I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26)
What is the name of God that Jesus is making known to his disciples? Jesus is not explicit here, but the weight of the Gospel testimony suggests that the name was not the holy name of God given in the Old Testament, commonly translated LORD (all capital letters—see, in particular, Exodus 3:14-16). Rather, the name Jesus made known to his disciples was “Father”.
Before suggesting several implications, let me offer a few reasons. First, referring to God as Father is rare in the Old Testament. Aside from a handful of places, such as Isaiah and the Psalms, God is not addressed as Father (although there are places where Israel, or Israel’s king, is referred to as God’s son). In other words, the name Father that Jesus made known may very well have been something that needed to be made known—i.e. the name Father was indeed largely new to the disciples. Secondly, there is not an emphasis on the holy name of God—the LORD— in the New Testament. The Gospels never record Jesus speaking the divine name, and when he does allude to it, he applies it to himself (see in particular the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John). Thirdly, Jesus himself addresses God as Father, and most particularly in this prayer of John 17, the immediate context of Jesus’ statement cited above that he has made God’s name known. Finally, he does not teach the disciples to call God “LORD,” but Father. To remember one example, “when you pray, say ‘Father…’”
The implications of calling God “Father” are tremendous. Let me suggest three. First, to call him God is to acknowledge his power and majesty—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” To call him Father suggests that all the power with which God created the heavens and the earth are available for God’s children. In other words, the name Father indicates that we have a personal claim upon Him. It is not a presumptuous claim, but a claim that God invites, that God wants. Why this is so is not difficult to understand. I want my children to believe that, because they are my children, they have a special claim upon me. In fact, I would mourn, knowing that something had gone terribly wrong in their upbringing, if they did not feel that they had a special claim upon me. This does suggest a “name it, claim it” notion whereby I can expect God to give me everything I want or think I need. (Indeed, I love my children, but don’t give them everything they want or think they need.) But it does mean I can trust him, for he knows both our needs and our deepest desires.
Secondly, calling God Father redefines my family. Not only do I call God Father, but those who do likewise become my brothers and sisters. And, therefore, they likewise have a special claim upon me. And I upon them. The New Testament is full of references to the household, or family, of God, and to the call to love one another as the chief mark of what it means to follow Christ. And this love comes from knowing God as Father. To repeat Jesus’ prayer above, “I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” The effect of knowing God as Father is clear—the disciples learn to love. As they have been loved, so they are able to love others, particularly in the household of God.
Finally, calling God Father reminds me of my need. I call God Father because I have been born again, and adopted into God’s family. The images are different, but both suggests that left to myself, I am not a child of God. According to John, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The clear implication is that apart from believing in Christ and being born of God, I do not have the right of a child of God. When Paul writes “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’…” (Romans 8:15), he is suggesting what we apparently already know—apart from adoption into God’s family, we do not belong to him. It is in Christ, and only in Christ, that we become children of God. This should bring us to a place of great humility, for it puts us in the place of the fatherless, even those of us who have earthly fathers. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” applies not just to those without earthly fathers, but to all of us.
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give m life in your ways (Ps 119:37).
Let me make an obvious observation. Although only a partial truth, we see the truth in the adage “You are what you eat.” If we eat much sugar and Cheetos and ice cream we will soon feel the effects, especially over time. In the short term we gain weight, are slower, don’t sleep or concentrate as well, and don’t feel as well in general. Ask anyone who has returned to a healthy weight, and invariably he will say he feels better. Long term, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer, all of which have been linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, can follow a consistently and persistently poor diet.
The above is largely uncontroversial. Yet I would submit that the same is true spiritually. How do we account for our lack of prayer, our lack of zeal and warmth toward the Lord, our lack of desire to know Him and serve Him? Perhaps the reason is our spiritual diet—the things we allow in. Rather than the Scriptures, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, time with loved ones and good books and music and art and hard work and outdoor activity that would draw our hearts to God, we settle for trifles—Facebook, CNN, constant (often background) noise in the form of music or talk radio, gossip, catalogs. Or, to say it more Scripturally, how closely do we follow Paul’s admonition “whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, thing about these things” (Philippians 4:8)? Have we rooted out things that do not conform to Paul’s words?
If you are serious about wanting to know Christ, watch your diet. Watch what you literally eat, for your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. There is a reason why a healthy body well supports a healthy soul. And watch your spiritual diet. Perhaps the devil’s greatest weapons today—or perhaps in any day—are trifles and distraction. We know we must flee pornography. Are we equally concerned with Twitter?
Learning to Serve
Jesus, knowing that the Father had give all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet… (John 13:3-5).
Service is a hard lesson, because it runs against the grain of our selfishness. Left to ourselves, we prefer ourselves. In the end, this is sin—me before you. Righteousness is the opposite—you before me. Sin is seeks the higher place, content to sit and be served. Righteousness gladly takes the low place, content to grab a basin and a towel and wash the feet of others. If we want to walk righteously, we must learn this.
How? Let me make several suggestions from the passage above.
First, Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands. At bottom, service is rooted in an abiding trust in God. His life was in his Father’s hands, and so was everything that his Father desired to give him. The corollary was also true—whatever his Father did not want him to have was not given. Understanding that God gives what he gives is crucial because service often appears to be at our expense. And on the surface, it is. If I give of my time, my money, my energy or whatever, I give at my expense. But in a deeper way, I never serve at my expense. Jesus’ words “it is more blessed to give than to receive” are hardly intuitive, but true. God always works all things together for good for his beloved. If we don’t believe this, we will never learn to serve.
Secondly, Jesus knew he had come from God. In our world, the greatest is the one who is served. In other words, being served is not just a matter of comfort and ease, but a matter of identity. Taking the place of the servant testifies to who one is. Which is why it was so crucial that Jesus knew that he had come from God. His identity was as the Son of God, beloved by his well-pleased Father. It is no coincidence that God spoke these words to Jesus before Jesus began what we call his public ministry, or his public service. If our identity is not deeply rooted in God, we will never learn to serve.
Finally, Jesus knew he was going to God. Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples was not an end itself, but was rather a parable of the cross—a picture of what Jesus would do as he laid down his life for his disciples. Hebrews is explicit: “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2). The implication is clear—apart from knowing the joy set before him, Jesus doesn’t go to the cross. But Jesus trusted God. He knew that God would raise him, and he knew that his death and subsequent resurrection would accomplish his joy—the reconciliation of his own. In other words, Jesus had hope. Hope is crucial for courage. And courage is essential for service. Apart from knowing that we are going to God, we will never learn to serve.
As always, the righteous live—and serve—by faith.