On the night in which He was betrayed our Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples. He prayed for the original twelve who were soon to experience the most horrific series of events leading to His crucifixion, death and burial. He was going to leave them and they were going to face danger. He also prayed for you that night. For you are among those He said “will believe in me through their word” (Jn. 17:20). We too are tempted at times to wonder if God has left us alone. We too face days that threaten both our spiritual and our physical safety. Though we are cleansed and reclaimed as sons and daughters of God by baptism, sin still so easily besets us, and death threatens sometimes behind the scenes, but ultimately at center stage, in your face. For you Jesus prayed and promised You Are Not Alone.
You are not alone. We need to hear that. The first disciples needed to hear that. As a matter of fact they needed to hear that twice. For the Lord left them twice. His promise was spoken, first, when He was going to leave them by way of His cross, His suffering, death and burial. When He rose from the dead and appeared to them they were overjoyed and thought He was back for good. But there was another “leaving” that would happen forty days after His resurrection. And so we hear these words of Maundy Thursday repeated today, the Sunday between His Ascension into heaven and Pentecost. After forty days of appearing to His disciples, then disappearing—appearing and disappearing—He was going to “leave them” again. Yet our Lord’s Ascension was not a tear-filled goodbye or farewell, for He told them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18) thus foretelling His sending of the Holy Spirit Who is the Spirit of our Lord and of His resurrection.
In this prayer Jesus spoke about the threats to faith that we must face while still in the unbelieving world. “The world has hated them,” He says, “because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (v. 14). To be “of” the world means to identify and be identified with the world, that is, the world fallen into spiritual darkness, sin and death. First He warned of the world’s prince, “the evil one,” Satan (v. 15) whose chief interest is destroying as much as is of Christ as he can before his ultimate demise. He convinces spiritually blind men and women that everything about God is foolishness. As the apostle Paul said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). How many today consider the Christian or almost any religious thought worthy of serious consideration. Religious talk is merely foolishness and superstition.
Jesus repeats the words, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (v. 16). Because of unbelief the world has it all upside down and calls evil good and good evil. The principle is nothing new. What is new are some of the current issues. One of the most recent issues of confusing good and evil is the debate or battle over homosexual marriage. It’s not enough that a few countries and even a few states in our own nation have made so-called “gay marriage” legal, but even the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is seriously considering giving religious sanction to it. The Biblical answer is not accepted by the world that considers the Bible foolishness. But the fact is that it is God Himself that came up with and invented the whole idea of marriage in the first place, as a holy, life-long estate established between one man and one woman. Therefore it follows that no human wisdom, and no government of laws can change what God has clearly determined, ordained and given. You can pretend to join two men or two women in “marriage” but they will never in reality be married. As Pope John Paul II said when questioned about the possibility of the ordination of women to the priesthood, “WE do not have the authority to make that change.”
In His prayer, Jesus promises to guard and protect us, His followers, because we live in a world that has not changed its basic attitude toward Christ and the Christian Church.
He guards and protects you through the revelation and Word concerning God the Father and His love for you. “While I was with them, I kept them in your name…and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” While the world deals mainly in hatred, God is love! Furthermore, “I have given them your word.” That Word, as it has come to us in the holy Scriptures, enables us to know God aright and believe in Him, and to mark and avoid false teaching, false doctrine that aims to destroy faith. Hence the importance of continually hearing, continuing to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the scriptural, Biblical Word of truth.
By the Word of God we know that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, and that, after sin and even death has done its worst, nevertheless we will not die but live. Because of the promise of the resurrection we can say even in the face of death that would threaten us, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Christ is with you. Christ is for you. You are not alone.
This is what is meant when Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” To “sanctify” is to set apart and make holy or dedicated to God, consecrated to the task that has been given us. Beyond keeping the gift of faith sharp and healthy within us, this includes the teaching and spreading of God’s Word in the world. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This mission includes everything from our own, personal witness and word shared with another individual to our support of one another and all the efforts of the Church-at-large. Think of how many thousands of lives are impacted with the Good News of the Gospel when we support the individuals who give themselves for the ministry at our seminaries to name just one important institution.
In this Word today our Lord acknowledges that we need His continual protection as we continue to live out our days amid the threats of the unbelieving world. He has prayed for us and provides us, first, with forgiveness and new life, then, with the Word that creates and sustains saving faith and finally with the mission of proclaiming that Word to the world for the life of the world. God continue to keep you close to Him by His Word and Spirit.