Monday, August 17, 2015

Knowing God (John 17:25-26)

In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon wrote, “My son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” Some of us know this truth from experience. Walk into any bookstore, including any Christian bookstore, and you will find thousands of books on display, many of them having been published within the last few weeks or months. Most of the books that get published do not stand the test of time. When a book endures in popularity for decades, it becomes known as a classic.  Mark Twain once quipped that a classic is a book which people praise and don’t read. Of the books that will come out this year, few if any will endure to become classics. But one book that has stood the test of time for over four decades now is J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. In the opening chapter, Packer asserts that “a study of the nature and character of God … is the most practical project anyone can engage in.” He writes,

Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesmen to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.[1]

But Packer goes on to say, “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him. … [I]nterest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing Him.”[2] Is it any wonder, then, that so many find themselves (in Packer’s words) stumbling and blundering about in a world that seems strange, mad, painful?

Nearly five centuries ago, John Calvin wrote in the opening words of his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion,

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. … Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. … [I]t is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize Himself.[3]

Again, it is no wonder that in recent months, we have seen headline stories about people who are confused about their own identity. If Calvin is right (and I am persuaded that he is), it stems from a lack of the knowledge of God. Nothing is more important than this.

Jesus addresses these words to His “righteous Father.” This is the only time in the entire Bible that God the Father is addressed by this title, but throughout Scripture, righteousness is one of the most frequently mentioned attributes of God. In Deuteronomy 32:4, the song of Moses proclaims, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” The Psalmist says that “the righteous God tries the hearts and minds” (Psa 7:9). Isaiah said that “the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness” (Isa 5:16). Righteousness permeates all that He is and does. His judgments are righteous (Psa 19:9; Rom 2:5); His deeds are righteous (Psa 103:6); His ordinances are righteous (119:62); and His Word is righteous (119:123).[4] But He is also a loving Father, as Jesus address to Him here indicates. He is the righteous Father. And Jesus knows Him to be such, but not everyone does.

We cannot overstate how important it is for us to truly know this righteous Father. It is not just that our temporal existence hinges on a right knowledge of God, though that is true. Moreover, our eternal existence hinges on this knowledge of God as well. After all, Jesus said in the third verse of John 17, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” In the closing verses of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, He speaks to the Father about this knowledge: who has it, who doesn’t, and what difference it makes to those who do.

I. The world does not know God.

Jesus could not have said it any plainer: “the world has not known You.” Nearly 70 times in John’s Gospel the word “world” occurs, and as is the case in our usage of the word, it can have a variety of meanings. It can refer to the planet on which we live, as in Chapter 1, when it is said of Jesus that He was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. It can also refer to the entire human race, as it does in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But very commonly in John’s Gospel (particularly in this Farewell Discourse that began in Chapter 14), “the world” refers to a specific subset of the human race. It refers to those who are in active rebellion to God’s will and word. The world, in this sense, is hostile toward God. Jesus said that the world hated Him and His followers (15:18-19), and that ultimately the world cannot receive the things of God (14:17, 22). Jesus referred to the devil as “the ruler of the world” (14:30), and in this usage, He is speaking of this group of people who defy God and live under the control of Satan. They are described by Paul in Ephesians 2 as those who live according to the prince of the power of the air, in the lusts of their flesh and desires of their minds. And the reason for all of this is here spelled out clearly: they do not know God.

Paul writes often of the world’s ignorance of God in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians. He says that the world did not come to know God through its wisdom (1:21). Because the world’s wisdom did not lead them to a knowledge of God, God has made the wisdom of this world to be foolishness, and has shamed and nullified the world in its wisdom (1:20, 27-29; 3:19). The message of the cross of Jesus Christ, and the followers of Christ are considered foolish to the world because of their ignorance of God.

Romans 1 makes it clear that the world is without excuse in its ignorance of God. There Paul says that what can be known about God has been made evident through creation and the human conscience. There is enough true revelation within us and around us to convince anyone of “His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature” (Rom 1:21). But Paul says there that they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. It was their insatiable desire for sin and their inherent disposition for rebellion that caused the world to reject the knowledge of God that is apparent to all in what He has created. And so Paul says, “Even though they knew God (or as we might better say, “knew about God,” or “knew of God”), they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” As a result, the Bible says that God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts, to their degrading passions, and to their depraved minds.” This unbridled depravity and degradation is marked by a whole list of behaviors spelled out in Romans 1, including idolatry, homosexuality, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, and slander. It includes not only the doing of these things, but also giving hearty approval to those who practice them. All of this is tantamount to hatred of God that stems from their lack of knowledge of Him (see Romans 1:18-32).

This explains almost everything we see in the daily news. Why does the world carry on as it does? Why is good considered evil and evil good in our day? Why are Christian values ridiculed and godless values celebrated? It is because the world in all of its so-called wisdom does not know God. Proverbs 1:7 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Because there is no fear of the Lord – no reverence for Him as the righteous Judge, or the loving Father – the world has embraced foolishness in the name of wisdom and turned away from true knowledge, which begins with a knowledge of God and a right reverential fear of Him. But the world does not know Him, as Jesus said.

Now secondly, notice that it is written that …

II. Jesus Christ knows God

Jesus said, “the world has not known You, yet I have known You.” Now it may seem that this goes without saying, particularly here among believers in Christ. After all, we confess that Jesus actually is God – the second Person of the Triune Godhead Who, for us and for our salvation, became man in His incarnation. He made that claim repeatedly about Himself. Yet, repeatedly Jesus states that He knows God the Father. In addition to this statement in 17:25, we find in John 7:29 that He said, “I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.” In 8:55, He says, “I do know Him, and keep His word.” In 10:15 He says, “the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” He has complete, total, and perfect knowledge of God.

No matter how well someone else knows you, no other human being knows you better than you know yourself. And no one knows God like God. John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Of course, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father is God the Son, the Lord Jesus. He is the One whom John says existed in the beginning with God, and was God (Jn 1:1). When Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Jesus said, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:8). Hebrews 1:3 says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature. So it should go without saying that He knows Him.

What Jesus seems to be saying here, however, is more than just that He knows the Father. He seems to be saying that He alone knows the Father. As Rainsford writes, “On this wide earth there was not one solitary being but Himself who knew that Father. When God looked down upon the world He had made, there was not one heart beating in sympathy with His own, but the heart of that beloved Son who was addressing Him.”[5] He alone knows God, and He knows Him to be the righteous Father. That knowledge will sustain Him through the following day as He goes to the cross. Because God is His Father, He knows that nothing will befall Him that has not according to the Father’s loving plan for Him. Because God is righteous, all that He does is perfect and just. As Jesus faces a death that He does not deserve for our sins, His knowledge of God as the righteous Father will enable Him to endure the cross. He knows that His death will be a demonstration of God’s righteousness “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). In His righteousness, He is just to punish the sins of humanity. In His fatherly love, He is the justifier of those who believe in Jesus – that is, He is the One who removes our sin and declares us righteous on the basis of our faith in Jesus – by allowing our sins to be punished in the Person of the Son.

So it is essential for us to understand that, in a way that no other person can claim with integrity, the Lord Jesus is able to say that He knows the Father. And because He knows the Father, He is able to impart that knowledge of the Father to others who are yet in the world – the world that does not know God – in order to redeem them from the world, that they may come to know God as their own righteous Father. And this is exactly what He came to do. That brings us to the third point here …

III. Jesus makes God known to those who have faith in Him.

It is a truth that man can know nothing about God unless God makes it known. It’s called “revelation.” God has revealed truths to mankind about Himself in creation, including within us, and by His Word. But as the writer of Hebrews says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1). Jesus came into the world to make God known. But, many refused the revelation that God was giving to the world through His Son. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Those who believe upon the name of Jesus come to know God, and become adopted as His children.

Jesus says here concerning His disciples, “these have known that You sent Me.” At times, they seemed to not know much, but from their very first encounter with Jesus, they knew this: that He had been sent by the Father into the world. This is where it all begins for each of us. Content to be “of the world,” we are suddenly made aware that there is something unique about Jesus and His claims. It is the Holy Spirit who brings this awareness upon our hearts. We begin to think seriously about Him and consider who He is and what He has said to be of significant importance. After all, if He is not who He said He is, then no one should even still be talking about Him. He is either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord, and the first two of those options seem too ridiculous to consider. We come to know that He is One who came to speak for God in the world, and as we meditate upon what He has said, we come to know that is much more than a prophet. He is the One who came to unite us to God through His saving work upon the cross.

As we come to know Jesus in this way, we begin to grow in our knowledge of God. Our knowledge of God is rooted in the revelation that Jesus Christ has made known to us. Jesus said, “I have made Your name known to them.” To make God’s name known means more than just His title or what He is to be called. It is to make His nature and character known. In His incarnation, His teaching, and His works, we see the nature and character of God the righteous Father on display. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. If you want to know what God has said, listen to Jesus.

And Jesus says, not only that He has made the Father’s nature and character known, but that He will make it known, implying that the revelatory work is not yet finished. There was more to be revealed. But how can this be so, when He has already declared that He knows His earthly life will end on the following day? Certainly, He means that on the coming day, when He goes to the cross, He will be continuing to make known the nature and character of the righteous Father. The cross is the ultimate display of the nature of God. There are some theologians – those who may know a lot about God, but do not know God – who say that what we see of His character and nature in the cross is not a pretty picture. They see in the cross a bloodthirsty God who murders His own Son in an act that some have described as “cosmic child abuse.”[6] As Paul said, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For those of us who have come to believe in Jesus, and to know God through Him, we see in the cross a perfect picture of the attributes of God the righteous Father. In the cross, we see His love, His mercy and grace, His holiness and justice, His wrath toward sin and His forbearance with man all displayed in one moment. The cross, like nothing else, shows us that God is the righteous Father.

Jesus continues to make God the Father known to us by the indwelling of His Spirit, who lives within all those who come to faith in Him. The Spirit illuminates our understanding of the written revelation of God in the Bible. As we read Scripture, the Spirit becomes our teacher, showing us on every page that this is the God whom we have come to know, the God who has saved us and adopted us as His children. How is it that we can know God? By coming to faith in the One whom He has sent, the One who has made His name known to us, and continues to do so by Spirit through His Word. By His Word, by His Spirit, in the message of the cross, proclaimed by His church, Jesus continues to make the righteous Father known until that day prophesied in Jeremiah 31:34 when no man will say to another, “Know the Lord,” for in that day, the Lord says, “they will all know Me.”

The knowledge of God is not like the knowledge of history or some other academic subject. In this life, with our finite understanding, we will not become “masters” of the subject. You can go to seminary and get a degree called a “Master of Divinity,” but you have not mastered the Divine. All of life is a process of growing in grace and in the knowledge of Him (2 Pet 3:18). And as we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow also in our understanding and experience of what it means to be loved by Him. Jesus said that He makes the Father’s name known to us “so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them.” Just as a child grows to experience throughout his or her life the full magnitude of what it means to be loved by earthly parents, so the adopted children of God come to experience in increasing ways the blessing of living in the Father’s love. We come to know that we are loved with the same love that God has for His only begotten Son. That love surrounds and secures us through all of life’s circumstances, be they pleasant or unpleasant. Moreover, as we grow in our comprehension of that love, we begin to display that love for others. We come to love one another with the very love of God that has been given to us. We find the answer to the prayer found in Ephesians 3 taking shape in our lives as we grow in this love. That prayer is that we may be rooted and grounded in love, and be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge (3:17-18).

But it is not just that the love of God is found in us, but also that Christ Himself is within us. He says that He has made the Father known to us “so that … I [may be] in them.” He has given His Spirit to indwell and live within all who believe upon Him by faith, so that we can truly say that Christ Himself is in us. As we grow in the knowledge of God, we come to understand more and more what an infinite and immeasurable blessing this is. He truly is Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa 7:14). He is with us in good times and bad times, and we are never alone. As we grow in our understanding of this, we begin to see Christ in our brothers and sisters of the faith as well. It affects how we treat one another and how we relate to one another, and it heightens our awareness that when we are gathered together, there is a special manifestation of His presence in our midst. Where the love of God is shared between the followers of Christ, He is truly among us in a unique way.

Into a world that does not know God, Jesus has come to make Him known. Those who come to know Jesus can truly say that, through Him, they have come to know God. The assurance of this knowledge is found in His indwelling presence within and among them, and in the love of the Father that flows to them and through them. We have become, as it were, the embodiment of the presence and love of God in the world. If the world is to know Him, then we must continue the work of Jesus. Just as He knew the Father and made Him known, so these must become our priorities as well. We must continue to grow in our knowledge of Him, and we must seek to make Him known to all that we encounter. If our testimony for Him is rejected, and if we ourselves become the object of the world’s hatred in so doing, it is only evidence of the world’s ignorance of God. As Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). It is also evidence that we are not of the world, but belong to God. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (15:19). But, we rest assured in the love of God, and we secure one another by that love, as He empowers us and enables us to persevere in knowing Him and making Him known in the world. These five words -- Know Him, Make Him Known – describe the mission of Jesus, the mission that He has called us to carry on for Him in the world. If you do not know Him, you can today by turning from your sins and placing your faith and trust in Him as your Lord and Savior, believing that He died for your sins and rose again in victory over your sin and its penalty. If you do know Him, by the power of His indwelling Spirit, and with a heart filled with His love, endeavor to make Him known to others.

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (20th Anniv. Ed.; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993), 18-19.
[2] Ibid., 26.
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.35, 37.
[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12-21 (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 301.
[5] Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays For His Own (Chicago: Moody, 1950), 446-447.
[6] Giles Fraser, cited by Albert Mohler, “Is the Apostolic Preaching of the Cross Insane?” Online: Accessed August 13, 2015. 

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