To win the world, we must be one

In the sports world a common chant is: “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Various teams, cheerleaders, and fans will extend their index finger skyward and proclaim their own greatness. Such players and fans want everyone to know their team is the best team. The chant, “We’re number one,” fires up players and fans. Supposedly, it even intimidates the opposing team, who is usually chanting the very same claim. Of course, there can be only one true number one. This is especially evident during football season (i.e., college football bowl games and the Super Bowl). When the dust settles, there can only be one number one.

In the church of Jesus Christ, there can only be one. The goal of truly being “one” is incredibly important. But instead of chanting, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” we should be chanting, “We are one! We are one!” In John 17:20-26, Jesus shares His greatest burden for His followers . . . oneness . . . unity. When Christians are “one,” we provide a visible, tangible witness to the world. As we read these final seven verses in John 17, we can almost hear the chant: We are one! We are one!

In 17:20-21 Jesus prays, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone [my eleven disciples], but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus has prayed for Himself (17:1-5) and His original disciples (17:6-19). Now He prays for those who will believe His message through His disciples. This illustrates perfectly a vision of “transferring truth to the next generation.” One great way to build unity is to model Jesus’ heart. On the last evening of Jesus’ earthly life, He prayed for future generations of believers like you and me.

What about you? Are you praying for your children? Are you praying for your grandchildren or even your great grandchildren? Are you praying for the children and youth in our church? Are you praying for our daughter church and other churches that we may plant? Are you praying about the continuation of our church long after you leave this world? How future-oriented are your prayers? If the only prayers you pray deal with urgent and immediate needs, your prayer life is not all that it could be. As an individual Christian, your vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after you. As a church, our vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after us. We must be deeply concerned about future generations of believers. We must long for oneness and fruitfulness so that the world will believe in Christ.

It’s worth noting that Jesus makes three requests in 17:21 that begin with the conjunction “that” (hina). All these requests are sub sequential. The second request depends on the first and the third depends on both the first and second. The first request: “that they may all be one” is repeated in 17:11 and 22. This is the dominant emphasis of this entire chapter. In 1776, the Latin phrase e pluribus unum (“out of many—one”) was suggested by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as aptly describing the creation of one nation out of thirteen colonies. Since 1873, federal law has required that the phrase appears on every coin minted by the U.S. Treasury. We often see it with the emblem of the eagle, our national bird. The phrase e pluribus unum is a perfect description of the unity shared by the members of the body of Christ.

While there are many members, we are joined into a spiritual entity—the church. We are not many but are one. The purpose of this unity is at least twofold: (1) that believers may be in the Father and the Son and (2) that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus. Jesus prays that we may have the same oneness that He and the Father have. As we experience this God-like intimacy with one another, the world will believe that the Father sent the Son. In other words, Christian unity enables the world to see and understand that Jesus is divine in His origin and is God Himself. After all, one of the greatest miracles known to humankind is when Christians get along. Generally, this is so unusual that the world might die of shock! Instead, we need to ensure that they see this greatest possible witness —unified Christians.

In 17:21, Jesus asked us to be in the Father and Son. Now in 17:22-23, He asks that the Father and the Son may be in us. Jesus puts it like this: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” The “glory” (doxa) that Jesus received and gives to us refers to the servanthood of His incarnation—leaving the glory of heaven and coming to earth as a man. Jesus’ servanthood includes the cross and He invites us to share in His sufferings. This is the glory that He gives us. Jesus indicates that the purpose of our servanthood is that we may be “perfected” (teleioo) in unity. The Greek concept of “perfect” does not mean “flawless perfection”; rather, it carries the sense of maturity and completeness.

Ephesians 4:3 says that we must be diligent to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The key word is “preserve.” We must maintain what God has already instilled in the body of Christ. We don’t have to create unity, it is His Work. We are simply responsible to preserve what He has put into place. So while we possess unity; it isn’t “perfected,” unless we grow in it.

Along the coast of northern California are great forests of redwoods—the giant sequoias. Redwoods are noted for age, beauty, and fine wood. But one unusual characteristic of redwoods is their tendency toward unity. Two redwoods may grow up together several feet apart, and then after fifty or one hundred years the trees begin to touch. Quite often the bark begins to overlap and fill out so that the two trees ultimately become one. There are cases where a dozen trees have sprung up from the outer roots of a tree that has fallen and have formed a perfect circle. After several centuries these trees have grown together so that outwardly they appear as a single giant tree! In keeping with Christ’s prayer, the goal of the body of Christ should be to grow into such unity that the world will recognize us as one. The display of such unity in our individualistic society will be a testimony to the world of the divine Person and work of Christ.

Unity is paramount! Unity will win the day! Thomas Manton (1620-1677), the great Puritan preacher said, “Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world.” The converse is also true: Unity in the church builds belief from the world. Is the unity that you are experiencing impacting your community? Can you tell your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends that you are one with your church? You I need to be able to say, We are one! We are one!

In 17:24, Jesus prays that we would receive another type of “glory” (cf. 17:22). He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus’ use of “glory” refers to the future glorification of believers when we shall see Jesus as He is (1 John 3:2-3). Jesus wants us to see Him in all His glory. In Matthew 17:1-8, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’ glory when He was transfigured before them, but this was merely a dress rehearsal, a preview of eternity. The glory that Jesus desires to give us will not be momentary, it will be permanent. The word “given” is in the Greek perfect tense, meaning a past action with abiding results. In other words, Jesus has always possessed “glory,” but the unveiled expression of His glory is present now and will last for all eternity. Here, Jesus is deliberately contrasting His glory with the world’s glory which comes and goes. For the final time, He also emphasizes that we are those whom God the Father has “given” to Him. This is Jesus’ version of the unbreakable golden chain in Romans 8:30 where Paul states that God has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us.

Since we have been given to Jesus from the Father, He will ensure that we are kept for glory. In that day, we will be given a new body and will be made just like Jesus. We will see the full expression of Jesus’ glory and we will fall down before Him, much like the apostle John in Revelation 1:17. What a day that will be! When we see Jesus in all His glory, we will worship Him like never before and truly be able to say: We are one! We are one! In that day, our unity will finally be truly “perfected.”

Verses 25-26 mark the final verses of this chapter and the entire Upper Room discourse. In these two verses, Jesus summarizes all that He has prayed in John 17: “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus uses the word “known” five times in these two verses. He closes His prayer with a vow to the Father, but it is also a promise to us. He will continue to make His name (i.e., all that He is) known to us and also will be increasing the Father’s love in us. That is His sovereign vow, and it will be our continuing experience. Jesus concludes with the phrase, “I in them.” At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises His disciples that He will be with them all their days (28:20b), but here is an even greater promise: “I in them.” We are one because Jesus is in us!

I think after studying Jesus’ words it would be safe to say that Jesus wants unity—oneness among His followers. I would like to challenge us to do three things as we complete this series. These things can be simple prayers or commitments that you make to Jesus.

#1: I will focus on what unites rather than on what divides. You may have heard someone say, “keep the main thing the main thing.” This is especially critical in the local church. We must major on the majors not minor on the minors. We must focus our hearts and our minds on Christian essentials. We must always remember that as Christians, we agree on far more than we disagree. Thus, it is helpful to identify those areas on which we do agree. A few examples will suffice: The Bible is God’s Word, Jesus Christ is God, salvation is by faith through Christ alone, and Jesus will return. These beliefs are worth dying for, but many others are not. E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), missionary to India, once said, “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about Who you believe in and you have unity.” May we be a church that is all about Jesus and the essentials of our faith.

#2: I will agree to disagree with grace. It’s been said, “We can agree to disagree—until the Lord shows you that I’m right!” Seriously, I’m undoubtedly wrong in some of the non-essential tenants I believe. It is acceptable to disagree on issues such as the structure of church government, the role of women in the church, the charismatic gifts, and timing of creation and Christ’s return. These are non-essential issues that we can discuss and disagree agreeably on until Jesus’ returns. While doctrine is important, we must recognize the distinction between membership and fellowship. Local churches can and should have doctrinal distinctives, but these distinctives should pertain to church membership. They should not result in breaking fellowship with any regular attendee or brother and sister in Christ in the community. After all, we are one!

In every biological family some family members will be closer than others, but all should be one. In the same way, we must come together as a spiritual family and declare to the world, “We are one!” If we are functioning in conflict and disunity rather than unity, God will limit His work in our lives. If we have time to be blessed but not be a blessing; if we are selfish saints who want things from God but don’t want to mess with being a functioning member of a local church; or if we are causing disruption in the church by our attitudes and tongues, then we are wasting our time getting on our knees and asking God to do something for us. If we don’t want to hang with His children, what makes us think that our Dad in heaven will support our rebellion?

In Africa, a two-year-old child wandered off into the forest. The entire tribe spent the day searching for this youngster but could not find him. The next day, they decided to join hands and cover the entire area. They found the boy, but unfortunately, he was dead after having spent the night outside. The distraught mother cried, “Why didn’t we hold hands sooner?”

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come together, join hands, and pursue a common kingdom goal. Since we are going to enjoy the same place, the same presence, and the same Person, we need to all learn to enjoy one another. When we cooperate in Christianity unity, the world will see Jesus clearly revealed through His bride.

#3: I will validate not vilify. I want you to think about a believer with whom you disagree with doctrinally, philosophically, or practically. What are some positive things you can say about this person? This may require you to think hard, but this can be done. There are always positive things that we can say about other believers. It may take a conscious effort to think through a believer’s strengths, but we can all accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.

George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) were constantly at odds over their theology. Whitefield believed that God alone was responsible for our salvation. There was nothing man could do to bring it to pass. He affirmed God’s absolute Sovereignty over every aspect of life. Wesley agreed that God made our salvation possible in a way we could never do. However, Wesley contended that the salvation of the individual rested on the choice of man. It was a sometimes strong disagreement (as it continues today).

One day Whitefield was asked by one his followers, “Do you think that when we get to heaven we shall see John Wesley there?” “No,” said Whitefield, “I don’t think we shall.” The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Whitefield added, “I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the throne of God that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him.” Whitefield understood the words of Jesus. He knew that regardless of their disagreements on theology, they were brothers in Christ and he loved Charles Wesley. We are called to do likewise. We must not let denominational, theological, socio-economic, race or gender labels get in the way of our love for fellow members of God’s family.

If Christians are unloving, uncompassionate, selfish, argumentative, and divisive, they contradict the Lord they profess to serve. Nonbelievers won’t be convinced of Christianity’s claim to truth. Apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote, “In John 13, the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. In John 17, Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. The greatest testimony that we can possibly offer is not quoting Bible verses or providing some cutting edge outreach, it is loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and showcasing Christian community.

Spartacus is a classic movie that retells the historical account of the great Roman slave rebellion in 71 B.C. Spartacus was a highly trained gladiator who escaped and led other slaves to freedom. As news of his rebellion grew, thousands of slaves joined his cause and followed him through victories and defeats. Near the end of the movie, a massive Roman army under the command of Senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) captures the rebels. Although Crassus does not know what Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) looks like, he suspects that Spartacus is among the prisoners under guard. In full Roman uniform, Crassus gallops up to the mouth of the valley where the prisoners are being held and shouts an offer to them: they can escape death by crucifixion if they turn Spartacus over to him. Spartacus studies the ground for a moment and then nobly gets to his feet, intending to turn himself in. But before he can do so, his comrade to the left stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” Then his comrade to the right also stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” As the real Spartacus looks on, comrade after comrade in his slave army rises to their feet and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” until there is a chorus of thousands united.

As slaves of Jesus Christ, we need to stand as one and identify with our Lord Jesus even though it could mean our own end. Oneness can change the world. Will you promote Christian unity as your greatest witness?

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Jesus keeps us

Have you ever heard a spouse say, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper?” Of course you have. This is a common expression. Parents will say the same thing about a child, “He’s a keeper” or “She’s a keeper.” The idea behind this expression is: I really enjoy my spouse or child. I think I’ll keep him or her around. Often this idiom is used by a person who has trouble communicating his or her feelings. So by stating, “She’s a keeper” or “He’s a keeper,” such a person is able to communicate love without having to articulate the phrase, “I love you.”

One of the ways that Jesus communicates His love to you is by keeping you. Jesus says, “You’re a keeper, not because of anything you’ve done but simply because I love you.” Jesus keeps you and me through His life, death, resurrection, and intercession. The old adage, “Finders keepers” is really true when it comes to Jesus. He finds us and He keeps us. This is why we can say that Jesus is “The Keeper.” In John 17:6-19, Jesus prays to the Father that He will keep the disciples safe in a hostile world and guard them from Satan. It is worth noting that Jesus prays for His disciples before He chose them (Luke 6:12), during His ministry (John 6:15), at the end of His ministry (Luke 22:32), and later in heaven (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). Prayer was and is incredibly important to Jesus and should be to us as well. In these verses, Jesus makes three requests for His followers. First, He prays for security (17:11). Second, He prays for protection (17:15). Finally, He prays for sanctification (17:17).

John records Jesus’ opening words in 17:6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” Jesus manifested God’s name to His disciples. The word “manifest” (phaneroo) means “to make visible or clear.” In this particular context, the word means “to make known by word of mouth.” During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He manifested God’s name (i.e., His character) with His lips. The manifesting of the “name” of God is an Old Testament theme (Ps 113:3; Isa 59:19; 66:19). Malachi prophesied with the words of God Himself when He stated “My name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal 1:11). Have you sought to make God’s name great with your lips? While it’s important to manifest God with your life, it’s equally necessary to manifest God with your lips. Are you following in Jesus’ sandals? Do people in your neighborhood, work, and school know that you’re a Christian? Have you clearly communicated this so that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind? Jesus made sure that His disciples understood how to have a relationship with God. He also emphasized how they could come to understand God’s character. Are you all about manifesting and revealing the Lord?

Jesus viewed the disciples as those whom God had given to Him out of the world (cf. 6:37; 15:19), not as those who had chosen to follow Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him. This viewpoint accounts for Jesus’ confidence as He anticipates their future. They belong to God, and therefore, God will protect them. Similarly, God will protect you if you belong to Him. It’s all made possible through God’s gracious gift. This is confirmed in the final phrase of 17:6: “they have kept Your word.” In John’s gospel, when Jesus refers to His “words” (plural), He is talking about His commands, but when He refers to His “word” (singular) He is talking about His gospel. Thus, Jesus is indicating that the disciples have responded to the gospel. While the disciples were often marked with selfishness and short-sightedness, they believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. While Jesus is certainly concerned about your obedience in response to the gospel, He is first and foremost interested in whether or not you have trusted in Him as your Savior. Today, have you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? If you were to die today, do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would spend eternity with Christ? If there is any doubt in your mind, place your faith in Jesus Christ alone today. Remember Jesus’ words, “Finders keepers.” If you are found in Him, you will be kept for all of eternity.

Jesus continues His prayer in 17:7-8: “Now they [the disciples] have come to know that everything You [the Father] have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.” There was much that the eleven disciples didn’t yet understand, but they did believe that Jesus had come from God and that His words were God’s words. Commendably, they accepted Jesus’ teachings even though they didn’t understand them fully, and what they understood they believed. Like the disciples, do you and I “receive” and “believe” God’s Word?

In 17:9-10, Jesus now explicitly begins His prayer for the disciples: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus makes it clear that He is praying for His disciples, not for the world in general. On the last night of Jesus’ earthly life, He focuses on praying for those who are believers. Too often we pray for unbelievers until they accept Christ and then drop them from our prayer list. The point at which Christ and the disciples intensively begin prayer, we tend to stop. Have you stopped praying for a believer you used to pray for? Is the Lord prompting you to pray for this person once again? If so, please respond to His prompting. There’s likely a reason that the Lord is bringing this person to your mind. He may choose to use your prayers to take this person to the next level of spiritual maturity.

Jesus also indicates in 17:10 that He has been “glorified” by His disciples. He is referring specifically to the disciples’ initial faith in Him (cf. 2:11) and additional baby steps they have taken. Do you consciously consider Jesus’ desire to be glorified by your life? How can you seek to glorify Him more in your life? As a church, how can we prioritize the glory of Jesus Christ above all else?

In 17:11 Jesus declares, “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” In light of Jesus’ imminent departure, He prays for His disciples. The title “Holy Father” appears only here in the Bible and is a reminder that God is both pure and paternal. Jesus prays that His disciples will be kept in God’s name. In ancient times a “name” represented one’s character or reputation. This has some carry-over into modern culture. Perhaps your father or mother used to admonish you to do nothing that would bring dishonor to the family name. Your parent’s concern was that your activities not detract from the family reputation. Likewise, God has entrusted His reputation to Christ, who revealed it to the disciples. Now Jesus prays that the disciples may be kept true to that revelation. The purpose of this prayer is that the disciples might share a unity of spirit modeled after the unity shared by the Father and the Son in the Trinity. How is God’s reputation and character doing at your school or work? Are you an answer to Jesus’ prayer? Do you represent God well or does your life send mixed messages?

Regardless, Jesus is committed to you. In 17:12 He prays, “While I was with them [the disciples], I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Jesus makes it clear that He kept and guarded His disciples’ salvation while He was on earth. The only exception was Judas, “the son of perdition,” who was an unbeliever. In 6:64 Jesus said, “‘but there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” This is made clear in 6:70 where Jesus declares, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Later in 13:10, Christ said that Judas was not among those who were clean. Again, in 18:9 He reiterates, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” Although Judas was certainly one of Jesus’ disciples, he never believed in Him as his Savior. Therefore, to read into this account a loss of salvation is fallacious. It also contradicts Jesus’ own words that He did not lose any whom the Father had given Him.

Salvation for those who believe is secure because it’s a free gift. The Lord didn’t make the down payment for salvation and then expect you to keep up with the installments. If you cannot be saved as a result of your good works, you cannot lose your salvation as a result of your bad works. Salvation is of God. He desires to save those whom He has given to Christ as a gift. It is inconceivable that any one of them will be lost. Today, if you have wrestled with the assurance of your salvation, put your fears to rest once and for all. Trust in the promises of God’s Word. Jesus declares, “Finders keepers.”

In 17:13, Jesus gives the reason that He prays these great truths: “But now I come to You[Father]; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” Jesus wants His disciples to experience full joy once He leaves. Just knowing that Jesus had kept them and will continue to keep them ought to facilitate joy. Does the promise of eternal life cause joy to well up within you? Despite the challenges in your life, are you filled with Jesus’ joy?

Jesus continues His prayer in 17:14-16 where He says, “I have given them [the disciples] Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus gives the disciples God’s Word, and the world hates them. The world hates Christians because we do not support their agenda. Instead, we follow Christ and His kingdom agenda. This quickly creates enemies! Yet, it is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t pray that disciples be exempted from evil. That prayer will not be answered until we receive glorified bodies and are in heaven. It’s significant that Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all prayed to be taken out of the world, but in no case was the request granted. The goal is not isolation, but insulation. Jesus prays that His disciples may be kept from the influence of the evil one.

In 17:17, Jesus utters a classic verse on the authority of the Scriptures:  “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” In this context, “to sanctify” (hagiazo) means: “to set apart for God’s service.” The Word is the sphere by and in which believers are sanctified. With the mind we learn God’s truth through the Word. With the heart, we love God’s truth, His Son (14:6). With the will we yield to the Spirit (of truth, cf. 14:17; 16:13) and live God’s truth day by day. It takes all three for a balanced experience of sanctification. The Bible is the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth! You cannot grow without a regular diet of Scripture. If the only biblical “meal,” you get is on Sunday, you’re not growing. Newborn babies don’t take six-day breaks between meals. In fact most newborns don’t even take three-hour breaks between meals. There are a lot of Christians who start off with a real growth spurt because they are so hungry for the Word. They can’t get enough of it fast enough. But then as time goes on, their biblical “feeding schedule” gets off because the Word becomes a convenient extra in their lives. They begin to get spiritually weak because they aren’t getting enough nourishment for their souls.

So what do you do if you’ve lost your appetite for the Scripture? If you’ve lost your taste for the Word you need to force-feed yourself for a while. That’s what the hospital does when, for whatever reason, you can’t eat on your own. The doctors put a tube into you directly. In a sense, they force you to eat, because they know you won’t get better without nutrition. God knows you won’t grow or get better without the Word. Spiritually, many of us are losing weight that we can’t afford to lose. We are spiritually emaciated, because we have not been feeding on the Word regularly.

We must never underestimate the value of simply reading our Bibles. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I can find ten men who will die for the Bible for everyone who will read it!” Because the Bible is spiritual nutrition, we can be fed just by reading it, whether we think we’re getting anything or not. The Word is like taking vitamins. You may not feel an immediate benefit when you take a handful of vitamins; yet, when you take them consistently, the invisible work they do inside your body is staggering.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fill up on physical and spiritual “junk food.” I’m a cold cereal aficionado. I like cold cereal because it is quick, easy, and tasty. I typically crave sugar sweetened cereals (e.g., Frosted Flakes primarily), but one bowl rarely satisfies me. I could go after a second bowl, and sometimes even a third bowl. The reason is simple: There’s little lasting nutrition in the cereals I eat. Spiritually speaking, it’s all too easy to fill up on sports, television, music, social networking, hobbies, work, or maybe even pornography. Yet, God will not allow you to be satisfied with any of these substitutes. He has designed you to only be satisfied with His Word.

Today, will you become a student of the Word? I encourage you to read the Bible daily. Begin at the beginning of a book and read it all the way through. Start with the gospel of John or the book of Romans. Pray that the Lord reveals Himself to you in a powerful way. Read with a pencil and underline the things God will teach you. Then after you have underlined, be sure to obey. It’s really that simple. Don’t put off this discipline another day. Ask the Lord to change your life from the inside out today.

The mission aspect of Jesus’ words is clearly seen in 17:18-19: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” The key phrase in these verses is: “into the world.” Sanctification in John’s gospel is always for a mission. Sanctification’s mission is to bring truth, light, and salvation to the world. In 3:17, the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus now sends the disciples into the world to continue His mission after His departure. They are, in a sense, being commissioned. When Jesus speaks of sanctifying Himself on behalf of the disciples (17:19) the meaning is closer to the consecration of a sacrificial animal (Deut 15:19). Jesus is “setting Himself apart” to do the Father’s will, that is, to go to the cross on the disciples’ behalf. Jesus is the perfect example of a sanctified person. He devoted Himself completely and consistently to God’s will for Him. Throughout His entire life, in every attitude, culminating in His death, Jesus lived for God. Similarly, the disciples should see their purposes for living as not their own, but shaped by God’s mission for them.

The great evangelist D.L. Moody stopped a stranger one day on the street and asked him, “Are you a Christian?” The man was put off by the question, so he said, “Mind your own business!” Moody said, “This is my business!” The man looked to him and said, “Then you must be Moody.” Wouldn’t it be great to be known as “the person whose business is witnessing?” This is your business.

Are you accomplishing God’s mission for your life? Are you looking forward or looking back in your life? Are you focusing on your potential or your past failure? Perhaps you’re drowning in your past failures. Your divorce continues to haunt you. The lack of time you spent with your kids when they were growing up grieves you. Maybe you deeply regret your rebellious years away from the Lord. I encourage you to put a sign on your mirror that says: “God looks at where He wants to take you, not where you have already been.” Let go of the past and look ahead! Jesus says, “Finders keepers.” He has found you and will keep you.


 

Measuring our lives

Death Wish! What a great title for an action movie. (I wish I had come up with it!) Charles Bronson starred in the original Death Wish back in 1974. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted. Death Wish was a huge success and generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels, spread over a twenty year period. Bronson starred in Death Wish 1 at age fifty-three, and capped off Death Wish 5 at the ripe, young age of seventy-three. Obviously, this made for a rather unusual action hero. In Death Wish 2, a sixty-year old Bronson has a gun pointed at a criminal and utters this classic one-liner: “Do you believe in Jesus?” The criminal frantically assures Bronson that he does. Bronson then replies, “Well, you’re about to meet Him.” (I won’t tell you what happens next, but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Death Wish became a subject of parody for its over-the-top violence and the advancing age of Bronson. An episode of The Simpsons showed a fictional ad for Death Wish 9 consisting of a bed-ridden Bronson saying, “I wish I was dead.” While this spoof was amusing, it exposes the futility of personal retaliation and vindication.

I think the Death Wish movies epitomize the heart of our society. Our human tendency is to exclaim, “What goes around comes around. If you mess with me; I’m going to mess with you.” If someone takes something or someone away from us, we feel the irresistible urge to take matters into our own hands. After all, we need to avenge and vindicate ourselves. The underlying motive behind this type of thinking is a quest for our own glory. This is in direct contrast to Jesus Christ, who was driven by a desire to turn the other cheek, forgive wicked sinners, and glorify God. Instead of giving in to His own desires, Jesus lived for God’s glory alone.

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus prays, what is likely, the greatest prayer in the Bible. John 17 nicely divides into three sections. In the first section (17:1-5), Jesus prays for Himself. The key word here is “glory.” Jesus requests the Father to glorify Him with the glory they shared from eternity. In the second section (17:6-19), He prays for His disciples. The key word is “kept.” Jesus asks the Father to preserve His disciples. In the third section (17:20-26), Jesus prays for the church. The key word is “one.” Jesus desires for His church to be one with each other. Each section forms a unified whole that reflects Jesus’ desire to glorify God. Nowhere is this clearer than 17:1-5.

In 17:1 John writes, “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” In the opening line of Jesus’ prayer He looks for glory in the last place people would look for it—the cross. In this verse, the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father are one and the same because Jesus is God. The word “glorify” (doxazo) means “show honor” or “reveal the wonderful character of something or someone.” Jesus “glorified” God in His life and death. He revealed many aspects of God’s character: His power, His holiness, His compassion, His grace, His love, His wisdom—and so on. His life was the ultimate expression of glorifying God. “These things” refers back to all that Jesus has spoken in John 13-16. After sharing His heart with His disciples, Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and launches into prayer.

The term “Father” (pater) is used six times in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Aramaic term was Abba, which means, “Daddy.” Jesus is intimate with God the Father and you can be too. But perhaps your earthly father has significantly sinned against you, and you now have an inaccurate view of your heavenly Father. God wants you to know that He can bring healing to your wounded heart. Today, will you call out to God as your Father and let Him care for you? This is a prayer that God will always answer. The phrase “the hour has come” shows that Jesus knows the purpose and timing of His ministry. He is not overtaken by unknown circumstances. The cross has been strategically planned from eternity past. The cross itself “glorifies” the Father and the Son. Thus, Jesus’ request is that He may be given the strength to continue to be faithful as He goes to the cross. Jesus is praying that He might die well. He wants to be faithful in the face of suffering and death.

Have you ever contemplated the importance of glorifying God in your death? While it is important to live well; it is also important to die well. Today, whether you are young or old, will you ask God to prepare you to die well? Will you ask Him to be glorified in the way you accept your mortality? Will you begin to pray, “God, use even my memorial service to glorify You and bring many to faith in Christ?” To return to the opening illustration, Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey) lived a long life. Yet, his life was miserable. For him, there were always more sinners that needed be killed. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, lived a relatively short life, yet He died for sinners. Philosopher William James said that the value of life is computed not by its duration but by its donation. Except for the obvious necessity of the cross, Jesus could have continued performing amazing deeds if He had lived longer. But such deeds wouldn’t have enlarged His supreme donation—His life and death, which provided our great salvation. The work that He completed is still bearing fruit by His Spirit. It is important to remember that one’s harvest is not always reaped in this life. God’s work through our lives will continue bearing fruit long after we’re gone. This means it’s not how long you live, but how you live and how you die that matters.

You and I should be primarily concerned about God’s glory. There’s nothing wrong with being concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s hangnail or a sick pet. God cares about every detail of your life. Moreover, every request is small to God because He is a great God. However, God is ultimately most interested in His glory, and He wants you to share this passion. So when you pray for someone, please be sure to include God’s glory in your request. When you pray, “Lord, bless me,” you should quickly add, “so that I may be able to bless You.” This entails a motive check. It’s so easy to be preoccupied with ourselves—our marriage, our family, our work, our ministry.

Spend time searching your heart this week (Ps 139:23-24). Ask the Lord if your life is driven by a yearning for His glory. Ask Him some penetrating questions: “Does my marriage glorify You?” If not, “What would it take to strengthen my marriage so that it glorifies you?” If you are contemplating marriage, ask the Lord, “Will my marriage glorify You?” If not, there’s no ultimate purpose in getting married. Ask the Lord, “Does my family glorify You?” If so, “What can I do to further enhance my family so that You receive more glory?” Ask the Lord, “Does my ministry glorify You?” If so, what can I do to ensure that this next year brings You even more glory? Ask the Lord, “Does my work glorify You?” If not, “What can I do to correct my faulty behavior or attitude?” Every area of your life is meant to exude God’s glory. This is why Paul says in 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

In 17:2, Jesus reveals that God’s glory is revealed through the free gift of eternal life. Jesus prays, “[May the Son glorify You] even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” Jesus affirms that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh,” which is an awesome statement by a peasant carpenter. This phrase once again confirms that Jesus is God. But Jesus’ words are specifically targeted to all whom the Father has given Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him. This is incredibly profound!

The Father gives believers to Jesus, and the Son gives these believers eternal life. Through and through, eternal life is a gift from God through Christ. If you have never received the free gift that Jesus offers, would you do so today? Jesus offers eternal life to anyone who will simply ask Him for it. In one of the clearest passages in the New Testament, John 6:37-40, Jesus says: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” In one of the final verses of the New Testament, Rev 22:17, Jesus says, “Come. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Please receive the gift of eternal life today. Trust in God’s Word, not your works; His promise, not your performance. As you do, you will experience the joy and assurance of being in a right relationship with God. There’s no greater confidence in the world.

Jesus now makes a somewhat parenthetical statement and defines “eternal life” in 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Most Christians assume that “eternal life” means to go to heaven when you die. This is certainly true—eternal life is a quantity (i.e., duration) of life. It refers to an unending life with God. But eternal life can also refer to a quality of life. In this context, Jesus is referring to a quality of life that brings about “abundant life” (10:10). He explains that this occurs through an intimate and personal knowledge of God the Father and Christ the Son. The word translated “know” (ginosko) is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and in the Greek New Testament to describe the intimacy associated with a sexual union. Ginosko can carry the idea, “to know by observation and experience—an intimate experiential knowledge.” Why is knowing God a key to experiencing eternal life? Because right thinking precedes right living. We cannot experience true intimacy with God (i.e., eternal life) apart from right living. So how can we know God and experience eternal life?

  • Read through the Bible regularly, focusing especially on Jesus’ life in the Gospels.I encourage you to make a Bible reading commitment for this month. Don’t think about next year just yet. Start with today. After you’ve gained some reading success, make a goal for next year, and be sure to focus on Jesus’ life. I think it’s critical to keep Jesus before us at all times.
  • Obey what you read in the Word.James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Our prayer must always be: “Lord, help us to experience transformation, not just information.” We don’t want to wind up like spiritual blowfish—puffed up with knowledge (1 Cor 8:1). Instead, we want to apply God’s Word every time we read it. This week, would you consider reading less and applying more? I would not be disappointed if you only read one verse as long as you disciplined yourself to apply that verse. Many Christians read several chapters in the morning and forget everything that they’ve read by the time they finish their last sip of coffee. Better to read a verse and apply it.
  • Enjoy God in creation.On a trip to Alaska I was awed by the beauty of God’s creation. I was drawn closer to God because His autograph (creation) was showcased. Admittedly, the Lord also convicted me of the sin of failing to appreciate His beauty in creation. I sensed the Lord saying, “I didn’t place you in Iceland or Timbuktu. I put you in one of the best places in the world—Texas. Yet you don’t always appreciate My beauty.” OUCH! Consequently, I’ve decided to spend more time seeking to know God in creation.
  • Change an attitude.No one likes to experience change, except perhaps the babies in our nursery. Yet, we must always be seeking to grow in our relationship with Christ. This means adjusting our attitudes so they better reflect Christ. Are you jealous of a coworker? Do you resent one of your children or siblings? Are you bitter with your spouse? Today, ask the Lord to change one of your attitudes. Don’t try to change every negative, unhealthy attitude. That would overwhelm you. Just ask the Lord to reveal one sinful attitude at a time. The Holy Spirit will enable you to become more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

Jesus concludes 17:3 by affirming that He was “sent” by God. More than forty times Jesus speaks of the fact that He was sent. He had a mission to accomplish. We, also, have a mission to accomplish. When we are done, God will take us home. Make knowing God and Jesus the passionate pursuit of your life.

In 17:4, Jesus imparts one of the greatest principles in the New Testament. Praying to His Father, He says, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” Jesus now looks back on the entirety of His earthy ministry and declares that He has glorified God by completing the work that God entrusted to Him. Jesus’ work was to reveal the Father, live a perfect life as a man, and redeem humankind. The work that God gave Jesus to do was focused on the cross (e.g., 12:23-24). When Jesus utters His final prayer, the cross still lies ahead, but by faith, He anticipates the successful completion of His mission. Jesus considers it a certainty because He had purposed to do the Father’s will. The verb translated “accomplished” (teleioo) is used earlier in John 4:34 where Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

Jesus reveals that God is glorified through the accomplishments of His obedient servants. What has God called you to do? If you’re a high school or college student, He most likely has called you to graduate. If you are married, He’s called you to fulfill your marriage covenant: “for better or worse, till’ death do you part.” If you’re involved in a ministry, He yearns for you to continue to serve Him for the rest of your days. In each of these scenarios, it is easy to become weary, impatient, frustrated, and angry. It is natural to consider giving up. But the Lord wants you to accomplish the work that He has called you to do. He has placed you in an area of ministry that is unique to you. Your relationships are ones that only you can have; He wants you to serve Him faithfully. 

This section closes in 17:5 with Jesus saying, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” In 17:5, Jesus clarifies and elaborates on His request in 17:1. This verse alludes to Jesus’ existence prior to His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus claims that He existed before the world existed. This implies that the material universe is not eternal but was brought into being by God. Before that, nothing material existed. But God existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus demonstrates that He is God. Christ prays that His full glory will be restored, that His divine attributes will be fully displayed as a means of enhancing the Father’s reputation. He would enter into that glory in a new way—as the God-man, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is this glorified God-man we shall see in heaven. Jesus looks beyond His imminent suffering to future glory in the Father’s presence (cf. 17:24).

The reason that Jesus glorified God throughout His life and finished well is because He made prior commitments. Decisions in life must be made in advance. If you are making decisions based upon your emotions, you are not setting a course for your life that will result in the accomplishment of the Father’s will. When did Jesus steel His attitude to be one of total yieldedness to the Father’s will? Prior to the beginning of His public ministry He lingered in Jerusalem in the Temple discussing Scripture with the religious leadership of Israel (Luke 2:41-50). At the outset of His public ministry Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting (Matt 4:1-11). Several times during His public ministry Jesus retreated to be alone in prayer and meditation (Matt 14:13, 23; 17:1; 26:36). From the very beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, He made sure that He would carry out the Father’s will.

If you wanted to preserve your virginity until marriage, you had to make this decision in an advance before temptation struck. If you want to remain married for the rest of your life, you need to make that determination before you even think about getting married. If you want to honor your parents, you have to make this a core conviction. If you want to stand strong and witness for Christ, you need to come to this conclusion before the world’s hatred hits. It’s very difficult to live for Christ when you’re hoping that things are just going to work themselves out. This rarely happens. The Christian who perseveres and overcomes is the one who makes up his or her mind before trials and temptations come. We are all weak and susceptible. We can all potentially give God a black eye and fail to glorify Him. This is why it is so important to make God’s glory your all-consuming passion.

When I was growing up, I used to enjoy Tombstone pizza commercials. You may recall they coined the slogan: “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Of course, the dilemma was: pepperoni or sausage? But the commercials would have a man being put before a firing squad or facing the death penalty and being asked his final wish, “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Today, on a far more serious note, I would like to pose the same question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” At any time, you could die. Whether you are a police officer, a soldier, a student, or a housewife, there’s no guarantee that you will live a full life. So the question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” is critically important. What I want on my tombstone is one thing: GLORY! I want God’s glory to be the topping of my life. In order to experience this, I strive to live a life sold out to Jesus Christ.

The power of the resurrection

I take the long way around my personal problems and my messes. I do my best to do everything right. I strive to follow all the right steps. I read all the right books and talk to all the right people. But somewhere in the midst of my hard work and frantic rush, I forget to cry out to Jesus and depend upon Him. If I would just stop and listen to Jesus, He would tell me, “Just go the right way and save yourself some precious time. Cling to My cross and rely upon My resurrection.” In John 16:16-33, Jesus talks to His disciples about the challenges that will await them after His departure.

In 16:16-19, John reveals that you’ll experience perplexity in the crises of life if you fail to appreciate the implications of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says, “‘A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.’ Some of His disciples then said to one another, ‘What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about. Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” You’re probably thinking: What a bizarre series of verses, right? I’m with you. This is a peculiar exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Verses 16, 17, and 19 contain an identical refrain (“a little while”) that concerns first, not seeing Jesus shortly, and second, seeing Jesus shortly. It sounds like an ancient game of peek-a-boo: “Now you see Me; now you don’t.” Naturally, the disciples have no idea what Jesus is saying so they converse among themselves. Their confusion is somewhat understandable. In 16:10, Jesus has said that He is going to the Father and they will not see Him any longer. Then He says that they will see Him, and it won’t be long. What does this all mean? Quite simply, Jesus is saying that His time on earth is drawing to a close. His disciples will only see Him for another few hours. But in three days, they will see Him again when He rises from the dead (cf. 20:17-23).

It’s a lot easier for us to see Jesus’ intended meaning since we have the full counsel of God’s Word. The disciples, on the other hand, are expecting a Messiah that will rule and reign, not die and depart. So they began discussing what Jesus means. The verb tense in 16:18 that is translated “they were saying” denotes that the disciples were continually speaking among themselves, so we get the picture that there is a considerable amount of discussion going on. Nevertheless, I appreciate their willingness to admit their ignorance instead of pretending to be spiritual know-it-alls. Sadly, they didn’t take their questions to Jesus. Instead, they tried to figure things out for themselves. So here they are talking amongst themselves when they should be listening to Jesus. Stop right now and say, “Note to self: Don’t try to figure out the Bible myself. Rather, ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for revelation. Don’t attempt to neatly categorize and systemize the Bible.” There are some biblical tensions. One of the reasons Jesus included these in Scripture is so that we would have to depend upon Him and ask Him for insight. Similarly, our church needs to be a safe place that welcomes questions from those seeking to understand the Bible. We must do what we can to help people feel comfortable enough to ask spiritual questions. In our day and age, most people (including many Christians) know very little about the Scriptures. We must help each other grow in our understanding of His Word.

In 16:20-24, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite your crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:20-22 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you7 will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”You’ve got to hand it to Jesus; He always tells His disciples the truth in advance. In these verses, the noun “sorrow” and the verb translated “be sorrowful” appear four times, while words with similar meanings (“weep,” “lament,” and “anguish”) appear three times. The noun “joy” and its verb “rejoice,” appear five times. Each time a word associated with sorrow is used, it is contrasted with joy. Jesus’ point: The greatest spiritual progress often follows the greatest sufferings. The greatest blessing that would ever come to these apostles—the gift of the Holy Spirit—would follow the greatest trauma they had ever experienced. It has been observed that Jesus does not tell His disciples that their sorrow will be replaced by joy, but rather that their sorrow will be turned into joy. There is a very significant difference. Many wish to have joy, but they want to have it without sorrow. If joy is sorrow which God has transformed into joy, then we must endure the sorrow to experience the joy.

I must confess, I got a kick out of Jesus’ illustration about childbearing in 16:21. I could never get away with using such an illustration! I’d be feathered and tarred and run out of town. But Jesus, the Son of God, can say whatever He likes. I do smile a bit, though, because Jesus spoke these words in the presence of eleven men. Even though He could have gotten away with these words, He didn’t speak them in the presence of any women. I would also add that it is likely that Jesus is using hyperbole when He refers to a woman who no longer remembers the pain of her labor. I suspect most women remember the pain for a relatively long time. Perhaps just reading these words causes you pain. You will never forget all that you went through. But the pain of childbirth is turned into joy as you behold your child. Likewise, our temporary trials will be turned into joy (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18).

In the last clause of 16:22 Jesus says, “. . . no one will take your joy away from you.” I love this! No matter what kind of earthly success you experience, it is temporary. You may be smart, successful, strong, popular, and good-looking, but these blessings can fade like a breath. The joy that Jesus offers is eternal. It is good for this life and the life to come. As the old adage says, “Happiness is the result of happenings, whereas joy is the result of Jesus.” Today, will you choose joy regardless of your circumstances?

In 16:23-24, Jesus transitions to the topic of prayer. He does so because He recognizes that prayer is essential when one encounters troubling times. Jesus says: “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”After Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the disciples’ questions will be answered. Furthermore, Jesus’ death and resurrection will open for them the way to prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name (cf. 14:13; 15:16). I’m not referring to what you hear on Christian television: “In Jesus name.” Nor am I speaking about how our children often conclude their prayers with a rapid-fire, slurred version of “InJesusNameAmen.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that Jesus’ will is accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It is to pray that His plan, program, and purpose are accomplished. When you pray according to His will, your prayers will be answered.

It is significant that the joy Christ promises is connected with prayer. Although prayer is designed for God’s glory, it’s also for our good. The purpose clause at the end of 16:24 reads: “so that your joy may be made full.” So, why is the church lacking in joy? Why are you lacking in joy? What is it that Jesus Christ has already done that you are trying to do? Jesus wants you and me to pray to Him. He wants us to cry out to Him. He wants you to come to the end of yourself. He wants us to cry out, “I can’t . . . you can . . . please help.” 

In 16:25-33, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite life’s crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:25 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Explicit predictions about future events would have overtaxed the disciples’ weak faith at this point (cf. 16:12-13), so Jesus spoke to the disciples in figures of speech. He then immediately follows up his figure with two more verses on prayer: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father” (16:26-27).

With small variations, this promise is repeated six times in this discourse. The reason: Disciples are often guilty of being prayerless. In these verses, Jesus emphasizes God the Father’s great love for the disciples. Despite their unfaithfulness, God had a deep love for them because they love Jesus. Consequently, Jesus’ death will afford the disciples a deeper and more intimate relationship with His Father. They will now have the opportunity to pray to the Father 24-7. Jesus would no longer need to pray on their behalf in the role of an earthly priest, but He will intercede for them as a heavenly priest. What a privilege to experience direct communion with the God of the universe!

Yet, the sad truth is most Christians are more concerned with God’s blessings than they are with God’s presence. In other words, many Christians are seeking a God who provides secrets and solutions to better health, a better career, a better marriage and family, or more money. What about you? Do you see prayer as a “request-line” or as a “life-line?” Jesus wants you and me to be in love with Him. He wants us to deeply desire Him above all else. Today, will you respond to the Father’s love and begin to communicate with Him? He wants to hear from you. Maybe you are intimidated because you assume that you’ll have to pray two or three hours a day. Don’t worry about the duration of time. Simply take a baby step and make a commitment to begin talking to God. When my children want to talk with me, even if it’s just a sentence or two, I want to listen and hear from them. From what I’ve been told as children move into the teenage years, relish even a simple sentence of conversation. Did you know that God feels this way about you? He wants to converse with you. He wants you to pour out your heart to Him—your dreams, your hopes, your interests. While He already knows all of it, He still thoroughly enjoys fellowship with you. I know this is mind boggling, but it’s true. God loves you and desires intimacy with you through prayer.

The reason that God can have unconditional love for you and me is found in 16:28. Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” This verse is a summary of the whole visit of the Son to the world. It includes His mission, nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Everything that Jesus is and all that He has accomplished makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God and to be recipients of His love.

In 16:29-32, John records a surprising exchange. Jesus’ disciples say, “‘Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” The overconfidence of the disciples is startling! Apparently now, everything is crystal clear. The light switch has been flicked on. Yet, Jesus humbles them with a question with thinly veiled skepticism, amounting to a mild rebuke: “Do you now believe?” Jesus is speaking with a bit of irony and sarcasm. However, Jesus’ words do not imply that their faith in Him is non-existent; they have believed that He is the Messiah (cf. 2:11). He is merely saying that at the present time their faith is inadequate. After the resurrections occurs, the disciples will come to believe that He is both Lord and God (cf. 20:28). You and I continue in the Christian life the same way we began, by believing in Jesus. The more we learn of Christ, the more we have to believe. The more we place our trust in Jesus, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we can accomplish for His glory.

Jesus proceeds to allude to Zech 13:7. As predicted, all the disciples (except Peter and John, 18:15) abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even though He was abandoned by His disciples, Jesus wasn’t completely alone—the Father is with Him. And important principle emanates from Jesus’ words: People (even disciples) are fickle, but God is faithful. The truth is your spouse will disappoint you. Your children and grandchildren will disappoint you. Your coworkers and neighbors will disappoint you. Your pastors and elders will disappoint you. There will be times in your life when it seems like everyone has let you down and you’re all alone. Yet, Jesus wants you to know that God will never leave you nor forsake you (cf. Heb 13:5). I believe God often allows people to disappoint us so that we have no one to look to but Him. If people always meet our needs and never disappointed us, we would never choose to look to God. We could be satisfied in all of our horizontal relationships with other people. Ultimately, God wants us to be satisfied with Him alone. He yearns for our vertical relationship to be the most important pursuit in our lives. Will you prioritize God today because you’re grateful for His faithfulness, not because everyone has left you high and dry? He wants your love and gratitude.

Jesus’ final words in this passage are also His final words to His disciples on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Chapter 17 begins Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer to the Father. So Jesus has been building up to an important word in 16:33. He says: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The phrase “these things I have spoken to you” refers back to all that Jesus has said in the Upper Room Discourse. What Jesus has been building up to is a single word: PEACE. Jesus wants the disciples to experience His peace. He knows that they are anxious and frightened over His departure so He offers them peace. First though, He assures His disciples that they will have “tribulation.” This is one Bible promise very few “claim” today. The word “tribulation” (thilipsis) doesn’t point to some minor irritation, but to very real hardship. It is used, for example, of the treading of grapes. Perhaps you can relate to this. Do you ever feel like you are being squished and squashed? Do you ever feel like your insides are being sprayed all over the place? Today, are you feeling pressure to the breaking point? The world offers pressure; Christ offers peace. He is available to you today.

Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” Notice, He doesn’t say, “I will overcome the world.” Instead, he uses a perfect tense verb which refers to a past act with abiding results. The verb translated “overcome” is the Greek verb nikao. The noun form is nike, which means “victory.” I’d like to believe that the Nike Corporation chose their name based upon Jesus words in John 16:33, but this may be wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the reason that you and I can experience peace in this world is because Jesus has already overcome the world. In eternity past, the Trinity gathered and determined that God would be most glorified by providing a way for humankind to enter into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. True peace occurs when you and I cling to the cross and rely upon His resurrection.

Perhaps, you’re dealing with a daunting besetting sin that is laying waste to you. Have you stopped to reflect on the fact that Christ’s resurrection has resurrected you and has given you all the power you need to overcome your vice? Maybe you’re spiraling downward in depression over your marriage and family problems or your work circumstances. Did you know that Christ’s resurrection power can soften hearts and change circumstances? You may be feeling utterly hopeless because of your physical challenges. Yet, Christ’s resurrection promises you a new body with no more weakness, sickness, or death. The resurrection can raise you up in the midst of your trials and frustrations. Many times we’re looking for a “silver bullet” solution and Jesus is saying: “Won’t you please just return to the tried and true fundamentals of the faith. I want to give you hope, I want to minister to you in your time of need. But I want you to depend upon Me. Call out to Me today. Ask Me to come and meet your needs.” Times of trouble are times for trust.

I have read of an artist who wanted to paint a picture of peace. He chose, of all things, a storm beating against a rocky coast and depicted the waves, mountain high, crashing against the mighty rocks. He put a shipwreck in his picture, with a great ship driven up against the rocks and in the process of breaking up. In the water nearby there is the body of a drowned sailor. He has made it obvious that there is a wild storm beating against the coast and that this storm means danger and even death to people caught in it. But in the foreground there’s a mighty rock with a crack in it, and in the crack a dove has built her nest and is sitting in it, secure. Underneath, the artist has written the one word: “Peace.”

Jesus promises you peace because He has overcome the world. As you cling to His cross and rely upon His resurrection, you will experience His victory even in life’s most difficult circumstances.