John 17:6-19
Leviticus 2:1-3, 11-13
Hebrews 2:10-15
We were speaking earlier today about how the Christian is to be preserved. That takes in, of course, how Christians together are to be preserved, but perhaps a good deal of what we were saying had to do with the individual Christian passing through this world, as under the eye of God, and needing to learn dependence in the same way as the Lord Jesus showed it when He was here. I would like to draw upon the Scriptures to turn rather more towards how the people of God may be preserved together, because there is a need for that, that we might be able to go on together in the things of the Lord, get the gain of fellowship in the things of the Lord, as sharing them, and make progress together so that there is a richer and sweeter response to God while we still remain here.
I thought the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel would be a good place to begin, because this is where we have the thoughts of the Lord Jesus on this subject. If we look back to the end of chapter 16 and the beginning of chapter 17, we find that the Lord took immediate account of the circumstances in which His disciples would be left here. He says, “In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world.” And that rings down the ages, and it remains true. The Lord Jesus personally has overcome the world. He was here as an Overcomer. He has maintained the rights of God and, in God’s own good time, the Lord Jesus will have His rights here. And He calls on us to be of good courage in the face of the trials and difficulties of the way.
And it says, “These things Jesus spoke, and lifted up His eyes to heaven.” This chapter follows immediately from what the Lord has been saying in the previous chapters. And this chapter, which is, of course, a very precious one and well known to many believers here, takes up a number of things which were on the Lord’s heart in the night in which He was delivered up.
We might well marvel that there was time for such an exchange with the Father to take place, but it evidently was so, and the Spirit of God has seen to it that what the Lord had to say was recorded.
He is concerned, of course, for His own glory, and He was also concerned that those who belonged to Him should be with Him to behold His glory (v24). And He is also, as is plain from so many of the verses we have read, very concerned as to how His disciples are going to get on, now that He is gone from them back to heaven. He does not dwell, here, upon the fact that He has to go by the way of the Cross; what He dwells upon is that “I come to thee” (v11). He will no longer be here, but those who belong to Him will be, and He is concerned for how they are going to get on.
I began to read, though, a little bit earlier than that, because the Lord Jesus gives an account, first of all, of what He has done, and has done to perfection. “I have manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world.” No fault can possibly be found with what Jesus did, as recorded in this Gospel; you have Him perfectly representing God, perfectly representing the Father to men. No fault could ever be found with what Jesus had to say, and had to do, which rightly represented God to man, and to His disciples in particular.
He says, “The men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world.” That is where they all began, and where we all begin. Nobody can exempt themselves from being in the world and needing to be brought out of it. No one was ever born a Christian – born again, ah yes, but nobody was ever born a Christian; everyone had to, and has to, come the same way. The disciples came out of the world. ‘Ah, well,’ you might well say, ‘they seem to have been generally God-fearing people,’ and yes, so they were. But until the Lord spoke to them, and they responded to it, they were in the world. And every one of us has had to be delivered out of the world. Maybe, dear friend, you may need your first deliverance from the world now. Well, the word can be for you as well.
But the Lord has something to say about these disciples of His – He says, “They were Thine.” That is, long before they came to know the Lord Jesus personally, long before they heard His call, God had had them in mind, and the Lord Jesus says, “And Thou gavest them Me.” What a gift it was from God to the Lord Jesus! What joy He would find! We spoke of this earlier, the pleasure and joy that the Lord had in the work that the Father gave Him to do. And this was part of that work; that those who belonged to the Father should be given to the Lord.
He says, “They have kept Thy word.” Now, it is not presumptuous to say that in many ways they were a poor lot – they were just ordinary men. They were taken up sovereignly by God for His work, and they came to the Lord Jesus, and they made many, many mistakes, some of which are very faithfully recorded. But one thing can be said of them, that they loved the Lord. And they belonged to Him, and they knew that they did.
I have often reflected on the verse in the previous chapter, verse 29, “His disciples say to Him,” Jesus, “Lo, now Thou speakest openly and utterest no allegory. Now we know that Thou knowest all things, and hast not need that any one should demand of Thee. By this we believe that Thou art come from God.” The Lord Jesus, you see, took up what they said there, and that is what He says in verse 7, “They have known that all things that Thou hast given Me are of Thee.”
It is a great day when you first come to it in your own soul that everything that Jesus said can be relied upon and is God’s mind for you. Everything He said is to be relied upon. And they also believed that He was the One Whom the Father had sent (end of v8). That is another great thing to come to, that I do not need to look anywhere but to the Lord Jesus for light as to God. He is the full and perfect Revelation of God. If I want to know – and I need to know – about God, I look to what the Lord Jesus has said and done, which has perfectly represented God. And here are His words faithfully recorded for us in the Scripture.
Now He says, ‘I have got something to ask on their behalf, on their account.’ He says, “And I am no longer in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee” (v11). The first protection that He asks for is, “Holy Father, keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me.” That is the first line of protection: God’s eye upon us, in love. The hymn says,
O Holy Father, keep us here
In that blest Name of love
(Hymn 25).
That is a direct reference to this verse. Thank God for the hymn book! Thank God for those who knew God well enough to be able to pen lines from the heart, which still carry conviction! There are hymns, of course, and spiritual songs which one can enjoy and appreciate, in measure. But there are some that ring with a personal knowledge of God which is peculiarly valuable. With such hymns, you might begin by trying to make some of them your own. What do you know, what do I know, about ‘that blest Name of love,’ the Father’s love for us? The Father’s love for His well-beloved Son: the same love shines upon those who belong to Him.
That is the first line of defence, as you might say. Then, as we move on, the Lord has a desire “that they may have My joy fulfilled in them” (v13). That is, to put it as simply as I can, the Lord desires that Christians should be happy. It is a good thing if we are able to exemplify that. It does not mean, necessarily, laughing all the time; we have to be sober about things. I have often reflected on those few words of Paul’s, “Grieved, but always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10) – a blend of feeling that is right for the believer. But the Lord does wish us to have His joy fulfilled in us.
Now He says, “I have given them Thy word.” That goes beyond any one thing that the Lord said. It is characteristically – the note puts it well – the word of God in testimony. The Lord Jesus, in everything He had to say, was conveying the revealed mind of God – revealed in Himself. It is here for us to read: John’s Gospel is a very fine place to look for the word, but it is not confined there, it is to be found elsewhere in the Scripture.
Then He says, “Sanctify them by the truth: Thy word is truth” (v17). So that is the second line of defence. First of all, the Father’s love for His people, and for the Lord’s people; and, then, the sanctifying effect of the truth.
Now, this word ‘sanctify’ needs to be treated with proper care. One of its main meanings is ‘to set apart,’ and, notably, set apart for God and for His work and service. For us as believers, because by nature we would not be set apart for the work and service of God, it has the further meaning that the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts brings about a likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes us suitable to be engaged in His service.
But you will see why I make the distinction, because the Lord Jesus says, “I sanctify Myself for them” (v19). What has to be said about you and me could never be said about the Lord Jesus. No change was needed with Him to be serviceable to God. He was here for God’s service. He says, “I have completed the work which Thou gavest Me that I should do it” (v4). None of us could say that – that is the Lord Jesus uniquely. So when He says, “I sanctify Myself for them,” that is so that the way might be made, through His death, for us to come into the blessing of that death – and His Resurrection – and come to belong to Him and then – yes, indeed – to be set apart for God’s service.
Well, once again the Lord Jesus says, “That they also may be sanctified by truth.” Now, there is, of course, a sense in which the saints are sanctified once and for all; that is very true. The second chapter of Hebrews that I referred to makes that very plain: “He that sanctifies and those sanctified are all of one” – there is nothing you can add to that. But, in practice, we need the word of God currently. Another hymn says,
Thy word, Thyself reflecting,
Doth sanctify by truth
(Hymn 78),
presenting it as something current.
So we need to look into the Scriptures – find the word there. It is a very sad thing if you find believers who are ignorant of Scripture; there is no need to be; you do not have to be clever to read the Bible. And if you say, ‘Well, I do not understand it very well’ – well, there are many of us who do not understand everything that is in the Scripture. I trust, being now a few years along the road, that I understand some things rather better than I once did. But we all have to begin somewhere, and there is still plenty for us to learn. You will have noticed, in our reading this afternoon, that we were enquiring of one another as to how we understand the Scriptures, and we draw upon what one and another have got. But do seek to make the Scriptures your own. And do not confine yourself – some confine themselves to some favourite passages in the Gospels, and maybe the Psalms, and so on. It is all there to read, all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim 3:16). There is a lot to learn from the Prophets, and a lot to learn from Paul in his Epistles. And even if, as Peter says, there are some things difficult to understand (2 Pet 3:16), well, do not bypass them, just make a note that you will have to depend on the Holy Spirit to open them up.
I just say that because, you see, there are these lines of defence which God has provided. First of all, the knowledge of Him as Father and the assurance of His love, which the Holy Spirit would confirm to us. And then the truth is a great preservative as well.
I turn now to the Book of Leviticus. Now, I suspect that the Book of Leviticus is one that some of us may be tempted to pass by a little. But it is Scripture and, believe me, it is profitable. When Mr Darby wrote his synopsis, he spent a good many pages on the second chapter of Leviticus. You might like to look at them for yourself. I first did, I suppose, over 50 years ago, and I have not always looked at them since, but they are a very good read.
What makes them a good read is that the writer, Mr Darby, was so engaged with the One about Whom this chapter speaks, and it speaks about the Lord Jesus Christ. In all the offerings we see the Lord Jesus presented to us. In some cases He is presented under the guise of an animal to be sacrificed. Those point to His death and the shedding of His blood. That is not what chapter 2 is about. It is about the oblation. That is an offering to God, which is not presented as a means of salvation – it is an offering where the offerer is occupied with the worth and moral glory of the One Whom he seeks to present. That puts us on very safe ground in saying that what you and I need to present to God by way of appreciation is the Lord Jesus Christ and the value that we put upon Him.
I know that in its detail it has a good deal of bearing upon what the Lord Jesus was when He was here. The fine flour in the first verse would be a good example of that. The hymn writer says, ‘In Thee all human graces blend’ (Hymn 313), and that is so. Everything that God ever looked for in man is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But what He was here on earth – and that, of course, is where we learn a great deal about Him – continues now that He is in glory. His is the place of glory and triumph, of course. We do not exactly speak of the lowly Jesus there – that is how He was here on earth. But He is the same Man, and occupation with Him, and with His glory, is good for our souls and very acceptable to God.
You will notice what the offerer was to do. He was to bring this fine flour, pour oil upon it and put frankincense upon it. I did not have in mind to try to open up, if I could, all the detail. But he was to bring his offering to the priests, and then he was to take a handful of the flour and some of the oil, and all of the frankincense – the fragrance, therefore, is intended for God Himself. Quite simply, the fragrance is meant for God.
But then there was something left. “The remainder of the oblation shall be Aaron’s and his sons’.” So there was something there that the priests, and thus by extension you and I, could enjoy for ourselves. And, as just taking it into our own souls, we will find that our appreciation of the Lord Jesus does us good, and will, through grace and by the work of the Spirit, bring about some further likeness to Himself. Dear fellow believer, let us make that a fresh commitment on our part, and that is our desire, to be engaged with Christ, to give God His full portion of appreciation, but let it have some effect upon our own souls.
Well now, when we come to verse 11, verses 11 to 13 come by way of a warning. “No oblation which ye shall present to Jehovah shall be made with leaven; for no leaven and no honey shall ye burn in any fire-offering to Jehovah.” You might well wonder why this should be in Scripture. You might say, ‘It would not have done any harm, would it? It would all get burned, all go up in the offering.’ But the Spirit of God is very definite: there is to be no leaven and no honey.
Well, you perhaps do not have to read very far into Scripture to realise what a danger leaven is. It is something that makes anything look bigger than it really is. You and I need to beware of anything exaggerated in the way that we speak to God. It is good if we speak in proportion to what we have really gained in our souls, and just have a true appreciation of Christ.
The leaven, actually, in the end is a very serious thing. Paul spoke of it as the old leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Cor 5:8). Dear brethren, let us beware of any malice and any wickedness having any part in our way of life as believers. It is a very solemn thing that it could possibly be so, but there is the warning here about it.
And no honey. Well, there is ministry as to this, of course; I do not need to repeat it. Honey is right in its place. Natural sweetness has its place. It is a mark of the last days when men are devoid of natural affection (2 Tim 3:1 3). But it does not really belong to the service of God, you see, because “if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), so that what is old just does not belong there.
“As to the offering of the first-fruits, ye shall present them to Jehovah; but they shall not be offered upon the altar for a sweet odour.” We look further forward to Leviticus 23 and find references there to the offerings of the first-fruits, but the Scripture is categoric that that is not what gives direct pleasure to God in the way that appreciation of Christ does, and is meant to do.
“And every offering of thine oblation shalt thou season with salt.” Perhaps you have been wondering what this chapter has to do with our being preserved. Well, here it is, you see – salt. You do not need me to tell you that salt is a great preservative. When I was growing up in London, we had a brother who told us faithfully and regularly that salt answered to the fear of God, because that is a great preservative.
So, as you and I seek to come before God, as I trust we desire to do, we need to remember this verse. Anything we have to offer to God needs to be marked by the fear of God and a dependence upon God.
“Neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thine oblation.” Well, I suppose that for the offerer in Leviticus, that covenant was the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant, mercifully, is not for you and me, but the New Covenant is, and I would like to say something briefly about this – not to try to expound the New Covenant, but just to remember what the Lord Jesus said about the cup, which forms part of what we call the Lord’s Supper.
He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20). That is, the basis for our present relations with God Himself is the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, His sacrifice. God could never say, “Their sins and their lawlessnesses I will never remember any more” (Heb 8:12; 10:17), were it not for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Covenant is laid down by God Himself. It does not call for you and me to try to edit it, or add little clauses of our own, or in any way subtract from it. The New Covenant is “the new covenant in My blood.”
But if we partake of the cup – indeed, if we partake of the loaf and the cup – we thereby commit ourselves – or, as it may be for many of us, re-commit ourselves – to that New Covenant. That means that, from our side, we mean to stand by it and to be rightly identified with the testimony of our Lord and with His death.
I heard recently of the case of someone – it need not matter at all who it was – who had gone on with blatant evil while partaking of the Supper for two years. Dear brethren, be solemnly warned: “Neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thine oblation.” Be careful. Do not, on any account, eat and drink judgement to yourself, a terrible thing (see 1 Cor 11:27, 29). 1 Corinthians 11 has a very balanced view of the Lord’s Supper. It is a great privilege, yes – one of the greatest privileges we have whilst still down here. But it is the Lord’s commitment to us, and it is also our commitment to Him. I think we do well to just remember that.
Just a word now as to what I read in Hebrews. I read these verses because I am impressed with the preserving power of the enjoyment and appreciation of our place of favour before God. I believe that that has great preserving power, to know that God has sought us out, has claimed us, and has given us the best place that He possibly could.
I read the whole of what I did read only because I wanted to refer briefly to something that the apostle says in verse 14, as to the condition in which we find ourselves. We “partake of blood and flesh,” and indeed we do. There is plenty to remind us that we are still in blood and flesh. I feel quite free to refer to our dear brother who was the subject of prayer earlier today. There is plenty to remind us that we are in conditions of blood and flesh.
But it says of the Lord Jesus that He “took part in the same,” and I just commend to us all to make ourselves acquainted, if we have not been already, with the note to that verse. The Lord Jesus was here as a real Man, but He was unique. There is no one to be compared with Him. Much ink has been spilt and, sadly, much blood spilt too, in debate over the Person of Christ, and, generally speaking, it has not been to edification. Do not presume to look into the Ark (see 1 Sam 6:19).
Nonetheless, let us take note of what Scripture says, that as to the conditions in which the Lord found Himself – which He graciously took while here on earth – His place was unique to Himself. He was God manifest in flesh. In grace He came into the same condition of flesh and blood in which you and I find ourselves, and in which we shall remain until the end of our road here.
I just say that in passing, because what I mainly wanted to do was to call attention to these other verses, as to what God has done, first of all, “in bringing many sons to glory.” I think I would be right in saying that this is the first time that “sons” have been mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews in quite this way. But the apostle takes up that word, “sons,” as if it is something that they would recognise as being their own place. Let us just ask ourselves whether we consciously and happily recognise that that is what God has done, and that we are among the “many sons” who have been brought to glory – a very happy and blessed place to be in God’s favour. To do so, He has had to make the Leader of their salvation perfect – that is to say, fully fitted for His office – through suffering.
Now it says, “Both He that sanctifies and those sanctified are all of one.” Another warning which I remember on the lips of a dear brother (Gavin Simpson) was not to try to analyse “all of one,” but to accept it as it is. But it is a great blessing. If we know the Lord Jesus at all, then to be “all of one” with Him is a wonderful blessing.
And one result of that, of course, is to set us in perfect liberty before God. If we are sanctified – and we have spoken a little about what that means – then that is what we are, and we are therefore fitted for the presence of God, not through any merit or work of our own, but purely through the grace of God, and through the work and worth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, I do not need to bring the burden of my sins with me to the service of God. It just appeals to me that we can be free as we draw near to God.
God, of course, takes full account of everything that is in the souls of His people, and I am well aware that in the Book of the Revelation there are repeated references to the Lamb and the One Who gave Himself so that there should be liberty. I do not set that aside at all. But I think these verses encourage us to move beyond failure or sin. Sometimes we equate failure and sin, but actually many a time when we use the word ‘failure,’ you could strike it out and the word ‘sin’ would be better. But that can be left behind because of the grace of God.
And that is one blessing of the Supper. You see, that is one of the fruits of partaking of the cup together. Our spirits are set free, and set together on that one firm and solid basis, of the work and the worth of our Lord Jesus Christ, solely.
The Lord says, “I will declare Thy name to My brethren.” This is another of those verses from the Psalms which are not exactly an application, they are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘I will sing Thy praises.’ That is what the Lord desires to be occupied with.
And then, these two very interesting little quotations. I have sometimes wondered why the apostle should draw on that first one, “I will trust in Him.” But I can see more clearly, “Behold, I and the children which God has given Me.” It perhaps is not the most dignified title. “Sons” is perhaps a more dignified expression, but it is a very wonderful thing just to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ: “The children which God has given Me.” It does echo, really, John 17, “They were Thine, and Thou gavest them Me” (v6): “The children which God has given Me.”
But I believe these things will have a preserving effect, in the sense that if I just see something of the dignity of the place which God has been pleased to give me in Christ, and if, as a company of saints, we seek again to recognise God’s work in one another, and the pleasure which He finds in His sons, that will have its own preserving power if we are tempted to stoop to the levels of the world. We do not want to see that strange thing which the Scripture refers to as “princes walking” (Ecc 10:7), we want to be up to the dignity of the place which is ours.
Those are just simple thoughts, beloved, and I trust, as going over the Scriptures involved, you may see more in them than I have yet been able to bring before you. But may all our hearts be encouraged for His name’s sake.

2 February 2013