Real life - John 17:1-5

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 21st March 2004.

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You never quite know when it is going to hit you. It might be when a relationship breaks up or when the exam results are not quite as you had hoped. Sometimes it comes upon you for no apparent reason- completely out of the blue. It certainly did with Winston Churchill, he called it, ‘ his black dog’. What am I talking about? Well, I am talking about that feeling we all have from time to time of dejection and despair- call it the blues if you like. That is when you look to someone outside of you just to give you that little bit encouragement you need to keep on going. The trouble is, there is not always someone around to do that- no one ,that is, except God. A friend once wrote to the Russian writer, Dostoevsky, about her feelings of depression and he responded by saying that he knew exactly what she felt like from his own personal experience, but then went on to say this: ‘Yet God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm; at those instants I love and feel loved by others, and it is at these instants that I have shaped for myself a Credo where everything is clear and sacred for me. This Credo is very simple. Here it is: to believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic , reasonable, manly and more perfect than Christ; and I tell myself with a jealous love not only that there is nothing but that there cannot be anything.’ In other words, Dostoevsky was captured and sustained by a personal relationship with Jesus. Here was a person in history who had perfect integrity- his works matched his words, his actions were completely one with this attitudes. And yet he is also someone who transcends history- the one who claimed to be the author of life, has the ability to impart new life now. That is what Dostoevsky experience. And what we see in the last few chapters of John’s Gospel is the most wonderful presentation and explanation as to how this is so; how a person who lived in the first century has the ability to startle and encounter people living in 21st century. So in chapters 13- 17 of John we see the perfection of Jesus. In chapter 13 we see his perfect practice- he puts a towel around his waste and washes filthy stinking feet which only the lowest of the low would do. In chapters 14- 16 we hear his perfect preaching as with the most touching tenderness he explains to his followers what is about to happen on the cross and how against all odds they will reach a hostile world with his love. But then in chapter 17 we listen in to his perfect prayer. And as we do so we are given a window into Jesus’ soul. This is where we hear the very heartbeat of the Son of God, what moves him, and how he prays for people like you and me to be caught up into the very life and purposes of the God who made us and redeems us. So if you want to know why on earth you are here then do turn with me to John chapter 17.

The first thing that strikes us is the shock of Jesus prayer : ‘After Jesus had said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." Now the shock is that to our modern ears this sounds so egotistical and self-indulgent doesn’t it? What would you think if I prayed to God, ‘Glorify Melvin Tinker’? Well, that I had lost it. Of course when a mere man sounds off like that we aren’t too impressed are we? Take for example, the French Philosopher Rousseau, who is largely responsible for many of the ills which beset modern education. He wrote : ‘ The person who can love me as I can love is still to be born.’ ‘ No one ever had more talent for loving.’ ‘I was born to be the best friend that ever existed.’ ‘Posterity will honour me.’ ‘I rejoice in myself.... my consolation lies in my esteem.’ You know, he believed that every town in France should have built a statue in his honour. Obviously his mother never said the word ‘no’ to him when he was a little boy. But the reason why we recoil from such self-glorification (although we all indulge in it from time to time) is that instinctively we know it is inappropriate for humans to behave like this. It is a little like a third rate student saying to his lecturer, ‘I will teach the class today- you take a rest’. Who does he think he is? The lecturer by right has that ‘glory’ to teach, the student doesn’t. Well, it is like that with us and God. What is totally out of order for us as creatures is quite in order for God as Creator. And notice what Jesus says, ‘Father glorify your Son’. This is not just any man- this is God the Son who shares the divine glory, so it is his by right.

But God’s glory is not like our glory in any case. Our tends to be self- centred- a ‘look at me’ glory. God’s glory is other centred, a ‘giving away’ glory. You see, the word used in the OT to describe glory is ‘kabod’. It carried with it the notion of weightiness, substance or even a radiance which invariably creates an overwhelming impression. The same goes for the Greek word used here, ‘doxa’. It is the manifestation of God’s supreme power and luminous presence. When you see a bride walking down the aisle radiating beauty, her very presence creates an impression on the people around her causing their heads to turn. What are they doing? They are responding to her ‘glory’. Multiply that by infinity and then you will have some idea of what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of God’s glory. But he reveals his glorious presence for the benefit of others. Psalm 19 says ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ - there is a reflection of his genius, artistry, and beauty in what he has made so that we can enjoy it and know that he is there to be worshipped and enjoyed too. In the book of Exodus the glory of God is displayed in the miraculous signs and wonders he performed whereby he rescued his people. When the tabernacle is built and later the temple, God’s glory descended upon them signifying his presence amongst his people. It is a comforting thing to know that God is with you. In other words his glory is ‘given away’ so that those he has made can benefit from it. And how that applies to us today is really the outworking of the rest of what Jesus prays . So let’s turn to the shape of Jesus prayer

We are faced with three questions. First, How is the Son glorified by the Father? The answer is given in v 5, ‘ And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ Jesus has a conscious memory of having an existence with God before the world came into being. I am getting to the stage where I can’t remember what I did last week! A mere man does not say the sort of thing Jesus has just said.. An angel would not say this sort of thing, only God would say it. This means that before the first pecosecs when this universe exploded into being; before the first supernova cascaded in power and the galaxies were formed- there was not nothing- there was God the Son enjoying the pure unalloyed divine glory which he shared with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Eternity past was pulsating with the blinding white light of Trinitarian glory and the one who we now know as Jesus of Nazareth was part of that. And that is what Jesus is asking to take up again- that glory. As God coming from eternity, he is going to be God in eternity. When the Father enables him to enter into heaven and to sit with him on the throne which occupies the centre of the universe- then he will be glorified. That, my friends is the Jesus we worship tonight. He is robed in incandescent glory. It is a wonderful being into whose presence we have come. Let us remember that when we meet like this.

This leads us on to the next two questions: ‘ How does the Son glorify the Father? And why can’t he fully glorify the Father until he himself has been glorified by returning to heaven?’

The way the Son glorifies the Father in heaven is bound up with Jesus’ work of salvation on earth. Look at v2, ‘For (literally ‘Just as’) you granted him (the Son) authority over all flesh that he might give eternal life to those you have given him.’ So the Father is honoured, his person is glorified when people receive eternal life. What is that? Jesus tells us- v3, ‘ Now this is eternal life: that they may know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ Eternal life isn’t the same as endless life, a timeless extension of this one- who wants that? Coronation street and Eastenders going on and on for ever-that is the other place! It is more of an enrichment of a quality of life which begins in this life and is consummated in the next life. And it is all to do with knowing God, which means knowing Jesus and you cannot know the former without knowing the latter because the Son is the revelation of the Father.

You know, people ask: What is the purpose of life? Well, just think about it. What have been your most precious moments, the times when you have felt life was worth living? Was it not when you were having a good relationship- being in the company of someone you love, having a group of friends around, having a son or a daughter- that is when life takes on a whole new dimension. Why? Because we were made for relationships. It is when we are alone, when relationships are broken that the time drags and we despair. Now the Bible teaches that originally we were made to have a relationship with God. You see it there in Eden. God walking in the garden, Adam openly talking with him, it is a rich and beautiful picture- a picture of life. It is when Adam breaks his relationship with God in sin that there is death- not just physical death which comes later, but spiritual death which comes immediately- the man and woman hide from God. The relationship is as good as dead. Although there is still biological life, there is no spiritual life, no eternal life. And we have all been doing the same ever since. That is precisely what Jesus came to sort out. We can’t make contact with God, so God makes contact with us by becoming one of us. As Jesus says earlier on chapter 14:6 ‘ I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me you would know the father as well. from now on you know him and have seen him’. How? Because we have seen Jesus. As we come to know Jesus we come to know God- not just know about him, but know him, and as we come to know him, we have eternal life- a living relationship.

Now this is so important when we think about other religions. The fact that we use the same word ‘god’ does not mean we are all talking about the same being, because different religions mean different things by the word. Professor Stephen Neil, who was one of the world’s greatest missionary thinkers puts it like this: ‘ It is often assumed that the word god is univocal, that it means the same to all people at all times. This is certainly not the case.... When a Christian uses the word ‘God’ the meaning is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and nothing else. Until we have seen Jesus we have not seen God in all the fullness of that which can be known of him.’ So God is not found in an abstract philosophy but in an historical person- Jesus. As God walked in the garden in Genesis he walks the earth in the Gospels. As God spoke to Adam face to face, he speaks to us ‘face to face’ in Jesus. As God provided protective clothing to cover the shame of the man and the woman because of their sin which involved the sacrifice of an animal, God now clothes us in the righteous garment of Jesus which involved his sacrifice on a cross.

And all of these things are caught up in what Jesus goes on to say in v4, ‘ I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you have given me to do.’ This involves looking backward to his life of revelation and forward to his coming death of salvation. Let me explain.

In his life he stamped the world with the indelible glory of God, leaving a lasting impression upon whomever he encountered. His first followers responded to his call as an act of intuitive obedience long before they fully understood who he was. His teaching stunned audiences with its note of authority that belied his social background. His disciples reeled back in amazement at the implications of his words stilling the storm. A woman caught red- handed in adultery was staggered to find herself protected rather than killed. But that is what you get when God is in your midst- the God of the OT who is described as being ‘gracious, long suffering and abounding in steadfast love’ now has a human face in the NT-Jesus. And the imprint of that same divine glory in Jesus in which people come to know God as Father and who in turn have their lives transformed so leaving the world a much better place than when they came into it, is still with us. Someone once put it like this: ‘All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the life of man as that one solitary life.’ You cannot overestimate the impact of Jesus on this planet and you cannot explain it either except that he is God and we have seen his glory.

So if it is in his life and death that the Son glorifies the Father, why then does Jesus pray in such a way that until he goes back to heaven he cannot fully glorify the Father? Well think of it like this: Just supposing that after the resurrection that was it. How would we know anything about Jesus? That was over 2000 years ago in some crummy corner of the Roman Empire. How would we have access to knowledge about him? Because remember, unless we do know him we cannot know God. Well, you say, his disciples would tell others about him. True, but they got plenty of things wrong while Jesus was with them so what are the chances of them getting things right after he had gone? The answer: not that much! But just supposing they did manage to tell others about Jesus and do it pretty accurately? What guarantee is there that the people will hear it properly? More to the point, if the portrait the Bible paints of human beings is true, that we are by nature spiritually blind and rebellious, what are the chances of anyone being willing and able to believe? Again the answer is: not that much! You see, for the Son to be known and so for the Father to be glorified, what he has said and done has to be faithfully recorded. What is more, if anyone is to believe then the truth of what he has said and done has to be applied to people’s hearts -and all of this, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit. And since only God can send God as it were, like the Father sent Jesus, so only when Jesus takes up his rightful place again as the ruler of the Universe in heaven can he send God the Holy Spirit- and so ensure these things do take place and his Father is glorified as people come to know Jesus. And so we have the Spirit and Jesus’ prayer. In fact Jesus has already been talking about this. How can we be sure that what the disciples write down about Jesus is what he wants them to write down and so we can really get to know him? Because he sends the Holy Spirit, 16: 13, ‘When he, the Spirit of truth comes , he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. he will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you.’ How can we be sure that people will recognise what Jesus has done and be convicted? Again because Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, 16:7 ‘ I tell you the truth: it is good for me to go away (talking about returning to heaven via the cross). Unless I go away the Counsellor will not come, but if go I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement.’ So when Jesus the King is enthroned in heaven, he sends his Royal Holy Spirit to glorify him and when he is glorified the Father is glorified because people experience his kingly rule in their lives. That is why Jesus prays what he prays. Do you see that?

Now, there could not be a more urgent or relevant truth for our age than this. We know so much and yet know so little. Our knowledge of how the world works is immense. Our knowledge of what the world is for is paltry. Our data banks are loaded with technical know-how, while our world has become bankrupt of know- why. Even as we solve the problems we cannot solve the greatest problem which is ourselves. We have tried to shut God out of his universe, declaring him to be an irrelevance, a myth and we are left floundering looking for meaning. His morality in the ten commandments we spurn as passand what we have put in their place -personal pleasure at all costs- is simply destroying the fabric of society.

If you are not a Christian here tonight then I genuinely feel for you because you are never going to be fulfilled-never. Rightly you will follow your instinct in looking for meaning in relationships- that is why the TV series Friends has tapped into something quite deep about today’s world. But you will be looking in the wrong relationships and you will put them under intolerable strain expecting them to delivers something they can never deliver and you will not only be hurt you will also be doing some of the hurting.. And maybe you have found that already. You have tried the sex, you have had one relationship after another and you still feel pretty disappointed. Am I not right? Then listen to what Jesus prays for you in v3. That you will come back to God having a relationship with him through his Son which will not let you down and which will go on for ever.

And if you are a Christian let me say this: for you and I to get caught up in Jesus prayer is a personal commitment to evangelism. Do you want to see the Father glorified? Then you must commit yourself to introducing people to his Son. That is evangelism- supporting it through prayer, through giving and through doing it yourself- a word here, another word there. Our world is dying for the lack of knowledge of God. People are falling into a Christless eternity for want of knowing Christ. And if in his last moments on earth Jesus could make this the burden of his prayer, then it behoves us to make it the burden of our lives. Let us pray.

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