May 24, 2009
7th Sunday in Easter
Pastor Don Sutton
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
Moms and dads, do you remember the feeling you had when you dropped a child off at school or sent a child off to school for that first time? Maybe there was that joy you had that your child was now this old and was moving along that process of growing up. But at the same time as you looked at your little one with his/her book bag and maybe even a lunch bag or Mickey Mouse or Star Wars lunch bucket, wasn’t there that deep concern, “That’s my baby. Is he/she going to be okay?” Did you pray… “Lord watch over him/her?” Zoom forward into time when you’re dropping your son/daughter off at college or at an armed forces induction center or the airport that will lead to years of study or military service. There may be a joy over seeing your child reaching another milestone in growing up. But there also may be a feeling of sadness and concern, “Will he/she be okay?” To counter your anxiety you say a prayer, “Lord watch over him/her. Help my child to do well. Preserve his or her faith and keep him/her out of trouble.”
As we hear Jesus speak today in our short gospel, John 17:17, he is about to leave his disciples. It’s the Last Supper. Soon he will go to the cross to die and then rise. 40 days after his resurrection he will ascend into heaven. His relationship with the disciples will change. Out of his deep love and concern for his disciples Jesus prays for them. One of the key things for which he prays provides our focus for today,
“Sanctify Them in the Truth.”
Sanctify is a word that is not used in our everyday language. The American College Dictionary defines it in the following ways in its first two definitions: 1) to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate; 2) to purify or free from sin. My Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (an old New Testament Greek dictionary) defines the Greek verb for sanctify in these ways: 1) to render or declare sacred or holy, or to consecrate; 2) to separate from things profane and dedicate to God; or, 3) to purify.
God sanctifies everyone who believes in Jesus. It happens this way. Through the gospel, whether connected with baptism or simply in the Bible verses that people read or hear, the Holy Spirit works faith in Jesus. At that moment they personally receive the forgiveness of sins. God cleanses them with innocence because of Jesus who lived perfectly, died for all sins and rose again to prove sin was taken care of. At the same time people receive Jesus’ righteousness. That’s the personal reception of justification. At the same time God sets us apart as his own. While our justification – our declaration of innocence is done – our sanctification, our remaining set apart and staying clean through faith in Jesus, is on-going until God takes us to heaven.
A simple example of this is these shells. “Me and the Missus” found these along Sanibel Island beaches in Florida when I vicared or interned down there. We picked them up, took them home, washed them, and set them apart. The “Missus” put them in a nice fancy, clean, clear jar and put them on the vanity in our bathroom to decorate it and remind us of good times in Florida. That way they also don’t get lost, dusty or damaged. Likewise, God has found us, cleaned us in Jesus and set us apart to be his. Now he watches over us because he doesn’t want us spiritually damaged or eternally lost.
Jesus Praying for His Disciples
As Jesus prays for his disciples, they have already experienced the initial sanctifying work of God. But
he is leaving them in the world filled with paganism, humanism, hedonism, materialism, and a whole
bunch of other ungodly “isms” and influences. So Jesus prays that after his departure his Father would protect them, keeping them clean through faith in him and set apart as God’s sons until God takes them from time into eternity.
Isn’t this something we need to – to have a Lord who prays for us in this way too? Don’t you find that sometimes living the Christian life just seems to flow because we’re very active in God’s Word so that God’s power is active in us? But then there are those times when we’re not so active in God’s Word and so God doesn’t get as much opportunity to work his power in us. So we struggle with temptation. We give in to sin. We make bad decisions. We lack in love. We fail God. We endanger our faith. Wouldn’t it be nice to know the Lord prays for us the way he did for his disciples?
Well think about this. When the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us, does he only pray, “Father, forgive them because I took care of their sins?” Might he also pray, “Father, sanctify or protect them?” You can trust that if we need this, Jesus does it.
“…By the Truth”
Note that Jesus added, “…by the truth.” When Jesus told the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” Pilate responded, “What is truth?” Jesus prayed, “Your Word is truth.” God moved men to write that Word – Old and New Testament. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim3:16).” God saw to it that his Word, all 66 books of the bible would be preserved. The Apostle Peter wrote, “The word of the Lord stands forever (1Pe1:25).” If you and I want to know the truth about key questions relating to life, its all in the Bible – the origin of things, the purpose of people, who God is, how God sees us, how to be right with God, right and wrong, and our ultimate future – it’s all there/here. God’s word, the Bible is the truth.
One problem is that some people don’t want to hear what it has to say. They prefer to listen to some man-made holy book whether it be the Book of Mormon of the Church of Jesus Christ – the Latter Day Saints,
the writings of the Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Koran of the Islam, eastern
philosophy, or the thoughts of Oprah Winfrey.
Another major problem today is postmodern thinking. Postmodern thinking, which some have observed since the 1950’s has affected nearly all disciplines in the natural and social science so that it has become the dominant thinking is western culture, maintains that there is no absolute truth. In post-modern thinking there are no hard and fast principles; there are only preferences. “I know” is replaced by “I feel.” All morals and all truth are relative. It changes with the times. In Postmodern thinking truth is not absolute and is only what you make it out to be.
Still another problem is that people don’t like it when God tells us in his Law that he expects perfection in us and that we don’t measure up, we’re under the law’s curse, and we can’t save ourselves. They don’t like it when God says that popular attitudes like self-centeredness and greed are sin or that behaviors like sex outside of marriage, gay relations, drunkenness, refusal to forgive, abortion, cheating and more are sin. They don’t like it when God, in the Bible, talks about staying away from false teachers and false teaching, or about male leadership at home or in church, or the principles of close communion.
Another problem with which many of us may struggle is that we don’t always feel we need sanctifying by the truth. In other words some think they can get by with a little dose of God’s word here and there but don’t see much use for daily dipping in God’s Word or weekly worship in which God’s Word is richly present. At the same time the devil uses certain talk shows, some documentaries, some sit-coms, some novels, some periodicals, items on the web, the influence of certain friends or co-workers, the godless teachings of some secular professors, seminars and courses that contradict the Bible, the sinful examples of parents and other role models, to engrain in us the pattern of this evil world. And if we don’t buy into things personally, we may start to think, “No harm in them.” None of us is immune.
Being Sanctified / Being Transformed
Paul the Apostles wrote to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you,… in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (12:1,2).”
How are we transformed and renewed? It’s through the use of God’s word. It shows us our sin and weakness through it the Holy Spirit produces godly sorrow. But God’s Word shows us Jesus and assures us that in him there is cleansing in his blood, the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7) and from him we receive righteousness for as many as have been baptized into Christ have clothed themselves in Christ (Gal 3:27). In the gospel God promises that God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve but as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As we hear and as we think about God’s love, it has a comforting, warming, strengthening and transforming affect.
The result is that we want to thank God. So when God’s law is proclaimed in God’s word, the truth, we are reminded of what is good and godly and we are reinforced in it. Our love for God moves us to want to follow that law to thank him. So God continues the sanctifying process.
One of the miracles that I have the privilege of seeing on a weekly basis is the miraculous transformation of the kids’ room across from the office. There are times I see that room filled with kids and there are toys and stuff all over the place. It looks like a tornado struck there. I think to myself, “I sure hope I don’t end up cleaning that up.” But later I go by and the room is clean. The toys are put away. The toy bins are back in their places. The kids’ books are on the shelf. The room has been transformed. That’s what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts, minds, and souls as we use God’s Word. Therefore, let The Holy Spirit work in you daily through the word and weekly through worship. And pray, “Dear God, sanctify me in the truth. Your word is truth.” Amen.