Live audio recording of the lessons and sermon:
Sermon Text: John 17:6-19
Date: November 1 & 2, 2014
Festival of the Reformation (1 Year Lectionary)
John 17:6–19 (ESV)
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming 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 ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Guard Your Church, O Lord
1. Keep us in you
2. Drive us with your Word
We have an innate need to feel safe. The newborn burrows himself into Mom’s arms to hear her heart and know that nothing bad is going to happen to him as long as she is there. The child finds solace in the arms of her teacher when a spill at the playground meant few bumps and a scrape. The adult, when awoken by a terrible dream, clings to the truth that he’s in his bed at home and safe, and not falling out of an airplane or being chased by people who want to hurt him.
We want to feel safe because so often we don’t. We feel adrift in the world. We feel like there’s nothing we can do to protect ourselves. We often feel powerless to affect any changes or to secure anything good for ourselves and others. And even when we can and do accomplish things to help and protect ourselves and others, we know that there is always a hard limit to what can be done. We can raise our children well and equip them for life, but we cannot protect them from every hardship. We can make careful plans for retirement, but we can’t stop emergency bills or economic downturns that hinder our savings. Things can feel somewhat hopeless at times.
What a comfort it is, then, to hear words like Jesus’ in the Gospel for this morning. Did you notice how often terms for protection came up in these few verses? Jesus says continually that his disciples belong to him and the Father, asking the Father to guard them, keep them, and sanctify them. All of these images invoke a powerful protective idea, very similar to the hymn we just got done singing, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” There Martin Luther, paraphrasing our psalm for the day, Psalm 46, stresses God’s protective hand. We sang in stanza 1 that God is our “trusty shield and weapon.” Notice how that thought covers both sides of protection, proactive and reactive, offensive and defensive. Our God is not only the God in whom we take shelter, but he is the one who fights for us.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel this morning were spoken on the night he would be betrayed by Judas and arrested. This is Maundy Thursday, the evening the disciples’ world would quickly fall apart. In just a few short hours Jesus would change from powerful preacher and leader to helpless victim before their very eyes. Jesus knows the horrendous toll the next few days are going to take on the disciples, and he knows even more the trials they will face after his work is done and he returns to the Father. And so there in the upper room, Jesus takes time to pray aloud for his dear friends, asking his Father to give the disciples what they need and to protect them. We do well to echo Jesus’ prayer and implore our heavenly Father to Guard your Church, O Lord by keeping us in you and driving us with your Word.
Through Jesus’ preaching and teaching, the disciples had learned that God was someone they could trust, someone who would guard and keep them. Jesus says to his Father, “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus stresses the unity of mission and purpose that he and the Father have. There can be no identifying Jesus’ mission and the Father’s mission for they are one in the same: the salvation of mankind. Rescuing people from their sins has been God’s purpose from the moment that Adam and Eve first covetingly looked at that forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. And now, that plan is going to be accomplished.
Of course that plan is going to run contrary to everything the world values and adores. Jesus says, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. 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.” Jesus would soon be leaving, but the disciples would be staying. Jesus would be leaving the sinful world that was against him, but Christians must live in a world that hates them and their message because it is not worldly.
The lack of worldliness can be seen well in the Reformation itself. The whole basis for the Reformation, the purpose of Martin Luther’s and the other reformers’ work, was to restore the teaching of Christ-crucified to pay for sins. The world doesn’t want rescue; the world wants to believe that it can do anything it puts its mind to. The world doesn’t want help. There’s a small part of each of us that would love to believe that we can do what we need to save ourselves, or more that we don’t need to do anything because God ought to find our lives good enough. These were the traps that the Roman Catholic Church had fallen into. They lorded forgiveness and comfort over their people like a carrot, always just out of reach. They commodified forgiveness into something that could be earned, or perhaps worse, something that could be bought.
The Roman idea of salvation was no different than any other man-made religion because it cut God out of the equation partially if not entirely. Every human being, on some level, wants something to do with their being in heaven. We want to think that if we work hard enough and long enough that God will look down on us and smile and say, “Sure, come on up here with me.” But that’s not how it works.
Paul said it plainly in our Second Lesson from Romans this morning: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The only thing our works show is how far we’ve fallen from what God demands. You think you’ve been good enough? God says be perfect, and then uses his perfect law to show you and me how many times we’ve fallen short of his demands. But then God’s Word reveals the glorious solution. Again, from what Paul wrote to the Romans: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
We have forgiveness, we have eternal life, not because we’ve earned it, nor because we paid for it, but because God has given it to us. It has nothing to do with what we’ve done. Paul was clear that this righteousness, this right relationship with God, comes apart from the law and only through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. It’s free; no strings attached. And it depends nothing on me or you.
The world scoffs at this. “How dare you imply I’m not good enough or strong enough to save myself!” they say to God and everyone who brings such a message. God’s message of law and gospel, of sin and forgiveness, offends the base sinful nature which wants to assume in vain glory that it is the best. The world runs away from this message or attacks to silence it. The world cannot stand God or what he has to say. The world has hated them because they are not of the world.
But because the disciples were going to stay in the world, a world they were truly not a part of, because they were not only going to stay but also work to share this message that was offensive to the world with the world, they were going to need help. They were going to need to be safe and protected. Jesus said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” You hear echoes of the Lord’s Prayer in Jesus’ prayer here, where the Christian prays, “Deliver us from evil.” Jesus’ solution is not to have the disciples whisked away from the world and out of danger, but rather that God protect them while they do their work amongst the danger.
We know that defending and proclaiming God’s message would cause them harm. Some of the disciples would be mistreated and arrested. Some would be laughed at and ridiculed. Most of them would, eventually, be put to death for what they were proclaiming about Jesus. Persecution for the message of Christ-crucified was not limited to the apostles, either. Throughout history the world has warred against this message. On the cover of your bulletin you have a picture of the Diet of Worms, where Luther stood trial before the emperor himself for having the audacity to say that we’re not saved by works, but by God’s love for us. You’ve likely felt the persecution too, perhaps not in threats of death or other harm, but in ridicule, in loss of work or income, friendships or family relationships.
So why would we keep doing this? Why would we keep proclaiming a message that causes so much trouble? Because for as much trouble as it causes us, not telling people would cause much more trouble for others. Who cares if people laugh at our faith? Who cares if people ridicule us for what we believe? We have a message to share that means eternal life in place of eternal death. We have a message that is the one thing that can bring real comfort to someone racked with guilt and fear. We have a message that proclaims a mighty fortress of a God and Savior who has protected us and will guard us through eternity.
Jesus had work for his dear friends, and it’s work that you and I have inherited, both as individuals and as a congregation. He said, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Jesus has sent us into the world—a world that we don’t belong to with a message that it hates—to proclaim his love. There’s no way to make it so that people won’t be offended and upset at this message. That is going to happen. Our prayer, though, is for the resolve to stay faithful, to always speak the truth in gentleness and love, and yet never compromise on what God has given us to proclaim.
Jesus says twice in these closing verses of our text that he wants his disciples to be sanctified, to be made holy, in the truth of God’s Word. We have been made holy because the Holy Spirit has had us cling to the truth of that Word. There is no human distortion in a message of forgiveness completely and only by God’s grace. That we believe that is nothing but a gift from God. Our focus on this Reformation celebration, our focus as our congregation moves forward with plans for the future, our focus as each of us goes about our daily lives and personal witness with goals to let our light shine, our focus for everything needs to be on God’s Word. Not as a way to boast in ourselves as if somehow our dedication to God’s Word makes us more worthy of his love than anyone else. No, focus on God’s Word because there we know how God has and will guard us. That message of sins forgiven is what drives us. That glorious gospel is the hook on which we hang every single one of our temporal and eternal hopes. That is the truth that sanctifies.
We have the God who protects. Rejoice, my brothers and sisters. Jesus’ Father is your Father. The disciples’ fortress is your fortress. May God give us the strength to keep steadfast in his Word today and eternally. Amen.