“Word for Today” – John 17 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

April 8, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


truck-1Ever since college, I have driven a pickup truck.  And I love my truck.  After all, it comes in handy for so many things.  Time for a fishing excursion?  Throw the gear in the back of the truck and head out.  Need to tow a boat?  That’s what a trailer hitch is for!  Need to haul a leaky cooler full of fish back home after a successful trip?  Just throw it in the back.  That way, there’s no mess in the cab.  Yes, trucks are terrific.

Owning a truck, however, comes with a certain level of responsibility.  For example, I have never owned, managed, or worked for a moving company.  Nor do I intend to ever do so.  And yet, I’m always getting requests for my moving services.  Why?  Because I own a truck.

A couple of weeks back, I was at my mother-in-law’s house helping her move some of her things into storage.  Why?  Because I own a truck, of course.  And not only was I there, so were many members of my mother-in-law’s family.  And they were sorting through kitchen items and pictures and keepsakes, deliberately and gently wrapping and packing each item into their respective boxes.  And after several minutes of being a mere spectator to all of this, I began to try to help.  I would throw this item into this box and that item into that box.  But I never seemed to throw the right item into the right box.  “This doesn’t go here, it goes there,” came the gentle reprimand.  “And you need to wrap this.  You can’t just throw it in there.  It’ll break.  In fact, why don’t you just let us sort and pack everything, and then you can do the heavy lifting once we get everything packed.  That’s why you’re here.  So that you and your truck can do the heavy lifting.”

Heavy lifting with me and my truck.  That’s what I’m good for.  And, oddly enough, this is what takes us to our reading for today from John 17.  In theological parlance, this chapter is known as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.”  In it, Jesus, immediately before he is arrested and condemned to death, prays for his disciples, already well aware of the trials and persecutions they will endure for the sake of his name.  And in the face of such suffering, one of the things that Jesus prays is, “For my disciples I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (verse 19).  The Greek word for “sanctified” here is hagiazo, meaning “holy,” or “saintly.”  Tellingly, a cognate of this word is used elsewhere when Scripture describes people, not as sanctified and holy, but as “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:2).  The people of the world are unholy.  That is Scripture’s stinging indictment.  The disciples, then, are being called to holiness in an unholy world.

But make sure you don’t miss the subtle shift that Jesus makes in his words in verse 19!  He begins by saying, “For my disciples I sanctify myself…”  Jesus actively sanctifies himself.  That is, he actively lives a holy life.  He never sins.  He never breaks his Father’s commandments.  He never has an evil thought, word, or deed.  Jesus is actively holy.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for his disciples.  For his disciples do not actively sanctify themselves.  They do not actively live in holiness.  Judas betrays Jesus (cf. John 18:2-3).  Peter denies Jesus (cf. John 18:15-18, 25-27).  And the rest of the disciples desert Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:56).  The disciples sin against Jesus.  That’s why, as Jesus continues his prayer, he says, “For my disciples, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (verse 19).  Jesus actively sanctifies himself.  But when he talks about his disciples, he switches from an active sanctification to a passive sanctification.  For Jesus knows that the disciples cannot sanctify themselves.  They are far too sinful for that.  And so, rather than commanding his disciples to make themselves holy, Jesus gives them a promise:  “By my holiness, I make you holy.  I sanctify myself so that I can share my sanctification with you.”  In other words, Jesus does the “heavy lifting” of holiness so that we don’t have to.  He carries the heavy burden of perfection for us so that we don’t have to break our backs under the weight of God’s commands.  As the Psalmist says, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19).  Jesus bears the heavy burden of holiness so that we can rejoice in the light load of God’s grace.  Jesus does the heavy lifting for us.  Even when that heavy lifting is a cross.  No pickup truck needed.

So, as we continue our journey through Holy Week, remember to give thanks to God for the heavy burden of holiness that Jesus bore.  After all, he bore it for you.

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Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – John 16 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – John 18 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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