FOR THEIR SAKES, I SANCTIFY MYSELF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-85 8:15 a.m.
And we no less thank God for the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The message is entitled For Their Sakes I Sanctify Myself. It is from the high priestly prayer of our Lord in John chapter 17, and this verse of His commitment, verse 19. This prayer of our Savior is found only in the Gospel of John [John 17:1-26]. He was the closest to the heart of our Savior. He leaned on the breast of our Lord [John 13:23-25, 21:20]. In deep contemplation through the years and the years, he saw the outworking of the will of God in the life of Jesus. And a reflection of that commitment is found in this prayer. John 17:19, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified.”
For the most part, our definition of the word “sanctify,” “sanctification,” is the gradual overcoming and riddance of sin. The impossibility of such a definition is found in this prayer of our Lord, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. There is no approach to a gradual overcoming of sin in the life of our Lord, for He was sinless [Hebrews 4:15]. When He says, “Therefore, I sanctify Myself,” we must have a wrong definition of the word sanctification.
And that becomes very apparent when we look at the word in the original Greek language and in the original Hebrew language; and in both languages the words used are identical in meaning. In Greek the word is hagiazō, and in Hebrew the word is qadosh, and both of them mean “to dedicate to the service of the Lord.” The word qadosh in Hebrew is plainly illustrated in the last chapter of the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus 27:
- In verse 9: “If a beast be sanctified unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:9].
- In verse 14: “When a man shall sanctify his house,” the building, “to the Lord.”
- In verse 16: “If a man shall sanctify unto the Lord a field.”
- And in verse 30: “All the tithe is sanctified unto the Lord.”
Qadosh: dedicated, set apart for the Lord.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, the word is used for the first time in the Bible. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, whether a man or a beast; it is Mine” [Exodus 13:1-2]. It is sanctified unto the Lord. The firstborn belonged to God. Verse 12 repeats it: “Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; all the males shall be the Lord’s” [Exodus 13:12]. To sanctify, then, means to dedicate to the use and the service of God, to set apart for the Lord.
As we read through the Mosaic law, the first time that word was used was when the death angel passed over Egypt and all the firstborn died unless they were under the Passover blood [Exodus 12:7, 12, 22-23]. And in remembrance of that awesome night of judgment and of deliverance, God said, “The firstborn belongs to Me” [Exodus 13:2]. Later on, the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn of Israel, and the tribe of Levi was set aside and sanctified for the service of God. They had no inheritance in the Promised Land [Numbers 18:20-24]. The Lord was their inheritance, and they were substituted, sanctified, set apart for the work of God in behalf and instead of the firstborn in the land [Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Joshua 13:14, 33].
Then out of the tribe of Levi, Aaron and his sons were sanctified; they were set apart for the service and ministry of the Lord [Exodus 29:10-21]. And in the Mosaic law that service of sanctification was an unusual and impressive ritual. Aaron and his sons were to place their hands upon the head of a ram, and the ram was slain. And the blood of the sacrificed ram was to be placed on the lobe of the right ear, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the great toe of the right foot. It was a ritual signifying that all of the mind, and energy, and strength, and power, and life of these priests were to be dedicated unto God [Exodus 29:15-20].
That is the meaning of the word sanctify, sanctification. It is a complete dedication, a consecration, a setting apart for the work and service of the Lord. That is the meaning of our Savior when He says, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. He came into the world to be our Savior [Hebrews 10:5-14; Matthew 27:32-50], and for that purpose He gave His life and the strength of His days for us. “I sanctify Myself; I set Myself apart for them” [John 17:19].
The story of our Lord’s life is that kind of a story. Satan sought to dissuade Himself from that commitment and said to Him, “I will give You the glory of all the kingdoms of the world if You will just bow down and worship me” [Matthew 4:8-10]. But the Lord sanctified Himself for us [John 17:19]. He refused the adulation and peroration and accolades of this world for us.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of John, that same Gospel of John, in verse , the people sought to make Him a king [John 6:15]. This is a man—it’s in the story of the feeding of the five thousand—this is a man that can feed an army on a few loaves and fishes [John 6:1-14]. This is a man that can raise soldiers who have been slain from the dead [John 11:43-44]. This is the man that can lead us over the Roman Caesar and make us the greatest nation in the world. And they sought to make Him a king [John 6:15]. He refused the kingdom for our sakes [John 17:19].
In the story of the arrest of our Lord, Simon Peter drew out his sword to defend our Savior, but the Lord Jesus said, “Put up the sword, put it up. If I would, I could call twelve legions of angels, twelve legions of angels, to defend Me” [Matthew 26:51-53]. A legion had six thousand angels, and twelve legions would be seventy-two thousand, isn’t that right? Seventy-two thousand angels; I want you to look at that for just a second. One angel, one angel passed over the army of Sennacherib and left one hundred eighty-five thousand of them dead [Isaiah 37:36]. “I could call seventy-two thousand angels.” But He allowed Himself and gave Himself to the arrest that led to the cross for our sakes [Matthew 26:54-57].
Sanctification: when our Lord was there nailed to the tree, in scorn and wagging their heads they abused Him, and mocked Him, and dared Him, “Come down from the cross, and we will believe Thee. All these claims You make of Yourself as being the Son of God [John 5:17-18], and the Savior of the world [John 3:16], You come down from the cross, nailed to that tree” [Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:32]. And our first response is, “Lord, do it, and strike terror to their hardened and unbelieving hearts.” Not so. When He comes down from the cross, it will be a limp and lifeless body, sanctified, given for us. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19].
I notice that in the Greek original language, the order of the words is exactly as it is in English, “For their sakes.” First for us: “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. First it is for us, and I would submit there is no more beautiful or meaningful or moving commitment in the earth than to see that in any life; not only the life of our Lord and Savior, but in any life, a commitment, a sanctification for somebody else; this for them.
When the Lord God said to Moses, “You stand aside and let My wrath burn against these people who are dancing naked around this golden calf, and after I have destroyed them, I will raise up a great nation out of thy loins” [Exodus 32:8-10]; selfishness and self-interest would have answered God, “Let the fire burn, and out of me, raise up a great nation to the Lord.” But sanctification, consecration, self-denial answered God and said, “O Lord God, if Thou will forgive their sin”—then in the Bible there’s a long, black dash, “if Thou will forgive their sin”—and he doesn’t finish it; he just adds, “if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. “If they can’t live, I don’t want to live. These are the Lord’s people, and I’m numbered among them to live or to die. For their sakes I consecrate, I sanctify myself.”
Self-interest, self-aggrandizement would have said to Ruth, “You go back to Moab, to the land of your fathers where they speak your language, among your people and your friends; you return back to Moab.” But self-denial, sanctification, consecration, commitment answered Naomi and said:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor 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 be buried: God do so and more also unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee.
That is consecration, sanctification. Self-denial, spoke to Jesus as He was nailed to the cross, choosing rather to die for us than to be the King of all the whole world. Self-interest would have said to the apostle Paul, “Be the greatest rabbi in the history of Judaism.” Sitting at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], he could have inherited the mantle of that rabbon one of the seven great rabbis of Israel. Instead, consecration and sanctification answered, saying, “What things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ. . .and do count them but refuse [Philippians 3:7-8] that I might finish my course, preaching the gospel in joy” [Acts 20:24]. For somebody else; it is a moving commitment wherever it is seen.
I have felt it and experienced it in my own life. When the United States was plunged into the Second World War, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma. And in the congregation was a young fellow, a young man—handsome, tall, strong—he volunteered, not waiting for any conscription. And the next Sunday after his volunteering, he said to me, “Pastor, if I can give my life that you might have the freedom to preach the gospel of Christ, I am most willing to lay it down.” It had a repercussion in my heart that I have seldom ever felt.
And we had a way there in that church; Camp Gruber was there, and other camps were there, and we won many, many of those soldiers to the Lord. The 88th Division was reshaped there, and the 42nd Division, the Rainbow Division. And the 88th Division started at Casablanca and fought all the way through Italy. Practically all those men were killed, practically all of them. And every evening after the evening service, we had a flag atop the proscenium. And on it we placed gold stars for the men that were killed. And every evening with a light focused on that flag with their gold stars—and every week there would be gold stars added—we prayed for America.
Consecration, sanctification, giving your 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 people call that Consecration,
And some of us call it Sanctification—God.
[from “Each in His Own Tongue,” William Herbert Carruth]
It is the most moving of all the dedications in this world, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. And that is our challenge; that is God’s appeal for us: a selflessness in our lives and a devotion in our lives for someone, some cause, some purpose greater than ourselves.
I think of it, of course, being a pastor; I think of it in terms of the pastor. The prognostication was made—when I was a young man and radio was in its zenith, and then as television was invented—the prognostication was made that the day was here, it was present, when there would be a few great preachers in America, a little handful. And all America would listen on radio, and then finally on television, to these marvelously gifted preachers, and a local pastor would just be an errand boy. Why didn’t that come to pass? Why did that prophecy miserably fail? The reason became very apparent: there’s no lover, however magnificent or Hollywoodish he may be, there’s no lover that can love for all of us. And there is no husband or father that can sire all of our children. Every generation must experience for itself falling in love, building a home, fathering children. And it is the same in the pulpit. No one great preacher, wherever he stands and however gifted he is, can be God’s pastor and minister for all of us. For in each church, there must be reincarnated, and re-presented, and relived, and re-given, the spirit and life of our Lord. There’s no substitute for it, however gifted and wonderful the man.
And that is the great calling of a pastor. How ever he may be ungifted or however small may be his congregation, his great calling is, “For their sakes I sanctify myself; I set myself apart for them” [John 17:19]. That is the tremendous challenge in all of our lives, to be a servant in behalf of the humblest assignment.
I don’t mean to be smarter than these other men, but looking through some of the things that I had in my study, I found a yellowed piece of paper, and I had copied from one of our great leaders this peroration that he made. I’d heard him:
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.
Now, this is what I wrote as a youth, as a boy, “Fine language and true. Jesus did have a world vision, gave Himself to an earth-encircling task. But in actual life, in His actual ministry, 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, a little handful of disciples, did He race from pole to pole? Did He go around the equator? To a small group He consecrated Himself, He gave Himself.” And then I wrote that verse, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. As a boy it seemed that way to me.
And translating it into our work—and I must close, it’s past our time. I went to a wonderfully gifted man here in our church long time ago, and asked him if he’d teach this class of boys. And he answered me saying, “If you have a big class of men, I’d be happy to be asked to teach it. But I’m not about to teach a class of boys.” How different from our Lord, who washed feet! [John 13:4-5]. The humblest, most menial of all assignments was not beneath His dignity. And for us to be that way; if I can sweep out the house, wonderful. I’ll do it for Jesus sake. If I can open the window, if I can stand at the door, if I can run an errand, if I can do anything for my Savior; “For their sakes,” God’s people, “I sanctify myself; I consecrate myself; I give myself.” It is a beautiful and wonderful way to live, and it has in it the enrichment of the very presence of the treasures of heaven, and the loving grace of our dear Lord. “Anything, Lord; You say the word, You make the call, and for that purpose I will consecrate my life.”
In this moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, to give your heart to the Savior [Romans 10:9-10], or to come into the fellowship of the church, or to answer God’s call in your life; in the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, on the first note of the first stanza come, and welcome. May angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.