June 3, 2011

Easter 7 - Eternal Life Is To Know the Glory Of God

In the Acts Reading (1.6 – 14) the Risen Jesus is saying goodbye to His disciples and promising them the gift and power of the Holy Spirit before ascending into Heaven. This was followed by some detailed instructions from Peter (4.12-14, 5.6-11) warning them to expect trials and sufferings before they are restored, made strong and “...called to His eternal glory...”.

1.     “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you...” John 17.3
Jesus is giving us a new definition of eternal life. Notice that it is not just about performance or moral behaviour. Our good behaviour flows out of what we know and believe about God. Our eternal life, the one we are baptized into, is about personal knowledge of and relationship with God.  Jesus explains in great detail how He and God are one. He prays for His disciples saying “All I have is yours and all you have is mine...” (v. 10) Jesus and the Father are one in a bond of love. This is where the doctrine of the Trinity comes from. They are so close to each other they are one person. Jesus was with the father before the world was created. He came into the world to reveal the Father to individuals. The whole purpose of the exercise was to draw people into this same relationship of love. The problem was that human sinfulness and ignorance had separated people from their God. So Jesus mission was to reveal Gods’ love and glory to people and create a way to overcome human rebellion and sin. In the John Reading (17.8) Jesus reminds the Disciples that He “...gave them the words that you (God) gave me and they accepted them.” The Disciples believed in Jesus as the one sent from God to redeem humanity. By believing in and getting to know Jesus through personal experience, they were also getting to know God the Father. This was living the new eternal life that Jesus promised.

 2.     What does the word ‘Glory’ mean?
The John Reading begins with Jesus prayer that God will “glorify” Him. We do not use the word ‘glorify’ or glory often in modern English. There was a time when many church buildings were dedicated to the glory of God. The word ‘glory’ is associated with power, honour and respect. When we think of the glory of God we may think of the beauty of creation, the vastness of space or the power of God in creation or working miracles of healing. Another image might be simply light – a light that is so pure and bright it is overpowering.            Another way of experiencing the glory of God is in the feelings of love and joy we have in our prayer life. Our spiritual life includes all of the experiences we have of God. These experiences are experiences of the glory of God. Just as Jesus prayed to be glorified by God, we also pray that the glory of God will come over us in the form of experiences of the Holy Spirit. This is how our eternal life begins and is lived on earth before we too go to be with the Father and Jesus in heaven. Jesus has added to the glory of God by bringing more people into a holy love relationship with God. He asks the Father glorify Him for this. This is a clue to what you and I should be doing as witnesses so that we will also share in the glory of God.

 3.     We know the glory of God through personal experience of God
There is a big difference between knowing about the glory of God in your head and having had a personal experience of the glory of God. The danger of personal experiences is that Satan can counterfeit experiences of the Holy Spirit and deceive people. This is why clergy and academics have to be very careful in their teachings and in the study of Theology. This is why when an Anglican priest by the name of John Wesley went to see his bishop about an experience of the Holy Spirit he was put out of the Anglican Church as an ‘enthusiast’. This is why the Church Jesus died for has been splintered and divided into hundreds of separated churches. People who have not had a personal experience of the divine find it hard to believe personal experiences of the divine are possible. Often those who have had an experience of the divine fall into the trap of spiritual pride and separate themselves from others. Peter warns us in his letter (1 Peter 4.12) that there will be painful trials and suffering. These are designed to test us and strengthen us. We are to learn to depend on God who has the power to rescue us. This is how we come to know the glory of God.

 4.     Like the Disciples we are called to be witnesses to the glory of God
Just as the Father and Son are bound together in a bond of mutual love and experience; so the followers of Jesus are to be bound together in close fellowship. The fellowship includes people with different spiritual gifts. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for example is the gift of the discernment of spirits. Some people can discern if the experiences of the glory of God being reported are authentic or counterfeit. The fellowship group is needed to teach and encourage each new believers and call into question ideas which differ from Biblical teachings. Just by modeling Christian love in caring for each other they can be witnesses to the glory of God in the world.

Eternal life is to know the glory of God.

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