Third Avenue Baptist Church
Sunday School — The Gospel of John Series
March 21, 2021
We are continuing our study in John 17. As we continue our study throughout the Gospel of John, and at this point we are looking at the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. The High Priestly prayer because that is how he is functioning. He is "priesting" for his people. When we come to the end of this passage, we are going to remind ourselves of the comprehensive office of Mediator that Christ holds.
To give us a summary, we often as Evangelicals have said, "We do not need a priest." You understand the Protestant impulse to say, "We do not need a priest." The person who gets up and presides over our service is not a priest. The reality is, we desperately need a priest. Without a priest, there is no mediation between us and the Father. Without a priest, there is no intercessor for us.
Indeed, as the book of Hebrews tells us, we have a Great High Priest. The Great High Priest. Jesus Christ our Lord. He 'priests' for us. He is doing so even before his ascension in this prayer. In a sense, his entire incarnation is part of his priesthood. In particular, upon his ascension, when he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty, and Jesus ever makes intercession for us, that is when Jesus Christ is functioning as the Great High Priest.
We have had two sessions together looking at the High Priestly prayer, taking about five verses at a time. We are going to begin today right after verse 11. In order to gain the context, let us just remember the first verses.
John tells us" When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “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. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."
We are going to pause there for a moment. One of the most interesting lessons we learn is what we learn by being asked questions, rather than asking questions. We had a major youth event for High School students on Thursday night by virtual means. I was speaking to 1200 teenagers, and at the end of the night, we had an Ask Anything session. These young people from churches in Canada, to both coasts and in between, were sending in questions.
It tells you something about the faithfulness of the churches where these students are being taught that their questions were so good. I was surprised that two of the questions had to do with the inter-trinitarian mystery. You had teenagers asking, "How is the Father related to the Son? How is it the Son did not know the time or the hour? Yet, he is fully God." You could see these young people trying to think through the mystery of the trinity. Jesus Christ is truly God, truly man. He has all the attributes of deity. And yet, he says that not even he knows the hour of his coming.
Then another question was directed towards the trinitarian mystery. An extremely smart question. I was able to refer to this very text because this passage really helps to explain the incarnation as a trinitarian experience. That is to say, what was the meaning of the incarnation, inside the relationship of the trinity? Obviously, we are dealing with what Calvin would call an analogical knowledge. These are words used to describe that which is beyond words, but they are true words. This is true knowledge. This is what human beings can handle.
Notice what Jesus says in verse 5, "Now Father, Glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed." Now remember the Prologue of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the very agent of creation. Before the world was created, and before the incarnation, he knew a glory with the Father that he accepted to be diminished during the time of his incarnation. He is now looking to the cross. Looking to the empty tomb. Looking to his ascension, and praying to the Father, looking with anticipation to the restoration of the glory he had with the Father before the Creation of the world.
What does that tell us? It tells us something that Jesus experienced, and thus was the trinitarian experience, on behalf of the Son in the incarnation. He forfeited some of his glory to be among us. Not all of his glory. John tells us, "We beheld his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." We could not have survived His full glory.
Even as I said, Calvin reminds us of the analogical nature of language. We also need to recognize that had Jesus presented himself to us, without hiding some of his glory, we would have been destroyed. We are not able to handle the presence. How do we know that? Because God told Moses that. We don't have any other text. God told Moses, "You want to behold my glory? You cannot handle my glory. My glory would destroy you. But I will pass by as you are hidden in the cleft of a rock."
Similarly, in Philippians chapter 2, where we are told about the incarnation, we have the very same logic in slightly different language. This is often called "The Kenosis" because of one Greek word. It’s a dangerous category because there are some who are tempted to push it far beyond its biblical bounds. Nonetheless, what we read in Philippians chapter 2, "Have this mind among yourselves" this is verse 5 "which is yours in Christ Jesus. Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped? But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of men, and being found in human form. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death. Even death on the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name. So that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth, and under the earth. And every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now that tells us something else. Even as, in the incarnation, Christ in obedience accepted a reduction of his glory—certainly his invisible glory—and there was more to it than that. Again, the question is, how did the Son not know the hour of his return?
Paul tells us that the glory Christ prays to the father about in John 17, the glory he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, turns out to be an even greater glory. The obedience of the Son is rewarded by the Father, even with the title "Lord." The fact that every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
One of the things we need to note is the timeline of biblical history. This is probably intuitive to you. It should be intuitive to Christians. The timeline of biblical history eternity, eternity, You cannot say eternity to eternity, but we do not have any category other than that. We do not have a category of timelessness or everlastingness. We know intellectually it is true, but we cannot really experience it. We merely declare it.
The timeline of biblical History is eternity, and then the creation of time as God created the world. He created the world as objects in movement. Objects in movement define time. You might not have thought about that, but that’s actually what defines time, until you have objects in movement. The Biblical creation account tells us exactly how it happens, and then you have time. The time only lasts as long as the objects are in movement. If the objects stop time stops. All kinds of issues and witnesses can be brought here from physics. But when you look to the other side of time, eternity. What you have in the timeline of Scripture here, you have human history interrupted by the incarnation, which changes all time going forward.
Everything forward is incarnational time. Messiah time. That's why for instance, in accordance with the Christian understanding of time, you have the dates "BC" and "AD." It is not before Christ and after Chris. It is before Christ, yes, that's BC, but Anno Domini, or "The year of our Lord." That is where the letters 'AD' come from. It is also interesting if you follow this, and you know how you are supposed to do it—if its BC, say 646 BC, then you put 646 B period, C period, capital b, capital c. If it is AD, the AD comes before the year.
So, if you look at classical history, written until the recent development, classical history was written such that this empire lasted from 646 BC to AD 45. The year of our Lord, 45. The AD comes before the year because Anno Domini. It announced, this is the year of our Lord. History split in two. Jesus is here, praying this prayer at the end of his incarnation, but the age is not coming to an end. That is what's really important. There is no incarnational age that comes to an end. The incarnation comes to an end on earth, but remember, Christ is incarnate now
He is incarnate in his resurrected body. Here is Paul, 1 Corinthians 15, He has a resurrection body, he is the first fruits of those who will follow in him. We too will have a resurrection body in heaven. We will not have a disembodied experience, but a resurrection body.
A little footnote here for political correctness, those who are trying to secularize BC and AD. It is just your typical kind of nonsense. I was in a public setting where I was able to puncture holes in it. I'll admit, it was probably an unhealthy delight. They say, "No you cannot say BC and AD. You cannot have secular people or people in the public schools going 'AD 45'. Then you have these little kids say, 'in the year of our lord' and you have the union of church and state. That's theocracy breaking out in American Schools."
They adopted the new language of BCE and CE. You cannot talk about Christ, so CE is our common era. Of course, why would we have this common era before the common era? Well, we won't talk about that because that would take us right back to AD. You have BCE meaning before the common era.
I was in a context, on a secular university campus, where I was chastised because I refused to go with BCE and CE. Know the current historical lingo has cut and removed the Christian references. I said, "Well how in the world did you do that?" "Well we took BC, and made it BCE. We took AD and made it CE." I said, "Yes, but how did you come up with the numbers? What has been split in two? I mean, everything goes down from here, and everything goes up from there. You think you can just rename what you're calling it as if someone just tripped over a rock in Spain and said, 'Let's just start counting all over again'?" No, sorry. It’s the centrality of the incarnation of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Beginning in verse 6, "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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for I have given them the words you gave me. They have received them, and have come to know in truth that I came from you and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me. For they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine. I am glorified in them and I am no longer in the world, but you are in the world. And I am coming to you holy Father. Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one. Even as we are one."
So, in the intimacy of the relationship between the Father and the Son, even as Jesus is praying, he says that he has accomplished what the Father sent him to do. He manifested and made real, visible, and he announced the Father's name to the people. Then the giving. This is what we spent our time last week on. It's this giving, not just of salvation to sinners, not just giving the world the Savior. It's this incomprehensible, except, comprehensible because it's made simple to us. We do not understand everything about it because it is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian life.
The Father, giving the redeemed to the Son, as gifts. We have the Son, effectively giving the redeemed back to the Father, as gifts. The Son and the Father enjoying the redeemed as a gift.
So even as we think about the gift that has been given to us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, might not perish but have everlasting life." He has given us the gift of everlasting life. In reality, the redeemed, known before the foundation of the world, given by the Father to the Son before the world was created. There is the gift. The gift from the Father to the Son. Christ is, in effect, sharing the gift with the Father.
He goes on and says again, they are in me, they are in you. You gave them to me out of the world. Remember, that comes right after verse 5. "And now Father, glorify me in your presence, with the glory I had with you before the world existed." But not only is history split in two, humanity is split in two. It's so clear in this text. Between those who are in Christ, those who are his because they were given to him by the Father. You have history divided. You have humanity divided. This division of humanity is such that, as we have seen testified in John 6, the ones who belong to the Son can never be taken from him because they were given to the Son by the Father. That is really important!
How is it that we came to be in Christ? The answer is, "Because the Father gave us to the Son." All the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me, I will by no means cast out. Of all that the Father gives me, the Son will lose none of them. That's very good news. Jesus is praying for some of his own here? No, he is praying for all of his own.
The astounding thing is the division in humanity that Jesus mentioned in verse 9. "I am praying for them," that is his own, who are in him, "I am not praying for the World, but for those you have given me, for they are yours." That is, as we saw last week, one of the most striking verses in all of Scripture. The distinction between those who are in and those who are in the world so much so, and here's what's so important for us to see: Christ is not a priest to the world, he's a priest to the church.
That is an astounding change as we think about biblical theology, because as we begin in the book of Genesis, God is Lord. Over the entire universe. He made everything, that is, he reigns over everything. Jesus reigns with him as the logos of the universe over the entire world. But he is priest mediator intercessor for his own. That clarity is a necessary clarity. The church is always gravely endangered when it loses the understanding of the distinction between the church and the world. That understanding of the church and the world that distinction can be falsely defined as something special about us. Once we do that, then we understand why the specialness of the distinction between the church and the world dissipates. Because if it's something special about us, all we have to do is spend some time looking in the mirror and experiencing life together to recognize we're not as special as we thought we were.
So the distinction between the church and the world, if dependent on the observation of us any given day, might be quite frustrating. But the point is that the distinction between the church and the world is Christ and those who are in Christ. That's the big distinction. Similarly, as you're thinking about the great distinction here is between those who are in Christ and those who are just in the world. It's the same thing when we talk about the fatherhood of God. This is a hard thing to talk about, when people talk about the fatherhood of God. So let's just talk about the, the first person of the Trinity for a moment, the fatherhood, it of God, and, or does God love the world? Is it fair to say, God loves the world? And, and if so, how does God love the world?
This is a footnote here, but it might be helpful just to kind of remind us that there are several aspects of God's love for his creature. So first of all, if God made it, he loves it in some sense, if he didn't love it, he wouldn't have made it. Every day of creation, he declares it's good. Of course, when he gets to human beings, made in his image, it's very good. Nonetheless, everything that he makes by the fact that he made it, it is the recipient of his love in some dimension. The first dimension we, which is common to all creation, is benevolence. So, when we talk about benevolence, that's a word for love. Benevolence means as the Bible says, he makes it rain on the, just, and the unjust.
God's benevolence towards all humanity means that we enjoy the sun and the rain. We enjoy the gift of life. Even unbelievers love their children. There are many good gifts that are given to us: what we eat and what we enjoy; the air we breathe; this cosmically anthropically designed planet in which life is habitable. God's benevolence is to all, to save time, even though there are different dimensions will reduce it to two elements of benevolence.
Second is his mercy, his, his, his redeeming mercy is towards those who are in Christ. That's a different kind of love. The Baptist faith and message, which is our official confession of faith, says it this way— I think this is actually just incredibly right— It says, God is fatherly to all creation, but he is Father to those who are in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that's right. He's fatherly to all, but he's Father to those who are in Christ.
Well, you see that reflected in Jesus' prayer. But if I were a believer reading this, I would be more offended by this verse than anything else in the gospel of John. This to me, just to a secular reader would be the most shocking text because here we are told Jesus himself—just think of what the modern cultural conception of Jesus is a moral teacher, a remarkable example of righteousness, certainly he must be an exemplar non-discrimination and inclusivity. Well, actually reading the gospels you find many texts in which that's not true. Here you find that as he's facing the cross, Jesus doesn't pray for the world. That requires the Bible's world picture to be reminded to us again, that world picture.
When we speak of, Jesus, loving the world, what you see as the text to John begins, which is astounding. It's the only gospel who begins here begins in creation. All things are made by him and without him was not thing made that was made. He's the instrument of creation, but his love is for those the Father gave him before the creation of the world. For them, he now prays.
By the way, just another little footnote. There are certain parallel arguments that you find in scripture, the more you study. Some of those parallel arguments are between Old Testament and New Testament texts. You realize, this is a continuation and argument. This is the fulfillment of a promise. But inside the New Testament, there are also some lines of argument in which you all of a sudden recognize, "Well, here's this, and it's picked up over here."
One example is you’re reading the gospel of Matthew, Then you have two people studying different texts. Let's say one of them is reading Matthew, one of them is reading the book of Hebrews. Then all of a sudden you recognize, "Now, wait, just a minute. There's some incredible parallels here!" Another set of parallels, that is very easy to see, is between the gospel of John and Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
So, throughout church history, sometimes the gospel of John has been referred to as the Ephesian gospel. Now that doesn't mean it was written to the Ephesians. What it means is that the similar laser focus on the sovereignty of God comes in lines of argument that are just incredibly parallel between John and Ephesians. As you look at John 17, we are going to look even this morning at Ephesians 1, in order to understand a bit more of what it means for the church to be in Christ. Let's turn right now to Ephesians chapter 1.
Now, remember we're doing this because we want to understand the church given to Christ. The church being described as "in him." Those who are mine. You see this in a verse like we read in verse 10, "All mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them." But the bigger issue is that we are in Christ because the Father gave us to the Son, look at Ephesians 1. Begin reading in verse three:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Now, this is not a prayer. This is a didactic passage. This is a passage from the apostle Paul who is writing to the Ephesians. Certainly you must sense the incredible weight of, of commonality here between John 17 and Ephesians 1. As a matter of fact, Ephesians 1 helps us to understand how it is that we came to be given to Christ before the foundation of the world. Which is also the timeline of Ephesians 1. Before the foundation of the world. We were predestined to see him. Now, Ephesians 1 is the great theater of the display of one of the biblical doctrines. Most Evangelicals failed to understand. Failing to understand the grand flow of biblical history and the heart of biblical theology is largely missing. They remain shallow, and this is the doctrine of union with Christ.
Once again, this is a characteristic emphasis of Reformed Christianity because it is Reformed Christianity that seeks above all others to understand the very text we're –reading John 17 in Ephesians 1--- how is it that these things reflect God's will and purpose, and heart. The answer is because what we are given in Ephesians chapter 1 is the reality that to be redeemed, to belong to Christ, is to be united to him in such a way we can never be severed from him. Which is what we had Jesus say consistently in the gospel of John. And the question becomes, how did that happen? In other words, when were we united with Christ?
Well, the apostle will help us to understand, and the New Testament will display that we were united with Christ, by faith- and justified by faith—when we came in the operations of our heart by the ministry, the holy spirit convicting us of sin. We came to be made alive. We responded to the gospel. We believed. We trusted. We rested in Christ and thus, we became his. Wait, just a minute, we became his, but we were his specifically, You know, it's, it's not like if you could resist read John 17 and let's say,
"Oh, John's all you have, John, Seventeen's all you have." And we hear the Son praying to the Father about those you've given me and making the distinction between those and, and the world.
Well, I guess it's possible. You might say, "Okay, all right. Maybe Jesus came. So those the Father gave him were those who just decided to believe in him." Well, here's the truth. No one is his, who does not believe in him. That is absolutely true, but Ephesians makes very clear speaking of not only believers in toto, but of every believer, that we were predestined. That's a hard doctrine, but there it is. By the way, it's no harder than what you see in John 17.
The older I come to be, and the more I teach theology, the more I think that the great scandal of Christianity—it comes to the exclusivity, the gospel and, and the, the purity, the church, and all kinds of things, and it's very clear in Israel, too. The great scandal is us and them. You know, we're living in an age in which we're told, "It's just wrong to say us and them." So we 'us' will tell 'them' it's wrong to say us and them. It's inevitable, by the way. Even in the most liberal college campuses where you say you don't have us and them, You now have all kinds of identity politics, which is US with a capital, set of letters and THEM with a capital set of letters.
But the interesting thing is this comes up again. And what you see in Ephesians is this symphonic explanation of the fact that we are united to Christ as believers. This union with Christ means we are in him. So as I look at the passage, just follow with me very quickly, Beginning with verse four, it tells us, even as he chose us in him, that's in Christ. So, we were chosen by the Father in Christ. Then just follow him. It says before him in love, he predestined us according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the redeemed. Then verse seven, "In him, we have redemption through his blood," and we continue on down.
This is the purpose which you set forth in Christ. Verse 11, "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined, according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the council of his will." Verse 13, "In him, you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation believed in him were sealed." There, it is, "Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantor, guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it to the praise of his glory."
There is no escape from the logic here. There is no escape from the logic of John 17. There's no escape from the logic of Ephesians 1. When you put John 17 and Ephesians 1 together, you have a comprehensive and glorious understanding of how it came to pass. The Father before the creation of the, a world predestined, chosen, gifted, gave –all these verbs are there. All these words are there. The redeem to the So. Those he's given to the Son can never be taken from him.
That becomes crucial as we continue on. So, we're back now, in John 17. We concluded with verse 11, "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."
So what we have here is a second acknowledgement, as we had in John chapter 6, that of those, the Father has given to the Son, Judas is not one. That Judas is not amongst those who was given before the foundation of the world to Jesus Christ. As a gift from the Father to the Son to be then presented by the Son of the Father and the reciprocity of inter Trinitarian love, no. Judas wasn't there. Judas just appeared to be there. Jesus knew this. He says this in John chapter 6, because some of the larger group of disciples no longer followed him. Jesus turned to the disciples and said, "Do you also want to go away?" You'll recall in, in John chapter 6, and Peter says," Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of, of eternal life, and besides that, we've come to know that you are Christ, the holy one of God."
But we were told then that Jesus knew, in himself, the thoughts of all men. He knew in himself that Judas would betray him. So again, that was, that was told to us. And then in John chapter 13, there is a reference, as is in the background here, to Psalm 41 9. In Psalm 41:9, David speaks of the one who has betrayed him. The one who was so close to him, but has betrayed him. That's the text that is in the background of the statement about Judas in John chapter 13. It's in the background here. So, you have Psalm 41, John 6, John 13 in the background to this statement.
It's just a reminder to us that no one, that as Jesus and the Father, are not surprised by Judas. Judas is not an interruption in plan. Judas is not a disappointment in the sense that it didn't turn out like the Father and the Son had intended with Judas. No, it's a part of the divinely ordained plan of salvation, but Jesus is emphatically not praying for him. That's an astounding thing.
You think about doors of judgment, you know, an eternal door of judgment closing. Just imagine this: Jesus Christ does not pray for you. Jesus speaks of his flock, recognizing his voice and of himself as the good shepherd tending his flock. To be outside that flock is horror. To be outside that door is horror. To be un-prayed for by Jesus is the eternal slamming of a door. You see that right here in John 17.
"While I was with them," Jesus said in verse 12, "I kept them in your name." That's what's so sweet. Jesus having been given the people, those who would be in him, redeemed by the Father, Jesus kept them which is really sweet. He kept us. Imagine all the time the disciples were with him. Even as Jesus was sleeping, he was keeping them. He keeps us, though we can't keep ourselves. All we like sheep have gone astray. We can't keep ourselves in any sense, internally or externally. But Jesus says, while he was here, he kept us. He didn't lose any.
"I kept them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one, I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction that the scripture might be fulfilled." We know who he was. And he wasn't really lost because he was never a part of us in the beginning. But he was among us. In verse 13, Jesus says, "But now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves."
So once again, there's something astounding here that jumps out at us. Of course, it's following the flow of the prayer. We've been guarded by Christ. Not one has been lost, but again, Jesus says, as he said verses earlier, "But now I am coming to you." S0o he's praying about the church when he is absent as the incarnate Lord on earth. This is the purpose of the prayer. This is the main purpose of the prayer. Jesus' concern for us without him incarnate on earth. When he was here, he guarded us. He kept us. He's praying for us now. But notice what he prays in verse 13. "But now I am coming to you." He's already said that. And he repeats it. "And these things that I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves."
This is something we really need to know. The joy that Jesus knows as the Son with the Father is the joy in its own dimensionality that Jesus wants us to have. He wants us to share in that joy. However, you define the love of God toward the objects of his love—the Son is the object of his love—and we are in the Son or the objects of his love. Christ says, "When I am absent from them, I want them to know jo." That's really good news.
But the joy has a specific shape. It has a specific substance. It's not merely a mood. Look at what he says. It's the most amazing testimony to the Word of God. "But now I'm coming to you and these things that I speak about in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of this world. And the world has hated them because they are not of this world just as I am not of this world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world, sanctify them in the truth. Your word is the truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world and for their sake, I consecrate myself that they also may be sanctified in truth."
I think just about everyone thinking about John 17 knows of Jesus' prayer for the unity of the church. "May they be one as we are one." Even the larger ecumenical movement has claimed this, that we may all be one, let's just have one church. Let's just have a visible unity.
Here's the problem revealed in church history. Church history tells us about the problems. Here's one of the problems, every effort to try to come up with the lowest common denominator Christianity and say, "There is the unity of the church." It fails because we need to remember that the unity of the church is not institutional. That's a very important new Testament teaching. It's a very important understanding for us. I mean that we are, we are Baptist. If anybody on planet earth understands that the unity of the church is real, but not institutional it's Baptist.
We believe that unity of the church is seen, first of all, right here in the unity of this local church. This is a church where we're unified in our faith, in our confession, in our service, in our ministry, in our worship, in our covenant. This is why when we have a members meeting, we read the covenant so there's unity. We belong to one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We know there are other faithful Christians outside of Third Avenue Baptist church, just to remind ourselves of that. They're wonderful gospel Christians outside of third avenue, Baptist church, right down the street from us. And, thanks be to God.
We believe that there are Christians in churches that are labeled differently. The key issue for us is not the name of the church, but whether or not the Bible is preached as the word of God. That the gospel is preached in its clarity and purity producing a gospel people. But there's a reason why, and part of this is in the mystery of God's on, omniscience. There's a reason why we're not all the Christians in Louisville. We aren't meeting in one room this morning. That reason is not COVID by the way. There is a theological reason why we're not meeting. It is because we have congregations by conviction that are established and we can know one another and we can experience unity together. This is so much more than the world's idea of unity. They say put everyone in Madison Square Gardens and look at all the people you see. But of course, what you're looking at is a multitude. There is actually no unity, just proximity.
Ecclesiology is based upon unity in Christ, but there's more to it than that. As you look at this, you recognize that the unity is theological and the unity is in the scriptures! "I have given them your word". He said that earlier, but now the context is very tight. "I've given them your word and the world has hated them because they're not of the world just as I am out of the world." So, at least a part of having the word means that the world hates us. Well, that's something helpful to know.
"I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." Very good. Very good. This helps us. In other words, one of the questions in the flow of biblical history is why are we here right now? Why is there time between the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and his coming? What is the purpose of all this time? We're waiting, crying out loud. Jesus answered it. When in the book of Acts, he says, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world." He is Christ, showing his glory in the world, but in the world, he shows his glory is in the church and through the preaching of the gospel. This is, this is the gospel preaching age. There's no other reason for this age. There is no other act of salvation history that remains to take place before the coming of Christ which will consummate all things. We're not waiting for Christ to do anything. When he said it is finish, it is finished.
No, we have a job to do and we'll do it until Jesus comes. But while we're in the world, in the dangers of the world, Jesus prays for the unity of his church. The unity is in truth. This is one the issues of singular importance for us to understand. True Christian unity is unity is always in truth. It's never a unity at the expense of truth. It's never trying to find a lowest common denominator. It's always leaning into the truth together. Now this again, doesn't mean that we believe we're the only Christians. Thanks be to God. It does mean that where there is no obedience to scripture, there is no true Christianity. As we shall see, when we gather together again in verse 17, Jesus actually says, "Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth."
Now we find out that it's by the preaching of the word of God. Now, when we say here, "Your word." We'll speak very clearly Jesus means your revelation. So, it means the entirety of revelation included in that is the word of the gospel. Included in that is the Old Testament included in that is all that God has spoken. Most importantly, what is accessible to us and given to us as the Holy Scripture. So that is what we're looking at here. "Your word is truth." By the word that we're sanctified. Sanctify them. Make the church, those you've given me, before the foundation of the world, wholly in your truth.
That's where we're going to have to end today, but it does point out something else. Why do we study the scripture? Why do Christ's people study the scripture? Why are we drawn to come back to the scripture again? And again and again? Because we love the Bible? Yes. Because God speaks, and how dare we not want to hear what he says? Yes, of course.
But you also have to understand that this is Christ's priestly ministry to his own, through the preaching of the word, to make his people holy. You can put it another way. There is no holiness apart from the word of God. In the knowledge of the word, the constraining power of the word, the indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit confirming the word and applying the word without, without the word of God, there's no holiness.
We need all the holiness we can get, which means we need all the Bible we can get. Those who belong to Christ are those who gather together for the preaching and teaching of the word of God, whose instincts are to turn to God's word. Jesus will say much more in the context of this unprecedented prayer to follow. It has been such a privilege today just to look, not only to this text, but to Ephesians 1 and come to understand the common witness of scripture. We come to the end and we pray with the words of Jesus. "Father sanctify us in the truth for your word is truth." Let's pray, Father, thank you for everything you've given to us. Every syllable of this text and Father, we pray that even now you'll be sanctifying your people. These people, we who are studying your word here at this church. We pray that you will sanctify us and sanctify your entire church in the truth. Your word is, truth to the everlasting glory of your name in Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.