This morning we conclude Luke’s gospel.
We Are Still Here
There are prayers that don’t sound like prayers. What we are used to in prayers is that we ask our Triune God for something and then he gives us what we ask for. But sometimes the best prayers are just simply statements of fact. They are statements of fact since God knows the solution better than we do. Sometimes the best approach to take is simply to tell our Father in heaven the problem and ask him to come up with the solution. But then, on the other hand, we run into prayers like this one that Jesus speaks here in John 17. Jesus starts out with the problem and then very quickly moves into the solution. He says, “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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:11–13 NIV)
Notice how our Savior speaks to his Father. He brings up the problem. He is going to his Father. But his disciples are still here. And so, first of all, he prays that they would have the same joy as he has. Jesus speaks these words on Holy Thursday. He speaks these words minutes before Judas betrays him and hours before he dies on the cross. And yet he has such joy in his heart. He has such joy in his heart because he knows that by the end of the next day he will have won salvation for the world and he will be with his Father.
The disciples should have been filled with joy over both these facts. But they weren’t. They weren’t because they were still in the world. And my dear friends in Christ, isn’t it the same for us? We are robbed of the joy of lifting our eyes up to heaven because we are still in the world. And since we are still in the world we are worn down by worry. And we are weighed down by work.
And where this can lead to is apathy and exhaustion. We just simply want to give up. Because we are still in this world the work and worry of this life keep us from looking to our promised heavenly prize. It reminds me of when I exercise. I go to the gym and get on that treadmill and run. And while I’m running and my lungs feel like exploding, what am I saying to myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I enduring this?” But I know why I’m there. Because when I run that race, I’ll forget about the pain of running the race because I’ll be at the finish line. It’s like the painter who is working on a roof in the heat of the summer day. And at noon he says to himself, “I should have chosen a different job. This is crazy.” But when the sun goes down he can see the beauty of what he accomplished and he forgets his misery during the day.
Spiritually speaking that’s where it is easy for us to arrive at. Because we are still in this world we can forget our heavenly goal. And our Savior deals with this sin by reminding us once again of both what he did to save us and what that brings us. He died on the cross and took away the times being in the world washes away the promise of heaven. And through his word he lifts our eyes up to our heavenly goal yet again.
And so we are still here. And Jesus prays for us that we would share in his own joy. But also prays another prayer. “15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15–16 NIV)
When you think about what Jesus says here, this is a truly strange and shocking prayer. If you had a child and that child was just about to stick their hand into the garbage disposal or into a light socket, wouldn’t you do whatever you could to get that child away from there? Yet that’s not what our Savior prays for here. He bluntly tells us that he’s not praying that his Father would take us out of the world.
Now think about that for a minute. Please ponder that prayer for a minute and for the rest of your life. Jesus is not praying that you would be taken out of the world while you are still living in the world. This is where monks and monasteries go completely against Jesus’ prayer. We cannot build some sort of Christian utopia away from the world. And our Father will not give us a short-cut out of this world into the next. No, he keeps us here.
And when you think about this, even for a moment, you realize how much of a problem this can be. Because, one by one, God takes people out of darkness into his wonderful light by giving them the gift of faith in him. But when this happens sin isn’t eradicated in them. They still have a sinful nature. And, to make matters worse, when they become Christians, the people in their lives are still sinners too. And so, in a very real way, even though we are Christians, we are surrounded by sinners all throughout our life.
Now remember this. Remember this when that person comes to you, saying that if God allowed polygamy in the past he should let gay and lesbian people get married now. Remember this fact. Take for example Jacob. Jacob had a wonderful example of what marriage should be. He had one mom and one dad. But when he got married his father-in-law lied to him. And because of Laban he faced this horrible situation where he had two evils in front of him. On the one hand he could go with polygamy, which was against the example he grew up with his parents and against what God explained in his word. Or he could go with one woman and leave the other. This carried with it consequences. The woman he did not marry would be damaged goods. No man would marry her or even date her. And, knowing Laban, he might even kick her out of his family and let her starve.
It was not a choice between good and good. It was a choice, seemingly, between bad and bad. So what did Jacob do? He endured the polygamy. He endured the polygamy so that one of those women wouldn’t be put to shame and starve. And he endured polygamy because at least it kept intact the mail and female pairing of marriage.
That’s what it looks like to be still in the world. As Jesus tells us, the evil one is in the world. And the world hates us. So it should not surprise us that if we are in the world, sometimes the only choices we have are between bad and bad. And we know this is wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And all sin is equally bad in God’s eyes.
If we are still in the world as Jesus prays for us to be, then what is the answer to the prayer? Jesus tells his Father, “17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:17–19 NIV)
Sanctify them by the truth. We need to look at that word, “sanctify.” Sanctify here does not mean to become more and more like God and have less and less sin. You will sin until your last day and you will sin on your last day. Jesus asks his Father to sanctify us through the truth. With this we learn an important lesson. God’s word is both true and powerful. And I don’t usually make a list like this. But this morning please stay with me as we walk through three implications of the fact that God’s word is true and powerful. First, Because God’s word is true and powerful, we can actually know what is right and what is wrong. Unbelievers don’t have that confidence. They have what their parents and teachers taught them. But they don’t have the truth of God’s word. We do. Second, Because God’s word is true and powerful we can say “no” to sin. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of you. And we are not powerless when it comes to sin. You can say, “no.” Third, Because God’s word is powerful, through it our sins are forgiven. Through God’s word the salvation that Jesus won for you is given to you. This is so vital and important to know. For there will be those times when we sin either by picking one of two evils or by being dragged into them by others like Jacob was. We repent of those sins. And our Father forgives us and sanctifies us.
We are still in the world. It’s not the end of the day yet. It’s not the end of the race. So my prayer for you is that Jesus prayer would continually be yours. Remind your Father in heaven that we are still in the world. Continue to ask him that Jesus’ joy of being in heaven with you would be your joy. Continue to ask him to sanctify you by the truth. Amen.