God as he is - John 17:1-26
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I would like you to imagine that during the next few minutes we all get kidnapped. I know it’s a happy thought to consider but just suppose that before church ends today every single one of us is bundled into a van and driven to large warehouse. On the way our kidnappers inject us with a drug, which causes us to fall asleep and which completely clears our memory. A few hours later we regain consciousness and find ourselves in the middle of a room without any doors or windows. Initially no one speaks. But after a while a young man in the corner decides to break the awkward silence. “I’ve been thinking,” he says, “about what’s outside these walls. I’m not an expert but I’m pretty convinced that if we could get outside we would come into contact with huge pink elephants.” “Nonsense,” says one of the older ladies in the smart dress. “I’ve been feeling the vibe and it seems to me that small green monkeys live just beyond these walls.” A man in the corner starts to laugh. “How sad,” he says. “There is nothing outside. In fact, there is no outside. This is all there is. Face the facts. Look at what you’ve done. You can’t handle the truth. You’ve simply invented a belief to make your life more significant than it really is.”
Now at this point in the discussion we cannot verify who is right. Each of the three individuals may speak with confidence and passion but with no access to the outside world their statements are, at best, merely sincere opinions. However, just suppose that as we ourselves begin to contemplate the outside world we hear a scrapping noise from the ceiling. It is rather quiet at first, easy to miss, but then, before our very eyes, a chunk of the ceiling caves in. Not surprisingly, the whole group is captivated by this new sight and so we stare at the ceiling. As we watch, a ladder is lowered down and a person appears at the top and then climbs down to the bottom. He smiles and then says, “I have come from the outside to tell you what is on the other side of these four walls.” Now at this point who should we listen to? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? There is no question who knows what they are talking about. Once the visitor arrives in the room sincere opinion is replaced with confidence truth. Most people believe the different world religions are simply offering their sincere opinions about the nature of God. They may contradict each other but if there is no way of verifying the statements they make then each religion must be treated as a legitimate option in the supermarket of life. In this scenario no one can claim exclusivity. And if they do they should be labeled as arrogant. So what about the Christian faith? Why do Christians affirm that a personal commitment to Jesus is the only way to be rescued from the danger the face we face? Well, it’s because we believe that Jesus was not simply another religious dreamer but was the person from the ‘outside’ who came to reveal what God is like. So the guessing games are over. Because of Jesus we can know with confidence who made us and who looks after us.
The Trinity was not invented by a group of Christians in the 4th Century. It was revealed by Jesus when he came from heaven to live on the earth 2000 years ago. Now when most of us concentrate on the Trinity we tend to think about how the Trinity relate to us. We ask questions like, “Who should we pray to?” Should we always pray to the Father or is it good practice to pray to the Son or to the Holy Spirit? It’s an important question to consider but do you see what type of question it is? Yes we are discussing the Trinity, which is a great thing to do, but in this discussion we are talking about the Trinity in relation to us. Now this morning I want to do something slightly different. Rather than focusing on how each of the Three Persons of the Godhead relate to us I want to consider how each of the Three relate to one another.
Now it’s not immediately obvious how such a sermon is relevant to how we live our lives so before we investigate the treasures contained in John 17 let me flag up why it’s important that we know something of how the members of the Trinity relate to each other. Way back in Genesis chapter 1 we are told the amazing truth that human beings are not here by chance. We are not cosmic accidents but have been designed on purpose by a cosmic creator. And this is how we were created. Genesis 1:26 (And this is our Creator speaking): “Let us make man [humanity] in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Now do you see the significance of this? God has made humanity to be like himself. So just as there is one God who exists as a divine community, there is one humanity which consists of many people.
Crucial question: How are the members of the human race to behave towards each other? Well, today the golden rule seems to be, “Do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” That is the philosophy that many people in Britain choose to live by. Seems obvious that this isn’t the way to live. The outcome of such behaviour is not a pretty picture, is it? But how can we know for such how we are to interact with each other? Well, only by understanding how each of the Three Persons of the Trinity relate to each other. You see if we have been created in the image of God and God is a Trinity of three Persons, then our interaction with each other must be based on their interaction with each other. When it’s not life will be a disaster and when it is then life will work as it should.
We’ve seen this week that thousands of cars have broken down because they were filled with dodgy petrol. They were designed to run on a certain configuration and when that was changed then damage was done. Well, how much more are we as human beings designed according to a configuration and only when we abide by the guidelines set by God will be avoid the damage caused by foolish ways of human interaction.
So with this application in mind let me show you from John 17 how the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another. You’ll see from your handout that I’ve only got one big idea to communicate this morning.
Each Person is devoted to the interests of the others
I originally wanted to say two things. Also that each Person is equal but has a different role. That’s true and could show you this from John 17 but I thought I may lose the impact of the one big idea if I went for two. However, the other truth has vital implications for certain aspects of church life, like who should be church leaders, and also for married life and so come back next week when Melvin will be speaking on “Men, Women and the Trinitarian Life”. But for this week we will concentrate on the fact that…
Each Person is devoted to the interests of the others
In John 17 we see this in the relationship between the Father and the Son. Also between all three but in John 17 the focus is on the Father and the Son. So listen to what we are told in verse 1. “After Jesus had said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” At this point Jesus is only hours away from his death. The disciples have just had their final meal with the condemned man and Jesus has instructed what he has in store for them once he is gone. But then in John 17 we get access to a very personal prayer between Jesus and his Father.
It is one of those Through the Keyhole moments that we discover occasionally in the Bible. Did you watch it? Loyd Grossman would go into the inner sanctuary of a famous celebrity looking for clues about their identity. He would comment on their wall-paper, on their CD collection, their paintings – then sum it all up with the immortal words, "Who lives in a house like this? David, it's over to you." Now I probably had too much time on my hands when I watched this as a student but at least after each episode you felt as if you had been given access to a place that on your own you could not have entered.
And that’s the same with John 17. Jesus is giving us access to the personal relationships between himself and his Father. So listen again to what he prays. Verse 1. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. At first sight we might conclude that Jesus’ prayer is very self-centered and indeed very arrogant.
How would you feel if later in our service when Jim Thrustle leads our intercessions he says something like this, “Lord we ask that you will glorify the name of Jim Thrustle so that people will honour me across Hull.” I’m sure Melvin would be giving him the cut-sign.
We get concerned when human beings say things like this. Even more so when we remember the OT says God will not share his glory with another. It’s okay for Jesus because he is on the divine side of the Creator/Creature divide.
But is it selfish? Well, no because look at the reason he wants to be glorified. He says, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Or in other words, Jesus is devoted to the interests of his Father.
What does it mean for Jesus to be glorified? Praying that the Father would take him back to heaven via the cross. Previously Jesus had prayed if there is any other way take this cup from me but now having been assured there is no other way he prays for the Father to give him the strength and courage to go to the cross.
In the 1st century the cross was a place of shame. Place of execution for political prisoners in the Roman Empire. Others were warned – this is where you will hang if you step out of line, Place of shame. You did not speak of it in high-society. This is what an ancient Roman called Cicero said about the cross: “It was the most cruel and shameful of all punishment. Let it never come near the body of a Roman citizen; nay, not even near his thoughts or eyes or ears.” Christians it was the place of glory and honour. Nothing to be ashamed about. Jesus says, take me there Father – and by doing so I will be able to honour you. And isn’t this what happens today when Christians remember the death of Jesus? We honour the Son for dying but we also the Father for his great plan of salvation.
Melvin will read these words later in our service (Prayer of Thanksgiving).
Jesus is sure the Father will do this because he has already demonstrated he is devoted to the interests of his Son. So in verse 2 he says, “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” And then in verse 3 we get that wonderful definition of eternal life. Not just the extension of life after the grave but the enrichment of life before the grave. “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Another example in verse 4 of Jesus making decisions on earth for the greater glory of his Father but hopefully by now you are beginning to see my point. Each Person in the Trinity is devoted to the interests of the others.
They are not self-centered and they are not self-seeking. Rather, they are self-giving. They are other-person-centered in everything they do. And because we have been created in the image of God then this is the model for humanity to follow. In fact, God has designed the human race to function in this way and when we decide to live by other principles we will face inevitable damage.
And isn’t this what we see happening day after day? In our wider families, in our work-environments, are they not full of relationship breakdown? The evidence of damage is all around us. The evidence that demonstrates living for ourselves is not a good way to live. Either for the greater good of others or even for ourselves. Bible says, “What do you expect? You’re made in the image of God but in your interactions with each other you are not following the example of the Trinity. You are not devoted to the interests of others. And until you are then damage will continue to be done.” Bible is also very clear that this perfect community will only exist in the New Creation but right now we are to be involved in local churches where we live out this vision for a transformed humanity.
Can you be a Christian and not go to church? Well, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian like going to McDonalds doesn’t make you a hamburger. Can I be a Christian and not go to church? No. A Christian has the desire to be with God’s people and if you don’t have this desire you are probably not a genuine Christian but someone who thinks they are morally decent. You cannot live the Christian life on your own. Most of the letters in the NT are written to churches not individuals. Why? Because God wants us to live out the true blueprint for humanity. Not see it perfectly until the New Creation but until then by the power of the HS we are to act as people who are devoted to the interests of others. And we are to do this as members of a local church.
Did you know that in some areas of the United States we could visit what is called a drive-in church? Yes, you did hear me correctly, not a drive-in McDonalds but a drive-in church. Services are held in what used to be drive-in movie theatres but which have since been converted to suit the tastes of Christian individualism gone mad. This is what a typical service looks like. Worshippers drive up in their cars, they find a place to park and then they sit back to enjoy the religious experience. They don’t leave their car, they simply tune into the service using a prearranged frequency on their radio. They sing the songs, they can roll up their windows if the person in the car next to them is out of tune, they pray the prayers, they listen to the sermon and then, afterwards, they go home challenged and encouraged but without the hassle of having to talk to anyone along the way. Sometimes the vicar in full-robes will dash from the platform to shake everyone’s hand as they drive out! How many of us treat our gatherings like this?
Or take what I call the church dating disease. Not content to settle down in one church and get committed Christians flit from one place to another to get a bit of teaching from this one and music from another and so on. But they don’t stick at one and get committed. They are not devoted to the interests of others but to the desires of themselves. This is not God’s plan. One church and get committed to it. Not drift in and out but be passionate about the interests of other people. Many ways of doing this.
o Be regular. Don’t drift in and out.
o May think of joining a home group. See it as more than a bible study group.
o Do you know everyone’s phone numbers? Where they live/ Do they have a cat?
o How could you serve someone in the group?
o Go and see them.
o Baby sit their kids.
o Take their kids out to the cinema.
o Cook them a meal.
o Practical jobs to help
o Working party
o Picking people up to bring to a service – a car and commitment.
Let me say a big thank you to all who do this. We could do better. If we do then life for us and for other people will be more enriched.
I’m sure most of us remember the American TV series Cheers that was broadcast a number of years ago. It was all about a mixed group of people, from the city of Boston, who used to meet each other frequently in a local bar. Now for many people the theme tune is something that resonates deeply with their experience. “Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same, you wanna be where everybody knows your name.” It is the desire of the human heart, isn’t it? We long for such a place. In fact, we need such a place. A community that will care for us, a community that will value us and a community that will miss me when I’m not there and will speak to me when I am there – Do you not long for this? God says we were designed for this and we are to live like this as a local church.
Why? Because we were created in the image of God and we are being renewed in the image of God. And in the Godhead each person is devoted to the interests of the others.
So let’s pray that God will increasingly give us the desire to put this into practice. To get stuck into our local church and to look out for the interests of others until the day we die. Let’s pray.
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