Scripture: John 17:1-8
- Glorifying God (Jesus is the glory of God)
- Enjoying God forever (Jesus gives eternal life)
There are moments in our lives when someone older and wiser tells us something meaningful, but at the time we don’t fully appreciate what they mean – it’s not until sometime later that their words sink in with the help of the spade of experience
– I remember sitting by my grandfather’s bed as he was dying – his kidneys had failed and he was slowly drowning from the inside
– He said to me, ‘Son, life goes by so fast. It seems like just yesterday I was young and starting out. It all went so quickly.’
– At the time I was 24 and didn’t think too much of it
– ‘Life goes by so fast’ sounds like a cliché – it’s something older people often say to parents with young children, ‘It goes so quickly. Make the most of it while you’ve still got them’
– When I was a parent of young children it felt to me like time was slowing down – I welcomed the thought of the kids growing up so I could get a decent night’s sleep and not have to change nappies
– But looking back now the last 20 years has gone quickly
‘Life goes by so fast’. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate what my grandfather was trying to say
– There he was dying slowly and uncomfortably and yet he wasn’t thinking about that – his perspective was on the whole of life, not just the end
– He was considering the bigger purpose & meaning of life
– If 72 years seems short to a man whose days dragged long then that begs the question: Why are we here and what is the best way to use our time?
– When you get to the end you don’t want to be thinking, ‘I wasted it’
Today is the third Sunday in Lent
– Lent is traditionally a time when Christians prepare for Easter by remembering Jesus’ obedience to God the Father in going to the cross
– This remembering isn’t just a casual recall of the Easter story though
– Lent is an opportunity to get back in touch with the bigger purpose and meaning of life: Why am I here? Is it just for me and my own temporary concerns or is it for something bigger?
– Is it for Christ and things of an eternal nature?
The night before his crucifixion and death Jesus took his disciples aside and spoke with them to help them with what was coming
– The gospel of John chapters 13-17, also known as Jesus’ farewell discourse, capture much of that (death bed) conversation
– Probably the disciples didn’t fully appreciate all that Jesus was saying at the time but they would appreciate it in the days, weeks and years ahead
Please turn with me to John 17, page 140 toward the back of your pew Bibles
– John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus we have
– In this prayer Jesus takes a look at the bigger purpose and meaning of his life and how he has used his time on earth
– There is a lot going on in this prayer but in broad terms we could say that Jesus prays for three things: He prays for glory; He prays for his disciples; and he prays for us
– Today the message focuses on the first 8 verses of John 17, where Jesus prays for glory – both for himself and for God the Father
– From John 17, verses 1-8, we read…
After Jesus finished saying this, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you. 2 For you gave him authority over all people, so that he might give eternal life to all those you gave him. 3 And eternal life means to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, whom you sent. 4 I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do. 5 Father! Give me glory in your presence now, the same glory I had with you before the world was made.
6 “I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me. They have obeyed your word, 7 and now they know that everything you gave me comes from you. 8 I gave them the message that you gave me, and they received it; they know that it is true that I came from you, and they believe that you sent me.
May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us (and I paraphrase here)…
– The chief purpose of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever
– It is difficult to improve on that really
– This statement seems to capture in a nutshell what Jesus is talking about in the opening verses of his prayer in John 17
– There is certainly a lot of talk of glory on Jesus’ lips here
– What then does it mean to glorify God?
The word glory has to do with honour, distinction, esteem, beauty, splendour, magnificence, mana and the like
– Glory isn’t a word we New Zealanders are comfortable with – we tend to shy away from glory a bit – but to people in the ancient world the concept of glory was highly important
Now when we talk about ‘glorifying God’ we don’t mean adding to God’s honour and splendour and mana – God already has glory and there is nothing we can do to add to it (or take away from it)
– From a human perspective, ‘glorifying God’ means revealing something of God’s glory – so in glorifying God we’re not adding something to him we are simply showing others what is already there
If we think of God’s glory as a bank account – then in glorifying God we’re not depositing any more money to his account, it’s more like we are showing others his bank balance
We glorify God like a lightbulb glorifies a beautiful person
– If it is dark and the light is off you can’t see the person’s face let alone admire their beauty
– But when the light is switched on the person’s beauty is revealed
– The lightbulb doesn’t add anything to the person’s beauty – it simply helps others to see that beauty better
– Of course, as lightbulbs we don’t have any power in ourselves to give light – God is the one who gives us the electricity to shine
Or take this apple as another example: While it’s in the bowl you can’t see it, the glory of the apple is hidden from you
– For me to glorify this apple, I need to take it out of the bowl and hold it up for everyone to see
– But seeing an apple from a distance doesn’t really reveal the apple in all its glory – to properly glorify this apple I need to bring it close so you can smell it and taste it – because the glory of the apple is in its taste
– Obviously there is nothing I can do to make this apple taste better
– The most I can do is reveal its glory by giving you a piece to eat
It’s similar with glorifying God – I can’t improve on God’s glory
– The most I can do is offer you a piece of his glory to taste
– When we love one another, forgive one another, show patience with one another, share good things with one another, and so on, then we let others experience a small taste of God’s glory
– The thing is we can only really reveal God’s glory to the extent we have experienced (or tasted) it for ourselves
– It’s only when I eat God’s apples and enjoy them that I’m impelled to share some with you
Glory is a weighty thing – if something is glorious it has substance, it affects us, it moves us
– Consider the moon in the night sky for example
– On the face of it the glory of the moon is in its radiance
– Some nights the moon is more glorious than other nights
– The moon is perhaps at its most glorious (or most radiant) on a clear night when it is full and close to the horizon
– But it’s not just the sight of the moon that is glorious
– The moon’s glory is a weighty thing – whether we can see the moon or not it’s gravity is moving the oceans of the world, drawing the tide in and out twice a day
– There is nothing I can do to change the tide – all I can do is stand on the beach feel its power
It is similar with God – we can’t see God but we can feel the weight of his glory and power drawing whole nations here and there in accordance with his purpose
As the creator of all things – God is the one who gives the apple the glory of its taste and the moon the beauty of its radiance and the power of its gravity
In John 17 Jesus begins his prayer by saying…
– Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you…
The context of Jesus’ request is a Father / Son relationship, one in which Jesus the Son depends on God the Father for everything – his identity, his existence, his message, his everything
‘The hour has come’, refers to the hour of Jesus’ trial, suffering and death on the cross – so when Jesus talks about glory here it is with the cross in view
Jesus asks God to glorify him (the Son)
– At first glance this might seem a bit ego centric or selfish but it’s not – Jesus is asking an entirely reasonable and good thing
– Jesus is saying, make my suffering count – give it weight, reveal your love for the world (and our love for each other) through my death
– Because if I’m going through all this I want the tides of history to be moved by it – I want people’s hearts to be changed
God the Father and Jesus the Son are one – they are so closely connected that in asking for glory for himself Jesus is really asking glory for God too
– When a sports team wins against a difficult opponent, that reflects well on the coach
– When a river is clean, that reflects well on the people who live near that river
– When a plane lands safely on just one engine (or in a howling southerly in Wellington), that reflects well on the pilot
– When a 71 year old man at prayer greets a gunman with ‘hello bother’, that reflects well on his courage and humanity
– When a Prime Minister (and her people) respond with compassion & justice to a mass shooting, that reflects well on the whole country
– When God’s Son endures the suffering of the cross with dignity & grace, that reflects well on God the Father
In verse 4 Jesus has some more to say about glory…
– I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do.
What does it mean that Jesus has shown God’s glory on earth? How did Jesus do this? What is the work God gave Jesus to do?
The first thing Jesus did to reveal God’s glory was to become human – we call that the incarnation, when God became human in the birth of Christ
– This means that Jesus is, in fact, the glory of God in human form
– Jesus doesn’t just shine a light on God’s beauty, he is God’s beauty
– Jesus doesn’t just share the apple of God’s glory, so others can taste God’s goodness, Jesus is the apple
Returning to our apple in the bowl – when Jesus was born God’s glory was plucked from the tree of heaven and put in a bowl on earth
– Jesus, the very glory of God, stayed in the bowl hidden from sight for 30 years, until John the baptist lifted Jesus out of the bowl and said…
– ‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’
– This is the glory of God in human form
– Throughout his ministry Jesus taught the people and healed the people and forgave the people and delivered the people from all sorts of evil
– And each time he did that he cut off a little piece of himself so that those who believed in him could taste something of the glory of God
Now, at the hour of his death, Jesus had got down to the core of God’s glory – suffering out of love to save others – giving himself completely to redeem creation
In verse 5 Jesus asks God again saying…
– Father, give me glory in your presence now, the same glory I had with you before the world was made.
The obvious implication in these verses is that Jesus (the Son) was pre-existent with God the Father
– John has already said this at the beginning of his gospel when he wrote:
– Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God and he was the same as God.
– Jesus, the glory of God and the apple of God’s eye, is looking forward to returning to the tree of heaven
– Here on earth God’s glory is veiled – we can’t see God, although with the eyes of faith we can see where he has been, much like we can see where the rain has been because the grass is green and not brown
– In heaven though God’s glory is plain to see – there is no drought
There are two parts to the Westminster’s statement on the chief purpose of human beings:
– We’ve talked about the first part, of glorifying God
– The second part is enjoying God forever – which is rather a nice way of describing ‘eternal life’
Enjoying God forever:
In verse 3 Jesus says: And eternal life means knowing you, the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
We have to pay close attention here because this definition of eternal life goes beyond our normal categories
– For many years I thought eternal life simply meant time without end, so that one was immortal and never died
– And while living forever may be one by-product of eternal life it isn’t the star of the show
– Eternal life isn’t just quantity of life, it is more importantly quality of life
– And that quality of life comes from knowing God & Jesus
Now when Jesus talks about ‘knowing’ in this verse, he doesn’t just mean knowing something in your head – he means knowing it in your experience, knowing it, intimately, in the core of your being
– I might be able to learn some facts about someone by stalking them on Facebook – I might be able to find out when they were born, what their favourite colour is, how they spend their time, where they went on holiday, that sort of thing, but that doesn’t mean I know them
– To know someone I’ve actually got to meet them and spend time with them, listen to them, hang out with their friends, do life with them
– Then, after building a relationship with them, I can say I know them
– Eternal life is essentially a wonderful relationship in which we know God in our experience, as a friend, and enjoy Him forever
This means that eternal life isn’t just something a way off in the future after we die – if eternal life is a relationship with God then eternal life is something we can experience now, through Christ
Once again we note the close relationship between God and Jesus – they go together – we can’t know God the Father without knowing Jesus
– Jesus (the glory of God) shows us what God the Father is like
– Trying to have a relationship with God the Father without Jesus is like trying to use a computer without a keyboard or a screen – Jesus is the interface between God and humanity
– Trying to have a relationship with God the Father without Jesus is like trying to cross the ocean without a boat – God is infinite. Being ‘in Christ’ is what supports us and keeps us afloat in the sea of God’s love
– Trying to have a relationship with God the Father without Jesus is like trying to have a conversation without sharing a common language – Jesus is the Word of God (a language we can understand) by which we comprehend something of the mystery of God
In verses 6-8 Jesus gives us a few more clues about what it means to know God
I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me. They have obeyed your word, and now they know everything you gave me comes from you. I gave them the message that you gave me and they received it; they know that it is true that I came from you, and they believe that you sent me.
Jesus is talking about imparting eternal life to his disciples by making God known to them
– Of course a relationship is a two way thing – the disciples have to receive that knowledge, the penny has to drop for them, they have to get it
– And the key to getting it – the key to knowing God – is obeying Jesus
– It is with obedience that understanding and relationship forms
– This means that we have to obey in faith or in trust – we have to do what God asks without knowing for certain what the outcome is going to be
The disciples obeyed Jesus in faith – they left their work, their families and their homes to follow Jesus without knowing where it would lead
– But through that act of obedience they came to know God – they formed a friendship with God and with one another, through Jesus
– The kind of knowing that is in view here is not a scientific, evidence based knowing – it’s the kind of knowing which comes through obedience & belief
The classic Biblical story of knowing God through obedience and belief is the Exodus story
– When God instructed Moses to approach Pharaoh and ask for the Israelites’ freedom, Moses wasn’t that keen at first – he could see it was big ask
– It wasn’t until Moses obeyed God, and God delivered the people, that he knew God’s character
It was similar with the nation of Israel themselves
– Before the exodus from Egypt, Israel’s experience was one of suffering & oppression – the evidence for God’s care & concern for them was a fairy tale from the past – it wasn’t part of their present reality
– Before they could know that God cared for them – that he was a God of justice & compassion – they had to take a step of obedience in leaving Egypt
– Their obedience (like ours) was a faltering obedience and so they were 40 years in the wilderness learning to trust & obey God
– When it was time to leave the wilderness and enter the Promised Land, they had to take another step of obedience in crossing the Jordan River
– It wasn’t until they literally took that first step into the waters of the Jordan that the river stopped and they were able to cross
– But through that obedience the people knew that God was powerful and was with them as they entered Canaan
Eternal life is knowing (and enjoying) God in our personal experience
– We come to know God through believing in and obeying Jesus
– I expect many of you have your own stories of knowing God’s goodness and provision through faith & obedience
The purpose of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy him forever
Let us pray…
– Father God, glorify yourself we pray, especially through our suffering
– May Christ be lifted up in our life in both the ordinary & extraordinary
– May people taste & see that the Lord is good through their interaction us
– And may our relationship with you be a source of delight & enjoyment
– Through Jesus we pray. Amen.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
1.) What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
– Why do you think this stood out to you?
2.) What do you think of when you hear the word ‘glory’?
3.) What does it mean to glorify God?
– How might we glorify God in practical terms?
4.) Why does Jesus ask for glory for himself?
5.) How did Jesus glorify God?
– How is this different to how we might glorify God?
6.) What is eternal life?
– What does it mean to know God?
7.) What is the key to knowing God?
– Can you recall a time in your life when you obeyed God in faith and came to know him better? What happened?
8.) Take some time this week to enjoy God