Follow Up



The Posture of Disciple-making #1


Imagine three different kitchens: in each, a woman is tossing meat and vegetables on a fuming wok: the first is a foreign domestic helper; the second is a mother; and the third is a culinary student. One is drudging for a meagre living; one, nurturing her family; and one, chasing a dream.

All three are stir frying, but they are essentially doing different things. They will not produce the same dish: similar activity, disparate inner postures, and so disparate outcomes. This illustrates a biblical truth which poses a vital question: Is God’s work actually being done, when Christians are doing “god’s work”?

The Bible exhorts us to be discerning, because not all “christian ministry” builds His people (1Cor 3:12-15); not all “bible teaching” imparts God’s truths (2Tim 4:4); not all “evangelism” points to His Son (Gal 1:8); not all “prophecies”are from God (1The 5:20-21)... we can go on.

We must learn to constantly, even instinctively, assess both our own work, and others’, against the Bible. We must test our hearts and minds with God’s Word and allow His heart and mind to mould our inner postures.

The posture behind the work of disciple making must be the posture of prayer. No Christian will disagree. But what kind of prayer? Our Lord’s final instructions to His disciples was capped with the prayer which begins thus:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him (John 17:1-2, ESV).

We see Jesus, the man, looking up to His Father at a time of dire need: before Him, the cross; around Him, eleven confused disciples who seem hardly ready for the coming chaos, and, later, the monumental task of world evangelisation.

Surely, any man would cry to God for help. We would have. But Jesus did not.

In this most auspicious of prayers for the very first batch of disciples and the myriads, including us, who would follow Him through their word (Joh 17:20), Jesus gave Himself to be glorified by the Father through the painful miracle of the cross.

Our own discipleship and disciple making must be backed by the posture of prayer, this particular prayer; because having died, and buried, and resurrected with Him (Rom 6:3-5) we are the living succession of the same miracle: the cross.

As we delve into this Lord’s prayer, we will see why we can and must pray with Him: “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”



The Posture of Disciple-making #2


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

John prefaces our Lord’s prayer with two crucial observations (17:1a).

First — “When Jesus had spoken these words, . . .” — this prayer flows inherently from the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13-16): Jesus equipped His disciples for post-pentecostal life, then presented the key themes of His teachings to the Father in prayer.

So the vision of this prayer, in effect covering the life and mission of the Church, is firmly grounded in the work and words of Jesus Christ. The vision is an integral continuation of God’s salvation plan as revealed in Scriptures. Discipleship and disciple-making, as embodied in this prayer, must thus be understood and pursued in careful harmony with God’s revelation.

Second, — “. . . he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father . . .” — this is the posture of a Jew in prayer. John bids us see God the Son as a teacher among His disciples, in all His humanness, in humble trust and consecration, before God the Father. This posture sets the mode for every believers’ approach to God, and it at once assures and beckons.

It assures us that the improbably fantastical vision about to unfold in this prayer — dead people will be given life to fellowship with God — this vision lives in the eternal communion between The Son and The Father, in the sanctum of the Trinity. So it is underpinned by the Almighty. Nothing can foil it. It is complete and sufficient. It needs no supplement. The yet-to-appear Church will be exclusively God’s doing, wholly His purview: never less than a living, ongoing, miracle. But can sinners enter this holy work?

Yes, because this posture also beckons. Jesus, the man, in prayer among His disciples is a graphic invitation that brings the inception of His Church within reach of every sinner. We have no way of making ourselves fit for life with God (17:2-3), but in His grace and with His help we can receive this life as a gift by yielding to Christ’s posture of humble trust and consecration: anyone who receives and believes in Jesus as the Christ of the Bible becomes a part of the relentless miracle of His Church!

Thus this prayer aptly begins with a request for glory, not the veiled glory of the incarnate Christ, but the eternal, heavenly glory that He shares with the Father (17:5).

Why should the Son of God, who is intrinsically glorious, asks to be glorified?

To “glorify” is to make the attributes of God visible. Jesus was committing Himself to the imminent, momentous manifestation of God’s power and love through His suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. He said: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, . . . And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

Though this arrangement was birthed in eternity (1Pet 1:20), these words were spoken for the eleven — and all disciples to come (17:13). Every disciple of Christ must comprehend the cross, and all its marvellous reverberations, not as a symbol of suffering and shame, but as a supreme demonstration of God’s love and power.

Discipleship and disciple-making must be pursued within this frame! Always seeking the glory of the Father. Always aligned to revelation. Always in the posture of trust and consecration modelled by Christ when He prayed for glory.

A true disciple is one who lives in the spirit of this prayer: “Father, glorify your child, that your child may glorify you.”

But less we be lost in the euphoria of this war cry, we must ever remember that the glory of the cross is not the glory of the world, it is the glory of living God’s life amidst a fallen humanity. This will be neither pleasant nor easy.



The Posture of Disciple-making #3


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

God knows every heart.

Jeremiah 17:10 (ESV) “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The worthiness of our lives and service is weighed not outwardly but inwardly. Our inner postures — comprising our drives, plans, goals, hopes, and so on, not our achievements — are all that count before God.

Proverbs 16:2 (ESV) All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.

In Posture #1 , we noted that Jesus’ single request for Himself (above) provides a template to orientate our inner postures, our souls, after Him. This simple prayer, “. . . glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . .”, spoken from a contrite heart and a knowing mind, effectively surrenders the soul to our Father, and readies us for doing His work, His way.

In Posture #2 , we noted that John’s crisp preface to the prayer — “ . . . had spoken these words . . . lifted up his eyes . . . ” (above) — anchors the vision of John 17 to God’s Word, and thus to His authority, His resources, His programme, and His instructions; and at the same time beckons every believer to join Jesus in seeking the Father’s glory.

So our Lord’s prayer (above), first, leads us inwardly into a posture of consecration and commitment. Consecration is putting ourselves aside for God’s use. Commitment is constantly ensuring that we are being used by God for His glory — and not actually on our own trajectories that we have labelled, sincerely but wrongly, “discipleship” or “God’s work”.

This is the requisite first step in following Jesus Christ, because discipleship, in essence, is a life given to be lived out, not an undertaking to be pulled off.

Christian living and service must (and can only) begin with God’s gift of eternal life (embedded in Jesus’ prayer for glory, above); and thereafter preserved and sustained according to the promises of the Gospel.

“Eternal life” is life with the facility to know God in vital fellowship — as opposed to knowing Him in principle. This life is given by God in Christ and kept and nurtured by Him. As MacArthur explains, “This ‘eternal life’ is in essence nothing less than participation in the eternal life of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. It is the life of God in every believer, yet not fully manifest until the resurrection (Rom. 8:19–23; Phil. 3:20–21).”

Discipleship and disciple making, to be true to the Bible, must flow out of this life — out of each believer’s ongoing relationship with God — being like grapes nurtured through branches fed by the “true vine” (John 15:8).

The Apostle Paul clearly saw his calling and labour as gifts of pure grace: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1Cor 15:10, ESV, cf. Rom 1:4-5, 12:3-8, 15:15-16; 2Cor 3:5-6; Gal 1:15-17; Eph 3:1-3; 1Tim 1:12-14).

If Christian life and ministry flow from God’s gift of life, and are kept and sustained by Him, then the only way to respond to His call to salvation and service is to receive them as consecrated, humble, thankful, reliant beneficiaries, and never as workers charged with shouldering a staggering task.

So we must begin as Jesus did: we lift our eyes to heaven as Jesus did, and say as Jesus did: “Father, glorify your son/daughter, that the son/daughter may glorify you.” God glorifies us by adopting us as children, we glorify Him when the impossible actually happens: the life of His Son is manifested in communities of redeemed sons and daughters of God (local churches).

We will see how every believer is a part of this astonishing vision as we follow our Lord’s prayer.



The Posture of Disciple-making #4
More Than Existing Forever


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

If we time-travelled back to John 17, we will come upon a commonplace scene: a rabbi, his eleven disciples, in an upper room (a roof-top guest chamber in Jewish homes), around a table holding the remains of a passover meal. The master, in the Jewish posture of supplication, face lifted heavenwards, is praying audibly.

The eleven are nondescript. The rabbi, though he seems to almost glow with a nobility of bearing, and his voice somehow wraps the men to himself from the rest of Jerusalem, is an ordinary man. We will be hard put to light on any intimation of the momentous gravity of this gathering.

Yet here is the very Son of God consecrating Himself to the ancient world’s most shameful and torturous execution: crucifixion (verse 1b, above). And listen . . . He prays about this as a time of glory for both himself and the Father (verse 1b, above). This one particular crucifixion will be different. The reasons will unfold as He prays.

First, His death will ratify the Father’s purpose to offer salvation to a race whose only hope is to be given eternal life; because humankind, being dead in sin, is utterly unable to help itself (verses 1b-3, above).

But God did not give His Son just so that we may exist forever. Eternal existence is not the Bible’s “eternal life”. God gave His Son so that anyone who, by faith, receives Christ (who holds the authority to give life) may “know” the Father, that is, live in relationship with Him (verse 3, above).

We notice Jesus using a form of address unique among Jews of His time, Jesus calls God “Father” — patēr in Greek, and Abba in Aramiac. One commentator explains:

“There is no real precedent for the use of this word in addressing the Godhead, whether in Old Testament prayers, or in the extensive liturgies which have come down to us from first-century Judaism, . . . . Abba means ‘Daddy’, or ‘my own dear father’. . . .. To Jesus’ predecessors and contemporaries it was an overfamiliar and hence unseemly term to use in addressing the Almighty. But Jesus uses it constantly, a significant witness to his unique sense of intimacy with the Father, . . .. It is in the supreme confidence expressed in this word that Jesus goes to the cross.” As we have noted, in a posture of consecration, trust, reliance, and humble service.

To God whom He calls “Father” or “Patēr” or “Abba”, Jesus prays: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (verse 3, above). The vision of this prayer is that God fully intends to gather other children into relationship with Him as “Abba” (cf Romans 8:15).

We, the time travellers, can only gape in awe and hope and worship and thanksgiving — and finally surrender — as we hear these words!

No, God did not give His Son so that we may merely exist forever. God gave the Son with every intention of bringing “many sons to glory”. Hebrews 2:10 (ESV):

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

In Christ, the perfect foundation of our salvation, God wants to adopt us into His glory. This should be the mind set for reading verses 4-5, above: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (verses 4-5).

The “work” is everything that Jesus had done, plus “his own death, resurrection and exaltation (cf. 4:34; 5:36; 19:30)” . Praying proleptically, as though all is accomplished, Jesus requests to return to His pre-incarnate glory.

The vision of Jesus’ prayer becomes even more marvellous as we remember what Jesus had said: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’” (Matthew 21:42)

Jesus had laid the foundations for His Church (cf Ephesians 2:20). He intends to supervise the building of His people in His pre-incarnate glory, from HisFather’s right hand. This is why we have practically harped on the posture of discipleship and disciple making. We are not building the Church. Our Lord is! We are not required to pioneer but to obey. How then should we serve? Answers will present themselves as we continue to follow our Lord’s prayer.

End



The Posture of Disciple-making #5
Discipleship Begins with God’s Name


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

The first five verses of John 17 positions us for the rest of Jesus’ prayer. Our inner selves, our heart of hearts, must be aligned with them, if we are to walk our Lord’s vision of discipleship.

In these first five verses we hear Jesus’ single request for Himself. But He didn’t pray for Himself, He consecrated Himself to His Church, which would soon rise from the bloody victory of the cross.

Jesus came to serve . But the cross was by no means the end of His service. His earthly ministry culminating with His redemptive sacrifice, was preparation for a new era. An era in which Jesus Christ would continue to serve — in the fulness of His glory (17:5, above), from the Father’s right hand, as Supreme Ruler, Head of the Church, Corner Stone, High Priest, Chief Shepherd, True Vine.

After praying for Himself, Jesus prayed for His disciples based on all of the above as accomplished fact. As we eavesdrop, the vision for His Church unfolds:

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. . . .. John 17:6-7 (ESV).

Why was Jesus telling His Father what He did? Didn’t His Father and His men know full well all that He had done? Remember that the twelve were within earshot (John 17:13). It’s unlikely that Jesus was simply recounting His accomplishments. The answer to our questions appears later in the prayer:

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. John 17:18 (ESV)

The disciples would be sent into the world in the same way that the Son was sent. They (and now us) would continue the Lord’s mission. Disciples through the Church Age would expand the mission, but it would be the same mission. The core of His mission will never change. We are sent to do His work, not ours!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12 (ESV)

And what did Jesus do? The Father’s will: nothing more and nothing less:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19 (ESV)

The disciples must understand and discharge their mission in the same way. This was the intent of God the Father and God the Son. Disciples would be sent as Jesus was sent, never to do their own will but only the Father’s.

Milne puts it well:

The entire mission of Jesus in the world has in reality been the mission of the Father in and through him, the Sender in the Sent. The mission of the disciples, sent into the world by the Son, is likewise not theirs but his through them. The mission of the church is nothing other than the continuation of the mission of its Lord. Equally, however, the demand will be real. Being sent meant for Jesus his utter dedication to the claim and call of the Father. The disciples’ commission can mean nothing less.

No, Jesus was not recounting His accomplishments, he was defining the mission for His disciples. Disciples should never define, or formulate, their mission or calling. This is crucial. This is fundamental. Defining their mission is not within their purview.

The twelve must grasp and internalise the Church’s mission according to God’s terms. What better way to help them do this than to seal it in a prayer to the Father offered out loud in their presence. No wonder the Spirit moved John to record this prayer verbatim. It is now our turn to listen to this prayer and hear God’s voice.

Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, began with the name of God.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. John 17:6 (ESV)

“Manifested” means: to make apparent, to make known, to show openly . The Apostle Paul used this word in Romans 1:19, when he wrote “. . . what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . .” (ESV, emphasis mine).

Didn’t the disciples know who their God was? Must they be shown? At least ten of them were from Galilee: a steeply and vigorously religious Jewish enclave during Jesus’ time. As a rabbi, Jesus would certainly had taught them about God, but why did Jesus have to show, or make plain, God’s name to men who had learned Scriptures since childhood?

Further more, Jesus prayed about this as an accomplished task, “. . . I have manifested your name . . .“ (see also 17:4, above, emphasis mine). Don’t believers know God progressively as they walked with Him? Is knowing God then a one-time work of Christ?

We will allow the prayer itself to answer us as we study John 17. But already this much is clear: making disciples is exclusively Christ’s work (in and through us), and if it begins with making known the Father’s name — “name” denotes the full and true representation of a person — then following Jesus calls for much, much more than a religious resolve. Perhaps, it is an entirely different kind of journey, not simply a religious one. May the Spirit teach us as we continue to listen to our Lord’s prayer:

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. Mark 4:23-24 (ESV)

End.



Knowing God by Name #1
Foundation for A New Race


John 17:6-7 (ESV Strong’s) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Jesus’ prayer for His disciples began with the eleven, but He clearly prayed for all disciples through the ages — we were in His heart and mind (17:20-21). Indeed, we need to see our place in this prayer, and so to live out its vision, and to know all the blessings that Christ has for His Church. This is what Project John 17 seeks.

If Jesus’ prayer for Himself (17:1-5) prefaced God’s unimaginable sacrifice for human kind, would His prayer for disciples (17:6-19) anticipate anything less incredible and wondrous? Paul’s question in Romans gives us the answer:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 (ESV)

Paul also teaches that, in Christ, the full resources of heaven are available to us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, . . .. Ephesians 1:3 (ESV, emphases mine.)

This does not mean that disciples should expect to be spared from any earthly trouble. Jesus, more than once, warned, “But those who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). If discipleship calls for endurance then it must be hard.

But this does mean that disciples should expect to experience the transcendent presence and power of Christ as they followed Him. The first sentence of Jesus’ prayer — “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (17:6) — at once offers hope, assurance, and instruction in this respect.

We will explore the Lord’s prayer for us by first returning to a question asked previously: Why must the name of God be manifested to the eleven? They were Jews and thus trained in the Scriptures from young.

The answer is already in the prayer:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3 (ESV)

Christ manifested the Father’s name to them, not because these Jewish men needed to relearn the rudiments of their religion, but because His resurrection would usher in an age in which men and women would know and walk with God as never before. This was announced centuries ago:

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV, emphasis mine.)

When Jesus manifested the Father’s name to His disciples He was laying the foundation for a new race. The disciples, and all others who would come in their footsteps, would be God’s children who bore His name, they would be His own peculiar, impossible, and miraculous people. So through Christ, God was inaugurating a new way for people to know Him: through a man named Jesus.

The “name” of God encompassed every aspect of God. Jesus Christ would give repentant sinners eternal life and would personally reveal the Father to them. The first disciples met Him in the flesh, and then more intimately walked with Him in the Spirit; through their witness, we too will know Him through the Holy Spirit as we obey Scriptures, and as we live in the company of the redeemed (1Peter 1:10-12; 1John 1:1-4).

This is why the very first words of Jesus’ prayer for us — “I have manifested your name . . ..” — offer every true disciples hope, assurance, and instruction: The hope of knowing God personally in this life and then through eternity. The assurance that this hope can and will be realised because it does not depend on on us but on Jesus Christ. The instruction as to how we may walk in this hope, beginning right now, because Jesus, after His redemptive work on the cross, serves us as High Priest and Shepherd.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:14 (KJV)

If we are not experiencing discipleship and disciple making as truly and joyously peculiar, impossible, and miraculous, then we are not believing right or not living right. We need to examine our faith and lives. This, again, is the object of Project John 17.



Knowing God by Name #2
Already But Not Yet


John 17:6-7 (ESV) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Jesus prays from a grand eternal plan, from a heavenly viewpoint, so we, the earthbound, keep tripping over questions even as we follow His prayer. But the questions that trip us also clarify His vision , and so help us find our place and work in God’s plan.

Thus when we previously asked why His prayer begins like a report card — needlessly recounting work that He had just done — we learned that He was defining the ministry for His disciples, for they would be sent into the world just as He was, and so they must do their Father’s work just as Jesus did. Personal schemes, no matter how well intended or “biblical”, will not do. This is crucial, if we hope to participate in God’s work.

And when we wondered why God ’s name had to be manifested to Jewish men who were trained in Scriptures, we realised that the Cross would usher in an era in which men and women would know God as never before, as Jesus revealed God as never before — as Emanuel, God with us, even to this day — and all at once the hope of eternity with Christ becomes a present pursuit, discipleship becomes a foretaste of heaven.

Now, we will ponder another question that will reap useful insights: Why does Jesus pray as though His work among the disciples is already completed. He says “I have manifested your name... they have kept your word” (17:6, above). Surely the men’s subsequent conduct — from their fearful desertion, to their doubt about the resurrection, to their misunderstanding of “Kingdom” , showed that they were hardly ready to be the vanguard of Emmanuel’s witnesses.

Moreover, at the end of the prayer Jesus says, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known,...” (17:26). So evidently, and rightly so, Jesus had no intention of ending His work, but every intention of continuing it — even up to our day . So why the air of job “accomplished” in His prayer (17:6-7, above, also 17:4). Was Jesus’ assessment of His men overly optimistic, or was he making altogether a different claim? The answer may be summed up by a slogan that almost every Christian will encounter — a slogan that, though bandied about, has refused to become a cliche because it is fantastically true: “Already but not yet!”

Jesus’ prayer seems internally contradictory because He is praying about a project that belongs to the triune God: call it what we will: Christian work, church building, the ministry, missions, disciple making, discipleship — all things that pertains to the realisation of the promises and fruit of the Gospel is the exclusive purview and work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was not assessing the progress of His men, but claiming, declaring, the inauguration of the New Covenant, the age of the Gospel of grace!

Anything undertaken by God may be reckoned as done, even at the beginning! Indeed, His work is accomplished at the very point of inception.

...I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV).

God’s sovereignty makes our contradiction a miracle: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (17:6).

God did not choose the disciples because they had kept His word. Having been chosen by the Father and presented to the Son, they were already God’s people. This is why Christ manifested the Father’s name to them, and why they had kept His Word. They did God’s work because they were God’s work.

All these must have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (ESV).

Thus we — being those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ — may participate in His victory at every step in the arduous journey of discipleship. This, again, is the purpose of Project John 17, to seek and to walk the hard, but joy filled, way of discipleship. Come... join the journey.

End



Owned by God #1
Call to incarnation.


John 17:6-7 (ESV) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

How did you become a Christian?

Answers can vary widely. Conversions are uniquely personal. The story of my conversion is the story of how God’s love found me, touched my soul, and met needs that only He and I knew. Every conversion displays the infinite wonder of God’s love drawing believers to Himself one-by-one.

Conversely, however, in praying for His disciples, Jesus kept referring to a commonality in God’s dealing with them (and so with us):

“Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....” (John 17:6, above).

This is conversion in a nutshell, from God’s perspective — conversion is something that He does. A person turns to Christ because God the Father chose to own him or her, and to give him or her to His Son.

Our predestined ownership is a work of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No one can earn it. No one can contribute to it. Every believer participates as a beneficiary. There are no exceptions.

God knows us individually by name (John 10:3,14), but predestined ownership grafts us to a common life in Christ — we are branches of the true vine (John 15:1-11). This theme must be important because it weaves through our Lord’s prayer:

17:2: “. . . to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
17:6: “. . . the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
17:6: “. . . Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....”
17:9: “. . . I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
17:10: “. . . All mine are yours, and yours are mine, ....”
17:24: “. . . Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, ....”

Instances of this theme abound in Scriptures, here are a few examples:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

We were spiritually dead. Our very nature tended only to incur God’s wrath. We belonged to this world. We experienced new birth when we turned to Christ.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (ESV)

The right to become God’s children, to receive eternal life from Christ, was given to dead people through faith. So in truth, our turning was all God’s doing. We were born of Him: our conviction, faith, and new birth came about through the Father’s election and the Son’s gift of life — our conversion was predestined ownership in operation:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. John 10:27-29 (ESV)

This is how you became a Christian: God chose you, claimed you from the world, and gave you to Christ, who gave you eternal life. This is how you became part of this prayer: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....” (above).

Christians are owned ones, and must serve God as such. We must not only seek to do things but to be a people. Discipleship is living our Christ-given life in the world — incarnation — for we, in conformity to His image, are sent into the world as He was sent.

Therefore the appropriation of Jesus’ vision in John 17, must be first and foremost a desire, an urge, to be, rather than to do. One scholar describes this stance well:

“Furthermore, what is first required of the Christian is not action (although that cannot be neglected) but a presence, a style of life, an attitude, a special mode of existence. .... By incarnating their God-given identity as light, salt, and sheep, Christians effect a present reality of the kingdom of God which will be culminated in the future.”

In this series, we have repeatedly insisted that God’s work must be done God’s way. It’s time to amplify thus: God’s work must be done God’s way by God’s people who are living God’s life. The urge to serve (God) must be driven by the urge to live (in Christ). True disciple making can only issue from true disciples.

End.



Owned by God #2
Disciple making is God working in His own.


No one likes to be owned — be someone’s possession. The idea is at odds with our prideful self-sufficiency. This is likely why many of us, in our very heart of hearts, do not gratefully embrace Christ as Master and see His Lordship as a great gift of pure grace.

The Bible does not want us to forget that we are owned, it keeps reminding us:

. . . I know my own . . . John 10:14.
. . . you who were called to belong to Jesus Christ, . . . Rom 1:6.
. . . so that you may belong to another . . . Rom 7:4.
. . . we are the Lord’s. Rom 14:8.
. . . You are not your own, . . . 1Cor 6:19.
. . . a people for his own possession . . .. Tit 2:14; 1Pet 2:9.
. . . kept for Jesus Christ: . . . Jud 1:1

God’s ownership must be important for this was also Jesus’ central theme when His prayer turned to His disciples (17:6-7, above). If the vision of this prayer is to power our lives, then many of us may need to take the Bible’s reminders to heart, embrace God’s ownership, and make every effort to live as owned ones.

Let’s recap what Jesus prayed about the the men whom God gave Him: first, that He had manifested the Father’s name to them; second, that they had kept the Father’s Word; and third, that they had grasp who He really was.

The first point (17:6a), about manifesting the Father’s name, had been explored previously. By revealing the Father to His disciples Jesus had inaugurated the promise of the New Covenant: “for they shall all know me . . . declares the Lord” (Jer 31:34).

Now to the second point: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (17:6b, above).

The first half of this prayer: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me . . .” succinctly describes conversion, a person turning to Christ. Conversion is God’s work, and it happens whenever the Father claims a sinner for Himself by calling her to and through His Son.

The second half of this prayer: “. . . and they have kept your Word” succinctly describes discipleship. The word “kept” indicates a more personal and deeper commitment to Jesus than just complying to His teachings: “kept” includes: “. . . watch, and hence to guard, keep, obey . . .” . Further, note that they had kept the Father’s word and not Jesus’. During the intimate hours before the prayer of John 17, in the Farewell Discourse, Jesus had taught them:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:23-24).

Thus Jesus’ prayer acknowledges that His men had shown a more profound response than just receiving a body of religious teachings. He saw that something much deeper, and actually unprecedented, had taken place: in keeping Jesus’ word as the Father’s, the men had accepted Christ’s messianic claims! They were ready to follow Him as the Christ of God. They had embarked on Christian discipleship.

His prayer, “they have kept your word” (in perfect active tense), does not refer to the men’s spiritual maturity — as impending events would soon testify, they were far from being established believers. Rather, Jesus was referring to their decisive step of faith. They had stepped from unbelief to belief, thus from death to life. Since no one can do this “unless the Father who sent me draws him”, and “whoever believes has eternal life” . God had effected their conversion and also set them on the narrow road of discipleship. They were the first fruit of God’s new-covenant work!

This was why Jesus prayed for glory first (17:1-5): the time for Him to pay the price for their redemption had arrived. The New Covenant would soon be ratified on the cross. Walking with God would soon become a miraculous possibility — for them and for us!

The writer to the Hebrew Christians asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (2:3). We follow with this question: What then shall we do: how should we live after we have received the Father’s word and experienced His salvation? Answers will be harvested in our next study — Jesus’ third prayer point: “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.”