7 Easter Proper B7
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 17:6-19 Sermon
May 20, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
221 "Hark! 10,000 Harps & Voices"
213 "Hail The Day That Sees Him Rise"
359 "Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies"
212 "A Hymn Of Glory Let Us Sing"
WE NEED TO READ THE WHOLE THING
TEXT (vs. 6, 11b, 17): “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
This morning, I'm going to begin with a true story. This is a story about the Bible, and how one wise professor taught some very important truths. Here's what he has to say:
During a question and answer session at a recent speaking engagement, a university student asked me, "Why do you believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God?" Now this is a very interesting question; and probably one of the most important questions any Christian could ask themselves. What is so special, so unique about the Bible that Christians believe it is literally the inspired and inerrant Word of God?
In answering this student's question, I encouraged him to consider the following facts about the Bible:
First, the Bible is not just one single book. This is a more common misconception than many people realize, especially with people who do not come from a Judeo-Christian background. Rather than being a single book, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, which is called the canon of Scripture. These 66 books contain a variety of genres: history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature, letters, and apocalyptic instruction, just to name a few.
Second, 40 different authors wrote these 66 books. These authors came from a variety of backgrounds: shepherds, fishermen, doctors, kings, prophets, and others. And most of these authors never knew one another personally.
Third, these 66 books were written over a period of 1500 years. Yet again, this is another reminder that many of these authors never knew or collaborated with one another in writing these books.
Fourth, the 66 books of the Bible were written in 3 different languages. In the Bible we have books that were mostly written in the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek, with a few small portions written in Aramaic. This is a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books were written.
And finally, these 66 books were written on 3 different continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God's people. Think about the above realities: 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents. What's more, this collection of books shares a common storyline: the creation, fall, and redemption of God's people; a common theme: God's universal love for all of humanity; and a common message: salvation is available to all who accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour through God's gift of faith alone for the forgiveness of their sins.
In addition to sharing these commonalities, these 66 books contain no historical errors or contradictions. God's inerrant Word truly is an amazing collection of writings!
After I had shared the above facts with this student, I offered him the following challenge: I said to him, "If you do not believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, if you do not believe that the Bible is of a supernatural origin, then I challenge you to a test." I said to the student, "I challenge you to go to any library in the world, you can choose any library you like, and find 66 books that match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible. You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents. However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions." I went on to say, "If you can produce such a collection of books, I will admit that the Bible is not the divinely inspired word of God."
The student's reply was almost instantaneous. He emphatically stated," But that's impossible!" It truly is impossible, for any collection of human writings. However, the Bible passes this test. The Bible contains 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, with no historical errors or contradictions. The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, bears the mark of Divine authorship and inspiration. And that's where I'll stop the story.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we are allowed to sort of "eavesdrop" on a conversation Jesus is having with his Father in heaven. This is something that Jesus wants us to hear, because he is sharing some very personal things. He wants unity amongst his people. He wants people to be united with him and with each other in the same way that he is united with his Father in heaven. In John chapter 10, verse 30 Jesus says: "I and the Father are one." You can't get any more unified than that.
The biggest problem with this 17th chapter of John is not with what Jesus says. The problem is that people read just a few words of this chapter, and virtually ignore the rest of them. They'll look at the words "that they all may be one," and see that Jesus repeats them several times. This desire is expressed in verses 11, 21, 22, and 23. There's a lot of emphasis there! Even the Apostle Paul reiterates this in Ephesians chapter 4, verse 3 when he urges us to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
So what has happened, is that people will form their own opinions and ideas on how true unity is achieved. But we need to read the whole thing, and not leave out the stuff we don't like. We also have to read what Jesus says in the light of the rest of Scripture. We cannot base a doctrine on a few isolated words and phrases.
If we look at John 17 in a bit more detail, let's consider what Jesus says is the basis for true unity: Verse 6: "...they have kept your word..." Verse 8: "For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them..." Verse 12: "...that the Scripture might be fulfilled." Verse 14: "I have given them your word..."Verse 17: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." Verse 19: "...that they also may be sanctified in truth." Verse 20: "...for those who will believe in me through their word."
I have just given you examples from seven different verses of John chapter 17 where Jesus is praying for unity. Do you see the common denominator between all of these? Two words stand out very, very clearly: "Word" and "Truth." So when you put all this together, the thing that gives true unity is a unity that is centered in the absolute truth of God's inspired and inerrant Word, which is focused upon Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
I'm sure that you've heard the people who believe that all you need for true unity is to say "I love Jesus," and then join hands and sing "Kum-bay-ah" and forget everything else. That might be great in theory, but in the real world it just doesn't work.
Here are some differences that we need to consider, and these are all things I've encountered over the years. Is the Bible the true, inspired, and inerrant Word of God, or is it a collection of folklore, myth, and other inventions of the human mind? Did God create the world out of nothing as he said in the Bible, or did it come about by a series of accidental circumstances? Are human beings special creations of God, or mutations of other life forms? Was Jesus born of a virgin, or was he conceived like any other human being? Did Jesus physically rise from the dead, or was his resurrection nothing more than a spiritual awakening? Is faith in Jesus Christ the only way to be saved, or can a devout follower of any religion also be saved? Do the Ten Commandments provide us with the basis for God's holy law, or are they just subjective suggestions for how to live a good life? Is Jesus Christ true God and true Man as the Bible says, or is he nothing more than a good moral teacher?
Now you might think that these things are real "no brainers" as far as what is right and wrong, but these are some of the fundamental things that divide Christians; or I should more accurately say, divide Christians from those who loosely use the term "Christian" to describe themselves. When you have situations that polarize people in two completely different directions, how in the world can they ever hope to achieve any form of unity? How can Jesus' prayer be answered according to his divine will?
That's why Jesus directs us to his Word. The Bible itself is what unifies people. That is the litmus test of any doctrine. I've often used the example, that if there are two opposing doctrines, one of three things is true: either position A is correct and position B is wrong, or position B is correct and position A is wrong, or both position A and B are wrong. They absolutely, positively cannot both be correct. Scripture is abundantly clear about what it says, and we know that God would not ever lie to us. Therefore, Scripture must interpret itself, and not be subject to faulty human interpretation. That's why the Apostle Peter says in his first Epistle, chapter 1, verse 21: "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
So why is all this so important? If we look at verse 3 of Jesus' prayer in John 17, he says: "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." We're talking about eternity here! This is everlasting life! This is heaven that's at stake here!
One of the reasons that I've been talking about how separated and fragmented things are, is because this gives us a picture of what sin does, and how Satan operates in this world. Where God creates faith, Satan sows seeds of doubt. Where God gives us truth, Satan tries to get us to exchange it for a lie. Where God directs us to our Saviour Jesus Christ, Satan turns our attention to ourselves. Where God directs us to the truth of his Word, Satan attempts to replace that with the empty philosophies of humanity. Where God wants us to focus our eternal hope in heaven, Satan tries to keep us focused on worldly things. Satan wants us in his kingdom for eternity, and not God's.
When we look at God's Word, we see ourselves in a way that makes us uncomfortable. We see ourselves as sinful, and a part of the sinful world around us. We might not always like what God is telling us either. His Word can cut us deep, and right to the core sometimes.
But Jesus wants us to know him as our Saviour. He wants us to know the truth about him. He came to this earth to be our substitute. He was perfect while we were imperfect. He was faithful while we were straying. He loved with a perfect love when our hearts were cold. And then that perfect love took him all the way to the cross where he paid the punishment for sin that we all deserve.
Listen to what Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verses 3-6: "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."
Jesus wants everybody to know him, and to come to him in faith. He wants all people to know his saving love, and to reap the eternal reward that was bought with his lifeblood. Faith alone is the ultimate key to unity.
This morning, I began with the story about a professor that gave a challenging lesson as to the divine authorship and absolute truth of Scripture. I'm going to finish this illustration now, with the challenge he gave at the end. This is something well worth remembering too. He says:
The next time you encounter someone who asks you why you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, try sharing this challenge with them. Go to any library in the world, and find 66 books that match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible. You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents. However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions. This is the challenge. Better yet, don't wait until you're asked, just go ahead and share this challenge with a friend today. You don't even have to mention the Bible up front, just ask them if they think it would be realistic to assemble such a collection of books. After they say, "But that's impossible!" you've got a ready-made opportunity for sharing the truth of God's word with somebody!
When Jesus prays for unity, he is praying for something far deeper than just some sort of external "love Jesus, join hands, and sing Kum-bay-ah around the campfire" sort of thing. This is something that runs right from his heart to our souls. He wants all people to know him as their Saviour, and have the forgiveness he offers. Even though we know that there will be many eternally lost to perdition, that doesn't change Jesus' ultimate desire for lost humanity. We know that it is God's eternal divine will that all people would come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Scripture contains many warnings against false teachers and false doctrine. But when we are grounded in the truth and reliability of the Bible, we will indeed have a clear picture of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the only name by which people can be saved. It's that simple.