John 17:11b-19 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series B)
“Father, Sanctify Us”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 7, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is the Gospel Reading from John 17:
[Jesus prayed,] 11Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given to me, so that they may be one just as we are one. 12When I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given to me, and I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the son of destruction so that the Scripture should be fulfilled. 13Now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world so that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I have given them your word and the world 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 the truth. 18Just as you sent me into the world so I sent them into the world. 19And on their behalf I sanctify myself so that they also might be sanctified in truth.
Prayer is a gift of God to His people. Our Father in heaven bids us to pray to Him with thoughts and words. He promises to hear us on account of God the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection. But an even greater comfort than our praying to our Father with trust in Jesus the Son is that Jesus Himself prays for us. The Scriptures tell us that He intercedes for us.
Intercession is a type of prayer. An intercession is a prayer offered by someone on behalf of another. In John 17, Jesus prays what is known as His “High Priestly Prayer.” He is praying on behalf of His disciples and, beginning in verse 20, He prays for all believers who will come to know Him as Savior and Lord through the witness of the apostles as they preach His Gospel to the nations. Naturally, that includes you and me. What great news to hear that Jesus prayed for you. He had you in mind when He offered these petitions on the very night in which Judas Iscariot betrayed Him into the hands of sinful men who took Him and crucified Him. On the cross, hanging between two thieves, Jesus prayed on behalf of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, as our Great High Priest, the Savior continues to pray for you and me, and for all of His Christians. The writer to the Hebrews penned, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25 ESV). “Jesus presents our needs to the Father, praying on our behalf that we may receive the gift of life to the full (John 10:10b).”
Jesus, true God and true Man, who suffered and died on a cross to win your forgiveness and salvation, who is raised from the dead, who is seated at the right hand of God in majesty and glory, who will come again to judge the living and the dead, is praying—interceding—for you! Good news, indeed! But don’t we wish that Jesus would do more? What do I mean, do more? He’s already saved us from sin, death, and Satan. He’s purchased the forgiveness of our sins, given us saving faith that takes hold of Him as our Savior and receives all the gifts of faith. What more could we possibly ask for?
How about a break? How about a little less “testing”? I don’t think any of us would mind too much a nice, happy smooth patch of life, right? Jesus petitioned the Father, “Now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world so that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Yes, that’s what you and I want, isn’t it? We want Jesus’ joy fulfilled in us. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” But just when you think Jesus’ prayer is going in the “right” direction, He takes a turn that, to us, seems to be for the worst. “I have given them your word and the world 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.”
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Hold on Jesus, I’m good with you getting me out of this world! I don’t need to endure the hatred from the world because I’m a Christian. I don’t have to go through the temptations of the flesh and the devil while battling with my sinful nature to stay faithful unto death. I’m good with a break. Take me out of this world for a bit. Plop me right in heaven with you for a while! I want your joy fulfilled in me in that wonderful place.
But, no. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” So you and I and our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe are in this world for the long haul. As disciples, Christ sends us into the world with His Good News message of forgiveness and eternal life by grace through faith in Him. We as disciples have a commission and a mission to accomplish in Jesus’ name and we can’t do that if we’re not in the world that needs to hear the Gospel. Ok, that’s fine. I get it. But what about the hatred? Why the suffering? Why the testing and the temptations? Can’t we just have an easy road? I mean, what about the joy Jesus wants us full of?
Yes, about that joy—it involves the cross. Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV). The joy comes after the suffering of the cross. God the Father sent His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus, into the world as true Man. He “sanctified” Himself, set Himself apart, in holiness in order to live the perfect life before God that we ought to live. He set Himself apart in holiness to suffer the curse of death on a cross in our place. Jesus set Himself apart in order to rest in the tomb until the third day when God raised Him from the dead, guaranteeing our forgiveness and salvation in by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus was set apart to do the saving work for which the Father sent Him into the world. He did this saving work through the cross so that He might send us into the world sanctified—set apart—by the truth of the message of the cross. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34 ESV). That’s our calling in Christ, to be like our Lord and Master, who took up the cross for us so that we might bear it after Him in the joy of being called to suffer for the name of Jesus as we deliver the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ to others.
But it is not as if Jesus sends His disciples out into the world alone. He’s not throwing us to the wolves in order to be devoured but to be successful in our mission of preaching the Word of Christ. Remember Jesus has prayed for you, “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 the truth.”
Jesus has set us apart from the world by means of His Word. You and I are declared holy before God the Father on account of Christ who gives us His own holiness in the Gospel through word and Baptism. The Father keeps us from the evil one by His grace through the power of the Gospel even as He invites us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” In this petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray “that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven” (SC: Explanation to the Seventh Petition).
As you and I go about the mission Christ has given us, taking up the cross and following Him so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, we are grounded in the Word of truth that promises us that our Father in heaven hears our prayer. We trust boldly in faith that He will help us endure the troubles that come upon us and keep us faithful unto death. And when our part in the mission is complete, we trust His Word of Promise that, in Christ, the Father will deliver us from this present evil age and take us to Himself in glory when we die.
And all throughout our time of witness in this world, Jesus Himself continues to intercede for us to our heavenly Father. He continues to pray for you and me in times of trouble and in times of blessing. He advocates for us, imploring the Father to forgive our sins for the sake of His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The Lord Jesus continues to bestow upon us His holiness through the power of God the Holy Spirit, sanctifying and keeping us in the one, true faith by means of the Word and Sacraments. By the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit, you and I are truly kept in the Father’s name that we received in Baptism. We are kept in saving faith in the Word of truth—the Word of the Gospel—that gives us faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and life eternal. So as Jesus sends you into the world, set apart by grace through faith as a child of the heavenly Father, proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), note on Heb. 7:25, page 2114.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis, Concordia, 2017), 22.
 An Explanation of the Small Catechism (St. Louis, Concordia, 2017), 275.