(Maybe it should be called Pure Words instead. Read on.)
[John 17] Jesus is about as calm as the eye of a hurricane as He awaits an inevitable betrayal, arrest, conviction and crucifixion. So He intently goes to a familiar place to pray. An urgent conversation awaits Him. His closest friends are oblivious to the weight of the scene; the only weight they feel is their eyelids shutting as they sleep instead of watch. I would chide them expect for the fact that I would have done the same.
What Jesus prays is both shocking and re-assuring. He wrestles with the Father, resigning His will to what must be done. (For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame [Hebrews 12:1-3].) Then His prayer takes the tone of a man giving his final resolution, a battle cry of certainty. Jesus doesn’t say much after this, at least not for a few days. The risen Christ had much to say on the other side of the grave.
He had just said His peace to His betrayer, Judas, who would come onto the scene soon after this hour of prayer. Earlier, at the Last Supper, celebrating the substitution of the Passover Lamb, Jesus told His adversary to get on with what he intended to do.
What Jesus needed to say next He said to the only one who did not betray Him. Though the Father would soon turn His face away, He is the only One in Jesus’ life who would keep all His promises.
This was a moment of sweet communion and a glimpse into the most pure conversation to ever take place on planet earth. No pretense or manipulation. No one ‘winning,’ and getting his way through whining or verbal abuse. The strength of Their wills is unfathomable, their rights as Deity immeasurable. But — check this — neither asserts His rights.
The Father is about to severely punish and chastise His Son, all for things His other sons and daughters did. The implications of this — as a father with a son — are many, and which I cannot explore in this space right now. Notice what Jesus prays, how He wraps it up. Many things He asks the Father for, none of them surprising to the Father, though we might be a little surprised as we read it all. In the middle of conversing with God the Father, Jesus says [John 17:13-19]:
13 “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. 14 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. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Did you see that? So much to dig through, the words are so weighty. Christians [at least in the comfortable West] are notorious for trying become “sanctified” by separating themselves from the “world.” Yet notice what Jesus does here. He prays “not that You take them out of the world,” but rather that God will “protect them from the evil one.” People who are not engaged with the world have little need to be guarded from the evil one. Somehow he’s already been successful towards those people and has moved on to more adventurous matters. (Why would he keep kicking a dead horse?) We are to be in the world, but distinct and not of it. And He’s not talking about music tastes (at least I don’t think that’s His primary aim). Worldliness has much more to do with our closeness to God, in His overcoming our worldly passions and replacing them with His. I am worldly when I complain and am boastful, and assert my way but am not a servant. I am worldly when I neglect the needs around me in favor of fulfilling my wants. I am worldly when the center of my religion is myself, and when self-actualization is my chief aim in life. You see, worldliness is not just about doing all those “bad” things we associate with the “world.” Those are just symptoms of our desperate situation; we are broken at the core and fractured in our affections. Our worldly behaviors (in all greedy and prideful manner) rise from our worldly desires (for power, success, approval, comfort).
From Worldliness to Sent
All rhetoric aside, notice the purity of verse 18:
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
Rub John 17:18 together with John 20:21, when Jesus says this after He’s risen:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Before He asked the Father to send them; now He sends them and breathes on them God’s Spirit. Notice the parallels to Genesis 1:2 [God’s Spirit or ruach active in creation] to Genesis 2:7 [where humankind receive the ruach of God’s life]. The echoes from the Creation account haunt these passages, as Jesus shows us how it ought to be.
I say purity because that is the pure missionary heart of God. Relentlessly pursuing. Notice the words “sanctify” in verses 17 and 19. Who was the most sanctified man ever? Jesus was. And the purity of His life, the passion of His mission, was so godly that you cannot help but think this is a Man who brought together all of who God is with all of who man was created to be. God sent Himself into the world, not to condemn the world, but through His Son to rescue the world (John 3:16-17). He was sent. In the same way, if we know and trust God through Christ, we have been sent as well.
From Sentimentalism to Sent
It’s often been said the church is the hope of the world. I agree with that, and give my days towards that end. But in one sense that is not entirely true. (It sounds like we’re a bit deal.) Jesus is the only true Hope of the world. While His Church does have a mission, to which we must be faithful, we must recognize whose mission it really is. Jesus shows us there while agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, the mission is His. He has taken His role seriously, giving up all His rights and courageously fulfilling all His responsibilities. Then He purchases a people who will be sent out to live out His mission. Does the church of God have a mission? Sure. But let’s be clear on one thing: He doesn’t need us. I think it’s better to give it this slant: The God of Mission has a Church. It’s His Story, His Mission, we’re just living in it.
You’ve been Sent. Go like you’re His.