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Eternal Joy Now

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2008-09-21 (pm) John 17:1-5 Eternal Joy Now

            What is eternal life? 

          When you think of eternal life, do you think of heaven?

          When you think of heaven, what do you picture in your mind?

          Often, I’ve thought about seeing all my loved ones.  Or, I’ve imagined what it would be like to have a conversation with Martin Luther or John Calvin, or Saint Augustine.  It would be cool to have lunch with the Apostle Paul.  It would be interesting to meet Peter and ask him what it was like to be one of the twelve.

          At other times I think about being able to do all kinds of fun things, like, reading, lying on the beach, skiing, surfing, dirt-biking, but being able to do everything with excellence!

          John Piper calls into question our attitudes toward heaven in his book, God Is the Gospel.  He hits the nail on the head when he asks, “Would you be happy in heaven, if you had all those things, but if Jesus wasn’t there?”

          Would heaven be worth going to, if God wasn’t there, if Jesus wasn’t there?  Why do we look forward to talking with, or hanging out with people like Paul, Peter, Augustine.  Why do we think of heaven as an eternal holiday?  Shouldn’t Jesus be our primary focus?

          Isn’t Jesus the best thing about heaven?

          Isn’t God ultimately the deepest desire of our hearts?  Wouldn’t seeing, and being with Jesus be the best part about being in heaven?

          It is!

          And Jesus’ prayer in the garden gives us a glimpse of what the eternal joy of eternal life with Christ will look like.  And it is not what you’d expect.

          Jesus prays that the Father will glorify him.

          The time has come.  The hour is very, very near.  The climax of Jesus life on earth approaches.  And Jesus asks that the Father would glorify the Son.

          Do you think of the cross in that way?  Do you think of the cross as the father glorifying the Son?  What do you think about the cross of Christ.

          Here’s Jesus, he’s hours away from trial and beating, and being hung on a tree.  He knows his Father’s will.  He’s been following it perfectly.  He is approaching the most difficult experience he will face.  And what does he pray?

          He says, “Father, glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  In the cross, in his Son’s death, God the Father glorified the Son.

          Did you know that some Christians don’t like talking about the cross?  Did you know that some people have described the cross as a case of divine child abuse?  They react so strongly against the wrath of God, the violence of Christ’s death, that they question, how could a good God, a loving Father do that to his Son?

          But these people have missed the point all together.  It is clear in our text, the Son desired to glorify the Father.  The Son willingly completed the work his Father asked him to do.  And the Son is asking that the Father glorify him.

          This is not the language of an abused child.  This is the language of a Son who clearly knows what’s going on.  These are the words of someone who knows the plan, who is prepared for what is coming.

          Jesus knew what the cross was.  It was the opportunity for the Son to glorify the Father, and the Father to glorify the son.

          The cross is so important.  It is the key to everything.  The cross is absolutely necessary.  The cross is the means by which Jesus Christ would bring eternal life to all who were given by the Father to the Son.

          It is not divine child abuse!  It is the means by which we receive everlasting life!  Instead of dismissing the cross as too bloody and too gross, we need to embrace it, see it as the Christ glorifying object it is.

          How does the cross glorify the Son?  Well, listen to these lyrics, “when we survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain, I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.  Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God!  All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.  See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!  Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?   Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

          Isaac Watts got it.  He saw the cross as a glorious thing.  He saw the cross as the most glorious moment in history.  For in the cross Christ demonstrated his perfect love for his Father.  The cross wasn’t easy. But it should occupy our minds.  We ought to think of it often.  For it is the means by which we are alive!

          Through the cross, God the Father granted Christ the authority over all people, so that he might give eternal life.  This is eternal life, this is eternal joy: that we may know God the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom God the Father sent.

          Suppose we listen to those who are discomforted by the cross.  Suppose we water down the faith, to make it more palatable, by downplaying the cross.  So, out of concern for those who have a hard time with even the mention of blood, those who can’t stomach the thought of torture, suppose we kind of gloss over the crucifixion.  Would we loose anything?

          Again, look at our passage.  What is John telling us?  What does Jesus prayer tell us?

          The cross is the clincher.  It is the thing that proves that Jesus is the Christ, that His Father is the only true God.  If we remove the cross, we take too much away from God.

          The cross proves that Jesus is the Son of God.  We have so many things going on to make it so.  We have a judge, Pontius Pilate, who can’t sleep because he knows that Jesus is innocent.  We have a wretched disciple, who gives back his ransom, proclaims Christ’s innocence, then proves it by spilling his own guilty blood.

          We have a centurion proclaiming, “surely this was a righteous man!”  We have people who were amazed at every step.  Then the earth shook, the temple curtain was torn in two, and the day turned to blackest night for three hours. 

          There was, in the crucifixion, a rent in the fabric of the universe.  The world was turned upside down.  The death blow was given to the sin and Satan.  The victory that Satan had thought was his, was revealed to be his greatest defeat! 

          And because of the Son’s perfect life, perfect obedience, the Father delighted to glorify the Son.

          He glorified him by raising him from the dead, made him to sit at his right hand, gave to him all power and authority, and returned to him the glory he had before the world began.

          And all this proves that there is one God, whom we call Father, who sent his Eternal Son, who was born of a virgin, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, who descended into hell.  On the third day, he rose again from the dead, and is sitting at God’s right hand.

          Furthermore, the Son, full of power, authority and glory, sent His Holy Spirit, to confirm in us the truth of who the Father and the Son are.

          And by knowing who they are, we experience, even now, everlasting, eternal life.

          Eternal life is knowing the only true God!  We do know Him!  We already glorify Him, when we obediently serve him.

          But consider this for a moment.

          If Christ glorified the Father by willingly enduring suffering and death, if glory was achieved in the cross, what does that say about our suffering?

          Does it not mean that we too can glorify God in enduring suffering?  Does it not mean that when the righteous suffer, it is for their glory as well as God’s?  Did not God glorify the Son through the awful suffering of the cross?

          So, while we might not always know why suffering happens, we can know and take comfort in this: God is able to be glorified in our suffering.  God will glorify us through our suffering.

          Jesus endured the cross, endured the pain and sorrow, and there was sorrow, for he cried out full of emotion, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus endured it all, knowing that it was fleeting.

          Indeed, how long are our lives?  What are our lives on earth in comparison to eternity in the presence of Christ?  Our lives here are nothing.

          It struck me, last week, in reading the form for Pierre’s profession of faith.  It lays it out so bluntly, quoting 1 Pet. 5:10-11, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen”

          The God of all grace has called us.  We looked at that this morning.  He has called us to eternal glory in Christ, after we have suffered a little while.  Let us not kid ourselves.  Isn’t all of life a struggle?  We struggle against sin, we struggle to make a living, we struggle, to raise our children, we struggle to do what is right.  We’re constantly battling against the effects of sin.

          But Christ will restore us.  We might see and receive restoration in this life, as we see people restored to health.  But we might not be restored in this life.  So, our hope is in the life to come.  There we will be gloriously renewed.

          So, we look forward to the future.  We look forward to heaven, where we will spend eternity in the presence of God!  And, as we read in the catechism, “Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God eternally.”  Amen.

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