[Jesus said] “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 17:17-19 ESV)
We pick up some of the last words Jesus said before his arrest in the Gospel according to John. They are part of a prayer – which encompasses all of John chapter 17. Because of what happened next after Jesus’ arrest – his execution, his burial, and then his resurrection and ascension – this prayer has been called Jesus ‘High Priestly Prayer’ – that is the prayer of the high priest before he offers the sacrifice for the sins of the entire community – known and unknown sins – think of sin as ‘death radiation’ – whoever has it – and it is in us and on us and is part of the air we breathe and the land on which we walk – is contaminated. Whoever has this sin will decay and die – notice the order – decay and die. Because sin attacks God’s gift of life.
That is what Jesus has come to fix, repair, restore – actually it is better than that – it is a new creation. And what Jesus is doing is re-establishing the relationship that was broken by sin in a way that minimises our ongoing wrecking of things. When sin entered the world, when people didn’t – when we don’t – trust God, it ruptures and destroys the blessings of God which are always focused on life by spoiling everything – marriages, families, work, everything becomes hard, childbirth becomes dangerous, harvests varied, we accumulate rather than share, we simply don’t trust each other; and there are too many injustices, betrayals, corruptions in this world that tell us it is smart not to trust too much. The garden has become the jungle with the survival of the fittest the order of the day – and the stench of death is all around.
We create a hell by spurning and rebelling against a holy God. That is a dangerous thing to do. Sin and the holy God do not mix. And yet in this snippet of Jesus’ prayer he talks holy talk – holiness things – and he asks God to be active in a way that doesn’t destroy us.
Sanctifying is about making holy which Jesus asks his Father to do for his followers through the truth that comes from God’s Word. This implies that it God’s Word can be trusted. And the claim for the trust is that it is the truth. Pilate asked his now famous question ‘What is truth?’ a few hours later. There are many answers in this world and Jesus pointed to himself – which seems pretty arrogant on one level – and his followers might agree if they were scared of him – but they, too, say that Jesus is the truth – and the way, and the life – in relation to God.
And this Jesus has been sent into the world to do what? Your answer has a big bearing on how we view living and life. You see if Jesus is a guide then we become followers and want to guide others. If Jesus is a teacher – morals, evangelism – then we learn to teach others. But I think Jesus was born to die – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – is a sacrifice so that we may live. What Jesus does is unique – his rescue of us on the cross is not something we can do – and he is consecrated – set apart for holy service – so that God’s blessings can be bestowed.
For me one of the most powerful windows into who Jesus is and what he is on about comes when he is talking about sheep and sheep pens and thieves, Jesus says: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)
Jesus sends his followers into the world because he has made it possible for them to live. Death and decay are no longer the order of the day – instead his followers live as fragrant offerings in this world – living sacrifices who practise forgiveness, sacrificial love, hope, and mercy. Jesus does all this so that his people may be sanctified in truth.
Do you hear it? The holiness of God again close – so close it is touching – this truth that is wet when we are linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection; this truth that lifts burdens, absolves, and strengthens for each day; this truth that comes in bread and wine – intimate, personal, God is oh so close telling us the truth about ourselves and forgiving, healing, and strengthening us for living in this world.
Too often the Church in its history and still today has turned relating to Jesus into evangelism, into some sort of morality programme, or about keeping fear around to control whereas Jesus in this prayer is praying that we live – life to the full, abundantly – in the circumstances we find ourselves. This is not a prosperity Gospel but a meeting with the holy God where we don’t run and hide, terrified of ‘scary God’. This is living under the cross – exposed to the message of God’s grace while reminded that sin still lurks and we shouldn’t be complacent – because sin brings with it decay and death – which by definition is not life in all its fullness.
I do wonder why affluent people today – with food in their tummies and rights in their brains – would want to follow Jesus. Too often the Church has given a negative answer that you don’t want to go to hell – and while that is true – it isn’t an attractive answer for people today who don’t believe in hell or a final accountability. Nevertheless if one can talk about life in terms of truth and trust – a life with hope and mercy in this world – daily – and that God in Jesus has made it possible for us to live in this truth as we learn to and grow in trusting him – because Jesus is faithful to us – then that seems to me to be a message affluent people today might consider.
This is our claim in this world. There is no better life than following Jesus.
- John 17:17 - 19