Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | May 14, 2018

Sermon on John 17:11b-19

JESUS IS “GONE,” BUT WE’RE NOT FORGOTTEN

  1. Jesus prays that we are protected from the world
  2. Jesus prays that we are sanctified in the world

Sermon based on John 17:11b-19

Introduction

She wondered how you were doing when you were ten years old and attended your first sleep over party at your best friend’s house. She hoped that you were having a good time at summer camp and that you wouldn’t be coming home early with an unexpected injury or because you were causing trouble. She was concerned about you as you departed for your week-long high school trip to a different part of the country, praying for your safety every night. She prayed even more for you as you drove off to attend college in another state. She cried bittersweet tears for you when you graduated, knowing that you were soon to find your own place and begin your career and life on your own. All these examples and many more could describe many mothers who have genuine love and concern for their children, especially when they were not physically with their children. We all know that just because we are away from mom does not mean that she has forgotten about us or is suddenly unconcerned about us. Mother’s Day makes us think about how much mom loves her children—both when they’re at home, and perhaps even more when her children are gone.

The phrase, “Gone, but not forgotten,” usually describes how we feel about a loved one who has passed away. But I suppose we could use that phrase in another sense to describe how a loving mother feels about her children: There comes a time when they are gone from her home and no longer under her care, but they are never forgotten from her heart.

“Gone, but not forgotten” could also describe Jesus’ thoughts in the Gospel for today. On Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus spoke a prayer to his Father in heaven while he was with his disciples celebrating the Passover, prior to his betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. That prayer has been called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” (That’s the reason we just sang the hymn, “Jesus, My Great High Priest”). Jesus’ prayer looks ahead in time after his Ascension when he would no longer be physically present with his disciples, and he prays to his Father for them with this post-Ascension time frame in mind. Today, on the Sunday after our celebration of Jesus’ Ascension, we take a look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in this same time frame. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then is one that is just as applicable and meaningful to his disciples today. In this prayer, we see that even though Jesus is gone from us physically, he has certainly not forgotten us! He prays that we are protected from the world, and he prays that we are sanctified as we live in the world. 

I.

Jesus’ high priestly prayer covers all of John 17. We hear a section of it every year on this specific Sunday; over the course of three years, we hear the entire prayer. This year our Gospel looks at the middle portion of the prayer. That section of Jesus’ words begins with a prayer for his disciples’ protection after his Ascension: “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.” Mom wants her children to get along and be united, especially on Mother’s Day! Jesus wants his believers to get along and be united, as seen in the words of his prayer. He prayed that his Father would protect his disciples by his name. God’s name always implies his actions and characteristics—all he has done for us and all he is for us. And God is first and foremost our loving and gracious Savior from sin. God teaches us his name and all he has done for us in his Word, and God’s Word is what ultimately makes his believers united together. That’s how they would be protected from the evil onslaughts of this world, and that’s how they would be truly united. Jesus isn’t talking about the modern concept of an outward unity without necessarily agreement in faith. He’s talking about the unity he already gave his disciples, and he prays that the Father’s name and his holy Word will keep them united together in faith as they already were when he spoke this prayer.

Jesus goes on to say, “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.” When you leave home, whether for a night or for a year or for the rest of your life, mom hopes and prays for your protection. As Jesus looked past his visible time on earth, he prays for his disciples’ protection. God’s saving name and knowledge from the Word would protect them from the sinful influences of this world. God’s saving name and knowledge from his Word does the same today. That’s not just our prayer for our new confirmands next Sunday, but that’s Jesus’ prayer for all believers. In fact, he even notes an unfortunate but clear example of what happens when someone doesn’t stay rooted in the Word of God. Jesus’ words refer to his fallen disciple, Judas, who found the wealth of the world to be greater than the wisdom of God’s Word. Our translation might make it sound as if it was Judas’ eternal fate that he was condemned, but Jesus’ is simply referring to the fact that God knew what Judas would do even before he did it. God did not force Judas to betray Jesus or fall into despair afterward, but he knew it and revealed that it would happen in the Old Testament before those events transpired.

Jesus also prays to his Father, “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. 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.” Mom certainly prayed and hoped for you after you left home, especially that you would not be overtaken by the wrong crowd. Jesus prays for his disciples, looking beyond the time that he would be with them visibly, and he acknowledges that they clearly distinct from a “worldly crowd.” In fact, his prayer acknowledges that they were hated by the world with its sinful influences and vices! And so he prays that they are protected from the world. Only the joy of faith in Jesus could help his disciples face post-Ascension life without Jesus!

Does Jesus’ prayer help us to realize how difficult it is to be in the world but not a part of the world? University students can be easily tempted to abandon their faith at the first sign of ridicule from a roommate or classmates. Christians in the secular workforce can receive raised eyebrows and suspicious stares for claiming to believe biblical truths that were once held by a far greater percentage of Christians than those that do now. Families can put on the Sunday morning façade for worship and then degenerate back into backbiting and bitterness that would make our neighbors blush with embarrassment. And if I have not described a way that your sinful nature flirts with the world and strives to be like the world, it wouldn’t take too many more examples before all of us raise our hands and confess, “Guilty!” It is all too easy and it happens all too often that our sinful nature wins the day and we strive to identify with the world instead of asking for Jesus’ to fulfill his prayer and protect us from the world. Jesus prays that we are protected from the world, and all too easily we say, “No thanks! I need to be one with the world!” But the sinful world in which we live is literally going to hell! Is that the association we want? Is that the identification we want? And what would that identity say about our eternal future?

II.

If you knew that a certain person or place was a bad influence, what would be the best thing to do? Stay away! The person who struggles with drunkenness probably shouldn’t be hanging out at the bar. The person who struggles with gambling probably shouldn’t be hanging out at the casino. Since each one of us has a sinful nature that struggles with sin and temptation, you would think Jesus would pray that God the Father would rapture us out of this world before too much time elapses! Instead, he prays this remarkable prayer: “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. 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.”

Jesus does not pray that his disciples are removed from this world. It would be kind of difficult to carry out his Great Commission if they weren’t in the world! But that work opposes Satan and the sinful tendencies and desires so prevalent in the world. So Jesus prays to his Father that his followers receive the divine support and protection they need.

DSCN3915He also prays about something that might not be clear to us at first: He prays that they are sanctified. Sometimes we give a simple definition of the word sanctify: “to make holy.” And that’s a fine definition. But it helps us to remember that “holy” can mean “without sin,” but it can also mean something that is “set apart” for God’s purposes. Someone might call a church building a “holy place.” That doesn’t mean that no sinners are allowed inside—otherwise we’re all in trouble! It means that this is a place that is set apart for the purpose of worshiping God and being fed by his Word and Sacrament. If you want a secular gathering (which is perfectly good and fine!), go across the street to the Town Hall! But this church is a sacred place. It is sanctified, or separate from any secular purpose.

Jesus prayed for his disciples to be sanctified. They were in the world, but at the same time, they were set apart from the world. God’s Word of truth brought them to faith and set them apart from the world as God’s children and Jesus’ disciples. Just as God the Father had sent Jesus out into this world for the distinct purpose to be our Savior, so now Jesus would send out his disciples into this world for his distinct purpose to be messengers of his good news. And his disciples would continue to be his sanctified, set-apart servants thanks to the power in Jesus’ Word of truth, the source of the very message they would proclaim.

We have already seen how dangerous it is to become one with the world. Is the answer to run the other way, to avoid anything that smacks and smells of “worldliness” in order to keep ourselves set apart from the world? That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus prays that we are sanctified even as we live in the world. He doesn’t have us raptured out of the world but rather sends us out into the world as his sanctified people.

Remember what that says about you! He has already set you apart from the world! He has already planted his Holy Spirit in your heart so that you not only know about Jesus, but fully believe and trust in him. You already possess the blessings Jesus came to bring to you!

Jesus also was set apart. From eternity, God the Father set his Son apart for a mission to rescue you from sin. Jesus took up that mission as he entered our world and lived the sanctified, holy life that is sorely lacking from our life’s story. Jesus took up the guilt of our lack of holiness, and the punishment for our failures to live as God’s set-apart people, and he paid for it all at that set moment in history when he died on the cross for you. The resurrected Jesus has changed your grave into the open door to everlasting life in heaven. That is already in your future as God’s sanctified, set apart child.

But the future is also now! You have a spot set aside for you in heaven, but we have a task set apart for us right now, to be sanctified in this world. So what does that mean? What does that look like? There are many answers to that question, but let’s focus on just one. Think about that troubled person you know at work. Think about your neighbor who is at home right now but sees that you’ve headed somewhere this morning and many Sunday mornings. This about that person with whom God has purposefully intersected your life and how they need to hear of the Jesus who also lived and died and rose for them. Why did God put that person in your life? He hasn’t asked you to outsource your gospel outreach. He’s asked you to be sanctified or set apart so that you can be gospel light for others in this sin-darkened world. What it specifically looks like to be his set-apart messenger may look different from one situation to another, but make no mistake that he has sent you into the world with a purpose just as he did his first disciples.

Conclusion

Jesus’ Ascension brought about a new phase in life for his apostles. I can’t profess to know all of the emotions they must have felt in the days immediately after his Ascension, but I do know that his prayer for them on Thursday night of Holy Week shows that even though he would be gone from them, they would never be forgotten.

May is a month that marks many major milestones and life changes. Confirmations and graduations and school year endings all lead into new stages of life for entire families. And sometimes those new stages of life make us feel as if we are alone or forgotten. Whether you feel overwhelmed with the next new phase of life that has come upon you, or you feel forgotten as the same old routine of life continues, remember what Jesus’ high priestly prayer teaches us. You may be seem to be alone, but you are never forgotten by your Savior. He prays for you before his Father. He guides all things so that you remain his sanctified child. He gives you every reason to rejoice every day so that, forgiven by his grace, you can serve him joyfully every moment. Jesus is visibly gone for a time, but you are definitely not forgotten! Amen.

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