2. The Birth of God’s New People
From the Side
St John records that at the crucifixion, when a soldier checks whether Jesus has indeed died, he thrusts a spear through our Lord’s side into His heart and out comes “Blood and Water” [John 19:34-35]. At first glance it may be assumed that John’s point in recording this incident is simply to confirm His death, which would then declare that Easter morning is truly a Resurrection.
However, in John’s first letter, he speaks of “the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood” as witnesses [I John 5:8]. With the addition of “the Spirit,” is there more to the “Blood and Water” than merely to confirm Jesus’ death?
Reading earlier in John’s Gospel, we come across two discussions, one dealing with “the Water,” the Nicodemus dialogue in chapter 3; and the other is the “Flesh and Blood” teaching in chapter 6. Coupled to these is “the testimony” of the Holy Spirit, “Who witnesses of Me” [15:26], and we see that chapter 19 echoes with “that the Scripture might be fulfilled” [19:24, 28, 36, and significantly v 37 “Him Whom they pierced”] – this testimony is rooted not in what seems good, but in the concrete substance of the given Word of God. In Covenant terminology, these “witnesses” are the “signs” which declare that the relationship with God is established and available.
We have arrived in the midst of “the Word and the Sacraments” of the New Covenant – that new relationship initiated at that Cross – and the call is very personal to us as individuals: “you must be born again … of Water and the Spirit” [3:7, 5]
We do not look, feel or appear any different after Baptism, yet something has indeed changed spiritually. In a very real sense we are a new species in the universe: St Peter describes it as “not of perishable seed, but of imperishable” [I Peter 1:23], “participants in the divine nature” [II 1:4]. This is to what the Old Testament Covenant could only allude in its concept of one Blood flowing between the Covenant-partners.
No, we don’t become God, but rather, as in the “participation” of Holy Communion, the Divinity that is Jesus enters into and unites Himself with us, just like when copper and zinc almost irreversibly become the alloy brass. Not only does Jesus “participate” with our humanity, but we also “participate” in the saving work that He does: crucified with Him, died with Him, live with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him. And in heaven, this also means we will sit with Him at the Father’s right hand – an eternity of this incredible privilege!
But this participation is far broader, since through Baptism, in Jesus all who are in this Covenant have a timeless and locationless unity and bond with each other which is unmatched by anything found in this world.
Children of God
It had been no afterthought, no modification of the plan “on-the-go,” but we have been chosen “in Him before the foundation of the world” [Ephesians 1:4], chosen to be adopted by the Creator Himself and nothing less, chosen because of His Love and Glory. It is “while we were still sinners … when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” [Romans 5:8,10]. It begins, as all matters of doctrine must be, Jehovah’s idea first and we are to do it because He insists on it.
It is all or nothing, no foster children, no probations – also using the word “adoption” is most significant for John and Paul’s readers: in their culture, the adopting parent could never back out, never disinherit, never forsake this child – in fact, the Father could never do to us what He had to do to His “natural” Son on the Cross. To them, using the term “adoption” is a powerful statement that the Lord will always “be there” for His children.
A rich young ruler wants to know what he can do to inherit eternal life. The answer is “Nothing!” That’s because at the Cross all has been done; however, only a child can inherit – or rather, an adopted child cannot but share in his Father’s inheritance. Still it is not as if such an inheritance is reluctantly doled out,
… in Love He destined us to the adoption of sons to Himself through Jesus Christ, according to the delight of His will, to the praise of the Glory of His grace in which He gave us grace in the Beloved – in Him we have redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us … Ephesians 1:4-8
However, to be a “child of God” can mean many different things to different people. But to call the Creator of the Universe, “Dad! [Abba!]” [Romans 8:15-17] with that degree of informality certainly must astound us. Yet that is the term that Paul uses. Now obviously the term can be used respectfully or with insolence, but used respectfully, we can “with confidence draw near to the Throne of Grace” [Hebrews 4:16]. And because we are “wrapped up in Jesus” or as Paul is fond of saying it, “in Christ,” the Father’s response is “My Child, My Beloved in Whom I am well-pleased!” [Matthew 3:17; 17:5] – because He sees only Jesus.
A family is more than just Parent and child – there are brothers and sisters! Yes, unfortunately as one of our district presidents remarked, we are called a family because we can and do fight like brothers and sisters. Yet there is a network of family that reaches around the world and throughout all the ages – one often does not have to go far to encounter a fellow member of God’s household – there is help that surrounds us. It may be a physical help or a spiritual one,...