was no longer obligated to pay them. If he had committed a crime, he could no longer be tried for it. Well, that is just what God’s grace has obtained for us through faith in Jesus Christ. From the moment of our adoption, when we were baptized into God’s family, our debt of sin was wiped out. Jesus took care of it all. We are fully absolved of all our wrongs!
Now the question comes what ought we to do with this glorious freedom that we have through our adoption by grace? God’s answer is clear. We are to tell others this good news. That is not only what evangelism is all about, but it is also what all Christian stewardship is about. We give of our time, talent, and treasure so that other people would be adopted into God’s family by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, so that more names will be written in God’s Book of Life and the family would be enlarged. May God ever grant us the will to thus live as his children to His glory and honor, in Jesus Name. Amen.