The image of God
Sermon by Duurt Sikkens
I’d like to read a verse with you from the gospel of John. John chapter sixteen verse twenty-five.
“I have said this to you in figures; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures, but tell you plainly of the Father.”
And His disciples said: “But now you arespeaking plainly, not in any figure!”
That was a surprise for Jesus. They understood straight away what He was saying, without any stories to illustrate what he meant.
And it’s wonderful for us, too, to be able to contemplate God’s ideas, His way of thinking. To occupy ourselves with the things that are important to God, and to meditate on His thoughts and ideas. And the new ideas that we have been considering these last few years, well, I have never heard or read anything so beautiful, so wonderful and so true.
Now I’d like to read a few more verses of scripture from the next chapter.
A passage that has been read many times, usually on traditional occasions. When I was reading these verses I thought to myself: There really is a lot in these verses. In fact they form a short summary of what Jesus’ life was all about. And He takes a look at the people around Him and thinks: They have all remained faithful to me. He says it too in Luke chapter twenty-two verse twenty-eight: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials”. And that’s what’s important. To continue with Him.
Well, let’s read these verses first. John chapter seventeen, verses one to five.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said “Father, the hour has come; (we’d probably just say ‘it’s time’); glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.
And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.”
We all know the verse: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. God’s thoughts, His idea’s. He wants very much to express these. And one way of expressing your thoughts is to put them into words. And that’s why Jesus is called ‘the word of God’(See Revelation chapter nineteen verse thirteen). A thought is invisible. A Word is also invisible, but when it is spoken you can hear it. And here we are dealing with invisible things. Things which can’t be seen. And so God, and He through whom he expresses Himself, belong together as thought and Word. The Word makes the thought audible. “Faith comes through hearing” Paul says. That’s wonderful. “Whoever hears Me, hears the Father”, Jesus says. He could also have put it like this, “I am His Word, and He longs to be able to express Himself, so He does that through Me.”
Then He lifts up His eyes to heaven. I like the way John says this. It means: He looks into the unseen, invisible world of His Father. That is reality for God. And then he starts to speak. And you see the disciples listening to Him. And this makes Jesus so happy, even though this happens just before He is taken prisoner, just before He is betrayed, and crucified and killed. He dreaded all this, but he is happy. He says so in John chapter seventeen verse thirteen; “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves”, he says. And WHY is He so intensely happy? Because His disciples, his friends there, believed what He said. His word had found a place in their heart, despite everything that had happened to them. They believed Him. “Father”, He says, “It’s time”.
We can’t begin to imagine how He must have felt when He said that. And He asks, “Will you glorify Your Son?”
Now that word “Glorify”, what does that mean? Well it doesn’t refer to a large crowd of people, dancing and jumping up and down cheering.
“Glorify”. That word has two meanings. The “first is ‘opinion’, or ‘a way of thinking’. The original word was ‘doxa’, and the other meaning is ‘radiant, or shining’. So how can I link these two meanings together? Well, it may seem difficult, but really it’s very simple. God’s way of thinking, his ideas are radiant. When you think like Him then deep down you glow with joy. This glow, this radiance, can be seen in your life. In Exodus we read: “The glory of the Lord appears in a cloud”.
There you have the glory: in a cloud. And Jesus had always known that He was the beginning of the cloud. And he says that as a sort of cry of joy, when He is accused from all sides. He says that He is the son of man, “coming on the clouds of the heavens”. On heavenly clouds. That was what it meant to Him: the appearance of His Father, hidden in a cloud. Hidden in a man. Because we are talking about the hidden things of God here.
Then in verse ten we read: “I am glorified in them”. What does that mean? Well, that God’s ideas, His thoughts, His way of thinking, which He wants so much to express, have found a place in their hearts. And so then they begin to shine, and radiate light. Wonderful. “The glory that you have given me”, He says in verse twenty-two, “I have given to them”. The same glory.
What is that glory then? Have you ever read about that in John chapter one verse fourteen? “Glory as of an only Son”. That’s what it says. Glory as of AN only son, not THE only son. AN is written in the original text. And if you only have ONE son, what does that mean? That He inherits everything. So what did Jesus leave to us as heirs after his death? Because He really did die you know. What is the wonderful inheritance we were given? What do you think? To get to know the Father. To know the Father. THAT is what life’s all about, then you really come alive. Through His spirit.
Up until this time no one had ever received the Holy spirit permanently. In Old Testament times it had always been a temporary thing or via angels. But it was said of Jesus in John chapter one verses thirty one and thirty two: “and It (the Holy Spirit) remained on Him”.
He was the first person on whom the spirit remained. And if we remain in Him, then the Spirit will never leave us either. Never again. Because all the things of God, His whole way of thinking and His ideas, He gave to Jesus, to a human. “All that is Yours”, He says, “is Mine”. God gave all his power and all that was needed for renewal and healing, all His glory, to this One person. And this One person shares and multiplies it.
And then in John chapter seventeen verse twenty-three we read: “so that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one”. That word ‘perfect’ is just a little TOO perfect. Literally it says: “that they may completed in one” Or: ‘that they may be completed to one’. So I am, on my own, not complete, not finished. I only become one, when I am together with Him.
What was created first? A human being. And He was divided into two, one was called Adam and the other Eve. The names came much later. So when are we a whole and complete person? When we are together again. So Adam plus Eve forms a human being, the human race. Together you are fertile and able to bear fruit. Jesus AND His anointed wife. The new Adam and the new Eve, together. Because when you are one, then you are, you are something, or rather someone. And when God is eventually connected to the spirit filled human race, so that he can be all in all, then He IS. Then, and only then, has He become who He is. Then He will be who he has always wanted to be.
Being on your own all the time can be very lonely. It is not good for man to be alone, and God doesn’t want to be alone either. So now do you understand why Jesus says: “Dear people, if you want to live, remain in me, as I am in you. Together we are one. Complete. Then you are one in your spirit and no longer divided. And that’s wonderful. And then the sentence; “Glorify Your Son, so that He can glorify You, will you do that Father?”
So then I think to myself, just try to find an illustration for that. Well, here is a very simple one: suppose you receive some beautiful clothes, a whole new outfit. Clothes that you’ve chosen yourself, with a beautiful coat as well. And when you wear the clothes everyone says “What lovely clothes you have on”. They admire what you’ve got. And you in turn say, “Yes”, aren’t they lovely? My Father gave them to me”. And that’s how you glorify your Father, because He has clothed you. That is a very simple illustration to show you how it works.
And Jesus is so very happy that His followers believe this. And to be honest, I know no greater joy, than when someone believes what we believe. Jesus just lets the work of God happen in Him. That is wonderful, THAT is glorifying God. A glory as of a first born, full of grace and truth. Now THAT is what you should radiate. Would you like that? People on this earth would become so happy if they met Christians who are honest and without deceit. If, when they met you, you were clothed with this glory: that is grace and compassion. Because THAT is what you would radiate in your life, what people would see in you. It’s wonderful to be trustworthy. That does others a lot of good. Then they experience what it is to be in the shadow of the Almighty, because that is what you are. And they feel that, because you forgive, because you are compassionate, a Christian who does not gossip. That’s wonderful. A Christian in whom there is no violence. And then they come to see that that is what God is like, gracious and good. And when people say: “You are a nice friendly person”, then that is because God is nice and friendly. Be honest about it. After all, you have been clothed by God.
Then in verse two we read, He has given power over all flesh. The word ´power´ here means: potential, ability. Jesus has received from God the potential to give eternal life to all flesh. If you use violence or force to do that, then it won’t work. Because violence is not of God. God has made it possible for Jesus to give us eternal life. And then He says: ‘and this potential I now give to you’.
Do you want eternal life? Yes please. Well, then believe us. He who believes the Son has it. And whoever believes you can also receive that eternal life. So power here means potential. “All flesh”, that means all people, not all animals too. And your pets? No, they don’t go to heaven. But their descendants WILL come to the new earth.
Now, have a look at verse two, at what it says there. John chapter seventeen verse 2b: “He has given power over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.” We read the same in verse six, only in other words. “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me”.
Do you see what God wants? He says, I have people and to whom can I bring them? Oh, there is a good shepherd. I’ll take them to Him, He will take good care of them. You are first and foremost a gift of God to the Lord. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? He takes care of you and looks for a place for you to stay, a safe place. And at first you are a small lamb, like Jesus, the Lamb of God, and you grow up to become a sheep, and then you gradually develop the potential to become a shepherd. Because if you have never really been a lamb, then you will never make a good shepherd. Take David; why was he such a good shepherd? He gives the answer himself: ‘Because theLord is my shepherd’. That’s the secret. You know that someone is looking after you, and that’s why you are able to look after someone else. Wonderful, isn’t it?
You are a gift, and at the same time you understand that God can lead people to you to find a safe place. Just like the shelter in the inn in the story of the good Samaritan. In the original Greek we find the word ‘pandocheion’ which means, accepting all.
In One Peter chapter five verse two we read: “Tend the flock of God that is your charge”. So it is GOD’s flock. And here today is part of the flock. So you can tend that. You are given to each other, so take good care of each other, tend to one another’s needs. Help one another. Especially when it comes to resisting the devil. That is your responsibility.
And then Jesus says: “give eternal life”. A different translation says: ‘Give life as in eternity’. And I think that’s a lovely term of phrase. It has a feeling of such high quality. It is also the essence of the gospel. Because life, as in eternity, is knowing the Father and sharing in the same spirit. That is what the gospel really is. If you don’t tell people about that gospel, then you then you don’t tell them the truth. You spread a false gospel. The essence of the gospel is not the signs and miracles. They follow if you preach the right gospel. Goodness and mercy shall follow me. I don’t have to worry about that, because that will follow me. Automatically, because in Mark chapter sixteen verse twenty we read: ‘And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it”.
So who works alongside the disciples? The Lord. That’s how it works. It follows automatically. If you accept God’s word it takes root in you. And if the word takes root in you, then you also become a word. If the tree is good, then it bears fruit according to its kind. See Genesis chapter one verse twelve. It bears the same fruits, the words of God. That moves me. If you really listen then you hear lots of words from God. And that is the fruit of the Spirit. Because if you have hears to hear, then just listen to what it is that you hear. All these words begin to grow and develop.
By the way: Do you know that the word ‘strength’ doesn’t appear in the gospel of John? What about that then? Strength, power, force or whatever…. No.
What DOES appear is life and faith, and in John’s gospel always as verbs, words of action, to live and to believe. But the word power or strength is not used. Wonderful, don’t you think? Because what IS God’s greatest power? John says, that is that He loves you very much. THAT is His power. Despite everything, what you look like or whatever is wrong with you, God says: Son, you can’t refuse me this. You can’t deny the fact that I love you; even if you curse and shout at yourself, (better not to do it though…) And that’s why knowing God is the same as trusting God. You have fellowship together. You have a relationship. That’s what knowing God means. Then you are so close to God that you are, as John puts it, in the bosom of God. An image that John uses about himself when speaking of his relationship with Jesus. And Jesus was in the bosom of the Father. Then you are really close to Him. Then you can hear Him and understand Him. You know Him. And if you know Him well, then you can tell others about Him, just like Jesus did. For he says “I speak what I have heard. Not my words but what I hear I say”. And what He heard, He heard from His Father. And He didn’t have voices in His head. It’s about the thoughts and ideas that the spirit reveals.
You have a relationship in the Spirit. Some people try to separate thoughts and words. They separate God and Jesus. They think for example that Jesus is a wonderful person, but God remains a big unknown entity.
As if you can separate them, while Jesus says so often “My Father and I are one. God is not different to me or to what I do”. Some people said: “I see God quite differently. ”Yes”, He answered. “You do, and that’s why I came, to put that right”. How do you see God? What image do you have of Him?”
What is truth, Pilate says. What an arrogant person. As if to say, End of discussion. And all the time the truth stood before him large as life. You see what you want to see. Some people want to talk about a vague God. That’s very popular at the moment. You can give it any name you want, as long as the word god comes into it somewhere. Others call Him ‘Something’ or ‘an idea’. I believe there IS something, they say. I once heard a man say: ‘I used to believe in God, but Jesus, no, He means nothing to me. And so then I think: You don’t know Him, OR the Father. Because they want to believe in God, but not ….Jesus. Or they see God as a bogey-man. I was brought up with that image of God, God as a bogey-man. A God who was unpredictable. As a child I was always afraid of God. Jesus was closer, I wasn’t so afraid of Him, I could pray to Him: “Lord Jesus watch over me”. I thought Jesus was kinder than God, but deep down I was also a little afraid of Jesus too. Afraid of some pre-conceived idea I had been told about a judgment seat, an incorrect idea I found out later, but at the time it frightened me. And then there were all the stories they told you about hell and damnation, just meant to frighten you.
God can’t be filmed. Nor can Jesus. You can’t film them, because they are both spirit. That gives you something to think about doesn’t it? They can’t be filmed. You can’t put them into pictures. Jesus is not an idol. You’ll come across that more and more in the future. That Jesus will become an idol, a god. A ‘non-god’ that is. You all know the commandment written in Exodus chapter twenty verse three: ‘You shall have no other gods before me”.
I always thought: with so many gods before Him you can’t see who He is any more. So how do we get rid of these other gods then? Because they obscure Gods face. Then you have to look behind them. Face always means: your whole being. I looked it up in the Hebrew, and there is an interlinear translation there. Just look what it says there: “Not He shall be to you gods other ones before face of me”. That’s what it says in the Hebrew, literally.
So just think about that. What does it actually say? And it is no wonder that God begins his commandments with this. For what has happened over the years, starting in the Garden of Eden? An idol, an incorrect image, has been made. In other countries they all had idols, and Israel thought: we want one too, but then one that is stronger.
Pure rivalry between all sorts of idols and gods. “And God shall not be to you as the gods of others”. He is different, different to all other gods. So the miserable and terrifying presentations of an awesome and revengeful God including darts of lightening, they are not right. Nor is the image of a vague unpredictable God capable of doing anything. That’s not correct either.
God says: “I’m not like that. You must not make me into a god like other nations do. And ‘other nations’ also means ‘other religious ways of thinking’. That is something else for you to think about. And do you know that the prophets protested against this form of idolatry all their lives. But Israel did it, they made Him an idol, in the name of God. They thought that they had to maintain an image of a terrible God.
In a discussion with Jesus the scribes said: “Yes we also call God Father”. ”Yes” Jesus said, “But your father is the devil and you call him god”. You can read that in John chapter eight verse forty-four.
The confusion began in the Garden of Eden. Because there the devil says: “I want you to become as God, knowing good and evil”. There you have it! As if my Father is someone who knows good AND evil. ‘To know’ means ‘to have fellowship with’. No wonder God says: “Don’t make a god of me like everyone else does. Don’t make me into the sort of god everyone else thinks I am. And I think that that is the greatest danger, the biggest temptation.
We are talking about very precious things you know. You begin to see the face of God more and more clearly. It’s just a question of how you look. But the greatest temptation is to make God and Jesus someone they are not. Then the “I am” is not the “I am ” any more. You’ve made him into someone quite different, with all your own ideas.
Yes, all the prophets warned against it, and most had to pay for it with their lives. Who killed the prophets? People who said that they knew God. “Out of their own circle”. Jesus calls this sort an “adulterous kind”.
Because, Jesus says in John chapter seventeen verse three, and I thought that remarkable: “they know You”, and then, “the only true God”. “The only” Jesus says here, “the unique one”. WITHOUT evil. You can’t mix God with something evil, something violent or anything to do with idolatry. And the greatest temptation is, I think, is if youdo do that. If you go along with the crowd.
Jesus also had to cope with this temptation. “If you bow down to me just once”, the devil says “then I will give you political power over the whole earth”. Just one time. And who isn’t tempted? Who does bow down and gets a lot of power in the heaven and over the whole earth? That’s the anti-christ. And what does He call Himself? “The Christ”. He has come back, people say, and everywhere there is peace. And then there is a small group that says, “No”, but that is a whole different story. Read two Corinthians chapter 11 verse 4, where Paul writes: “For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received (and this is said to a church), or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.” Paul was confronted with this problem. A different Jesus, a different god, a different gospel. I can’t make it any clearer than that. Then I thought: “Pray that you are not tempted to make God different to what He is. That is a great temptation. ‘JHWH’ . I am.”
Jesus means the same as Joshua . It is Latin/Greek and means ‘JHWH saves’. What does He save you from? From wrong ideas about God. From forming the wrong image of God.
And that’s why many people were annoyed by Jesus, because He portrayed a completely different image of god. A man from Nazareth. Someone for whom people hide their faces, Isaiah says.
What do you think of that? It means there will be days when people hide their faces for you too, because they do not want to be in your company. For a slave is not more than his master, don’t forget.
So, to finish the work, really means to show what the Father is like. To teach people to know God. And the disciples knew Him. They knew His Father. “And now I can go away”, Jesus says. “I go away, but I won’t leave you behind as an orphan”. And for that word ‘orphan’ the original Greek actually says, ‘I will not let you become lonely”. And I think that is the worst thing that can happen to someone: to be lonely. You can even sit here amongst all the people and still feel terribly lonely. It’s possible. To be lonely is awful. He says: “I will stay with you, because together we are one”. Together we are someone”.
And then at the end He says: “Glorify Me in You with the glory which I had with You before the world was made”. Actually that’s really beautiful, what’s written here. In another translation I read: “Glorify me with Your own Self. That means: that you clothe me in the way you think is good. And then I will look like You. With YOUR self. So that I AM. And lately I have been thinking: “If I dare say THAT, If I have the courage to say “I AM”, then I think I am free; at least well on the way to being free. “I am”. No longer dependent on the judgment of others, or even how I judge myself. Even if I stand there as a tiny toddler, nevertheless I AM. And that is so precious. And then what seems to be so fragile and weak and frail, turns out to be your greatest strength. That is the complete opposite of how it is in the world today. It’s the high and mighty and famous who are important. Lots of rivalry and forever the need to achieve more and more.
Then I prefer what Paul says: “When I am weak, and dependent on my heavenly Father, then I receive the power from Him to do His will”. And His deepest desire is to love. Let yourself be loved by Him and you will be able to love as He loves. Then you are a child of God, and He will glorify you and you Him.
Let us pray:
“Dear Father, teach us to love in Your spirit. Keep us from the temptation of seeing you differently to what you really are. Then your kingdom will come, Your friendly kind-heartedness will come to life in us. Thank You that You are who You are, full of light and love. Thank You that we can get to know you better and better, thanks to Your Son. Then we will gradually become Your image.