Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries




John 17:1-26

A simple question to start with. What do you think of when someone mentions God? What’s your image of God? I think everyone has a picture of God in their heads, even if they profess to be atheists. Whether or not it’s an accurate picture, in order to say you don’t believe in God you actually need an image of what this supposed god is like.

So what’s your picture of God? Is he the all-powerful creator of the universe; powerful yet remote? Is he the kind, forgiving grandfather figure who loves you no matter what you do? Is he the scolding father who watches your every move and disciplines you when you get it wrong? Is he not a father figure at all?

Those are just some of the many perceptions of God in our world. Each religion has its own view of what God is like. Some are single deities others are part of a pantheon of deities. But where Christianity varies from all of the rest is that every other religion sees their god, or gods, as unitary beings; singular beings around whom the universe revolves. If there are multiple gods then they’re either each doing their own thing in their particular realm of influence or they’re competing with each other for popularity or power.
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But this is where Christianity is different – and much more complicated. We see God as triune. That is, at the same time one God yet three persons. 

The only problem is that the Bible never explains just how this works. That’d be too simple wouldn’t it? Why isn’t there a Marvel movie that explains the trinity? All we have to go on is a range of accounts of God appearing in these three separate persons, sometimes working alone and sometimes appearing in the same setting. 

Just think about the way the Bible portrays God? Are Jesus and the Holy Spirit simply different manifestations of the same being, or is there a difference between them? The Bible is clear that there is only one God, yet we see examples where the one God appears in more than one guise at the same time. So how do we explain it, and why does it matter in any case?

At the start of our Bible reading today we read: “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). In the previous chapter Jesus has said: “When the Spirit of truth comes, ... 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  (John 16:13-14). So Jesus had a clear understanding of a relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; a relationship of mutual glorification. Someone has described this as like a divine dance where each member of the Trinity focuses glory on the others. Each person loves, defers to and rejoices in the others. So it’s like a dance where each member of the group rotates around the others in a pulsating celebration of love and joy. None is greater than the other; none is less than the other.

Yet, having used that inadequate illustration we need to add that they’re not individual persons; they’re actually the same God, separate yet indivisible. Confusing, isn’t it?

Well, I’m not going to try to explain the idea of Trinity today because I’d probably fail to make it any clearer for you and we’d all end up even more confused. But what I’d like us to do is to think about what we might learn for our own lives from this understanding of God as Trinity.

Relationships matter

The first thing we might learn from it is that relationships matter. Love matters. If we didn’t have a Trinitarian God then the concept of love would be an empty thing. The evolutionists would be right. Love would be simply the result of evolutionary forces creating certain biochemical effects in our brains.

But if there is a God and that God is triune, as the Scriptures teach us, then things are different. The loving relationships in community that make up the reality of God become the centre of our reality. What we learn is that love is at the centre of who God is. It’s of his essence. The love we experience is an expression of the love that God experiences within his own being. That’s why in the creation account of Gen 1 we’re told: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) The male and female bit isn’t just an add-on to explain reproduction. It’s central to who we are as people made in the image of God. We’re made for relationships; we’re made to love one another.

This is why, when God renews creation through the Holy Spirit, he does it in the context of a Church. Remember the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples?  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Why will they know that we're Jesus’ disciples? Because love is the prime indicator of God and therefore of his people.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus prays “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11) He wants the church to express that unity of loving relationships that exists in the Godhead.

The Gospel Imperative of the Trinity

Secondly God as Trinity means that those who are brought into the life of God will be outward looking rather than self-centred. The essence of self-centredness is to be stationary, static; to expect everyone else to revolve around you. We’ll do things for others or respond positively to others only as long as it helps us meet our personal goals.

But if we’ve entered into the life of the triune God we’ll be seeking to serve others, to bring them glory, to show self-giving love. We’ll delight in the joy of others. Our axis will move from ourselves to the other. If there are more than 2, which there will be if we’re part of a church, then that rotating around the other person’s axis becomes a dance that moves from one focus to another. It builds into a dynamic and exciting whirl that becomes more and more enjoyable the more we involve ourselves in it.

The alternative is to seek our own personal good at the expense of all other relationships. This is the essence of that first act of rebellion in Gen 3. Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, [so] she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen 3:6) She served her own self-interest at the expense of God’s creation. And what was the result of her self-centred desire? It destroyed the fabric of what God had made. Why do so many marriages break down? Because so often one or both partners are seeking their own interests rather than the interests of the other; their own glory rather than the glory of the other.

Jesus in Mark 8:35 sets this as the hallmark of those who would follow him: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

In John 17:18 Jesus says: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We’re drawn into the fellowship of the Trinity in order to go out to others to draw them in, so the dance gets larger and larger.

The Joy of God

One of the things you notice as you read John 17 is the way Jesus talks about his relationship with God the Father. Did you notice it? “1Father, ... glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” “4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” Later in the chapter he says: “24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Can you hear that great sense of mutuality in the way Jesus and the Father relate to one another? Jonathon Edwards, one of the great preachers of the American Church, thinking about the interior life of the Trinity concluded that God is infinitely happy within himself because within God is a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another.

If you think about it that’s the key to a lifelong marriage isn’t it? Or a lifelong friendship. Two people who love and glorify the other rather than themselves. If you’re married and that’s not how your relationship works let me suggest you do something about it. It’s also the key to a healthy church community: people who love, who take joy in and glorify one another. If that’s not how we’re relating in this congregation then we need to do something about it.

Look at what Jesus prays for his disciples in v13: “I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete.” How? He says “That they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” Jesus prays that we might experience the same joy that he and the Father enjoy, ‘in ourselves’. It’s a corporate idea. In other words he wants us to experience within the church, what God experiences within the Trinity. In fact isn’t that what we just read in v11: “so that they may be one, as we are one.”

But again, let’s remember that the nature of this joy is that it’s joy in the other. The joy isn’t an end in itself. This was never meant to be a self-serving experience. The joy comes from involving others in our fellowship. That’s why the way we welcome newcomers to our church is so important. Are we going out of our way to make newcomers welcome and comfortable and cared for?

We won’t fulfil our purpose in the world simply by sitting around here rejoicing in our membership of God’s people.  God’s purpose for us is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. “20I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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.” There’s an outward looking focus even as he speaks of the glory he and the Father share. We’re made to share the dance of God with others. Paul puts it like this:  “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). That then leads on to him talking of us being God’s ambassadors.

God’s Future

Finally let’s think about what this means for our future. God’s creation plan had a beginning and will have an end. The Bible’s account of the end of the world is quite different from other religions’. Where they might see the illusion of this world passing away, or souls escaping the confines of this physical existence, Christianity sees a heavenly city coming down out of heaven to fill the new earth, created to replace the old. God comes to dwell among his people as he had at the beginning. There are people of every nation, tribe, people and language. And they’re gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb in worship. This physical reality we live in is transformed but not taken away. In other words what we do now in the physical world matters. Just as Jesus carried the scars of the cross to heaven with him, so what we do now can have lasting significance.

So our task as a Church is to live out the life of God in the world so that others see God’s glory. We do that by mutually self-giving, other-directed love. And we give God glory by reflecting his character in our life together.

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