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John 17:11-19 "JESUS PRAYS FOR US ..."
Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 16, 2021


  “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
  “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”


  This past Thursday the holy Church throughout the world celebrated the truths expressed in our opening hymn:  Christ high-ascended, now in glory seated,/Throned and exalted, victory completed,/ Death’s dread dominion finally defeated – We are his witnesses.
 
   Forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended out of this world to take his place on the throne of his Father in heaven. From the Mount of Olives, in full view of his doubtlessly dumbstruck disciples, Jesus rose bodily into the sky’ Up he went, defying gravity, until a cloud hid him. So Jesus removed his visible presence from us – still, though, to be with us always. For the Church through the ages the Ascension of Our Lord has always been one of those great, out-of-the-world occasions emphasizing Christ’s work for us.

  “Out of this world” - It's an expression we may use on occasion to describe an event that has been more than we imagined, exceeding all of our expectations. However “out of this world” cannot in any sense be considered an expression accurately describing this existence, life here on this earth where we are affected by sin and its consequences. Evidence of that is plain. It’s there in this past week’s headlines – a highly-disruptive incident of cyber extortion, reignited Middle Eastern tension between Palestinians and Israelis, a host of uncertainties as our own nation tries to emerge from the pandemic– with fears of inflation, commodity shortages, and supply-chain interruptions. Add in our personal struggles –  some financial, some relational, some physical, and, truth be told, we would much prefer to be out of this world, but we’re not. We are in it. What comfort, then, to hear that Jesus ascended on high still watches over us and works for us. We value highly the prayers of others as they go to God on our behalf —   when someone says, “I’ll be praying for you” and we know they do and they will —   Our Gospel Lesson teaches us today that “JESUS PRAYS FOR US.” 

  
Before going to the cross, Jesus turned to his Father in prayer on behalf of his disciples. He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them ...”. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that we’re going to be hanging around here a while and we’ll have to ‘deal with the dirt,’ the less-than-pleasant circumstances of living in a fallen world. Jesus’ prayer also reminds us that as he was sent into the world, so we are sent into the world. We’re here for a purpose, as that hymn verse put it – witnesses to the risen and reigning Christ. We’ve not been abandoned, left behind. Rather, the opposite is true we are being kept by him.
 
  How reassuring that “JESUS PRAYS FOR US …”!

1. He prays for our protection

  Jesus wasn’t just praying for those men gathered in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. He was praying for Christians of every age. He was praying for us. “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by power of your name ...”.  “… protect them …” – protection – we have it! Our Father in heaven is able to protect us because he is a powerful and awesome God, just as Jesus is our mighty God and Lord.

   Were you impressed in seeing those pictures recently beamed back to Earth from Mars? ... NASA’s Perseverance Rover and its small, robotic solar helicopter, Ingenuity, flitting about —   that technological achievement might well ‘wow you.’ But, in truth, it is infinitesimal and inconsequential compared to the wisdom and power of God continually exercised on your behalf.

  Listen to the words of Job 38: “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons …?” God pointed Job to the vastness of his created universe because God wanted Job to know that he was so powerful and awesome he could bring good out of the tragedies Job was experiencing. Skinned knees, tears, and Band-Aids …  Gunshots, sirens, and body bags … are all realities in this sin-tinged world. Bad things happen. Bad things happen to good and bad people alike because evil exists. A very real Evil One is behind it all. But there is a game-changer of a difference between the former (the ‘good’ people) and the latter (the ‘bad’ people). The former – those whom the Lord God in his grace pronounces ‘good,’ i.e. holy and righteous in his sight through faith in Jesus – have God in their corner. God’s got their back. He protects them.

  This power to protect, Jesus says, is vested in God’s name. The Catechism definition of God’s name is “Everything God has revealed to us about himself in his Word.” Earlier, in first part of his prayer (vss. 1-10), Jesus says, “I have revealed you [Father] to those you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” Those eleven faithful disciples had been privileged to hear the message of God’s love – the good news of God’s full and free forgiveness and his acceptance of them —   they’d heard that message personally from the ‘Word made flesh.’ Jesus prays that this same name would continue to protect them after his departure, first his death then his ascension.

  The power of the word has always been the Christian’s source of protection. In Ephesians chapter 6 Paul pointed out that the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is an offensive and defensive weapon the Christian’s panoply (set of armor). Martin Luther frequently made the point that word of God is the Christian’s strength. The Reformer wrote … "Yes, indeed, it is the power of God which causes the devil the deepest anguish but strengthens, comforts and helps us beyond measure."

  Jesus states the purpose behind his prayer for protection is that his disciples “may be one as we are one.” The ultimate safety and security you and I have in life lies in our being one with the Father through Jesus. The past few Sundays we’ve examined that truth. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is our Shepherd and we are his sheep. So Paul affirms in Romans 8, "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

  
“… protect them …” ... protection ... friends, you and I have it!

  How painful, then, it must’ve been for Jesus to see one of his own disciples, one whom he loved and chose —   how painful it must’ve been for Jessu to see that close connection with him and his Father broken. You know who I mean, don’t you? Judas Iscariot. “While I was with them [i.e. during the days of his earthly ministry], I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Scripture predicted one of Jesus’ disciples would separate himself from Jesus. How often Jesus tried to reach out to Judas! But Judas kept turning his back on Jesus. How often Jesus prayed for him! But Judas resisted and what Scripture predicted came true.
I need Jesus praying for my protection —   and so do you.

  The rejection that took place in the life of Judas didn’t happen overnight. Judas didn’t wake up one morning and think, “You know, I think can make a few bucks here.” Those feelings of disillusionment and thoughts of betrayal came to him slowly. Maybe it started with the time he allowed himself to held those coins in his hand a little too long, looking wistfully at them before letting them slide into the pouch he carried. Soon he began making excuses for the greedy thoughts inside his heart. He became more and more resistant to the loving words of Jesus, till finally —   he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. How chilling the words of James chapter 1: "When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown gives birth to death."

  Listen again as Jesus prays for you! “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.” Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, but he is still active, he continues to pray for you and for me. Romans 8:34 reads: “Jesus Christ who died – more than that, who was raised life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Don’t underestimate how much power Jesus has to stand between you and evil and keep you safe. Don’t underestimate how much power Jesus has to stand between you and evil and keep you safe, keep you his.

2. He prays that we be sanctified

  Jesus also prays that we might be sanctified, or set apart, from the world. Jesus prays to his Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” To sanctify means to set something aside for special use.  
Illustration:  Sitting boxed up on a shelf in our garage is a set of fancy glass dinnerware our mother had enjoyed collecting through the years and using occasionally for entertaining at larger family events such as Christmas or Easter time. I remember these special pieces stacked neatly in the dinning-room breakfront. Those pieces weren’t for everyday use, but meant for use on special occasions. They were ‘set apart.’

  Because Christ has redeemed us by his blood, we are saints of God and reserved for a special purpose. We’ve set aside to serve him in special ways before he calls you home to heaven. 1 Peter chapter 2 says this about us: “… you … like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  … you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As you continue to hear God’s Word, it keeps sanctifying you and telling you how special you are to Christ. It influences your sets you apart from the unbelieving world.

  You can appreciate how much God’s Word changes you when you listen to what Jesus goes on to pray next: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not off the world any more than I am of the world.” Jesus had given these men the words of his heavenly Father and that message had changed them. It made them different from the world around them; it made them ‘stand outs’ in a good sense. Peter once said to Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."  Jesus said of his people, "
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  You are so radically different from the world around you because you have listened to the voice of your Shepherd and are following him. You know him and you depend on him to save you, not on yourself! 

  By “the world” here Jesus isn’t talking about the created world he has given us with trees and mountains and sunsets and oceans. He is talking about the sinful world, a world in which there are ‘sheep-look-alikes’ who believe they can exist and move about independent of God and his love for them. They believe they can walk down the paths of sin without suffering any consequences. They are fully convinced they can depend on themselves to make it through this life and also be ready for the life to come. Such views are radically different from those people who follow Jesus and depend on him as sheep depend on their Shepherd. As the sheep eat from the rich mountain grasses of God’s Word and as they rest beside the quiet cool waters, they are changed - drawn closer and closer to the Shepherd and thus become more and more removed from this world. Jesus said we are in the world, but not of the world.


  To see even more how radically different from the world you are because of Jesus, look a little more closely at vs. 13: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” Notice Jesus says my joy.” Jesus wants his disciples to have his joy in them. Can't you see the joy on Jesus face as he finishes his Savior's work and cries out from the cross, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit"? Can't you see the joy on his face as he appears to his disciples on Easter evening and says to them, "Peace be with you" and then shows them the nail prints in his hands? Jesus is praying that you and I would have this full measure of his joy within us, for it is that joy which will sustain us as we live here in time. It is that joy which will continue to set us apart from the unbelieving world.

 
Jesus tells his Father, “For them I sanctified myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” Jesus set himself apart from the world. He lived the perfect life we could not live. He offered the perfect sacrifice for every sin we have committed this morning, yesterday and in any part of our lives. He truly sanctifies us and sets us apart with a joy that this world cannot give. He lets you live where you are living so people can ask you to tell them about the joy and peace that has come into your life.

 
  “JESUS PRAYS FOR US!” He never stops praying for us! What a blessing that is —   as we begin another week of life on this earth before the Lord calls us home to heaven.

  Amen.




John 15:19-17 "LOVE EACH OTHER!"
Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 9, 2021


   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command:  Love each other.”

   What do you think of when you hear the word love? Do you think of a young couple walking hand-in-hand on the beach? Do you think of a beaming mom and her brood of bubbly children bouncing around the livingroom, anxious to present her with their homemade Mother's Day cards and a hug?

  T
oday we want to understand that such concepts of love are really only a small part of love. Today we want to explore the motivation of Christian love, a love modeled after the love our Lord Jesus has for us.

  Last week we considered vs. 1-8 of John chapter 15, where Jesus painted a beautiful picture of our relationship with him using the imagery of a vine and its branches. He reminded his disciples that just as a branch needs to be connected to its vine and remain in it in order to be productive, so they needed to be connected to him and to remain in him to be productive followers, bearing in their lives the fruits of faith God desires. Some of those same ideas are repeated here in the passage before. Jesus advances the thought though —   an extended lesson for his disciples in what amounts to a ‘part two’ of his parting words to them. He explains to his friends, his followers then and now, how they (we) are to love with the same reckless abandon that he has shown. 

  We don’t have to scour these verses for a theme; it’s right here in our Savior’s command, “LOVE EACH OTHER!”

1. Love each other ... as Christ loved us.

  What was love to Jesus? How did he defined love? Jesus wouldn’t have defined love with mere words –such as the 1970’s catchphrase ‘Love means never having to say you're sorry’ made popular in the movie starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. Jesus defined love with actions.

   Our Lord explained to Nicodemus, the searching-for-truth member of the Sanhedrin,“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God the Father gave his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Redeemer of sinful fallen humankind. In a demonstration of self-less, servant-hearted love, on this same night Jesus provided a visible demonstration of love in action as he washed his disciples’ feet. John records that incident in chapter 13 and introduces it like this: “Having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] now showed them the full extent of his love. … he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet.” As an eye-witness to that not-too-proud-to-stoop-and-serve moment and to what he saw beneath the cross, John went on to write in our Second Lesson:  “This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This was love to Jesus – action … intentional, purposeful, and transformative. For our Savior, love meant nothing apart from deeds. He didn’t just speak love, he did love. Love was sacrifice. He sacrificed his time, energy, personal comfort, and ultimately sacrificed his very life.

  Now, we might hear Jesus’ command, “Love each other, as I have loved you,” and think that’s a mighty tall order! Isn’t Christ’s love for us in a class all by itself, never seen before and never to be repeated? Yes, in a sense it is. The love Jesus has for us led him from divinity to humanity, 
from heaven to earth, to hell and back to make us his own. To love others as he has loved us does appear to be an awfully tall order! But don’t miss Jesus' point! The kind of love he shows us is a love focused on our best interests, not his own. The kind of love that Jesus shows you is a love that is willing to sacrifice everything if it means that you benefit.

  
To our psyche that is so contrary - so foreign - to what we know. By birth I always and only want to do the things that benefit me. Weighed down by a ball-and-chain sinful nature, self-interest is a whole lot more appealing to me than selflessness. Self-satisfaction sounds so much sweeter to me than self-sacrifice. So, as we think about our Savior’s command to love each other as he has loved us —  what is it that gets in the way? What makes it so hard to love others? It’s me! 

  • I don’t want to love the person who hurts my feelings, because then it looks like I’m condoning what they’ve said or done. It’ll be like I’m saying that was okay and really didn’t bother me.
  • I don’t want to love the person who’s stubborn all the time and intent on getting his or her way.
  • I can’t find it in myself to love the person who’s so radically from me. Their political orientation pushes all the wrong buttons.
  • If I give in to someone else and self-surrender my time, my money, my attention, then there’s inevitably going to be less of that for me.

What gets in the way of me loving someone else as Jesus loved me is me ... my sin. How on earth can I be expected to love someone else, when I am just so in love with myself?

  Understanding glaring deficiency in me, I could easily get down on myself and begin to think:  Jesus 'did love,' but I’ll never be able to 'do love' ... certainly not as he so selflessly and so completely loved me. How can I not consider myself anything but an 'epic fail' as a disciple?

  We need to get a little perspective —   actually more than just ‘a little.’ Jesus didn’t teach those eleven men who had been his students for three years this last minute lesson on love to lay on them a ‘guilt trip.’ You’ll recall – if you were with us last week – I said Jesus and his disciples were on their way out of the upper room where they’d just celebrated the Passover and on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where shortly Jesus would be betrayed and arrested … then tried, convicted, mocked, scourged and crucified.

  Death has a way of sharpening people’s focus. Near life’s end, inevitably people ’round an expiring person, leaning in close and listening with heightened awareness. That’s the context in which Jesus’ friends heard these words. And quite pointedly, on the eve of his death, one truth Jesus wanted to make abundantly clear was this:  he loved them and his love for them would change everything for them! His sacrifice would secure release for them, freedom from sin’s tyranny, end Satan’s bondage, open the doors of that confining prison-cell-way-of-thinking of theirs (and ours) that is focused on self-preservation. Through faith in him, their Savior, they would become people transformed, changed, and made new. Paul expressed it like this, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We just sang about that in CWS #761 … Christ Is With Me.

  Friends, know that loving each other as Jesus has loved us is not beyond anyone of  us! It is not some lofty, unattainable goal – a far-away star at which we can only gaze dreamily but never reach. It is Jesus’ amazing reclamation project whereby we are made new in him.

2. Love each other ... as Christ's chosen friends.

  In keeping with his vine-and-branches imagery Jesus explains, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” True enough, because of our sin and in-born our self-centered love, we deserved nothing from God but a one way ticket to hell. And, true enough, Jesus had every right to send us away – smug, self-satisfied sinners that we are. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose us. He forgave us. He grafted us into himself, the true Vine. Our relationship with him, the fruits of faith which we produce in our reclaimed life, our love for our neighbor, the  —   they are all a gift from Jesus, a gift of grace. And to prove the point that they’re destined to be people reborn, listen to the remarkable thing our Savior says next to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” We love each other as Christ’s chosen friends.

  Friends of Jesus – imagine that! Did these men deserve it? Peter would deny his Lord … three times. Thomas would doubt his resurrection. James, John, and the rest of the bunch all bickered about the places of honor they’d like to occupy. Did they deserve the title of ‘friend of Jesus’? No more than you or I do. But, in his grace, Jesus gives, … Jesus gives, … Jesus gives. He gives not just a title, but his very self. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Why did Jesus do it? To make us his own.
 
  
That undeserved love of Jesus had an profound impact on his disciples. Again, note how John writes in our Second Lesson: “This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”Dear friends,” – John uses the very word Jesus highlighted! – “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

  According to church history all of our Lord’s apostles died some pretty gruesome and horrible deaths for confessing their faith in Christ. They died martyrs’ deaths, all of them except John who was the only one to live out his years into old age. There’s a tradition that when John was a very old man in Ephesus, some of the people in the congregation would have to go to his house and literally carry him to church. They’d scoop him up and cart him all the way to the front of the assembly where John, supposedly, would always preach the same five word sermon: “Little children, love each other.” And that was it.

  Week after week, they would help John to the front and he would say it again, “Little children, love each other.” Why? Why go to all the trouble – as a practically immobile shut-in – to speak one sentence to his fellow believers? Because John was there. He heard these words come from the mouth of Jesus himself. Even in old age, John expended all of his strength to bring the word of Jesus to people – not to bash them over the head and say, “You’d better be loving, or else …”. No, John spoke this way, … John wrote this way because he was there – he saw the embodiment of perfect love; the kind of love that lays down his life for his friends. 
 
  John saw this Love that touched the unclean, healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. The old man can’t even stand up straight, but he belts out his five word sermon with joy: “Little children, love each other.” Why? Because your Savior Jesus has loved you with an everlasting love. He has covered you completely in his perfect righteousness before God. He has set you free from all your sins. He’s removed the sting of death and shackled the devil forever. That’s love! Not a kind of love that burns fast and bright for a few moments and then it’s gone. No, the love that Jesus has for you has no limit and knows no end.

  Do you want to know something? This is the secret to happiness – true happiness. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” the Savior said. Read through the gospels and ask yourself, what was so ‘joyful’ about Jesus’ ministry? All the universe belonged to him, yet the Son of Man had no place to lay his head here on this earth. His holiness set him apart as completely ‘other’ from the rest of humanity, yet he was happy to be the guest of sinners. The eternal Son of God was undefiled by sin and its consequences, yet when he came to live among us, he was okay with touching leprous skin and shouting out cowardly demons that were ravaging poor souls. Jesus’ joy can be seen in his healing touch, his forgiving words, his compassionate care – all to people who didn’t deserve it!

  Jesus wants that same joy to be in you and me so that our joy is complete, but in a way that this unbelieving world will never understand! Again, here in the land of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ the prevailing thought is that to be happy, I need to … look out for me. I’ve gotta order my life in such a way that will optimize everything and bring maximum benefit for me. But to love as Jesus loved, we look –  not to ourselves, but to the other person. Nothing gave Jesus as much joy as loving people who didn’t deserve it! And now, Christ’s love to me results in Christ’s love through me. And we don’t need to climb to the heights of heaven to love others as Jesus has loved us. In fact, quite the opposite!

  Look around you. Christ-like love is directed outside myself to ‘my neighbor,’ whomever that might be. Christ’s undeserved love is what motivates a man to be willing not just to lay down his physical life for his bride, but to spend his years putting her first, looking out for her best interests, and loving her as Christ loved the church. Christ’s undeserved love is what motivates a wife to have her only thought be, “How can I help my husband be Christ to me today?” Christ’s undeserved love is what motivates the child to listen to his or her parents, even when that child might not like what they have to say. Christ’s undeserved love is what motivates 
each of us to die to my own ideas and desires and look to the needs of others.

  "Love each other" not to earn God's favor - because you can't; "love each other" because you already have God's favor in Christ!

  You have a Savior who laid down his life to pay for your every sin and you made it his joy and delight to save you for eternity. You have an almighty God who calls you his friend in Christ. Stand in awe of God's overwhelming love to you in Christ and fulfill the purpose he has in mind for you - a purpose beautifully and simply stated in his command:  "LOVE EACH OTHER!"

  
Amen.