The Sixth Sunday After Easter May 24, 2009
1 Peter 4:12-17
219, 223, 215, 230
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, who reigns over heaven and earth from the glorious right hand of the Father:
One thing we learn immediately from this text is that Jesus prays for us. He talks to His heavenly Father about us, constantly. There is a running discussion between God, the Mediator, and His people here on this earth. If that fact doesn’t make you sit back in amazement, it is only because it is so natural. If you know Christianity, it doesn’t seem so surprising. But think of all that led up to this marvelous arrangement: the incarnation of God’s Son, His birth, His life as God’s Servant, His work on the cross, the resurrection. All of this leads up to the fact that Jesus has ascended into the heavenly places and sits in honor at the right hand of God—glorified with the glory which He had with the Father from the foundation of the world (cf. John 17:5).
The other reason why this should really astonish us is that Jesus’ praying on our behalf points to an infinitely powerful, expansive, loving will that is being expressed and exercised in our behalf.
There is a saying that is sometimes used of people who have died: “Gone, but not forgotten.” It usually means that, although someone is not physically present with us, we still feel his presence because of his memory or because of accomplishments he has left behind.
Today’s text leads us to think of the phrase “Gone, but not forgotten,” but in more specific terms. Here, we gain an insight into the relationship between the Father, the Son, and us—the Church in this world. Here, we see the truth that (Jesus) is Gone, but (we) are not forgotten. I. Consider the glory of Christ in His ascension and II. Consider the spiritual unity that remains.
Jesus is, indeed, gone in a visible sense, but consider the glory of Christ in His ascension. Jesus, praying to the Father in our text, says, “Now I am no longer in the world…” Well, actually, He was still in the world at that particular moment. But at the time of this amazing prayer, offered in the presence of the disciples at the close of the Passover Supper, Jesus had, for all intents and purposes, completed His journey upon the earth. From where He stood at that moment He could see the cross in its full horror, and He could also see the eternal glory that lay beyond.
During those excruciating hours when Jesus went to the cross, the disciples were going to see just what the world can do, and what it would do to one who spoke the truth. But by the same token, these followers of Jesus would also soon see how Jesus, meek as a lamb, would overcome the world through His perfect obedience to the Father. In fact, Jesus had spoken at some length to the Twelve before He began this prayer and His closing words to them were: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
It brings the believer great peace knowing that Jesus has overcome the world. Disciples of Jesus—not just the twelve—find wonderful peace and joy in knowing that Jesus has risen and conquered sin and death.
For forty days after Easter, Jesus visited His disciples. They could see Him, touch Him, and speak with Him. For those forty days He taught them about the kingdom of God—what it meant, how it functioned, what their role in it was. No doubt He spoke to them about the same things He had spoken earlier, only now, it all came together so beautifully.
The day came where Jesus led the disciples out to the Mount of Olives. He spoke to them again, told them that they would be witnesses to Him in all the world, and then He parted from them, rising from the earth and disappearing into the clouds. Seven weeks earlier, seeing Jesus simply float away would have devastated the disciples. It would have been of little help to have the angels tell them, “This same Jesus…will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:11). They would have felt nothing but loss.
But now, they felt joy and peace and triumph. They returned to the city, not lost and uncertain, but confident and praising God for His glorious work. They could have such bold joy because they knew and understood now that Jesus had done all He was meant to do on the earth. He had to return to His Father where He would take His place in triumph. He could do more there than He could sitting with them in a synagogue or walking a country path.
On an earlier occasion Jesus told them, “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Most important in all of that vast power was the fact that He had been given authority over all men. That authority extends to giving the gift of eternal life to all whom the Father gives Him (cf. John 17:2).
This might sound like a convoluted way of doing things, but these are the workings of God’s eternal will. Jesus doesn’t claim to have simply gathered His followers by being such a clever preacher, any more than those followers could say they chose Jesus because they were such great judges of character. Their relationship was ordained by God from eternity. Jesus understood that the Father willed to give them to Him.
The power to give eternal life to sinner would come through Jesus’ own work of redemption, so that the sinful world might be justified in the presence of God. The Father draws sinners to Jesus and through the Holy Spirit they believe in Him as their Savior and Jesus gives them eternal life.
Even with Jesus gone away from us into Heaven, He still gives eternal life to all who believe. And what is this eternal life? “That they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17.3). Our eternal life begins the instant we come to rest our hopes on Jesus. It grows and becomes robust and wonderful as we increase in the knowledge of God through the Word. Eternal life is alive and active in us when we put our hopes in an unseen Christ because we stake our whole life and eternal future on the fact that He, who redeemed us from our sins and rose from the dead, is ruling over Heaven and earth from the right hand of God. Eternal life is the joyous assurance that this triumphant Savior now governs all things for the eternal well-being of His Church.
So Jesus, it seems, is gone, but we do not forget Him and more importantly, we are not forgotten either. There is a spiritual unity that remains. Jesus stated “A am no longer in the world” but He went on to say, “but these are in the world.”
Since the world is where we are, it is time we give some thought to what Jesus means by “in the world.” You know that He doesn’t have in mind simply the created realm—the planet earth and its unique place in the solar system, the wonder of creation with its endowment of God’s wisdom and order called into life and being for His glory. No, the “world” Jesus is referring to is darker, more sinister. It is the realm of sinful man moving in concert with the rebel angel, Satan, who has led the whole moral universe of man into sin and rebellion against God.
This world can be very alluring, but its end is very evil. It can appear very benign, but its ways are always fatal. It is characterized, not just by murder and violence, but by cynicism and hard-heartedness. It is spoiled by greed and thievery as well as by waste and discontent. It is condemned for godlessness and idolatry but also for thanklessness and doubt.
This is the world that reigns supreme around us. The Father has mercifully called us out of it to know the righteousness of Christ, but it lurks ever so closely by and we are not untouched by it all.
But Jesus remembers us where we are and He prays to the Father for us. Strangely enough, He explicitly states that He doesn’t pray for the Father to take us out of the world—we are, after all, meant to be the salt of the earth. Rather He prays that the Father would “keep us from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Jesus says, “Father, keep them through Your name.” Knowing our Father’s name is enough to keep us safe, to sustain our faith, to perfect us in the faith. But a “name” is more than simply knowing a proper name. God doesn’t mean to teach us just to mouth a few syllables. God’s name includes everything He reveals about Himself. His name is in the Word He has given us through the prophets and apostles. Even without Jesus present with us in this world, the Word of God is able to break our stony hearts and replace them with new, living hearts that beat with the grace of God.
The Word of God which opens His name to us, doesn’t just tell us of some vague god out there somewhere, it is able to “show us the Father” by showing us His Son Jesus Christ.
That Word does not simply condemn an impersonal “world” that is “out there.” It exposes the sin that lies in our very hearts and teaches us to repent, lest we be drawn back into that world. This Word doesn’t just suggest solutions for our various problems in life. It proclaims Jesus Christ, who is the solution for all the poor in spirit, the spiritually starving, the meek of the world. It works eternal life in all those who believe its good news.
Our invisible God has not forgotten us. He has given us the Word to be proclaimed and He makes it a visible Word in the sacraments—both to feed and nourish our hearts during our time in this world. Through that Name, the Father sends us the Holy Spirit who keeps our eyes fixed firmly on our ascended Lord, Jesus Christ. If we do His works—that is, live by faith—Jesus will bring the Father and they will live in us, and we in them. He is gone, but we are so not forgotten. Amen.
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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.