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Sanctified for Joy-Filled Mission

January 25, 2015 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John

Passage: John 17:13–17:19

Sermon from John 17:13-19 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on January 25, 2015

I want to again invite you to listen to God speaking to God. A few weeks ago, we entered John 17, the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture. And it’s in this prayer that we join this little band of disciples now eavesdropping on God the Son praying to God the Father. All of history hinges on the next few hours, when the Father will sacrifice his own Son to save sinners, and John cracks open the door to the Upper Room, so that we might listen to what the Son prays to his Father just beforehand.

And what should amaze us is not only the multifaceted ways God’s glory shines in Jesus; we should also stand amazed at how many requests Jesus makes for our benefit when we deserve none. Because of our sin, we only deserve Jesus’ powerful punishment; and yet here we find disciples getting nothing but Jesus’ passionate petitions. So let’s get in to it. Verse 13.

13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I 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. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

We’ve already covered a couple of Jesus requests. “Father, glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you”—that was the first major request from verse 1. The other major request was that of verse 11, “Holy Father, keep [the disciples] in your name…that they may be one even as we are one.” We look today at two more requests, and both of them are meant to serve your joy in God. I have no doubt that Jesus’ prayer will also challenge us and convict us. But you need to know up front that Jesus isn’t speaking to fill our lives with drudgery; he’s speaking to fill our lives with his joy.

Jesus Speaks for Our Joy

Look again at verse 13, “But now I’m coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” If there’s anybody who knows what true joy is, it’s Jesus, the eternal Son of God.

His joy is quite literally, “out of this world.” His joy never had a beginning. For all eternity he has beheld in his Father what is supremely enjoyable, the sheer glory of God’s majestic worth (1:1, 18; 3:11, 32; Ps 16:11). And never once has his enjoyment of the Father’s glory suffered as his relationship with the Father is infinitely intimate. John tells us he existed in the bosom of the Father, and the Father delights in all his Son is and does (1:18; 17:5, 24; cf. Matt 17:5; Col 1:19). Jesus’ joy remains unhindered. Unlike us, he has no sin clouding his vision of what is supremely enjoyable and nothing lacking in his willingness to fully enjoy what is supremely enjoyable (John 8:46; Heb 4:15; 12:1-3). Jesus Christ knows true joy!

And his purpose in speaking is that his joy might be fulfilled in us. Now, this isn’t the first place we’ve encountered the theme of joy in John’s Gospel. We can trace this theme of joy back to John the Baptist. You may remember the scene: John compares Jesus to a bridegroom who has a bride. John himself is the friend of the bridegroom. And he says, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him [hears his words], rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” Then he says this, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete [or fulfilled, same word as in 17:13]. [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” Joy, for John, is the enjoyment of bringing all the Father’s purposes to pass in Christ through humble submission to his will.

And we then see the same thing unfold a bit later. The Samaritan peoples come to Jesus, and Jesus opens the disciples’ eyes to the Father’s purposes unfolding right before them. The fields are white for harvest (4:35). The nations are coming to Christ. The time has come for you to gather in the fruit for eternal life, “so that sower and reaper may [what?!] rejoice together” (4:36). And then he basically says, “Get to work” (4:37-38). Joy comes to the disciple who gives himself over to the Father’s purposes in Christ through humble submission to his will. The same comes up in 15:11. Joy is related to the disciples bearing fruit for the kingdom of God by humbly submitting themselves to the Father’s commandments (cf. 16:20-22, 24).

Same here. To have Jesus’ joy in you is to enjoy bringing the Father’s purposes to pass through humble submission to his will—just as Jesus himself has done with his own life. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Heb 12:2). To have Jesus’ joy fulfilled in us is to have our own affection won over, our own wills bent toward, our own minds preoccupied with what is supremely valuable, namely, the Father’s glory in Christ. Decreasing every day in self, so that the Father’s glory in Jesus increases before the world we serve. Jesus speaks to bring us into the very joy that flourishes between him and his Father. He wants us to enjoy the Father’s glory and enjoy bringing the Father glory in the same way he enjoys the Father’s glory.

But there are a couple things necessary for that to happen, and which you don’t have the power to perform. Some of you are going, “That joy sounds great and all—and I’d like to be there—but I’m just not seeing its fullness yet. I’ve still got this problem with indwelling sin that often blinds me to what is supremely enjoyable, namely, God and his kingdom. Even when I find joy in some of the right things, I don’t have the stamina to keep making the investment or even the will to enjoy them as I ought, for God’s sake.”

And in many ways, you’re right. But that’s why Jesus prays for you. He prays for the Father to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. He wants you to experience the fullness of his joy in the Father’s glory, and he makes two more remarkable requests. Apart from these two things happening for you, you won’t experience the fullness of Jesus’ joy in the Father’s glory.

First Request: Keep Them from the Evil One

The first request is this: Jesus prays for the Father to keep his disciples from the evil one. You will not know Jesus’ joy unless God keeps you from the evil one. Read verses 14-15. “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 [and here’s the request] that you keep them from the evil one.”

Now, notice the link between verse 13—that we just covered—and verse 14. Jesus said in verse 13, “These things I speak in the world, that my joy may be fulfilled in them.” And now notice, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them.” Put them together. Jesus speaks the Father’s word to fill his people with his joy. And when Jesus’ joy fills people, it also changes people. Jesus’ joy-giving word transforms people, so that they no longer belong to “the world.”

Remember, “the world” in John’s Gospel is the entire moral order that opposes God (1:5, 9-10; 3:19-20; 8:34; 12:31). When you embrace Jesus’ word, such that you begin enjoying what he enjoys—you, by definition, no longer belong to the world. You belong with those who look and live like Jesus. You belong to God, not to the evil world.

But that also means the evil world now opposes you. You don’t enjoy the evil and fleeting pleasures the world enjoys. Christ’s word has opened your eyes to true joy in the Father’s glory. And the evil world hates you for it, just as it hated Jesus for it (cf. 15:18-25). Finding joy in Jesus is dangerous in this present life. It will cost you. Just look at the context: Jesus is heading to the cross. But he knows where true joy is found. It’s found with the Father. But all evil is against such joy.

And lest we dismiss the threat of the evil one with some offhand remark about God’s sovereign power over all, let’s be true to Scripture. Even God who rules and controls all things reveals terrible things about the ruler of this evil world, Satan himself (8:44; 12:31). He’s a real threat to our joy. Otherwise, what’s the point in praying the Father protect us from him? First John 5:19 says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” First Peter 5:8 says, “Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”—and he’s writing this to Christians!

He causes suffering among the brotherhood throughout the world—1 Pet 5:9. His demons disguise themselves as idols—1 Cor 10:20. His spiritual forces of evil wage war against the church—Eph 6:12. He takes advantage of your sinful anger to gain a foothold in your relationships—Eph 4:27. He wreaks havoc in the church when people don’t forgive each other—2 Cor 2:11. He corrupts minds with false doctrine—1 Tim 4:1. He sets snares for young converts when they’re allowed into church leadership—1 Tim 3:6-7. He stands behind the lawlessness in the world that will one day give rise to the Antichrist—2 Thess 2:7-9. He’s ferocious. We even get a lament in Rev 12:12, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!...he went off to make war…on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17).

The evil one is terrible. If he doesn’t oppress you himself, he’ll tempt you with everything this world has to offer, in order to destroy your joy being full. That ought to change the way you look at your computer screen. That ought to change the way you think about idolatry and your lack of forgiveness. That ought to wake you up when you see the sin of racism playing out in the streets and in the compassion-less comments Christians post on Facebook. It ought to send chills down your spine when you’re tempted to let the sun go down on your anger—as if you have the ability to finagle your way around the devil’s subtle snares.

We need to be kept from the evil one for our joy to be complete. Without the Son’s passionate petitions and the Father’s powerful protection, we’re toast. We’ll give in too easily to the kingdom of darkness. We once lived in it, and didn’t even know it! We won’t see his snares or pick up on his lies. So the Son prays, “Father, keep them from the evil one.” We must be kept if we’re to experience the fullness of Jesus’ joy.

Second Request: Sanctify Them for God’s Mission

But experiencing the fullness of Jesus’ joy takes more than just a protection without; it also takes a transformation within. And so Jesus prays next that we’d be sanctified for God’s mission. Verse 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world [there’s mission]. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in the truth.”

Now, it’s pretty common in the church for people to think of sanctification in terms of progressively growing in holiness that follows justification. And this distinction between sanctification as process versus justification as the starting place has been rather helpful. It debunks the idea that any of our own striving toward Christ-likeness could serve as the ground of a right standing with God. We will stand or fall on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone—his alien righteousness imputed to us by faith alone (Rom 3:26; 4:3, 25; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:10-14; Phil 3:9).

But that’s not the only way the Bible uses the word, “sanctification.” It’s not always used to speak of a process toward holiness. It’s also used in a positional sense; it describes what becomes true for all believers at the moment of conversion: they are set apart for holy service to God (John 17:17; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 1 Tim 4:5; 2 Tim 2:21; Heb 13:12). That’s not to say they were morally perfected; it’s just to say that they were exclusively God’s. They now belonged to him and his service.

And this is the way Jesus is using the word here. We get the same idea in 10:36. The Father consecrates his Son—or sets him apart—for his special mission in the world. And this idea of being set apart for holy service to God stems right from the Old Testament. God himself is holy, unique; he’s in a class by himself. His character is pure; and he doesn’t tolerate unclean things in his presence or unholy people in his service—no exceptions. If you fudged on the matter, you were cut off from the people or killed.

If God was to use something or someone, they too had to be set apart as holy, set apart exclusively for God. And so, for example, priests had to wear the special garments and the plate of gold on their heads with the engraving, “Holy to the Lord.” Moses had to anoint them and consecrate—or sanctify—them for service as God’s priests (Exod 28:41; 29:1). And this involved the blood of one bull and a couple rams being spilt and sprinkled on the altar and applied to the priests themselves, that they might be clean and set apart exclusively for God’s holy service.

The same was true for the altar and the utensils, like the pots and the shovels and the forks and the fire pans—everything that was to be used in God’s presence had to be consecrated, sanctified, set apart exclusively for God (Exod 40:9; Lev 16:19)…

Jesus is praying for the same to happen for his disciples—that the Father would set them apart as holy, to be exclusively used for God’s purposes. But this is how that “setting-apart” takes place. It takes place through the Father’s word of revelation and the Son’s work of redemption. These two things sanctify us for mission.

The Father’s Word of Revelation

The Father’s word of revelation sets us apart for holy service, because it is truth. It doesn’t just point to truth outside itself; it is truth. It reveals to us all we need to know, in order to have a right relationship with God; in order to stand before God, not on our own terms but on his terms that he reveals in Scripture.

There were others who attempted to stand before God on their own terms, and they were consumed by his judgment. They didn’t give attention to his truth. And the same will be true for you. If you merely give lip service to God’s word instead of conforming yourself to his truth, you won’t be set apart as holy. And he will consume you with his wrath on the last day. Give attention to his word. D. A. Carson writes, “In practical terms, no-one can be ‘sanctified’ or set apart for the Lord’s use without learning to think God’s thoughts after him, without learning to live in conformity with the ‘word’ [God] has graciously given.”

Now, most immediately “your word” does speak to the specific word of revelation the Father has given about his Son. It’s this word—this truth—about Jesus that sets disciples apart from the rest of the world. But if we consider how Jesus himself depends so much on the Old Testament, and then consider how the Spirit himself will lead the disciples into all the truth as they write the New Testament, we can’t help but extend this reference of “your word” out to the entirety of Scripture that bears witness to Jesus and his kingdom (5:46; 16:13; cf. Luke 24:45-47).

When this word lodges into our souls, when it becomes sweeter than honey on your lips, when it is your meditation day and night, it will not fail to set you apart for God’s holy service. It is truth, and it is sufficient for your sanctification.

The Son’s Work of Redemption

That was the Father’s word of revelation. What about the Son’s work of redemption? Look again at verse 19: “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in the truth.” Now, this is truly remarkable, because as I said before, no-one unclean, no-one unholy was permitted in God’s presence. You had to be made holy. What Jesus is saying is that he set himself apart for God’s holy service, even if that meant he had to die to make others clean, to make others holy. You see, Jesus isn’t consecrated quite the same way we are. He has no sin. When he says he consecrates himself, he sets himself apart to die for the sins of others.

Jesus’ consecration is a consecration unto death on behalf of the ungodly like us, so that we might be set apart for God’s holy service. In the same way the blood of bulls and goats was spilled and sprinkled and applied to consecrate priests and people, so Jesus’ blood was spilled and sprinkled and applied to consecrate you and me. What makes his sacrifice superior is that he can actually take away our sins.

Hebrews tells us that the sacrifices under the law were but a shadow of the good things to come (Heb 10:1). The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Heb 10:4); they could never make perfect those who draw near (Heb 10:2). And then comes a Savior who says out of the joy he has in his Father’s glory, “Behold, I have come to do your will”…And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:9-10). His death was sufficient to cover all our sins, that we might be set apart exclusively for God.

And this is how Jesus guarantees the completion of his joy in you, brothers and sisters. What he prays the Father do, he also seals with his own blood. Protection without, transformation within—keep them from the evil one; sanctify them for mission—and all of it is sealed with the precious blood of Christ. And one day all that was sealed back then for us will break forth into a joy like we’ve never known or been able to handle before, when Jesus rolls back the skies to bring the joy of his kingdom in full. Your seventy years of embattled joy will be a twinkling of an eye in comparison to the 70 trillion in the perfected enjoyment of the glory of God’s presence forever.

If he set you apart as holy now; he will keep you as holy forever, and all because of his word of revelation and the Son’s work of redemption.

A Few More Takeaways

So, what should we make of these things, Redeemer? The Father keeping us from the evil one; the Father sanctifying us for his own mission; and all of it to serve the completion of Jesus’ joy in us—what are a few things we should take home with us?

Sanctification is for mission to the world

First of all, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that our sanctification is for mission to the world. We’re all vulnerable to reducing Christian living to mere “sin management.” Yes, we’re set apart for God’s holy service. But we’ve got to face the truth: Jesus prays the Father not take us out of the world. He left us in the sinful and rebellious and broken world, facing the onslaughts of the evil one on purpose—for mission: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

True personal holiness will embrace God’s mission. We see the same thing in Hebrews 13:11-13. “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Sanctification is intricately linked with mission.

The call rattles us out of our safe places into a risky, life-threatening one—“outside the camp,” where carcasses are burned and criminals crucified. It’s a call to leave our isolated, holy huddles, and die to all our self-calculating decisions that keep us comfortable in our religious bubbles while the world perishes. It’s a call to enter the unpredictable for the sake of the gospel, to raise the banner of Christ amidst dark and unknown territory. We cannot get comfortable reading Puritans in our Lazy-boy all the while overlooking the bigger aim of our sanctification. There’s no authentic holiness without devotion to God’s mission. They go hand in hand.

So, if that’s you, what’s your plan to change? How are you going “outside the camp” to Jesus? What person or people have you been ignoring while sitting in your isolated places of comfort? How much effort do you put into strategically engaging the people who live around you and who work with you, with the gospel? Do you build your life only around the cultures you’re most comfortable with, while the cultures of people most likely uncomfortably different than yours go unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you requiring lost people to come and find you inside your culture? Or are you taking the message of God’s salvation in Christ to them in their culture as Jesus sends us to do? What’s it going to take for you to bring the Savior into the lives of those communities you’re less comfortable with, who have different takes politically, who look different than you, who do things differently than you—into the lives of those next door?

So many of you are already growing in this area. I’ve seen its beginnings, and I love it. I love this church, because you take the word seriously. Keep abounding in the Lord’s work to reach the world with the gospel.

Mission to the world shouldn’t forget sanctification

But as you do, remember this as well: mission to the world shouldn’t forget sanctification. Yes, God left us in the world on purpose. But our allegiance to his word will also make us different from the world. You may have heard the expression before: “in the world but not of the world.” That idea comes from right here.

And the danger is that if we forget this, then we end up undermining our mission to the world altogether; we eventually look so much like the world that we have nothing to offer in the gospel, since our so-called “redeemed” lives are indistinguishable from the world’s. You know, we have the same aims in life, we worship the same sports teams, we have the same addictions, we spend just as much money on our hobbies, we waste just as much time on entertainment, we seek the same comforts the world celebrates—and the lines get blurry between the church and the world around us.

Or, a bit more popular nowadays is to even hide our own ungodly desires in the name of “becoming all things to all men.” That is to say, we engage a particular culture not really to reach the people in it, but because we already enjoy that culture anyway, even in unhealthy and idolatrous ways.

Listen, Jesus’ prayer won’t allow us to live that way. And so I would encourage you to think carefully about your pursuits in this world. Yes, our lives will have a great deal of overlap with the world, but never when that overlap compromises our belongingness to God. We were set apart for his holy service. And a very practical step you can take in this regard is simply to make God’s word so much a part of your life that you begin to think God’s thoughts after him. His word is truth. How is his word making you less and less like the world and more and more like Christ? Paul says that “if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

If there are things you need to confess this morning, sins that have been hindering you from mission or idols that have been hindering your witness in mission, find a brother or a sister this morning and tell them and ask them to pray for you. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Sanctified for Every Day Not Just Sunday

Last one, the Father sanctified you for every day not just Sunday. Or we might even put it a bit differently—he sanctified us for all-times not just sometimes. One of the easiest things for us to forget is that when God sets us apart for himself, he does so with a view to everything in our lives, not just some things. We’re his not just on those special occasions when we might gather with the church or do a bit of outreach with a brother or sit down to counsel a sister or have some much needed prayer in our closet. Rather, we’re God’s all the time—when we trust Jesus. When he sets us apart exclusively for himself, the whole of our lives belong to him and his service. Even what we might call the ordinary and mundane actually become extraordinary moments when you’re set apart for God. Every ordinary moment is for his holy service.

So when my daughter wakes me up at midnight, then again at two, then again at five—what’s my first thought? I must confess, it’s not always, “I’m sanctified for God’s holy service.” And along with that, I should also confess, “The first few sounds that leave my mouth aren’t always that holy either”—sometimes a long sigh of complaint. But this truth about being set apart for God’s service is huge in little moments like those. It totally reorients my thinking and action—that I am not my own, that I belong to God in all I do, even if it is in the middle of the night—“Help me Lord to magnify your worth; to reflect your patient care for me to my precious daughter.”

And the same is true for when you go to your respective vocations. What might it make of a workday to embrace first thing in the morning, “I belong exclusively to God.” Everything changes, doesn’t it? The workplace is now your mission field. The cranky coworker needs his eyes opened to the riches of God’s mercy. The overbearing boss is now the one you pray for before speaking with him. The single mom two carrels over, working two jobs, missing her kids, frantically searching for peace, needs someone to listen to her and give her drink of Jesus’ living water.

The various tasks assigned to you—in management; on the flight line; in the police squad; serving tables—these various tasks aren’t just to ensure you keep your paycheck. They’re opportunities to love your neighbor. They’re chances for others to see your good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven. It’s part of the mission God’s appointed you for—to shock your coworkers with the truth that no trial comes to you apart from your Father’s perfect wisdom and love, even when HR calls you in over false accusations from other employees who just don’t like that you’re a Christian.

Some of you are teachers. Some of you tutor others after school. Some of you ladies stay home during the day and homeschool your children. The days are sometimes long, exasperating, discouraging. You seek to do all the right things, and find your leadership rejected, your counsel ignored. But set apart for the Lord of the universe? Given access to his holy presence? Sanctified with eternal truth and precious blood? Omnipotent protection from the evil one in that moment? Guaranteed the fullness of Jesus’ joy? There’s not a million holidays at the beach with all the refreshments you want that can top that. The Psalmist says, “A day in [the Lord’s] courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:10)…

Of course, this same truth might also mean some of you change vocations. The vocation you have now isn’t for the Lord’s purposes. It’s for your own purposes, that you might pad your wallet a bit more and work your way up the corporate ladder. The American dream is setting your agenda, rather than God’s kingdom. Your vocational pursuits aren’t healthy for your marriage or your family; and therefore they’re certainly not holy. You’re not living as one set apart exclusively for God and his purposes. You’re living for yourself and your own selfish endeavors.

Don’t give in to the evil one’s snares any longer. Jesus set you apart for God, and he speaks for your everlasting joy. Square your life with the way he prays for you even now, as he sits in heaven interceding on your behalf. If you don’t know how to walk out those changes, come to the elders, involve your Care Group members, sit down with a wise sister who isn’t afraid to tell you hard things, and welcome their input, invite their rebuke. We’re not in this to look down on each other. We’re in this for each other’s joy in Christ, as we learn to enjoy the Father’s glory as Jesus enjoys the Father’s glory.