Laetare, The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 14, 1999
John 17:1, 11-16
360, 344, 444, 341
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee… And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. These are the words.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who is the Way the Truth and the Life, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
On July 20, 1969, a man walked on the moon for the first time in human history. I was ten years old, and I’ll never forget that summer night. Everybody stayed up till the early hours watching the television. It was amazing! Most amazing to me was that a human being could survive in such a hostile environment. There was no water and no air. The temperature on the surface was so high that Neil Armstrong would have baked if it hadn’t been for his life-supporting space suit. Despite all the glory of that trip, the astronauts said they were glad to get back to the more friendly environment of earth. I could readily believe it!
But is this world such a friendly place after all? Physically, yes—it has an atmosphere we can breath and a climate we can survive in. Spiritually, though, this world is a hostile environment. So hostile, in fact, that your Christian faith cannot survive here without some means of life support. As a believer, you need to realize how dangerous your environment is. Also, you need to make full use of the life support system that the Lord has provided for you. To do otherwise would be as foolish and as fatal as if an astronaut tried to walk on the moon without a space suit. That’s why this morning’s theme is—
It’s generally considered bad manners to eavesdrop on people. Our text for today is an exception. In the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, we get a chance to eavesdrop on a prayer that Jesus offered for His disciples. It was Maundy Thursday evening; Jesus was less than 24 hours away from his death. He and the disciples were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. He prayed out loud, and He did it on purpose. Jesus intended them to listen in. He wanted them to hear what He had to say to His heavenly Father. If you and I are His disciples, then we’d better listen, too!
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come. Jesus saw the terrible ordeal that was just about to happen. He knew that His Father was about to lay the guilt of the whole world’s sins on His shoulders. In the biting lash of the Roman scourge, in the painful crown of thorns, in the cruel nails that held Him to the cross, Jesus was about to take on Himself the punishment for our misdeeds. It had to be so. God’s justice demanded that those sins be paid for, and we ourselves could never do it. So Jesus accepted the job. No matter how painful it was, He would not turn away from the work that would redeem our souls!
But Jesus was able to see past the next 24 hours. His view took in not only the suffering of the cross, but the triumph of the empty tomb—and beyond. He prayed, Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. By raising Jesus on Easter Sunday, God would glorify His Son, declaring the work of redemption to be finished and complete. After His ascension into heaven, Jesus would in turn glorify His Father, by continuing to expand His kingdom through the Word that His disciples would preach. On the road to this glorious kingdom, Jesus’ death was a necessary step. You may remember how He explained this with a parable to His disciples: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” —John 12:24.
This would be the disciples’ work—bringing in the grain. Sowing the seed of the Gospel, and harvesting the precious souls of those who believed it. It was their job then, and as disciples it’s our job now. The only problem is that this world is a very hostile environment in which to carry out that work. Jesus recognized that, and that’s why He came to His Father with this prayer. He said, Now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me. Jesus wants us to know that the name of God will be our life support in the hostile environment of this world!
What is the “name of God”? Don’t get the wrong idea—it’s not some magic word, like “abracadabra”, that cures problems as soon as it’s uttered. Our confirmation students, in studying the Second Commandment, learn that God’s name is everything He has revealed to us about Himself. In short, God’s name is the Word, the Holy Scriptures. While Jesus was in the world, He successfully used the Word to preserve His disciples. He said, While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. Only one of the twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, had rejected Jesus, and it was a rejection predicted way back in the 41st Psalm: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.” —Psa 41:9. The other eleven disciples, the ones God had given to Jesus, He had kept. Much like a space suit preserves an astronaut, Jesus had preserved His disciples in the midst of the hatred and hostility of the world.
—Up till now, that is! But now Jesus was on the point of leaving them with His physical presence. The cross was looming, there was danger all around, and everything looked black. What would become of them now? Well, the words of Jesus’ prayer were meant to calm their fears.
Today is Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Some people call this Sunday “Little Easter.” Do you know why? Because this is the Sunday that, even in the midst of Jesus’ Passion, gives us a hint of the Easter joy to come. Jesus wanted to share that joy with His disciples. That’s why He spoke this prayer, and spoke it out loud. These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word. There was nothing to fear. Yes, Good Friday was coming when Jesus would be bowed down in suffering by our sins, but Easter Sunday was also coming, when He would rise from the grave in triumph over sin and death. Ascension Day was coming, when Jesus would leave the earth with His physical presence, but Pentecost was also coming, when He would begin to build a mighty kingdom of believers through the Word that His disciples would preach.
That’s our job now, isn’t it?—To spread the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. And I want to remind you that we’re not working in a friendly environment, or even a neutral environment. For a believer, this world will always be a hostile environment. One in which we simply can’t survive, spiritually, unless we’re hooked into the life-supporting Word of God. Jesus said, I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
The world isn’t going to thank you for being a Christian—they’re going to hate you for it. And I’m not talking about some vague “world” at large, either. I’m talking about your neighbors, the people in this community, the people you work with, maybe even your own relatives. Oh, you can call yourself a Christian, even belong to a Christian church—nobody’s going to hold that against you. But if you actually act like a Christian, if you actually put Jesus Christ first in your life, if you actually have the nerve to insist on what His Word teaches, and stubbornly refuse to compromise on a single doctrine—then look out! Then you are going to feel the hatred of the world around you, and no two ways about it!
Have you been feeling the hostility of the world recently because of your Christian faith? If not, then maybe it’s time for you to have another look at what your life and behavior is telling the people around you. If you have felt it, then take heart. Jesus tells us to expect it! He even says, “Blessed are you when people revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” —Mt 5:11-12.
For us, as for the disciples, there is no reason to fear. Jesus has delivered us from our sins on the cross. Because of that, we will one day live with Him in a new environment—an environment free of sin and sorrow and hatred. Until then, He has promised that His Word will be our life-support system in the hostile environment of this world. Jesus said to His Father, I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. As Christians, we are in the world, but the world should not be in us—there’s a big difference! One writer said that, “A boat in the sea can get along very well. It’s when the sea is in the boat that you’ve got problems!”
Let’s keep in mind the hostile environment that surrounds us, and not allow the sinful influences of the world to seep into our lives. You’ve got a Bible—read it! You’ve got a preacher, come and listen to Him preach God’s Word! The Word of Christ is what keeps us spiritually alive in this hostile world. God grant that we may never forget it. AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.