Mission in Union with Christ

Sermon by Ed Hartman on February 18, 2017

John 17


I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to John chapter 17. If you’re using the pew Bible, you’ll find it on page 903.  The last time we were together we looked at Hebrews chapter 10 and we talked about union with Christ and how in union with Christ we’re invited to draw near. The consistent invitation is to come back, draw near, delight in the presence of Jesus in communion with Him. Today we’re going to pick up on that theme and look at John chapter 17 where again we’re going to consider union with Christ, only this time the invitation is not simply to draw near. Here, the invitation is to turn outward and invite others in. And so the title of our study is “Mission in Union with Christ.” And what we’ll discover by the time we finish is that drawing near and turning outward are inseparably connected. They go together. Each fuel and accelerates the other. The more we draw near, the more we’re going to want to turn outward. And the more we turn outward to invite others in, the more we’re going to find ourselves drawing near. These are the two pieces in which the Christian life will orbit in union with Christ.


Now John 17 signals an ominous transition in the life and the ministry of Jesus. This is the turning point; the first phrase in His prayer. John chapter 17 verse 1, “Father, the hour has come.” Those words are chilling because Jesus knows that He’s about to be betrayed, arrested, put up on an illegal trial and convicted, brutally tortured and shamed, forsaken by His Father, and He’s about to be killed; He’s going to die a brutal death. He knows this is coming. “Father, the hour has come.” How do you prepare for that? And how does He get His disciples ready for that? Because He knows what they don’t yet understand. It’s not yet dawned on them what they’re on the doorstep of. What does Jesus do to get them ready? He teaches them one last time and He prays for them. This is what scholars call the Farewell Discourse. It goes from John 13 to John 17 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them, “As I have loved and served you, so you must love and serve one another.” John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled.” John 15, “Abide in me and I’ll abide in you.” John 16, “You can’t do this without the Holy Spirit. I’m sending the Spirit. He’s yours! He will empower you to do what is otherwise absolutely impossible. Let’s pray!”


John 17. And this is where we find ourselves. Some of the most intimate, Trinitarian teaching on union with Christ is found in this Farewell Discourse, culminating in this prayer where Jesus focuses on the Father as the source of our union, the Son as the object of our union, and the Holy Spirit as the bond of that union. He keeps coming back to it over and over again. And in this final prayer, Jesus applies all that teaching, all that equipping, and He prays for His disciples and through them, He prays for us. With that in mind, let’s read John chapter 17:


“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. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.


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. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’”


Let’s pray together!


Our Father, we find ourselves standing on holy ground, listening into a divine conversation between God the Son and God the Father, eavesdropping as it were, on divine dialogue. It’s a stunning thing for God to be praying to God. God the Son asking God the Father to do what only He alone could do. We ask for Your Holy Spirit to work within us today, to bring humility to bear upon our hearts because we know that we desperately need grace and we know that grace comes only to the humble. And so we humble ourselves before You today before Your holy Word, I humble myself before Your holy Word asking that Your grace would be magnified, multiplied, Your beauty would be unmistakable as we study Your Word and hear Your Spirit applying Your Word to our hearts by faith. We receive You afresh by the power of Your Word and the presence of Your Spirit. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


We’re on the doorstep of our Mission Conference as Gabe reminded us. Our theme this year for the conference is “Deep and Wide.” You’ll receive something in the mail from the church, a Mission Conference booklet, with a letter of explanation, even a pledge card, an invitation to engage, to pray, to invest yourself, even to sacrifice for the sake of this mission that is rooted in this reality, “Deep and Wide.” What do we mean? Well, simply this. “What goes deepest to the heart goes widest to the world.” What goes deepest to my heart goes widest to my world. The question we’re going to ask as we work our way through this study in light of John 17 is this. “What’s gone deepest to your heart and where does it show?” Because it does show. Something is going wide to your world right now. The question is, “What is it?” Answer – it’s rooted in what’s gone deepest to your heart. That’s our outline this morning. Something has gone deepest to your heart. And then secondly, something’s gone widest to your world. Let’s give careful attention to those twin realities.


Something Has Gone Deepest to Your Heart


First of all, “What goes deepest to the heart?” We’re back to union with Christ. I have to be very careful with how we look at this chapter, John 17. Some preachers in church history refused to preach on this chapter because it was too sacred. They did not want to add anything to these words. It was too precious. God the Son talking to God the Father. “We simply bow in silence with our hands over our mouths.” That was their thinking. Others, like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached a series of sermons on this chapter that took fifty sermons to complete; written down in a book of 700 pages! We’re going to try to cover it in the first of two points in one sermon. So we’re only going to look at the very peaks of the mountains. We’re going to look at four words that summarize the major flow of what Jesus is praying for. Underneath each of these words is a wealth of meaning and significance, implication and application. So four words. They are glorification, protection, sanctification and unification. Let me show you how these work.


Jesus Prays for Glorification

First ten verses, Jesus talks about glorification. Nine times you find the words “glorify” or “glory.” And He’s praying that God’s glory would be displayed to a watching world in such a way that people would be thunderstruck, awestruck with the glory and the beauty of this God in such a way that they would be drawn in. He talks about this several times. Look at the end of verse 1. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” Verse 2, “Since you have given him authority over all flesh to give eternal life whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The point that Jesus is praying toward – His people will only come to Christ when they see His glory. “So Father, glorify me with the glory that I had before the world began.”


And then He does something stunning and I’m not entirely sure what to do with this. But in verse 22, He says, “The glory that you have given to me, I have given to them.” If you stop and think about what Jesus is saying here – God’s glory, the intra-Trinitarian glory that was beautifully known, experienced and delighted in before the first word of creation was spoken, Jesus says, “The glory you’ve given to me, I’ve given to them.” We’re made partakers of the divine nature, the glory shared by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’re invited into that glory. Now we’re being transformed from one degree of glory to another, Paul tells us. One day we will be perfectly conformed to that glory. 1 John chapter 3 verse 1 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know this, we know this, we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” All His glory, all His beauty, all His power – we’re brought into that? I’m not sure that fits into my brain because I know glimpses of the glory and the beauty and the awesomeness of God – and we’re invited into that?


“Seated in the Heavenlies”

Paul says that we are seated right now in the heavenlies where Christ is reigning. We are seated right now with Christ in the heavenlies. That glory, in part, is ours already. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying we become God. I’m simply saying the Bible says we become like Him. He shares His glory with us. And Jesus is praying for that. Let that reality leave them thunderstruck. God’s glory shared with us. And I run out of words there. I just know it’s so much bigger than what we’re describing right now. Jesus prays for glorification.


Jesus Prays for Protection

Secondly, He prays for protection. Because while that’s where we’re headed, for now we’re here in the world. And in verses 11 through 16 He talks about the protection that He knows we need. In verse 11, He’s praying for protection from the world. In verse 15 it’s protection from the evil one. In contrast to the world’s hatred that He talks about in verse 14, He says, “You will be hated. If you’re in union with Me, if you belong to Me, the world will hate you because you don’t belong to it.” But in contrast to the world’s hatred, He says, “My joy will be yours and it will be fulfilled in you. You’re going to know not just joy but My joy, the joy of God.” As John Piper says, the “happy God.” A God who is eternally joyful, he says, this joy, while you’re hated, is going to be fulfilled, made full and perfect, in your experience.


Jesus Prays for Sanctification

Third, He prays for sanctification, verses 17 through 19. Three times He uses the word, “sanctify.” He uses it about Himself and He uses it about us. So He doesn’t mean, “God, I want to be made more holy. I, Jesus, want to be.” He’s perfectly holy. He embodies holiness. What He’s praying for is a consecration, a being set apart from everything that is unholy and being set aside for that which puts us in the center of God’s purposes. He says, “This is what I’m asking You, Father, to do for these My people. Set them apart so they can be truly useful.” How? Verse 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” To the extent that we read, study, treasure, take into ourselves and celebrate this Word, it changes us and it sets us apart. It equips us and fuels us and drives us forward to the purpose to which we’ve been set apart.


Jesus Prays for Unification

So Jesus is praying for glorification, protection, sanctification, and finally, unification. Jesus is praying in verses 20 through 26 that God will enable us to fulfill the command that He gave back in John chapter 13. After He washed the disciples’ feet and served them, did for them what none of them was willing to do for the others, He said, “I’ve set before you a new example and a command. As I have loved and served you, so you are to love and serve one another.” Not optional. It’s beyond me. But Jesus is praying for that to become your experience and mine. Glorification, protection, sanctification, and unification.


Jesus, the one about whom the Bible speaks when it says He is right now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, praying for us, Jesus the one about whom Hebrews 7 says He “always lives to intercede for us,” Jesus is right now praying this for us as we are in union with Him. Everything He prays for becomes ours, only in union with Christ. And you see this repeatedly, the language of “you in me” and “I in you” and “they in us.” This abiding in Christ, Him abiding and dwelling in us by the power of His Spirit, you find that throughout the whole chapter. Let me just show you a few places. Verse 21, “That they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us.” There’s the language of union again. Verse 23, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.” Verse 26, “I made known to them your name and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” Everything that Jesus is praying for, everything He intends to do for us and through us and in us happens only in union with Christ. Apart from union with Christ, none of this happens.


Let me quote just two professors, both from Westminster Seminary. One, John Murray, who said, “Union with Christ, therefore, is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. Everything that we’re promised in the Gospel, everything, comes to us only in union with Christ.” And then Lane Tipton said this in a lecture on justification. He said, “If you’re asked to explain the Gospel and your answer does not center on union with Christ, then there’s a good chance that you don’t yet understand the Gospel.” Why did he say that? Because you used to be outside of Christ and now, by faith, you have been brought in Christ and every benefit you find in the Gospel – your justification, your sanctification, your adoption, your glorification – every benefit comes to you only in Christ. See, we tend to focus on the benefits of the Gospel when the New Testament calls us to focus on the Benefactor, the one from whom, the one in union with we receive every one of these benefits. Does that make sense? We love the fact that we’re forgiven, declared righteous, that we are adopted as children of God. We love that and it’s true; it’s all true. But none of it happens apart from union with Christ. That’s the core. That’s the core reality of what the Gospel is.


What is the Gospel?

So when we ask, “What is the Gospel?” The answer is, “The Gospel is Jesus Christ. Him crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and reigning at the right hand of God the Father right now.” That’s the Gospel. And we, in union with Him, receive all the benefits that flow to us from that union. And that’s the core. That’s the center. That’s what’s foundational to the Christian life. Here’s the question. What’s gone deepest to your heart? Is this it? The question is not, “Has something gone deepest to your heart?” because if you’re human, something is at the bottom. Something is at the foundation of your identity. It’s a wide range of things. It can be your family, who your daddy is, who you’re married to, how much money you have, what’s on your resume, what your occupation is, where you live, what you have, where you’ve bee, how you’re educated, how clever you are, how cute you are, how socially adept you are, the things that you say, “I’ve got this. I’m good.” Something’s at the bottom, at the core. Something’s gone deepest to your heart. The question is, “What is it?” What is the sine qua non? That without which I have nothing.


Union With Christ

We talk about this in the context of idolatry. Gabe referenced this as he declared the assurance of our pardon. God has delivered us, is delivering us from all of our idolatry. Another way of looking at it is this – What’s gone deepest to your heart? Because what goes deepest to your heart goes widest to your world. Last weekend we had Rosaria Butterfield with us and she made the comment that “Union with Christ and all that that means must grow larger and deeper to me than all my idol-infused identity.” That’s a huge statement. She’s absolutely right. Union with Christ, this that we’re describing, has to go deeper and bigger than all my idol-infused identity. Why? Because if union with Christ is what goes deepest to my heart, then union with Christ in pursuing His mission is what will go widest to my world.


Something’s Gone Widest to Your World


That’s the second part of what I’d like us to see just briefly. If we’re drawing near to Christ in union with Him, then we’re going to be propelled outward, still in union with Him, proclaiming the message and inviting others in. There’s one word that appears eighteen times in this chapter. I don’t know if you noticed it as we read it together, but one word, if you underline it every time it shows up, it’s from the beginning of Jesus’ prayer to the very end, it’s the word, “world.” In the Greek, it’s, “cosmos.” Jesus uses that word eighteen times in His prayer. And what He’s saying is, “The scope of, the purpose of My coming has global implications.” It’s not just about you and drawing near to Jesus. It is that it starts there, that’s the foundation, but it doesn’t stop there. Because your Gospel identity is inseparably linked to your Gospel mission. And that’s what Jesus is focusing on as He turns His attention to drawing near to turning outward.


Look at it in verse 18. He says to His Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is just before His crucifixion; just after His resurrection, He’s going to say it again. John 20:21, “As my Father sent me into the world, so I have sent you.” Why? What’s the purpose? Well He articulates it very clearly. Verse 21 again, “That they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” Verse 23, “So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you love me.” Our being in union with Christ, our drawing near to Him, doesn’t stop there. It turns outward so that the world may know and believe that this is the only reality that can go to the deepest part of our lives and secure us for all eternity so that the world may know and so that the world may believe and so that the world may embrace.


One missiologist put it this way, bringing these two together. He said, “In the Great Commission, Jesus commands His followers to go to the most distant places on the planet. He sends them out but He was not sending them away from Him, He was actually beckoning them to come nearer to Him than they had ever been before. He Himself would be with them every moment of every day to the very end of the age.” You see that? He draws them near and says, “Come close. Come close. But I’m sending you out.” But as He’s sending them out He’s saying, “I’m with you. And you may find Me more with you than ever before as you go and represent Me to the farthest places, farthest reaches of the world.” You see what goes deepest to the heart goes widest to the world. The question is, “What’s gone deepest to your heart?” We could turn it around backward and say it this way. The mission of the church is impossible unless of course, we remain in union with Christ and we’re living out of that abiding in Him, drawing near to Him, and the more we delight in that drawing near to Him, the more He will fill us up and propel us forward. What goes deepest to your heart goes widest to your world.


We are on the doorstep of our Mission Conference. This is going to be an unusual conference because our Mission Committee and our Session has spent considerable time rethinking everything, all the whys behind all the whats. And our representatives from our different committees are going to present and explain what this new vision, this strategic plan is. And it’s bold, it’s daring, it is high risk – higher risk than ever before. What that means is that it’s also going to be more costly than ever before – with human life; with money. People will lose their lives in pursuit of this new strategic plan. Mark my words. Jesus promised it would happen. Why? Because of the blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the Church. The risks, the stakes are about to go a lot higher. We’ll continue doing what we’ve been doing; we’re just going to accelerate to take the Gospel where it’s never gone before and we’re strategically investing in partnerships and in engagements that we didn’t have access to before, but we will now. It will require greater generosity, greater sacrifice, and greater risk for us to deploy; for each of us, really.


What Gabe mentioned about the Saturday morning seminar, I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for you to come. John Leonard has written, what to me is the best book, on sharing your faith in Christ with others. It’s called, Get Real. It’s in our bookstore. He’s going to be unpacking that. And without our having planned it this way, the fact is, what Rosaria Butterfield taught us last weekend, John Leonard is going to unpack very practically and show you, “Here’s how you go about doing this.” You’re going to hear the same message in stereo. I’m urging you to make plans to come that Saturday morning. What does deepest to the heart goes widest to the world!


William Borden

In closing, two pictures, and one question. Picture number one. William Borden was born in 1887 to a very wealthy family. That family’s net worth in today’s dollars would be in the multiple billions of dollars. Lots of resources. William came to faith in Christ under his mother’s influence. He was educated first at Yale and then at Princeton. And in the process of being educated, he made a decision to invest his life in sharing the Gospel with Muslims who lived in western China at that time. And he became committed that this was God’s purpose for his life, his calling. Well as you might imagine, his father, in particular, did not take warmly to his commitment. And his father put a fork in the road in front of William and said, “You’re going to have to make up your mind. You do this, and you lose all of the resources. You’ll never be able to come back to the companies that I own. You’ll never be able to come back to our wealth. You go that way and you’re cutting this off. Make up your mind.” And his father thought that was enough of a threat to make William turn his back on a mission to Muslims. And William thought, he prayed, and he said, “God has called me and I’m going that way, whatever it costs.” And he walked away from it all. And his father did cut him off.


And so on his way to western China to share the Gospel with Muslims, he stopped in Egypt to study the Arabic language under Samuel Zwemer. While he was there, he contracted spinal meningitis and within a month he was dead – twenty-five years old. Never made it to China. Never preached the Gospel to Muslims there. You might think, “What a waste! A young life; all that promise. Think of what he could have done with all that money had he stayed home!” Redeployed. You would think that until you found his Bible and you turned to the back cover. Inside he had three short phrases written down. Here they are. “No reserves. No retreat. No regrets.” There were no reserves. He had walked away from all the money, all the resource, all the possibilities that that kind of wealth would bring. No reserves. There was no retreat. There was no going back. And because of what had gone deepest to his heart, there were no regrets.


I get it. You and I may not be called to walk away from billions and go to the farthest reaches of the world and die before we get there, but if you listened carefully to what Rosaria Butterfield said last weekend you realize you have been called to that kind of high risk, sacrificial life – radical hospitality, radical truth, radical love. Moving toward people that you’d really not get that close to. That is your calling. So that’s the first picture – a young man who ended up with this epitaph – No reserves. No retreat. No regrets.


Karl Pillemer

Second picture. Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University professor, the director of their institute on aging research, conducted a survey on octogenarian Americans – Americans who are in their ninth decade of life. The survey included one primary question that said, “What’s your biggest regret in life?” You can look this survey up online. The number one answer was, “I wish I hadn’t played it so safe. I wish I had risked more. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about the unknowns, things I couldn’t control.”


There are the two trajectories. Your life is on one or the other. Really. No reserves. No retreat. No regret. Or, “I wish I hadn’t played it so safe. I wish I had risked more. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about the stuff I just couldn’t control.” Look, if you’re in union with Christ, you know how this ends, don’t you? You know where this ends. It ends with a banquet with a bridegroom, the host, looks at you and He smiles and He says, “I’ve been waiting for you to come home! Welcome! So glad you’re here! The party’s beginning. You’re home. You’re safe. Everything you’ve been promised is perfected and completed. Here, welcome. You’ve been drawing near. You’ve been propelled outward. You’ve brought others in. So glad you’re here! Well done, good and faithful servant!” You and I are not going to hear that if we’re playing it safe, if we’re risk-averse, if we’re worried about, “Gosh, I’m afraid of what might happen if I take this seriously. Things could get messy here.” But when is ministry not been messy? The only ones who stay clean are those who are sitting on the sidelines. I would really like to have the mess of all that this world would bring on my hands and on my clothing when my Redeemer comes back and says, “Come on home.” I don’t want any reserves left. Do you?


What goes deepest to the heart, goes widest to the world. It will take risks. It will cause us to sacrifice, live lives of generosity – radical hospitality, radical truth, radical love. Something foreign to us, actually impossible to us, unless we’re living in union with Christ, unless union with Christ is growing deeper and bigger within me, than all my idol-infused identity. This is the calling. I’ll end with this. Our Mission Conference theme verse for this year is 1 Peter 2:9 – “But you, in union with Christ, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” You are this – a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, a chosen race, so that you may proclaim the excellencies, the glory, the worth of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. What goes deepest to the heart goes widest to the world. Let’s pray!


Father in heaven, we look to You and pray that You would cause these truths to resonate within us. Cause union with Christ to be a great celebration, to be our greatest joy, to be our deepest security. Make us fearless. Make us bold. Change us. Make us free in union with Christ. Free us to do what otherwise we’re too afraid to do or we’re unable to do. But because of that union, propel us forward, propel us outward, and in the process, make us to find us drawing near again and again and again. Make it so for Jesus’ sake, amen.

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