Ah, Now I Get It!

“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.” (John 17:6-8 ESV)

There’s nothing quite like seeing one of your children struggling with a physical limitation or disability and being unable to do something about it. When my oldest son was just starting school, we began to notice he struggled with reading. Though he enjoyed reading, it was a real challenge. After several trips to the doctor, we began to realize that it wasn’t an issue with ability or understanding, it was more of a physical issue. As I sat in a specialist’s office, she asked him to describe his experience when reading. He said that as he began to read everything seemed normal, but then the letters would begin disappearing like Alpha-bits cereal into milk. At that moment, all of the things he had been trying to tell me suddenly made sense. Ah, I finally understood…

During Jesus’ prayer, He states that he manifested God’s name to the disciples. The New Living Translation says, “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me.” The word that’s translated as manifested (ESV) or revealed (NLT) means to make something visible or to turn the light on something previously hidden or unseen. In other words, Jesus has shown us what God the Father is like.

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV)

There are several instances in the Old Testament of God being seen by man (see Gen. 18; 32:22-32; Isaiah 6; Ex 24 are just a few examples). Whenever Israel encounters God in a personal way, He is referenced using the term LORD. Since Israel was commanded to never use God’s personal name in vain, then they began to substitute the term LORD in its place. But the point I want to make is that when they saw God they saw His physical manifestation, Jesus. No man has ever seen God, but they’ve seen the LORD or Jesus his physical revelation. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

But the important thing to note here is that it is impossible for man to know anything about God unless He reveals Himself to us. Scripture tells us that God has revealed Himself through the creation, through His promises to His people, through the Prophets, and finally through His Son. Each of these previous revelations tells us more about Him. Each gives us unique, but limited insights. Each is important, but the last one is of utmost importance. It shows us what He’s truly like and who He is on a personal level.

In this passage, Jesus said that He has revealed God’s name. In Hebrew culture, a person’s name was the essence of their character and who they truly are. For Jesus to manifest God’s name means that He has revealed God’s true nature or shown us what God’s truly like. When we look at the the life and character of Christ we see the true essence of the eternal, transcendent, incredible, but invisible God. When we look at Jesus, we see God…

But notice that Jesus limits this statement. He has revealed God’s true nature and character to those whom God has given Him. It seems somewhat odd to state that Jesus’ revelation of God was only to those whom God had given Him, but he uses three statements that I believe will help us improve our understanding of and obedience to God.

First, he says that they belong to God. The people who can grasp the revelation of God must first belong to Him. This seems a bit backwards to us, but you need to understand and remember that sin has corrupted our spirits, minds, hearts and bodies. For us to know God we must be drawn to Him and a work of grace must begin in us…

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44 ESV)

We tend to think we must first believe or be worthy of God’s love, then God works in us. But scripture says the opposite is true. God loved us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). He draws us to Himself and then, through grace, our faith begins to develop as we see and understand God’s faithfulness. So, for us to truly understand God we must first believe and belong to Him.

Some would have us believe that everyone is a child of God, but John makes a very clear distinction between our being created and formed by God with His image embedded in us and those who are “children of God.”

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 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)

So, we must first belong to Him before we can even begin to comprehend Him or obey Him. So, just like our earthly fathers, we cannot know our Heavenly Father until He has first known us. Just like a physical child in the womb, God has already given life, but it is unknown and beyond comprehension, at that moment in time. It isn’t until our physical birth that we truly begin to know, experience and understand our earthly father. The same is true of our spiritual birth and our Heavenly Father. We cannot truly know our Heavenly Father until we’ve been “born again.”

Next, Jesus says that He has given them God’s words and they received them. That means he has taught them the truth and authority of scripture and is sending the Holy Spirit to continue to lead them into this truth. (We covered the Holy Spirit’s work in previous posts.) But, it also means they were committed to obey of His words.

Jesus has revealed the true essence of what God had already said. However, we often misunderstand scripture, its purpose and real intentions. This especially happens with Old Testament passages and stories. Why does this happen? That broken image of God in us. Israel often interpreted God’s words selfishly and that resulted in separation and discipline from God. God never abandoned them, but they experienced and lamented the distance or absence of God’s presence.

The same thing happens to us. We try and make God’s words and revelation bend to our selfish desires and motives, but it won’t. We want to use scripture to justify our sin and disobedience, but it only cuts deeper and reveals our sins.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

Many today are rejecting the authority of God’s Word. They look for ways to bend it to their own wills. They question its accuracy or cultural relevance. They claim it’s full of contradictions or old fashioned beliefs and, therefore, it must be unreliable or unnecessary for modern faith and life. Many who make such claims also proclaim faith in Christ but to reject His word is to reject His authority and sovereignty. In reality, they’ve grown uncomfortable with the painful truth of the Word. It pierces their soul and exposes their sin and selfish motives and they question God instead of themselves. But remember, to follow Christ is to receive His words and pursue obedience regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us.

Finally, Jesus says this has led the disciples into embracing truth and exhibiting faith. Seeing the truth and power of God on display in the life, words, works and miracles of Christ is resulting in resolve and trust in the lives of the disciples. Have they arrived? Are they complete? Not by a long shot, but they are on the way. Faith is a journey and there are many waypoints on the trip. We each find ourselves at a unique location in this journey, but the destination remains the same… seeing our faith become sight. Standing in the presence of our Lord knowing that our struggles were worth it and our hope was well placed.

The disciples don’t know it, yet, but the events of the next few hours and days will be deeply influential and instrumental in their faith journey. The struggles they endure, the questions they ask, and especially the things they see and remember will sustain them during the darkness of the cross and the hours that follow. We often think faith grows best in the sunlight of blessings, but I’m becoming more and more convinced it grows most during the storm’s fiercest tempest.

Once we begin to realize that the truth of scripture is consistent with life then we begin to step more confidently towards obedience. How and when does this happen? When we stop living in the world’s promises and expectations and start living in God’s. One little piece we skipped earlier in this passage was the phrase, “out of the world.” Jesus says that God gave him these men and women “out of the world.” They have abandoned living as the world expected or even demanded. They had begun living under a different authority, economy, social structure and future. It isn’t until we truly abandon these things that we can fully embrace life in Christ. Paul says the same, but using an analogy of death…

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace… So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:5-6, 12-13 ESV)

And Peter uses an analogy of living here as though we live in an alien land…

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV)

So, stop trying to live like everyone else around you and start living life according to God’s plan. Now, do you get it?

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