JESUS HAD YOU IN MIND
Fifth in a series by Dr. Rick Perrin on Jesus’ Prayer for You from John 17:15-23
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.”
Carnegie Mellon University is going to hold a memorial service on September 22 for Computer Science Professor Randy Pausch who died last July 25 at age 47 of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Pausch, you will recall, wrote a best-selling book, The Last Lecture, after he was diagnosed with the incurable disease and given three to six months to live. The book was an expansion of his final lecture in a packed auditorium at Carnegie Mellon which he titled, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. He stressed the values of hard word and learning from criticism and not giving in to anger or self pity.
Dr. Pausch left behind three young children, Dylan, Logan, and Chloe. The book and his final interviews and public appearances, he said, were an attempt to leave a legacy for his family. “I’m trying to wrap myself up in a bottle which will wash up on the shore for my kids to find when they are older,” he said.
If you had last words to leave for your children, what would they be? Dr. Pausch said if he had three words they would be, “Tell the truth.” If he had three more, they would be, “All the time.” That final night in the upper room Jesus was thinking about his words and who would hear them. When he prayed for his church, he prayed in John 17:20 for you and me. In verse 20 he said, I do not ask on behalf of these alone….” He was referring to his disciples. I am praying “for those who believe in Me through their word.” This morning we’re going to consider verses 15-20. We’ll take this in three parts. 1. The Disciples and the World, 2. The Disciples and the Truth, and 3. The Disciples and Those Who Come After.
1. The Disciples and the World. In verse 15, where we’re going to start, Jesus prays concerning his disciples, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world.” We talked about this last week. Jesus could have saved his disciples from a whole lot of trouble that was going to come. He could have spared them from suffering, if he would just take them out of the world. But his plan was that they should remain in the world. That is, the presence of his people, the presence of the church in the middle of the world, was an essential part of his plan for the world’s history. It’s urgent that we should understand. What would happen if the church were removed? In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus gives us a clue. That’s the passage where he says that Christians are supposed to be salt and light in the world. Take away salt and human culture collapses under the rotting weight of sin. Take away light and the world stumbles around in total darkness.
So, Jesus called the disciples to remain engaged in the world. However, in verse 16 Jesus says the disciples were not to be of the world. Here in America most of us have been taught that to be of the world means we compromise with the values and standards that govern our culture. For example, if we start living by the world’s standards we may be caught up by materialism. On a recent episode of the semi-reality show Rich Bride Poor Bride the program featured an ATM machine at a wedding reception. There actually is a social hall where a bridal couple can rent an ATM machine for $155.00. Guests swipe their plastic cards and a deposit automatically enters the couple’s bank account. You sign a receipt, add a congratulatory note, and you’ve taken care of your wedding gift. It’s a little tacky. But many American Christians believe this is what Jesus meant when he warned against being of the world: avoid materialistic tackiness.
However, if we interpret the verse this way, we misunderstand what Jesus meant about not being in the world but not of it. Stop and think for a minute what the world was like where Jesus lived. The land of Israel was ruled by the Roman Empire. The Romans worshiped the old pagan gods. They built temples to their divine emperors. In 3 BC, just four miles from where Jesus grew up in Nazareth, Herod Antipas built himself a new capital called, Sepphoris. Joseph may have worked as a carpenter or stone mason in the construction business there. Jesus may have labored at his stepfather’s side. In the municipal center archeologists have uncovered a magnificent mosaic floor. Lady Egypt is depicted as a prostitute. You can have anything you want. In the center a hippo, the god of the Nile, stands in the river. The water is at flood stage, symbolizing prosperity. Words spread across the mosaic as a slogan: “May prosperity and good luck come to you.” That’s what the Roman Empire stood for. It’s what paganism is about. The Jews of Jesus’ time struggled over how to co-exist with the corrupting influence of paganism.
On Friday when I went out to retrieve the morning newspaper a very slick magazine lay alongside it, tossed there by a pagan organization located in neighboring Lexington. It’s purpose is to draw people to seminars and classes on wholistic living. A major article teaches how to attain happiness. Another reveals the presence of faeries and magick. You can discover the keys to health, wellness, the right food to eat, and how to be in harmony with nature. You can learn the secret to fulfilling relationships, spirituality, beauty, stillness, and abundance. There’s an article by a witch. But she’s a white witch who helps people. There’s a prayer near the end. “I AM one with the great Universe. Within that sky…I always remain that sky. God, Great Mother/Father, Divine Presence, Infinite Source, All other names by which you may be known…Grant me the wisdom to know the vastness of my sky. Remove the veils of illusion that surround my mind and cover my sight. Open my inner and outer eyes to see all things from the pinnacle of my soul.” It’s total nonsense, of course, but this is the essence of paganism.
When Jesus said his disciples were to be in the world but not of the world, he was saying don’t get sucked in, compromised, or confused by stuff like this. Not by Yoga, or by the unity of the world’s religions, or the worship of the planet. We believe not in the oneness of all things, but in a Creator who is distinct from his creation. In verse 18 of Jesus’ prayer he says of his disciples, “I…have sent them into the world.” And their task is to bear witness to this essential truth. As Dr. Randy Pausch urged, “Tell the truth. All the time.” In verse 18 we gain a clue as to how important this is. Jesus says he has sent his disciples into the world “as You have sent Me into the world.” Back in John 3:17 Jesus said he had come into the world “that the world should be saved through Him.” Friends, if you want to save the planet, this is how you do it! Look back in Jesus’ prayer and notice this theme. In verse 3 Jesus says the Father sent him into the world so that people might know the true God and through Jesus receive eternal life. In verse 8 he says of his disciples, “They believe you sent me.” Look ahead: In verse 21 he says he’s sent his disciples into the world so that “the world may believe you sent me.” Do you begin to see how critical it is that the disciples remain in the world and that they don’t compromise the truth of who Jesus is by becoming even just a little bit, of the world?
2. The Disciples and the Truth. We need to see next how Jesus intended his disciples were to carry out their mission in the world. Notice in verse 15 that Jesus prays for the Father to keep his disciples from the evil one. As we’ve just been saying, Jesus is praying that the devil will not be able to sucker those who follow him into false belief. In verse 17 he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth.” The word sanctify means to make holy, and the word holy means set apart. What keeps the followers of Jesus solidly set apart from the world? It’s truth. How do we know what is true? In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” So we know truth by using our minds, by thinking things out clearly, by studying and learning. If you know what is true, you won’t be susceptible to the lies and distortions and falsehoods the world and the devil use to confuse us.
But Jesus takes this a step further in verse 19. He says he has sanctified himself—he’s set himself apart from the world—so that he can teach his disciples the truth without any confusion, so “that they themselves also may be sanctified in the truth.” The teaching of Jesus is the word of God. It’s what we have in the Bible. But here’s an important question: Is the Bible true? There’s a story about a pastor who announced to his congregation that the next Sunday he would preach about Noah and the ark, and he gave them the reference in Genesis so that they could read it and be prepared. There were a couple of boys who noticed something unusual about the placement of the story in the Bible, and during the week they slipped in an stuck the pages of the pulpit Bible together. The next Sunday the pastor got up to read the Scripture. “Noah took unto himself a wife,” he began, “and she was…” he turned the page, “three hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high.” He stopped, scratched his head, turned the page back and read it silently, then turned the page again. He said to his congregation, “There are some things in the Bible that are hard to believe.”
What about it? Can we believe the Bible? Here’s a quick proof. We start by taking the four gospels simply on the basis of being a historical record. By every standard, the gospel of Luke, for example, is a very carefully researched and written, reliable statement of what actually happened in space and time. Luke is universally acknowledged as a world class historian. Luke tells us about Jesus. Part of the record is that Jesus performed miracles, and that he rose bodily from the dead. In spite of the difficulty we may have in believing it, there is every reason to believe that Luke gives us an accurate account. You and I cannot perform supernatural miracles. That power can only come from God, and God would only give that power to one he wished to authenticate. Jesus, then, obviously has the backing of God, so we must take what he says as truth. Jesus declares that the Old Testament is true. He says his apostles will reliably write and teach the truth. So, on that basis we may believe the Bible. Here’s one more thing to consider. The New Testament gospels were written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death. Paul’s account of the resurrection was written about twenty-five years after Jesus’ death. That means that there were still plenty of eyewitnesses around who could either affirm what the New Testament writers said, or contradict it if it was wrong. In fact, Paul directly appealed to eyewitnesses to back up what he wrote. One reason, then, why Jesus did not take his disciples out of the world but kept them in the world was that he wanted them to bear witness that what the Bible says was correct in every detail.
So yes, the Bible is true. The disciples’ mission was to bear witness to the truth, to tell the world about Jesus and how a person may have eternal life through faith in him. You and I can stake our lives on their words, on what they said and wrote. We can judge every idea or philosophy or assertion by the standard of the Bible. If you know the Bible, if you read it and study it, you will be set apart from the world, sanctified in the truth. You can be in the world but not swept off your feet by its falsehoods and half truths. You can know how to live. You can discern right from wrong and good from bad. But most of all, you can know Jesus Christ and how to receive eternal life. If you don’t know the Bible, you’ll be vulnerable and in grave danger as you make your way in this world. You won’t know how you may be saved from your sin. Devote yourself to the word of God.
3. The Disciples and Those Who Come After. Now we come to verse 20. Jesus says, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.” Jesus at this point prays not only for his disciples, but for those who come to believe in him through what the disciples told them. In other words, Jesus is praying here for you and me. How does a person come to know Christ? By coming to know the truth. Frank Barker was for over forty years the pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. As a young man he was a fighter pilot and he was not a Christian. He tells how he came to know Christ. He was on leave and was speeding along the highway returning to the base. It was late at night and Frank fell asleep at the wheel. The road curved, just at the point where a dirt road continued straight ahead. Frank hit the dirt road and his car bounced over ruts and potholes and jerked him awake. He slammed on the brakes. The car skidded into a field and stopped facing a billboard on the main highway. The billboard said, Where Will You Spend Eternity? Frank figured he’d better find out. The next day he found a chaplain who told him about how Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of sinners. Frank trusted in Christ and never looked back.
What was it that led Frank Barker to know Christ? It was the word of the apostles. That’s why Jesus wanted them to remain in the world—so people could hear and be saved through faith. The mission of the apostles was to evangelize the world, to tell people about Jesus. But here in verse 20 is Jesus praying for you and me. And it’s been nearly two thousand years since the apostles preached. How did you and I come to believe? Somebody told us, didn’t they? The generation who first heard and believed told the generation that followed. And that generation told the next generation. Finally the word came to you. If you are from a long time Christian family, then someone told your ancestors when they were pagans. And your family handed down the word. Perhaps your mom or dad told you. Perhaps a Sunday School teacher taught you the Bible. Maybe a youth leader told you. Maybe you heard the word from a pastor one Sunday. Perhaps a friend shared Christ with you. The point is that in the upper room Jesus prayed for you, and the church became the answer to his prayer. Here we have an insight into the mission of the church. Everything we do as a church must involve to one degree or another telling people about Jesus, leading them to faith, and then helping them to grow as disciples so they may tell others. Isn’t this amazing? Jesus had you personally in mind that night and he prayed for you. And the Father answered his prayer!
Let me tell you a true story. David and Svea Flood went as missionaries from Sweden to the heart of Africa, what is today the nation of Zaire, in 1921. The chief of the nearby tribe would not allow them to enter the village for fear of offending the tribal gods. The only contact the Floods had was a young boy who came occasionally to sell them eggs and chickens. Svea decided that if this boy was the only African they could talk to, she would try to reach him for Christ. She shared the gospel and the boy believed in Jesus as his savior. Then Svea became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter they named Aggie. But Svea was weak from malaria and a few days after giving birth she died. David had had enough. Bitter and angry he gave Aggie to another missionary couple to raise and returned to Sweden. “God has ruined my life,” he snarled. Eventually the other couple moved to the United States, and Aggie grew up in America and married a man who became the president of a Bible college in Washington state. She was glad for the large Scandinavian population in the area. One day a Swedish publication arrived in the mail. Aggie couldn’t read Swedish but she leafed through the magazine and then stopped cold at a picture of a tombstone with the name Svea Flood written on it. She hopped in her car and drove to the college where she asked a faculty member to translate the article for her. It was the story of how a missionary named Svea Flood had led a young African boy to Christ, how she had given birth to a baby girl and then died. When the boy grew up he persuaded the chief of the village to let him build a school. He led all his students to faith in Christ. The students told their parents who believed. Even the chief became a Christian. When the article was written there were 600 Christians in that village. Because Svea Flood told the only person she had to tell. But that’s not the end of the story. Sometime later, traveling in Sweden, Aggie located her father. He was bitter and angry and had wasted his life with alcohol. He had forbidden anyone to mention the name of God. But Aggie told him the story and led him to return to Jesus where his life was healed. But that’s not the end of the story. Some years later, attending a conference in London, Aggie met an African leader from Zaire who was the head of a national church of some 110,000 believers. Aggie asked him if he knew about Svea Flood. “Yes,” he said. I was the boy she told about Jesus.
So the first question is, do you know Jesus? I call you today to come and believe in him and to receive his gift of eternal life. And the second question is, who will you tell? A friend? A neighbor? A colleague at work? Your mom or dad? The most important person to tell is your child. And prepare him to tell his children. Here’s something else you and I must do. If Jesus prayed for you, you and I must pray for others we know, that they will come to Christ. God answers those prayers! Jesus has called you and me to be in the world so that the world can be saved through him. The mission is not yet complete, and it’s our turn!
Preached by Dr. Rick Perrin on September 7 2008 at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, 5637 Bush River Road, Columbia SC 29212 and Northwest YMCA on Kennerly Road. Tel. 803-772-1000 www.DiscoverCornerstonesc.org Copyright 2008