Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“What Does It Mean, to Know God?”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

“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.” (John 17.24-26)

These are the closing words to the long and moving prayer Jesus spoke prior to leaving Jerusalem for Gethsemane.  He was about to be betrayed by a friend, handed over to liars and murderers, to be tortured and killed unjustly; and yet what was foremost in his thoughts at this moment?  The good of his apostles.  That is remarkable on its own, but there’s even more to contemplate in these words.  Typical of John’s Gospel, this passage is a series of perfectly coherent sentences that often leave the reader wondering what he has just read.  If we’ll slow down and dissect it carefully, we’ll find an important lesson for us, buried among the tangles.

“with me where I am”

They’re already together in the same place, but that’s not what Jesus means—he’s looking forward to the near future.  He’s about to be tortured and killed, of course, and in a way, he does want his disciples to follow him into this; but really he’s thinking of the next step—he wants them to join him in God’s perfect rest, where he’s soon to go and prepare them a place (14.2).

“to see my glory”

Glory is typically defined as praise, honor, adulation, renown—that sort of thing.  How, exactly, does one see these?  It’s an abstract concept, most easily expressed in the form of spoken words.  You can see the sunrise, but seeing love, or victory, or justice, or malice is quite another task.  We can see indicators of such things, and surely that’s involved—Jesus wants his friends to see what he suffers and accomplishes, and conclude that he deserves great praise.  But from the way Jesus says this, we get the feeling he means something more direct.  There’s a hint in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2.9).  This suggests the appearance of light, in the dark night.  Paul suggests the same thing in his description of Moses: “the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory” (2 Co 3.7).  When he came down from the mountain, “his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Ex 34.29).  This is the source of the halo seen in medieval paintings, surrounding the faces of Jesus and the saints; but we all know there’s more to it than a physical phenomenon of light inexplicably radiating from a person’s face.  It’s not just about physical perception; it’s about the spiritual.

“I know you”

This is what Jesus means—he sees his Father’s glory.  He knows him.  Do the apostles?  Not fully.  Earlier, he told them, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14.7).  There’s something lacking, but it’s in the process of being remedied.  They don’t yet fully know, and they don’t yet fully see; but what do they know?  As Jesus said in his prayer, “these know that you have sent me” (Jn 17.25).

“I made known to them your name”

Jesus has shown his Father to them, as much as their meager abilities will allow up to this point.  They can see God in Jesus, because Jesus does the works and embodies the character of God.  It’s not just that Jesus has shared with them the super-secret name by which God calls himself.  God had long since proclaimed his name—in fact, several of his many names—to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to Israel.  It wasn’t a great revelation to them that God called himself, “I am who I am,” or “YHWH” (e.g. Ex 3.14-15).  They all carefully avoided uttering that name, and replaced it in their speech with “the Lord,” for fear of offending God by putting his holy name in their profane mouths.  No, it wasn’t about learning the proper combination of syllables to use when addressing God.  Teaching his disciples God’s name was more like what God did, when he “proclaimed the name of the Lord” (Ex 34.5) to Moses:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34.6-8)

God described this process as passing his glory by Moses and allowing him to see it from behind, since neither he nor anyone else alive could handle the full picture (Ex 33.22).  Notice that his name is more than just a label, a tag associated with this particular person, yet ultimately unimportant.  Instead, it’s a testament to his character—his essence.  That’s what Jesus has been teaching to his disciples and, by extension, to us—if we’re willing to pay attention.  And what will the result be?  Moses shows us the proper response—to fall down and worship.  And Jesus tells us where it leads—“that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17.26).  The goal is to bring us into the family, to sit at the table with God, forever.  So, what about you?  Do you know God?

Jeremy Nettles