What would you say to someone if you knew that you were seeing them for the last time? If you were dying, what would be the last words you would say to your family and friends? If you’ve ever thought about the answers to these questions, then you can appreciate what was going through Jesus’ mind in the Gospel reading from John 17:6-19.
This reading is part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. He is preparing them for his death, resurrection and ascension. He knows that his disciples will be rejected by the world as he was. In this passage he hands over his mission to his disciples and all believers who come after them. The disciples have spent the last three years in training. Now it is time for them to pass the final test and go into the world.
Jesus’ farewell address can also be our farewell address to the world. When we die to self, we die to our old earthly way of life. We are disconnected from the world and connected to God when we live our lives in God’s mercy and kindness. If we have accepted that mercy and in return we show mercy and kindness to everyone we meet, then we are connected and present to God.
Jesus’s request was an expansive one. It was made on behalf of the disciples, but his thoughts travelled throughout history to today. His heart of love is bursting with the same message. Jesus prays that those who follow him will be protected to the end. Since Jesus is the one doing the praying, his request will be granted. He also prays that all believers will be united. That unity should be the norm, but unfortunately today it is the exception. There are still differences within and between denominations. For example, within the worldwide Anglican Communion, there are divisions that have been caused by issues such as the ordination of women clergy and same-sex marriages. Within the Anglican Church of Canada, we have seen several churches leave because of the same issues. The only way Jesus’ prayer for unity can be achieved is through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Trinity.
The world Jesus lived in emphasized group identity or unity. People thought in terms of groups. We are to be a united group that does God’s work in our world. We are to be united in our homes, our relationships and our church bodies. We are a group that is set aside for a special use.
In spite of the lack of unity, we as believers are not to withdraw from the world. We are to stay in the world and be a positive influence. We must open our hearts to the real needs of our neighbours. We do this by putting aside our differences and working together to spread the Good News of the Gospel.
Jesus’ true followers know his name and keep his words. They are vulnerable in this particular other worldliness, especially since the world hates followers of Jesus. The world is captive to a spirit that is alien to God’s spirit. It is governed by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love. It is easy to be obsessed with what is in the world. Jesus encouraged his followers not to embrace the world’s values. We must remember that even though we are in the world, we are not of the world. Christians need only to remember that Jesus has promised to keep them separate from the world. Jesus does not run away in the face of danger. He offers an alternative spirit and reality. We have different desires, goals and a different God than people who live in the world. Our God helps us to be different by continually sanctifying us with the truth.
We are called on to go out into a world which has declared that God is dead and has not risen, because God never was dead. We are to share the good news that there is a God and that he lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to water down this message by turning it into a model for social work. We must hold on to the truth that our actions are a sign and witness to God’s love for the world and the future promise for all people. We are to heed the words of the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”:
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad,
the honours of your name
We are in the world not to condemn it, but to love it. How do we do this without condemning the world or judging it? The answer can be found in the words of the late Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. He said, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their true beauty, to say to them through our attitude, ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’”
Even though Jesus has left us physically, he is still with us in spirit-the Holy Spirit. We are not to dwell in feelings of despair or abandonment, because Jesus is always with us and we belong to him. Our belonging to him is an important part of the essential nature and purpose of God and Jesus. Because we belong to Jesus, we are holy and we are kept holy in the truth of God’s word. Because we are one with God, we will be rejected by the world. We don’t need to worry, because Jesus will protect us.
If we have an unfounded fear that causes us to withdraw from the world, we will fail to bring light into the world, and the dark world will remain devoid of the living church. This fear can be overcome by bearing our souls to our Lord and Maker, and being silent so we can hear his response. If we are transformed by God’s Spirit and have a strong spiritual core, we will shine a bright, holy light in the midst of darkness.
We are sanctified so that Christ can send us into the world to share the Gospel. Believers are to be united in the common belief of the truth of God’s Word. This unity in Christ is accomplished through God’s Word. It keeps us from evil. Our presence in the world blesses the world and protects fellow believers from evil. When we receive God’s Word and accept it, we glorify God.
Jesus sanctified himself for believers by presenting himself as a perfect sacrifice. He was the perfect sacrifice for us as well. He has the same concerns for us today that he did for his disciples. He sends us out into the world today in the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal his love and salvation wherever we go. We are to do this in spite of the challenges posed by our modern culture.
The disciples belonged to God the Father, and so do we. The origin of discipleship was in God’s heart. The operation of discipleship is through Jesus. The obligation of discipleship is obedience to the written word of God. The way a person regards the Bible is the way he/she regards Christ, the living Word.
Sanctification means that we must submit to God’s will for our lives. Submission to God is a key part of Jesus’ priestly prayer. It does not mean a loss of freedom. It means freedom from the bondage of sin and our own desires. It involves separating ourselves from evil influences and following the morals Jesus has given us. This sanctification is necessary because although Jesus defeated the devil on the cross, Satan is still loose in the world and conducting his campaign. We can’t be a disciple of Jesus without submitting to him in every area of our lives. Submission to Jesus is a life of liberty like we have never known before. Submission to God does not mean that we lose our identities. It is a sweet surrender to God. It gives us a purpose. When we die to our earthly lives, we live for Christ. Happiness depends on happenings in our lives, but joy depends on Jesus. Submission leads to happiness and joy. It mends our wounded souls.
When we submit to God’s will, he does not expect perfection from us in return. As long as we try our best to determine what God wants us to do in our lives, he will love us. Even though we live in a chaotic world where it’s hard for us to make sense of what’s going on and where there are too many things competing for our attention, we must remember that God’s love and our own call to love have to take priority. As long as we remember these two things, we will be living in the world but we will be part of what God wants for this world.
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
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- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Dr. David Jeremiah, “Not of the World.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Michael Milton, “Four Myths about Submission in the Christian Life.” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 7th Sunday of Easter (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Pastor McGee, “Set Apart.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
- Christine Caine, “Not of this World.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
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- David Lose, “The Other Lord’s Prayer.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1492
- Peter Lockhart, “Sent Into the World.” Retrieved from http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/sent-into-world.html
- The Rev. Thomas Brackett, “The Prayer That Won’t Let Me Go.” Retrieved from www.day1.org/3821_the_prayer_that_wont_let_me_go.print
- Dr. James Howell, “In but Not of the World.” Retrieved from http://www.day1.org/1256-in_but_not_of_the_world.print
- Fr. John Boll, O.P., “Volume 2: Ascension May 17, 2015”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org