Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 20, 2012
“Sanctified in the Word of Truth” (John 17:11b-19; 1 John 5:9-15)
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus prays for his disciples–he prays for all believers, he prays for his church–he prays for us, here in this time between his ascension and his return. And one of the things Jesus prays for us is this, where he says to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” “Sanctified in the Word of Truth.” Let’s find out what that means for us now.
The prayer that Jesus prays in John 17 is often called his “High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus is coming to the Father, interceding for us on our behalf. Jesus literally is coming to the Father very shortly, since he is praying this prayer on the night he was betrayed, and soon thereafter would come his death and resurrection and, forty days after that, his ascension into heaven. So Jesus is “going away,” in this sense. He’s been preparing his disciples for that, and now he is praying to his Father for all who would believe in him–people like us–living in this world during this “in-between” time, between his ascension and his coming again.
What Jesus prays for us, what he sees as essential to what we need, is that the Father would sanctify us in the truth, the truth of his word. Do you see that as a top priority for you? Being sanctified in the truth of God’s word? You should. This is what you really need.
What does it mean that God would “sanctify” us? It means that God would set us apart to belong to him alone. It means that God would make us a set-apart people, a holy people, that we would see our identity, and that we would live out our identity, as God’s own people. And this, in the midst of a world that does not know God. That’s what it means for us to be sanctified, “set apart as holy.”
How does it happen? By means of the truth of God’s word. It happens by God’s word having its way with us. The Holy Spirit makes us God’s holy people by means of the word. The Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts through the gospel, and the Spirit then keeps us in that faith by those same gospel means, the Word and the Sacraments. This is the Spirit’s work of sanctification.
Why is this so important for you? Because if you are not set apart to belong to God, if you are not kept in the faith by means of the word, then you will inevitably drift away from God, you will be drawn away into the ways of the world, you will lose your faith, and lose your eternal salvation. A dreadful prospect, that. No, you need God’s word to be kept in the saving faith.
And this is faith in Christ and nothing else. Only faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, will save you. This is what God’s word declares. This is God’s testimony. Listen to what we read in today’s epistle, from 1 John: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
God gives us eternal life in his Son and only in him. For Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior sent from God. Otherwise, we would be doomed to eternal death and damnation. Our sins had separated us from God, and we came under the curse of death and futility and under God’s righteous judgment. Who could overcome this hopeless situation and undo the curse and spare us from the judgment to come?
Christ Jesus, the very Son of God. The eternal Son of God, come in the flesh to be our brother. Jesus of Nazareth, the man who came from God and taught the truth and brought the blessings of the kingdom of God in, ahead of time, in his public ministry. Things like healings and abundant provision and even raising the dead–these end-time blessings that Jesus would win for us by his death and resurrection, and which he will bring to pass in full when he comes again. This same Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” God’s Son, Jesus Christ, kept the law we have not kept, loving God and neighbor the way it is supposed to be done. His righteousness is perfect. Yet, even though he is sinless, he died a sinner’s death, shamed as a criminal, hanging on a cross, forsaken by God himself. Jesus was experiencing the abandonment and desolation that sinners deserve, that we deserve for our sins. The sin and the death and the curse had to be dealt with, if we are going to be saved. Holy blood, the blood of God’s own Son, shed on our behalf–you can’t do any better than that. Mission accomplished, on the cross. Forgiveness won, righteousness imputed and imparted, death destroyed, the devil’s stranglehold on us broken and done away with forever.
Life, life is the outcome of what Christ has done for us. The result is resurrection, starting with Christ’s own resurrection at Easter, resurrection life now conveyed to us in Holy Baptism. Life guaranteed for us on the last day, when Christ will return and raise our dead bodies from the grave. Creation will be restored, more glorious than ever. Our bodies will be raised up new and whole, ready for eternity. No more sorrow or sin, no disease or death. This is the eternal life that comes in Christ, which faith takes hold of.
Faith, generated by that word of truth we’ve been talking about. How we need this gospel word to keep us in the faith!
This is the word of truth, this is God’s testimony: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” If there is a more hated verse in the Bible, I don’t know what it is. For this testimony from God excludes all other supposed ways of salvation. Being a “good person” cannot save you. You are not good enough to earn your way out of hell and climb your way into heaven. You will never do enough. Other religions cannot save you. Mohammed and his made-up god “Allah” cannot save you. Joseph Smith and his made-up Mormonism cannot save you. Buddhism, Hinduism, rabbinic Judaism–forget about it. They won’t work. Dead end. Only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, and returning Lord can save sinners like you and me and give us eternal life.
This is why Christ and his Christians are so hated. If you hold to the word of God, the world will hate you. Count on it. Jesus said as much ahead of time, didn’t he? He tells the Father: “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.” Look at how Christians are mocked in the media. We are accused of being intolerant, inflexible, bigoted, holier-than-thou, hypocritical. And in other countries around the world, those who belong to Christ are even being killed, because of the world’s fury against God and his word. In Nigeria, for example, Christians are being killed by Islamic terrorists blowing up car-bombs in front of their churches.
We live in a sinful, hostile world. The world hates us, because we call men to repentance, we call sin for what it is, and we say there is only one way of salvation, and you’re not it. This is all very unpopular. But this is God’s testimony, this is his word. When we are sanctified in the truth, the truth of God’s word, not everything will be sweetness and light, a bed of roses.
But greater than the hardships, far greater are the blessings of being sanctified in the word of truth. For one thing, Jesus prays that God will guard us in this hostile world and keep us from the evil one. And we know that Jesus’ prayers are heard and answered. The world cannot harm us, the devil cannot hurt us. Oh, they may throw us in prison or persecute us, but they cannot rip us out of God’s hand or take away our salvation.
What’s more, God’s word, his beautiful word of promise in Jesus our Savior–this brings great joy to our heart. Like Jesus says in today’s Gospel, he speaks God’s word to people “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” This is the joy of knowing that we do have life, eternal life, in knowing Christ.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” You, you here today who are trusting in Christ Jesus as your Savior–know for certain that you do have eternal life in his name. This is what God’s word declares, and God does not lie. You are truly blessed, even if the circumstances of your life don’t tell you that, even if the world hates you and the devil tries to tell you that you don’t need God’s word and the church so much. But don’t listen to those lies. Instead, stay in God’s word.
“Sanctified in the Word of Truth.” That’s what Jesus is praying for you today. And that’s what you will be. God will sanctify you in the truth. His word is truth.