Many years ago (early on in my Christian life), quite out of the blue a Christian friend asked me a question: “What’s eternal life?”
I hemmed and hawed a bit (as best as I can remember), and finally said something to the effect that “eternal life is an eternity of being with God and with His glorified people” – or something like that.
But even though I can’t remember my specific response, I’ll never forget what my Christian friend did, and what he said – or, better, what he read! He turned in his Bible (we didn’t have the Bible on electronic devices way back then) – he turned in his Bible to John’s Gospel, chapter 17 and verse 3, and he read the words of the Lord Jesus Christ as He spoke to God the Father in prayer: This is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Eternal life is knowing God. The Lord’s redeemed people have an unending time of knowing the God who created them, sustained them, delivered them from sin and death, keeps them from that which would destroy them, and – eventually – brings them into His immediate presence.
Eternal life – according to Jesus – is “knowing God.”
It wasn’t long after being struck with that grand truth that I came across the then newly published book KNOWING GOD, by Dr. James I. Packer – then an Associate Principal of Trinity College in Bristol, England. I still have my marked copy. I devoured it like a hungry person feasting on a multi-course gourmet meal. In successive chapters, I learned about “God Unchanging”, “The Majesty of God’, “God Only Wise”, God whose Word is truth, “The Love of God”, “The Grace of God”, “God the Judge”, “The Wrath of God”, “The Goodness and Severity of God”, “The Jealousy of God”, and “The Adequacy of God.’
I was introduced to this eternal world in which God is the beginning, the center, and the never-ending end. I received a taste of what it is that eternal life is knowing God – and, since then, I’ve never been satisfied with brands of Christianity that make for their focus anything but God.
Eternal life is knowing God.
But Jesus added to His crisp summary of the meaning of eternal life: and (knowing) Jesus Christ whom (the Father) has sent.
Now, in one sense, I knew Jesus Christ. As a result of God’s saving operation on my heart (something we commonly call “the new birth”), I had come to understand who Jesus was, and what He had done to secure a right relationship with God for me by the forgiveness of my sins and by giving me a perfect righteousness – things I simply could not gain by my own self-effort.
I knew that Jesus was both God and man; and I knew the core elements of the Gospel: Christ Jesus died for my sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried – a confirmation of His death; but he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. He later ascended into heaven. He reigns at the right hand of God the Father. And He is coming again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead. I knew that “Good News” – the Gospel – which is simply a convenient term (and a perfectly appropriate one) to declare what Jesus brings to a sin-weary world by His unique person and His work.
And, as time went on, I learned more about Jesus Christ:
- I learned that all the 39 books of the Old Testament prophesied of and pointed us forward to Jesus Christ. What an amazing Bible lesson it must have been when the resurrected Jesus, as He walked with disciples on the road to the village of Emmaus, beginning with Moses all the prophets interpreted them in all the (Old Testament) Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Wow! I would have loved to have been there for that Bible study!
- I learned that all the anointed offices in the Old Testament – anointed prophets, anointed priests, and anointed kings – all would have their fulfillment in the Messiah – The Great Anointed One – Jesus Christ.
- I learned about the life of Jesus Christ through four prisms – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- I learned that the New Testament presents the outworking of Jesus present Kingship, in which He will build His Church, govern, preserve, and protect it, and will reign until all of His enemies are made a footstool for His feet.
I learned all of these things (and I delighted in them – and I still delight in them); but I longed to know more of Jesus Christ Himself.
This is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and (that they may know) Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
If only there could be a companion volume to J. I. Packer’s KNOWING GOD.
Then, in 2015 – over forty years after the publication of KNOWING GOD, came the book KNOWING CHRIST, by Mark Jones – courtesy of the fine publishing work of The Banner of Truth Trust.
How fitting that Dr. J. I. Packer would write the Foreword to the volume that – in a sense completed his own. (And that Foreword alone is worth at least half the price of the whole book!) Let me treat you to just the beginning of it:
The Puritans loved the Bible, and (they) dug into it in depth. Also, they loved the Lord Jesus, who is of course, the Bible’s focal figure; they circled around him, centered on him, studied minutely all that Scripture had to say about him, and constantly, conscientiously exalted him in their preaching, praises, and prayers. Mark Jones…also loves the Bible and its Christ, and the Puritans as expositors of both; and out of this triune love he has written a memorable unpacking of the truth about the Savior, according to the classic Reformed tradition, and the Puritans supremely. It is a book calculated to enrich our 21st century souls, and one that it is an honor to introduce.
But then Dr. Packer adds this probing and insightful observation:
Just here, however, there lies – or maybe I should say we have, or perhaps even we are – a problem. To put it pictorially, souls are small in the modern Western world, and we have less of an appetite for this kind of nourishment than our spiritual health actually requires.
Our spiritual health requires that we know Jesus Christ; and Mark Jones has given us a magnificent help in his book KNOWING CHRIST.
Do you have an appetite for that kind of nourishment for your spiritual health?
I hope that you do!
My guest on A Visit to the Pastor’s Study today is the spiritual chef who prepared the feast contained in the 250-page volume KNOWING CHRIST. The Rev. Dr. Mark Jones has been pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church (a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America) in Vancouver, British Columbia since 2007. He’s also a Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. He’s married to his beloved wife, Barb, and they have four much loved children. He’s written a lot more than his priceless volume KNOWING CHRIST – but it’s that book (and that subject) that we focus on today.
Pastor Mark Jones from Canada’s Vancouver, in beautiful British Columbia – welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study….
Here’s a link to the full program:
Yours in the One by Whom all things were created,