Sermon for May 24, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2026 | Any Takers Anthony Mullins What if I told you I have a rich uncle who owns a cruise line and he’s inviting people to take a free cruise of a lifetime? That’s right, all expenses paid, day and night paradise at sea. Any takers? Well, I guess you may have a few questions for me first, right? I mean, you probably don’t want to sign up just because it’s free. You probably want to know: What’s the cruise line? When does it leave and, more importantly, where does it go? What will the food be like? What about the cabins? Will I be in a suite with a deck overlooking the ocean or will it be one of those cramped rooms down below next to the boiler? Or how about… What will I be doing? Will there be interesting ports of call, exciting shows, entertainment and fun activities. Or is this a trick to get free labor. Well, you can relax. It’s not a trick or bait-n-switch. It’s the finest cruise line available with exquisite dining, exotic sightseeing and extravagant lodging. You will not be disappointed. In fact, it’s more than words can describe. Let’s just say, it’s to die for. Any takers now? Oh wait, I forgot to mention. There is one more minor detail that may be important. You’ll be traveling… with my uncle. In fact, you’ll be cabin mates. You will eat all your meals together and he will join you for every excursion. Don’t worry, he promises he will never leave you nor forsake you. Now, do I have any takers? Something tells me you have another question? Who is your uncle? Can I trust him? Or should I sleep with one eye open? Does he snore? What’s he like? Nice? Mean? Weird? Is he a bore? I get it. You are going to want to know everything you can about my uncle before you jump on that boat. I would. Well, you probably realize I don’t really have a rich uncle offering free cruise tickets. But I do know someone offering something far better. We are told in the bible that Jesus has the authority to give eternal life. Have you ever noticed the questions that are often asked about eternal life? They are similar to my made-up cruise questions. Sometimes eternal life is talked about like its some kind of eternal heavenly cruise that we take without God. This understanding of eternal life is to miss the boat. Jesus gives us a better question to ask by telling us plainly what eternal life is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3 (NRSV) This focuses our questions, not on the what, when, and where of eternal life, but on the who. Who is this true God we will be spending all eternity with? Jesus is the only one who can tell us. After all, he knows his Father perfectly. As we come to know Jesus, we began an eternal journey of knowing the Father. And he has assured us we won’t be disappointed. Any takers? I’m Anthony Mullins, Speaking of Life

Acts 1:6-14 • Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 • 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 • John 17:1-11

This week’s theme is God fills his people. Acts 1 recounts Jesus’ ascension. Jesus tells his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit” is poured out on them where they will be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 68 praises God who “gives power and strength to his people.” The letter of 1 Peter encourages his exiled readers that as they share in Christ’s sufferings, they will in time be exalted by the “mighty hand of God.” The sermon from John 14 listens in on Jesus’ intimate prayer to the Father, in which eternal life is described as sharing in the oneness of God’s glory.

Eternal Life

John 17:1-11 (NRSV)

Read or have someone read John 17:1-11 (NRSV) prior to the sermon.

Today is our last Sunday celebration of the Easter season before Pentecost next Sunday. For our text, we will be looking at John 17, which is often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It takes place right after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and just before he is betrayed and condemned to death on a cross. Jesus had been teaching his disciples, but now, “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said…” The rest of the text contains an intimate prayer from the Son to the Father. In this prayer we hear Jesus’ words to his Father as he prays for his disciples, as well as for us. You can learn a lot about a person by what they say in their prayers. Jesus once told a parable that included the prayer of a Pharisee and a tax collector to let us see what was going on in their hearts. Now Jesus lets us hear his own prayer to the Father. In doing so, he gives us a picture of the eternal life the Father had sent him to bring us into.

Jesus states plainly what eternal life is:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NRSV)

This description of eternal life given by Jesus may challenge many common notions that some carry about what eternal life means. For some, it’s just another way of saying “heaven.” And “heaven” can mean a lot of different things for different people. For most people, heaven is the place you go after you die to do what you most enjoy. Life will be an endless joy ride full of all your favorite activities. And of course, anything you don’t like would not be allowed in. Heaven almost sounds like what a bored schoolboy daydreaming during a dull class would come up with. It’s mostly an imaginative work of escape. Such use of the word “heaven” has emptied it of any significant meaning. For others, “eternal life” is simply a synonym for living forever, and the discussions tend to revolve on “where” you will spend that eternal life. Again, there is very little meaning to be had.

But when Jesus uses the phrase “eternal life,” he means “life of the age.” This refers to a future age, when a new kind of life will be enjoyed by those who have faith in Christ. In this way, the emphasis rests on quality rather than quantity. As we listen in on Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we observe at least three qualities of what “eternal life” is.

Quality #1 –Knowing and Being Known

First, notice that Jesus’ prayer begins with “Father…” Jesus knows exactly who he is praying to. He is not sending smoke signals in hopes some random spirit in the sky will notice. He is not speaking to some vague cosmic force or energy somewhere out there. He is addressing God with the name of Father, which implies an intimate relationship. Jesus knows intimately who he is speaking to.

Then there’s a lot of talk about mutual glorifying. The Father glorifies the Son and the Son glorifies the Father. Glory is a word that denotes the essence or true nature of God. God is glorious indeed, for there is nothing about him that is tainted, fragmented or distorted. He is real in every sense of the word. But notice that part of this glory is that it is a shared glory. The Father does not keep his glory to himself, nor does the Son bask in his own glory. Their glory is wrapped up in sharing their glory with one another. But it doesn’t stop there. They also move to share their glory with humans. This can be observed in the story of Moses, who saw the glory of God on the mountain and came down radiating. God’s glory rubbed off on him. Part of God’s glory is his desire to be known. In the life of the Trinity, there is mutual knowing of Father, Son and Spirit. This is their glory, the true identity and character of their essence. Father, Son and Spirit do not hide their glory from one another or from us. They live in mutual knowing of one another and it is their glory to bring us into their circle of knowing.

So, Jesus tells us that eternal life is wrapped up in knowing the Father and the Son. Later, Jesus says, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 26). In the Old Testament, names signaled the essence of the person. For example, God revealed his name to Moses with, “I am that I am.” So, Jesus is making the Father known to those the Father gave him. There is no eternal life without knowing the one in whose life we have a share in. We are told that “God is love,” and we cannot disconnect this aspect of knowing and being known from the love of God. Knowing and being known is central in a relationship of love.

Does this stretch your understanding of eternal life? Can you imagine living in a relationship where you are fully known, and yet are still loved, and you fully know another? Do you long to be known in a way that there are no secrets, no hiding, just pure open knowing? And, considering the fact that God is infinite, do you think there is any risk of ever getting bored in coming to know the Father, Son and Spirit? Jesus has been knowing the Father for all eternity “before the world existed” and his love for the Father overflows. Imagine what life will be like to be unhindered in knowing the Father and being known and loved for all eternity.

Quality #2 –Giving and Receiving

If you were to go through this passage and circle every form of the word “give,” you would find yourself circling eleven times. Clearly, giving has a lot to do with what’s going on in Jesus’ prayer. And of course, for there to be giving there must also be receiving. We notice the Father is the primary giver in the passage. He gives “authority” to the Son, he gives “eternal life,” he gives “work” and “words” and he gives his “name.” On several occasions, we find that the Father gives “people” to Jesus. “They were yours, and you gave them to me…” Let that sink in for a moment.

Have you ever jokingly said you were God’s gift to the world? Well, don’t sell yourself short. it turns out that you are God’s gift to Jesus. You are extremely important and valuable to the Father and the Son. One thing is for certain! God is a generous giver. This is the quality of life that has been going on for all eternity in the life of Father, Son and Spirit. There is constant giving and receiving from another. So, eternal life then is to know and participate in this life of giving and receiving.

In our culture, the idea of receiving is often avoided. We’d prefer to see ourselves as self-sufficient, not needing to receive anything from anyone else. But this is not what we are made for. Our true being is found in receiving from another while giving ourselves to others as well. Have you ever found it difficult to receive help from someone else? Perhaps you felt it would be a sign of weakness. Or maybe you were afraid that doing so would obligate you to the other person. In our world of sin-tainted relationships, this is often the case. But that is not the kind of giving and receiving we see in the Triune life.

God does not give in order to obligate you in some way. He gives because he is a giver. Also, his giving is always for the good of another. He never gives something that is harmful for another. His giving is intentional and tailor-made for his beloved. We cannot divorce his giving from his knowing. He knows us best, way better than we know ourselves, so he is the one who knows how to best give to us. And what he gives we can trust is for our good. This is why the main gift we see in the Gospel of John is that the Father has given us Jesus Christ, his very Son.

Jesus gives us the eternal life where we have a share in his eternal giving and receiving. This also means eternal life is a life of giving. In many ways we know this at some level. Giving just feels good. We are made for it. And the main gift we have to give is ourselves. Imagine this quality of eternal life—a life where you give yourself with no rejection. God knows and makes you into the perfect gift he made you to be. When you give yourself to God and others made in his image, you will be perfectly received. No rejection, no dismissal or being “put up with.” We are made to be another’s gift of joy.

Quality #3 – Unity of Love

Jesus concludes this section by praying:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:11 NRSV)

In what way must we view the Father and Son being one? Oneness or unity can be taken several ways. Being one or being unified can be understood as sharing a common purpose. People who gather together under a common purpose or task can refer to themselves as standing as “one.” Some Eastern religions and philosophies speak of oneness concerning a person’s soul that merges to be “one” with the universe. This kind of oneness, however, would amount to a loss of the person for the sake of the “oneness.” These concepts of oneness fall short. The oneness Jesus is speaking of is grounded in the oneness that exists between the Father and the Son (and the Spirit, although Jesus does not mention that here explicitly). “…so that they may be one, as we are one.” This is a oneness of love.

The Triune God is a God who lives in relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, it’s not just any relationship—it is one so characterized by love that in 1 John we are informed that “God is love.” This is how the Father and the Son are one. There is no part of their relationship that exists opposed to or lacking from the love they share. Their love for one another is so pure, perfect and undefiled that the best way to talk of it is to say they are one.

Jesus prays to the Father to protect those who come to believe in him in regard to their love for God, for one another and for the world. This is a remarkable truth John has here for us in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus is not just saying we are to be one around a common purpose or idea, although this may be part of any relationship that is unified in love. He is also not saying that our oneness will result in a loss of our unique and personal identities. He is saying that we are brought into a share of the oneness that the Father, Son and Spirit have had for eternity. The love they share, the sheer oneness of their love, is not a love we must emulate or create on our own steam. Rather, we are to participate in the oneness of love shared in the Trinity. We could never love to the degree of oneness that Jesus has with his Father. But in Jesus we are brought into their very love to participate in their oneness. We can see three directions of God’s love in this prayer that believers are invited to participate in. Love for God, love for fellow disciples and love for the world.

Co-lovers of Father, Son and Spirit

Just how does one love God with all their “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt. 22:37)? Is it possible to love the Father in the same way the Son loves the Father? Can humans truly be redeemed to the point that their love reaches the same depth of love the Son has for the Father? Can we really love the Father and the Son in the same way the Spirit embodies their love for one another? The overflowing and abundant love that lives out in unity between the Father, Son and Spirit is not held at arm’s length as a mere example for us to follow. It is a oneness that Jesus has prayed for us to be part of. We are included in sharing their love for one another. In this way we are co-lovers with the Father as he loves the Son and co-lovers with the Son as he loves the Father and co-lovers in the Spirit of the oneness of love shared in the Triune God. This is what it means to worship the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. What a marvelous prayer Jesus has let us listen in on! Jesus wants us to know that this is the oneness he and the Father want to share with us in the Spirit.

Co-lovers of one another

But it doesn’t end there. Jesus prays this out of his love for his disciples. We see in Jesus how God loves all his children with a perfect love that loves us to perfection. As co-lovers of God, we are also co-lovers of all the brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not commanded to love one another with no provision of such love. We are invited to participate in the very love God has for all his children. This should set us free in our hearts when we fall short of such love. Do you ever find it difficult to love others in the same way Jesus loved others? How often do you get angry at your own failures in loving others? Especially those we are closest to? What Jesus is showing us in this prayer is we are actually given to share in the Father’s love for the ones we fail to love.

It’s not our own love that we put our confidence in. We are included in God’s love for others. This doesn’t mean we bring our love alongside the Father’s and try to keep pace. No, we are called into sharing his love for them. We love others with the same love the Father is loving them with. We are one with God in his love. it’s staggering, to say the least. It may make your heart sore to know the day is coming when our love for one another will never slip or fall short. Our love will be one with the Father, Son and Spirit, and we never have to hang our heads low for coming up short in loving others in the way we are made to do. Because of this hope, we can get back up when our love fails, we can repent and turn again to receive the love the Father is loving the one you failed with. God’s love never fails. His love will sustain you and lift you into his love for that person. Our relationships with one another in and out of the church often fall short of this, but this is Jesus’ prayer for us. The resurrection tells us the Father intends to answer this prayer completely. In this hope we can love one another today and know that our love will grow to completion in the future.

Co-lovers of the world

This prayer at times may appear that God’s love is selective. Does God really only love the people that he gave to the Son? What about all the other billions in the world who have not believed in the Son? Just because the Father begins with the disciples doesn’t mean his intentions are withheld from the world. In fact, the very reason he has called those to himself is so they can go out and be witnesses of the Father’s love for the world. God chooses to work through the particular to reach the general. Or another way to put it, God starts small. Just as he called Abraham to be a blessing for many, he calls the few to share his blessing and love to all. As believers, you are called as the few to be one with God’s love for the world. Everything the Father has done in Jesus and is doing in the Spirit in his church is for the sake of the world. His love for the world is seen in the giving of his own Son at Bethlehem and Golgotha. From birth to death, the Father’s love has embraced his lost creation in Jesus for the purpose of restoration and redemption. The Father’s love for the world is not a second-rate, inferior love. He loves the world with the same oneness of love that he loves his own Son. As believers in Christ, we are called to participate in the Father’s love for the world.

Again, this is staggering. We are not called to wrestle up some kind of internal love built on positive thinking or sheer will, but rather, we are to be one as God is one. We are called to be co-lovers with God for God’s world. Does sacrificial love come hard for those who reject your faith? Do you find your love for those who resist and even persecute the church running short of staying power? If so, you can stop loving the world with your love and start receiving the love the Father has for his world. Again, he is not asking you to muster up a love equal to his. What he is asking is far more radical than that. He is asking that you love the world with the exact same love he has for the world. As we hear Jesus’ prayer, we find that the Father is looking to answer this prayer with every encounter you have with one of his lost children.

It is marvelous to see Jesus pray for our oneness. To be called into the very oneness of love as co-lovers with God sounds too bold a prayer for our lips. Perhaps this is why Jesus has prayed it for us. He knows the Father perfectly and prays out of his knowledge of the Father’s heart. He knows this is the prayer the Father aims to answer. So, participate boldly!

It may be important to offer a bit of a disclaimer here, since we have been throwing around “love” in such lavish terms. We must remember that when God calls us into his love for others, we must then defer to him as to what that love will entail and how it will look. There are many notions of love in the world, but these all fall woefully short of the love God calls us into. We may find that we will have to repent of our love and let the Father’s love reign in its place. As we keep our eyes on Jesus and dwell in his written word, we can learn and enter more deeply into the oneness of love held out to us in Jesus. We will learn to love what the Father loves, which also means we will hate what the Father hates. We know the Father doesn’t hate his children, but there are things in his children that must be removed and dealt with in order for the Father’s love to be received. Remember, we are to be one with God’s love for the world, not love on our terms alongside God. There are many destructive teachings and philosophies that masquerade as “love” but are in fact resistant to the love demonstrated in Jesus and articulated in Scripture.

Ask God to help you see others as he sees them and to love as he loves. Ask God to help you look past the sin that so easily ensnares, and see the hurt and angst people face. Love them for whom they are created to be.

As we grow to enter into the eternal life held out to us today in Jesus, may we grow in our relationship with God and one another by knowing and being known. May giving and receiving become a joyful participation in the unity of love of Father, Son and Spirit.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How did the invitation to take a free cruise in the Speaking of Life video make you think about “eternal life”? Did this challenge the way you understood heaven? Where is this analogy helpful? Where does it break down?
  • From the Speaking of Life video, can you see how questions about “who God is” are important in knowing what eternal life is all about?
  • How does knowing that Jesus is praying to the Father in this text change the way you hear the prayer? What significance does it have to overhear the Son pray to the Father?
  • The first quality mentioned in the sermon about “eternal life” was “knowing and being known.” Did this stretch your understanding of eternal life? Discuss the importance to know another and to be known by another. Discuss the value this has in our personal relationships and how this informs our “eternal life” with God.
  • What role does giving and receiving play in a relationship? Discuss the importance of this quality of eternal life.
  • Discuss the significance of being co-lovers of God, others and the world. Does this help you feel less burden in loving God and others? Explain why or why not.
  • How can Scripture help us discern when loving others is participating in God’s love for others and not some distorted form of love? Can you think of some false notions of love going around in our culture today?

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