Sunday, June 3, 2018


It was my intention to return to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome for today’s sermon. However, the Spirit made it clear to me that there was something else that He wanted me to talk to you about. The last time I preached to you was on Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the coming of the Spirit. I told you that on that day the nature of the Church was changed. On that day, the Church was given a new goal. The Church became a missionary Church. Today, I hope to explain a little more of what the Holy Spirit expects of you as His missionary Church.

The bit of Scripture that I’m going to use is a section of what has been called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It’s in John 17. Listen.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. ​I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. ​They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. ​Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ​As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:13-19

The first thing I need to do is to be clear about the pronouns. Grammar matters. I think that the ‘you’ here is obvious. Jesus is praying to His Father. But who are the ‘they’ and the ‘them’? Who is Jesus praying for? The larger context will make it clear that He is praying for His apostles. This part of His prayer is about them. That raises an important question, one that is often left unanswered. Jesus wasn’t praying for us here. We’re not His apostles. So, does any of what I just read to you have anything to do with us? Many mistakes have occurred because Bible students have not always been careful about this sort of thing. Grammar matters.

So, here’s the question. Can I draw things out of this text and apply them to you even though Jesus isn’t referring to you? I can. And that’s because of what Jesus is praying about. He’s praying about the spread of the Gospel to the world. The apostles had a unique and critical role in that work. But clearly, that work did not end with them. They pursued that goal as men who were the foundation of the Church. We, the Church founded on their teaching, continue to pursue the same goal. We continue to pursue the same mission. And we do that based on what Jesus prayed for them. So, in an indirect way, Jesus is praying for us also, His missionary Church.

Now, let’s consider what Jesus said.

First, there’s this.

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. John 17:18

In the past I’ve described the Church to you in terms of three faces, the upward face - worship, the inward face - the communion of the saints, and the outward face - mission. Over the years we’ve been working on developing our church in terms of these faces. We’ve made some good progress on the first two. Now it’s time for us to give our attention to the third. Jesus sends His apostles and His Church, us, into the world. And the purpose of our being sent by Jesus is the same as the purpose of Jesus being sent by the Father: the redemption of the world. So, in ways that the rest of the Scriptures describe and prescribe, we are to display and proclaim the Gospel to a very lost people. This is a key aspect of who we are as Faith Reformed. This is our third face. It is something that we need to work on and, by the ability that the Spirit will provide, something that we will do better at.

Now, did you notice Jesus’ realism? He includes in His prayer problems that will face His Church, this church, when it comes to pursuing that mission. Here’s one.

​I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. John 17:14

This world that we are sent to, this world that we are to work to rescue, hates us. Why? In so many ways we are very like them and get along quite well with them. We can work with them on the job. Our kids play sports with theirs. We can enjoy good relationships with those who are our neighbors. It’s all good, until - until it becomes clear that we actually are not like them. We are not of the world.  We are Christians. We understand that Jesus is Lord. And though we falter at doing this, we work to live out what that means. And when others see us doing that, that’s when the difference becomes clear. That’s when the hatred of the world shows itself. Please bear in mind that this hatred doesn’t have to be violent - though I suspect that in due time there will be more of that for us and our children. But there is a reaction. At a most basic level, we are not like them, and they see that and react to it. And that’s a problem when it comes to pursuing our mission.

There’s another problem that Jesus refers to.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. John 17:15

The evil one. Our ancient foe. Satan. The devil. Whatever name you use, the problem is the same. He knows better than any human the goal of our mission. It’s a mission that is directly aimed at him. After all, what we are working toward is rescuing people from him, freeing those who are enslaved by him. Our ultimate goal is Satan’s destruction.

We live in a time that tends to minimize the supernatural aspect of creation. For most people, life boils down to scientific facts. The exceptions you encounter prove the rule. Sadly, this has also affected the Church. And here’s one consequence of that. American Christians do not take Satan seriously enough. Not good. He is real. He is powerful. And he is out to frustrate us and defeat us as we pursue our mission. In fact, he works hard to re-take, to enslave again, those who have been rescued. And, sad to say, there are times when he has been successful. It is not for nothing that Peter warns the saints by writing,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

The danger is real.

But note that while this danger is so very real, Jesus does not change His mind about sending His Church. Listen again.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. John 17:15

Jesus still sends us into the world. Though aware of the danger, we do not panic. Even as He expresses His concern about our adversary, this obstacle to the mission of His Church, Jesus also reveals the solution. He prays for us. He prays that we would be kept from the evil one. As long as we work to pursue this mission that Jesus has given us, we will be kept safe. Satan will do his best to devour, but Jesus will make sure that we will be kept safe.

But what of that other problem, the hatred of the world? Jesus has a solution for that also. Listen again to Jesus’ prayer.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17

These words are profound. And I say that because, among other things, they describe my ministry among you as your pastor. Let’s take them apart.

First, please notice that Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Your word is true’. That, of course, is an accurate statement. But it is a very different thing to say that it is truth. That makes it clear that God’s word is the measure of all things. It is the standard by which everything else is to be evaluated. All of life is to be viewed in terms of the Bible. It is the truth. Thanks be to God for the Bible.

It is my responsibility - and my great joy - to help you to understand this truth and to view life in terms of this truth. Or to say that in a different way, it is my calling to help you to see reality and to see it with greater and greater clarity. Every sermon, every Bible study, every conversation, the issue I want to impress upon you is: what is the truth about the topic we’re talking about? What does the Bible have to say about it? And it always has something to say about whatever the topic is.

The world believes that life works so much better when you have a large pile of money. Does that fit with the truth? Is it in accord with reality? What does God say? Listen.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, ​but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

God’s word is truth. God’s word is the standard.

And that explains what Jesus means when He prays,

Sanctify them in the truth;

To sanctify is to set aside, to separate. As He prays, Jesus’ Church is already sanctified. He already said that we are not of the world. And yet, there is more sanctifying to be done. There is more of the truth for you to embrace. And that’s what I help you to do. That’s what I’m doing right now. There is more truth for you to embrace.

And why is this important?  It’s when you see the truth more clearly, it’s when you see reality more clearly, that you are able to see the mission more clearly. Yes, the world doesn’t want to see and hear the Gospel through our lives. When we do that, it reacts. It wants to keep us from our mission. But seeing life and death more clearly, joy and despair more clearly, time and eternity more clearly, heaven and hell more clearly - when we see the truth more clearly we are able to pursue our mission more doggedly. Knowing more truth results in more reasons to pursue our mission out in the world.

Let’s move on. Next thought. It’s important that you understand that left to our own resources we could never even pursue our mission, let alone succeed at it. But Jesus prayed about that, too.

And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:19

What is Jesus talking about here? What is this consecration that Jesus will undergo? Jesus is talking about the Cross and all that flows from it. He’s talking about our justification before the Father, our adoption as sons, His intercession for us at the right hand of the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. He’s talking about the blessings of the Gospel that are ours because of what He did on Good Friday.

Jesus will go to the Cross so that we will be sanctified in the truth of the Gospel and, as a result, pursue our mission with a growing vigor.

And that is why we can be so very optimistic. Jesus has provided all that we need to pursue - and succeed at - this mission. We can take great encouragement from this, and we need to do that especially when the fight to overcome the wiles of the evil one and the hatred of the world gets hard. But we shall succeed. By the blessing of Jesus, we shall succeed

There is one last thing I’d like to point out from Jesus’ words here.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13

Why is Jesus saying all these things about His Church being sent, the hatred of the world, the evil one and all the rest? It’s for our joy; that we may have His joy. We do not pursue our mission as some burden, some obligation that we need to be sure to satisfy lest we face some dire consequences. Like Jesus, we pursue the mission for the joy. It is as we see reality more clearly, as we see and embrace more of the truth, that we come to understand what this mission is about. On the one hand, it is about the praise of Jesus as Lord. Can there be anything more exhilarating than causing every knee to bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and that to the glory of God, the Father? Isn’t that the mission? And then, from the other side of the coin, as we see reality more clearly won’t we join with those rejoicing in heaven when another sinner repents? Our mission is not a burden but a joy. Being sanctified more and more in the truth will result in more and more rejoicing.

So, what are you to do with all of this? There is much more about our mission for you to learn. But what about this much? For one thing, you need to ponder what I’ve told you. I’ve described a part of who we are as Faith Reformed Church. We are a missionary church. That’s part of reality, part of the truth. You would do well to understand these things more clearly. There must be something that I’ve said this morning that you would do well to spend some time on. Whatever that is, spend a little time meditating on it. And then, you need to pray. Nothing works without prayer. Pray about what you chose to meditate on. And then, pray that the Spirit would sanctify all of us further. There is more truth for us to embrace. As the Spirit makes that happen among us we will pursue our mission better. And that will make Jesus look so very good.