I want to start with a question tonight: What sort of church do you think we are!
For the more scientific or mathematically minded I have a graph:-
If you’re a visual learner you may appreciate this too! Let me explain it…
On the bottom axis we measure how culturally relevant we are as a church and along the side we measure how biblically faithful we are as a church.
Obviously ‘box A’ represents a church that is BOTH culturally relevant and biblically faithful. No prizes for guessing that this is the kind of church that we ought to be! However despite many churches apparently valuing being both culturally relevant and biblically faithful many tend to gravitate to either ‘box B’ (where they are biblically faithful but not very culturally relevant) or ‘box C’ (where they are very culturally relevant but not biblically faithful). Box D is where you are neither culturally relevant or biblically faithful – the kind of church that you might refer to as liberal.
Again, let me ask the question – “what kind of church do you think we are?” Alongside that let me also ask, “what kind of Christian are you?” Are you the kind of Christian who just huddles together with other Christians and hides away. Maybe faithful, but not connected with those around us. Or are you no different to those around you? Those are the questions I want us to be thinking about tonight.
Please turn back to page 1085 and the reading we had from John 17, which we’ll be looking at together tonight. You’ll see from the back of the service sheet, where there is space to write down some notes, that our title tonight is Christmas and really what I would like us to do is looking especially at v 18 of chapter 17, and see how remembering Jesus’ birth at Christmas effects both that question and the way we should live our lives.
First let me quickly summarise the chapter for you so you can put that in context. Look at v1,
“After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed: Father, the time has come.”
Jesus has just been speaking with the disciples on the night before his death. Up to this point in the book of John Jesus has said over and over again "my time (or hour) has not yet come." But now he announces that at last "the time has come." Jesus knows that he is about to die for the sins of the world, then to rise from death, to return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to us. That is the context to the prayer.
Right from the beginning, Jesus knew that this time, the hour of his death, was the very reason he had entered the world. As we remember his birth this Christmas, we should not lose sight of that – Jesus was born to die.
Jesus’ prayer on the night before he died is easily one of the most profound chapters in the Bible and we cannot cover it all tonight – in fact in the 17th century Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain preached 45 sermons on it!
It easily divides into 3 parts (as you can see from the NIV headings) - first a prayer for himself (vv. 1-5); second a prayer for his disciples (vv. 6-19); and third a prayer for those all his who would later believe in him through his disciples (vv. 20-26).
V18 is in that middle section. Listen as I read it again…
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." and again, “As you [the Father] sent me [Jesus] into the world, I [Jesus] have sent them [the disciples] into the world."
Jesus is praying that we make his mission our mission
Let’s look at that in more detail. If you look at verse 12 you will see a reference to Judas who betrayed Jesus and that helps us see that he’s talking specifically about the first disciples – or apostles – in this section. He will go on, in v20 to pray for all Christians who would come to faith "through their message," that is, through the apostles' words while they were alive or read in the New Testament later on. So, we need to remember that this part of the prayer was first for the apostles. That is especially important when we come to work out the meaning of parts of this passage because forgetting will mean you misunderstand and misapply the text.
However, what I want us to focus on tonight is the way Jesus describes his disciples and on what he prays for them and in my view what he says also describes us and can be applied to us.
To understand this section we need to remember the basic biblical truth that the whole world is split into two communities. The larger community Jesus calls "the world"; the other, smaller community he calls those the Father gave him ‘out of the world’. Let’s call them God’s people.
We see this clearly in v9:
"I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours"
God’s plan has always been to call out from the world a people for himself. Sometimes the two communities are depicted as two kingdoms: the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; and sometimes as two cities: the holy city Jerusalem and the great city Babylon. Before he prays for them in v11, he describes his people and their situation and emphasises two facts about them.
FACT NUMBER 1, is that God’s people do not belong to the world.
They have been given to Jesus out of the world. Jesus has revealed to them what God is like and gave them the Word of God, so that they have been brought to knowledge of God and to faith in him. V6:
"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word".
As a result v7:
"they know that everything you have given me comes from you".
"I gave them the words you gave me" and "they accepted them". [As a result,] "they knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed" [that Jesus was sent from God.]
So those people do not belong to the world, they belong to God. How are they described? As those who believe who Jesus is and that he came from God.
Do you believe that about Jesus? If not – then the implication of this passage is that you do not belong to God- even if you think you do. Look at verse 3, Jesus tells us what it means to be God’s people.
‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
That is a wonderful description of a believer, of someone who is part of God’s people. They believed in the one, true God. Not just any God, but the one, true God that was revealed to us by God and through Jesus Christ. But it is not enough to just believe in God. You see, they also believe in Jesus Christ who God has sent. So to be God’s people, we need to believe in god and believe that Jesus is sent by God.
Now maybe you don’t believe that. Or you’re not sure about that. Can I encourage you to make it a priority to learn more about this man Jesus? Pick up a part of the Bible – there are some on the welcome desk and they’re completely free. Take them away and read them. But also you’ll find details at the back and in tour service sheets of the Christianity Explored course starting soon.
But those who belong to Jesus and trust in him no longer belong to the world. They belong to God and they know God.
FACT NUMBER 2, God’s people continue to live in the world.
"I will remain in the world no longer," Jesus says, for he is about to leave the world [when he dies] and go to the Father. "But," [he immediately adds, talking about the disciples] "they are still in the world."
Although we have been given to Christ out of the world and have been transferred from one community to the other, we still live in the world out of which we have been taken. For although the two communities are spiritually distinct, they are not socially segregated. In fact those who are God’s people have the responsibility, now that Christ himself has left the world, to remain in it as his representatives and to make known to others the truth and the words which he has made known to us.
Those are the two facts and with those in mind, what does Christ pray for?
It can be summed up in two words: protect them.
See v11 "protect them" and v15 "protect them from the evil one".
Jesus makes it clear that he does not pray that his people should be taken out of the world, but that should be "protected," by the power of God, protected as a distinct people, protected in the truth and in righteousness of life. If they were to fulfil their calling to live as Christ's ambassadors in the world, they must be loyal to the revelation which he had given them. They needed to keep speaking the truth – in the terms of our graph they needed to be ‘biblically faithful’. Then they would present a powerful, united message to the world. Otherwise, they would be useless.
Jesus also prays that they may be kept from the evil one. His prayer in v15 is not that the Father should take them out of the world, but that he should keep them from evil in the world or from the evil one who is real and most certainly against such things where others have the opportunity to hear about Jesus such as Carols by Candlelight and the CE taster sessions. Jesus prays that they should remain in the world without becoming contaminated by it; that they should be what he was – both "a friend of sinners" and "separated from sinners". They should be in the world but not of it.
Some immediate applications then for how we should be – both as a church and as individuals.
We are not to hide from the world. Why? Maybe fear of contamination – attitude if the Pharisees. Considered other to be evil and worse than them. The worried that of they spent time with them, they would be contaminated as well. There is a right desire to live a holy life but behind this kind of fear of the world can be an attitude that feels that we are better than others and that somehow we are worthy of the gospel.
Maybe it is fear of persecution - Jesus mentions the world's hatred in v14. That can cause us to retreat. Some of us know very real persecution – some have families that have rejected them because they have decided to follow the Lord Jesus. That fear can cause us to hide from the world.
The classic picture of Christians who hide from the world – it is not entirely fair – but there is some truth in it, is the picture of monks who hide away from the veil world. And this church – like all Christian communities – is in real danger of becoming just a holy huddle. A monastery, without the stone walls and without the name.
Maybe you’re considering what to do with the rest of your life. Maybe because you’re just finishing education, or work, or entering a new phase of life. We should all give serious thought to giving our lives full-time to church and missions work. But, when considering what to do with our lives, do you believe the lie that the only useful thing you can do for God is to work for a church? Beware of an attitude that causes you to be reluctant to live and take responsibility in the world. Jesus did not pray that God would take me out of the world; but ask yourself “have I effectively taken myself out of it? Am I deeply concerned with this world and involved in its life and its pain?"
We are not to hide from the world we are also not to be like the world. Jesus did not pray that we should be taken out of it, but he did pray that we should be kept from the evil in it. We should remain what we are, namely "not of the world". V16:
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”
In our concern not to be cut off from the world and to break down barriers we must not lose our identity. We must not become like the world in our outlook and philosophy of life or in our behaviour and ethical standards. We must not remove the distinction between the church and the world. In other words as we seek to be culturally relevant we must not compromise on biblical faithfulness.
How then should we live?
Jesus encourages us and prays for us to live with a mindset that says we have a mission to the world (vv17-19). V18, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."
Notice that even Christians, who live in the world, need to be sent into the world! It seems it is possible to be "in" it without actually going "into" it, possible to be a resident without being a witness.
Jesus’ purpose was that his apostles, remaining in the world after he had left it and remaining with the revelation which he had given them, should share it, spread it and make it known.
v17, "Sanctify them by the truth" What Jesus wants is that we should be set apart not just from evil but for mission. God's revelation does "sanctify" in the sense of making us holy; but it also "consecrates" in the sense of commissioning us. It places upon us a duty and a call to pass on that message to others.
What does our mission to the world look like? V18:
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
Jesus makes his mission the pattern of the church's mission. We are sent into the world in the same way as he was, which you could say was just like a cross-cultural missionary.
Jesus did not attempt to perform his mission from a distance. Jesus came to the earth from heaven as a man. That is what we remember at Christmas – that God himself became a 1st century Galilean man 2000 years ago. ‘Mild he laid his glory by’ you may have sung this Christmas – a reminder that he left behind all the luxuries of heaven. He took on human nature, human flesh, human life. He identified himself with us in our poverty and our limitations. On the cross he even took on himself our sin and guilt. Yet although Jesus identified himself with us completely, he did not lose his identity. He remained himself: he came down from heaven…and was made man (as we say in the creed), but he did not cease to be God.
It is to a costly identification like this that we are called to today. We are not to keep our distance from the world, but to enter it, to infiltrate it, for Christ. We must not shout the gospel at people from a distance, but to enter their world, in order to be able to communicate the gospel to them faithfully. Yet we too are not to lose our identity, or compromise on the message we have been given to proclaim. This is our mission, and it makes us missionaries – every one of us.
A missionary is anyone who crosses a cultural barrier to share the gospel with those on the other side. Someone who makes the effort to learn another language and understand another culture in order to communicate the gospel. In this sense every true Christian is a missionary, even though he stays at home. For Western secularism is to the Christian just as much a foreign culture as Islam or Hinduism.
There are so many today who do not believe in Jesus. So many of them feel as if they are entering an alien culture when they encounter Christianity. It should not be their job to adapt so they can fit in with us! It is our job to enter their culture. Following the example of Jesus we are to live among them, learn their language, build deep relationships, and work hard at clearly and faithfully communicating the message of Jesus Christ to them. The church was never mean to adopt a strategy of ‘sit and let them come to us’. Rather Jesus said: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
Some of you may know that just a few months ago in South Africa there was a massive conference of church leaders from all over the world – called the Lausanne Conference. It started in 1974, many years ago, and they produced something called the Lausanne Covenant. There are some words in it that sum up what we have been learning tonight…
“We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos (church circles) and permeate non-Christian society.”
It also says this:-
“World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.”
So the true Christian attitude to the world is one of mission. If we are sent into the world, we cannot withdraw from it. If we are sent into the world, we cannot conform to it either, or we shall lose both our message and our power. It is involvement in mission, witness and service which will keep us both in the world and not of the world, both culturally relevant and biblically faithful.
So let me ask you again as we end. What type of church are we? What type of church should we be? How do we live in the world as Christians?
Jesus prays, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."
Will we make Jesus’ mission, OUR mission? Will we remember that we do not belong to the world? Will we remember that we continue to live in the world? Will we hide from the world or be like the world?
Jesus prayed for that we would be protected in the world and he calls each one of us to make His mission, our mission.
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”