The Seventh Sunday of Easter May 20, 2012
1 John 4:13-21
341, 738 [TLH alt. 221], 430, 262
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
In Christ Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—dear fellow Christians:
Have you mapped out your summer vacation plans yet? Maybe you are looking forward to a few days at the lake fishing, or some serious fun at a Wisconsin Dells water park, or perhaps you enjoy visiting historical sites. Wherever you decide to go, you pack accordingly. The list could include fishing poles, sunscreen, swim suits, and a guide book.
But what would you pack if your destination were Afghanistan? To say it’s a dangerous place is an understatement. We’ve seen the pictures of bombed out buildings, charred vehicles, and soldiers being carried away on stretchers. To pack for a visit there would be a matter of life and death. We would need things like body armor. We would constantly have to be alert. Even if we had an armed escort, a sniper could have us in the crosshairs of his rifle from across the street.
Few of us would choose to visit a place like Afghanistan. We much prefer the relative peace and familiar safety of our neighborhood and country. It’s hard to imagine life in such a violent, unstable place. It’s far beyond our experience. Or is it? If you read the text carefully, you will see that Jesus is warning us that our situation may be more like Afghanistan than we think. Outwardly, things may be calm, but spiritually we are living in hostile territory where we have to be alert at all times for danger. To survive we need to be properly equipped and that is Jesus’ request in His prayer to His heavenly Father.
Jesus knows all about the hatred of the world. He came in love to rescue mankind, and yet the world rejected Him. He pointed out sin and the judgment it brings, but people didn’t want to listen. They preferred to continue in their sinful ways. Jesus offered free forgiveness through faith in Him, but people turned away because they trusted that they could do it themselves. Who needed a “carpenter” from Nazareth? The world’s hatred finally led to the Lord’s suffering and death on the cross.
Jesus was honest with His disciples in telling them that they would suffer repercussions from following Him. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19 NIV).
Jesus had called the disciples out of the world to follow Him, and so they, likewise, became targets for the world’s hatred. Jesus told them they would be like sheep living among a pack of wolves. They would need protection if they were to have any hope of surviving.
Jesus Himself personally saw to it while He was visibly on earth. When the Pharisees shot their verbal missiles at the disciples to destroy their faith, Jesus was there to intercept and defuse them. When the disciples’ own pride threatened their unity, as they bickered about which of them would be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus taught them that greatness is not found in being served, but in humble service toward others. Jesus was there to calm their fears and teach them about God’s will and plans for their lives. None of the disciples had been lost, except Judas, and that was not due at all to the Lord’s negligence. Judas had let his greed overcome him. He had turned from the Lord and had been lost, just as the Scriptures had foretold. Another would take his place as an apostle.
But Jesus would not always be visibly present with the disciples. He would suffer, die, and ascend to Heaven. What then? Who would watch out for them? Would they be like a group of defenseless civilians suddenly left stranded in a dangerous neighborhood of Kabul if their Marine escort were to suddenly speed off?
Who’s watching out for us? Or do we even need protection? I doubt that many of us lose a great deal of sleep with fears of spiritual danger from the world. We hear about believers in other countries, such as India, who are persecuted. They might lose their livelihood or even be physically harmed. But it doesn’t happen here very often. Have any of us ever lost a job because of our faith? There was not a mob of protestors lining the driveway when you came here for worship today. I don’t think anyone is out in the parking lot now slashing your tires. In all the years of my ministry, I’ve only had a handful of threatening phone calls. Is there any real spiritual danger, or do we have a fairly good truce with the world in our lives?
The danger is real, even if things seem peaceful on the surface. I think there are at least two reasons why we don’t see a lot of blatant hatred toward believers in our communities. One is that Satan is a master at adapting his schemes to fit the situation. If outright physical attacks are best going to serve his goals, he will try that. On the other hand, sometimes a more subtle approach will actually be more devastating to believers’ wellbeing.
The other reason is even more unsettling. The Devil and world are not going to fight against people who are going along with them! Why should they? So if believers cave in and go along with the world, they won’t see any opposition. God tells us that the gift of sex is only for marriage, but the world sees it as something to indulge in at anyone’s whim. God says that all human life is precious to Him, but the world says it has a right to end certain lives, such as those of the unborn. Object to the world’s views, say they are wrong, and you will feel the hatred. State that Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, and the world will start pushing back.
The temptation for the Christian is to compromise and accommodate the world a little so as not to stir up trouble. It may seem harmless enough to adopt popular, immodest clothing styles, or to misuse God’s name in conversation, or to pursue money and possessions as a primary goal in life. But it’s dangerous! There is no such thing as a little or harmless sin. It’s like smoking. Someone may light up for 30 years with seemingly no ill effects, but that doesn’t mean the damage isn’t being done. It creates a false sense of security, and then one day a cough develops and worsens. Finally, the devastating diagnosis of cancer is made. Spiritually, too, it doesn’t matter whether it happens overnight or takes years, the loss of faith and salvation means eternal damnation.
To survive we need protection. So Jesus prayed: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me.” [v.11] Our spiritual body armor is God’s name. It is more than the individual names of God, such as Father, Lord, Comforter. God’s name is the revelation of who He is, what He does, and how He feels about us. His name is the Word He has given us through the writers of Holy Scripture.
Don’t underestimate its power. It was the Word which rescued us from the world in the first place and brought us into the unity of the Holy Christian Church. It is the sharp, double-edged sword of Law and Gospel. The Law slices straight to the heart, exposes our sin, and cuts away any false hopes in our own goodness. Then we are ready to hear the Gospel which heals with the calming news of sins’ debt paid and forgiven by Jesus’ cross. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
Along with new spiritual life comes real joy. A fishing trip, an ice cream cone, a family gathering, or a sunny summer day can give us some degree of happiness, but the happiness is short-lived. Jesus spoke the saving Word so that we might have His joy overflowing in our lives continually, regardless of our outward circumstances. It is the joy of having guilt lifted off our souls once and for all. It is the peace of knowing that all is well between us and God. It is the confidence that we have a living, ascended Lord ruling in the heavens over all things for our benefit.
That Word is our bulletproof protection. It is what Jesus used when He was ambushed by Satan in the wilderness. No matter what the temptation, Jesus spoke the Word, and Satan had to back off. We don’t have Jesus visibly at our side, but we do have His powerful, protecting Word. When you see the clothes, cars, and money of others, and feel a twinge of envy, look to the Word for protection against a full blown case of coveting. Look to where it is written: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
When the movies, magazines, or people of the world tempt you to adopt its loose morals and indulge in its shameful acts, go to the Word and remember that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that we have been set free from the world to live for Jesus, not to jump back into the cesspool from which we were saved.
When you feel like you are drowning in a sea of fear, hold on to the Word as your survival vest. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you….For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1ff NIV).
Do you want to be bulletproofed against any attack? Put on the full armor of God (cf. Ephesians 6) and never take it off. The more you read and use it, the more it will become part of you, and the more effective it will be in protecting you. When it doesn’t seem to be working, or when it isn’t working as quickly as you want, don’t give up. Keep using it. Think of Jacob who didn’t give up, but wrestled all night with the Lord in prayer until God blessed him (cf. Genesis 32:22ff). Make the Word part of your life throughout the day in reading it, talking about it, and living it. Compare how much time you spend with the Word with the amount you spend with the world in watching TV, playing video games, going to ball games, and other earthly activities. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as needed. No matter where you are or what you are doing, don’t lose sight of the Word. Your survival depends on it!
Our survival depends on the protection of the Word and on another blessing the Word provides: purpose. We often hear about the need for a clear purpose or mission for our troops in Afghanistan, so that they can work together as a team to achieve their objective and come home. That is also true for our lives here as Jesus’ followers. If we did not have a clear mission and were just wandering aimlessly through life, we would be easy prey for the enemy.
Jesus prayed: “Father, sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth….For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” [vv.17,19] To sanctify is to dedicate and set apart for a holy purpose. Jesus sanctified Himself for the holy purpose of saving sinners. That was the clear mission which He kept in mind, no matter where He was or what He was doing. He led a sinless life, so that we could be accounted as holy by God. He died for the world, so that we could be pronounced “not guilty,” and be reborn to new life in Him. He sanctified Himself, so that we could be set apart and dedicated to a holy purpose. The Word unites us with all other believers for that mission. “There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
All believers are one body for one mission: to be Jesus’ witnesses throughout the world. The Word equips us for that work. It gives us the message to speak: the same Law and Gospel which we ourselves need. To those around us who don’t recognize their sin or who are unrepentant, we need to speak Law, and plainly tell them that sin kills. The Word says: “The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God…Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers…nor thieves nor the greedy nor slanderers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV).
To those who mourn over their sin, we can give the unconditional comfort of forgiveness. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). By both word and lifestyle we can witness to Christ and His grace so that friends, relatives, co-workers, and others may be welcomed into Christ’s Church with us.
While our homes are in the relative peace and quiet of America, we cannot afford to let our guard down. We are still living in spiritually hostile territory. The Devil and world will never give up their efforts at destroying our faith and robbing us of eternal life. Still, we do not have to barricade ourselves in a bunker and give up in despair. The ascended Jesus is praying for us and provides all we need in the Word, which protects and sanctifies us for service. Look to the Word. Use it. Trust it. Our very survival depends on it! Amen.
What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my Treasure,
My Life, my Health, my Wealth,
My Friend, my Love, my Pleasure,
My Joy, my Crown, my All,
My Bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.