Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 12, 2024

John 17:6-19 Commentary

Jesus prays for our protection. He prays for our protection so that we may be one, as God is one (v 11). Our unity is a witness to the Trinity. He does not pray that we will be removed from the trials and temptations, from the pressures of the world, or isolated from alternate ways of thinking. Instead, Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from evil and will sanctify us in the truth.

It’s that last part that causes my theologically trained brain to pause for a moment. Because Jesus says that he sanctified himself so that we might also be sanctified in truth (v 19). Sanctification is a category associated with the life-changing work of the Spirit to make us more Christlike. It’s the work of sinners becoming saints—something Jesus doesn’t need to undergo. And while this aspect of God’s work in us is accurate, if it is our only definition, then how does it apply to Jesus the Christ?

To “sanctify” (hagiazō) has a more robust definition than most of us use. It is to “set aside something or make it suitable for ritual purposes” (BDAG). To be sanctified is to not only be made holy, but to be given a purpose, to be “consecrated” or “dedicated.”

Go back and re-read today’s lectionary passage through that lens. Jesus says that for our sake he sanctified himself; he was sent by the Father to the beloved. He was sent, sanctified, with the purpose of making God’s name and word known to us. Jesus’s committed work led to our faith and trust in Jesus’s connection with the Father: we believed he was sent and empowered by our God.

Jesus also sanctified himself as he took up the mantle of protecting us. He guarded us and now that he is leaving the earth, he wants to know who will continue this task for it is far from over. Jesus sees clearly that the going will be tough for those who have been set apart as the family of God in this world. Not only that, but the world needs the witness of the sanctified; it is part of God’s redemption plan. To be sanctified is inherently about being sent.

Sanctification, then, is much more than living without sin. Our being set apart together, in unity, is a sign of our sanctification in the truth. As Jesus describes it here, unity flows from knowing him and the Father, knowing the word of God as taught by Christ, and being sanctified in that word, which is truth.

Sanctification is also the call to be a communal witness in the world. Jesus’s time on earth was specific, but the body of Christ continues to inhabit the world. We are sanctified by God’s truth, belonging to God—we are given by God to God after all—not to the world. We are not given to the world in the sense that we are not “given over” to the powers and principalities of the world; we belong, body and soul, to our faithful God. (Heidelberg Catechism Q 1)

We do not belong to the world, but we are sent to it. Our sanctification means that we follow the one who was sent to us. Knowing what we face because he himself has lived it, Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (v 11)

When we read the Gospels, we read less about Jesus protecting his disciples from physical threat and much more about Jesus guarding God’s beloved from being excluded—from children and women, to the disabled and poor, even the rich and the powerful were invited to experience his truth. He teaches the disciples over and over how our traditional understandings have missed the point of God’s words of truth. He shows the disciples a life that fulfills every aspect of the law given by the Father—even while he broke Sabbath laws and cleared the temple of the animal sellers and witnessed to his own identity as the Son of Man and Son of God. This too was part of his chosen sanctification: a life set apart in holiness and true blessing, one that truly witnessed to the love of the Trinity for humanity.

Jesus prays for our protection as we seek to follow him in these things, knowing that it is in these bonds of love and truth that we will witness to the unity that he has with the Father. Jesus prays for our protection so that when we pursue these things, his joy is made complete in our togetherness.

Others will not accept our witness; they will find it unacceptable, unholy, ineffective, ridiculous and incredulous, maybe even heretical. Still others will not understand because they stand completely outside of the family of God. But we do not belong to them, we belong to our Saviour; this is the name that God has given to Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Master. He is the one who has given us the truth of the word of God. He is the one who sanctifies and sends us and prays for our protection so that we will be one as he and the Father are one. Unity matters that much.

Textual Point

“Given” (didōmi) is a keyword in this passage; Jesus speaks it nine times. It is a generous kind of giving, the kind the giver is devoted to through and through. Both Jesus and the Father are the givers, and Jesus and us are the receivers. What’s clear from Jesus’s prayer is that, unlike a gift given without strings attached, God’s giving is deeply connecting: Jesus is invested in those whom the Father has given him and though he doesn’t say he’s giving us back to the Father, his prayer for our protection is expressing his expectation that the Father will protect and sanctify us as we continue in our calling.

Illustration Idea

This text is part of Jesus’s prayer as prepares to leave this world. It contains his hopes for what will continue—his legacy, if you will—as well as his efforts to equip and provide for those who will carry on in his name. Yes, Jesus will die, but we will not be left without hope or purpose because he has provided us with everything we need. As inadequate as the comparison is, Jesus’s great priestly prayer in the Gospel of John is akin to Jesus’s life insurance policy and last will and testament rolled into one. We, God’s beloved, are his beneficiaries, hearing loud and clear Christ’s intentions for us and his gifts.


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