We Have a Friend in The Holiness Business
Growing up there was a furniture manufacture whose slogan was, "You have a friend in the furniture business." The idea was that with a friend in the business you would get the best deals. Having just celebrated the Ascension of our Lord into the holy holies of heaven, we now have a Friend in the holiness business. We see in our text Jesus using His influence in the holiness business on our behalf.
It's a good thing to have a Friend in the holiness business because holiness is what we need. The Lord says in Leviticus 19, "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy." Lest you think this is some outdated Old Testament concept, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that unless our righteousness, our holiness, exceeds that of the Pharisees we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees studied their Bible all of the time unlike us who rarely do. The Pharisees whole life revolved around worshiping God unlike us who dedicate an hour a week to God. Yet even their holiness was not enough. We need more than that.
That's why our Lord taught us to pray, "Hallowed, or holy, be" the Father's name. It is not that God's name is not holy in itself, but we pray in that petition that it may be kept holy among us also. We don't do a good job of that, do we? We let our opinions, our ideas, our human reasoning shape our idea of God. We treat His name as we do anybody else's. The Jews wouldn't even dare to say the name of God they thought it so holy. Christians for centuries would bow their heads whenever a doxology to God was sung or said. The six-winged seraphim who call out "Holy, Holy, Holy" in heaven, though holy beings themselves, use two of their wings to cover their faces. Not even these holy beings dare approach God's holiness.
Job 15:15 tells us why: "God puts no trust in His holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in His sight." If the heavens are not pure enough in the eyes of the Holy God, where does that leave you and I? Only the absolute, totally holy can go to heaven and have fellowship and friendship with the Holy God. Is not this what we find in the Book of Revelation? Inside of heaven are the holy; outside are the abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars. It is not enough to try hard, to do your best, to be "a pretty good person" or to be "not as bad as others." To get into heaven you need more holiness than the Pharisees, the most religious people in the world, had. You need more holiness than even the angels in heaven have.
Aren't you glad you have a Friend in the holiness business? In our text, we hear Jesus Christ the Holy One praying to the Holy Father for us. The first thing He asks is for the Holy Father to keep us in the Father's name. Yes, the bulletin translations is flat wrong here: The Greek does not say, "Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name." It says, "Holy Father keep them in Your name." Jesus goes on to say that while He walked the earth visibly with the disciples He had kept them safe in that name.
The thing to note here is that Jesus doesn't admonish the disciples to keep themselves in the Holy Name of God. No, He prays God the Father to do the keeping. Friends, I can command you, encourage you, motivate you, and even train you to keep yourselves in the name of God, but will you? Can you? Do you? Our text takes place Maundy Thursday night. Every single one of the disciples will flee the name of God, deny the name of God, give up the name of God to save their own skin. Do you think you can do better than they did? Do you think you can be holy enough based on how well you keep yourself in the Name of God? Do you think you can be holy enough based on how firmly your believe or trust in the Name of God? No, unless you are kept in the holy name of God by God Himself you will all be lost.
Jesus, however, prays more than that the Father keep us in His holy name; He prays that the Holy Father keep us from the evil one. The evil one is described in Scripture as roaming around the earth seeking to devour people. He is described as snatching God's Word out of the hearts of people so they can't believe. He is shown deceiving, killing, making people sick and driving others in insane. And do you think that you can keep yourself from him? Do you think if you try real hard, believe real hard, pray real hard, or study real hard, you can keep yourself from the clutches of the evil one? When Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat, he had no problem doing it. When he desired to bring death, disease, and disaster into the life of Job, Job couldn't stop him. When he wished to enter Paradise, Adam and Eve couldn't stop him either.
Unless the holy Father keeps us from the evil one, we will all fall into his unholy clutches. We are no match for the one Scripture describes as the god and ruler of this world. We are no match for an angelic being who Jesus says from the beginning of all time was a murderer and liar. The devil has had thousands and thousands of years of practice at these unholy arts, and you think you can outwit him? Don't you know that St. Paul says Satan "disguises himself as an angel of light?" And you think you can keep yourself safe from such a formidable foe? You can't keep yourself safe from fire and thieves without smoke detectors and burglar alarms. How will you keep yourselves safe from a foe you can't see?
The realm of the devil is the realm of deceit, deception, and outright lies. The realm of God is truth. Jesus prays that we might be sanctified, or made holy, in the truth of God's Word. Without God doing this, we will most certainly be lost for all eternity. For unless God places us in the truth, we will be content and happy thinking the lies of the devil are the truth. We will be like a town in Europe that didn't notice all of it's young boys whistled off key until a stranger pointed it out. They found that the bells in the church tower were off key. However, without the true note sounding in their ears no one noticed it.
Friend, the world which is not of God or in His truth is very happy in the lies of Satan. Living together is not only not a sin but something expected and even necessary before people commit for life. I mean we test drive automobiles, don't we? Not only is homosexuality not a sin, it's a gift of God something to be used and celebrated. Not only is abortion a choice but a right. There is no possible way for us not to fall prey to these unholy teachings unless the Holy God takes us and sets us in His truth. There is no possible way for us to spot these lies of Satan unless God sounds His truth in our ears.
Holiness is what we need. Jesus prays to the Holy Father to keep us in the Father's name, to keep us from the evil one, and to sanctify us in the truth. Remember Jesus says this prayer Maundy Thursday night. The Father answered Him almost immediately.
The holy Father kept us sinners in His Name but taking His name from the sinless Jesus. What happened on the cross? What did the holy Son cry out on the cross? "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?" Nowhere was the holy Father to be found. The holy Father had turned His back on the holy Son because the Father had made Him to be sin. He took all our sins, stench and filth and piled it high and heavy on the back of His Son. The holy Son ended up stinking to high heaven; He became less than even a stinking sinner. He became a worm and no man, says Scripture.
Right after Jesus makes His prayer for the holy Father to keep us unholy sinners from the clutches of the evil one, what happens in Gethsemane? The holy Father delivers His holy Son into the clutches of the evil one. You see it had to be one or the other. Either the Father had to give up you or Jesus. Either Satan was going to have His way with you or Jesus. Either you or Jesus would have to bleed, sweat, cry and die. The holy Father, in order to answer the prayer of His holy Son to keep you from the evil one, delivered the Son instead.
The holy Father agreed with the Son. He wanted you made holy in His holy Word. But you and I don't deserve the holy word of God. We deserve to be left with the rest of the world in the darkness and deceit of the evil one. We deserve to think we're following an angel of light to heaven when we're really following Satan straight to hell itself. But Jesus got what we deserve while we get what He does. Jesus says He sanctifies, or makes Himself holy, for the sake of us sinners. The Father agrees. The holy Jesus was made holy. That's what happened on the cross. Although He had no sins, He suffered for the sins of the whole world, suffered eternal damnation for them all, till even death and Satan had to admit He was holy. We in turn got the holiness of Jesus. God treats us like the holy Son keeping us in the truth away from Satan's errors - just as if we'd never sinned!
But how do we get Jesus' holiness? Where does this come into our lives? We are tempted to say, "By faith." But faith in itself doesn't give anyone holiness. I mean Mormons have faith. Jews have faith. Muslims have faith but none of them have holiness. What they lack is what we have, a Friend in the holiness business, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ gives to us Holy Baptism. He baptizes us with water into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We need to be kept in the holy name of God. Jesus does this by means of Holy Baptism. When baptizing we usually say, "I baptize you IN the name of the Father, etc," but really the Greek word is "into." There is movement here. Holy Baptism moves a person into the holy name of God. Holy Baptism itself does this wonderful miracle. Faith merely receives it what God does in Baptism.
Jesus also gives us His holiness by means of Holy Absolution. By means of this, Jesus would keep us safe from the evil one. The evil one's biggest weapon against sinners is despair. The evil one preaches to us that we are guilty sinners, that our hearts aren't pure, our motives aren't pure, and our works aren't holy. He accuses us all of the time till a heavy load of guilt and sin leads us to despair of God's mercy, God's help, God's forgiveness. In Holy Absolution, Jesus muzzles the mouth of Satan. He forgives, literally He sends sins away, from us. Who can find sins that Jesus has sent away? Just like no one could find the leprosy, death, or demons Jesus sent away from people, so no one can find your sins. Not even Satan.
Satan is going to fuss and protest that only the totally holy can get into heaven, but Jesus gives sinners all of His holiness in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in Holy Communion. Here you get not only the holiness of Jesus but His actual Body and Blood. We saw on Ascension how the heaven must receive Jesus. The gates of heaven must swing open for Him. By Holy Communion Jesus is in you. Heaven's gates can't shut on Jesus. Actually heaven's doors can't be closed to Jesus whether on you by Baptism, for you in Absolution, or in you in Communion. You have a Friend in the holiness business. His business is to make you holy enough for heaven. Call your Friend. He's good at what He does! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VII (6-4-00) John 17: 11b-19