John 17:6-19  (Safe, Sanctified and Sent) - Sermon

John 17:6-19  (Safe, Sanctified and Sent) 

The words of Jesus’ prayer from today’s reading are convoluted; they swirl around and repeat, like a piece of patterned tapestry.  Its main thrust is Jesus asking God to keep safe those to whom he’s made God known.  Jesus is painfully aware that he’ll soon be put to death and he doesn’t want those associated with him to share the same fate.  

In his prayer Jesus explains that now they know God’s ‘name’ the world ‘hates’ them ‘because they do not belong to the world’ - they have received him and believe he’s been sent by God and are obedient to God’s word. 

Remember in John’s Gospel ‘The Word of God’ has a two-fold meaning – it’s a way of describing Jesus -  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ and it also refers to the Holy Scriptures.  

The term ‘world’ is also used in this passage in a particular way.  It stands for everything that’s been distorted by sin; it means those people and forces who are opposed or indifferent to the things of God.  

Jesus says God gave him his disciples from this distorted ‘world’ and that though they’re still in it they no longer ‘belong’ to it.  However it’s to this same world that Jesus sends his disciples at the end of today’s passage.  

This ties in perfectly with this Gospel’s most famous verse ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)  It’s for this broken but beloved world that Jesus came to die, and which he has trained his disciples to witness and minister to.   

The divine love is displayed on a very human scale in today’s passage.  We’ve probably all seen something similar in people close to death: their anxiety is focussed on their spouse, children or even the dog that they’ll leave behind, rather than their own fate.  Here Jesus displays just this same kind of loving concern – but he also shows us what to do with it.  He places the care of the disciples securely in God’s hands and trusts Him for their safety : ‘…protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one…’  

Jesus wants them to be protected ‘so that’ they’ll have the opportunity to experience the unity that he shares with his Father.  I’m guessing Jesus is looking forward to the disciples receiving the gift of his Holy Spirit, which will enable them to work together in unity, and to be more effective in spreading God’s message of love to the world.

I also like the idea of them being protected in ‘God’s name’ – perhaps because later I’ll be baptising Eva Grace and Kym – ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (in a service at Daglingworth). 

God’s “name” stands for all that God is and all that God has done (including the life, death and resurrection of Jesus). So when I pray this over the Baptism candidates I’m asking that their life will be sustained by all that God has done and that they’ll be protected and guarded by Him.

If you’ve been Baptised these words would have been said over you too.  I hope this gives you confidence!

Jesus also prays: ‘I am not asking you to take them out of this world, but I ask you  to protect them from the evil one.’   Similarly in the Baptism service we pray that each candidate will ‘fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil’ and that God will deliver each candidate ‘from the powers of darkness and restore’ in each ‘the image of his Glory.’  

And just as the disciples are sent into the world, at the end of the Baptism service we send the candidates out with a candle whilst we say:

‘You have received the light of Christ, walk in this light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world to the Glory of God the Father.’  So in Baptism we are each commissioned to this life-long task – to shine to the Glory of God the Father.  The world desperately needs shiny people right now!

But how do we become shiny?  Well I believe it’s by being sanctified  - which is another thing that Jesus asks for for his followers: ‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.’

The Greek word translated ‘sanctify’ means ‘to make holy.’ In one sense only God can ever be completely holy, however God also calls us to be holy.  This process begins by us accepting through faith Christ's work on the cross.  The book of Hebrews explains how Jesus suffered ‘in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.’   (Heb. 13:12)  His substitutionary atonement reverses all effects of sin. However there’s also a continuing aspect to sanctification which happens gradually in the Christian through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus asks that God would   "Sanctify (his followers) … by the truth"  (v17). Earlier that evening Jesus has said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who will guide his followers ‘into all truth’.  (John 16:13) 

So although this process is dependent on the Holy Spirit it’s not a passive one -  we’re encouraged to pursue holiness.  So what might help?

Obviously reading scripture will help as will a regular prayer life.  Belonging to a Church also gives us a context in which to serve and minister to others.

Also making the effort to respond righteously in all of the circumstances that life throws at us will help in this sanctification process – especially if we remember that God will ‘not allow us to be tested beyond our strength’ (1 Cor 10:13) and that he disciplines us for our own good so that we may "share in his holiness" (Heb 12:10). 

Baptism signifies a washing away of sin, and the death of the old worldly self and the birth of a new self for those new to faith.  Sadly however Baptism doesn’t immediately change the way we think and behave.  So it usually marks the beginning of a journey of repentance where we gradually identify and forsake behaviours and attitudes that don’t line up with God.  Sanctification is about us gradually addressing  sinful habits, whilst acknowledging that this process will never be complete in this life.  In the first letter of John it says:   ‘If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.’  (1 John 1:8-10)  

So sanctification is about letting go of sinful behaviours but it’s also about picking up righteous attitudes and actions – so that gradually we become more Christ-like.  It’s in this transformation that we will bring glory to God, as others will be able to see something of God in us.  St Paul writes about this beautifully: ‘And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.’  (2 Cor 3:18)

So as I draw to a close, on this day when I’m Baptising both an adult and a child – I’d like you to consider you’re own Baptism.   How have you responded to Jesus’ commission of being sent into the world to share the good news of God’s love?
Are you still actively engaged in the ongoing process of sanctification – are you pursuing personal holiness?  And do you rest secure in the knowledge that you are safe and secure ‘in God’s name’.




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