May 16, 2021 “Sanctified in Truth”
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5: 9-13, John 17: 6-19
At first glance, the Gospel passage that I have just read from John 17 appears to be a difficult and dense text.
In fact, as I was reading it just now, I made pauses between what I felt to be the major thoughts or themes of the passage, because, in the Bible itself, there are no paragraph breaks, it is a single train of thought, one sentence following another, on the subjects of Jesus’ relationship to God the father, to the disciples, and to those who will be sent by them in His name.
However, like other readings we may encounter with the same challenge; texts that also give a great deal of information with few breaks or road signs for the reader (James Joyce’s “Ulysses” for instance) there is a great deal to be learned and enjoyed by reading slowly and re-reading until we can fully appreciate the lessons being offered.
But what lessons will we find in this reading?
Or, why should we persist in trying to understand?
There are at least two important reasons:
The first is that these verses give us a sort of behind-the-scene view into Jesus’ own prayer life, they show us the words Jesus speaks to God the Father and the passion with which He speaks when He is giving private prayer to God.
The second is that we should approach these words, this prayer, knowing that He has done it all for us, not just going to the cross for us, not just saving us and atoning for our sins, but by also intentionally bringing us into His private conversation with the Father.
These are the two reasons to re-read, to read slowly, to contemplate this morning’s reading:
(1) Because it gives us an unedited, uneditorialized prayer directly from Jesus to the Father
(2) Because Jesus in His infinite Grace has shown us this seemingly private prayer for our benefit and encouragement
As we begin, we need to clarify one thing; the first verse of our reading this morning, John 17: 6 is actually not the beginning of the prayer.
In verses 1-5 (which take place before our reading) Jesus pleads with God to “glorify Him,” to complete in Him the work of salvation that is to take place on the cross in order for Him to save the world through his sacrifice.
Then, in verses 6-8 Jesus gives reasons to God the Father for why the time is now right to complete His act of salvation:
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
At the point we come into the prayer this morning, Jesus is giving the case for why the time has come for Him to be glorified:
‘Father, I have made your name known to those you entrusted to me.’
‘Because of this, they now know everything you have given me (the miracles, the healing, the wisdom, the prophecy) all of these things are from you.’
Take notice of something important happening here:
Jesus is giving credit to God the Father for all that is about to take place when He (Jesus) goes to the cross to redeem the world.
But isn’t this a little bit strange?
If Jesus is God’s Son, if Jesus the Christ is the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, why does He have to give (or even share) credit for anything?!
If Christ is God, or at least one of the three persons of the Triune God, why does He point to and honour the Father?
The simple truth, the simple answer here is just this: because that’s how the Trinity works.
Oftentimes, when Christians or pastors find themselves trying to explain the logic of the Trinity; the reality whereby God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three and yet one, one and yet three, there comes a time (sadly) when we will throw up our hands and give up on explaining:
‘Look, it’s a mystery OK?’
‘God is mysterious, the trinity is mysterious, just take it on faith’
Friends, if I may offer a little gentle instruction this morning: don’t do that.
The Trinity is mysterious, the Trinity does draw us into faith and requires us to use our faith to gain understanding, but the Trinity is not something God wants us to give up on. Not something He wants us to just blindly accept.
Where’s my proof?
Right here: Jesus Christ, who is in conversation with God the Father CHOOSES to show us the conversation. Jesus Christ chooses for us to know in the Scripture written and illuminated by the Holy Spirit (there’s person number three, who will arrive at Pentecost next week) an example of the kinds of conversations He has with the Father (!)
How does the Trinity work?
It’s right here! We can see, we can read it working in action in these verses:
It is Jesus Christ, God’s only Son praying to God the Father, speaking to the Father, beseeching God the Father FOR US (!) All for no other reason than that Jesus Christ wants us to know what His relationship with the Father is like!
So what is this relationship, this Trinitarian relationship like?
It is the three persons of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sharing in glory with one another.
It is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, giving space to one another, giving credit, sharing in this beautiful relationship whereby God’s nature is revealed in the acts of humility and sharing themselves.
Let me say that again: “God’s nature is revealed in the very acts of humility and sharing…”
Friends, we know (or have at least heard or sung) that “God is Love” but what does this mean? It means (in part) God Himself is a loving arrangement of three persons behaving lovingly toward one another.
One description of the Trinity I really like is that it is similar to a graceful dance between three persons; a dance where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give room to one another, gracefully support one another; there is no bumping-into, no competing, just grace and humility and love.
And it is these same things: grace, humility, and love that are carried forward by Jesus in the next section of His prayer.
9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
‘So that they may be one, as we are one.’
Let’s pause here and just remember what is happening:
Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of all of humanity is in the middle of a prayer, a conversation with His Father in Heaven and in order to summarize why He wants God to send Him to the cross to die for humanity He says:
‘So that they may be one, as we are one.’
Who is Jesus Christ?
Who is Jesus Christ except grace, humility, and love itself?
Friends, it is one thing to proclaim in an off-hand way that humanity is one.
It is one thing to say things like:
‘Look, we’re all basically the same’
‘People are people, there aren’t really any differences between us’
It is one thing to say these things but it is quite another to sacrifice your very life in order that this would be not just right but also true.
So that this would be not just right but also true.
Friends, it is right to say we (that is, humanity) are one, it is right to say there are no real differences between me and you and everyone else, but is it true? Is it true in reality, in the streets?
Is it true that we all have the same burdens to carry?
That none carry heavier packs than others?
That none are born with fewer opportunities and with less dignity simply because of the colour of their skin, or the language they will speak, or their sex?
If we look at the world in purely human terms, in the terms of the world around us, what is the answer?
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“So, life’s not fair? It’s not my fault”
Friends, it may not be our fault, but what (if anything) are we going to do about it?
Well, if your name is Jesus of Nazareth, this is what you would do: you would be betrayed by your best friends, you would be tortured and ridiculed, you would die the most painful and humiliating death ever imagined all in order to make it true.
If you were Jesus of Nazareth, if you were God’s Only Begotten Son, you would cast yourself on the cross and die there in order to make it true that we are truly one; not in some off-hand way, not in some way that looks nice on a bumper sticker, but in a way that changes the very relationship between God and humanity.
At verse 11 Jesus lays it out:
I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
I am coming to you.
I am about to be killed and lifted high on the cross, I am on my way there, I am coming to you
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
After I die I will not be there to look after them; the disciples, my followers, those I love so very much, look after them for me will you? Send your Holy Spirit to guide them Protect them in your name so that they may be one, as we are one.
Here is a such a great example of the two reasons we started out with of why we should read Jesus’ words so closely:
(1) The behind-the-scenes look: Here Jesus Christ is asking His father to look after His people, His followers after He has died to save them.
(2) He does this for our benefit:
By showing us this prayer, by showing us His reasoning, that we may be one as He and the Father are one, He is giving us a MASSIVE benefit.
How are we supposed to treat each other?
How are we supposed to make the idea that “all are one” not just right but true?
By paying attention to what makes the Son and Father ONE; by paying attention to that Trinity, that dance where each moves with grace and humility and love for one another, where each gives space and credit to the other, where each acts, not out of their own interests or their own needs but out of love for the OTHER.
How do we move “we are all one” from the bumper sticker to the streets?
How do we make it true that “not one of us will be lost…” (isolated) from the love of God?
By loving our God and our neighbour, by giving of ourselves for them, by sacrificing for them as Christ taught us, by focusing not on what we want but on what they need.
For all of human history we have been dreaming up utopias, perfect situations, perfect arrangements where the needs of all are met, where everything is equal and fair, where no one is left out, and all have failed.
Why? Because we have tried to do it ourselves; we have fought against God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as He has tried to make us one because we would rather have the credit of creating perfection than receive it as a gift.
We have not learned grace, we have not learned humility, we have not learned love, because what we need to learn these things is the lesson that they do not come from us, they come from our Father in Heaven, His Son, and His Spirit, all who will us to be one even when we do not.
Moving to verse 13…
13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
What does Christ want for us? To have His joy (the joy of GOD) made complete in ourselves…
‘Father, I have given them your word, and the world hated them for it… I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but to protect them from the evil one’
Friends, when we picture the world (the social world, the political world, the physical world) and our place in it, things tend to get very complicated very quickly:
As Christians should we be political or apolitical?
How involved in the economy should we be?
How attached to material possessions is too attached?
Are we supposed to take action for the environment or pray to God to heal it?
But what does Jesus say, on our behalf?
‘Do not take them out of the world but protect them from the evil one’
The next time you have a chance to look at an old map of the world or an old globe, I invite you to do something: notice how much it has changed; notice the countries that no longer exist, notice the names that have changed, notice the cities that were once prominent (the ones with big stars next to their names on those old maps) that you have never even heard of, and think about everything that has taken place between when it was drawn and now to change it so much; all the war, all the politics, all of the changes.
But also do this: look at the oceans look at the wilderness areas and see if you can find any foreboding warnings, some old maps will include something like “Thar be Dragons”
…Thar be Dragons; these old map writers, they had no idea what was in the wilderness of Siberia or in the North Atlantic Ocean, but rather than encourage someone to go there to find out they issued a warning “Thar be Dragons”.
Friends, while we have yet to find literal dragons in those old uncharted places, we have found something else; that there really are dragons out there.
Dragons of sin, dragons of evil, dragons of war, dragons of death and disease; dragons we don’t understand, dragons that scare the living daylights out of us, dragons that require just as much warning as the old map-makers intended.
As human beings where is our hope? As people hurling through space on our little blue dot, seemingly unable to slay the dragons around us what do we do?
What do we do as Christians? As followers of Jesus Christ?
Do we hope simply to be taken away from this complicated and broken world? For God to reach down and grab us so that we don’t have to worry about the dragons anymore?
Not according to Jesus.
No, according to Jesus Christ, our hope is not avoidance, not rescue but protection, sanctification.
‘Father protect them from the evil one’
‘Sanctify them in your truth, your word is truth’
“Your Word is truth”
I invite you to think about that as you hear about all the dragons around the world this week.
As our reading concludes this morning, as Jesus, God’s Only Son concludes His prayer and His conversation He has had with God the Father for our benefit, He gives these final lines:
18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Friends, the Good News this morning is deep, it is challenging, it is dense, but it is also meant to be encouraging:
Jesus Christ, our Saviour, when He was about to die for our sake, for our salvation, He went to His Father, and giving Him praise and glory, He prayed to the Father on our behalf.
That we might understand Him and His Words
That we might understand their relationship better and emulate it in our own relationships
That we might understand what truth truly means
And so that as we tread this world, the world to which we do not belong, we would receive protection
But why was this protection so important?
Why did Jesus go through the trouble of praying to the Father, of giving up His life voluntarily on the cross, of praying for the Holy Spirit to be upon His followers?
So that we would receive protection.
Why does it matter so much that we be protected in this world?
Because that is where He sends us to go.
That is where Jesus sends us to go.
To take up our cross and follow Him.
To follow His grace, His humility, His love, His mercy.
To follow His hoping and His praying.
To follow His knowing and being known by God the Father in Heaven.
That sanctifying us, equipping us with God’s Word, God’s Truth, and God’s protection we would go forth in our mission, to practice Grace and Mercy, to be Humble, to Love God and neighbour.
And so that we may go where Christ went.
Into the heart of a broken world.
Into the belly of the dragon, so that we would not just call ourselves His followers, but so that we would be protected to follow Him where He leads.