What would you think if I suggested that, in life, there is only one thing that is important, and pursuing that one thing takes care of everything else? Is that ridiculously simplistic? Or is it true?
On the night before He died, Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples and, at one point, He prayed. It is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus’ that we have. It takes the whole of John 17. But only five verses of that prayer were for Himself.
The prayer started like this… Read John 17:1-5
The hour had come. Jesus’ whole life had been leading to this point – the point of sacrifice; death. This was it. This was the climax. What would He pray? We know that, later in the garden, He was much more distressed but, at this point, He simply prayed, “Father…”
That tells us something about His relationship with God. “Father.” There is a sense of intimacy, closeness, relationship. The Son comes easily into the Father’s presence, able to make a natural request.
“Father, glorify your Son.” Remember, Jesus was about to surrender Himself to death. He would have no control over what would happen next. He was utterly dependent on God but He demonstrates complete trust in God. “Father, I am about to die. I pray that you will glorify me.”
I don’t think Jesus was asking for glory in a self-indulgent way – “I want the glory”. He had just served the disciples, washing their feet. He was about to make the greatest and most selfless sacrifice the world would ever see. Jesus wasn’t into grandstanding. When He asked to be glorified, I think, He was asking His Father to not leave Him in the grave but to bring victory out of this apparent defeat. He was asking, very matter-of-factly, that God take the next step and raise Him from the dead. He is willing to die trusting His Father to raise Him again.
His motivation wasn’t for himself. His motivation was that God would be glorified. “Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” If Jesus is raised; if death is conquered, God will be glorified.
What does that prayer indicate about the relationship? Jesus knew God well and trusted Him.
Jesus then prayed, saying that God had given Him authority to give eternal life to those God gave Him, and He had done that. He had completed that work. And, Jesus defined eternal life.
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
We generally think of eternal life as living in heaven but Jesus defined it differently. Eternal life is knowing God. Of course, heaven is real, but Jesus defined eternal life not in terms of an ultimate destination but a relationship.
The danger with defining eternal life in terms of heaven is that people can see the gospel as no more than fire insurance: “I would rather go to heaven than hell so I’d better make sure I have prayed the right prayer.” Defining eternal life in terms of a relationship is entirely different. For one thing, it starts now.
Think again about the relationship that we have just seen that Jesus had with His Father. Jesus modelled this relationship. Eternal life is knowing God, and Jesus.
Can I ask you a question? What do you want? Maybe many things, but when it all boils down, what is the one thing you want? You might say, “Well, top of the list for me – I do want to go to heaven” or “The thing I long for is peace” or “I really long to live a more godly life” or a bigger house. Some of those things are good but would you say, “The thing I want most is to know God”?
Let us listen to the heart-cry of Paul. Read Phil 3:7-11.
Paul had the right heritage, was highly educated, hugely successful, highly regarded. He was zealous. In Jewish terms, he was absolutely righteous. He had everything. But he turned his back on it; in fact, he thought of it all as disgusting muck, for the sake of one thing. Paul had found one treasure that was worth sacrificing everything else for. What was the one thing? Knowing Jesus. He talks about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. This one thing surpasses everything else.
Paul is not simply talking about becoming a Christian. He does talk about receiving the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Clearly that is important but it is not all.
Paul has been a Christian for many years but look what he says in v.10. “I want to know Christ.” Even as a mature Christian leader, he is still saying, “The one thing I want is to know Christ. I want a deeper relationship. Nothing else in life compares with knowing Jesus.”
He talks about knowing the power of His resurrection. In Ephesians 1 he prayed that the Ephesian Christians would know the incomparably great power of God for us. Then he says that the power of God for us is the same as the mighty strength God exerted when He raised Christ from the dead. (Eph 1:18-20). And notice that it is power for us. God will act in great power for us – for our good. This power may refer to miracles but I suspect it is the power to transform us so that we might live a new life.
So, let’s suppose someone did say, “The thing I long for most is to live a godly life.” Paul wanted that too. He wanted to live a transformed life but the relationship comes first. He wanted to know Christ so that he would then experience the power of His resurrection. If our primary desire is to know God then the other things that we might want come with it.
Paul also said he wanted to participate in Jesus’ sufferings becoming like Him in His death. Some Christians just want to be blessed. Paul wanted to be so close to Jesus that he too participates in the sufferings of Jesus. Obviously, only Jesus could die once and for all for the sins of the world but, on another level, those who know Jesus closely will suffer alongside Jesus, for the sake of the gospel and Paul wants to know Jesus to that extent. He wanted to walk with Jesus and experience the same things.
Look at v.11. This intimate knowledge of Jesus is the way to attain the resurrection from the dead. That does make it important, doesn’t it? The relationship leads to the resurrection. Eternal life is knowing God.
So, Paul says, “The one thing I want is to know God” but he wasn’t the first to say that.
Ps 27:4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
Ps 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
David, like Paul, says, “There is nothing that I want more than God.” They both say, “One thing, and one thing only, is important. Nothing else compares. The one thing that is important is knowing God”.
That brings us to a family who knew Jesus well. Jesus stayed at their house in Bethany. Mary, Martha and Lazarus – two sisters and their brother. You will remember that when Lazarus was sick, Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus and referred to Lazarus as “the one you love”. That story specifically says that Jesus loved all three of them. Clearly the relationship was close. Jesus wept when He saw their pain.
Soon after that there was another incident when a dinner was held at their house, in Jesus’ honour, just prior to Easter week and Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with precious perfume.
We know only of one earlier incident. It may or may not have been their first meeting.
Read Luke 10:38-42
Hospitality was a big deal and it would have been expected that the woman of the house would make her guests welcome but Martha got pretty grumpy that Mary wasn’t helping. Instead Mary was simply sitting listening. It was normal for men to sit at the feet of a rabbi and listen to his teaching but not women. We can perhaps understand Martha’s grumpiness. Mary was not only lazy but way out of line.
Martha, Jesus said, was distracted and worried by all of the preparations that had to be made. She was focused on being the good host and she was sufficiently discontented that she criticised Jesus, questioning whether He cared that her sister wasn’t helping and that she had to do all of the work by herself.
She probably didn’t expect Jesus to take Mary’s side but “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
I wonder what Martha’s response was then. Offended and even grumpier? Repentant? Stopped working and also listened to Jesus? We are not told.
We can easily be worried about lots of things. Our lives can be fragmented because we have some many different things to take care of. We can be always running, pursuing different goals that we have. So many things that need to be done. But Jesus said that only one thing is needed. Wouldn’t it be great if there was only one thing required? That would make life so much simpler. What is that one thing? Mary had chosen relationship over busyness. Certain things do have to be done. Jesus isn’t commending laziness. The Bible teaches hard work. But there is only one thing that really matters: that we know God. Yes, God appreciates hard work but let it be hard work that is motivated by deep love for God.
Yes, hospitality is important. Martha wasn’t wrong but there is actually something more important. What did Jesus want most from these women? The fact that Mary sat at His feet and listened undoubtedly meant more to Jesus than that the meal was perfect? Jesus wants the relationship more than the fussing.
One thing is necessary. One thing is important. Forget everything else for the sake of this one thing.
Paul said he considered everything else to be foul muck. The one thing that he wanted was to know Jesus. David said that he wanted only one thing – to be in the presence of God – and that he desired nothing on earth besides God. Jesus said that only one thing is necessary: knowing God. Eternal life is knowing God.
We are so often distracted by many concerns and we feel we have to rush around attending to this and attending to that. But the message of the scripture is: No, pursue just one thing: your relationship with God. We worry about our security but when we know God intimately He will be our security. We worry about what we will eat and what we will drink but Jesus said to seek first God’s Kingdom and all these other things will follow.
We can live fragmented and frantic lives worrying about lots of things but Jesus says, “Focus on one thing and that one thing will be all you need. This is eternal life; that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
How is your relationship with God? Is it the one thing you focus on? Is it close; intimate? We might long to experience more of God but that starts with the relationship. How are our relationships with God?