Passing the Baton

Scripture: John 17:9-19

 

Title: Passing the baton

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Sent into the world
  • Protected by the name
  • Sanctified by the truth
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

In some ways Christian history is like a relay where the baton is passed on from one person to the next, one generation to the next

–         No one runs the whole race by themselves, not even Jesus, but each of us has our stage to complete

Today we continue our mini-series on Jesus’ prayer in John 17

–         Jesus prayed this prayer the night before his crucifixion and death

–         Last week we looked at the first 8 verses of John 17, where Jesus asked for glory for himself and for God the Father

–         This morning we focus on verses 9-19, where Jesus prays for his disciples

–         Jesus is about to finish his stage of the relay and is at the point of passing on the baton to his disciples

–         Jesus is leaving the field but he wants his disciples to stay on track and run with his message to pass on to others

–         From John 17, verse 9 (in the NIV) we read…

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

There is a lot going on in these verses and I’m not sure it’s possible to fully understand it all – but here are three handles to help us grasp some of the main points at least:

–         Jesus sends his disciples into the world

–         The disciples are protected by the name of God

–         And they are sanctified by the truth

–         First let’s consider the disciples in the world

 

Sent into the world:

If you go scuba diving in the ocean you need to put on the right gear – a wet suit, a weight belt, a mask, flippers and oxygen tanks

–         This is because we human beings don’t belong underwater – we need special protection & equipment to survive in that environment

–         It’s the same principle with space travel – we don’t belong in space and so we would need a special suit and a space craft to exist outside the earth’s atmosphere

–         Or, coming back down to earth again, we don’t belong underground

–         If we go caving we need ropes and a helmet and a torch

–         Even with all this gear though we can’t stay underwater or in space or in a dark cave for very long – it’s not our natural environment

 

Jesus has quite a bit to say about the world in relation to the disciples in John 17

–         The ‘world’ is on the lips of Jesus 11 times in this morning’s reading

–         Now when we hear the term ‘world’ we tend to think of planet earth, our natural environment, a place where we belong

–         But in the gospel of John the ‘world’ is not the natural environment for Christian believers

–         In John 17 the ‘world’ refers to a spiritual domain, an atmosphere of darkness and unbelief where the light of truth and the oxygen of faith is in short supply

–         Or as William Barclay puts it, the world in John stands for ‘human society organising itself without God’

–         The ‘world’ then stands in contrast to the ‘Kingdom of God’

–         The world, as Jesus describes it here, is unsupportive of Christian faith, much like being underwater or out in space or in a cave is not conducive to human life

In verse 11 Jesus says to God…

  • I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.
  • – Then in verse 14 he says…
  • I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
  • – And in verse 18 Jesus says…
  • As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

It is from these verses that we get the old adage: ‘Christians are to be in the world but not of it’

–         Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus uses the image of salt & light to get this idea across – In Matthew 5 Jesus says to his disciples…

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

 

Sometimes, in my role as a pastor, I’ve visited people in prison and every time I go inside I feel uneasy – I’m very conscious that I don’t belong

–         It feels like a different world in prison, although it’s not entirely different

Sometimes, as Christians, we might feel uneasy in this world, like we don’t belong, like we are visiting a prison

–         It is natural we might feel this way because this world is not our home

–         We are citizens of God’s kingdom

–         Like Abraham and Jesus, we are sojourners, pilgrims passing through this world

Christ sends his disciples into the world – that is, into an environment which is not supportive of Christian faith, an atmosphere of darkness and unbelief where the light of truth and the oxygen of faith is in short supply

–         With this in mind our Lord prays for protection for his disciples

 

Protected by the name:

If you are a hockey goalie then you need to wear quite a bit of protective gear

–         And if you are a bomb disposal expert you wear a special suit for protection, or when you go boating you wear a life jacket

–         This equipment is designed to keep people physically safe – it doesn’t provide any guarantees but it certainly helps

 

In verse 11 Jesus prays for disciples saying…

–         Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…

At first this sounds a bit odd – how exactly does a name offer any sort of protection?

–         Well, I’m not sure a name can be relied upon to give us physical protection, in the same way a life jacket or hockey pads or a bullet proof vest might

–         The kind of protection Jesus has in mind here is of a spiritual nature

God’s name is basically his revealed character – his integrity, his identity

–         Proverbs 18, verse 10, says: ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.’

–         There is strength in knowing who God is, knowing his character

For example, if we know deep in our core that God is just, then this protects us from seeking revenge when we are wronged

–         We may be less inclined to try and get even because we know God will ensure that right prevails in the end

–         Likewise, if we know deep down that God is merciful then this protects us from being too harsh with ourselves (or others)

–         We may be less inclined to give up when we fail (or someone fails us) because we know God’s character, he is patient & wants to restore

Looking at the whole of verse 11 in its context we see the sort of protection Jesus has in mind…

  • Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. …

Jesus is saying here, the name of God has the power to protect us from losing our oneness

–         To be one can mean a number of things including having integrity

–         We (in Western culture) tend to think of integrity in individual or personal terms. For example we might think, if I ‘walk the talk’ or ‘practice what I preach’ then I have integrity, I am at one with myself

–         But I expect Jesus’ disciples would have thought of integrity in more collective or community terms.

–         For example, if all 11 players of a football team are on the field and in the right position then the team is playing as one – it has integrity

  • – But if a player gets sent off or out of position then the team is not playing as one – it loses its integrity
  • – Jesus, the Captain, brought his team of disciples together as one
  • – Now he is leaving the field and he wants them to keep their integrity, to continue playing as one – he doesn’t want any to be lost
  • – Or, returning to our relay metaphor, he doesn’t want the chain to be broken – everyone needs to finish their stage of the race

But in saying this Jesus is quick to acknowledge the reality that one (namely Judas) has been lost

  • None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled
  • – This almost sounds like Judas was predestined to be lost – that he had no choice in the matter; that God needed Judas to betray Jesus, or the whole plan of salvation would have failed
  • – Well, God doesn’t need anyone – He could have easily arranged for Jesus’ crucifixion without Judas’ betrayal
  • – Judas was not a robot – he was a responsible person and acted freely
  • – We don’t know what Judas’ motivation was in betraying Jesus
  • – Perhaps it was greed, or maybe he was feeling disappointed & resentful that Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah he had hoped for
  • – Maybe Judas was trying to manipulate the circumstances so that Jesus was put in a position where he was forced to act to protect himself
  • – Whatever his motivation Judas made a poor choice, as we all do from time to time. Sadly, for Judas, this was a choice with massive consequences

If we think of God’s name as an umbrella, protecting us from the rain, then Judas stepped out from under the umbrella during a downpour

  • – Or if we think of God’s name as a school bus, getting us to school safely, then Judas got off the bus at the wrong stop – he left his classmates, ventured out on his own and got lost
  • – If we try and do it on our own we make ourselves more vulnerable to the evil one – to Satan
  • – But if we remember that God is one, like a team is one – Father, Son & Spirit all working together in harmony – then we are less inclined to go it alone and more inclined to take our position on the field with our team mates

 

In verse 15 Jesus asks God to protect his disciples from the evil one

  • – (The evil one being Satan or the Devil)
  • – This indicates quite clearly that Jesus and his disciples are engaged in a spiritual battle, where Satan is the General of the enemy army

Before I became a minister I was dismissive of talk of spiritual warfare

  • – It seemed to me a bit flaky or at least extremely subjective and therefore unreliable
  • – But since becoming a minister I’ve had my eyes opened to evil
  • – This world, as the gospel of John understands it, is a battle ground
  • – There are malicious spiritual forces at work in this world
  • – I still don’t think we can blame every bad thing on the Devil
  • – A lot of hurt & pain in the world can be put down to the choices we human beings make – we have to take responsibility for our actions
  • – By the same token we would be naïve to pretend the Devil doesn’t exist
  • – I’m not saying this to scare you – I say it because it is part of reality which we can’t necessarily see

Now when Jesus prays that God would protect his disciples from the evil one, that doesn’t mean the disciples would never face any opposition

  • – God’s protection (in this context) doesn’t mean, nothing bad would ever happen to the disciples
  • – All of Jesus’ remaining 11 disciples encountered opposition – some were thrown in prison, some were killed and others exiled
  • – They all suffered in this world for their witness for Christ, but none of them was lost from God’s kingdom
  • – God allows Satan to make life difficult for Jesus’ disciples, and for us
  • – (At times it does my head in to think that God allows Satan to mess with people – but at the end of the day I have to acknowledge the limits of my understanding and trust that God knows what he’s doing. God won’t allow us to be tested beyond what we can handle)

I think Jesus, in his prayer, was asking God to protect his disciples’ faith, to keep them safe for eternal life, to deliver them from apostasy

  • – God’s protection allows us to complete our leg of the relay, to remain faithful to Christ (and each other) through whatever the enemy throws at us

 

There’s a TV drama series ‘On Demand’ at the moment called ‘Broken

  • – It’s not easy to watch in places (it’s a bit gritty & real) but it’s also the best series I’ve seen in a long time
  • Broken is a fictional story but it contains so much (gospel) truth
  • – The main character of the show is a Catholic priest by the name of Michael Kerrigan
  • – Michael is a good priest – he ministers to broken people out of his own vulnerability
  • – He is, to borrow Henri Nouwen’s phrase, a ‘wounded healer’

Every time Michael gives the Mass, he is confronted in his mind, by the bad things he has done to others and the bad things that have been done to him

  • – Ironically the most sacred thing in his life has become a hellish torment
  • – Although the show doesn’t directly talk about spiritual warfare, using something sacred (like communion) to torment a good priest is exactly the sort of thing the evil one does
  • – It is plain to see that Michael (a disciple of Christ) is in a very real battle against evil – it is a battle which rages both inside him and in the wider community in which he works, a battle in which we can’t see the enemy

The Devil wants to mislead people, to put them on a path that leads to destruction, by whispering half-truths (if not full blown lies) in our ear

  • – He wants to undo our oneness by turning us against God and against each other – that’s why Jesus prays that the disciples would be one, that they wouldn’t turn against each other

There’s this wonderful scene towards the end of the Broken series when Michael has given up on prayer, so a fellow priest intercedes for him saying:

  • – ‘Lord, I bring before you Michael Kerrigan. He’s a good priest, quick to forgive others but slow to forgive himself. Give him peace.’
  • – This prayer is offered in a spirit of oneness, with Michael present to hear it – the prayer shows Michael that he isn’t alone, that he has a friend in the faith who understands
  • – It also reminds Michael of God’s name, God’s character – that the Lord is gracious & compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love
  • – Do you have a friend in the faith like that?
  • – We can’t complete our leg of the relay alone

 

Sanctified by the truth:

Our defence against the lies of the evil one is truth

  • – So Jesus prays that his disciples would be sanctified by the truth

What then does it mean to be sanctified by the truth?

  • – Well, the word sanctified means holy, as in set apart for a special purpose
  • – A surgical theatre is sanctified in the sense that it is set apart for the special purpose of performing operations on people
  • – One doesn’t use a surgical theatre as a butchery for carving up animals, nor as a kitchen for preparing meals, much less a workshop for fixing cars
  • – A surgical theatre has to be kept clean & hygienic, and it needs to be available in case of emergency, so it isn’t used for any other purpose

 

The disciples were set apart for the special purpose of being witnesses for Christ

  • – This means they were to tell others the truth of their experience of Jesus – that he lived, died and was raised to eternal life
  • – More than just telling the facts of Jesus’ life though, the disciples were to bear witness to the love of God they experienced through Jesus

We, like the disciples, are made holy by a divine revelation of the truth

  • – Jesus is the word of God – he is the truth – and the disciples were sanctified, or made holy, by being in his presence and hearing him speak

 

If you get a tomato sauce stain on your favourite white t-shirt then it won’t come out by simply putting it through a normal wash cycle, even if you do use a special stain remover

  • – Once your shirt has been through the wash you need to hang it on the line in direct sunlight – it’s the sunlight that sanctifies the shirt and makes the stain disappear
  • – It’s similar with sanctifying (or purifying) water – E-coli, Rotavirus, Giardia, Salmonella, Cholera, Campylobacter are all eradicated by 6 hours exposure to sunlight

The light of the truth about Jesus is what sanctifies (or purifies) us

  • – But we have to be exposed to the truth in our inner being
  • – The light has to penetrate our darkness and that’s not usually a pleasant experience

Peter was sanctified by the truth

  • – At the last supper he told the Lord he was ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but the Lord predicted Peter would deny him three times and it happened as Jesus said it would
  • – At cock crow Peter remembered Jesus’ words and was confronted by the bitter truth about himself, as he went away weeping bitterly
  • – But that wasn’t the whole truth – what happened at cock crow was simply Peter’s realisation of his failure
  • – After Jesus’ resurrection the Lord took Peter aside to restore him
  • – Three times Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ and each time Peter said, ‘Yes Lord’, and Jesus responded, ‘Feed my lambs’
  • – Jesus saying, ‘It’s ok Peter. I trust you’.
  • – It was in the light of Jesus’ forgiveness & restoration that Peter was sanctified and the tomato sauce stain of his denial removed

In a way Peter’s failure actually made it possible for him to be a more credible witness to Jesus’ grace and forgiveness

  • – Peter could now talk about God’s forgiveness first hand, from his own experience

 

Jesus also sanctifies himself for the sake of his disciples

  • – As a priest would sanctify (or set apart) an animal to be sacrificed to God, so too Jesus (who is both high priest and sacrifice) sanctifies himself before he goes to the cross
  • – Somehow, in a way that we can’t fully comprehend, our sins are atoned for and we are made holy through Jesus’s sacrificial death

 

Conclusion:

As Jesus finishes his stage of the relay he hands the baton onto his disciples, sending them into a world which is hostile to them, praying that God will protect them and sanctify them, so that they too may finish their part and pass the baton of God’s love & truth to others

 

Let us pray. Lord God, help us as we journey through this world

  • – Protect us from the evil one by the power of your name – help us not to turn on one another but to remain faithful to you
  • – And sanctify us by the truth – both the truth about ourselves and the truth about you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

–         Why do you think this stood out to you?

2.)    Have you ever felt out of place in this world?

–         What does the term ‘world’ mean in the context of John 17?

3.)    What is meant by “God’s name”?

–         How does God’s name protect us?

4.)    What do you think Jesus had in mind when he asked God to protect his disciples from the evil one?

–         What sort of protection can we expect?

5.)    Are you aware of any spiritual opposition in your own life?

–         Can you describe what this is like?

–         Where / when does this usually happen?

6.)    Do you have a friend in the faith, someone trustworthy you can talk with and who can pray for you?

–         Do you know someone who is battling at the moment, who you could listen to and pray for in a spirit of oneness?

7.)    What does it mean to be sanctified by the truth?

–         Can you think of a particular experience, in your own life, when you were sanctified by the truth? What happened?

 

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