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If you are a parent who has a child who is about to go off on their own, to college, to the military, to a new job out of state, what is your prayer?
As a Christian parent who has tried to raise your children in the training and instruction of the Lord, the first thing on your prayer list is probably that they stay connected to Jesus. No matter what else happens, you want to be together with them forever in the glory of heaven and in order for that to happen, both you and they need to stay connected to Jesus.
As someone who has been where they are, who has experienced the excitement and fear that comes with being on your own for the first time, who has experienced the real world with all its evils and temptations, the next thing on your prayer list is probably that God would protect them. You pray that God would, if at all possible, protect them from physical danger- accidents, crime, illness. But even more importantly, you pray that God would protect them from the Evil One, that roaring lion who has them in his sights and is watching for any opportunity he can find to use the evil of this world to turn them against God.
It seems that Jesus is thinking of the twelve who are in the upper room with him on Maundy Thursday as his children whom he is about to send off on their own. His prayer for them, for us whom he has adopted as his children through baptism, is that the Father would keep us connected to him and that he would protect us from the Evil One.
Jesus makes it clear that we are connected to him through the word. It is only through the word that we can know the truth about ourselves, about the world, and about God.
It is in connection with the word that we learn that we are not born a blank slate. We are not merely a result of our circumstances. God’s word makes it clear that we are born dead in trespasses and sins. We are born enemies of God. We are born blind when it comes to seeing the truth about ourselves, about the world, and about God. If we are born into a good family and raised in a loving home, we might become successful and relatively moral people, but we would still have a heart that is prone to evil. We might be outwardly good people, but we would have no connection with Jesus. We would remain enemies of God unless and until we were brought to faith in Jesus.
It is in connection with the word that we learn the truth about the world. It is not evolving into something better. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make it into a utopia. The world is under God’s curse. It is infected by sin. It is decaying and, sooner or later, it will pass away. This world isn’t going to last forever. Thankfully, the word of truth assures us that this world which is passing away isn’t all there is.
It is in connection with the word that we learn the truth about God. Although it often seems to us that God either doesn’t exist, or if he does, he either isn’t all powerful or doesn’t use his power in the right way, we learn from the word that what we often see as a failure is really an expression of his greatest love and power. If God acted the way we think he should, everyone and everything would be destroyed and no one would be saved.
But the truth is that God gave his one and only perfect Son a name- Jesus, Savior. It is only in connection with that name that the Father gave him that anyone is saved. It is the name that is above all names. It is the name at which every knee will bow when he comes again in glory. It is the only name given among men by which we can be saved. It is the name that is synonymous with self-sacrifice. It is the name of the one who sanctified himself for us. He set himself apart from sin, even though he was tempted just as we are, so that he could fulfill God’s law in our place. He allowed himself to be set apart as the once-for-all-time sacrifice for sin so that the father could declare all our sins paid for in full.
God’s word is truth. Through baptism and the hearing of God’s word the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes. He has removed the heart of stone with which we were born and replaced it with a heart of faith. Through faith in the truth of God’s word we have been sanctified, set apart from the world and put into the service of God.
Jesus knew what that meant for the disciples and what it means for us. If you are not of the world, if you don’t go along with what the world says and thinks, the world will hate you. The disciples faced persecution and martyrdom because they stayed connected to Jesus and refused to go along with the world. In our day we see more and more clearly that if we stay connected to Jesus and refuse to go along with the world, we will be the object of hatred. Just mention that you believe what the Bible says about marriage, that it is between one man and one woman, or that there are only two genders, or that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, no one can be saved apart from him. If you confess those truths in our world today you will be called all kinds of names. People will try to cancel you, get you kicked off social media, and fired from your job. If you are not of the world as Jesus was not of the world you can expect to be hated just as he was.
Jesus’ prayer for those who are connected to him and sanctified, set apart from the world, who are therefore going to be hated by the unbelieving world, is that the Father would protect and keep us. He is not asking that he would protect us from the outward affects of sin, like sickness or disease or even being a victim of crime. There is something a lot more dangerous than those things. His prayer is that the Father would protect us from the Evil One. It’s the same thing he teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer – deliver us from evil, or it could be translated as it is here, from the Evil One. Lord, fulfill your promise that with every temptation you will provide a way out. Do what you did for your servant Job and put a limit on what Satan is able to do, so that, in the end, we don’t lose our connection with Jesus and our eternal salvation.
Now we might wonder why Jesus says that he is not asking the Father to remove the disciples, or us, from the world. Wouldn’t that seem to make sense? Why not protect us by taking us to heaven where the Evil One can’t reach us?
Jesus answers the question when he says, as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world.
Although it might seem to us to be best if the Father would just take us to heaven right away as soon as we are connected to Jesus so that we would not experience the hatred of the world or the attacks of the Evil One, God has a good reason for leaving us here. He has decided that the best way to get other people connected to Jesus is to have their family, their friends, and neighbors, tell them about Jesus, to share the truth of God’s word with others. If he took people to heaven as soon as they were connected to Jesus by faith who would witness to others, to children, to friends and neighbors?
God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He sends us out into the world, to our jobs, to our schools, to our extracurricular activities with a commission- to serve as witnesses to the truth, to salvation in Jesus alone, in our Jerusalem, our hometowns, in our Judea and Samaria, our county and our State, and to the ends of the earth. We are his ambassadors. He is making his appeal to the world through us, be reconciled to God. For God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As Jesus prayed in the upper room, he knew what lay ahead for him, for the disciples, and for us. He knew that he would suffer, die, and rise again. He knew that he would be returning to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He would be sending his disciples then and now off into the world without his physical presence. Like a parent sending a child off to college or the military he has two things that he asks the Father, the almighty and loving God to do. Keep them connected to Jesus through the word. Help them never to doubt that your word is truth. And, as they serve as witnesses in the midst of trials and troubles and the hatred of the world, protect them from the Evil One.