Saturday, March 27, 2010

John 17: Given to the Beloved to Be Loved

In my previous post I mentioned this idea of an ancient plan within the Trinity, one that even antedates creation: the Father's plan to redeem sinners through the sacrifice of his Son, who would receive those sinners as a gift and indwell them through his Spirit, to bring them into the unending life and joy of God. Of all things that could have been on Jesus' mind in the hours before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, it was this plan upon which Jesus dwelled and brought to his Father in prayer.

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 17:20-26)

Who are we? We are today those who believe in Jesus through the message of his apostles (v. 20). We are also those who are given by God as a gift to Jesus (v. 24). Those given to Jesus believe in Jesus.

To whom are we given?
We are given to the Beloved. Jesus reveals in this prayer that he was loved with an everlasting love, one that existed before the world was (vv. 23, 24, 26). A loving Father gives gifts because he is good and because he longs to see his child's joy. Jesus the Son is completely full of his Father's own glory and excellence (John 1:14, 18; Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3). Because there is nothing more admirable or beautiful in the whole universe than God himself, God must enjoy and behold and love his Son with an unsurpassed love.

Who are we (again)? We are therefore given to Jesus as a gift coming from the overflow of God's own love for his Son. If we are given to the Son as a result of God's love, then we must know two things: First, the Father would not give his Son what is not valuable or prized. No loving Father would give junk to his children (see Matthew 7:11); he gives the best. So we are truly precious to God. This shocks me, because in my theological tradition (Reformed) it is the lowliness and sinfulness of humanity that are so often emphasized that we neglect the value we have in God's eyes.

Second, we can know that just as fully as the Father wants his Son's good and happiness, and as we belong to the Highest in Heaven, we know that God can only be for our good. He would not scorn his Son nor disparage his own gift to him. We can know that God is ever for us, because possessed by his Son we too are to become Christlike children.

For what purpose are we given? Given to the Son and belonging to him, Jesus reminds his Father that "you . . . have loved them even as you have loved me" (v. 23). In Christ we are loved by God to the same extent as Christ himself! We too, in Christ, have been loved before the creation of the world, before the beginning of time (v. 24). We are now also the object of God's joy and held fast near his heart. He will fight for us until the end of time, to purify us as a bride for his Son, and to bring us home to dwell with him and drink forever from his river of delights (v. 24; Psalm 36:8). We are given to the Beloved to be loved.

On what basis are we so dear, co-equal with Christ? "I [am] in them, and you [are] in me," Jesus says (v. 23; cf. v. 26). The Son is in perfect fellowship with his Father, and we share in communion with the Son by faith and through the work of the Spirit (John 14:16 ff.). How can we, so ugly and marred by sin, be loved? Because this perfect Son has taken upon himself the stain and deformity of our sin and has put it to death forever in God's sight. In Christ we too rise out of the grave and stand upon Mount Hermon in radiant white and hear "This is my son, whom I love" (Mark 1:11; 9:7).

What does Jesus do for those he loves? At the end of his prayer Jesus proclaims that "I have made you [Father] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:26). Jesus, who is endowed with the fullness of God, makes God's name--all that God is--known to us. This he does by having purchased the Holy Spirit with his blood and sending him to illuminate God's Word to us. Jesus' greatest desire for those he loves is that we would know and see God's glory, a glory and wonder and beauty made known through Jesus (v. 24). As we know God better and better, we trust him more and more. This faith-life, this fear-of-the-Lord, is the very life of Jesus as God's perfect servant, the true Man. And so the more and more we know God through Christ, we find that the love God has for Christ is also in us (v. 26).

But beyond that, as Christ dwells in us and is formed within us, something else happens: we find that we love the Father more and more too. When Jesus prays "that I myself may be in them," he is praying that we would be filled with obedient, glad love for the Father. And because Jesus' prayers are always effectively heard by the Father (John 11:41-42), we can know this for sure: one day we will be free from all lesser affections and, beloved in Christ, we will see and love our tender Creator and Redeemer and find our heart's home in him.

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