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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Knowing the Father and the Son is eternal life
Text:John 17:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3
Hymn 62:3
Psalm 46:1,2,5
Psalm 25:1,2,7
Psalm 93

Readings:  Jeremiah 9, John 17:1-5
Text:  John 17:3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


It can happen with people or it can happen with places.  You live with someone special or live someplace beautiful, but after a while you start to take it for granted and you just don’t see it anymore.  Colours that were once vivid turn to shades of grey. 


That can happen with your city, that could happen in your marriage, but it’s also something that can happen with the gospel and the beautiful truths that it proclaims.  We can become so familiar with it, or think ourselves to be so familiar with it, that the shine wears off.  Our prayer should always be that the gospel of Jesus Christ never ceases to amaze us, to captivate us, to inspire us, to motivate us.   We ought always to be impressed with him and what he has done.  Our prayer should be that he would work with his Spirit so that we are motivated to make much of him with our words and works.   


So we will listen to God’s Word together from John 17:3.  As we’ll see, this short verse points us towards a renewed appreciation for the gospel and for the benefits that come from the work of our Saviour.  In this passage, we’re led to be amazed again at the gift of eternal life and the knowledge of the God who gives that life.  So I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:


Knowing the Father and the Son is eternal life


We’re going to answer three questions:


1.      What does it mean to know God?

2.      How can we know God?

3.      When do we know God?


As we seek to unfold and apply the truths in John 17:3, we need to take a brief step back.  The Gospel According to John is unique among the gospels in that it focuses so much on the last evening before Jesus’ death.  Six chapters, chapters 13-18, are all about the last Passover.  Chapter 17 is right there in that context.  Just a few short hours after the Lord Jesus said these words, he was hanging on the cross bearing God’s wrath against our sins.


During that last Passover our Saviour had encouraged his disciples.  There are many uplifting and positive words that I could mention, but verse 33 of chapter 16 gives us a good example near at hand:  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Then right after saying those words, our Lord Jesus looked up to heaven and began praying.  It’s important to see that when he did this, he wasn’t all by himself somewhere.  He was still in the upper room with his disciples.  They were there with him, they heard him praying.  He was praying, not only for his benefit, not only to prepare him for what was about to come, but he was also praying for the benefit of his disciples.  He was also praying for our benefit, for you and for me.  The apostle John was there in the room with Jesus and he heard him utter these words and the Holy Spirit led him to record these words for us.


This prayer is sometimes called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer.  It’s called that because here the Saviour intercedes for his people just as the high priests would have done in the Old Testament.  Here we see the Lord Jesus and his love for those whom the Father had given him.  Here we see the Lord Jesus and his love for us, for you.  He prayed for you here in John 17 and the reality is that he continues to pray for you, to intercede for you before the Father’s throne.   Because the Father loves the Son, you can be sure that those prayers are answered in exactly the right way.  Loved ones, isn’t that a wonderful, comforting truth?      


In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught us to first of all seek the holiness of God’s name.  That’s what he does here too.  He asks the Father to first of all glorify the Son, so that the Son can glorify the Father.  Then, in verse 2, he mentions the authority that he had been given to grant eternal life to all the elect.  As we come to verse 3, he provides an explanation of what eternal life is.  Think about that for a moment.  Did he have to explain that to the Father?  No, of course not.  The Father knew that.  The Father would also have known that the Son knows that.  So, why does Jesus say these words in verse 3?  Again, it was for the benefit of those listening in, for the benefit of the disciples, and then by extension through John’s gospel, for us.  He explains what eternal life is to teach us.  Here again we see his love and concern for us, for all of God’s people.


Now this isn’t the first time that we find eternal life mentioned in John’s gospel.  According to John 3:36, those who believe in the Son have eternal life.  Those who do not believe have the opposite of eternal life -- which is having the wrath of God abide on them.  We also find eternal life in John 10:10 when Christ said that he came so that believers could have life and have it to the full.  Eternal life is the full life.  And a couple of chapters earlier, the Lord Jesus said that he is the way, the truth and the life.  From all this we learn that because the opposite is so terrifying, eternal life is something to be desired.  Eternal life is something that will far exceed your expectations.  Eternal life is something that can only be attained through Christ and resting and trusting in him and everything he has done for you and in your place.


And here in John 17:3, eternal life is connected with knowing God the Father and knowing God the Son.  Eternal life consists of knowing God.  To begin with, we have to think about that word “knowing.”  Knowing can be a bare, intellectual kind of thing, like knowing that 2+2=4.  Knowing facts.  That can kind of knowing can take place between people too.  You could know some facts about me, my full name, my birth date, and so on.  But does that mean you know me?  You see, there is a difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone.  You can know about someone without necessarily knowing them.  But the reverse isn’t true.  You can’t know someone unless you also know about them.  To know someone you have to know about them. 


In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, knowing is often a word that is used in connection with relationships.  It’s always that way with regards to God.  With regards to God, knowing is always about relationships.  You can see that in what we read from Jeremiah 9.  In verse 3, God says that the people go from evil to evil and they do not know him.  In verse 6, he says that through deceit they refuse to know him.  The people knew about God, but they did not know him.  They did not live with him in a relationship of fellowship, love, and obedience.  You see, knowing God is a matter of relationship, it’s a matter of a covenant relationship.  Through the covenant, God relates to us and we trust him and follow him, enjoying fellowship and communion with him.  In it’s most basic sense, that’s what it means to know God.  It means to stand in relation to him. 


If we parse this out a little bit more, we can say three things about knowing God.  I’ve adapted these three things from J.I. Packer’s excellent book, Knowing God.  The Bible says three things about knowing God:


First, it is a matter of personal dealing.  In other words, we have to be consciously aware that knowing God involves knowing a person.  When we say “person,” of course we don’t mean a human being, but a personality, someone, someone with whom you can have a relationship.  Knowing God is not a matter of knowing about some abstract concepts, but about knowing a person, your Creator who made you to know him.   


Second, knowing God involves every aspect of our being: the mind, the heart, and the will.  It involves our minds.  In other words, knowing God definitely means knowing about him.  No one can claim to know God without also knowing what he is like, what he has done, what he wants, what and who he loves.  We see that in Jeremiah 9 at the end, where God reveals how he is to be known: as the one who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth.  Knowing God also involves our hearts.  Knowing God means loving God, being taken with him, smitten with him, adoring him, obsessed with him.  And knowing God involves our wills.  That means that obedience to God is also part of knowing him.  We know what he loves and what he wants and because we love him and because we feel gratitude towards him, we endeavour to obey him.   All three are equally important:  mind, heart and will all have to be engaged for us to be truly knowing God.


Third, and most importantly, knowing God is a matter of grace.  If knowing God is about a covenantal relationship, and if the covenant is a covenant of grace, then this makes perfect sense.  In the covenant, God takes the initiative, he has the first word.  God is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, in the covenant of grace. And so it is with knowing God.  Paul says this in Galatians 4:9 when he clarifies what he means, “But now that you know God – or rather are known by God...”  He first loved us – even before the world was created.  God has come after us.  Think of what happened in your baptism – you were brought to church as a helpless little baby and God came and staked his claim on you:  this one is mine.  So, to know God is a matter of undeserved favour, or better yet, a matter of receiving something which we have completely forfeited.  In knowing God, in having a covenant relationship with him, we receive the opposite of what we deserve.  Loved ones, that’s grace, and when you think about it that’s awesome!


So that’s what knowing God looks like.  Before we move on to the how, there are a couple more points that we need consider.  First of all, John 17:3 takes a clear stand against the idea that God is unknowable.  There are those who say that God can never really be known.  All we have is our own personal ideas of what God is like and they will never correspond to the reality.  But that’s not what the Lord Jesus says here!  He says plainly in John and elsewhere that there are people who have eternal life.  And he says here that eternal life consists in knowing God.  You can know God, God may be known because he has revealed himself.  He’s revealed himself in his Son, and in his Word, and through the Holy Spirit.  God has come down to us and given of himself so that we may know him.  We cannot know him comprehensively, we can’t know him inside and out, but we can know him well, we can know him in such a way that we can have a deep, meaningful relationship with him.  God is knowable.  So, skepticism and doubt are like little bugs squashed here by Jesus’ high priestly prayer.                      


Something else is squashed here too and it lays under the weight of the words, “the only true God.”  When Christ says that he reminds us that there is only one God and that there is only one way to eternal life and that’s in knowing that one true God.  Polytheism – the idea that are many gods that we could or should worship -- polytheism is out.  So is relativism – the idea that it doesn’t matter who you worship.  It doesn’t matter because all roads lead to the divine anyway.  The Lord Jesus reinforces the first commandment: you shall have no other gods.  There is only one true God.  It may seem so obvious, but the surrounding culture makes it necessary for us to say it.


And that brings us to our second question, “How can we know God?”  At first glance, the Lord Jesus doesn’t seem to answer that, at least not here in John 17:3.  But let’s take a closer look.  This is the only place in John where Christ refers to himself in the third person.  He says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  It’s there in those last words.  Christ refers to himself as “Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  He might have said, “and me, whom you have sent.”  But he doesn’t and that’s for a very good reason.  It’s a matter of emphasis and clarity.    


Jesus Christ was sent into this world by the Father.  The Father sent the Son and the Son agreed to come for the redemption of God’s people, for our redemption.  Man’s relationship with God was destroyed by the fall into sin.  After the fall, it became impossible to know God, except to know him as Judge.  Christ came to restore our relationship with God and even to bring it further into more wonderful dimensions.  Through Christ and his perfect sacrifice, we are forgiven.  Through Christ and his perfect obedience, we are accounted righteous.  Through Christ and all his merits, we are safely in the covenant of grace, in a place where we can know the Father and his love.  Here we have eternal life. 


Loved ones, the how of knowing God is really quite simple.  It involves resting and trusting in Jesus Christ, the Saviour whom the Father has sent.  If we are to know God, to relate to him in that personal, intimate way, we need to fix our eyes on Christ.  We need to look to him in faith.


How do we do that?  Here we need the help of the Holy Spirit.  Did you find it odd that the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned here?  When I first began studying this text, that was one of the questions that popped into my mind:  why didn’t Jesus mention the Holy Spirit?  Well, he doesn’t mention him here, but he is mentioned earlier in chapter 14.  Remember, that’s about the same time and same place as John 17.  The Holy Spirit is described there as the Comforter, the Counsellor, the Paraklete.  Jesus said that the Spirit would teach the disciples all things, that he would bring to mind everything that Jesus had said, taught and done.  He did.  Today, the inspired Word testifies to all that.  The Word, the Bible, is the instrument or the tool of the Holy Spirit to help us to know Christ, and so also to know the Father.  The Word is what reveals Christ to us; from Genesis to Revelation, it’s all about him.


So, there are a number of things that we can take from that.  First of all, to know God we need personally to be students of the Word.  You need daily to be preaching the gospel to yourself out of the Word.  Loved ones, we all need to be busy with the Bible and digging in it to know Christ and so to know the Father.  As an aside, and as an extension of that, we can also think about the importance of studying the Bible together as brothers and sisters. 


Second, to know God, his Word needs to be open in our homes.  Regular daily family worship has to be a priority for all of us.  Fathers, you have the responsibility to lead that and to lead your family, especially your children, to lead them into the riches of the gospel, so that they will know Christ and know the heavenly Father.  You promised to do that when your children were baptized.       


Third, to know God, we need to submit to his Word as it’s proclaimed to us every Sunday.  His Word is centered on Christ and the gospel, and it’s that gospel that will encourage us and strengthen us, and lead us to know God better.  It’s the gospel that powers a Christian life to God’s glory.  As that good news is proclaimed, you have the responsibility to respond in faith.  You must make that good news your own time and again.  As the Catechism says in Lord’s Day 31, the kingdom of heaven is opened every time you hear the promise of the gospel and accept it by true faith.  That’s not something that you need to do just once, but every time you hear it. 


So, with the Holy Spirit and the Word, we can know Christ and so know the Father.  That brings us to our last question this afternoon, “When do we know God?”  With this question, there are two sides.  On the one hand, we already noted that when Jesus says this he implies that God is knowable.  He is knowable in the here and now, on this earth, in this age.  By looking to Christ in faith, by searching the Scriptures, through the work of the Spirit, we can know God well and know him today.  There is a knowledge of God that every believer can lay claim to at this very moment.


So knowing the Father and the Son, having eternal life, is something that is beginning right here and now for believers.  Nevertheless, because of remaining sin, this knowing of God is often marred and imperfect.  Though from God’s side the relationship never fails, from our side there is often weakness and sinfulness.  Sometimes there are doubts.  Sometimes it feels as if God is hiding himself from us.  At times like that (as at all other times), we need to take refuge in God’s promises.  Sometimes there is backsliding, sin entraps us and we drift away from the Lord.  At times like that, we need to repent, confess our sin, and again fix our eyes on Christ.  When you think about it, from our side there is much fickleness, much to be desired.


That leads us to groan and look forward in hope to the age to come.  We look forward in hope to the fullness of eternal life that waits for us hereafter.  As believers we can be confident that when our heart stops beating, immediately we will go to be with the Lord.  If the Lord returns before we die, we shall live with him forever in perfect fellowship.  However we’re brought into his presence, we shall know him as fully and as perfectly is possible for a creature.  Paul said it in 1 Cor. 13:12, “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  Loved ones, the gospel gives us this great hope of living with God in a perfect relationship.  Let me ask you:  do you desire that?  Do you long for and hope for that perfect knowledge of God? 


Let’s all say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  Loved ones, say it with me in your hearts, “God is my all in all, God is the highest, he is the one that I desire to know and live with forever.  He is the one that I’m impressed with, the one that I want to glorify into endless days.”  Indeed, can there be anything more important than knowing God?  AMEN.




Our Father,


We thank you for sending your Son to be our Saviour.  We thank you that through him we have eternal life, that through him we may know you.  Thank you also for your Word which testifies of him.  Please give us more grace with your Spirit so that your Word is treasured in our lives, that it stands central.  We pray that you would also bless us so that through your Word and its proclamation we would grow in our knowledge of you and of your Son.  Help us so that we would never grow dull to the wonders of the gospel and your worth.  Please work in us so that we treasure you and our relationship with you.  We trust you never to let go of us, but to always be our faithful Father.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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