Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-85 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is on a text in John 17:19, “For their sakes, for their sakes I consecrate Myself, I sanctify Myself,” and it is a message on Sanctification.
The high priestly prayer of our Lord is found only in the Gospel of John [John 17]. He was the disciple, the apostle, closest to the heart of our Savior. He is the one who leaned on the breast of our Lord [John 13:25, 21:20]. It was John who, in the years of contemplative thought and prayer, saw the will of God worked out in the wonderful life of our wonderful Savior. And in this alone prayer of our Savior, in the Gospel of John, is this supplication, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified” [John 17:19]. Our common persuasion, understanding of the word “sanctification” usually refers to an increasing departure from sin, getting rid of our transgressions and iniquities, sanctification, getting more and more holy in our lives. Now if that were true, that the word “sanctify, sanctification” meant an increasing departure from sin, it would be a strange thing for our sinless Savior to pray, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they might be sanctified.” The word actually has nothing to do with our common acceptance of its meaning, getting rid of sin, increasing purity of life. The word is the same, means exactly the same in Greek as it does in Hebrew. In Greek it is hagiazō; in Hebrew it is qadosh, and they are exact equivalents. They mean one thing: they mean “something devoted to the service of God,” whether it be a bowl, or a building, or an altar, or a tabernacle, or a priest, or a servant; anything, anything that is devoted, set apart, consecrated to God is sanctified according to the Holy Scriptures.
For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Leviticus, in the ninth verse, “If it be a beast that any man giveth to the Lord, it shall be sanctified” [Leviticus 27:9]. Look again, in verse 14, “When a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:14]. Look again, in verse 16, “And if a man shall sanctify unto the Lord a field” [Leviticus 27:16]. Or look once again, in verse 30, “And all the tithe is sanctified, it is qadosh unto the Lord, set apart for the Lord” [Leviticus 27:30]. A tithe of all that I possess belongs to God. I may rob Him of it, I may steal from Him, I may use it for myself; but it belongs to God. The tithe is sanctified to the Lord. You have a beautiful combination of those things sanctified in the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Exodus, beginning at verse 42:
. . . at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation…I will meet you, to speak there unto thee . . .
I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: and I will sanctify both Aaron and his sons, to minister unto Me in the priest’s office.
All of it, the tabernacle, the furniture, the altar, the bowls, the instruments, the priests, all of them were sanctified unto the Lord; they were set aside for the purpose of the glory of God.
The first time that word is used is in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus. When the death angel passed over Egypt, the firstborn died, unless it was protected by the blood [Exodus 12:12-13, 23]. Thereafter the firstborn was sanctified to God; it was set aside for the Lord. The thirteenth chapter, and this is the first time the word is used in the Bible:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto Me the firstborn; whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel of man and of beast: it is Mine. It is sanctified, it belongs to God.
Verse 12 repeats it again,
Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males, all, shall be the Lord’s.
So, when we use the word “sanctify, sanctification,” we refer to a something or a somebody that is given to the service of God; it is set aside for the Lord. And that is the meaning of the word when the Savior prays it in His high priestly prayer, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, I give Myself to the work and the calling and the will of God” [John 17:19].
We see that in the beautiful life of our Lord. For us He sanctified Himself, He consecrated Himself, He set Himself apart, He gave Himself for us. He denied Himself for us. He did that in our behalf. Satan sought to intervene and to interdict and to interpose that commitment of our Lord; but always steadfastly He gave Himself to that purpose for us.
In the temptation, the evil one, Satan, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said to the Lord, “All this will I give You, if You will bow down and worship me, not the will of God” [Matthew 4:8-9].
He sanctified Himself; He gave Himself in denial, turning aside from all the glory of the world, for us in our behalf. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John and the [fifteenth] verse, after He had fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes [John 6:1-14], they sought to make Him king [John 6:15]. Here is a man who can feed an army with a handful of bread. Here’s a man that can raise a dead soldier killed in battle. He can march against Caesar, and the power of Rome, and exalt our nation. They sought to make Him a king. Jesus denied the advancement, and adulation, and accolade, and acclamation [John 6:15]; He denied Himself: He sanctified Himself for us [John 17:19].
In Gethsemane, He prayed the prayer of God’s will [Luke 32:41-42]. He gave Himself to an ignominious, terrible death, for us [Hebrews 12:2]. When they arrested Him, Simon Peter drew out his sword to defend the Lord. And the Lord said to Simon Peter, “Put up your sword, put up your sword [John 18:10]. If I would, I could call twelve legions of angels to defend Me” [Matthew 26:51-53]. A legion had six thousand Roman soldiers in it. Six times twelve would be seventy-two thousand angels. Do you remember in the Old Testament? One angel; one angel passed over the army of the Assyrian Sennacherib, and the next morning they counted one hundred eighty-five dead [Isaiah 37:36]. Twelve legions, seventy-two thousand angels, but He refused the help and defense of angels for us [John 18:11]. He gave Himself, He sanctified Himself for us [John 17:19].
When He was on the cross, nailed to the tree [1 Peter 2:24], they that scorned Him and crucified Him, wagged their heads and said in contempt, “If you be the Son of God, as You say You are, come down from the cross, and we will believe You” [Matthew 27:39-42]. When you read that, you feel in your heart, “Lord, do it! Tear Yourself from those nails, and descend and strike terror in the hearts of these murderers and unbelievers.” It will not be the superhuman man tearing Himself from the wood and descending down; it will be a limp and lifeless body that is taken down from the cross; suffering for us [Matthew 27:32-50, 57-61]. He was sanctified, He consecrated Himself for us [John 17:19].
And the emphasis in this English translation is the same order of emphasis in the Greek text: “For their sakes,” for us, that’s first, “For their sakes,” for us, “I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. In any instance there is nothing more beautiful or meaningful or moving than to see someone give himself, sanctify himself, deny himself for someone else. When the Lord God said to Moses, “Moses, you stand aside, and let My anger burn against this people, dancing naked around a golden calf [Exodus 32:25], and denying Me, their Lord, who delivered them out of the bondage of Egypt, stand aside and let My fury burn against them; and out of thy loins will I raise up a nation to do My will” [Exodus 32:8-10]; selfishness and self-interest said to Moses, “Stand aside, and see the wrath of God burn against these people, and out of your loins God will raise another nation.”
But consecration and sanctification and self-denial said to Moses, “O Lord God, if Thou wilt forgive their sin”—: and in the Bible there’s a long, dark dash, he never completed the prayer, “O Lord God, if Thou wilt forgive their sin”—: then he added, “if not, if not, blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. If my people can’t live, I don’t want to live either. If You destroy them, destroy me. And standing in the breech, he prayed for God’s remembrance and forgiveness for His people. It’s a noble, moving consecration.
Self-interest would have said to Ruth, “You go back to Moab, to your people; they speak your language, they live your life, your family, your friends, your home, all are there. Go back to Moab.” But consecration, sanctification, denial of self said to Naomi, her mother-in-law,
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
And where thou diest, I will die, and there will I also be buried: God do so, and more also unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee.
Consecration, sanctification, self-denial.
Self-interest would have said to Paul, seated at the feet of Gamaliel, “You are the heir to his place in Israel,” one of the great seven rabbans of all Israeli history, “you take his place!” But consecration, sanctification, self-denial said, “These things, all of them, that were counted gain for me, I count loss for Christ. And but look upon them as refuse, that I might know Him, and that I might finish my course, and preach the gospel with joy” [Philippians 3:7-8]. It’s a moving devotion wherever it is found.
And I have experienced it poignantly in my own life. When the Second World War found America plunged into that conflict by the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a young man in our church where I pastored in Muskogee, Oklahoma—tall, handsome, young fellow, immediately volunteered. And the next Sunday, came to me and said, “Pastor, I am ready and willing to give my life, that you might have the freedom to preach the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.”
In that place in eastern Oklahoma, the 99th Division was activated; and the 42nd Division, the Rainbow Division was activated. The 88th Division fought throughout the war. They began in Casablanca and fought all the way through Italy and through Germany. Most of the men in that division were killed, practically all of them. We did this in the church every Sunday evening: at the proscenium, there was draped a flag, and on the flag were gold stars. And the men that were killed were remembered there in a gold star. And every week, added those gold stars, and we prayed for our country, and we prayed for the cause to which they gave their lives. Sanctification, a self-denial, a consecration, a pouring out of life for somebody else.
A picket frozen on duty–
A mother starved for her brood–
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight hard pathway plod–
Some call it Consecration,
and others call it God.
A beautiful, moving, and wonderful commitment, a self-denial for somebody else: sanctification, “For their sakes, for their sakes I give Myself, I set Myself apart, I consecrate Myself for them” [John 17:19]. And this is the meaningful challenge of the Lord God to us: a self-denial for them, for somebody else; a nobility in life unrivaled by anything else the human soul can ever do.
I think of the pastor for his congregation, the undershepherd for his flock. The prognostication was made when radio first became regnant and when television came to be used and known by the people, the prognostication was made that in America there would be a few great preachers, gifted preachers, and the whole nation would listen to them, and the local pastor would be nothing but an errand boy. That prognostication miserably failed; it ignominiously failed. Why? For the same reason that no one lover can love for all of us, and no one husband, however fine, can sire all of our children. Every generation must experience falling in love, and building a home, and rearing their children.
It is the same thing in the pastoral relationship with his church. Every congregation must have a pastor who reincarnates the truth of God, who reinterprets it, who re-presents it, who relives it with the people. And however he may be unlettered or unlearned or untaught or unable, if he is a man of God, the people will love him and be blessed by him. There’s no thing in this earth possible as that: there could be a marvelous, eloquent, gifted pastor in some high church pulpit, and he be the pastor for all the people. Every congregation needs its minister who pours out his life for his flock. That’s God. And wherever you see a man of God thus pouring his life in the lives of his people and reincarnating the servant ministry of his Lord Jesus, there will you see a congregation blessed and the people strong in the Lord. That same sanctification, that giving of yourself, a servant role in the humblest assignments, that reflects the spirit of our Lord Jesus more than anything I know of in the world.
Going through the things of my study this week, I happened to run across a yellowed piece of paper. Written, I wrote this I would say, when I was a youth. I started preaching when I was seventeen years old, and somewhere back in those days I wrote this. I had listened, either as a college student or at a student assembly somewhere, I had listened—and I have his name here—to a great preacher. He was the president of a great seminary. And this is what he said, and I wrote it down:
Our Commander in Chief, the mighty Christ, thought in world terms, lived in world circles, and commanded us to world conquest. Little minds think in little circles. The divine Savior thought from pole to pole, from eternity to eternity. “The field is the world,” said He, “Make disciples of all nations,” was His circumference of thinking.
End quote. Now this is what I wrote under that magnificent address of that learned ecclesiastic:
Fine language and true. Jesus did have a world vision. He did give Himself to an earth-encircling task. But in actual life, translated in terms of living and doing, into what form and fashion did He place His vision? In a little country, with a despised, subject people and with a handful of disciples. Did He race from pole to pole? Did He circumnavigate the earth at the equator? To a small group He consecrated Himself, He gave Himself, and He said, “For their sakes I sanctify myself.”
That’s what I wrote. That was my reaction as a teenager. All of these great and mighty things by which we describe the vision of our Lord, all of it is true, I know; but in actuality, when He lived His life and served His Father God, He did it in the humblest of ways: washed feet, washed feet, washed His disciples’ feet [John 13:3-14], go to little villages [Luke 8:1], take time for little children [Mark 10:13-16], in the smallest ways.
Could I illustrate this here? No one could ever know who it was because it happened long time ago. I went to a gifted man in our church. I said to him, “A class of boys, and they desperately need a teacher, would you teach this class of little boys?” He said to me, “Pastor, if you have a big class of men, I’d be happy to teach. But I’m not going to take my time to teach a class of little boys.” I could not think of anything more unlike our Lord, in the humblest of ways doing the service of a servant for God [Mark 10:45].
If I can sweep out the house, wonderful for God. If I can open the window, bless His name for His people. If I can run an errand, if I can do the humblest assignment, I’d love to do it for God and for His people. What a beautiful way to be and to live: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, I give myself” [John 17:19]. And if it carries in it great self-denial, it is even the nobler and the more precious and beautiful in the sight of our Lord.
And may I close? “For their sakes,” for the lost that they might be saved, Lord, Lord! If You could guide us in a more effective way to do that, we offer our hearts and hands, our witness, our lives unto Thee. “For their sakes.” I think of Elisha, the man of God, called in the Bible “the man of God” [2 Kings 5:20]. A Shunammite woman, otherwise unnamed, a humble woman who lived in a little village called Shunem, said to her husband, I perceive that this is a man of God who comes by. Let us make for him a chamber…and it shall be when he comes by he will stop at our house, and we will invite him to lodge in the chamber we build. And so her husband built a chamber, a house, a room on the house.
And it came to pass that when the man of God came by he turned in thither, and he stayed there in the home of the Shunamite.
[2 Kings 4:9-11].
To capsulate the story, she had no child, and out of the kindness of Elisha, he said, “What would you wish?” And she said, “Nothing. I’m happy to be here with my husband in this humble home.” And the servant said, “I see they have no child.” And Elisha said, “According to the time of life, you will have a child.” And a little baby boy was born into their home and placed in her arms. And as the child grew to be a teenager, the lad fell upon some kind of an illness. And the father said to the servants in the field, “Take the boy to his mother,” and he died in his mother’s arms. What a tragedy, what a sorrow! Immediately she went to see the man of God on the top of Mt. Carmel, where he lived [2 Kings 4:12-25].
And when she came, Elisha said, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?” [2 Kings 4:26]. And of course the story follows after: he raised the child from the dead [2 Kings 4:32-37]. But that question arising out of the heart of the man of God is so representative, it’s so expressive of the man who loves God. “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child” [2 Kings 4:26]? To love God is to love you. To serve God is to be your servant. To seek the welfare of the kingdom of our Lord is to seek your highest good.
Have you given your heart to the Lord? Have you dedicated your home to the blessed Jesus? Do you rise in the morning with gratitude to Him for the day? And do you sleep at night asking His guardian care while you rest? Do you offer to Him the fruit of your hands and the strength of your life? There is no . . . there is no pilgrimage, there is no journey through the years of this earth so entreasured, and enriched, and endowed, and blessed as when we walk in the way of the Lord. And that is our invitation to you. To give your heart, and your house, and your home, and your life, and your work, and your children, to give it all to the Lord, bring it to the Savior, ask Him to bless, to put His hands of sanctity, of heavenly remembrance, to breathe upon you the breath of life, would you do that today?
In a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, and there’s time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” Your wife, your children, the whole family, welcome. Just the two of you, welcome. Just one somebody you, a thousand times welcome. As the Spirit shall make appeal to your heart, answer with your life. “Pastor, this is God’s day for me; and I’m on the way.” Do it now. Angels attend you as you come. While we stand and while we sing.
FOR THEIR SAKES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-85I. The text
A. This high priestly prayer found only in John
B. Meaning of the word “sanctify” (Leviticus 27:9, 14, 16, 30, Exodus 29:42-44)
1. Firstborn set aside, sanctified, for God (Exodus 13:2, 12)
C. Christ set Himself apart for the work of God, for us
1. Satan sought to intervene and interdict that commitment (Matthew 4:9, John 6:15, Matthew 26:51-53, Isaiah 37:36, Matthew 27:40)II. For us
A. The moving, meaningful self-commitment for somebody else
1. Moses (Exodus 32:32)
2. Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17)
3. Paul (Philippians 3:8)
B. In my own life
C. The call to sanctification, personal devotion to God
1. A pastor for his church
2. A servant in humble ministry to others