Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Be the Pulse of God!

Intro

Last week my car broke down. I went to pick Amy up from her house to come to church on Easter Sunday, we get in the car and it would not start. How very frustrating. All the more frustrating for someone as mechanically illiterate as myself. We took Amy’s car instead and on Monday a mechanic from the RAC had a look at it and made it work again. What the problem was was faulty wiring – the battery was fine, but the electricity was simply not getting to the starter motor.

I asked the mechanic to do something and he did. Imagine if I asked him to fix my car and ten minutes later he came back to me saying, “I didn’t fix the car, but guess what – I memorized what you told me!” That doesn’t help my car work, I’m still stuck. I ask him again to fix my car, but 10 minutes later he comes back saying, “I got together with some other mechanics from the RAC and we’ve made a song.” My car is still not working! I asked him to do something and I wanted him to do it! Fortunately in reality, he actually did fix my car.

But what if God asks us to do something. Are we going to do it? What has he asked us to do? He has asked us to love him, to be united to fellow Christians, and to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming his Gospel. Are we going to do that? If not, are we any more useful than a mechanic that won’t fix a car?

Passage – John 17

So this is a prayer prayed by Jesus and is his last extended dialogue before going to the cross. And it is virtually John’s version of the Lord’s prayer.[1] This passage tells us that the Church should be characterized by love, unity and mission. I’ll add some thoughts on how the Church can practically live out these three elements near the end of the message.

Firstly, it talks about love.

Love

This theme comes up in verses 1-5; 9-11; 26.

We read of a great deal of love from the Son toward two people, or two groups of people.

1. We first get a sense of Jesus’ love toward God the Father.

In v.1, when he begins praying, he says “Father.” For a Jewish context, this is a big deal. No one had that sense of familiarity with Yaweh. Underlying that word patēr which means father (which is where we get the word paternal), is the Aramaic word “Abba” which was a very intimate word, something a child would say toward a father, meaning “Daddy” or “my dear father.”[2] Elsewhere Jesus uses this word “Abba” directly. Jesus is expressing the intimate relationship between him and his Father, God.

But also Jesus says “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” What I find fascinating here is that again in the Jewish context, to ask for God’s glory is blasphemous, Yahweh alone is glorious. Again he is showing that close relationship with God. They honour one another by sharing glory, by giving one another glory.

2. Secondly, we get a sense of Jesus’ love toward us.

He says “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal live, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There are three things in this which I think are important for us to understand if we are to understand this concept of love.

a.  First is this idea of “Eternal Life.” What does this mean? Is that referring to simply living for a long long time? Have we been given some sort of longevity that will be given to us in the future? What this refers to is not about quantity, but about quality. And eternal life means to know God. To know God is not just a mental activity, rather the idea of “knowing” someone expresses deep intimacy. In Genesis we read that Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant. That’s pretty intimate.

Hence, eternal life is not about going somewhere or achieving something, but is about experiencing deep intimate relationship with our Creator. Furthermore, it’s not about something in the future that we could experience after we die or once the Church gets bigger or when Jesus returns, but is something to be experienced right here, right now.[3]

b. Jesus then prays that God would protect us. Jesus cares about us and cares about what will happen to us. So he asks that God protect us. And notice that he says, “Protect them in your name.” You see in Hebrew tradition, someone’s name has great significance and reveals something of their character. God’s name in this instance means love and power. Protect them because you love them; in your name, because your name means power, you are able to protect.[4] This word tērō means to guard, watch over, preserve. God’s protection means he is constantly watching over us.[5] No one can offer better protection than God himself!

c. Jesus is thinking about us today. In v.20 he says “I ask…on behalf of those who will believe.” He’s not just thinking of the immediate 12 disciples, but is looking beyond the cross, beyond the years, to Christians today. How amazing is it to think that our Lord prays for us, and he is still praying! Hebrews 7:25 says he is always praying to the Father on our behalf.

To summarize:

Jesus loves the Father. They have an incredibly close relationship. And this love is the same love that we are loved with. God pursues relationship with us. He gives us eternal life which means intimate relationship with God, love which can be experienced right here and now. Because of this love we are protected and watched over and prayed for.

Paul says in Romans 8:37-39: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Chris Jesus our Lord.”

Unity

Where a mechanic is characterized by his ability to fix a car, the Church is characterized firstly by love, and secondly by unity. This refers to both unity with God, and unity to one another. As we are loved by Christ, we are united to Christ; as we are united to Christ, we are united to fellow Christians.

This theme comes up through most of this passage, but prominently in verses 11; 20-24. Verse 21 says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Jesus says elsewhere, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” so all along there has been a very close connection between the Father and Son, and in fact they are united as one. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God and then became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.” In Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God and didn’t regard equality with God something, as my NRSV translates it, to be exploited. So the unity between the Father and the Son is literally as absolutely one being. Two persons, but one being. The Father and the Son, both the one God and yet individuals.

And this is the unity we are taken up into. Just think about that for a second.

We’re not absorbed into God that we become literally God ourselves, but we are welcomed into that same unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, may they be one, as we are one.”

Jesus also prayed that believers would united to one another. Verses 22-24 say, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I them and you in me, that they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

We are united to God as the Father is united to the Son. This same unity overflows into our relationships with other Christ-followers. We become united to one another, we become one, as we become one with Jesus, as Jesus becomes one with the Father. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ – one body.

This unity is not caused, nor can it be created, by any human effort. It is entirely God’s work. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one, one God and one Lord, yet three distinct persons, so we are taken up into that unity together. We can add nothing to this perfect unity, nor can we do anything to achieve it. It is only God who can unite us to himself; only God who can unite us to one another.

Looking at the Church today, I’m not sure if we can be seen as one body. There are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, from Roman Catholic, to Orthodox, to Baptist, to Seventh Day Adventist and so on. I personally don’t think different traditions means disunity, just because people have some varying beliefs, does not necessarily mean we are divided. But when these different traditions bicker and argue and even go to war with each other – which has happened – I think that is when we have a problem.

When the world sees the Church they must see a Church unified in love, and when they see that unity they will see Christ.

Mission

So the Church is characterized by love, unity and we’ll now look at the third aspect: mission. What I mean by mission is basically being proactive. Scriptural clearly teaches that God is proactive and  missional by nature. The sending of his Son, the election of Israel, the promise of redeeming the world at the end of the age. God didn’t just wait for us to get to him, he proactively came to us. He proactively seeks social justice, promising redemption to a broken word. God clearly at his core is concerned about mission.

This passage talks about us going out into the world. V. 18 says “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Hence, the Church needs to reflect God’s missional heart by being missional in this world. We cannot wait for non-Christians to come to us, we have to go to them. We have to go out into this world to reveal the Good News of Jesus Christ. The word Gospel literally means Good News. Christians in this regard are meant to be like journalists. Journalists with news will not be quiet – they will tell the news! So Christians who have this news – the best news – must tell others!

John uses the word, kosmos, which means world more than any other New Testament book, and mostly in this very chapter, so it’s a big theme for him.[6] However, he was it was never meant to be easy for a Christian in this world.

Jesus said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (vv. 14-16)

We are not of this world. Because of our unity with Christ we have swept up into something far more significant than anything in this world. So the world reacts against Christians. In this passage Jesus is saying that we have inherited his mission, it is not our mission. We are merely continuing his mission.[7] But we know how Jesus’ mission ended. It ended on the cross.

Matthew 16 tells us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus. Is this a simple action? No! It takes all of who we are. We have just finished a sermon series where Ian taught us about the cries Jesus made upon the cross, which ended with Easter last week. The cross was as far opposite to fun as I can possibly imagine. Nothing could be further away from a pleasant situation than being on a cross. There is nothing worse. But that is the sort of faith that is required of Christians, of each one of us.

We hang a cross around our necks, but do we carry it on our backs?

If it were meant to be easy, why would Jesus pray for protection over us?

He also prays that we be sanctified, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (Vv. 17-19)

That word, hagiazō, meaning “to consecrate,” “cleanse, purify, sanctify,” essentially means to be set apart for a particular use.[8] To be sanctified means to be set apart. But this does not mean to be removed entirely. We are to be salt and light in this world, positively influencing the world from the inside. The Church has been set apart from this world to go into the world, taking up the cross, facing hatred and persecution to preach the Gospel.

But I want to make something clear: We cannot do mission without unity, and we cannot have unity without love. See how they all fit together?

We are loved by God, united to God, and so we love each other and are united to one other. But we must also love the world and go into the world to bring more into this unity we have with God. Jesus says in verse 21-23, “so that they may be one…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The third characteristic of the Church is radical unity. The world will see the Church and see unity, and because of this unity will see Christ’s love.

So what I’m trying to emphasize is this: there needs to be something different about the Church. When people see the Church, what will they see? Will they see another group of people, or will they see a people marked by love, unity and mission?

Back to the story of the RAC mechanic. There were certain things that characterized him as an RAC mechanic. Firstly, he turned up in an RAC car, he was wearing RAC clothes, he knew what he was doing with cars, he knew how to fix my car, and then he fixed it! I asked him to do something, and he did it.

There are also meant to be certain things that make the Church recognizable as the Church. These things reflect the very heartbeat of God. The Church must be characterized by love, unity, mission.

How do we do that though?

How can the Church be recognizable?

1. We must first love God. There is no point in doing anything unless we respond to God in love. This is not just a happy feeling sort of love. As I said before, it’s not meant to be easy as a Christian. To respond with love to God means willing to die for God, giving your life over to God.

But I can tell you that it is the single greatest thing you can do. When you give your life entirely over to God, you experience such joy and peace, such relationship with God. It’s incredible.

We do this by praying to God, “God take it all, help me to dedicate all I am and have to you.” This means repenting. Repenting simply means turning. We turn away from our earthly, human, sinful ways, and we turn towards God and God’s ways.

2. We also love God by loving others. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. This means placing others before ourselves. Paul says that we should be like Christ, who though being in the very nature God became human and became servant to humanity, even dying for humanity. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. He has loved us by dying for us. Hence, the world will see love when we love one another by being willing to serve and even die for one another.

The Church must be characterized by love and unity. Jesus says in John 13 that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. So the Church must be recognizable by our love for one another. This must be a radical love for one another, this is willing to die for one another.

3. Another way of being unified is removing discrimination. Paul says in Galatians that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Rather, there is Christ. When we see one another, we see Christ. That means we must treat one another with absolute respect, complete forgiveness, total acceptance. This is not always easy. But the Church is recognizable by welcoming and accepting each and every single person for who they are.

Philip Yancey once told a story of a prostitute who had just hit rock bottom. When asked if she had considered going to church, she responded by laughing and saying, “They’ll just judge me more.” I think that’s a very sad story. The love and unity given to the Church by Jesus Christ means loving everyone no matter what.

4. The Church must be characterized by being proactive and missional. It is by loving the world, not by fearing the world, or separating one’s self from the world, that we can witness to the world.[9]

If we are too much a part of the world, the world does not see Christ; if we are too distant from the world, the world does not see love. It is in loving the world while not becoming too much a part of the world that the world can be emancipated.

This means seeking the prosperity of the nation we’re in, it means seeking social justice – there are more slaves today then they’re ever has been in history – and chasing the end of poverty, it means helping your neighbours when they need it, working your hardest at work despite a grumpy and unpleasant boss, it means living the Gospel, proclaiming through your actions and through your words. It means having integrity to stand up for what you believe.

To be the Church is radical.

Conclusion

The Church can be no less, nor any more, than the pulse of God, reflecting his very heartbeat: love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission.

Being loved by God, we must love God and others. Through doing so, we will be united with God and with fellow Christians. We then go out seeking to fulfil Christ’s commission on this Earth, praying that the Church may grow and permeate society, and through our love and unity, the world will see eternal life and that many will seek that life and devote their lives to Christ as we devote our lives to Christ.

God has asked us to do something – are we going to do it?


[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 322.

[2] Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 239.

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004). 487 – 88.

[4] Kostenberger, John. 490 – 491.

[5] William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993). 450.

[6] Minear, “John 17:1-11.” 178.

[7] Milne, The Message of John. 245.

[8] MacArthur. 323.

[9] Minear, “Evangelism, Ecumenism, and John Seventeen.” 12.

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