I wonder what you think of if you hear the words ‘eternal life’. I think that most of us will think of a life that goes on for ever and ever. We think of a life that doesn’t end when we die. We think that in some way life continues.
Do you remember that advertisement on the TV for Duracell batteries? The batteries were put in little toy rabbits that marched forward beating little toy drums. Because the batteries were meant to be so good and last for such a long time, the bunnies with the Duracell batteries went on banging their drums for longer that the bunnies with another brand of battery. They went on and on and on.
Maybe we can think of eternal life like that. Going on and on and on and in the end becoming rather boring.
When Jesus speaks of eternal life in our bible reading this morning, he is speaking of a life that is so much richer than that. The focus of Jesus is on life. When Jesus is speaking of eternal life he is speaking of a relationship. He is speaking about having a relationship with God that is loving and personal, that will last for all eternity.
Jesus says in John 17.3, ‘And this is eternal life, that they know you (God the Father), the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’
That is what I would like us to explore this morning. What is eternal life? What does it mean for our lives now?
Our bible reading in John 17 is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Jesus is praying to the Father just before he goes to his arrest and later death on the cross. It is the most wonderful prayer and full of so many riches. I could preach a hundred sermons on it! But this morning we are going to focus in on the meaning of eternal life.
Jesus says ‘And this is eternal life, that they know you (God the Father), the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’
When the bible speaks about knowing someone it is far more than knowing about someone or having an intellectual knowledge. I can read a book about someone and get to know a lot about them. But I don’t have a close and personal relationship with them.
I do have a close relationship with my husband Oliver. I haven’t just read a book about him that lists his achievements and describes his character and gives me a bit of his history. We have a relationship that is very, very close. A relationship based on love and commitment. A relationship that has developed and grown.
When Jesus talks about eternal life, he is talking about having a relationship with him and with God the Father that is close and loving and personal. It is so much more than just knowing about Jesus and God the Father because we’ve read about him in the bible or heard stories about God. It is a relationship based on love and commitment.
We enter into this relationship through faith in Jesus. We turn from a life that is centred on ourselves and turn to a life that is centred on Jesus. Jesus becomes our Saviour and Lord. We experience a new life of love and intimacy with God. We also experience the possibility of closer and deeper relationships with other people, because as our relationship with Jesus grows, we are set free from our self-centredness.
I grew up going to church. My parents didn’t go, but I went to what was then called Sunday school with my best friends family. I heard stories about Jesus at Sunday school, I heard stories about Jesus at school. I knew God loved me, but God wasn’t involved in my daily life and I certainly can’t say that I loved him. As the years went by I knew deep down in my heart that there must be more than this. There must be more than going to church and hearing talks about how I should be a good person.
It wasn’t till we moved to London, when our children were quite small, that we actually went to a church where I heard the good news of the possibility of a relationship with God through Jesus that was close and personal. I prayed a very simple prayer. Thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven. Saying sorry for all the things I’d done wrong and asking for God’s forgiveness. Then asking God to come into my life by his Holy Spirit.
That simple prayer changed my life. God came into my life in a way that I couldn’t have even dreamed of. I can now truly say that I love God from the bottom of my heart and know his love for me. I could tell you lots of stories of how things have changed in my life. But what I want to say now is that my relationship with God is growing.
Eternal life is a life in close relationship with God that is personal and full of love. This life starts as soon as we put our faith in Jesus and continues beyond our death. It’s not monotonous like those little battery bunnies marching forward banging their little drums. It’s a growing, loving, developing relationship that frees us up to be the people that God created us to be and to do the things he created us to do.
This eternal life starts in this life when we put our trust in Jesus.
In Jesus prayer in John 17, Jesus is praying to God the Father for his disciples. Jesus knows he is going to die and he knows that after the resurrection he will ascend to heaven. He prays for the Father’s protection for the disciples. He prays about some of the challenges the disciples will face. As followers of Jesus, we too face those same challenges. I want to briefly look at three of them which all begin with the letter ‘S’.
1. Set apart Jesus says in John 17.17, ‘Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.’
To be sanctified is to be set apart for God-to be made holy. When we become Christians, we are set apart for God. We are set apart
- to live in relationship with Jesus
- and set apart to live for Jesus
This means we will be increasingly different from the people who don’t yet know Jesus. John calls these people, ‘the world’. As we live in relationship with Jesus, our lives will be changed and transformed. As we immerse ourselves in the bible, our minds and our thoughts will be more in line with Jesus.
Jesus knows that many people won’t like that. Jesus says in John 17.14, ‘I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.’
My second ‘S’ is
- Scorned We read of lots of people in the gospels who scorned Jesus. Who mocked him. Who criticised him.
The more we become like Jesus, the more we line up our thoughts with his thoughts, the more some people will criticise us or even scorn us.
Having faith in Jesus is not always going to make us popular.
But other people are longing to hear about Jesus. That is why my third ‘S’ is
- Sent We are a sent people. Jesus says in John 17. 18, ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’
Jesus came into the world to rescue us from a life lived apart from God and invite us into a life in relationship with God for all eternity. Jesus now sends us out to share that same message.
Some people will scorn us. Just as they scorned Jesus. But others will be just like I was. They will know there is something missing from their lives. Saint Augustine said, ‘Our hearts are restless, until we find our rest in thee.’ All of us are made-created-for relationship with God. So many people are looking to fill up that emptiness with all sorts of things that can harm and hurt them. We are sent to our friends, our families, our neighbours, our work colleagues, to share with them that it really is possible to have a close personal relationship with God through Jesus.
Jesus came to give us eternal life. A close personal loving relationship with God that will last for all eternity. That life starts as soon as we put our faith in Jesus.
There will be great blessings in this life. There will also be challenges.
- We are set apart for Jesus. Set apart to be in relationship with Jesus. Set apart to live for him.
- There is a possibility that we will be scorned for our faith.
- But we are also a sent people. Sent to share the good news of Jesus with the people who don’t yet know him.
It may be that you are here this morning, and you have the assurance deep in your heart that you know Jesus.
But it may be there are some people who have been like I was. You come along to church, but you know you don’t have the close personal relationship with Jesus that I’ve been describing.
What I’d like to do is pray a short prayer and if you would like to, you can pray these words in your heart. It’s a prayer that is very similar to the prayer I prayed.
Lord Jesus Christ
I am sorry for all the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong.
Thank you that you died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free.
Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now receive that gift.
Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank you Lord Jesus.