Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
When you listen to the most intimate conversations people have with those closest to them you begin to see people as they truly are. For instance, if I were allowed to listen in to conversations you have with your husband or wife, or with your best friend, I suspect I would get a good glimpse of your true self. We tend to open our hearts the widest to those we know and trust.
John 17 contains the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and his Father in Heaven. According to John, this conversation takes place on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Knowing time his short, Jesus has just finished giving final instructions to his closest friends, the disciples. In a moment they will all go out into the night to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus knows he will be arrested by those seeking to kill him. Before they leave, however, Jesus prays. Because John wrote his prayer down, all these years later we are privileged to listen into his conversation with his Father and, as we do, we get an unique opportunity to see the true heart of Christ.
1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (John 17:1-5, NRSV)
One of the things we see when we look into the heart of Jesus is his desire for us to have eternal life. Twice in his prayer, in fact, Jesus talks to his Father about his desire to give us this gift.
Now, when the Bible speaks of the gift of eternal life it is not only speaking about everlasting existence. After all, if you lived forever but your life was miserable and wretched, what kind of gift would that be? That would be, by definition, hell. So, you see, when Jesus speaks here and elsewhere about eternal life he is not only talking about a quantity of life but also a quality of life. Christ not only desires that we would live forever, but that we would live abundantly forever.
By the way, this has been God’s desire from the beginning. Scripture teaches us that when God created the world he made everything good. The world God intended was a world of eternal life, a world not only everlasting but also abundant and flourishing, a world not only free of funerals but a world also free of cancer, heartache, divorce, addiction, hatred, war, grief, failure, and fear. God’s intended world was a world where each new day would forever be better than the last, a world where people, and creation, and God would all live endlessly in unbroken love and peace and joy.
This is the life which Jesus refers to here, but it is a life which is only possible when God is recognized in his rightful place as the source and center of all things. This is why we were made to worship God. We were created to place our hope, our security, our devotion in the one who is the center and source of eternal life. Another word for worship is glorify. When you give glory to something you elevate that thing to a place of honor, giving it your devotion, betting that it will bring purpose and worth to your life. Humans, therefore, were made to glorify God and when we do, when we honor God as the center and source of life, then life for us becomes eternal.
Herein is the problem. We were made to bring glory to God but from Adam and Eve right on down human beings have been ascribing glory to everything but God. From the very beginning of time we have rejected God as our sole source and center in life and that means that we have, in turn, forfeited eternal life.
This week I came across what somebody has called the Snowboarder’s motto:
Chicks dig scars,
Pain is temporary,
Glory is forever.
Chicks dig scars? Just another thing to add to the list of things my mother never told me when I was growing up. If only I’d known!
There are people in this world who glorify personal accomplishment. You become a great snow-boarder, or you achieve a successful and lucrative career, or you build a big happy family, or you nurture an esteemed reputation, and then you glorify these achievements in life. In other words, you lift them up in hopes that they will bring you worth and purpose, joy and peace, the sort of quality of life for which we were made.
We all want eternal life, right? Don’t you want a life that not only goes on forever but flourishes forever? We want this life but we pursue it by pursuing our own selfish desires. We put our trust in what we want rather than what God wants because we believe that getting what we want will, in the end, satisfy. In one way or another we all do this. One way or another all of us have lived as if something other than God was the source and center of life.
This is a problem because, once again, when the Bible speaks about eternal life, it always makes clear that such life is not possible unless God is at the center of things. In other words, unless our lives glorify God alone and God above all else, then neither the quantity nor the quality of eternal life will ever belong to us.
This last summer some friends and I took a guided white water rafting trip. First thing that morning, even before our guide had us put the raft in the water, he circled us up on the riverbank to make one thing clear. On the boat that day he was going to be the boss and if we wanted an enjoyable and safe experience on the river, we needed to agree with him that he was the boss. He told us that there were dangerous stretches of white water downstream and we would need to follow his instructions without hesitation. When the time came and he told us to paddle hard we would need to paddle hard. When he told us to lean into the center of the boat, we would need to lean into the center of the boat. When he told us to hold on tight we would definitely need to hold on tight. Basically he was telling us that over the course of the next four hours, it would be unwise for us to imagine, even for a moment, that we knew more than he knew about navigating a raft down the white waters of this particular river.
I learned a joke that day. What is the difference between a river raft guide and God? God doesn’t think he is a river raft guide.
In a funny way that guide was like God. From the very moment of creation, God has told us, “Trust me. Obey me. Follow me. Worship me. When I tell you to stay, stay. When I tell you to wait, wait. When I tell you to serve, serve. When I tell you to follow, follow. Love me above all else. Glorify me alone. I am your security. You will find your worth and value in me. You will find eternal life in me and only in me.”
God wants us to glorify him, but not for His sake as much as for our own sake. You see, God’s only motivation for demanding our worship is love. God loves his people above all else in creation and wants the absolute best for us. And God knows that it is only when we glorify him, only when we recognize him as the source and center of life, submitting ourselves completely to his desires above our own desires, then, and only then, will the absolute best, eternal life, be ours.
Can you see then what a terrible thing it is that we have chosen not to glorify God alone? As a result, we and the world around us have been cut off from the life for which God made us. If you cut yourself off from the source of eternal life, you cut yourself off from that life itself. Our sinful rebellion is the most terrible thing, and it would be the tragic end of our story, the ultimate death of us all, if not for the fact that in the end love is stronger than death. Specifically, the love of God is stronger than the death of his people, the righteousness of God stronger than the sin of his people. The Bible, in fact, is essentially the long story of God’s determined plan to rescue his people from the devastating results of our misplaced glory. The Bible is the story of how God’s love overcame even death.
All the way back in Genesis 3, immediately following the decision Adam and Eve made to turn their backs on God, we see God’s plan to rescue us begin to unfold. In their sin Adam and Eve run away from God, but God goes looking for them. He finds them hiding, full of shame and fear and blame. Having exposed their sin, God immediately lists for them the devastating consequences of their actions. At the top of the list is the consequence that they are now cut off from eternal life. Life for them will no longer be either everlasting or abundant. Again, when you turn your back on the source and center of life, you turn your back on life itself.
It is at just this point when all seems lost, however, that God did something surprising. In the midst of their sin, God extends grace. Specifically, Genesis tells us that just before God sent Adam and Eve out of paradise, God killed an animal and took the skin of the animal to make garments to clothe them in their nakedness. God shed innocent blood to cover the shame of these two people, and as he does so we are given, even at the very beginning of the story, a foreshadowing of a time, much later in the story, when God would one day again shed innocent blood and, this time, cover the shame of the whole world. You see, barely moments after all had been lost, God’s rescue mission has already begun.
Only a few chapters later in Genesis, God chooses a man named Abraham to be the father of his people. God chooses Abraham and then makes him a guarantee. In Genesis 12 God promises him, “I will bless you and, in time, I will make your descendants into a great nation. I will bless you so that through your family all the families of the earth will one day be blessed.” As you may know, the entire Old Testament is the account of how God kept this promise and formed a great people, the Israelites, from this one man Abraham. Littered through the story of the nation of Israel are foreshadowing’s and prophesies of how God would one day keep his promise and bless all people through Abraham’s people. Specifically, one day a Messiah would come out of the family of Abraham to bless and heal and rescue the whole world which had been cut off from the eternal life for which it was created.
When all this finally came to fulfillment, it did so in a way that nobody beforehand could ever have imagined. For when the time was right, God didn’t send somebody else to rescue the world, God came himself. The Messiah was God himself, God who had come in the flesh, God come as one of us. Humanity had been cut off from eternal life but now eternal life itself entered back into humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal and divine Son of God but also at the same time, in some mysterious way, the long-promised descendant of Abraham himself, a man who came to teach, and heal, and love, and, ultimately, to die. God’s grand rescue mission of the world, hinted at all the way back in the Garden of Eden, solemnly promised to Abraham himself, was to culminate in the death of God’s Son on the cross, an event which would prove to be by far the most important event in all of human history.
The World Series began this week between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Having never been a professional baseball player, I don’t know what it must be like to finally get to play in a World Series game. These players reported to spring training all the way back in February. They played 162 games over the course of the regular season. Each team has already been through two grueling playoff series’. And some of these guys have been doing this season after season for years without ever getting to this point. I watched on television Wednesday night as these ballplayers stood and listened to the national anthem before game one and I could only imagine the intense anticipation each of them must be feeling. All of that build up and finally the moment has arrived.
If baseball players can feel such all-consuming anticipation over something as ultimately insignificant as an athletic event, imagine the anticipation Jesus must have felt the night before the most significant and far-reaching event in human history. How must Christ have felt when, just hours before the cross, he looks up to heaven and says to his Father, “The hour has come.”? At last it’s here. From the beginning of time, every birth, every death, every relationship, every conversation, every kiss, every sunrise, every tear, every person, every square inch of creation, the hope of all things and all people had finally come to rest on what was about to take place that next day.
Jesus had stepped into our place, become one of us, and he was about to do, in the most ultimate sense, what every single one of the rest of us had forever failed to do. Jesus was about to put the final touches on the first ever human life which was lived, in every moment and in every way, not for its own glory but for the glory of God in heaven. “The hour has come;” Jesus prays, “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” As he had done his whole live, at the end of his life Jesus acknowledges the rightful place of his Father as the source and center of life.
All along the way, if his Father had said paddle hard, Jesus paddled hard. If his Father said lean in to the center of the boat, Jesus leaned in to the center of the boat. If his Father said to do this and say this, Jesus did and said exactly that. So when the time came and his Father told him to die, Jesus was prepared even to die. In all of his life it was the Father’s glory, and not his own, that he was after. Even in death, Jesus demonstrates rightly placed glory.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism is one of the most important creeds in the history of our Reformed tradition. As some of you know, the Catechism opens with this very important question: “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer given: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The language is old so it’s not inclusive. Nonetheless, don’t miss the point. In Christ we all, men and women and children alike, see the purpose of our lives. We were made, all of us, to glorify God, to worship God as the source and center of life. When we fail to do this, as all of us in this room have to some extent failed to do this, we miss the very purpose of our lives. What we miss, of course, is eternal life, both now and in the days to come.
Bebo Norman is a Christian musician I have long enjoyed because he writes honest songs. There is a lyric in one of his songs that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. In a song called “Disappear”, a song which is really a prayer, he sings,
I want to hide in You
The Way, the Life, the Truth
So I can disappear
And love is all there is to see
Coming out of me
And You become clear
As I disappear
I don’t want to care about earthly things
Be caught up in all the lies that trick my eyes
They say it’s all about me
I’m so tired of it being about me
It’s that last line that always gets me. It immediately resonated with me the first time I heard it. I know exactly what he’s talking about. There are points in my life when I get so tired of it being about me. I was not made to bring glory to myself. I was not made to bring glory to the things of this world. I was made instead to bring glory to the One who made me, to the only One who is worthy of glory. And to the extent I fail to live into this purpose, life becomes for me weary, and stunted, and empty, and sparse. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about.
What if Jesus’ prayer became my prayer? What if it became your prayer? In life and in death, what if it was your heartfelt prayer that your life would bring glory to God alone? Deep down, this is my prayer. I want it to be my prayer. I suspect it’s your prayer as well. That’s why you’re here this morning. Just like me, you’re sitting in a church on Sunday morning because to some extent you’re tired of it being about you.
I want you to know that this life is possible in Christ. This prayer shows us that this life is possible in Christ. In his conversation with his Father, we overhear Jesus declare that all authority over all people has been placed in his hands. The old song has it right, Jesus truly does have “the whole world in his hands!”
You see, Jesus came to live as one of us. He died the death that was meant for all of us. Finally, he rose from the dead to make a way back home for those of us who trust him. In all of this, God has put the fate of the world in Christ’s hands. The eternal life which was lost when humanity when we refused to give God glory was recovered when the Son of God became a human and put glory back in its rightful place.
In verse 3 Jesus prays for us. Did you catch that? He prays that eternal life would be ours once again as we come to know God by knowing Him, the One who comes from God and is himself God. He’s praying that we would believe what he told us over and over again when he was here on earth. “I Am, the light of the world,” Jesus declared. “I Am, the good shepherd. I Am, the way, the truth and the life. I Am, the bread of life. I Am, the true vine. I Am, the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks us. Do you?
I will never understand how this works. In many ways it is a great mystery. Nonetheless, the truth of the Gospel is that if we would take Jesus at his word, if we would place our faith in him and trust him, not only will he come to share in our lives but we will share in his life which is, of course, eternal life. As Jesus put it in the most famous verse in the New Testament, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life.”
When humanity refused to glorify God, humanity was cut off from God and, in turn, cut off from eternal life. But Christ, as a human, did glorify God and even though he received a death which was not meant for him, he was, in the end, raised to eternal life. And not just raised as a spirit or a ghost, but raised as a human. The Gospel accounts make clear that the resurrected Christ, the one who ultimately ascended to heaven, was a real, flesh and blood man that his disciples touched with their own hands. Though fully God, at Easter Christ also appeared as fully human, but a human that was filled with the sort of life, eternal life, which had been lost for so long that the people who saw him didn’t know what to make of him. He was alive again, but alive in a much deeper way than they ever thought possible.
What does that mean? Think about it for a minute. In Christ, where is humanity today? Think about it. In Christ, humanity is now in eternal life. In Christ, humanity is now fully alive and seated at the very throne of heaven, at the source and center of life where humanity was always meant to be. And that means that if we trust Christ, if we would simply confess him as the source and center of our lives, we can come to share in this life. What was long ago lost has been, in Christ, forever recovered. We did not have to recover it ourselves, but we do have to trust the one who did.
This whole week as I prepared for this sermon a brilliant passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians kept coming to mind. I suspect it has come to mind for many of you even this morning. I can’t think of a better way to close than with these words. As you hear them, let them lead us into prayer.
6[Jesus Christ], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Lord Jesus, I want to hide in you. You are the Way, the Life, the Truth. Let me hide in you and disappear, so that love is all there is to see coming out of me. May you become clear. May I disappear. I don’t care about earthly things. I don’t want to care about earthly things. I don’t want to be caught up in all the lies which trick my eyes. They say that it’s all about me. Lord Jesus, I am so tired of it being about me.
I want my life to glorify you, Lord, and you alone. Restore in my life what has been lost. I believe, Lord. I have faith. I trust you. I confess you as the sole source and center of life. By your grace, then, may I be found in Christ. May my life be hidden in the life of Christ and may I come to once again know the eternal life for which I was made and for which everyone around me was made.
In my success, may you receive the glory. In my failure, Lord, may you receive the glory. In my work, in my play, in my relationships, in my mind, in my dreams, in my pain, in my life, in my death, may you alone Lord receive the glory. You alone. All glory, all honor, all praise, all worship, all credit to you Father and to your Son, Jesus Christ, who has made eternal life once again possible. It is in his name and for his sake that we pray these things. Amen.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 17:1-5, the first part of Jesus’ prayer. What do you notice?
Jesus prays, “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” What does he mean? How would the Father’s glorifying Jesus help Jesus in glorifying the Father?
What does “glory” mean to you? What does it mean to bring glory to God?
How is verse 3 a definition of eternal life? What is eternal life?
Does your life bring glory to God? What would your life look like if it did?
Do you ever come to the place where you say, “I’m so tired of it being about me”?
Read Philippians 2:5-11. How do you see this passage relating to this discussion?
What have you learned about Jesus here?