The risen life: children of God
John chapter 17 is one of those chapters in the Bible that have a name. There are others: we have Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, and 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter.
John 17 is often called ‘the High-Priestly Prayer’ of Jesus. When we call it by that name, we see Jesus as our great high priest, doing one of the things a priest does: praying to the Father for us. It’s a great picture, but I’m not sure it’s the best name for it. I’d rather call John 17 something like ‘the Returning Son Chapter’.
John’s Gospel explores a mystery; it’s the mystery of Jesus the Son of God.
Right at the beginning, in the very first chapter John introduces us to this mystery:
we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
To be a son or a daughter is to share the nature of the parent; isn’t that so? A dog can be a well-loved pet, but it can’t be the ‘child’ of a human being. So we can see that Jesus shares the nature of God; how else could he be called God’s ‘only Son’?
More than that, our pew bible says he is ‘close to the Father’s heart’; it’s better to say that Jesus ‘shares the inner being’ of God. Actually—and this may shock some—looking at the Greek word kolpos that our NRSV pew bible translates as ‘heart’, we could well say that the Son is ‘in the Father’s womb’. (If it shocks you to talk about the Father’s ‘womb’, you need to remember this: God is beyond maleness and femaleness. We name God ‘Father’, but God is not a boy.)
The Gospel of John starts in this amazing place, with a Son in the womb of his Father, and then begins to uncover the mystery of what it means to call Jesus ‘the Son’.
When we look at John 17, we’re looking at the Son who is ready to return to the Father. We’re looking at the end of the picture. Here, we see Jesus speaking freely and intimately with the Father in a relationship of total, transparent love.
This is the end of the picture, but it’s something Jesus had to discover. Luke 2.40 tells us that in Nazareth the child Jesus
grew and became strong, filled with wisdom
and that he
increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. (2.52)
Jesus grew because humans grow, and he was totally human. Jesus grew to find a relationship with the Father that was transparent and open. Son of Man, Son of God.
And John’s Gospel says we are called to be the Father’s children too:
to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born…of God.
Born of God. Born from above. Born of the Spirit. Born again, with a consciousness that I am—you are—a child of God.
This was Jesus’ ‘self-identity’. The Son. He lived out of that identity, and he learnt to be naturally intimate with the Father. Yet he grew into that identity. It was at his baptism that God revealed Jesus as the Son to himself. Then he wrestled with the devil in the wilderness, where the devil tried to sow doubt in his mind, saying to him three times: ‘If you are the Son of God…’
But Jesus knew himself as the Son and—grace upon grace!—gives us the power to become children of God too.
How may we know ourselves to be God’s children?
Let me suggest two things:
Firstly, receive your daughterhood, your sonship, as a gift. You are a child of God—just say ‘Thank you God!’ You can’t choose your parents; and we can’t choose to be a child of God. We just accept by faith that this is what we are.
Secondly though: we can choose to live as a child of God. We can choose to do the things a child of God does. We can choose to avoid the things that lead us away from God. We can choose to embrace that which leads us to God. We do that as we surrender to the Father’s love. That’s the path Jesus chose.
We are invited to share being a child of God with Jesus the Son. There’s plenty of room in this family! With Jesus we can call God ‘Abba, Father’. We can know ourselves to be God’s children—adopted by grace, loved and cherished by God now and forevermore.