Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Open Book

John 17:1-11
Take a look at today’s Gospel lesson, John 17:1-11. Here, Jesus does an extraordinary thing: He lets us listen in on His personal prayer to God the Father.

When I’m talking with God in prayer, I don't particularly want anybody listening in. I have sins, desires, and apprehensions that I'd rather most of the world know nothing about.

But Jesus, true God and true man, has no secrets. He’s an open book. The entire Bible, in fact, reveals that God has always been an open book. Romans 1:19 reminds us that, “what may be known about God is plain...because God has made it plain…”

We see God's openness in many ways.

The Bible affirms, for example, that God’s law—His will and His commands for humanity—is written on our hearts, giving all of us a strong hint, long before we even hear the Name of Jesus, that there is a God Who made and cares about us. (Romans 2:15)

But more than that, God has taken the time and effort to sacrifice Himself on the cross out of His love for us and make it possible for all to believe in Him to have a life with God that starts now in this tough, imperfect world and is brought to perfection in eternity.

In Jesus, we see that God lives His love for us out loud for all the world to see and experience!

In the prologue to his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, John the Evangelist says, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18).

Jesus has no secrets. Jesus is in the disclosing business. So, what exactly does He disclose to us in today’s Gospel lesson as He prays to His Father?

First: He discloses a heart filled with celebration. This is the time of year for graduation parties. The unspoken theme of all such parties is: Mission accomplished! In His prayer in today's Gospel lesson, before heading to the cross which He is intent on taking up for our sakes, Jesus takes a victory lap. He exults in His accomplishment on earth even before He goes to the cross or is raised from the dead.

Jesus can exult even in the face of His impending suffering because He knows that nothing is going to prevent Him from accomplishing what He knew He came to earth to accomplish. “For the joy set before him,” Hebrews 12:2 tells us, referring to the joy of opening up new life to all who believe in Him, “[Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In our Gospel lesson, notice what Jesus says that He has already accomplished at the moment He utters His prayer.
  • In verse 6: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” 
  • In verse 7: “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you...” 
  • In verse 8: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you…” 
In the pursuit of His earthly mission, Jesus came to make God known, so that we could believe in Him and live!

In this prayer, Jesus rejoices in the strength that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had given Him to accomplish that mission.

As He prays, Jesus knows, of course, that He has one thing left to do on this earth, one more definitive act disclosing Who He is. He must die. He must go to the cross. This is the place of ultimate self-disclosure of God to all who are open to the truth.

Martin Luther said that if we want to know what God is like, we only need to look to Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus discloses and lives and dies out of the infiniteness of God’s love for you and me.

Jesus took our sins onto Himself--all our greed, envy, lust, thievery, murderousness, gossiping, idolatry--absorbing the punishment we deserve for it all into His own body so that its power over us could be killed off in the death of a perfect Savior.

And that’s why Jesus calls out to the Father as He dies on the cross and says: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ mission was accomplished!

The Father wouldn’t let this be the end for Jesus, though. He had to be raised up so that all people would know of their chance to turn to Him (turning away from their sin), entrust their lives to Him, and live with God eternally. So, in this prayer, Jesus celebrates what He accomplishes for the glory of the Father and for our eternal good.

And then: Jesus discloses a request to the Father. In verse 5, Jesus asks, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began…” The glory of God was displayed in Jesus in many ways. Most notably maybe, when at the waters of the Jordan River, where He was baptized, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Voice from heaven said, "This is My Son; listen to Him!"

And yet the glory of God disclosed in Jesus during His earthly life were only hints, dim reflections, brief tastes of the glory Jesus once enjoyed as God the Son in the halls of heaven before the creation of this world!

When the Father raised Jesus from the dead, His glory was on display for all the world to see, though some still didn't.

And one day, when the risen and ascended Jesus returns to the world, all the world, both those who believe in Him and those who don’t believe in Him, will see His glory with certainty (Matthew 25:31-46).

That will be a moment of jubilation for all who have surrendered to Christ, giving Him glory, and a moment of infinite regret for those who have ignored Him.

One of the things that Christ’s Church needs more than anything today, is a renewed sense of the glory of God! We keep trying to whittle Jesus down to manageable size, pulling Him out of a box (maybe) on Sunday mornings and then putting Him back into the box the rest of the week. (This ignores the fact that the last time people stuffed Jesus into a confined space, He couldn't be contained!)

Jesus, God in the flesh, is our Lord, our King, our Savior, and even our best friend. But Jesus is not our buddy, our rabbit’s foot, our ATM, our good luck charm, or a chump-Savior Who winks at our sin. Jesus will be there to judge us at the end of history. Jesus is God almighty.

The God we know in Jesus deserves all our allegiance, honor, loyalty, and thankfulness because, through His “amazing grace,” He saves all who trust in Him from sin and its consequence, death.

We must understand that the God disclosed in Jesus Christ is not a salesperson with whom we can negotiate a better price, but the Lord of the universe and that to have Him and the eternity only He can give, we must surrender to Him.

It's when we understand our need for daily surrender to Christ that we’ll be on the road to the wisdom that leads to life. The awe-filled fear and reverence of the God we meet in Jesus is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of understanding that we aren't gods who can make Jesus over in our image. (Proverbs 9:10)

In this prayer in today's Gospel lesson then, Jesus, Who laid His glory by for His time on earth, is reclaiming that glory.

But here’s the astounding thing: It’s a theme of the New Testament that the life of Jesus is replicated, reenacted, in baptized believers in Him. All who are baptized and live in daily repentance and renewal can say with the New Testament, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

It was because of Christ living in him, that the first century preacher Paul, before his death, could write to the young pastor Timothy with the same sense of fulfillment and jubilation we see in Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel lesson on the brink of His death. Listen closely to Paul’s words (this is from The Message translation): “I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, [God is] an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for His coming.”

In his wonderful book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Pastor David Platt talks about how many American Christians think that Jesus’ call and command for radical discipleship, including the call to love all the world and to carry the good news of Jesus to all the nations applies to other people, not us.

In taking this attitude, millions of Christians turn a deaf ear to the needs of 4.5 billion people who may die today without ever hearing the Good News of new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

And in thinking that Jesus’ call only applies to some spiritual elites, we also deny ourselves the very sense of fulfillment and the enjoyment of God’s glory that Jesus exults in in today’s Gospel lesson and that He wants us to have!

We, each of us, need to consider how we can restructure our daily lives to fulfill the mission Christ has given to each of us, so that we too can exult in the sense of fulfillment from a life spent in giving God glory. And I tell you that I am preaching to myself as much as anyone else in this sanctuary today. This morning, as I was getting ready, I started praying and was convicted by my sins and failings--my self-indulgence, my abuse of this body God has given to me, my failure to tell others about Christ--and, as I stood in the shower, I asked, "God, why do You put up with me?" The only answer to that question, of course, is grace, God's amazing grace. And so I asked God once again today, "Lord, help me to live my life in such a way that you will be glorified on this day."

We may not be able to go to foreign countries in pursuing God’s intentions for our lives. But each of us is called to fulfill the whole mission of Christ’s Church in our own individual lives.

And Living Water, which designates 23% of its annual budget to mission, offers all of us both plenty of chances to work together to fulfill God’s mission for us and plenty of support in finding how we can make our world our mission field.

We need to encourage one another in living out our Christ-given mission to the whole world, to start our days in reading God’s Word and prayer and getting God’s marching orders for the day. It’s to help us fulfill our mission that Jesus prays in verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus prayed that prayer for you, believers in Christ!

When I come to the end of this life, I want to be able to pray with the same sense of jubilation and fulfillment we see in Jesus in our Gospel lesson. I want to be able to look back on a life in which I loved God, loved the world, and took my part in making some disciples of the world’s 4.5-billion unreached people. (Even at the Kroger deli counter.) I want to be able to say, “Mission accomplished.” How about you?

If it’s your desire to fulfill God’s purposes for your life, surrender to Christ each day, letting Him live fully in you each day…and then going wherever He leads you. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared during this morning's worship services.] 

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