…isn’t the sword-wielding, swashbuckling, pirate-swallowing story you remember. It’s actually a beautiful adoption story. It’s about family.
Peter lives in Neverland with a tribe of lost boys, who had become orphans for various reasons. Peter rescued them and took them off to Neverland, where they lived as mischievously as they like.
In a particular turn of events, three children who are beloved children of an upstanding family—Wendy, John, and Michael—were allowed to fly away to Neverland, themselves. They weren’t orphans; they had a father and mother at home who loved them. For a time, they stayed in Neverland, and Wendy becomes a caregiver to all the orphaned boys, caring for them as a mother would her biological children.
When they first arrived in Neverland, the boys wanted to kill Wendy, but eventually, their heart’s cry came out; they just wanted to be part of a family. You see it in how they allowed Wendy to take on a mother’s role, even though she was only a very young woman herself.
Eventually, as all the drama of Pirates, Crocodiles, and Mermaids comes to completion, the lost boys were all brought back home and adopted by different families. Their new parents raised them to be upstanding citizens who took on respectable jobs and began their own families.
One of the underlying themes of Peter Pan is rebellion and redemption. Our hearts yearn for rebellion at times. But what we need is to be part of something bigger. In Peter Pan, that meant being part of a family. Redemption means becoming part of the goodness that we know in our heart-of-hearts underlies all of the pain, agony, and wickedness in this world.
It took Wendy, someone who understood what true goodness and real family was like, to break Peter’s spell on the lost boys. Properly speaking, Peter is the devil character in the story. He never went home, and he didn’t want the lost boys to be adopted either. No orphan could have ever brought the lost boys home to be adopted; it took a real, valued, and loving child to show them the way.
That’s the story of the Bible too. In the Bible, we learn that no one can lead us to our Father in heaven except for Jesus. Why? Because it takes a true Son to lead us to our Father. In other words…
Jesus is the Son of God so that we can become sons of God.
You could say that the Son of God story is not just about Jesus. It is more so about God the Father adopting us into his family as sons of God.
Let’s begin by talking about…
Jesus as the Son of God and The Doctrine of the Trinity
Today, my topic was supposed to be the doctrine of the trinity, which is an enormous amount of teaching that I shouldn’t tackle in a single week. The trinity is the idea that God is a singular deity who reveals Himself to us in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. I chose to focus on the doctrine of the Son of God. In the early church, controversies sprung up around the deity and humanity of Jesus. That controversy was the beginning of the Trinity’s development, but the ultimate issue was the doctrine of the Son of God.
We see it in the letters of the Apostle Paul and the book of Hebrews. Some people were teaching that God awarded Jesus divinity because he lived a righteous life. Others were teaching that Jesus was only divine and was only appearing as a human to give the impression that he was a human. The Bible teaches that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Possibly the most crucial issue in the early church creeds was to demonstrate the teaching that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
The Gospel writers emphasize Jesus’s humanity in the Christmas story as Jesus is conceived by the virgin Mary and raised as a human child. Jesus interacted with many people in the Gospel accounts. They saw Jesus as fully human, which was the foundation of their issue. He appeared to be the Jewish Messiah, but they weren’t expecting someone so commonly human. The author of the letter to the Hebrews also emphasized the necessity of Jesus’s humanity. Jesus’s humanity is the theological foundation for Jesus’s sympathy for the weaknesses of humankind.
But Jesus is also a deity and not just any god. The Apostle Paul told the Colossians that Jesus is the precise image of the invisible Father. The Apostle John emphasized that Jesus was the one who spoke all things into being in the beginning. And Jesus himself alluded to the reality that he is ʾADŌNĀY YHWH, the Lord GOD of the Old Testament.
The Bible’s story centers around the characters that we call God’s sons. This is…
The Story of the Sons of God
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then God said, “Let us make humankind in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a). On the day that God created humankind, he made it in the likeness of God (Genesis 5:1b).
Humankind was God’s first Son. Moses personified humankind in the Bible’s creation story with a fun play on words. The Hebrew word for humanity is ʾĀDĀM or Adam. Humans were the first physical creation of God that had personhood—different from plants and animals—thus, we are God’s first Son.
As the story unfolded, Adam chose to defy God, his Father. Adam’s wife Eve was enticed and deceived by a divine serpent that was in the Garden. Adam, alongside Eve, ate the forbidden fruit. The result was dreadful. They were judged and found guilty, banished from the lifegiving Garden Paradise, their Father’s house. Humankind, Adam, was disowned by God.
But a father never ceases to love his sons, even when his sons are disobedient and leave his house. So, God called Israel to be His Son. God caused the man Israel to become a great nation and continue the work that God initially appointed to Adam. God even delivered Israel into a Promised Land, a new Father’s House for the prosperity of God’s Son, Israel.
But Israel went the way of Adam. Israel always sought gods who are not God. Although God disciplined his son Israel over-and-over for not living faithfully in God’s house, God was patient with Israel.
Sometimes the love of a Father is manifest in the determination, “Son, you can no longer live this way under my roof.” Eventually, God allowed foreign nations to take Israel out of His House, the Promised Land. Israel was dragged away into exile in foreign countries.
Adam couldn’t do it. Israel couldn’t do it. God wanted a family, and the family he created refused to live in his house. But God loves Adam. God loves Israel. So God sent His only Son (John 3:16) to rescue Adam, humankind, from destruction and bring him back into the Father’s House.
We should try not to get hung up on the word only. How did God have only one Son if he created many sons in Adam, in Israel, in humankind? It is because Jesus, the Son of God, is God’s Son from eternity. God did not make the Son from the dust of the earth like Adam, but apart from creation, Jesus is the Son of God—the only Son who always was, always is, and always will be.
It is this Son who came to save us. He lived a life that, in every way, honored his Father. At the will of His Father, he took the death that we deserve to die upon himself. When our sinfulness destined us to die as disobedient sons, Jesus died so that we could live.
We can again be sons, children of God. A father never ceases to love his sons, even when his sons are disobedient. Our Father has made a way for us to come home: Jesus.
Jesus told a story about this. Luke recorded the story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.
A Father had two sons. The youngest Son may as well be named Adam. He lived as a prince on his Father’s vast estate, but he looked into the world around him, and the fruit of the world enticed him. Adam came to believe that he could make a name for himself. He didn’t need his Father’s noble name anymore. So, Adam asked his Father for an early inheritance to build a life for himself while still very young.
An early inheritance was a very peculiar request as the Father was yet living. But, the Father agreed to do so and sent him on his way. He knew full-well what would happen, but he refused to be heavy-handed in his love for his youngest Son. Instead, he allowed him the choice to do as he pleased, praying that his Son would return. The oldest Son—we will call him Israel—became bitter against his Father but was likely pleased that his pesky younger brother was gone for good.
As the story progresses, Adam did as His Father knew he would. He squandered his wealth. Indeed, Adam was living the high life, wine, women, song. He intended to build his Kingdom. That was the plan when he left home, but now the money was gone. And without the money, his friends were gone. Without anything, living in a foreign land, Adam found that his hope was gone.
Would Adam lay low his head and travel home? Certainly not. Pride prevailed, and Adam thought he could still work his way up from nothing. He heard of a local pig farmer who needed a hired hand. Adam set his mind to the task. He would secure the job and work his way up. One day he would have his pig farm and from there his Kingdom.
I sense the excitement of Adam, dreaming of his glorious future as he envisioned his first paycheck. Do you remember your first job and dreaming about your first paycheck? The paycheck is never as impressive in reality as we envision. It doesn’t go as far as you thought. Instant success with little effort is not the way of this world—at least not always, and not for everyone.
The pig farm was not as glorious as it seemed. It was precisely as glorious as it sounds. It was a pig farm. The pig farmer was no gem of an employer. Adam found himself so impoverished at the pig farm that he was literally and figuratively wading through the mud and mire of life, his shattered dreams reduced to a desire to eat just a few of the pods he was feeding to pigs.
Humiliated by his life decisions, Adam bowed his head low, humbled himself, and began the journey home. What would his Father say? What would his Father do? He prepared over and over in his head his homecoming speech. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers” (Luke 15:18–19).
Approaching his family’s estate and yet still a long way off, the Father saw him. Even at such a great distance, he knew the form and contours of his Son’s body. He could recognize his Son anywhere, anyway, anyhow.
A father never ceases to love his sons, even when his sons make terrible decisions. The Father ran to Adam. Almost in tears, Adam began his simple yet precise speech, “Father, I have sinned…”.
His Father cut him short, calling ironically on his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe, put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast because this Son of mine was dead and is alive again; I lost him, and now I have found him!” (Luke 15:22–24).
They began to celebrate the return of Adam with a great feast. But the older son, Israel, was not content to do so. He remained in the field, bitter that his punk brother came home. He was angry that his Father showed compassion. Hadn’t Israel been faithful? What does he get for all his hard work? Shouldn’t Israel get a party? Israel could not see that he was always in his Father’s house, and the feast was for him. So, Israel chose to stay away and not to enter into the celebration.
In deed, Adam and Israel are very different, but at heart, Israel was not unlike Adam when he left his Father’s Home. Israel wanted his way, not the way of the Father.
By nature, we are Adam at the pig farm. Humanity left the Father’s house at its inception, so we are born at the pig farm, toiling away our lives, hoping that we will get a break one day. Sometimes we do, but only to fall into the mud and mire again.
At times we are distraught because of life. At other times, we’re so hopeful, encouraged, and thankful that the pig farmer promises us prosperity—you can be anything you want to be!—but we are oh-so-disappointed when the empty promises don’t come to pass. We never make it out of the pig stalls.
At other times we’re Adam after he has come home. We revel in the joy, peace, and providence of God our Father. We know that we are sons, Princes, children of the Almighty.
And sometimes we’re Israel, the older Son. We have been in our Father’s house for so long that we have lost our joy of return. We’ve wandered out of the celebration. We altogether forget the pig farm as if it were shadow memories of a former life. And we forgot how hard it is to come home. It gets so difficult to have compassion for those still at the pig farm, and we don’t want to celebrate those who come home. Even worse, we may not like to invite others out of the pig farm and into the Kingdom of our Father. But, what are we to do as sons if not to do our Father’s work in calling many sons to glory?
There’s a third son that the story does not mention because the third Son is the storyteller. Properly speaking, this Son is the only Son, Jesus. Jesus is neither Adam nor Israel. He is the Son who never left the Father, always has been in the Father, and always will be at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the Son, who consistently celebrates the adoption of many sons and daughters. He is the Son who brings many sons to the glory of the Father.
Jesus’s heart is for Adam, humankind. It takes a change of heart for humankind to come home to the Father. Let’s explore…
The Heart of the Sons of God
Atheism is talked about as if it is the de facto religion of modern society. It’s not. The opposite of believing in God is to believe in no-god. But the opposite of Christianity is actually the worship of gods who are not God. It’s to elevate human ideas and principles as gods and worship (attentively obey) these human ideas.
Atheism is hardly a concern of mine. Virtually everyone I talk to about spiritual things believes in a god or some kind of greater power. I’ve met very few people who authentically believe in nothing spiritual or godlike.
People believe in a god because God put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). When you believe in a god, you believe in moral absolutes. We have a name for people who don’t believe in moral absolutes. We call them sociopaths. Presumably, we formed value systems that govern our moral actions because of human nature and sociological development. No matter what we call it, we believe in something bigger than ourselves, and that bigger something influences our moral values.
Because everyone believes in morality, it seems to me that everyone also believes in sin. Not everyone defines sin on biblical grounds. But ask just about anyone to tell you their personal ‘10 Commandments’ and then ask how well they keep them. Not only do we fail to keep God’s laws as humans, but we seem to have a problem with order generally. No matter what law we follow, we inevitably veer off into chaos and lawlessness. In other words, by any definition of sin you prefer, all humans are sinners.
And that sounds utterly hopeless, so we tend to believe in second chances. Who doesn’t believe in second chances? Sometimes we’ll have rules about second chances. Especially when we can give fair warning, we can say, “I love you if…,” but at the heart of things, when we have affection for people, we’ll put up with an awful lot of second, third, and fourth chances.
Besides, we know how desperately we need second chances. Even if you don’t want to give grace and forgiveness to other people, you still want it for yourself. Right? You know that your eternity is utterly hopeless if you don’t believe God offers second chances, so it’s easy to believe in grace and mercy. We’re eager to receive grace and mercy. We want and need second chances. You have to want it; otherwise, you would spiral off in despair and end your hopeless life.
We believe in sin, and we hope for grace. Most people agree on those things. What we disagree on is how second chances work. There are two kinds of grace that show up in the philosophy of second chances.
The first is the default thinking of most humans. When you’re a toddler and begin to walk, you fall a lot. But, your parents, every time you fall down, pick you up and brush you off. They stand you up on two feet and say, “Try again! You can do it!” Second, third, fourth, nearly infinite chances! Eventually, you walk.
That’s all well and good if you can do it. The problem is you can’t do it. That’s the story of Adam. That’s the story of Israel. “Please, God, we can do better!” And then they don’t. “Please, Dad, let me move back home. I’ll do better!” And then you don’t. You toil and labor in life, on and on, but try as you might, you just can never do this life right on your own.
I’m not saying we haven’t gotten anything right as humankind, just that we cannot ever do good enough. Sin entices, deceives, and distorts reality so that you will always find yourself off the path of righteousness.
The greater grace is the grace that comes when you humbly come before God and confess, “I’ve tried, and I can’t.” That’s the humility that the Son had when he returned to the Father after his complete failure. You come to Jesus and confess that you couldn’t live the perfect life, that you have sinned against God and humankind. And because Jesus lived the perfect life, we are called to receive a greater gift of grace. What is this gift of greater grace? “To all who receive him, he gave the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12).
The way Home isn’t through trying hard. The way home for the lost boys was Wendy. She knew what it meant to be a child of the Father. Through Wendy, the lost boys found a new Father. Jesus knows how to live as the Son of God. Through Jesus, you find a way to the Father. That’s what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the Son of God so that we can become God’s children.
It takes humility. Younger sons compete with older sons; they don’t humble and bow before them. But that’s what God has called us to. We humble ourselves in confessing, “I can’t.” Humility is when you’re so low you have no choice but to take the hand of Jesus and come home to the Father’s house. Stop trying to work your way up from the pig farm. You can’t do it. There’s a glass ceiling, and when you hit it, it throws you back down the stairwell, back to the mailroom, and back to the pig hovel. But by the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Father calls you home.
In your new home, you will live a new life. This is…
The Life of the Sons of God
Spiritually speaking, your life doesn’t begin when you are born from your mother’s womb, but when you are born again spiritually into God’s family. Your life begins when you come home to the Father, and you’re ready to live the life that God has designed you to live. The cruel irony of life is that we all want to know our purpose and the meaning of life, but we’re not willing to give up the one thing that we need to find purpose: ourselves.
Self-actualization begins by denying the self.
That’s why people spend their entire lives trying to figure out who they are and never figure anything out.
Jesus said, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it” (Matthew 10:39). If you think you figured life out, get ready to be disappointed. But, if you humble yourself and give up your life in giving your life over to Jesus, then you will gain life—a real-life, a satisfying life, an eternal life.
The challenge is simple: Come Home. How do you do that? You believe what the Bible teaches, the message about Jesus. And then you commit to Jesus that your life belongs to him and him alone. It’s the belief with the familial loyalty to God our Father.
As the Apostle Paul put it, “If your confession is, ‘Jesus as Lord,’ and you have the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved from what? John 3:16: from perishing, from death. In other words, you don’t have life until you gain life in God’s House as God’s child. And that life is life, forever.
When you gain life, you begin to live your life. How so? You live your new life as a child of God by living as the Son of God. Isn’t that the point of all of this? Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live to make us children of God. Now that he has given us that life we always wanted, now we live that life. God didn’t design elephants so they can live like turtles. He didn’t make sons of God so they can live like sons of the devil. Live in righteousness. Live in love. Live in generosity. If you are a child of God, then live a life that sacrifices this world’s perishing things to give eternally life-giving hope to humankind.
The Apostle Paul would have us to ‘strive to obtain the perfection that Jesus first foresaw in us’ (Philippians 4:12). In other words, Jesus sees the moral perfection you will eventually receive.
We work diligently in life for what God has promised we will receive as God’s children. Our future hope drives the way we live right now. As Jesus is the exact imprint (or image, or reflection) of the Father, we too strive to be like Him in every way.
In all the striving, I give one fair warning as I close this message. Don’t forget the orphanage. Don’t forget the lost boys. Don’t forget the pig farm. Don’t be the older brother who despises the blessing the Father pours out on the humble, humiliated, and hopeless.
Don’t forget that you once were lowly and desperate, without hope. The world is filled to overflowing with young zealous would-be pig farmers who can’t seem to work their way out of the mud and mire. If you have taken Jesus’s hand and left the pig farm, then you know the way. “My Father is working to this very day, so I am working” (John 5:17). Your Father is working to adopt and perfect disobedient children into his eternal family, so you too should be working to lead them home.
Someone called you out. Someone pointed you towards Jesus as a way back to the Father, and you took Jesus’s hand, and the Father ran to you and welcomed you home. It might have been a parent or a friend. It might have been a teacher. It might have been a street preacher. Someone proclaimed the way, and you humbled yourself. You left the humiliation of the pig farm to head down the road to the Father. The Father has found you. Now you are called to be the image of your Father and point others down that same road.
Jesus said to his followers, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). You are sent to the pig farm to lead the workers home. Point them towards Jesus so that they too might find the way to the Father’s House and receive the right to be called child, Son, daughter, of God our Father. c
The words of Jesus: “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Also, believe in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. Would I have told you that I will prepare a place for you if my Father did not have so much room for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and bring you to me, so that where I am, you will also be. You know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1–4).