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by Ted Schroder
November 13, 2005

Have you ever thought of your life as being on assignment? That you are here on earth to fulfill some work which God has appointed for you to do? Of course, there are many people who deny that there is any purpose in life. They see life as here today and gone tomorrow. The atheist will say that religion is only a way of denying the reality of transitory life. The secular materialist will claim that Christianity is an infantile delusion which is a panacea for facing up to the meaninglessness of life. Jesus had a very different attitude. He knew that he had an assignment to fulfill. What can we learn from him about our assignment in life?

At the Last Supper, after Judas had left the room to betray him, Jesus prayed. In his prayer he gave us an insight into his understanding of the significance of his life, and by so doing he gave us an understanding of the significance of our lives as well.. William Temple writes that John 17 is perhaps, "the most sacred passage even in the four Gospels - the record of the Lord's prayer of self-dedication as it lived in the memory and imagination of His most intimate friend."

"Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 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.] I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:1-5)

Jesus had "completed down to the last detail" (The Message), what God had assigned him to do. He had completed his assignment, which was to make available eternal life to all whom he had been given.

Jesus uses this same expression, of completing, or finishing, the work he has been given to do, three times in John's Gospel. First, Jesus told the disciples that his food, that which sustained and energized him in life, was "to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34) That work was to "harvest the crop for eternal life." (John 4:36) It was to gather in those who were ripe, or ready, to experience eternal life.

Secondly, after healing the invalid at the pool, Jesus claimed that "the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me." (John 5:36) That work, which he was finishing; that assignment he was completing, was to "give life" (John 5:21), as demonstrated in the healing miracle. The gift of this life, when accompanied by faith, is called eternal life, or resurrection life.

Thirdly, when he goes to the Cross, and offers his life for the salvation of the world, Jesus proclaims that, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). His assignment was completed. His time had come. This was why he came into the world, so that the Father might glorify him on the Cross. The Father glorifies him by giving him the strength to bear the suffering of the Cross. Jesus glorifies the Father by the perfection of the obedience he offers. The Cross is the glory of God because self-sacrifice is the expression of love. God sacrifices his earthly life in Christ in order to defeat death and the consequences of sin. This is his glory - that he is willing to do all this, to go this far, in order that we might be forgiven and have eternal life.

The assignment Jesus completed in his life and death was to reveal God's love, and to offer it to others in his eternal life. That love was revealed in his birth, in the daily life of his home, in the carpenter's shop, in his works of mercy, in his words of life, and in his agony and death. His assignment was completed at every stage of his life, and culminated in his death. "It is not the Cross as an isolated episode which is the focus of the eternal glory; it is the Cross as the culmination of the life of love, as the achievement of the purpose of the Incarnation, as the projection of divine light across the spaces of the world's darkness." (William Temple)

Jesus completed the work he had been given to do. How does that help us to complete the work we have been given to do? We complete our assignment by entering into, and experiencing the life Jesus came to bring - eternal life. "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3)

Jim Packer, in his celebrated book Knowing God, writes: "What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. 'This is what the LORD says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.' (Jeremiah 9:23,24)... Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life's problems fall into place of their own accord...What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something that catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; .... For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God." (29,30)

Knowledge of God is eternal life. Eternal life is knowledge of God. This is not an intellectual exercise. We are not talking here about knowing in the abstract, about knowledge of a proposition, of a theological or philosophical truth. It is in knowing God as he is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is the knowledge that is a personal acquaintance. It is at the level of intimate knowledge of the most personal of relationships. It is friendship with God in Christ. It is being married to God in Christ. It is being the Bride of Christ. It is what the marriage service calls a 'union in heart, body, and mind, intended for our mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity.'

We complete our assignment in life when we have close personal dealing with God in Christ. We experience eternal life when we become personally involved in mind, will and feeling, with Jesus Christ. His divine life is shared with us when his consciousness flows into our consciousness, his Spirit into our spirit. "The worst of all diseases of the soul is detachment from God, whether by ignorance or by neglect." (Temple) The best of all healings of the soul is attachment to God, by knowledge, and by desire.

It is when we get to know God in Christ that we get to know ourselves and our assignment in life. It is only when we know our assignment in life that we can come to know how we can complete it.

How can we get to know a person? The more exalted, distinguished, and powerful the person is, the more difficult it may be to get to know them since we treat them with such deference. We get to know people by spending time with them; by listening to them; by doing things together, by seeking input from them, and by learning about them.

If you really wanted to get to know me, you would spend time with me, you would attend my classes, you would study my sermons, you would read my books, you would ask me questions about my life and opinions.

I spent four years living with John Stott, as his assistant. Three of those years I occupied the bed-sitting room next door to him in the same house. I listened to his sermons. I watched how he conducted meetings, and handled people. I dined with him. I used his sermon and class notes. I read probably all his fifty books. I visited with his family and friends. I asked his advice about marriage, and took it! I accepted his correction and criticism. I also challenged him when I felt he was wrong. Over the years we have kept in touch, and he has encouraged me in my ministry. We have worked side by side and enjoyed each other's company now for nearly forty years. We know one another and are the better for doing so. He has helped me to know my assignment in life; and he has graciously acknowledged that I have been some help to him.

How can we get to know a person who is separated from us by time? For over the past five years I have been trying to get to know the life and work of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). I have read his books and journals. I have read books about him: biographies, commentaries, dissertations, theses, philosophical and literary criticism. I have invested a considerable amount of money to purchase the sixty books I have by or about him in my library. His life and thought have been an inspiration to me, and a challenge to expand my thinking and my Christian discipleship. He too, has helped me to know my assignment in life.

I seek to know God in Christ by doing the same things. I am trying to listen to his voice, for he is still present by his Spirit. I reflect on his teaching, as written down in the New Testament. I am using his material in my teaching and preaching. I am seeking his input and strength through his resurrection life. I am observing how he handled people. I am watching how he prayed, how he suffered, how he healed, how he helped people. I try to accept his correction. I struggle with understanding and applying his commandments. I am reading what other people write about him. I have invested a great deal of my resources into getting to know him. Why should I do that? Because, I believe, he is eternal life, and he has the answers to life - real life - life in all its fullness. If I get to know him I will know God and the secret of life. ""If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." (John 14:7)

As I listen in to Jesus praying to his Father, as I overhear this most intimate of prayers, I am aware that Jesus had a sense of the significance of his life. He knew it was time for the final stages of his life. He knew that the immediate future, as painful as it would be, was going to be the time of glorification, when God's love for the world would be displayed through him. He asked that the Father would restore him to his previous heavenly splendor after the pain of the Passion.

We learn from this prayer how to pray that God will help us to complete our assignment in life. We are assured by this prayer that each of us has such an assignment. We are here for a purpose. We learn that we need to pray that God's will might be done in and through our lives. We learn that we need to have a sense of God's timing in our lives. Above all, we learn that to know God in Christ is to have eternal life, life that lasts, life that is really significant. That is why we spend time listening, learning, investing our time and treasure in getting to know Jesus, and taking the opportunity he gives us to do all things with him. By doing this we know we have a good chance of completing our life's assignment well.

An audio version of this sermon is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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