That the World May Know

Series:  The Other Lord’s Prayer

#6:  That the World May Know

John 17:20-26 (NCV)

It was “Show and Tell” day for a 3rd Grade class at the local elementary school.  The teacher had asked her students to bring something for Show and Tell that symbolizes their core values or belief system.

A boy named Ali was the first to come forward, holding something rolled up under his arm:  “I am Muslim,” he said, “and this is a prayer rug.”  After he unrolled it so the class could look at it, he returned to his seat.

A boy named Benjamin headed to the front of the room and pulled something out of his backpack.  He said, “I’m Jewish.  This is a menorah, and is a symbol of my religion.”  He then sat down.

Next a little girl named Anna came forward.  She removed something from her pocket and said, “This is a rosary, and it’s a symbol of my Catholic religion.”

Finally a boy named Pete moved to the front of the room and carefully pulled something out of a paper sack and said, “I go to the Methodist Church, and this is a casserole dish.”

As I was growing up, I fondly remember “show and tell” days at school. Teachers often used it as a way for them and the other students to get to know one-another better.  It was always interesting to see what items other children selected to bring to school and share with the class – as you might imagine, sometimes the things they brought would be bizarre.  It was even more fascinating to listen to their explanations as to why they chose that particular item.  Show and Tell revealed a lot about who people were and what they thought to be important.  When we had all finished our Show and Tell, we felt we knew one another much better, and had a clearer understanding about what motivated each person.

As I was reflecting on our text this morning, I kept being reminded of those Show and Tell days in elementary school.  Show and Tell is not just a great teaching technique that elementary school teachers have developed, it was a method Jesus used, as well.  Like the “master teacher” he was, Jesus gives his students an assignment, to announce to the world what our core values or belief system is.  He challenges us to go Show and Tell.  And in our Showing and Telling, the world would come to know the God we serve.

Yes, Jesus calls us to Show and Tell.  But he wasn’t about to ask anything of us that he wasn’t willing to do, himself.

The context of our scripture today is the prayer Jesus prayed in the Upper Room the night before his crucifixion.  During that week we call “holy,” over and over Jesus “shows” and “tells” the world who he is, and why he came.

The week began with Palm Sunday.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with adoring crowds who waved palm branches and proclaimed him to be their king.  It was a day filled with symbolic gestures, each one deliberately chosen by Jesus to fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah.  Like the kids in that 3rdgrade class, Jesus was “showing” the world that he was the Messiah and the Son of God.  And, as the week progressed, over and over again, in many and varied ways, he would “show and tell” the world who he is.  Through his actions and words throughout that holy week, we become well acquainted with who Jesus is, and come to better understand what Jesus believed was important.  I think it’s fair to describe Holy Week as God’s “Show and Tell” week.  It was God’s last-ditch effort to “show and tell” by deed and word just how much he loves us.

Our scripture today is smack dab in the middle of God’s “show and tell” week.  Our lesson this morning is the concluding verses of Jesus’ extensive prayer we find recorded in the 17thchapter of John’s Gospel, a prayer that we have been focusing on now for the past month or so.  In the Upper Room following the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for his Disciples, and for all those who would one day come to believe in him through their witness.  And in his prayer, he thanks his Father that, by his coming death on the cross and the glorious resurrection to follow, he would finally show his disciples and all the world who he truly is.  He also thanks God that he has been able to tell the disciples the truth of the Gospel, and that they have been receptive to that truth.  In other words, by his deeds and his words, Jesus has both “shown and told” us who he is.

So, one of the main themes of Jesus’ prayer revolves around Jesus’ Show and Tell, as he reveals his identity to the world in the cross and the empty tomb.  But there is another aspect of Show and Tell at work in the prayer:  Jesus calls on you and me, as his disciples, to also be about the business of “showing and telling.”  It is Jesus’ prayer that, as his disciples, we can also be empowered by the Spirit to “Show and Tell,” – so “that the world may know.”  That for me is the key verse for understanding the meaning of Jesus’ prayer:

“I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching.  Father, I pray that they can be one…  Then the world will believe that you sent me. I have given these people the glory that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one… Then the world will know that you sent me… “  (John 17:20-23, excerpts  NCV)

What was Jesus’ dying wish?  That you and I might be faithful disciples who will Show and Tell the world who he is.

But sadly, the world around us is far from knowing Jesus. Our society is lost, and it seems to be headed to destruction, yet good faithful churchgoers like you and me often pretend not to see notice.  The lives of the neighbors around us are devoid of meaning and are spiritually hungry, and yet we withhold the spiritual nourishment that would satisfy them and give their lives purpose.  Even members of our own families are floundering through life without a spiritual compass, and we seem not to be overly concerned.  In his prayer, it is Jesus’ most ardent desire that you and I Show and Tell the truth about Jesus, “that the world might know.”

Tragically, that prayer of Jesu is yet to be fully answered. If our mission as disciples of Jesus is to Show and Tell the Good News of salvation through Christ, frankly, we aren’t doing a very good job.  The undeniable fact is that many people in the world around us don’t know Jesus. We’ve failed at our Show and Tell.

In his prayer, Jesus warns us of two pitfalls that can hamper our witness – the reasons unbelievers around us haven’t come to faith:  One is our failure to Show; the other is our failure to Tell.

First, we don’t Show our faith the way we ought to.  At the very close of his prayer, Jesus prays that his love might be evident in our lives…  He says to his Father, “Then they will have the same love that you have for me, and I will live in them.”  Earlier that same evening, Jesus said much the same: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for one another.” (John 13:35)

When our unbelieving neighbors and friends look at our lives, sometimes they don’t see the Glory of Christ dwelling in us.  We don’t always love the way we should.  And since our actions speak louder than our words, people decide all this talk about love they hear from Christians is just that – all talk.  And so, they turn away.  (the ‘nones’ and the ‘dones’)

Another way we fail to show our faith to an unbelieving world is our lack of unity as the church.  (This is a timely word to our denomination right now, as we are struggling with what it means for us to be “united.”)

All throughout his long prayer, Jesus prays for the unity of the Church.  Listen again to what Jesus prays:  “Father, I pray that they can be one.  As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me.”

The secular world looks at all the division and infighting within the Christian church and concludes that they don’t want anything to do with our God.  We preach love and unity, but we practice suspicion, envy, and hostility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. If Christians don’t even love each other, how can they claim to love the world?  It’s no wonder many unbelievers are not interested – we have failed to Show them Christ by our love.

But we also have neglected to Tell them about Jesus, as well.  Showing is essential – but Telling is equally important.  Our words must match our deeds, and visa versa.

Jesus’ prayer is that his disciples would tell all the world about the good news of salvation through him.  “I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching.”  The disciples were to testify to the world about Jesus, so that the world would come to believe.

And those first disciples followed through.  They did a miraculous job at spreading the gospel, and you and I are the fruit of their labor.  We believe, because they, and untold millions of other followers of Jesus, have been faithful in passing the truth of God down to us.

But, how well do we do at Telling the story of Jesus?  How quick are we to speak a good word for Christ?  Are we prepared to share our faith when the opportunity presents itself – to tell others about Jesus?  As Peter counseled us in his first letter, “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have.” (1 Pet 3:15 NCV)

Can you explain your hope in Christ?  The unbelieving world has never heard us share the truth of the gospel in a compelling enough way to cause them to want to surrender their lives to Jesus.  Do we know how to share our faith?  Do we even have a faith to share?  Most of us don’t do as good a job as we ought to in Telling others of our faith.

But there is another way we fall short in Telling others about Jesus: We fail to invite unbelievers and skeptics to come and see for themselves.   Maybe we feel we don’t have the answers or the courage to witness to someone about Jesus.  But we could, at the very least, invite them to church so they might hear the Gospel for themselves.  Many of you do this, I know.  But we could all be much more intentional about this than we are.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we find a story that illustrates the importance of Telling, both in sharing our faith, and by inviting others.  There, we find the story of Jesus as he called his disciples.  The first two disciples who followed Jesus were Andrew and Philip.  Andrew didn’t hesitate to witness to his new-found faith when he told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah.”  And Philip simply invited his brother, Nathaniel, to “come and see” and discover Jesus for himself.  Both approaches to evangelism (witnessing and inviting) are essential if the unbelieving world is to come to faith.  We must Tell how Jesus has saved us whenever we get the opportunity, and we must look for opportunities to invite others to worship so they can meet Jesus themselves.  Showing and Telling are both key to helping others to come to Christ. Jesus knew it – and now we do too.

 

So “class,” as your “teacher,” I am giving you an assignment to complete – an assignment for Show and Tell.  I want to challenge each of you to not only Show your faith in Jesus by how you live your life, but also to Tell the truth of God’s love by sharing your own journey of faith with all those who will listen.  Too hard to do?  Then, at the very least, I am asking you to invite two or three people who don’t have a relationship with Christ, or don’t have an active involvement in a congregation, to come and see for themselves, so they might have an encounter with Jesus.  And we’re going to help you do just that:

As you leave this morning, you will be given a couple of invitation cards for you to use as you invite neighbors and friends who are not currently active in a church to join you for our Christmas Eve services.  All the details are printed on the card. (Now, don’t just throw them away or drop them on the floor of your car.  Take them home and pray about who you will give the invitations to, and then follow through, and do it!)

Christmas is a great time to reach out.  Many unchurched people are open to attending these special holiday services –  if they are invited.  One study showed that 41% of people who were formerly churched said that they would return to the local church if a friend or acquaintance invited them. You may be surprised just how many will say “yes,” when they know that the person who invited them really cares about them.

So, I want to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone in the next few weeks and invite folks to come with you to worship during the holidays, especially Christmas Eve.  In fact, why not pick them up and bring them with you? The more welcomed they feel in their visit, the more open they will be to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

The goal is not just to “fill the church” on Christmas Eve (although that would be wonderful to see).  It is so that “the world may know” the Good News of salvation.  Our purpose comes directly from the lips of Jesus:

“I want them to see my glory,” Jesus says plainly in our text. It is Jesus’ hope and prayer that all the unbelieving world would one day behold his glory, and believe. Friends, there are no days in the church year when we see Jesus in all his glory more vividly than the High Holy Days of Christmas and Easter.  It’s a great opportunity for people struggling to find meaning in their lives to have an encounter with Jesus, God’s gift to the world!

So, class, that is your assignment for Show and Tell this week.  Bring a friend with you to worship.  And, who knows?  By your faithfulness in “Showing and Telling,” you may actually win them for Jesus!

And with that, my friends, YOU just might become the answer to Jesus’ prayer.

1Thom Rainer & Sam Rainer—From Outreach magazine, “Features,” July/August 2007.