Sermon for Sunday May 28th, 2017, the Sunday after Ascension Day
The Lessons: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; John 17:1-11
Text: John 17:1-11
Topic: Knowing God and Jesus Christ is having eternal life.
Everyone on the planet can be connected to everyone else on the planet by no more than six steps. So says Pulitzer prize-winning playwright John Guare in his play Six Degrees of Separation.
Recently a leading news magazine in Germany, Die Zeit, tested this theory. It asked Salah Ben Ghaly, an Iraqi immigrant who owns a local falafel stand, to whom he would most like to be linked. Ghaly chose Marlon Brando. It took some months, but Die Zeit managed to find the connection. A friend of Ghaly who lives in California works in the same company as Ken Carson, boyfriend of Michelle Bevin, sorority sister to Christina Kutzer, daughter of Patrick Palmer, producer of Don Juan de Marco, in which Brando starred.
The idea of six degrees of separation suggests two encouraging things for Christians. First, we can be thankful that knowing God is a personal experience, so there are no degrees of separation between us and God when we are willing to repent and receive his grace. Second, if there is any truth to six degrees of separation, no person on the planet is beyond the range of hearing the Gospel.
– Rich Tatum, “Six Degrees of Separation,”
JOHN 17:3 – THE IDENTIFICATION OF ETERNAL LIFE WITH KNOWING GOD
The Lord Jesus Christ in this powerful prayer for the Church in John 17 clarifies at the outset that eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent into the world (John 17:3). Knowing the Father and the Son also means knowing the Holy Spirit, as the Lord implies in his earlier sayings in John 14:15-21, and love for the Father and the Son includes knowing and loving the Holy Spirit. To know God is not the same as complete knowledge of something, like the knowledge of a geometrical theorem. It is rather an ever-growing, increasing knowledge and experience of God. If husbands and wives in the course of a lifetime still do not fully know each other, how much less do we know the fullness of God’s being by the end of our lives on earth!
No matter how long we have been members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, or of St. Luke’s, we must acknowledge that the only way to God is through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this “high priestly prayer,” the Lord Jesus Christ states that the Father has given him power over all human beings, to give eternal life to all those whom the Father has given him (John 17:2). Eternal life, then, is a free gift of the Son to all who believe in Him (John 3:16), and this eternal life means that we live in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ in God’s kingdom forever.
Eternal life is lived both in fellowship, or communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and under His rule. This means we are to obey Him as Lord in all things. It really entails a complete renewal of mind and attitude (Romans 12:1-2), so that we do what He would do on this earth, and say what He would say, treating everyone the way they want to be treated, with love, respect and dignity. It means that the love of God must override all our prejudices and bad attitudes to others that we may have for any reason.
The heart of the Lord Jesus’ prayer for His Church here is for unity: He prays that the Father will guard through His own name all whom He has given Christ, so that they may be one as the Father and the Son are (John 17:11). Everyone who belongs to the Father and the Son belongs to the invisible Church forever, and will be in God’s kingdom forever, provided he perseveres in faith and obedience to God’s word. Receiving and keeping God’s word (John 17:6 & 8), as well as believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, are all crucial to the process of knowing God. It is clear from how the Lord prays here that faith, obedience to God’s word, and knowing and loving God are all key characteristics of the life of the Church, and by doing these things Christians will please God, and He will guard their unity, a unity based on the unity of God the Holy Trinity.
Every local congregation needs to take seriously the Lord Jesus Christ’s prayer for the Church in John 17. The Lord knew in advance how much His Church would need unity. So much disunity has arisen in two millennia of the Church’s existence on earth that we must re-focus on the unity we have in Christ, and the essentials of being a Christian.
Above all, we must all be sure that we have eternal life, the knowledge of God we receive through having come into a relationship with Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and through abiding in God’s love by keeping His commands.