’Surprising Expectations’

’Surprising Expectations’

In A Call to Spiritual Reformation Dr. Don Carson comments: ‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs­­ – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment.  God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us’ (pp.15f).

Three brief scenes in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth alert us to some surprising aspects of God’s nature and his expectations of all who call themselves his people.

In Luke’s record a significant turning point occurs in Jesus’ ministry: when the days drew near for him (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). We feel the graphic power of Luke’s words. Jesus was not to be dissuaded from the task ahead as he transitioned in his work from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem. His determination to see his mission through was evident in the flint-like set of his face. This provides the context for what follows.

Scene 1. As they were going along the road, someone said to him (Jesus), ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (9:57-58).

The man’s words looked promising: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. What more would a leader want? But Jesus was aware that the man was not truly committed: ‘Have you really thought about this? Do you understand what’s involved?’ Jesus was aware the man would have expected security and even privilege because he was offering to join the company of a celebrity. But Jesus indicates that the road ahead for his people will not be easy: ‘Come with me and you will have no guarantee of home comforts and security’, he is saying.

One of the misconceptions Jesus needed to correct was the Jewish view of the Messiah. Even his closest followers considered Messiah to be primarily a political figure who would bring the nations under his rule. They had rightly recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, but it may be that they had taken this to another level: they would be nobles in Jesus’ court.

Jesus uses a powerful metaphor to shatter the man’s dreams, as well as instruct his disciples: ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross and in between had no fixed home, let alone a palace, where he could lay his head. So he challenges us, ‘How important are comfort and security, and even celebrity to you?’

Scene 2. A second man’s request to Jesus seems reasonable: ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father’ (9:59). Middle Eastern society required a son to remain at home to care for aging parents. Clearly this man’s parents were still alive for if his father had died, to be true to his word, he would have immediately returned home to attend to the burial.

More likely the man’s parents had some years to live, but he was using their ultimate demise as an excuse. And so Jesus challenged him, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ implying that the spiritually dead can attend to the family or cultural expectations. ‘But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’, he said (9:60).

Jesus’ words may seem heartless, but he saw through the man’s request. Children do have responsibilities to parents. The Scriptures command us to honour them and care for them, but we should not allow such care to distract us from the walk with Christ.

Jesus is a demanding leader to follow, as we see even more in a third scene.

Scene 3. Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home’ (9:61). Once again, the request seems reasonable: ‘I need to go and say goodbye to the folks before I come and follow you’. However, Jesus knew how a lengthy Middle Eastern family farewell could be used to overturn the man’s resolve to leave home and follow an unlettered rabbi like Jesus. ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’, Jesus responded (9:62)

Many today might be impressed with Jesus and greatly attracted to him. They may even want to follow him but are not always willing to do so – just yet. Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo said, O Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.

Jesus wants our total commitment. He calls us to be willing to leave the security of a home, of family and friends, and of status. We have to make a choice.

Jesus sometimes creates tensions in families where adult family members have no regard for him. It may not be a parent, but a husband or boyfriend, a wife or girlfriend, who prevents us from hearing and obeying Jesus’ call to follow him. Jesus calls on us to join him on his rescue mission of a lost humanity.

Through the centuries God’s people have often been seduced by the attractions of privilege and prestige. Churches and denominations are often cluttered with celebrated office bearers and wealth. We need leadership and order, but celebrity and power can become more important than serving Jesus Christ.

If we adopt the principles that lie behind Jesus’ words, our relationships with one another as God’s people and in the wider community will be turned upside down. Are we known for our willingness to reach out to newcomers at church, for our care for the sick and suffering, the lonely and the bereaved? And, in our world where everyone is encouraged to bring their ‘full self’ to work, are we willing to bring our ‘Christ-centered self’?

As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘What does it profit a man or a woman to gain the whole world yet lose their own soul?’

A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people in the truth of your Word; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

’Surprising Expectations’

’Two Powers…’

In a world of turmoil and injustice, conflict and suffering, we long for a day when all will be put right.

A scene in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth helps us.

They arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he (Jesus) stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs… (Luke 8:26-27).

While today the man would be probably diagnosed with some form of psychosis, Luke, the physician, says he was demon-possessed.

Alien powers. Which raises an interesting question for us. The world of the Bible did not have the fields of psychiatry and psychology, yet the Bible does teach that we human beings are strange creatures who live on the boundary of two worlds – the physical and the spiritual. Sickness can invade this psychosomatic unity from either of those spheres. And when it does, it can cause symptoms that affect both the physical and the spiritual, the mind and the body.

Furthermore, just as illness can invade us from either source, so healing can come from either source. And when it is successful it can bring both spiritual and physical relief. We recognise this, for example, when we bring prayer and medicine to bear on cancer. In the same way, we can bring prayer and psychiatry together for a person who is mentally ill.

Luke’s record provides a helpful clue to our question of diagnosis: the man fell down at Jesus’ feet, not in worship but in recognition of Jesus’ superior power. He shouted, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me’ (8:28).

The man was suffering from more than mental illness or uncontrolled behaviour through alcoholism or drug addiction. Markers of his condition were the length of time he had been disturbed and his awareness of the supernatural.

His response to Jesus’ question, ‘What is your name?’ shows how true this was. ‘Legion,’ he said. The powers within him knew they were confronted by someone greater, for Jesus was commanding them to leave the man (Luke 8:29-30).

A greater power. Fearing the abyss, the restriction of their movement, these alien forces asked Jesus to let them enter a large herd of swine. They may have thought this would allow them to move around. Receiving Jesus’ permission, they entered the pigs and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned (Luke 8:33).

The destruction of the pigs graphically captures the ultimate purpose of such cosmic powers. They are hell-bent on the destruction of God’s creation.

Luke’s juxtaposition of the before and after scenes reinforces this. Under the influence of dark powers, the man had no shame. He was naked and couldn’t live in normal society – only amongst the dead. He couldn’t be restrained and was unable to enjoy meaningful human relationships, let alone relationship with God. He was alienated and alone, an outcast. The powers of darkness are intent on defacing and destroying the image of God in us.

However, released from the dark powers through Jesus’ greater power, the man’s life was dramatically changed: the towns people found him sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). Whereas previously he hadn’t wanted companionship, now he wanted to be with Jesus. Whereas previously he had lived amongst the dead, now Jesus told him to return …home (Luke 8:38-39a).

Jesus holds out to us the promise of restoration and hope.

The picture the New Testament paints is that the Creator’s rightful rule has been usurped by a coup – by what the Letter to the Ephesians calls the rulers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Currently there is a conflict between two distinct spheres of existence – the heavenly and the earthly. However, the scene in the land of the Gerasenes points us to the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

For the present, we are naïve if we ignore the reality that there are dark forces in the cosmos intent on controlling the lives of men and women. As the scene in Luke 8 reveals, and as we read in Ephesians chapter 6, our struggle is not simply against flesh and blood. God’s people are caught up in a struggle with the powers of darkness.

However, the Bible assures us that the day is coming when everything will be brought under the manifest rule of Jesus Christ – as we read for example, in Ephesians 1:10. Christianity is not a dualistic faith. God’s king is supreme. Jesus’ restoration of the man in the land of the Gerasenes points to this reality.

A commission. There’s something else in the scene in Luke chapter 8. Despite the good Jesus had done for the man, the local property owners and townspeople didn’t want him to stay. They feared him (Luke 8:35, 37). But Jesus didn’t leave this non-Jewish world without a witness. He commissioned the man to stay and let everyone know what God had done for him (Luke 8:39). His presence and testimony would be a constant reminder of the extraordinary Jewish man who had visited and brought about an amazing transformation to his life.

From the way Luke has recorded this event, it is clear he wants us not only to grasp the impact of Jesus’ power, but also to feel the extent of his care and compassion – and not least to those who are outside Israel.

God’s good news is that a remarkable intervention has occurred in world events. The true king of the universe himself has come amongst us, not with great fanfare, let alone with an army. That was not his strategy. Rather, single-handedly, he has mortally wounded the prince of darkness and is now gathering from all over the world people who are loyal to him.

To achieve his purposes, he involves us – to pray for God’s mercy and to introduce our family and connections to the compassionate and all-powerful Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who will put all things right.

A prayer. Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may want to listen to Christ is our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

’Surprising Expectations’

’The Trinity – The God Who is Love’

It’s often said that God is love. I suggest this is glibly said because for God to love he must have someone else to love throughout eternity.

In a highly patterned and repetitive piece of writing, the first book of the Bible introduces six stages of God’s creating work with, ‘And God said, “Let there be…”’ However, in the second part of verse 26 of Genesis chapter 1 this symmetry is broken. A significant plural verb is introduced, “Let us make…”. The break is emphatic. The us is not simply a royal plural. The decision to create men and women is the outcome of a conversation within the Godhead.

The Old Testament consistently says there is only one God. Yet, there is constant reference to the Spirit of the Lord. Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Gospel records speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. John the Gospel writer speaks of the Word, who was with God and who is God, coming amongst us in human form (John 1:14).

Which brings us to Jesus’ words to his disciples as he walked with them towards the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Jesus knew they dreaded the very idea of his departure. As so often happens, self-pity blinded them to the hidden, but greater purposes of God.

‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth’ he said, ‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (16:7). One of the Spirit’s tasks would be to awaken and convict men and women to the reality of their broken relationship with their creator – the God who is just in all his ways.

Furthermore, Jesus continued, ‘The prince of this world stands condemned’. Satan’s attempt to usurp God’s throne was confounded when Jesus was crucified (Colossians 2:15). The Spirit convicts us of sin, of the standard and triumph of righteousness, and of Satan’s defeat.

One God in three persons. We begin to see something of the significance of God being one, in three persons. He is a God of love who, in his love for us, is passionate about us loving him.

Can we be sure of this? ‘I still have many things to say to you,’ Jesus said, ‘but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:12-15).)

These words explain why Jesus never wrote anything down. Most of the Old Testament prophets wrote up their messages, but Jesus didn’t. He didn’t pick up a pen because he knew that the Spirit would ensure that the special revelation he had brought would not be forgotten or muddled.

Earlier Jesus had said, ‘He, the Advocate or Helper, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:26). The Spirit inspired the first disciples, the apostles, with accurate recall and a clear and correct interpretation of Jesus’ person and work.

Now, in chapter 16, Jesus says the Spirit would guide the disciples into all the truth – not some of it. Subsequent generations would not be inspired to fill out more of the picture. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit would ensure that the apostles would receive and rightly interpret all the truth about the person and work of the Christ.

Significantly, at the end of their ministry, we don’t find them telling God’s people to look for other apostles and prophets to reveal new truth. Rather, they warned their readers against false prophets and urged God’s people to transmit faithfully what they, the apostles, had taught and delivered to God’s people (Jude 1:3).

The speaking God. We can see the logic of all this. If we are made in the image of God, if Jesus is God in human form, then God is not just a remote, powerful intelligence. He is a speaking God. He is about building relationships in the way that we do – through verbal communication.

All this helps us in our study of knowledge (epistemology). It means that amongst the sources of knowledge there is revelation as well as human discovery.

A Chinese English professor who was in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, told me that when he saw the guns of the people’s army turned on the people, Marxism and Maoism within him died. ‘If there is such a thing as truth,’ he said, ‘I realized it had to come from outside human inspiration and thought’. That night, he told me, he went home and read the New Testament from cover to cover. ‘Here is the truth’, he said.

How then does God’s Spirit work within us today? We need to distinguish inspiration and illumination. The Spirit inspired the apostles to preach and write God’s truth. He now illuminates our minds as we read what the apostles have written – hence Paul: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16); and Peter: …No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,… but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20f).

The God who is love. Can we be sure that God delights in us knowing him? The answer is found in our understanding that God is love because he is a Trinity. Throughout eternity the three persons in the one Godhead love one another. When we begin to understand this we will sense the beauty and goodness, the generosity and overflowing love of God. Our life and our relationships, our lifestyle and our future hang on loving the one, ever true and eternal God who exists in three persons.

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

’Surprising Expectations’

’Pentecost – the Helper and Hope …’

With disturbing events in the world such as the invasion of Ukraine and the shooting at the school in Uvalde, Texas, we feel the pain of the suffering and wonder where we can find help.

At the beginning of John chapter 14 a dark cloud was hanging over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had been with him and had come to believe he is God’s Son. All their hopes were focused on what they felt would be his victory over the powers of evil and injustice in the world. But now he was telling them that within a matter of hours he was going away. ‘Where are you going?’ they asked. ‘Can’t we come too?’

And Philip, one of the disciples said, ‘Lord show us the Father. That’s all we need’ (John 14:8). He wanted some tangible experience of God to sweep away his doubts and provide hope for the future.

God with Us. We would not have been surprised if Jesus had said, ‘Don’t be so silly, Philip. You’re asking the impossible: everyone knows God is invisible’. But consider Jesus’ response: ‘Don’t you know me Philip, even after I’ve been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

To know Jesus is to know the living God.

We can only imagine how Philip and the others would have reacted. They believed there is only one God who created and controls the entire universe. Yet Jesus is saying that knowing him is the same as knowing the Creator.

‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves’, Jesus continues (14:11). ‘You’ve seen me turn water into first-class wine, cure a twelve-year old boy at a distance, enable a man paralyzed for thirty-eight years to walk, provide food for thousands at a word, heal a man blind from birth, and even bring another man back to life.’

Jesus’ life is the picture that tells a thousand words about God.

Greater Works. Very truly, I tell you,’ Jesus says, ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12).

No-one today is performing miracles in the same way Jesus did two millennia ago. If they were, the media would let us know in nanoseconds. The greater works of which Jesus speaks are something more than the healing of physical and mental ailments.

John’s Gospel records times when Jesus lifted people’s understanding of life beyond their felt needs. Initiating a conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria, he spoke of the living water he offers, springing up into eternal life (4:7-15). And in an ensuing conversation with a man born blind whom he had healed, he introduced himself as the Son of God, to which the man responded, ‘Lord, I believe’ (9:35-39).

John’s Gospel begins by introducing the Word who is with God and is God. He is the source of light and life (John 1:1-4). John testifies to the reality that the Word became flesh, living amongst us as one of us (John 1:14). He goes on to record seven signs which point to Jesus’ divine nature. Furthermore, the Wordthe Son of God, the man Jesus, spoke of the day when he would be lifted up – that is, his crucifixion (John 3:14f, 12:31-33). Everyone who turns to him will find forgiveness and new life.

Significantly, John draws together the essential purpose of Jesus’ life amongst us: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Given the movement of John’s Gospel, the greater works of which Jesus spoke is the ministry of the disciples and subsequent generations in taking God’s good news to the world and the changes that would ensue – lives being transformed and consequently, compassion and care for the needy, education and higher standards of justice.

The Helper and Hope‘If you love me you will keep my commandments,’ Jesus continues, ‘and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…’ (14:15-17).

From John 14:15 through John 16, Jesus promises he would not leave his disciples, or his people through the ages, without divine help.

For many people, Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed they must mindlessly recite. For them, Christianity is legalistic and dull. But Jesus is saying, ‘I want you to understand that the faith of which I speak, in its deepest essence, is about a relationship, a relationship with the triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When you know me, you will know the Father, and have our Spirit living within you’.

Furthermore, Jesus explains, ‘the Spirit will enable you (the disciples) to remember and explain all I taught and did’ (14:25). These words have a secondary application for all God’s people – enabling us to understand God’s Word and, because the Spirit is present within us, to apply it to the decisions we make and the words we utter.

‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth,’ Jesus says. When we know Jesus, the Holy Spirit provides us with the help and strength, the wisdom, the words, and the hope we need in a world where bad things happen.

A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

’Surprising Expectations’

’What, Me…?’

Over the last twenty years or so God’s people have been increasingly put on the defensive about their faith. In a climate where people of faith are dismissed as intellectually inept, many are fearful of speaking up about what they believe.

Come with me to a very important scene that occurred on the day Jesus rose from the dead, recorded by John the Gospel writer (John 20:19-23). That Sunday evening, the first day of the week, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John doesn’t explain how Jesus came to be there. He simply records, Jesus stood.

Last time the disciples had seen him, he was wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying on a cross. When they had seen a spear thrust in Jesus’ side and the fluid that had flowed, they knew he was truly dead. Yet here he was, not weak and limp, but tall and erect, standing, speaking the very words he had uttered at the Passover meal, ‘Peace be with you’. And to prove he was physically alive and not a ghost, significantly he showed them his hands and his side.

Bewildered and confused though they doubtless were, they knew, utterly amazing miracle though it was, that Jesus was truly alive again. ‘Peace be with you’, he repeated. At the Passover meal he had promised, ‘My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me’ (John 14:27). In a world of turmoil and injustice, the peace he held out to his followers had not been meaningless comfort. His resurrection was now proof of that.

Overjoyed, they still couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was so surreal it was like a dream. But then, as GK Chesterton once rightly observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

The Commission: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you…’ (20:21). These were challenging words to men who moments before were bewildered and fearful.

More than once they had heard Jesus say, ‘As the Father has sent me…’ But now he was drawing them into this work as well. ‘What, me …?’ they may have immediately thought. He was giving them a job to do: ‘As I was sent, so now I am sending you…’

Jesus had been sent to speak God’s words in person to the world. Supremely he had been sent to be lifted up on a cross at Calvary to rescue humanity (John 12:32). Now, he was sending his disciples and, in turn his people, to announce his life-giving news to the world. But they would not be alone. They need not be fearful. They would experience the peace of Christ at every twist and turn along the way.

The Gift. And, with this commission John tells us, Jesus breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven, if they are retained they are retained’ (20:22).

There are two very different interpretations of Jesus’ words here. The Roman Catholic Church understands they apply only to priests: they alone have the power to forgive sins through the confessional. However, the Protestant church teaches that any Christian can hold out God’s forgiveness by encouraging others to turn to Jesus Christ in repentance, asking for his forgiveness.

John’s record of Jesus’ words and actions here is important. We should notice that Thomas wasn’t present, and that John’s Gospel doesn’t record the events of Pentecost and the specific coming of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it is very significant that the verb, breathed does not have an object – despite many English translations.

This indicates that Jesus’ action in giving the Spirit was not just for the disciples, nor just for ministers, but also for all his people throughout time. It suggests that in the same way that God breathed life into all men and women in creation (Genesis 2:7), Jesus, the Word of God, the life-giver (John 1:1-4), now breathes his Spirit, the Spirit of his Father, into the life of all who turn to him. Paul the apostle draws this out when he says, Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:9b).

To return to sins retained and forgiven. Jesus’ words retained and forgiven are verb forms that indicate decisions with a fixed and final outcome. Further, being in the passive voice, the verbs indicate that it is not humanity, but God, who retains or forgives sin.

John’s Gospel announces the news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that anyone who believes in him will have life in his name (John 20:31). This draws together the narrative theme that Jesus was sent to be lifted up for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe (John 3:14-15, 12:32, 35-36). People of the first century needed to hear the news – as do all of us in the twenty-first century.

John’s record of Jesus’ resurrected appearance and his promise of peace, his commissioning of his disciples and the gifting of his Spirit, is most important. From the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the disciples had been terrified. Now, he was commissioning them, empowering them with his peace, and equipping them through his Spirit for the task of announcing the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness and with it, life eternal.

It is a section we cannot ignore. We all have the wonderful privilege of being sent by Jesus to play our part in announcing his good news. ‘What me…?’ you say. Yes: all of us. Because Jesus is the risen Lord, we have no reason to fear: we have his peace. We also have his Spirit at work within us and at work in the world, unstopping deaf ears, opening blind eyes, and softening hard hearts. Do you really believe this?

We need to pray – for ourselves and for our family and friends. Let me also encourage you to check out TheWord121 – an annotated version of John’s Gospel that anyone can use to introduce others to God’s good news – perhaps over coffee: www.TheWord121.com.

A Prayer. O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

’Surprising Expectations’

’Prayer – Relationships and Mission …’

Sometimes one person’s life has a great and lasting impact for good. This is certainly true of the man who made an extraordinary impact on his immediate world in the three short years of his public life. The effects of Jesus’ life didn’t cease when he was put to death. In fact, the reverse occurred, for some two millennia later, the impact of his words and actions, his death and resurrection, continue to grow throughout the world.

The closing chapters of the Gospel of John focus on Jesus’ words to his followers at the ‘Last Supper’. We might think that his ‘story’ is coming to an end. But while we learn that Jesus was going away, we find this would mean the beginning of the next stage in God’s great plan.

Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest (John chapter 17) opens another window on this. ‘Father,’ Jesus prayed, ‘the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’ (17:1). His death was now a certainty: Judas had gone out into the night to betray him.

And now as Jesus reckoned with the darkness of this evil, he was facing the greatest test of all – to remain faithful to God the Father when he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary bearing in himself the sin of the whole world.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI understood, as Ashley Null has observed, that ‘the glory of God is God’s love for the unworthy’.

Jesus not only prayed for himself. The greater part of his prayer was for his close followers and for all his people throughout the ages.

Prayer for the disciples: ‘Father,I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).

The disciples were to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Their ministry was essential for the future. If they failed, if they denied the truth that Jesus is God’s king sent to rescue the world from its narcissism, Christianity would die at its birth.

So Jesus prayed that God would keep them and protect them as one in the Father’s name (17:11f); that God would keep them from the evil one and make them holy in the truth he had revealed (17:15, 17).

Prayer for all who believe: ‘Father, … I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’) word’ (17:20).

The heart of the disciples’ mission would be the ministry of God’s Word. From Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. And over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Jesus Christ as Lord through this word ministry.

‘I ask’, Jesus prayed, ‘… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...’ (John 17: 21a).

Unity. Jesus prayed that the unity of profound love and fellowship he enjoyed with God the Father, would be true of the relationship between God and all his people, and that they in turn, would be united in their love and fellowship with one another – ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.

So that the world may know. In our fallen state all of us are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has so loved the world that he is committed to drawing people from everywhere to the Son he gave … so that all who believe in him would be saved (John 3:16).

Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Denominations are humanly devised structures. Yes, bringing like-minded churches together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency. However, Jesus is praying for a more fundamental union of hearts and minds that flows from a united and personal faith in him.

Doctrine, grounded in God’s written, self-revelation is essential for real and authentic relationships. Without truth, relationships have no meaning or substance. So, Jesus prayed for the unity of all who share this common confession of faith: Jesus Christ is the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:4).

Jesus’ prayer is breathtaking and profound. It tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering and death – to glorify God and to serve a fallen humanity. It speaks of the significant word ministry of the disciples. If they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s love and the forgiveness he holds out to us in Jesus Christ.

The prayer also tells us about us – that we can enjoy a personal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, because of our united faith, we are to live in unity with one another as God’s people – a unity God uses to testify to others the depths of his love.

From the time of Pentecost, the word ministry of the disciples, whom Jesus appointed as his apostles, has been and continues to be the key in bringing people from all races and nations to faith and unity in Christ.

Furthermore, the ministry of God’s Word draws us ever deeper into a personal relationship with God, equipping us with an ever better understanding of how he wants us to live for his glory and our eternal good.

In Jesus, we have the man from heaven who has impacted the world, not through a political or economic system, nor at the end of a gun, but through his self-sacrificial love that draws us into a personal relationship with the one, true God, who is Lord of all.

Let me ask, when you wake-up in the morning, have you considered praying, ‘Good morning God the Father; Good morning Lord Jesus; Good morning God the Holy Spirit’? And, if you do, have you shared this with others?

A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may want to listen to the song, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason