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 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.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

John 17:8, 14-15, 17-18, ESV

These words are from Jesus’ last and most urgent prayer for his disciples before his crucifixion. The passage is intense, dense and laden with deep theology. Jesus doesn’t have time to beat around the bush and therefore cuts straight to the heart of the matter. And central to his earnest petition is that his disciples – you and me – would make the connection between the words and identity of Jesus and faith on the one hand, with persecution and evil that pervades the world we live in on the other. Jesus explicitly doesn’t pray that this tension will resolve, or that we would be spared from suffering and hardship. Instead, he prays the opposite – that we would be set apart and sent out to the front lines of the battle between God’s new world order and the darkness of the old.

Jesus is not asking for his followers to do anything he hasn’t done himself. In fact, this prayer comes less than 24 hours before Jesus died on the cross. No, Jesus was simply asking that his followers follow in his footsteps; that they would find strength, conviction and boldness in the realisation that they fundamentally belong to God’s future world order, not the present one. Jesus realises that God’s victory over evil will not come through heavy-handed authoritarian leadership. That may lead to some form of political peace, but not the renovation of evil hearts that perpetuate a broken world order.

Rather, Jesus realises that God’s kingdom victory comes through a different means. It comes through subversive, self-sacrificial love which undermines the foundation of the evil world order and shines rays of light into dark spaces. It comes when ordinary human beings surrender their hearts to Jesus and follow in his footsteps, no matter what the cost. It comes when they turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile; when they choose to honour instead of gossip and forgive instead of resent or retaliate.

This kind of living requires incredible faith and courage. It is supernatural in every way. It is a representation and anticipation of God’s future world order where this will be the norm, not the exception. This is a world of love, honour and submission in which we lay down our own agenda to serve and give to others. This, in a nutshell, is the trinitarian life that God has always existed in – one of perfect peace and fellowship within himself as Father, Son and Spirit in unity.

And this, friends, is the life that Jesus asks the Father to help us share with him for all eternity. Incredible!

The heart of Jesus’ prayer is the direct request, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 ESV). To sanctify something refers to it being set apart for a special purpose. It refers to an object’s cleaning before it could be used in temple-worship activities, or the ceremonial cleaning of a person before they could worship God. Jesus prays that we would be cleansed and prepared for a special purpose and that we may be sent out into the world as ambassadors of God’s new kingdom. But we are not sanctified by water and washing, but by the truth, which John explains is the word of God.

What does he mean? How does God’s word cleanse and prepare us for a holy task?

It does so when we allow God’s word to fundamentally define who we are, how we see the world, and how we live our daily lives. If we don’t regularly and systematically study God’s word, that won’t happen. A sporadic or casual reading of the Bible may make us feel better or religious, but we won’t be sanctified by God’s word or walk in our calling. We will continue to live ordinary lives that reflect our brokenness, rather than extraordinary lives that reflect God’s goodness and glory.

Friends, the Bible is not a newspaper or novel. It contains the very words of life! God invites us to read his Word through a lens of worship, laying down our lives for Jesus and obediently walking towards the life of the ages to come – God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

May God strengthen and equip you for that amazing journey.

Your travel companion,

Christof Spies

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