Sunday, May 17, 2015


Today, we come to the end of the sermon series on the Gospel of John. I thought it would be good to end it by considering one of the key themes of this book: life. John wrote,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20.30-31)

John wrote his Gospel so that you might have life. This life is a gift of Jesus. He gives it to all who believe in His name.

There are many times that John speaks of life as eternal life. This isn't about how long this life continues. No, he's telling his readers that the life that Jesus gives has a certain quality to it. It's the life of eternity. It's the life of God. And that gets us to the heart of this life. It's has to do with relationships. The life of God is all about how the Father and the Son and the Spirit exist together in deep relationships of love. That's the life of God. And that's the life that Jesus gives, a life of deep relationships of love.

When does He give life? It's not at some point in the future, like when you get to heaven. Those who believe receive it now. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. 

You have this life now.

Jesus was also quite clear that those who believe would not have just a little bit of this life.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

So, you see, the Gospel of John is about the life of God that Jesus has given to you, and He has given to you in abundance. You have this life now, and having this life changes everything. And that is one thing that makes the Gospel amazing.

I remember this one afternoon, way back in my college days. I was reading a little booklet about prayer. I was still a very young disciple who knew very little about the ways of God. The point of the booklet was simple. Because of the promises of God I could pray for anything - anything - and God would most certainly grant my request. All I needed to do was ask. I was really excited by what I had read, never having heard anything like it before. I was sure that my prayer life was going to be revolutionized. My memory of that moment is still quite vivid. I was so very excited.

And then, reality hit.

There have been many who have gotten really excited about this life that Jesus gives and gives so abundantly. They are sure that their Christian lives will be completely revolutionized. And then, reality hits. Some have their faith completely destroyed by the disappointment they experience. Others just become skeptical of any real change ever happening to them. They settle for the same old, same old. Then, of course, there are those who deny reality and live as if their lives actually have been revolutionized.

So, what are we to do with this idea about the abundant life of God promised to us? Should we really believe it, or is it just hype that reality will expose?

I have to tell you that I don't think that it's hype. Not at all. I think that the life of God that Jesus has given to us is real. Or better, it is reality. However, I also think that there are obstacles that get in the way of our enjoying it as abundantly as we might.

One big obstacle is the simple fact that our lives are still afflicted by death. Remember that death isn't primarily about biology. It's actually more about relationships than about how your body is doing. When Adam and Eve started out there was no death. They enjoyed the life of God. They enjoyed perfect relationships. Abundantly. But their sin changed all of that. And just as God had warned, death entered the picture. And relationships have never been the same.

But Jesus has come, and He gives life, the life of God. But even though death no longer has the stranglehold it once did, it is not completely removed. And so, we have Paul writing,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ... For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

What is this but an expression of the battle between life and death in Paul's experience. And I dare say that you've experienced the same thing. You really do have the life of God as a gift from Jesus. But there are still remnants of death and you find yourself fighting against it. This remnant of death is a major obstacle when it comes to enjoying this life of God.

Having said that here's something I really want you to get: you don't have to settle. You can enjoy more of this life - now. I honestly believe that. And I believe it for two reasons: the Scriptures teach it, and I have experienced it. 

And that brings us to the big question: What do you do to grow in your enjoyment of the life of eternity? God has provided ways to deal with it. These ways of God boil down to three things: the Word, the sacraments and prayer. All I'll say about the first two is this: be here on Sundays. Worship together is the primary way for you to benefit from the Word and the Sacraments and thus come to enjoy more of this life. What I want to do now is spend a little time on the third of these: prayer.

Let's go back to that booklet on prayer I mentioned. What do you think? Can we ask God for anything - anything - and expect Him to give it to us, just like that? No, I don't think so either. But could it be that the man who wrote that booklet was just trying to communicate the great power that there is in prayer? The author had a reputation of being a man of serious prayer. And because of that he was able to begin a Christian organization that God has powerfully used. He was Bill Bright who started Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru. Maybe he went overboard with the way he wrote that booklet, but maybe he also knew something about the amazing power of prayer.

So, let me ask you. Would you like to experience more of this life? Do you think that that would be something worth asking God for? Do you think that He would grant such a request?

Here's a favorite bit of Scripture on prayer,

You do not have, because you do not ask.

Consider the things that you do ask God for. In this culture there is a great danger of falling into the problem that James rebukes.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

So, what are the top few things on your prayer list, the things that you pray about most often? Where does growing in your enjoyment of the life of God (however you label it) rank on that list? Some of you can say, ‘Yep, it’s there on my list’. I hope that what I will say will encourage you in your efforts. But some of you don’t pray about this. I hope that what I say will change that.

So, let's get into the nitty-gritty. So, what do you ask for when it comes to enjoying more of this life? Well, it's always safe just to say, 'Father, there is more to experience when it comes to the life Jesus has given to me. Please give me more of it.' That will work quite well as a starting point. And I think that that will lead you to pray for some specifics, things like, 

'Father, help me to love the people around me. I can be so self-centered at times.'

'Father, help me not be so afraid. Help me to trust You, instead, when life gets hard.'

'Father, the goals that I'm aiming at cause me such stress. Help me to set better goals, wiser goals and grant me the ability to make progress toward them without the stress.'

'Father, help me to be like Jesus, responding gently to those who need a gentle touch, knowing when to say 'Yes' and when to say 'No', and always ready and willing to do whatever You command.'

Each of these is a prayer about experiencing some aspect of eternal life. What do you think? Will the Father grant prayers like this?

So, here's a take away question. How are you doing at praying for a greater experience of eternal life for yourself and those around you? Let me encourage you to pray for this, but not as a duty. It's just that there is so much more of life for you to enjoy, and I would really like it if you did enjoy it - and so would the Father.

Now, I need to say that even as you pray for more life and God grants your requests, you will still have remnants of death. That is the nature of living in this age. And, truth be told, there will be times when the shadow of death will cover you in such a way that your experience of the life of eternity will feel very small. And this will be the case even if you do everything right. In fact, I think that I can say that the more that you experience the life of God the more you will be aware of the shadow of death that is all around you. The contrast becomes more striking and thus harder to miss.

The only time that this won't be the case is in the age to come, after Jesus comes back. That's when we will enjoy life the way it was in the Garden. That's when there will be no death. None. So, along with a lively prayer life you will need to develop a lively hope in the age to come. It is that hope that will keep you going when the darkness of death becomes almost too much to bear. It makes a difference knowing that even the evil of death now will produce an experience of life later that is almost beyond belief. And it's when you know that that you are able to say, 'Father, I still trust You' even in the midst of deep darkness of death. So, a lively hope about later really is important in your efforts to enjoy more of life now.

The Gospel is not complicated. It's actually quite simple. Jesus has come so that you might have life, and have it abundantly. You can have more and more of that life now.