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What Luther Says

Reflecting On John 17, The High Priestly Prayer, And The Word

I'm sorry to say that it's been awhile since we engaged in a true blue Bible study here since we've been spending a lot of time reporting on and sharing other things.

Yes, I know it's Super Bowl Sunday, but I thought it would be as good a time as ever to take a quick look at John 17 and "The High Priestly Prayer" chapter, or Jesus' prayer for His own Church.

There's so much that we could hone in on to discuss from John 17, but I'd like us to look at one verse in particular, which I think will go along nicely with the topics we've been looking at together lately.

John 17:17 (ESV) Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

In his exposition of this verse, Martin Luther wrote...

"You wish to know for a certainty and infallibly what true and real holiness is, that you may be able to distinguish it from all others; then look at the Word only, and do not permit yourself to be deceived by any false show. For the Word is a true touchstone whereby real holiness is distinguished and discovered: more than that, the Word itself is that alone which truly sanctifies. Whatever is not the Word, or to be proved by the Word, is not holiness, but falsity, profanity, frivolity, and a thing of no substance. We are to hear the Word from the mouth of Christ only. The one that hears and believes His Word has rightly the truth of God which sanctifies, without any hypocritical show. For if you believe His Word, then you can hold fast no hope or confidence in your own reason and wisdom, nor in your own strength and works. Unfeigned humility always follows where there is unfeigned faith. And true patience and love for the brethren always follow upon true humility. You will know the tree by its fruits, and also who they are who have and hold the Word of Christ. True holiness is nothing else but a true faith in the Word of Christ, which the Father first freely gives, from which all kinds of good fruits proceed. We openly and freely confess before the whole world, and in the face of all devils and sects, that there is no life, no good works, no spiritual and sublime thoughts, nor any self-forced devotion that can make men saints. In a word, there is nothing in us from which holiness can proceed."

(emphasis mine)

The word "sanctify" is key in that verse from John 17.

Simply put, God sets His people apart from the world by means of His Word.

In short, and according to my Lutheran Study Bible, "knowing that He is going to the cross, Jesus prays for His disciples and asks that they be united by faith in Him."

See, whenever Christians ignore God’s Word, they foster divisions within the Church and diminish their witness. Nowadays, people say that "doctrine divides" (well, yes and no), but they have it backwards. How tragically ironic.

Those types of Christians believe that if we focus on God's Word too much, then we will exclude and offend people. Instead, they argue that we should just ignore God's Word and unite around John 3:16.

"We all believe in Jesus and love each other so does doctrine really matter?" they say. This is nothing but Gospel reductionism at its worst.

But John 17:17 tells us that God’s Word is the truth that will unite His Church, glorify Him, and enable His people to fulfill their calling in a troubled world.

Plus, if we look at an earlier verse from this same chapter (John 17:9), then we also discover that Jesus did not pray for the world in its opposition to God -- even though we know He loves the world (John 3:16) and prayed...here it comes...it would be saved through the Word that His witnesses share (John 17:20-23).

At the same time, we must prayerfully consider His own words of caution to us as well.

John 5:39-40 (ESV) You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

We know that the Scriptures give eternal life, but only BY and only THROUGH Christ, not through the mere act of studying them. We know this because the ENTIRE Scriptural testimony centers on Jesus Christ.

Now, for emphasis, here's a quote from Herman Sasse that was tweeted by Vanessa from Hearts On Guard yesterday about how it's not just about Scripture, but about the correct teaching of the Scripture.

The true church is gathered not around Scripture, but around the rightly understood, the purely and correctly interpreted Bible. It is the task of the church's confession to express the right understanding of Scripture which the Church has reached. Thus pastors are helped to proclaim only the pure doctrine, and congregations are protected against the whims of the preacher and the misinterpretation of Scripture. In this sense the church's confession is servant of the Word.

*- Hermann Sasse, Church and Confession (1941),
in We Confess: Jesus Christ, p. 84.

Finally, here's the exclamation point to it all (I believe I copied this down from an LCMS Lectionary Summary series or something)...

Our Great High Priest Preserves Us In The Name of His Father

On the eve of His Passion, Christ Jesus intercedes for the disciples as their merciful and great High Priest. He prays that His Father would protect them “from the evil one” and preserve them in His Name (John 17:11–12, 15). Along with His prayer, Christ Himself comes to the Father by His self-sacrifice upon the Cross, thereby consecrating Himself for the sake of His disciples, “that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). To that same end, He speaks to them in the world and gives them His Father’s Word, that is, Himself. His Apostles, in turn, have written these things “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). For “this life is in His Son,” whom He has given by His Word, and “whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11–12). By this apostolic testimony, disciples are gathered together “with one accord,” as one Body in Christ, “devoting themselves to prayer” and waiting upon the Lord in “the upper room” of His Church on earth (Acts 1:13–14).

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, these are just a few of the many glorious truths we learn from John 17 and why I especially love John 17:17.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Hi, what dose it mean here when Jesus says keep them in your name? And was that name YAWH?

    VS Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.
    Also Steve Ham was on Creation in the 21's century and they were talking about this Unity section and made the point that Jesus is the one who made us unite in him and we will not get unity apart from Jesus because he is the one who unites us; maybe not in doctrine but because of Christ. He did say this does not mean we are not saved if we don't agree just that we are not uniting on an issue. Would that, if i stated it correctly, be agreeing with Lutheran understanding of unity in general not doctrinly?
    thanks Hazel


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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