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John 17:11b-19

On Thursday, the Christian Church celebrated our Lord’s ascension. Ascension, of course, means to go up. Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he visibly left this world and is now seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven.

What does Jesus do in heaven? Well, he does a whole lot of things. He rules. He forgives. He protects. He provides. He hears our prayers and answers them. Did you know he also not only hears our prayers; he actually prays for us? Who does he pray to? He prays to the Father. And because the Father always hears his own Son, he graciously answers those prayers and gives us the very things that Jesus prays for.

Now, I begin this way because what we have here in John 17 is a prayer of Jesus. Jesus is praying to his Heavenly Father. And it is quite a lengthy prayer. First, he prays for himself because he is about to give his life for the sins of the world. Then he prays for his disciples who are going to remain in the world.

Today we focus on the verses pertaining to the disciples who were with him the night before he died. Imagine if you were dying. What things would you say to your loved ones regarding the future? What directives would you give them? What prayers would you send up to heaven for them?

That is what is going on in John chapters 13 – 17. You may have noticed that the Gospel Lesson for three weeks now has come from these chapters. Why? Because Jesus is now at the end of his earthly ministry and is going to return to the Father. He first will die and rise from the dead, but we need to understand that from Good Friday onward, his relationship to the disciples changes. No longer is he going to be with them every day like he was before. He is going to be with them, but not in the same way—not visibly. Yes, Jesus visibly appeared to his disciples in the forty-day aftermath of his resurrection, but that wasn’t every day. And so, Maundy Thursday is really the last time that the disciples would be with Jesus as they had been with him from the beginning. Such big changes require such a big prayer.

Now, Jesus’ prayer to his Father in heaven is quite profound as one might expect. I encourage you to read chapter 17 in its entirety this afternoon. What you will notice is that although you understand the words, it is difficult to understand the meaning. Jesus repeats himself several times. But as the prayer progresses, Jesus brings us deeper and deeper into God’s eternal plan to save the world.

And the most basic way I can explain it is this: after the Fall, God determined to save the world because of his love for the world. Remember what we learned last Sunday. God’s love is a saving love. It’s not just being nice to people and doing favors for them. No, it will go to the greatest possible lengths to save someone if that is what it takes. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13).

Well, that is the love of the Father. And Jesus’ love is exactly the same. He talks about being “one” with the Father. In other words, as the Father’s love for mankind is a missionary kind of love, so the Son’s love for mankind is missionary in its essence. What does that mean? It is a love that doesn’t sit still. It is a love that pro-actively goes to the objects of its love and then loves them.

How so? In the person of Jesus, God came into this world and laid down his life for his friends. He did not love us from a distance. He did not shout to us from his royal throne in heaven. No, he came. He stayed. He spoke. And he touched. And he took all of the world’s problems on himself. And in this way, he loved. He gave his life as a ransom for many.

But now he was returning to the Father. Verse 11: “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming you.” Verse 13: “Now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy completed in them.” And then what I think is the key to this text, verse 18: “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

This is God’s plan of salvation. He declares it way back in Genesis. He prepares the world for it all throughout the Old Testament. He then saves the world through the sending of his Son, Jesus. And finally, he proclaims this Good News via his disciples of the New Testament. That’s you and me! So, we too are part of God’s eternal plan to save the lost. Indeed, we were once lost too. But now that we have been found, our number one desire is to go and rescue others.

Do you see how that works? The Father’s love is a missionary kind of love. The Son’s love for the world is the same. The Father sends the Son into the world to save it. And, now Jesus sends his New Testament disciples in to the world. Why? To love it. To love it enough to want to save it.

Here is the thing though: the world doesn’t want to be saved. In the beginning of his Gospel John wrote, that “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (1:11). They were waiting for the Messiah since the time of Abraham. The Messiah came, but when he revealed himself, the people rejected him. Actually, I think “rejected” is too nice of a word. The people hated him. They hated him so much that they ended up killing him. Interesting, isn’t it? So, here we have a definition of Jesus’ love for the world. We define it as “grace”, a love undeserved. The world hated him, and yet he dies for it. Well, has the world changed in its hatred of Jesus?

Let me explain the biblical understanding of the term “world”. It’s not talking about the physical planet. It’s talking about the hearts of unbelievers. You see, once the Fall happened, the devil became the ruler of this world. And the devil hates God. And because the devil rules the hearts of people from the moment of their birth, they grow up with an intense dislike for God, Christ, and Christianity.

Just let that sink in. One of the most fundamental teachings of the Bible is that men and women are born spiritually dead in sin. They don’t belong to God from birth. They belong to the devil. Most people don’t believe that. Most people think everyone automatically belongs to God. But to think that is to deny the reality and the severity of the fall. Ever since the Fall, the devil has been the ruler of this world. And I mean the ruler. People are so enslaved by the devil that they don’t even realize it. He rules them so completely that they think they are the ruler of this world. And so, when God says, “I am Lord. I am Master.” They hate him.

So why don’t you and I hate him? Well, here is where the sermon starts coming together. Because in his mercy God has graciously sanctified us. He’s what? He has “sanctified” us—another big word that requires explanation.

“Sanctify” means to set apart. Adam and Eve were set apart for God in that they were holy (that is how God created them), but once sin entered into them, they now belonged to the devil. And ever since then what God has been doing is taking individuals and rescuing them from the control of the devil and setting them apart from the unbelieving world. That is the real history of this world. The climax of this salvation history is the coming of Jesus. He sets himself apart for God as the designated Savior, and then he dies for the sins of the world.

You see, there is forgiveness now for every person who has ever lived and will live. Jesus was sent into the world to obtain that forgiveness. Well, it is obtained. Whether anyone believes it or not, God’s forgiveness is real and it is available for all. And you see, when someone receives this forgiveness, they are set apart from the rest of the world that continues to reject this forgiveness. It’s not that the believer is superior to the unbeliever. It is not even that the believer necessarily sins less than the unbeliever. It is that the believer is forgiven.

That is how God sees this world. He sees sinners. Some of those sinners remain in their sin without the forgiveness of Jesus. Others have been set apart through the forgiveness of Jesus. You ask, “Well, why doesn’t Jesus just set apart everyone for himself?” Well, that is his greatest desire. Jesus died for all, did he not? But the way a person goes from being ruled by the devil to being set apart for God is by faith. It is by knowing who Jesus is, knowing what he did to save the world from its sin, and then by believing (that is, trusting) that all of this is true. And here is the thing: it is not only true for everyone else; it is also true for you! Can you say that? Is it true?

Oh, yes, it is true! There is nothing more true. With his death and resurrection Jesus has broken the power of the devil. And through faith Jesus releases individuals from the rule of the devil. Now God rules them. Now they belong to God. They are set apart from the devil and the unbelieving world. They are sanctified. This is the reality of the situation today. There are those that are set apart for God and for heaven, and there are those that are not set apart for God and for heaven. So, how do we remain set apart until we are finally in heaven? By the truth. To which Jesus then adds, “Your word is truth” (v. 17).

Loved ones, as we continue to live in and love a world that doesn’t love us back, it is imperative that we remain in the Word. God’s Word is truth. That means it communicates reality. Everything that opposes the Word and contradicts the Word is a lie. The devil is the father of all lies. So, any worldview, pearl of wisdom, or individual “truth” that doesn’t line up with what God says in the Bible is a lie.

Can you understand now why it is so hard to remain set apart for an entire lifetime—why it is so hard to finish the race? There are a lot of lies out there and there is a lot of hatred from the world. We need to remain one in doctrine, one in love, and one in Christ. Because God’s will is not to take all the Christians out of the world. No, God’s plan is to leave the Christians in the world so that via their proclamation of the truth they might save the world. Verse 15: “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

That is Jesus’ prayer for you. That the Father might protect you from the evil one. And the Father has answered and will continue to answer it. He has answered it by opening your eyes to the truth. He will continue to answer it through that same truth. May you always believe it. Amen.