Last week and this week, my Twitter devotionals have been brief reflections on this verse:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Now I don’t know about you, but while everything we know about Jesus is glorious, there are some things that really appeal to the little kid in me. When I was in the first grade, like everyone who has ever been in the first grade, I was in a play. I have no idea what it was about and I’m not sure I knew what it was about even then. I had no lines. I played the part of a cloud. It wasn’t exactly the lead role, but then I was no Ron Howard or Justin Timberlake either. And I didn’t care.
My mother, an instinctively creative woman, made me a white cape to wear for the part. Naturally, as any self-respecting six-year-old boy with a cape would tell you, I wasn’t just a cloud. No sir, I was “SuperCloud.” Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—you know the story. And with great power comes great responsibility. Like the responsibility to wear the cloud cape to school. Unfortunately my first-grade peers did not share my enthusiasm for the cape, so I was teased mercilessly the one and only time I wore it to school.
But seriously, when you read in Acts 1:9,10 that Jesus just sort of rises on a cloud (yep, a cloud) into the sky as he is talking to his disciples and two men in white robes (see my costume, above) tell them not to worry because he’ll come back the same way, and you know that someday you will be like him, how cool is that? Kind of makes you want to break out into “I Believe I Can Fly“? Or, if you’re not a fan of R. Kelly, how about “I’ll Fly Away” by Albert Brumley.
Look at John 20:19. The disciples were hiding from the authorities, the doors were locked, and Jesus came and stood with them. Catch that? Doors locked? He either walked through the wall or just teleported himself in. How cool is that?
The Jesus with superhero powers is found throughout the New Testament—and the Old Testament for you fans of theophany. He walked on water; healed blind, lame and crazy people; raised Lazarus from the dead; fed more than five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes; and (among my personal favorites) turned water into wine. How cool is that?
Now back to 1 John 3:2. “We shall be like him!”
I’m going to be able to teleport, and walk through walls, and fly and I won’t even have to wear my cloud cape? How cool is that?
Well, it is very cool, but Jesus reminds us often that while miracles are nice, they aren’t that big a deal in God’s economy. Despite my enthusiasm, I am reminded of Paul’s admonition to stop thinking like a child 1 Cor13:11. And when he said “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom,” 1Cor 1:22 I don’t think it was intended as a compliment.
So what is bigger and better than the miracles?
We shall be like him. That is what is bigger than a miracle. I’m not talking about walking through walls here. Let the next sentence sink in before you read further: We shall be like him who is without sin.
This may sound harsh, but sin is who we are. The prophet Jeremiah told us “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick… ” Jeremiah 17:9. Some people think Jeremiah was eventually stoned to death. We don’t really know, but you can be certain he didn’t make a lot of friends saying things like that.
In the 6th century a Pope Gregory 1 came up with the definitive list of the Seven Deadlies: pride, wrath, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, and greed. Apparently there were eight before Greg did a little editing. In 2008, the Vatican graciously updated the list adding seven more ways to run afoul of God(?) in the modern world. These helpful new additions include genetic modification, experimenting on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy, and taking drugs. (I sure hope that does not include antihistamines.)
At the age of 19, several years before a falling apple revealed to him the secret of gravitational attraction, Isaac Newton discerned the gravity of sin and made a list of 48 sins he had committed. Some of them seem harmless enough, “Making pies on Sunday night,” “Squirting water on Thy day,” and “Missing chapel.” Then again, we also learn from his list that he punched his sister, struck many, and threatened to burn the house down around his mother and father. It appears that one of the greatest scientists in history had anger management issues. Intelligence does not exempt one from sinfulness.
One helpful Interweb source has catalogued 667 specific sins from the Bible. I have no idea why they didn’t stop at 666, since they do state that it is not a complete list. Superstitious, I guess.
If you want to do your own research, here are a few popular lists just from the New Testament: Matthew 5:28-32; Matthew 19:18-19; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:26-32; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7,18; Colossians 3:5-8; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; and Revelation 21:8. If after reading those lists you still don’t see yourself, you can go ahead and read the first five books of the Old Testament—the Pentateuch. Start with “Don’t eat from that tree!” in Genesis 2 and read all the way through Deuteronomy. Pay close attention to Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11, “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.” My mother would hasten to add “Thou shalt not wear stripes and plaids together.”
Suffice to say, we’re doomed. Every single one of us. That includes Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, Francis “I did it my way” Sinatra, Bono, you and me. All of us. Even those well-intentioned souls who drive Priuses with the COEXIST sticker on the bumper, commit murder in their heart when someone in an SUV cuts them off in traffic, or votes for a political candidate they don’t support.
But we shall be like Him. If we are in Christ we will, one day, be like the only person who has ever lived who was without sin. The picture of him in Scripture will become a family portrait as we “become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many.” Romans 8:29 Rather than defined by our sin, our character—like his— will be defined by these words: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23
That is the bigger miracle. The one the world thinks is even more preposterous than someone rising from the dead. How cool is that?