Sunday, January 15, 2017

Christ’s prayer for unity, John 17:20-26

For the last few weeks we have been studying the prayer of Jesus on the night before His crucifixion.  And as we have noted, there are three levels to His prayer; He prays first for Himself, then for His disciples, and then for those who will be saved in the future (that is the church at large).  But in addition to that purpose, there is an underlying application to His prayer, which is not only for our edification, but for our education.  We can learn from Christ how to pray effectively in a way that will please God, and we can learn doctrinal truth.  We have focused on both of those perspectives in past messages.

This week, in addition to studying what the Lord is praying concerning us, we are going to examine the underlying doctrine of Christ’s prayer.  And if I had to pick one word to encapsulate the doctrine of Christ’s prayer it would have to be the word “truth.”  Truth is the key doctrine emphasized in Christ’s prayer.  And as such, truth must be the foundation of our prayers.  Our prayers have to be grounded in the truth, or they will be of no avail.  As Jesus told us in chapter 4 vs 24, “God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  

Even though the word “truth” is only mentioned specifically in vs 17,  it’s theme is found throughout all of the prayer.  In the first section Jesus is the manifestation of the truth.  That produces sanctification through the truth in the second section, which in turn produces unification in the truth in the final section which we are looking at today.  So as we look at Christ’s specific prayer for the church, we see that her unity is His predominate concern.

Jesus mentions unity three times, in verse 21, verse 22, verse 23, each time praying that we might be one. So unity is obviously the theme of the conclusion of Christ’s prayer.  And I would suggest that He makes four points in reference to the unity of the church that I would like to look at today; unity in  congregation, unity in glorification, unity in consummation, and unity in manifestation.  

First let’s look at Jesus’s prayer for unity in congregation.  I have used congregation as a substitute for the church.  The church is a congregation of the saints; whether local or universal.  That is who we are, and that is who Christ prays for at this point, saying, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.”  So He is speaking to all those who will believe as a result of the apostle’s doctrine.  The apostles are the foundation of the church in the sense that what they taught and wrote concerning Christ’s teaching is the truth by which we are saved.  They established the doctrine of the church.

So notice that Jesus says unity in the church is established by belief in the word.  This is immensely important. Unity must never come at the expense of the truth of God’s word. Unity is not found in an ecclesiastical organization or denomination, but only in the word of God, and as the church is true to the word.  The unity of the church then is spiritual, not necessarily physical. Those that are in agreement with the truth of God are one with God and thus one body of Christ.  There may be different parts of the body, but all are one spiritual body. 

However, when a church strays from the truth, then we are under no compulsion to be unified with it, but rather we are actually commanded to break fellowship in order to protect the truth. Jude warns of this deception that entered the church in Jude 1:3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand [fn]marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

And to counter that corruption from within Paul wrote in  1Cor. 5:11, “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”  

I don’t know if you noticed an article in the news last week about a certain Baptist church in South Carolina.  Some years ago they made the decision to break away from the Southern Baptist Convention primarily because they wanted to accommodate the practice of ordaining women to the pastorate.  And so they broke away and for a few years had a woman pastor.  A deliberate affront to the truth of God’s word though always brings with it a continual hardening, which often results in further apostasy.  And in their case, that culminated last week with the church appointing a married lesbian couple to be the pastors of their congregation.  With such churches we cannot be unified.  We must in fact rebuke such who go against the clear teaching of the word in favor of the culture.  The culture will change with the times, but the word of God endures forever unchanging. 

So the unity of church is established by salvation, and salvation comes through the word of God.  Paul said in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  We are saved by the apostle’s doctrine which has been written for us as the scriptures.  There is no other way to saving faith.  Nature may teach us enough about God according to Romans 1:20 to incriminate us, but not enough to save us.  There must be the preaching of the word of God. 1Cor. 1:21 “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

And unity comes through the word, so that the world might know the truth of Jesus Christ.  He continues in vs.21, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”  Our unity then is not for purposes of organization, but for the preservation of the truth, that the world might know the truth of Jesus Christ; that He is One with God, and that salvation comes through His name alone.  There is salvation in none other.  Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.”

Secondly, Jesus prays that the church might have unity in glorification.  Vs.22, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”   What is the glory that was given to Christ from God? I have read a lot of suggestions as to what glory represents, but I would suggest that it is the truth of God.  That is Christ’s glory; that He was God and was sent from God. And that is the glory of the truth that He gave to the apostles. 

John affirms this glory in  John 1:14 saying, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  So Jesus goes on to say that when they receive that glory of the truth, they will be “perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”  Perfected means completed.  Our unity with God is completed when we know the truth of God in Jesus Christ.  And when we are complete in our knowledge of the truth, then we can fulfill the mission of the church, which is to go into all the world and make disciples.  When we know the truth about Christ, then we can make Him known to the world, that the world might come to a saving knowledge of God.

Notice that twice Jesus prays the same phrase; vs 21, “so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”  And then in vs 22, “so that the world may know that You sent Me.”  This is obviously important to Christ, that the world would come to know that He was sent from God to save the world from sin. That He was God come in human flesh to be our substitute as a sacrifice for sin. This is the core of the gospel.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave HIs only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is God’s love for the world; that through faith in Christ they might be saved from sin and death. 

This truth is worth dying for.  Did you ever realize that Christ died for telling that truth? How then can we diminish what Christ died to prove?  The truth is obviously important to God.  And the truth is that God sent Jesus to die for our sins that we might be saved from sin and death.  Our job is to make that truth known.  That is job one of the church.  That is our unifying mission. And any so called church that diminishes the gospel of Jesus Christ or His deity cannot be unified with His church.

Thirdly, Jesus prays that the church might have unity in consummation of His kingdom.  If you were at our Wednesday night Bible study then you will remember that I spoke of the inauguration and the consummation of the Kingdom of God.  We live in  the time between the inauguration and the consummation.  Jesus here prays that we may see His consummation of the Kingdom. Vs.24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”  

Jesus was going away back to the Father.  He has told them this over and over again.  In fact, at the beginning of the Upper Room Discourse He said, “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1)

So what Jesus is praying for is that the church would be united with Him in heaven, that they might see His glory, even the glory which He had before the world began.  The disciples had come to know a veiled glory, but He desires that we might know His full glory. He is speaking of His second coming when every eye will see Him coming in the clouds with glory.  And when we see Him in glory, it will result in our glorification.  The children of God will be given new bodies like God.  As John describes for us in 1John 3:2, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”

When we see Him come in the consummation of His Kingdom, we are going to be given new bodies like Him.  We are going to be seated on thrones with Him.  We will share in His glory.  And then the bride of Christ will be joined to Christ in a celestial union the likes of which our earthly marriages are but a pale shadow.  This union with Christ at His consummation is what we call heaven.  Heaven is an actual place, but more importantly it is a perpetual state of being. We will be with Him, and as such be like Him, and share in His glory.

I want to give you a preview of what we will be talking about eventually in our study of Revelation on Wednesday nights.  When most people think of heaven, they think of the streets of gold, and the pearly gates.  Such themes are the subject of the description given to us in Revelation chapter 21.  

But if you will turn there for a moment I want to show you something interesting.  Revelation 21:1-3, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” 

Then skip down to vs.9: Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”  So I want you to notice that twice in this passage the New Jerusalem, that city which we think of as heaven, is said to be the bride of Christ, which we know from Ephesians 5 in particular and other places is a way of referring to the church.  Now I will save the full exegesis of those verses for the future, but suffice it to say that our union with Christ will be as His bride, and that constitutes heaven.  

Thus Paul could say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”  “And that is ever more better.”  I believe this is the consummation of the Kingdom when Christ will return for HIs bride and take us to be with Him and thus will ever be with the Lord according to 1Thessalonians 4.  

But before we leave Revelation 21, let me show you one other thing.  Look at vs.14, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”  Note how synchronistic that is with Ephesians 2:20 which in speaking of the church says it is  “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.”  That is what Jesus has been praying for in this prayer of John 17, that those who believe in the Lord as a result of the apostle’s doctrine would come to know the fullness of the truth of Christ, and being unified with Him in doctrine, we will one day be unified with Him in the consummation of the Kingdom.  And then we will share in His glory, for we shall be like Him, having seen Him as He is.

The fourth and final thing that Jesus prays for here for the church is that we might know unity in manifestation.  Look at vs.25,26; “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  When we are unified with Him in truth, then we will be unified with Him in presence, in HIs manifestation to us both in revelation and incarnation.  

But first I want you to point out here that Jesus calls His Father righteous. It’s interesting that Jesus ascribes two characteristics to God the Father in His prayer.  The first is in vs 11, Jesus calls Him Holy Father.  And now in vs25, Jesus calls Him Righteous Father.  Holy and righteous, two great distinctives of God the Father.  These are the two characteristics that are important to Christ.  Not the only characteristics that are important.  He goes on to speak of the love that God has for Him and for the church.  But above all else, God is holy and righteous.  God is also just, He is merciful, He is compassionate, His is loving, He is wrathful, He is Mighty, He is awesome in power.  There are a multitude of characteristics of God.  But I would say that the danger in the church today is that we want to boil down God to one characteristic.  Rob Bell says that God is love and that one characteristic eclipses all other considerations of God.  So that the love of God overshadows the righteousness of God. Therefore God will not send anyone to hell, he says, because love overwhelms all of God’s other distinctives of His character. He is not concerned about righteousness any more.  But notice Christ includes both righteousness and love.  God’s righteousness demands justice and consequently punishment for sin, but God’s love requires that He substitutes Christ to be punished on our behalf.  

So Jesus isn’t teaching some watered down version of the gospel.  Jesus goes on to say that the world does not know the Father.  And I would suggest that is because they aren’t concerned about knowing the truth of God, nor the word of God.  They have devised notions about God according to their image of what is right or correct in light of the present culture.  But God is unchanging.  He is God from everlasting.  He must be worshipped in truth, or He will not be known at all. So then intimacy with God is predicated upon fidelity to the truth of God, of which the pillars are righteousness and holiness.

As the bride of Christ we must be concerned about righteousness and holiness.  Because God is concerned about righteousness and holiness.Jesus said if you love Me you will keep My commandments.  That is God’s standard for righteousness.  If God did not care about righteousness and holiness then the death of Jesus Christ was a great tragedy and a waste.  It need not have happened at all.  But we know that it was not a tragedy, but a triumph.  Christ died to take away the penalty of sin, God’s punishment for an affront to His righteousness.  Now in return, we are to be as commanded in the scriptures such as 1Peter 1:16 to be holy, even as He is holy. 

But though the world doesn’t know God, Jesus says these disciples do know Him, and because they know the truth of God, and know that Jesus is the manifestation of the righteousness of God, then He will make God ever more known to them.  Listen, that is speaking of what I have said many times from this pulpit.  And that is that the revelation of truth is progressive.  As we are obedient to the truth given, then the Lord will give us more truth.  When we keep the truth of God as revealed through His word, then He will lead us into more truth.  He will lead us into intimacy with God, that we might know the love of God.  That is the intimacy of the bride of Christ with the bridegroom; that we might share the love of God.  

And that love of God towards us is manifested by the Spirit of God who indwells us. In that sense we share in the incarnation of Christ, in that the Spirit of God dwells in His people, and we are His temple. Vs.26, “so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  You cannot know intimacy with God more than that, can you?  To know God,  to know the love of God and to know the presence of God.  I said a few weeks ago, that the greatest thing in the world is to know God and to be known of God.  And we can know God because we have the Spirit of God in us, to lead us and guide us into the truth of God.

The Spirit of God is given to us that we might know God intimately, and that we might do the works of God.  He is given that He might write the laws of God upon our hearts according to Hebrews 10:16.  That the truth of God is manifested within us by the Spirit of God who is in us. The Spirit conforms us to the image of God from the inside out.

I had some woman call me last week from a  church down on the southern part of the Eastern Shore, and she identified herself as the pastor.  She said she had come across a young man who had been saved, but wasn’t in a church, yet he lived in our area.  And so she wanted to recommend him to a good church up here.  But before she could recommend us to him, she wanted to know if we were a spirit filled church.  Of course, I said we were.  Otherwise, we are not saved.  But I knew what she was actually getting at.  She wanted to know if we practiced speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Spirit.  To her, that was the critical thing.  So much so that I believe after talking a while she had decided not to recommend him to this church.

Listen, the defining characteristic that Christ desires for HIs bride is not that we all speak in tongues, or that we have some sort of emotional experience which may or may not be in keeping with the truth of scripture.  But the vital characteristic of the church is that we be in union with the truth of the word of God.  The Spirit of God is given to us that we might know the truth, and that we might have the truth written in our hearts, so that we might have the power within us to work the works of God. The Spirit is in us, so that we might do the work of Christ, which was to manifest the truth of God to the world.  That is why Jesus calls Him the Spirit of Truth.  

And that is why Jesus prays that the church will know the truth, and that truth will produce unity in  congregation, unity in glorification, unity in consummation, and unity in manifestation.  I pray that you know God in truth.  I pray that you have come to believe in the truth of God manifested in Jesus Christ, and having believed in Him for salvation, you have been born again, and are the dwelling place of the Spirit of the Lord.  I pray that you will come to know God more fully, and that you will become complete in Christ, as you are conformed to His image.  That one day, when Jesus Christ returns for His bride, He might find you ready and waiting, dressed in the spotless robes which were provided by Christ’s righteousness for us, and that you might enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb in the presence of the Lord and there be forever with the Lord.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The transforming power of the word, John 17:6-19

Last week we began to look at what is the longest prayer of Christ that is recorded, and perhaps the most instructive of His prayers.  It is instructive from many different perspectives.  The prayer can be broken down into three main sections; vs1-5 Jesus prays concerning Himself, vs 6-19 Jesus prays concerning the disciples, and vs20 -26 Jesus prays concerning the church. 

And as we saw last time, one of those perspectives is that Christ’s prayer teaches us to pray. His prayer as recorded in the first five verses is an example of effective prayer, prayer that is pleasing to God.  In vs 1-5, we noted that Christ’s prayer was to the right person,  then in the right timing, for the right purpose, according to the will of God, according to the knowledge of God, that He might do the work of God, that all would be done to the glory of God’s Son.  If we emulate Christ’s example of prayer, then we can be confident that God accepts our prayers.

This week, we are looking at the middle section, or the prayer for HIs disciples.  And in this section we see that Christ is obviously praying for our benefit.  He prays for the benefit of His disciples and also us, as evidenced by vs.6 and 20. But in praying for us, He is also praying as an example for us. He is praying not only to edify us, but to educate us.  And so contained in this prayer is  a healthy measure of doctrine that is being taught.  

Doctrine is simply another term to designate truth or principles of truth.  So as Jesus prays for the disciples, He is also concerned that He prays for them according to the truth.  That is the key to effective prayer, or prayer that will be accepted by God.  Prayer, to be acceptable to God, must be in accordance to God’s nature and character.  I frequently find an attitude among naive Christians that uses prayer as a form of existentialism.  Whereby they act in what they think is faith and speak things that they want to be true, but which often are not founded on the truth.

Such prayers are not effective, because God is concerned about truth.  There is no truth outside of God.  God is truth.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.”  So we cannot access God without truth.  Jesus said again, “God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

So as Jesus prays for the disciples, He prays according to the truth, and He is teaching that truth as He prays.  There are three points He makes in this middle section of the prayer, which is particularly directed towards the disciples, but exponentially to us as well. The three principles build on one another.  The first is the manifestation of the truth, which produces separation by the truth, which produces sanctification through the truth.

I want to focus our attention first upon the manifestation of the truth.  Jesus said in vs.6, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”  

The first way that the truth of God was manifested to the disciples was by Jesus Himself.  “I have manifested Your name.”  That means that He manifested, or brought to life, the nature and character of God.  He was the invisible God made visible.  To make manifest is to take what is obscure or mysterious, and make it clear. Jesus Christ made God clear.  Hebrews 1:3 says, “And He [that is Christ} is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of [God’s] nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”  
Also, Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

And John 1:14 speaking of Christ says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The point being, that Jesus Christ was the exact representation of the nature and character of God. He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the truth of God, made manifest to the world.  

There used to be a popular song on the radio that had the lyric, “tell me all your thoughts on God.”  And that is a popular sentiment in society today.   Tell me what you believe God is like.  But in reality, they are telling you what they want God to be like.  However, that is idol worship.  That is creating a god according to your image.  God has already declared Himself as to who He is, through Jesus Christ. And we must worship Him in truth.

And then Jesus says there is a second way that God is manifested.  Starting in vs.6b, “they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.”  

It’s no coincidence that in John chapter 1 Jesus is called the Word who was with God and who was God.  And now that person called the Word, who is the manifestation of God, gives them the word of God and that word manifests the truth of God; that Jesus is from God, and is sent by God. 

The difference between us and the disciples is that we don’t have the person of Jesus Christ here with us today.  We cannot see Jesus.  But we do have His word.  And His word manifests Christ and manifests the Father.  God has manifested Himself to us through His word, and the Holy Spirit works through the word in us to declare to us the truth of God.  Thus Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit again and again as the Spirit of Truth.  

I said last week that it was important to pray.  Perhaps one of the most important disciplines we can exercise as a Christian is to pray.  It should stir up our faith in all areas of our lives.  But I do not say that to diminish the importance of the word of God.  It is the foundation for all that we do.  So when we pray, we must pray according to the truth of God’s word.  If our prayers are to be acceptable to God, then they must be in accordance to the character and nature of God, which is revealed to us in the word of God.

Note also vs 8 shows that the manifestation of God through the word produces salvation. “for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.”  That is salvation in a nutshell.  To receive Christ, to believe in Him and all that He has said concerning Himself constitutes faith.  And we are saved by grace through faith. Simply seeing the light of the truth of Jesus Christ and receiving Him and believing in Him constitutes saving faith.  And don’t miss the fact that salvation comes through the hearing of the word.  Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

That leads us to the second doctrine that Christ is teaching in His prayer, which is separation by the truth. Once we are saved, the truth of God separates us from the world’s lies.  Jesus prays in vs 9, “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  

Look at how this works; we are chosen by God, given to Christ, separated unto God and Christ, and as a result we glorify Christ.  That’s amazing, isn’t it?  God glorifies Christ, Christ manifests the Father to us, we are saved, and then we glorify God by manifesting Christ.  It comes full circle.  And don’t miss the security that is given there.  We are not only separated unto Christ, but kept by God and by Christ.  Jesus spoke of that in  John 10:28, saying, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  He will not lose those who are His.  He keeps us, forever.

Then back in our text in vs 11 Jesus says that results in us being unified with Him, and in turn unified with the Father. “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” We are unified with God by the indwelling Spirit of God. Paul said in 1Cor. 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”  And in  1Cor. 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  

Listen, we are not of the world, but separated unto God, because we are the temple of God and He dwells in us.  We aren’t separate from the world because we think we are better than they are, but because we want to be pleasing to God.  

1John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  So we separate from the world because we are not of the world.  We belong to Christ.  We have been bought with a price. And we have been separated unto Christ, we are unified with God,  because the Spirit of God indwells us.

When we are unified with Christ through separation from the world, then we know the joy of the Lord. Vs.13, ““But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.”  I said last week and I will say it again; a life lived for God’s purposes produces joy.  Whereas a life lived for yourself produces dissatisfaction.  Living for God will bring you true joy.  Living for yourself will maybe garner a few moments of happiness, but in the long run it is a joyless experience. But when you live to glorify God, then you can know the joy of Christ, which is everlasting joy, even in the midst of tribulation.  Hebrews 12:2, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

And let me just add this thought; if you are a Christian, living in the world will make you miserable.  The devil will try to seduce you with promise of happiness found in the lusts of the world, but it will only end up making you miserable.  Because if you love the world, then you are opposed to God, and that goes against your new nature.  So don’t fall for the temptation of the world.  It will not bring joy.  Joy comes from separation from the world and unity with God.

While separation from the world unto Christ produces joy, it conversely produces hatred from the world.  Vs.14, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Because they hated Christ, they will hate us as well. That hatred of the world is why we endure tribulation.  But that is also why He promises us joy first.  So because of the joy set before us, like Christ we can endure the cross and despise the shame. Knowing that if we suffer with HIm, we shall also be exalted with Him. That one day we too will sit on thrones with Christ.

Vs.15, Jesus prays, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”  Now how is that accomplished?  How do we keep ourselves from the sin which so easily besets us, from the snare and trap of Satan?  I suggest that the answer is found in Christ’s prayer.  Note that He has bracketed vs15 on the front end and the back end with the same phrase: “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Twice Jesus says it, to show it’s imperative for keeping ourselves unstained by sin, and unfettered by vice.  To be not of the world is to keep oneself from the evil one.  

When we try to see how close to the world we can get and still be ok, we put ourselves at risk from the evil one, who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour.  But when we stay far away from the lusts of the world and the paths of sin, then we free ourselves from many temptations.  Paul illustrates this through the lust for money in 1Timothy 6:9, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Jesus said you cannot serve God and mammon, or money.

The third major principle Jesus illustrates in His prayer builds upon the principle of separation we just looked at, and that is sanctification through the truth. Jesus prays in vs.17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”  This is one of the greatest principles in the New Testament.  First, a definition of terms; sanctification means to be set apart.  To be consecrated, set apart from profane use to holy usage.  That is the purpose of separation.  We are no longer of the world, but we are set apart for temple service, for holy service.

Now note that Jesus says, sanctification comes through the truth. What does that mean?  It means when we look at Christ, we see the standard for righteousness.  We see God’s standard for holiness.  And when we emulate Christ and obey His truth we become conformed to His image. 2Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

So the Spirit of God, working in us obedience to the truth of God’s word, produces in us the image of Jesus Christ, by which we manifest Him to the world. That is sanctification, when we become holy vessels used for service to God.

Secondly, Jesus affirms, “Your word is truth.”  I love that.  Because truth is under fire in our day.  But Jesus says unequivocally  that His word is truth.  Absolute, irrevocable, eternal truth is found in the word of God. 

Every year, Oxford Dictionaries chooses a word or expression to “reflect the passing year in language.” For the Word of the Year 2016, they chose “post-truth.”  They define  “post-truth” as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

So basically, what they are saying is that in 2016 the word that characterized this generation the most indicates that our society doesn’t believe in absolute truth anymore.  They believe in relative truth, as defined by their emotions and personal inclinations.  

This is why the world hates us. Because the Christian’s worldview is completely opposed to this post-truth mindset. Christianity is grounded in objective truth. Jesus said in John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Objective truth only exists because we have God’s Word.  Jesus says in John 17;17, “Sanctify them in Your truth. Your word is truth.”  Both Paul and James describe the Bible as “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18). Psalms 119:160 says, “The entirety of your word is truth.” When Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6), He wasn’t expressing His personal belief or opinion. He was speaking the truth of God, a fundamental reality that doesn’t change from person to person or age to age. It doesn’t matter if our culture thinks truth is subjective or dependent upon their preferences. The truth of the matter is “no one comes to the Father but by Jesus Christ.”

The final principle we see in this section of Christ’s prayer is that sanctification not only comes through separation and the word, but through service.  Vs.18, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”  

So sanctification means to be set apart for good works. Eph. 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

The temple of God was for service to God, for worship to God. They are really one and the same; service and worship.  You cannot have one without the other.  Romans 12:1 illustrates that perfectly.  It says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”  And notice how that service and worship is accomplished by the way; by separation from the world, vs.2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What is our purpose in sanctification? That in being conformed to the image of Christ we may be the manifestation of Christ to the world. Jesus models this Himself. "As You sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." Just as he was God's instrument, sent to be the Light to  a blind and dying world, so He sends us to do the same. We are sent to the same work, sent with the same resources, and thus we are continuing the work of Jesus in the world. That is the process of sanctification.  We serve the Lord, as the temple of God.

Further, he prays, this will be made possible by his death on the cross: "For their sake I sanctify myself." He dedicated Himself to be used as an instrument of righteousness by going to the cross. In order that we might be sanctified in the truth. And as the outcome of that death of Jesus on our behalf we are granted righteousness, and holiness, and the indwelling  power of the Spirit by which we too may be useful instruments in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The High Priestly prayer of Christ, John 17:1-5

For a myriad of reasons, New Year’s Day compels people to think of making resolutions for the new year.  I’m not alone, I think, in usually deciding to begin a new exercise program.  Actually, mine started the day after Christmas.  December 26th is my birthday, and that is usually reason enough to try to turn back the clock.  So New Year’s Day is just further incentive to make good on my resolution for better health, or lose weight, or whatever.

And I think that such calendar prompts are helpful.  It helps to measure time, to take note of your situation, and then make plans and take action steps.   If we didn’t do that from time to time, then we end up like the man in Psalm 90:9, we end our days with a sigh.  We realize too late that we failed to number our days and make good use of the stewardship of time and resources that God has given us.

But I also think that it is a mistake at such a time to focus merely on the physical.  I would urge you to also think of a spiritual plan for the New Year.  To make resolutions and a commitment to mature spiritually in the Lord.  And there are a lot of things that you could do in that respect.  You might resolve to be faithful in church attendance.  You might commit financially to support the church.  You might resolve to be more engaged in ministry in the church.

But if I had to make a recommendation for the best spiritual resolution that you could make which would have the greatest possible impact, not only for yourself, but also on your church, your family, friends and coworkers, I would suggest that you resolve to be a better man or woman of prayer.  That doesn’t mean that I think reading your Bible is not essential to Christian health, or that other godly disciplines are not profitable.  But it simply means that if you become a man or woman of prayer you cannot help but become more attuned to the things of God.  A committed prayer life will immeasurably enrich all areas of your spiritual life.  You cannot have a vibrant prayer life and be a lukewarm Christian.  A diligent, effective prayer life will elevate your spiritual maturity in all areas.  It will improve your devotional times, it will improve your ministry involvement, and it will affect your witness to others. 

However, I emphasize that such a commitment must result in effective prayers.  Not merely going through the motions.  As Jesus said in  Matt. 6:7, “…when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”  So it’s not the quantity of our prayers that matters as much as the quality of our prayers. As James said, “the effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.”  On the other hand, praying the rosary over and over again is just meaningless repetition and is profitless.

So with that as our goal, then if we would achieve effective prayers we should look to the supreme example, and that is of course Jesus Himself.  The Bible records many instances of Jesus praying.  But while we see many instances in which we are told Jesus prayed all night or that He spent much time in prayer, we have only records of brief sentences of His prayers.  We have what is called the Lord’s prayer, but it isn’t a prayer which Jesus prayed.  It was a model prayer for the disciples to learn to pray.  So as we come to this 17th chapter of John, we have a tremendous opportunity to study the prayer of Jesus in full measure.  It is a comprehensive prayer, and as such it is one in which we can study and emulate in full confidence that we are praying according to the will of God, which Jesus told us is the key to effective prayer.

Let’s look then at the beginning of this prayer on the last night of Jesus’ public ministry.  This is widely known as His High Priestly prayer.  In that sense, it is a prelude to His heavenly ministry.  Jesus ends His earthly ministry by interceding through prayer in His heavenly ministry.  Hebrews 7:25 says, “He ever lives to make intercession for us.”  And so this prayer is a foretaste of His ministry in heaven as the mediator between God and man.

I want to point out for you seven essential components of effective prayer as illustrated in this prayer of Jesus.  Or at least what we see in the first five verses.  First we must pray to the right person, then in the right timing, for the right purpose, according to the will of God, according to the knowledge of God, that we might do the work of God, that all would be done to the glory of God’s Son.

Now there is some overlap there, but I think that will serve as a sort of outline by which we can examine this prayer for our benefit.  Let’s notice first, praying to the right person. Jesus addresses His prayer to the Father.  Of all the ways God could have chosen to be called, and out of all the names of God, Jesus uses the title Father.  And we know that in the disciple’s model prayer, known as the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the disciples as well to address God as their Father.  

The title Father illustrates that God is not some distant, aloof, or abstract god afar off in the universe, or far beyond our comprehension.  But God is our heavenly Father, which reveals the person and the personality of God.  It reveals the intimacy we can have with the Father through Jesus Christ.  And it reveals the love of God towards His children.  It reveals the relationship we have with God, by which we can say, “Abba, Father.” 

Note that Jesus calls God “Father” and He instructs us to call God “Father” which means that we are the children of God and thus co-heirs with Christ.  As Jesus was the Son of God, He has brought many sons to glory, bought by the redemption of His blood, so that we are called the children of God.  That relationship of Father and child is the basis for effective prayer.  Because as Jesus said in Matt.6:8, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”  It means we can come to Him whenever we want, wherever we are and know that He hears us, and that He wants to help us, and that He will give us what we need, even with the same confidence that Jesus could appeal to His Father.

Secondly, note that Jesus prays not only to the right person, but in the right timing.  Jesus says, “the hour has come, glorify your Son.”  All through our Lord's ministry He has said, "My hour has not yet come. My hour has not yet come." But now as he approaches Calvary the hour has come. He is speaking of the hour in which He is offered up as a sacrifice for sin on the cross.  

Jesus makes it clear that His hour was the hour of His crucifixion in John 12:27, Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”  He went on to clarify what that meant in vs.31, ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

We too must pray according to the timing of God.  Our timetables are not necessarily God’s timetables.  I’ve seen that illustrated in my own life time and time again.  For instance, we want a new car, so we get a loan for a car, and that becomes a monthly bill.  Now every month when the bill is due I look to God to “supply my needs.”  I think, surely, God knows that it’s the first of the month.  What’s He waiting for?  And when He doesn’t supply what I want just when I think He should I start to doubt the goodness or the love of God.  But I need to remember that God didn’t sign that contract, I did.  I let my glory, and my lusts and my desires set a timetable that God didn't have any say so over.  We need to remember Isaiah 55:8, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.”  Jesus knew that God had appointed Him to die at the right time, and thus He prayed in accordance with the timing of God, confident that God’s timing was perfect. We don’t always know the timing of God, but we can wait patiently for it, trusting that our heavenly Father knows what His perfect time is.

Thirdly, Jesus prays, and we should pray, according to the purpose of God.  “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” It’s interesting that Jesus asked to be glorified, because the hour had come to be glorified, but that glorification resulted in His death.  That’s ironic, isn’t it?  But Jesus considered it glory to die on the cross for us, that we might be reconciled to God, so that He might bring many sons to glory.  His glory came at the expense of His death.  And His glory was to glorify the Father.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question; what is the chief end of man?  And the answer is, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  When we aim to glorify Him, then we will find the joy of Christ that He promised we would have.  Joy is not found in self glory, or self gratification, but it is found in serving the Lord, and doing all for His glory.

So when we pray, we need to remember that principle.  We must ask ourselves when we pray for things, are we praying to achieve God’s purposes or for ours, for our glory or for God’s glory?  God’s glory requires that we die to ourselves first and then He will glorify us.  James said in  James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”  So selfish motives in prayer is a form of self glorification.  Our desire should not be to glorify ourselves, but to glorify God.  Jesus could ask God to glorify Him because everything He did glorified the Father.  How can we pray for God to glorify us?  To reveal us as His people, as His children, as made in HIs likeness and conformed to His image.  When we are obedient to Him, and thus reflect Him, then He will glorify us.

Romans 8:17 tells us though that our glory comes the same way Jesus did; through suffering.  “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  

Fourthly, we need to pray as Jesus prayed, not only to the right person, in the right timing, for the right purpose, but also according to the will of God.  Now that may seem a little redundant. There cannot be much daylight between the purpose of God and the will of God. But perhaps we might think of the purpose of God as referring to His eternal purpose.  Ephesians 3:10 speaks of this eternal purpose; “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  So that speaks perhaps of the eternal purposes of God, whereas the will of God achieves that purpose as it is acted out in the daily events and exercises of our lives.  

So in an example of praying according to the will of God, Jesus says in vs.2, “even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.”  The will of God is rooted in the authority of God, which He has delegated to Christ.  The Lord Jesus Christ has all authority over life.  He is the Creator of all. John 1 tells us “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ upholds all things by the word of His power.

So does not the Creator have authority over His creation?  And since the Creator gives life to His creation, should not the creation recognize His authority to determine the ebb and flow of our lives?  Should we not recognize that He gives us life, and thus His will should be our will?  Then certainly when we pray, it is not to shape the will of God, but to seek and to submit to the will of God.  

Jesus prayed according to the will of God.  In the Garden of Gethsemane a few hours later, He prayed sweating drops of blood, “not my will, but yours be done.”  When we are attuned to the Father’s will, then our prayers will be answered.  We subordinate our will to the Father’s will.

It’s like a diet that you may want to adhere to in the New Year to achieve your fitness goals.  The diet says, no sweets.  But you want sweets.  You love sweets.  And so the diet is arduous for you. It’s difficult and you are constantly in a battle of wills.  But if you could somehow become a different person - one that hated sweets.  Why, then you would have no trouble in keeping the diet, would you?  Because you hate sweets, and the diet restricts sweets.  Now your will is in agreement with the diet plan.  And so the diets is no longer difficult.  

So it is with God’s plan for us. When we were of the world then we loved the things of the world. But when we are saved we become a new person.  Now we hate what God hates, and love what God loves.  So His will becomes our will.  And our prayers are not a battle with God to get what we want, but they are in accordance with His will. And His will is clearly laid out for us in His word.  Knowing the will of God is found in the knowledge of God revealed in His word.

That leads to the next point, we need to pray as Jesus did, according to the knowledge of God.  Jesus prayed in vs.3,  “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  We can know God, and know the will of God, because we have known Jesus Christ and believed in Him.  Hebrews 1:3, speaking of Christ says, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”  

So if we want to know what God is like, we need only to look at Christ.  He was God manifested to man.  And when we believe that, then we exhibit saving faith, by which we are saved from our sins and given eternal life. Jesus came to teach us the truth of God, the knowledge of God, and give us the word of God.  So when we pray, we can pray according to the revealed knowledge of God.  That’s how we can know the will of God, because we have the word of God, which reveals the mind of God.

Sixthly, we need to pray that we might do the work of God. If we really want to do the will of God, then we must do the work of God.  Jesus prayed in vs 4, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”  So many times when we pray, we pray that God will do something for us.  And God does many things for us.  The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes from above.  It says that God gives us the ability to make money, to be prosperous and successful.  Jesus said God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust.  

But how often do we pray that we might do the works of God?  That God would strengthen us to be a witness at work?  Or that God would give me the opportunity to talk to my neighbor about the Lord?  How often do we pray that God would give us a gift that we might serve His church?  Prayer is an essential part of service.  And service to God is worship of God.  Far too often we think that all God requires of us is to attend a meeting once a week or so and sing some songs and that constitutes worship.  That may be the beginning of worship, but it certainly is not the end of it.  Romans 12:1 says you are “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”  

Present your body to God as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual service of worship, to do what?  Well, the rest of the passage says it is to exercise your spiritual gifts within the body, that is within the church.  Paul goes on to say these spiritual gifts are not for self edification, or to glorify yourself, but to build up the church through means of prophecy (that is preaching), or in serving, or in teaching, or in exhortation, or through giving, or in leading, or in showing mercy, and all is to be done in love for one another.  “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”  Those are just some of the good works we have been saved to do. And we need to pray that God will give us His grace that we might do them.

Finally, we need to pray that all would be done to the glory of Christ. Our godly works are to glorify Christ. Jesus prayed in vs 5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”  We traditionally tack on the end of our prayers the phrase; “in Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.”  And we do that because Jesus Himself said whatever we ask for in His name the Father will do.  

But to ask in Jesus’s name is not just some ritualistic appendage to our prayers, but it is an understanding and desire that all would be done to glorify Jesus Christ.  He is worthy of all glory.   Philippians 2:6 says about Christ that “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (or held onto) but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  

Jesus was asking in this prayer that He might once again take His rightful place in glory with God, the same glory that He had with God before He laid it aside to be humiliated in flesh.  And God answered that prayer, according to Philippians 2.  God gave Him the name above every name, that every knee would bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  

This really goes back to the authority of Christ.  He is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  And so when we come before Him to pray in His name, we pray to the Father in the name of His beloved Son, whom He has exalted at His right hand, and with whom He shares all glory.  This same Jesus is our Redeemer, our Advocate, our Mediator, our Great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for us.

All of our works then should be for His glory.  All of our lives should be lived for His glory.  Everything we do should reflect Jesus Christ.  That is the purpose of the Spirit of Christ who now lives in us, that He might do the works of Christ in us.  That is the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit, that we might be enabled to do the works of Christ.  

When we understand these principles of prayer as illustrated by Jesus’s prayer, then we will find our prayers effectual.  We will pray without ceasing.  We will pray fervently.  We will pray for leading, for strength to do His will. We will pray for all the saints. We will pray for our enemies. We will pray for our government. We will pray for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.  And when we pray that way, it will elevate all areas of our spiritual lives to a higher plane, so that we may even more reflect Jesus Christ.

We are going to continue to look at Christ’s prayer for at least a couple of more weeks.  But for now there is a lot here that we can begin to emulate.  Peter said He is our pattern, that we might trace our lives over.  Considering how important our prayer life is, there can be no more noble resolution this New Year than to become a greater man or woman of prayer.  And the way to do that is to pattern our prayers after Christ’s example. That we might pray to the right person, in the right timing, for the right purpose, according to the will of God, according to the knowledge of God, that we might do the works of God, and that all would be done to the glory of God’s Son. May God give us the grace that we might commit to pray in this New Year with the same confidence and effectiveness as Jesus, as we pray in His name, to His Father and to our Father.