I spent last week speaking on John 13-21 at the Oak Hall Mountain Bible School in the German Black Forest. It was a busy time- I covered those chapters in eleven sermons and five interactive sessions. However, there was something wonderful about that. Speaking day after day rather than week after week it was more possible to capture the power and momentum of the 72 hours those chapters cover. But amongst all that we covered, one thing struck me particularly powerfully across the talks. And so along with the cuckoo clock above (a rather nice gift from the group that is also blessed with a mute button) I came home with a deep conviction: Christians need encouraging.
Alongside the events of the cross and resurrection, these chapters see Jesus preparing the disciples for mission after His departure. It is a difficult calling- they are sent into a world that will hate them. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a reminder that they will need protecting from the evil one. And they have a great responsibility- to love each other as Jesus had loved them. That is no small thing- loving like Jesus will often involve walking towards pain.
I suspect that Christians today remain conscious of those responsibilities. We know that we need to swim against the tide. We battle temptations, doubts and accusations from the evil one. Those who are truly committed to the life of the church family will inevitably carry heavy responsibilities towards others. The result of all of that can be that to be a Christian is simply to be burdened by battle and work.
In the light of this it is worth noticing just how often Jesus reminds His disciples of the privileges they enjoy. That matters. The early church had a sense of joy and a thrill in its heart at the wonder of belonging to God such that making sacrifices became possible. We need the same. So as we walked through John 13-21 I ended up developing a catchphrase that the group could probably recite: it is a wonderful thing to be a Christian. I didn’t plan it- the phrase didn’t appear in my notes. But as we worked through the chapters it just seemed appropriate to keep using it.
Perhaps you have forgotten how good it is to be a Christian. Allow me to remind us of our privileges:
1. In knowing Jesus we know God
Anyone who knows Jesus knows the Father according to John 14:7. It is a remarkable thing- to look up at the night sky and say that we know the One responsible for it all. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
2. God is as close to us as possible
It is not just the case that I know God, I know Him as closely as possible. For by the Spirit the Father and the Son have set up their home within my heart (John 14:23). They bring a deep love with them. Again and again we read of the closest intimacy between Jesus and us- He is the vine and we are the branches, He is in us and we are in Him. In no sense at all is this a distant relationship. It is as close as it could possibly be. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
3. Jesus’ Father is our Father
Our union with the Lord Jesus works itself out in a variety of ways in this section. Perhaps most striking are the words of Jesus to Mary after the resurrection- “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus and so, astonishingly, His Father is now our Father. Imagine the access to the Father that Jesus has. It is yours now. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
4. We can pray boldly
This flows from the privilege above- but is repeated several times in the section (e.g. 15:7, 16:23). I know that there are questions about this and the problems of unanswered prayer. It seems to me that the key to this is that we need to be those who ask for the sort of things we know that Jesus would ask for. But in facing up to the questions, we must not water down the astonishing privilege we have of coming to the Father knowing that He is inclined to give. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
5. We will see Jesus’ glory in the Father’s house
Jesus goes away to the Father’s house to prepare a place for His disciples. He wants us to be with Him and to see His glory (17:24). These things will come to pass. Indeed, you could say that every time a Christian dies the prayer of Jesus that His people would go to be with Him and see His glory is answered. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
6. We have a joy that cannot be taken away
In John 16:22 Jesus talks about the experience of the disciples after His resurrection- “You will rejoice and no one will take away your joy.” Presumably the joy is permanent because, after the cross and resurrection, the source of joy will never again be removed. Here is a perspective on life: every day of my life Jesus will be with me and in me until the day when I go to be with Him forever in glory. That’s a reason for joy. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
7. We are safe from God’s judgement
John’s presentation of the cross and his use of the Old Testament Scriptures (John 19:36) make clear that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. What was the role of the Passover Lamb in Exodus? It was to come between the judgement of God and the firstborn Israelite son. So, come judgement day, the blood of Christ will intervene between God’s wrath and us. I love the words of comfort that Anselm, the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, offers to the Christian about to die- “If the Lord your God wishes to judge you, say, “Lord, between your judgement and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
8. We have been made clean
One of the other images picked up by John is from Zechariah- Jesus is the pierced One (John 19:37). In Zechariah, the piercing of this figure leads to a fountain being opened up to cleanse from sin and impurity. Those who stand near the cross get covered in this fountain and end up very clean. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
9. We rest on Jesus’ finished work
One of our temptations as Christians will be to focus on all that we need to do. And yet in the deepest sense, there is nothing left. For Christ had a job to do- to give people eternal life (John 17:2-4). And that work is finished (John 19:30). Nothing left for us to do. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
10. Failures are given peace
One of the sub-plots of the last third of John’s Gospel is the self-confidence and ultimate failure of Peter and the other disciples. John 18 provides a remarkable contrast as Jesus stands whilst Peter fails. And yet what are the first words of the risen Jesus to failed disciples? “Peace be with you.” In case they don’t grasp it- He repeats it in John 20:21- “Peace be with you!” How astonishing! It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.
I know that there are times when it really doesn’t feel wonderful to be a Christian and I may write a follow-up on that. But sometimes the problem is simply our perspective. We forget or ignore our privileges. So perhaps using the above list will encourage us to persevere in love for each other, battle against the enemy and witness to the world. For even when we are engaged in those costly actions, it remains a wonderful thing to be a Christian.