- Psalm 20
- John 17:6-13
My dear brother and sister in the Lord, Jesus Christ,
Early in January this year, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland, invited Muslims to its recent celebration of Epiphany, which marks the revelation of Christ’s deity through the wise men’s visit to the infant Jesus. Madinah Javed stood at the lectern and read in Arabic from the chapter of Maryam, or Mary, which tells the story of the birth of Christ.
But Javed reportedly went beyond the allocated passage translated in the service sheet and read a verse from the chapter saying Jesus isn’t God’s son. That verse reads: “It is not befitting to Allah that He should take to Himself anyone as son, Holy is He. When He decrees anything, thus then He says to it, ‘Be’ it becomes at once.”
Apparently similar interfaith readings had “happened a number of times in the past in this and in other churches, and have led to deepening friendships locally, to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ.”. This is a quote from bishop Chillingworth.
Can their be such a thing as interfaith worship? What do Christians and Muslims hold in common?
The more and deeper we study the Gospel of John—which in no way contradict any other part of the Scriptures—the more we understand that the Person and work of Christ is the only bridge between sinful man and the Holy God.
Christ, who is God, who comes from God and from all eternity, where He enjoyed the same glory as the Father, together with the Holy Spirit. He completed the mission of the Father to gather a church for Him; this He did by living a perfect life of righteousness in the sight of God—He also exchanged his righteousness for the unrighteousness and sin of unholy people to purchase them with is blood. This no other person did; no one ever will, because Christ is unique: He is the only mediator between God and man.
Salvation through Christ is free, where all other religions preach salvation through efforts by the adherents, in some cases even through perpetual reincarnation, to climb the ladder to eventually reach God. The message of the Bible is quite the opposite: it’s not us who must apply all efforts to reach up to God, but it’s about God who came down to us and did what we cannot do, how hard we might try.
Salvation – from beginning to end the work of God
Every word recorded in John 17 comes from the mouth of our Lord. We studied the first 5 verses last week. We understand from those verses that Christ completed the mission of the Father to save those the Father gave Him. In another sense we also understand that, not only is the work of Christ completed, but it is complete—nothing is added to it.
Moving on to verse 6 and what follows this theme is continued. Some commentators think that what Jesus prayed for in the first few verses—that the Father would glorify his Son with the same glory He have before He left heaven to come to complete his mission of saving sinners—is based on what He had done, as it is recorded in verse 6 and what follows.
What these verses spell out is Christ’s work to make his Father known to sinners.
He revealed the Father
It might be a good idea for you to have your Bibles open to read and follow with me. We are at verse 6. Jesus prays to the Father:
I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out of the world. They were yours; You gave them to Me (John 17:6, NIV)
Just those words first. Christ speaks in the past tense “They were yours; You gave them to Me.” This is a profound statement. They were yours. There are other Bible verses which will help us understand what our Lord is saying here. Let’s go to Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas were on their early missionary journey. They arrived in Antioch, expounded the Word about Christ and how He was God’s Son. Then in 13:48 we read these remarkable words:
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48, NIV)
We almost hear the same thing in Acts 18. The Lord comes to Paul in Corinth and we read verse 9, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid. Go on speaking; do not be silent, no matter what the threats were.” God would protect Paul, but he had to preach the good news. Why? “…because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:10, NIV)
There were people living in Corinth who knew nothing about God. They were worshipping idols and lived in utter sin. But they belonged to God. They needed to hear the Gospel of Christ who would reveal the Father to them.
The same principle is in Ephesians. Long before we knew anything about God, He had his eye on us through Jesus Christ. Paul writes to the Ephesian Church
For He chose us in Him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (Ephesians 1:4–5, NIV)
In 2 Thessalonians 2, verse 13, Paul continues along the same lines:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:13–14, NIV)
It should not surprise us to hear the same principle even in the last book of the Bible:
and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed. (Revelation 13:8, NET)
If we now go back to John 17:6 we can’t otherwise but to understand that what Jesus was saying that God gave some people to his Son to save them, even before they themselves knew anything about God, or about their need to be saved, the Saviour, and salvation itself.
But Christ revealed this plan of God to those his Father gave Him. This is a work which will continue until our our Lord returns. To his disciples, his church, He gave his Word and his Spirit to empower them with the commission to go into all the world to proclaim this good news. Jesus prays for his church:
“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who [will] believe in Me through their testimony… (John 17:20, NET)
They still go in his name, under his authority, and still the success of the work does not depend on them, but on the Father who knows the names of those whom He knew and those from all eternity.
We know Romans 8:28 well, but lets not take it from its context.
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30, NET)
Jesus says in John 17:6 that He made the Father known to those who had no idea that He had his hand on them from eternity.
What was the effect of Christ’s ministry?
Let’s take it step by step.
Obeying or believing the Word of the Father
Not only did Christ proclaim to them the Word of the Father, He was the Word (John 1:1). Those who believe the word (not “words”—verse 6), know—a key word in John, because to “know” in John’s Gospel is to have moved out of the darkness sin into the light of eternity. When they hear the word of God they understood that Christ is from God. They accepted the teachings (now “words”—verse 8) of Christ as coming from God the Father. Moreover, they know and understand that the Person Christ is sent by the Father, and the He came from the Father—and therefore He is God.
See, there is no other Saviour. There is no other link between heaven and earth. One believes in Him and live in a relationship with the Father; he who does not believe in Christ, has no relationship with the Father. Such a person in still dead in sin, without hope and without salvation. If you are are such a person, hear the word of God about Christ, and fall at his feet. All that the Father gave Him will come to Him, and He will never cast out those who come to Him.
They worship Christ as Lord
Verse 10: Jesus is in prayer with his Father. He says:
Everything I have belongs to You, and everything You have belongs to Me, and I have been glorified by them. (John 17:10, NET)
So, what does this verse say? Those whom the Father gave to Christ, believe in God, but they also believe in Christ. According to the Bible to give glory, is to worship. Indeed, they worship Christ as God.
So, we have to say to the Archbishop and to the Muslim girl: we do not worship the same God; our faiths have nothing in common between them.
But let’s not stop there: not allowing for anything common between Christianity and other religions does not give any man or woman who does not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour any soapbox to stand upon to look down on any religion, because anything without Christ is futile.
And truely, let’s be honest, nor does any Christian have a soapbox to stand upon: we have not sought Christ, we have not loved Him first; but He loved us first and came into to world to seek and to save the lost. He made the Father known to us. What we do know is that we are saved by grace and not by works, so that no one should boast.
Because of this we know the privilege to know God through Jesus Christ. And we know that He is interceding for us:
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. (John 17:11, NET)
We do understand that no-one can come to the Father but by Christ. That’s why we need to proclaim Him, even to those who still don’t know that they belong to Him: they need to know Christ to know the Father.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 April 2017