Today's Gospel once again places us in the upper room on the evening before Jesus died for us on the cross. Judas has left the gathering and is on his way to the authorities in order to get the band of soldiers that he will lead to Gethsemane in order to betray Jesus. Jesus has pretty much finished the teaching He intended to give His disciples in that place. He is almost ready to go to Gethsemane where He will be arrested.
Jesus, knowing that His disciples were about to experience three of the scariest and loneliest days of their lives, has one last thing to do before they leave for Gethsemane. He prayed to the Father on their behalf and He allowed the disciples to listen in. We call this prayer Jesus' high priestly prayer and the Gospel for this day is part of that prayer.
This prayer teaches us much about Jesus' attitude towards us. This is the evening before His death on the cross and He knew it. We could certainly understand if He were totally focused on His upcoming suffering and death. But He's not - His concern is for His followers. Later on, in Gethsemane, He will pray for Himself, but there in the upper room, just before they leave for Gethsemane, He prayed for those who will feel so alone and so frightened during the coming days - the days of His gauntlet of sorrow, suffering, and death - the days of His wait in the tomb. He prayed for those who will hide behind locked doors until they see Him face-to-face after His resurrection.
This prayer is for us as well. Although Jesus has never left us, He has taken His visible presence away from us. He has ascended into heaven and although He is with us, we cannot see Him. He has not yet come to take us into our eternal home. So we find ourselves in a time of waiting for Jesus to reveal Himself. We are in the time of "Now, but not yet!" He is with us now, but we can not yet see Him with our physical eyes. He has given heaven to us now, but we can not yet experience it as we will in eternity. All of Christ's gifts already belong to us now, but we can not yet experience them to the fullest. So we live in the time of now, but not yet. Jesus' prayer is for all those who wait in the world of now, but not yet.
While we live in the tension of the now, but not yet of the Christian life, we also live in the tension of being in the world, but not of the world. We are like resident aliens - people who reside in one country, but are citizens of another.
One of the problems we have is that, even though we are aliens in this world, we expect to get along with it. We expect to prosper in a world that is not our home. Some will even tell you that when you become part of God's family, everything will start turning up roses. You will become wealthy and more attractive. Your relationship with your spouse will blossom and your children will rise up and call you blessed. Your health will improve and you will have more energy. This deception will tell you that God wants nothing but material and social prosperity for you. This deception tells you that worldly success indicates a superior standing with God.
Jesus has a different teaching. In His prayer, He prayed, "The world has hated them because they are not of the world." That does not sound at all like the prosperity we hear so much about from this world. Because we are resident aliens in this world, the world is out to get us. The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, constantly confront and attack us.
Sometimes the attack is direct. Martyrs die in Roman arenas and German gas chambers. In modern times, governments have actually used aircraft to bomb and destroy Christian communities in their own countries.
Other times, the temptation is more subtle. The evil forces in this world use enticements and pleasures to draw us away from God. There is the deception that makes a sin seem so harmless, so good, so desirable at the time. While we consider the temptation, everything looks good and pleasant. This has been a weapon of evil from the very beginning in Eden: [Genesis 3:6] When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Temptation always seems like a good idea at the time. It would not be tempting if it didn't.
This world is a world of sin. Whether we are citizens of this world or citizens of heaven, we will sin while we live in this world. Even we who are bound for heaven must mourn with Paul [Romans 7:19] "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." We are saints in God's eyes for Jesus' sake, but we continue to sin. We are in the world, but not of the world.
The people of this world operate on a spectrum of beliefs when they deal with sin. At one end of this spectrum are those who have deceived themselves into believing that they do not sin. This typically involves a dilution of God's justice. They either tone down God's law to the point they can keep it or they get rid of God's law altogether.
The Pharisees are examples of this. In spite of the fact that they studied the Scriptures constantly, they interpreted the law in a way that made it doable. They saw the law as something they could actually keep. They made keeping the law into an external activity designed to impress men so that they would become objects of praise for their good works. In fact, they were in denial about their true status in the eyes of God.
At the other end of the spectrum are people like Judas. Judas is an example of despair. Judas did not deny his sin at all. He understood that he deserved punishment. In his case, the evil forces of the world convinced Judas that his sin was more powerful than God's forgiveness. Instead of repenting and asking for forgiveness, he hung himself. Evil used the great sin of despair to push Judas over the edge and into the abyss of eternal punishment.
The people of this world stand all along this spectrum. Some are quite proud of their own righteousness. Others don't really care. Still others destroy themselves in despair. Eventually, they will all stand before God and realize their mistake, but it will be too late.
When the Holy Spirit works faith in us so that we place our trust in Jesus Christ, a new way opens before us. Our citizenship is no longer in this world. Instead, it is in heaven. We live in this world as aliens. When the forces of evil overwhelm us and we sin, we have an ambassador with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
The Holy Spirit has given us the sight to see our sins and mourn our inability to keep God's law. He has made known the reality of the punishment that our sins deserve. However, instead of driving us into despair, our sin drives us to Jesus Christ. The depth of our sin shows us the height of His love - the love that sacrificed itself on a cross in order to free us from the guilt of our sin - the love that revoked our citizenship in this world and made us citizens of heaven. By the Holy Spirit's power, we do not deny our sins, but readily confess them before God. By the Holy Spirit's power, we find ourselves offering God the highest praise as we beg, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
Jesus prays for us. In His high priestly prayer He prayed that the Holy Father will keep us in His name. In this way, we will have, by grace, the unity that the Father and the Son have by nature. As we look at the words that Jesus used: Holy, Father, and Name, we see that Jesus' prayer is a variation on the beginning of the prayer He taught us: "Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name." As we listen to Jesus' prayer, we learn that the closer we are to the Father, the closer we are to each other. When the Father keeps us in His name, then we are at one in Him.
How did Jesus keep us in the Father's name? His prayer tells us that as well. He prayed to the Father, "I have given them your word." He kept them in the Father's name by teaching them the Father's Word.
He still works that way today. Martin Luther said that very thing when He explained how we keep God's name holy among ourselves: God's name is kept holy when the word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, lead Godly lives according to it. Help us to do this dear Father in Heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this Heavenly Father! It is God's Word in Divine Service, in Bible Class, and in family and private devotions that keeps us in the Holy Father's name. The Holy Spirit uses God's Word to revoke our citizenship in this world and establish and maintain our citizenship in heaven.
Jesus, our great High Priest loves us so much. When any normal person would be concerned for his own upcoming suffering and death, Jesus was praying for us. He was praying that we would remain in the Holy Father's name by the power of His Word. He was about to go to the cross in order to make it so that we would be in this world, but not of it and He prayed to His Father to keep us that way. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.