JOHN 17 #2  Eternally Safe

“The real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience.” J. Oswald Sanders

For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:1-3

Most of us probably woke up this morning with no thoughts of being at war. We have a shopping list to make out, a lawn to mow, kids to cart to school, prospects to call and a house that needs serious attention.  A challenging day perhaps, but no real danger lurks. Fighting the traffic, feeding the troops, finding the time- it is just another day of dealing with the normal challenges of living in the USA.

However, if we woke up this morning as American soldiers in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan, we would have a radically different perspective. A few days ago we got up to find three hundred Taliban guerillas peppering our position with automatic fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Eight of our buddies and fellow soldiers were killed in the battle. Without our superior air support we would have all been wiped out. It goes without saying that our perspective would radically shift. Traffic problems and dinner menus would not be our concern. When you are battling for your life, perspectives change. 

Like our brave soldiers, believers have been stationed at a distant outpost in the midst of enemy territory. We may not see our enemies, but they are out there, planning, probing and seeking strategic positions from which they can lob their deadly bombs into our position. They want to destroy our faith, our joy, our testimony and our hope in Jesus. So, every day we must prepare for battle. Every morning we must put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand. [Ephesians 6:13]

As most of you know, my son is a Marine officer who is preparing to go to war. Up till now it has been a matter of survival, as the Marines have tested his character and endurance to the limit to see if he has what it takes to lead other men into battle. That stage is now over, and he is moving toward the actual moment when he will be under fire. Last week he confessed to me that he was beginning to feel the weight of his responsibility.  He knows the enemy is real. He will be leading 30-50 young men. As a Marine officer, he will most likely be leading them into “harm’s way.” It is a sobering reality. 

I know some of you are thinking that I am over dramatizing our situation by applying the same kind of terms to the believer’s fight for faith. But, Jesus himself had no qualms about using such vivid militaristic language. In John 17, he revealed his ultimate concerns for his disciples. He does not pray that their lives will be happy, fun and without problems. This is how he prayed: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” [John 17:14-15] Jesus took the enemy’s threat very seriously. While he was with them, he protected them. [17:12] Because he was returning to the Father he prayed that his disciples would continue to be protected.

Nothing is more necessary for courage in battle than knowing that you are fighting for something precious. War is hell. There are real casualties. If we are going to send our brave young men to rugged mountain tops in distant countries, stationing them deep within hostile territory, surrounded by constant, deadly fire, putting their precious lives in jeopardy, we better have a good reason. In the same way, if we are being sent into a hostile world, if we are going to be vulnerable to “incoming” from a well armed enemy, if we are going to experience wounds and suffer casualties, we must be convinced that the battle we fight is the most important thing we do.     

In our last devotional we learned that Jesus’ “time” had come. He was facing the cross and the moment he would glorify His Father by dying for sinners. He prayed that the Father would enable him to complete the mission. [17:1] Then he gave this reason: “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. [John 17:2-3] The battle, the pain and the prayer is about eternal life!

Eternal life is not ultimately about quantity but a quality. To live forever in misery would not be a heaven, it would be hell. Eternal life is about knowing the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent. That is the battle Jesus fought and won. Peter put it like this: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” [1 Peter 3:18] The reason we delight, the reason we fight, is because we see God. Sin once blinded our eyes and dulled our ears and hardened our hearts. We could not see God, hear God or enjoy God until he, “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. [Col 1:13] Now we enjoy all of the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ and the Father.

It is precisely because we are in the “kingdom of the Son,” that we are now targets of our old commander. He hates God’s people. If he could kill us, he would. But, he can only do what our new Commander allows. His usual work can be described as “sifting us as wheat,” as he did with Peter [Luke 22:31]. He seeks to rob us of our faith and hope in Jesus by his deception and his lies. If he can’t kill us, he will seek to keep us wrapped up in self-pity, self-esteem and self-defense. Consequently, our testimony is clouded, Jesus is not honored and the world is left in darkness.       

Fortunately, Jesus has prayed for us just like he prayed for Peter. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:32] Like Peter, we have times of great struggle. We grapple with cultural hostility, financial uncertainty, physical infirmity, marital disharmony, emotional anxiety and spiritual insecurity. All the while we hear a voice whispering in our ears saying, “it is all over,” “there is no hope,” and “you are God-forsaken.”       

But, in the midst of our darkest moment, there is an invisible power at work inside. Our faith still holds. Our joy still remains. The Truth still triumphs. The One who gave us eternal life preserves our eternal life. The same word that sanctifies us [17:17] fortifies us.

When the pressure gets stretched and we wonder if any good will result, we hear these words: “The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” [Gal 6:8-10]

When we think that the cost is too great we hear these words: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” [Matt 19:29]
When the enemy whispers that our sin is too great, we hear these words: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” [John 5:24]
When we are feeling sorry for ourselves and tempted to give up, we hear these words: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” [1 Tim 6:12]

When we are having doubts whether we will make it to the end, we hear these words: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. [John 10:27-29]

You may feel like you are stationed alone on a god-forsaken mountain crag, surrounded by overwhelming forces of evil. But take heart, fight on! You have superior air-cover and you will win, gloriously! Be strong! Be an example. Lead others. You have been given eternal life and it is eternal! “Semper Fi!”