Real security - John 17:6-19
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the films that did well at the Oscars a few weeks ago is the film Master and Commander. The film stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, and is set at sea during the Napoleonic Wars. Russell Crowe plays the captain of a small British frigate called the HMS Surprise, and her task is to try and intercept a much larger and more powerful French ship called the Acheron. And the whole film is about the incredible chase that ensues between these two ships around the coast of South America. Life at sea is portrayed as a grim struggle for survival, as crew members are lost overboard, huge storms batter the frail ships and rations and courage are stretched to the limit. There are times when the officers and those closest to the captain ask if it is all worth it. There are times when it seems as if everything will be lost. And all along the question which the crew and the audience are asking themselves is this: Will the ship make it to the end of her mission? Will she keep going despite the huge odds against her?
Well when it comes to thinking about the Christian faith, and our own Christian lives, then I'd be very surprised if all of us at some point are not tempted to ask "Will I make it to the end? Will I fulfil the mission God has given me?" Because often the Christian life feels like a voyage at sea. It feels as if our little ship of faith is being buffeted by some pretty big storms. Sometimes we feel as if huge waves of difficulty are breaking over us; sometimes it feels as if the boat is being swamped. It may be great stress at work or at college or school. It may be big problems at home or with the wider family; it may be personal relationships in difficulty; it may be the daily struggle we face to be a faithful Christian in our workplace. Whatever the pressures are, there are times when each one of us is tempted to ask "Will I make it to the end? Just how can I keep going?"
Well if you've ever asked yourself that question, then you'll know something of how the disciples were feeling as we come to our passage for this evening which is in John 17. Jesus is with his disciples. It is Thursday evening and in just a few hours he will be handed over to the authorities and that will be the last the disciples see of him before he dies on a cross on Friday morning. And Jesus has been explaining to his disciples over a last supper that shortly he will be leaving them after three years of ministry and close friendship together. And not surprisingly the disciples are rattled. In a few hours time, the little ship of the disciples' faith is going to be plunged into the darkest and most severe storm that they will ever have to face as their master and friend Jesus is crucified. And whilst they don't quite yet see all that will happen, yet they are deeply disturbed by all Jesus' talk of leaving and they are asking the obvious question: "How will we survive? How will we keep going?"
And it's at this point in the evening that Jesus prays for his disciples, a prayer that is recorded for us in John 17. For in this chapter Jesus prays for himself, his disciples and for all those who will believe in Jesus, and he prays specifically about the very concerns that are facing the disciples. And he makes it clear in verse 13 that he is praying for his disciples so that they will be filled with joy. He wants them to be rejoicing and not mournful as he leaves them. Now we began to look at this prayer last week, where we saw that Jesus prays that God would give Jesus the glory he deserves and that is rightfully his as he goes to the cross, rises again and then ascends to be with his Father again. But now in our passage for this evening, verses 6-19, he turns his attention to his disciples, and prays for them. And what Jesus prays for them is not that they might have an easy life, but that God would keep them and help them until they fulfil their mission. In short he is specifically addressing the very fears and concerns that the disciples have after Jesus has gone. The fact is that God will not leave them alone. They will be strengthened for the task that God has given them. And whilst Jesus is praying specifically here for his immediate disciples, yet there are three lessons which we can apply to ourselves from this passage, three wonderful encouragements and challenges for us as we seek to live for Jesus in a hostile world, as we seek to be Jesus' disciples in this world. For the Christian is
1) Rescued from the World (Vv 6-10)
2) Protected in the World (Vv 11-16)
3) Sent out for the World (Vv 17-19)
And what is striking, as we will see, is that the key to each of these three things, our rescue, our protection and our being sent is the word of God. For it is through the word of God that we are saved, by the word of God that are protected, and with the word of God that we are sent.
1) Rescued from the World (Vv 6-10)
So first then, Jesus teaches his disciples and us that we are rescued from the world. Jesus prays to his Father and says in verse 6: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word." Now we need to be clear first and foremost what Jesus means by the world. The world, in John's gospel, means not planet earth with all it's beauty and splendour that God made. Rather the world means everything and everyone that is opposed to God. It is human beings in opposition to God seeking to run their lives without reference to the God who made us. And as such this world is heading for disaster. It's heading for judgement by God for rejecting God. And each of us are natural members of that world order. But the remarkable news is that for all the world's sin and evil against God, yet John tells us that God so loved this mucked up rebellious world that he sent his One and only Son Jesus Christ to die so that we might not face judgement and eternal separation from God but that we might know God personally and be right with him and enjoy life with him forever. So that means there are only two types of person on this planet. There are those who belong to the world, in other words those living in opposition to God; and there are those who belong to God, whom God has rescued and brought out of the world, spiritually speaking. And time and again in John's gospel, Jesus makes that clear. There is no third way. You are either against God, or for him. And our standing, as we will see, turns on what we make of Jesus Christ.
Now it's worth us pausing there, because often the temptation is to think that life is not like that. You might find it extremely harsh of Jesus to say there are only two categories in the human race. The world's people or God's people. But when it comes to our standing before God, Jesus is black and white. You are either with him or against him. Elsewhere he says that "whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Jesus says that you either accept him and his rescue or you don't and how you respond determines your eternal destiny. There are only two ways to live. With or without God in Jesus Christ.
And such sharp distinctions are actually quite common in daily life. Just this last week I have been speaking to a group of students in the Lake District. And one of the biggest mountains in the Lakes is a mountain called Helvellyn. And as you climb Helvellyn from one side you have to walk along a very narrow path with extremely steep sides down both sides, called Striding Edge. And along this path there are various signposts warning you about the severe drop if you stray from the path. You see on Striding Edge there are two paths you can follow. The one leads to disaster. The other leads to the top and safety. And if you decided to ignore the warnings and not go on the path marked the right way, then you alone are responsible for the consequences. And Jesus says there is a division in humanity. The world and those who belong to God. But as he prays he shows his disciples that they have been rescued from the world, from life without God and life heading for judgement. So how has that happened?
a) By God's Initiative- Well first he says it has happened by God's initiative. Verse 6: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word." And again in verse 9: "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours." Now Jesus is saying something here which is quite staggering. He is saying that we are actually a love gift of God the Father to his Son Jesus. Jesus says that God gave Jesus his people. Christians are God's people which he has entrusted to his Son. I wonder if it has ever struck you that you are actually God's gift to Jesus. Now often you meet young men who think they are God's gift to women, or sometimes a vicar who thinks he's God's gift to the church, present company excepted of course! But has it ever struck you that if you are a Christian who trusts in Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you are God's gift to his Son. That's what Jesus says quite clearly, that we disciples of Jesus are God's. "I am not praying for the world, says Jesus, but for those you have given me. For they are yours." His prayer for his disciples springs from the fact that they are first and foremost God's. And they are God's people whom God has lovingly taken the initiative to rescue. Do you see what Jesus says in verse 6? God has taken his people out of the world. In his love he has taken the initiative to rescue them from a future without God. He's given them a new life and a new hope. Salvation, you see, is God's loving initiative.
So when you and I do go through times of great pressure and difficulty, when it does seem as if our little ship of faith is being swamped by so many pressures all around us, what truth could possibly strengthen and stabilise us more than the knowledge that God takes the initiative in salvation and that he loves us so much. To think you are unloved is one of the most debilitating things a human being can suffer. When Princess Diana gave her very candid Panorama interview back in November 1995, she said: "The greatest disease of all is the disease of being unloved." They were sad and tragic words. But the Christian knows that there is one who loves us far more deeply and passionately than we can ever imagine. God has set his special love upon his people. They were yours, says Jesus to his Father. I wonder if you realise just how much it is that God loves you. According to Jesus, if you are a Christian, then you are God's. You belong to him, and nothing can separate you from his love. And he went to the most extraordinary lengths to bring you back, by allowing his only Son to be sent into the world to die on a gruesome cross for you. Can you really doubt God's love for you? This is how this hymn writer puts it: "O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free; rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of they love; leading onward, leading homeward, to my glorious rest above." And it's all because God took the initiative in rescuing you from the world.
b) Through the Word of God- But Jesus also teaches us that God rescued us from the world by God's initiative through the word of God. Verse 6: "You gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me." How can you be rescued from the world heading for the judgement of God? Well God takes the initiative to rescue us but he does it through his Word about Jesus. See how Jesus describes these disciples. They have obeyed God's word in verse 6. They accepted the word in verse 7. They believed that God sent Jesus in verse 8. The key is to accept the message about Jesus the word of God. They have moved from being members of the world to being a member of the people of God by trusting the word of God, trusting the message of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. That's how you receive the rescue. And that is why the gospel, the good news about Jesus must be central in all we do here at St. John's. Because that is the way God rescues people. He does it through his word about Jesus, the gospel. So let us never be deflected from that basic commitment to teach and preach the gospel, because nothing could be more important than that. So that's the first thing that Jesus reminds his disciples of in this section of his prayer. That we are rescued from the world, by God's loving initiative, through the word of God about Jesus.
2) Protected in the World (Vv 11-16)
Secondly Jesus teaches that we are protected in the world in verses 11-16, and this is what Jesus specifically prays for his disciples. Verse 15: "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." Now notice first of all that Jesus says that he does not take his disciples out of the world. Verse 11, though Jesus is going to be with his Father, yet his disciples are still in the world. We may be rescued from the world opposed to God in its rebellion and sin, but that does not mean that we are cocooned in some holy huddle totally removed from a desperately needy world around us, who need to hear the gospel. And some Christians in the past have made that mistake. They have removed themselves from the world around them in order to stop themselves from being polluted by the world. Last year when we were on holiday, we visited a monastery which was famous for a monk who lived in the Middle Ages. And this monk, who was the head of the monastery believed it was right for him to withdraw totally from the world around him, so he lived for forty years in a cave separate from his community. He had everything he needed in the cave, which he chiselled out with his bare hands, including a table, chair and bed made out of the rock. But things got so stressful for him because he used to have one or two disciples come and visit him during the day that he built another chamber in the roof of the cave, again chiselled out with his bare hands, which could only be reached by a retractable ladder. He withdrew totally from the world around him. Now I'm not saying that he didn't do lots of good things, but Jesus is saying that that is not the norm for the disciple. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, he says. No the Christian is to be rubbing shoulders with non Christians in the world around us. That is where we are to be. If it wasn't, then surely Jesus would just zap us straight to heaven when we become Christians. No, although we do not being to the world, although our citizenship is in heaven, yet we are in the midst of a world in rebellion against God. So Jesus prays for protection for us in the world.
a) Why do we need protecting? So why do we need protecting? Well quite simply because we face hostility from the world and the devil. Verse 14: "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one." Jesus says that we have two big enemies. First is the world around us. The Christian message and the Christian who carries it is hated, says Jesus. It's what happened to Jesus, and the NT makes clear is happens to the Christian as well. Now if you don't believe that, then all you need to do is take a read of the Christian press and you will find that the world hates Christians. This month's Evangelical Now makes sobering reading. Here are a few of the headlines: "India: Christian women attacked." Indonesia: Reform church attacked." Nigeria: Christian school head teacher's home burned down." China: Christian leaders arrested." "Belarus: Pastors fined." Of course, we might say that this is a long way from us. But it's not. I was speaking with the head of a large missionary organisation this week. He'd recently spent time in Burma, Nigeria, Uganda, and South America. Many of those places are facing persecution. But then he said: "You know the thing that most worries me is that my son here in England is facing far more persecution at school for being a Christian that I could ever have dreamed of." The world hates Christians who stand for Biblical truth, and if you take stand at work, in your family or in college for the truth of the gospel, you will not be popular. It's a fact, and Jesus knew it. So we need protecting, says Jesus. And it's not just the world where we receive trouble from. It's also the devil. Verse 15: "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one." You see behind the world's antagonism stands the devil himself, who is deeply opposed to God's purposes and God's people. Yes he is defeated through the cross, but in his death throes he can be dangerous. He's like a prowling lion, according to the apostle Peter, and we need protection. Jesus is under no illusion that his disciples do need protection as they serve him in the world.
b) How are we protected? So how are we protected then? Verse 11: "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." So Jesus prays that his disciples would be protected by the power of God's name, the name God gave to Jesus. What does Jesus mean? Well in the Bible, people's names reveal people's characters. Jacob meant deceiver, which is exactly what he was. Abraham means the father of many nations, which is exactly what he was. Of course it's not the same for us. Nathan means gift. I'd agree with that, but you may not. When missionaries first came to Papua New Guinea the tribes people named their children after words the missionaries said. So there were little boys and girls running around the village with bizarre names like Tinned Fish and Second Gear. But when it comes to God's name, God's name reveals his character. When God revealed his name to Moses he said that his name was I am. It showed that God was the eternal one, the unchanging one. So when Jesus says here that God will protect us by the power of his name, he means not some mystical aura that will surround us, but rather the power associated with his character, the very character that has been fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ, as Jesus says in verse 6. I have revealed you, or literally your name. So Jesus has revealed the very character of God. So how will we be protected? By the revelation of the truth of God in Jesus. In other words we're back to the word of God aren't we? It's God's word that will keep us. His character revealed in the gospel. The fact is that God has promised to keep us and he will keep us in true revelation of himself in Jesus. He will keep us in the truth about God. He'll guard us spiritually from falling from him. Of course it's not just let go and let God. No the Bible makes it clear that we need to keep ourselves rooted in the word of God, the revelation of God's character or his name. But here Jesus prays that God would protect us by the his name, his goodness as revealed in Jesus Christ. In short we are protected by the word of God, because it is in God's word that we meet the full revelation of God's character and by the word of God that God keeps us.
And again that is something we need to remember when we are going through tough times. When we are facing persecution, we are under huge pressure maybe from temptation or stress or doubt, whatever waves are crashing over our boat of faith, we can be assured that God will keep us as we trust in him. Why? Because Jesus has prayed for it and he has not lost one. Do you notice that in verse 12. Not one has been lost. Yes there was Judas, but he showed by his action that he was not one of God's people. It's not that we will always be saved from suffering and attack. Being a Christian will not mean we are kept in a bubble safe from all harm. No, we're in the world. But God will keep us. He will never let us go. He will protect us and keep us in his love. And we need to keep trusting in his word, where we have been shown his character and works, ultimately in Jesus. It may be that you are feeling totally overwhelmed at the moment, feeling like you are on the very edge, that your little ship is about to sink. Don't be discouraged and don't be down hearted. For if you are a Christian trusting in Jesus, then Jesus prays that God will protect you by the word of God, his name. And he will do it. We're protected in the world.
3) Sent out for the World (Vv 17-19)
But finally and very briefly, we are sent out for the world. See what Jesus says in verse 17: "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the
world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may
be truly sanctified." Now the word sanctify means to declare holy or to set something apart. When I was a child, we would have a whole set of crockery and cutlery and glasses and table clothes which my mother would use for very special guests. Such guests were very rare because the crockery was very expensive. So only the Queen and prospective wives would be able to treated to such finery. And we could have said that the crockery and all the rest was sanctified for that purpose. It was set apart for a purpose. And Jesus is saying that he has set apart his people for a purpose. He prays to God to sanctify them by the truth, that is the word of God. We are declared holy and washed clean by God through the word, and the truth of the gospel. Once again it is by the word of God that we are saved. And yet holiness is not just about moral purity. It is also about purpose. We have been entrusted with a task to do as God's holy people. We are set apart for his purposes. And what are those purposes? Verse 18: It is to be sent into the world. God has rescued us from the world in order to be sent back into the world with the word of God, the truth of the gospel all about Jesus. That was the very reason that Jesus came into the word. He set himself apart so that he could save us. That's what he means when he says that he sanctified himself. He didn't need to be cleaned up and declared holy. No he was perfect. Rather he set himself apart so that he could sanctify us, make us clean and set us apart. And the reason? To send us into the world, just he was sent into the world to rescue us.
You see Jesus is saying that his disciples are not meant to be little ships which stay in the harbour all the time. Yes it's much safer, but that is not what ships were made for. They were made to set sail and to serve on the high seas. And if you are a Christian trusting in the death of Christ, then you were set apart for a purpose by the word of God, the gospel of truth. You have been set apart to go into the world with the word of God. So are you up for the challenge? It's not an option for the keenies. It's what we're sanctified for! And it's what Jesus is praying for his disciples. And if you delight to be rescued from the world, and if you delight to know that you are protected in the world, then you should also be delighting in the fact that you are sent with a message for the world. Because that is what Jesus prays for on behalf of his disciples.
Now I have no doubts that sometimes every person in this building feels like a ship in peril from stormy seas and heavy storms. But Jesus knew exactly what he was sending his disciples into. And he knew what to pray for. So will you hear Jesus words again tonight and take the encouragements and take up the challenge courageously. For he's told us that we are rescued from the world through the word of God. We are protected in the world by the word of God. And we are sent out for the world with the word of God. May God give us strength to be the kind of people he longs for us to be!
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