John 17: 24 - 26
A Better World
I am sure some of you have already seen the Christmas advert for Mark’s and Spencer’s on TV. It asks, what does Christmas mean to the Celebrities? There are then references to the Turkey, the food, the tinsel and the pressies - but no mention of what really matters - Jesus Christ. I suppose we are not really surprised by this because it has always been clear that the world has totally the wrong priorities. Life to the world is about comfort, money, possessions, family, friends, having a good time. Their argument of course is that you have to think this way since you only live once. Anna Nicole Smyth now has a TV show in America, which they have started to broadcast here, and it shows just how unsatisfying this world is. She fought for a massive will settlement and as a result is now a multi-millionaire, but has it brought happiness? No! Has it made her a nicer person? No! Has it given her good friends? No! Has it given her good taste? Under no circumstances! She wanted a room in her house covered with bright pink silk and leopard skin on the ceiling! People think their pursuit of happiness in this world is constantly lifting them higher and closer to what they desire, but by the time they discover it is doing the opposite it is too late, because they have already descended to the pit of hell. On the other hand, the Christian, who maybe has sacrificed much, and endured much hardship in this life, even as he is seemingly laid low by the blows and troubles of this life is soaring on wings like eagles. As he sinks into death, he ascends to a better world by far.
1. The Life in Glory
Millions spend a lifetime striving to arrive at positions of great influence and power, only to find that everything they have worked for is taken away by death. This is not so for the believer. But why is the experience of the Christian so different from that of the unbeliever? It is not because the Christian has done anything particularly spectacular, or because of some merit in him or her. The difference is in the will of God. He has decreed such a death would be a triumph, not a tragedy.
Victory, not Defeat - The apostle Paul spoke of this many times, realising that the moment this life was over, he would be experiencing a life beyond imagination. He wanted to depart to be "with Christ". He said that would be "better by far" and that absence from the body would mean he was "at home with the Lord". As we read such words we can sense the anticipation of Heaven and the desire to be there. Doo you have that sort of overwhelming desire? For those who die without Christ there is a real sense of defeat, that all has ended. Of course it hasn’t ended. We all live on forever, and those who are unsaved live on forever in Hell. But not so the saved. Death is no defeat for them, "O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 15: 55-57) - it is a victory.
John 17 moves in this same sphere of triumph since Jesus here says that his will for all those who have followed Him is that they should one day enter Glory (Heaven). The fact therefore that any believer enters Heaven is nothing to do with them, or even a decision seemingly taken by them, but it is because it is the express will of the Son and the Father, since their wills are one.
Present with the Lord - We often use the scriptural phrase, "Absent from the body, but present with the Lord" and this is very true for those who die, "in Christ". Jesus here describes "Glory" as being "with Me (Christ) where I am". Now where Jesus was speaking these words was more than likely in the upper room, or else on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Is Jesus suggesting to the Father that He keep the disciples right in this location? Of Course not. He is looking ahead to Heaven as though He was already there. His ascension is so certain and sure to Him that it seems like a physical reality already. So as we consider Heaven, we see here the most spectacular and beautiful part of it. It is not the streets of gold, although I can’t wait to see them. We cannot here imagine a material that is like transparent gold, and how tremendous it will be to not only see and understand this material but to touch it and walk on it. That will be fantastic but it’s not what Heaven is all about. Nor is it the angels that makes Heaven so special. I can’t wait to see the angels. Do they really have wings and are they the way we imagine them in our heads. I can’t wait to hear them singing praises to God since I have always loved a good choir, and the angels will be a perfect choir! But that’s not what Heaven is all about! Nor is it about the pearly gates, or the mansions prepared by Christ, or even the river flowing through the midst of the city. No these things are not what Heaven is all about. Heaven would still be Heaven even if those things were not there. What is it about then? It is about the presence of our Saviour and His Father. I remember being in my Gran’s flat after her death. It wasn’t the same. All her furniture was there, and all the cutlery and crockery. Everything was just the same as it always was. But it wasn’t the same place. Do you want to know why? It was because my gran wasn’t there! Heaven would not be Heaven without the presence of God. But our comfort comes not only from being "with Jesus" but also in being "like Jesus", "We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (I John 3:2). We will be like Him in many ways (Love (v26); knowledge; wisdom; truth; mercy and all His other attributes). If we will be like Him one day, should we not be striving to be like Him now? So often dreaming about a holiday is better than the holiday itself! Thinking about it acts as an incentive to keep on going. Thinlking about Heaven should act as an incentive to us, to keep on going, the only thing is the reality will be so much better than what we ever imagined! Are you sure you are going there? You can be by asking Jesus to forgive you for your sin and believing when you do that His death on the cross has paid the price for your sin.
2. The Love of God
One of the core characteristics of the church is most certainly that of love. When Christ sought to explain the commandments He put them this way, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself" - in other words love is the essential characteristic that binds all the commandments together. If we love God we will keep the commandments by putting Him first. James Montgomery Boice suggests it is love which ties all of the essential attributes of the church together too (Joy; Holiness; Truth; Mission; Unity - he says if we subtract love from joy, we have hedonism (unsatisfying); take joy from holiness and we have self-righteousness; take love from truth, we have bitter orthodoxy; subtract love from mission and we have imperialism (colonialism in ecclesiastical garb); and take love from unity and we soon have tyranny - therefore love is essential).
The Source of Love - It is obvious as we look at these verses in John 17 that love has its source in God. This is not the sort of love the world aspires to, but is real love revealed through Christ. Christ points to this love and died as an example of it. God’s love is extraordinary. The Greeks had 3 words for love, storge (general affection within the family "fondness"); philia (friendship); eros (sensual love), but when the writers of the septuagint (old testament translated into Greek) had the job of translating the love of God, none of these words seemed appropriate because His love was so much greater. A new word had to be chosen. Agape would be the new word which spoke of an unending, sovereign and gracious love.
The Activity of Love - Christ not only tells us where we can find love - in God, but also shows us where we must demonstrate and practice it. He tells us it is to be shown in us personally - "... may be in them ..." (v26). Jesus is concerned that this love should be seen in his followers, because He realised that those who claimed His name were to be like windows through which His light must shine, and that Light is manifested in love in action. That was how Jesus shone as the light - the perfect manifestation of love - now He will die, rise and ascend, so that picture of love will be gone. Therefore He prays that the disciples will shine like He did. If we are Christians then we also must shine out this great love of God. So how do we love one another. Montgomery Boice suggests a few ways: Listen to one another - really listen, don’t just pretend; Share with one another - put down the protective barriers and let others in on your life; Serve one another - wash one another’s feet.