SERMON LIVESTREAM VIDEO (link)
TEXT: John 17:13-26
“Come and follow me!”
Some heard Jesus say those words and they dropped everything to follow him. Others listened, but would not follow.
Jesus said it to the fisherman, common laborers, after causing a miraculous catch of fish. And they left their nets and followed him.
Jesus said it to Levi/Matthew, the despised government employee, and he not only followed him, but wrote down the things Jesus said and did so that we can read them today in the Gospel of Matthew.
He also said it to the rich young ruler, who asked him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to give his earthly treasures to the poor and to follow him, but the man turned away, unwilling to give what Jesus asked.
I describe those scenes to set up our sermon for today as well as the series we will be in this Fall. Like this sermon, the series is entitled, “Jesus Among Us.” And my intent is to help us better understand… AND follow Jesus as he invites us to do.
It is one thing to believe Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world, even your Savior. It is another to follow where he leads, to serve him as Lord. But that’s his intent for us; that’s what it means to be a Christian. We are not just believers; we are to be followers.
Today we will look at Jesus prayer in John 17, in which he prays specifically for us and describes how we are to follow. Then, in the coming weeks, we will go through the first several chapters of the Gospel of Mark to look at what Jesus said and did in the world, because that’s what he prayed for: that we would live in the world as he lived in the world, that we would serve in the world as he served in the world.
The Word of Truth
There are several themes I want to highlight in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and we are not even looking at the whole prayer. We are picking up in verse 13 just after his prayer starts (in v.6) to focus on his followers. Prior to that he was praying about what was about to happen for him. He is praying this on the night before his crucifixion, just hours before his arrest. He realizes he is going to leave them and begins to pray for them and those who will come after and believe their testimony. That’s you and me. So you can understand this prayer to be said for you as well as those disciples back then.
The first theme is God’s Word of truth. Jesus says that he has given them (and us) God’s word (v.14). In verse 17 Jesus prays that we be sanctified – or set apart – in God’s truth. He then prays, “Your word is truth.”
We’ll get a peek into what Jesus taught them in the coming weeks in the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Jesus expounds on the Hebrew scriptures, our Old Testament. Often the topic of his teaching is the Kingdom of God, which he will explain with parables and point to with miracles. That teaching is not just about Jesus, but FOR us. It is how he is asking God to set us apart in this world. So we’ll make sure to look for that and ask how it is that this or that teaching marks us distinctly as belonging to God and set apart for God’s work in our world.
Sent Into the World
The world is another theme featured in Jesus’ prayer. I often like to point to verses 15-18 to understand our relationship to the world as followers of Christ. In verse 15 Jesus asks the Father not to take us OUT OF the world. That is, not to hide or huddle away without interaction. We’ll see in Jesus’ example and teaching that neither he nor we are to hideout. That’s like putting a covering over a light – I think I know a song about that!
In verse 16 he declares “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” There are two meanings to that. One is that our citizenship is in God’s Kingdom, not in this world or a particular nation. We belong first to God. There is also a sense, used often in Paul’s writings in the New Testament, in which ‘world’ refers to the priorities and values of the world around us, often in tension or conflict with God’s priorities and values. If our allegiance, priorities, and values start to become indistinguishable from the world around us, then we have lost our way or lost our ‘saltiness’ as Jesus might say.
So we are not to hide away OUT of the world and we are not to be indistinguishably OF the world. Rather, as Jesus prays in verse 18, we are sent like Jesus was sent INTO the world. And here are where these first to themes of word and world connect: our proof and protection against losing our way as we go INTO the world is that Word of Truth that keeps us distinctly His and following the Lord.
One of the ways we are distinctly different and God’s is described in the next few verses (vv.22-23). Jesus describes the UNITY of those who believe and follow him. That hurts a little, because unity is one of the last things I might use to describe the state of Christianity in this day and age. We have divided ourselves into hundreds and thousands of denominations and we argue over things we draw from the culture around us. The last few years of politics, COVID, and racial tension, have made this impossible to ignore. And yet Jesus prays that those who follow him will be made distinct and united through God’s Word which is truth. That is what has drawn me to this church from the beginning – that we find our unity in Christ and in God’s Word. But we can’t take our eye off the ball!
Jesus goes on to pray that one tangible result of our unity is that the world will know that God sent Jesus and loves the world. We’ve talked about evangelism before, and what it looks like to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Have you ever considered that one form of effective evangelism, and the one Jesus prayed about on the night before his Crucifixion, is unity. If we are united in Christ and in God’s Word, then people will see a living witness of God’s loving purpose in the world.
This is why our words and actions matter. It’s why it matters what and how we post on Facebook or talk loudly in the grocery store. It’s not because I’m scolding you for being uncivil. It’s because our lives and our unity in Christ are a living witness to Christ. And Jesus prays for us to be perfected in that… to continue to grow and mature in unity.
Finally, in verse 24, Jesus prays that his desire is that his followers “be with me where I am.” He wants us to be with Him in eternity in the presence of God the Father, just as his followers were with him as he walked the earth.
And here’s the interesting part: he doesn’t short cut to that. If he had, he wouldn’t have prayed, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.” Instead, he knows that the way for us to be with him is to believe and follow him through this world and life. So he prays for God’s word and truth, our unity, and for our participation in his ministry and mission in the world. By following him we will be with him in this life and in eternity.
Want to know what that looks like? Come back for our series, “Jesus Among Us.” We’ll look at the record of where Jesus went, who he talked to, and what he did to understand what it means for us to be sent into the world as he was sent into the world. And we get to do that together as God’s Church!
Do you believe Jesus was who he said he was? If not, we’ll have an opportunity to consider that. If yes, then good! Then hear his next words, spoken to each disciple, each believer: “Come and follow me!” Amen.
Some Music Used
- Christ, Be Our Light
- Holy is the Lord (Tomlin)
- Lifting Those with Heavy Loads (Boesel, Youngblood)
- He Saved Us to Show His Glory (Tommy Walker)
- Mighty to Save
- CHOIR: Order My Steps
- Go to the World