Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at various images of Jesus that come to us through the Gospel of John. So far we’ve seen Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as the vine with us as the branches and as a friend. Those are all reasonably more familiar images that we have of Jesus. Today, we’re looking at the last one that we will be covering in this series which is Jesus as the Protector.
I think that’s pretty appropriate for Mother’s Day because when we think about mothers, we think about someone who protects her children. That happens in the animal world all the time. Mother birds will shield their chicks under their wings to protect them from damaging sunlight and rain. In fact, the first slide that Pam had up on the screen at the beginning worship was a beautiful picture of a mother’s protection. When we lived in Espanola before moving here, we were told – and everyone else knew it too – that we should never get between a mother bear and her cub because mama bear can be quite protective. Domesticated animals can be just as protective. I’ve heard of a cow actually going through an electric fence to get to her calf when she thought the calf was in danger. The fence was on by the way.
Do you know who else can be protective of their offspring? Human mothers can be very protective. When our children were younger and in elementary school, if there was a problem, sometimes I had to go to the school to deal with it. But if there was a serious problem, Ruth would go in. When I went in, everyone was most polite and courteous. But when Ruth went in, the ground shook and things got done because Mama Bear had arrived. Having said that, we were never helicopter parents. If our kids made mistakes, we never bailed them out and made them take responsibility so that they could learn from them. But, despite the fact that most of our experiences in the school system were positive, there was the odd problem that needed to be addressed. And I could always rest assured that if Ruth went to the school, she would not leave until the problem had been solved. That’s how Mama Bear protects her children.
JESUS PRAYS FOR HIS DISCPIPLES
But then in the passage from John 17 that I just read, Jesus refers to himself as a protector. Remember that this is a prayer to God the Father. Jesus did a lot of praying but this prayer is special because it is part of his final prayer before he is arrested. In fact, if you opened your Bible to John 17, you would discover that the entire chapter is a prayer. In verses 1-5, Jesus prays for himself. In verses 6-19 which is our focus for today, Jesus prays for his disciples. And in verses 20-26, he prays for all believers, past, present and future, including you and me. So John 17 is a prayer. Can you guess what happens in John 18? That is where Jesus is arrested.
This is his last night of freedom. On this night, he has washed the disciples’ feet and celebrated the Lord’s Supper from which we get communion. Then he spends some time in prayer. And no sooner did he say, “Amen,” then Judas betrayed Jesus and had him arrested by the Romans. The very next morning, he would be nailed to the cross to die an agonizing death.
All of that makes this prayer very important. Jesus knew that his time was almost up and so this prayer says much to us about what Jesus wants for us. I’m not going to go through all of it verse by verse because there’s probably enough material in this prayer for five more sermons but I do want to focus on some particular verses.
In John 17:8-9a (NIV) Jesus is specific about for whom he is praying. He prays this to his Heavenly Father: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them.” Jesus is very clear. He is not praying for everyone on the face of the planet. He might pray for them in other places but not here, not now. I’m not saying that those people are not important. They are but they are not the focus of this prayer. Jesus is very specific. He is praying for those who accepted his words, who believe in him and believe that he came from the Father. These, of course, are Jesus’ disciples. These are the ones for whom he is praying. We’ll find out why he needs to pray for them in a few minutes.
JESUS PROTECTS HIS DISCIPLES
In John 17:11-12 (NIV) Jesus begins to talk about why he is praying for his disciples. He says, “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 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.”
Something is about to happen. Jesus knows this. He is about to be taken from this world. He is going to go to be with the Father. And because he is going to the Father, Jesus is asking God the Father to protect his disciples just like he protected them while he walked the earth.
Which leads to a question: did Jesus protect his disciples while on this earth? Clearly, he did. The simplest way to know that is to see that no harm came to them while they were with him. There are various places where they could have been harmed. Jesus was not liked by the religious leaders of the day. The Sadducees, Pharisees and teachers of the law, on the whole, did not like Jesus, his message or his followers. But Jesus never allowed his disciples to be harmed because he deflected all of the anger that could have been directed at his disciples back onto himself. He took all of the rage of the ruling class and shouldered it. He allowed himself to become the lightning rod and the whipping post.
What did that allow the disciples to do? It allowed them to go out and do their work for the kingdom. In various places, Jesus sent out his disciples, usually in pairs two by two, to heal the sick, drive out demons and proclaim that the kingdom of God was near. And they were able to do that because Jesus protected them. As he says in verse 12: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.”
Jesus protected them. But then he also talks about the exception when he says, “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” That person, of course, is Judas Iscariot. Judas is the one who betrays Jesus by handing him over to the Romans immediately following, ironically, this prayer. But Jesus knows what is about to happen. The die has been cast, the conclusion assured. Judas cannot be protected by preventing him from betraying Jesus. That is his unique and special role in the salvation of humanity.
But that leads to another question. In the end, what is Judas’ eternal destiny? Will he be forever condemned for betraying Jesus or will he be forgiven? Let me just address that for a minute because it’s an important question. Clearly Judas sinned by betraying Jesus. But it’s also clear that Judas had no idea what the outcome of his betrayal would be. In fact, when he discovered that his actions were going to lead to Jesus’ death, he was overcome with grief. Listen to Matthew 27:3-4 (NIV) which says, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’”
Clearly, Judas recognized his sin and repented. But the die was cast the end assured. Jesus would die on the cross. Judas, in fact, was so filled with remorse that he could no longer live with himself. It says in Matthew 27:5 that he left the chief priests and elders and went out and hanged himself.
It should also be noted that Judas was not the only one to betray Jesus during this time. The religious leaders refused to give him a fair trial. Pilate could have let him free but didn’t because it proved too inconvenient. Even Peter betrayed him by renouncing him three times on the morning he was to die. Judas was not the only one who was guilty. Far from it.
But do you remember what Jesus said as he hung on the cross? In Luke 23:34 (NIV) he turned his eyes toward heaven and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Did you hear that? Even as he was dying on the cross, he reached out to those who had betrayed him by their actions that had led him to the cross. His request was not that they be condemned and sent to eternal fire and damnation. His only request was that God forgive them. And I believe God heard those prayers and did what Jesus asked.
I know that we may not all agree on this but my reading of the Bible tells me that even on the cross, Jesus protected his disciples. Even Judas, the one who was doomed to destruction, was forgiven and set free from his sin. He who was once lost was found and protected by the precious blood of Jesus.
Jesus protected his disciples while he walked the earth. He protected them on the cross, in the grave and right through his resurrection and ascension. But then, the Bible tells us, Jesus left this earth to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Knowing that was coming, Jesus, in his prayer, asked the Father to continue to protect his disciples on earth until he returns one day in glory to complete the kingdom that he began 2,000 years ago.
Make no mistake about it. The disciples, throughout the lives, would need that protection. When we look at the lives of the disciples as depicted in the Bible, we read about people who were persecuted, stoned, whipped and imprisoned. But they found the courage to spread out around the known world to share the Gospel of Jesus. They founded churches in Africa, Asia and Europe. St. Thomas, the one who is often called Doubting Thomas, journeyed all the way to India to plant churches that still exist to this very day. Every one of those disciples faced persecution. In Acts, we can read about how Stephen and James were martyred for their faith. In fact, all of the twelve apostles of Jesus were killed for their faith, all except John who, it appears, died of natural causes at a very old age.
Clearly, these early Christians needed protection. They lived in a time when they had no rights and few protections under the law. But they nonetheless persisted and built the Church of Jesus Christ. It seems that God’s protection paid off.
But here’s the last question. What about us? Do we still need protection? Maybe we don’t need the same kind of protection that the early Christians needed. Our lives are not in danger because of our faith although certainly Christians in other parts of the world face persecution every day especially in places like North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Iraq.
But even though our lives may not be in danger, we still need the protection of Jesus. He gives us two reasons for this. The first one is found in John 17:15 (NIV) which says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Life would be so much easier if God would just take all of our cares away from us. But God doesn’t do that. In fact, Jesus asks the Father not to do that. Jesus never asks the Father to steer us clear of trouble. That is, he never asks the Father to take us out of the world. Rather he prays that God will lead us through the times of trouble. There is evil in the world. Sometimes life goes south. All of us fall on hard times. That’s called life. And sometimes life is hard. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard.
And it is those hard times that we are tempted by what Jesus calls the evil one to fall away from our faith. We ask questions like, “Why me God?” “What did I ever do to deserve this?” “Why is this happening to me?” Have you ever asked those questions? I think we all have. I know I have and I suspect that you have too. Something happens in your life that you don’t think is fair. Maybe someone in your family is sick or maybe you are. Maybe you lost someone close to you or an important relationship has fallen apart. Maybe you lost your job or maybe your son or your daughter has gone off the rails and you’re worried sick about him or her. There are all kinds of reasons why people go through hard times.
I remember one woman who was in a congregation I used to serve. Her name was Laura. Laura was a wonderful woman, very faithful to the church and her God. She had everything going for her. She and her husband were retired and healthy enough to enjoy their retirement as well as the growing number of grandchildren. But then, very suddenly, her husband Larry died of a massive heart attack. A few months later, as she was pulling through that loss, her youngest son David, a runner, collapsed on a training run and died instantly. Laura was devastated and I wondered what this would do to her faith.
We talked a lot in those times and Laura sure could talk. I was about David’s size and she also felt the need to give me as much of his running kit as I would take. I took a lot of it. David had good taste.
But then, one day, I broached the subject in a very direct way. “Laura,” I said, “in the midst of all of this, how’s your faith?” She said that at first it wavered a bit as she asked all of the same questions that most of us ask. “Why me?” and “What did I ever do to deserve this?” But then she realized that there was no answer to those questions. She also realized that it was only because of her faith that she could even get up out of bed every morning. Laura’s faith took off during that time and she grew exponentially.
Laura died just a few months ago. Her children wrote me a nice letter about how much she appreciated our ministry together. They also said that, when she died, she died in peace and that her faith was as strong as ever.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way and perhaps that’s why Jesus prayed as he did, that the Father would not let the evil one tempt us away from faith. Jesus’ prayer to the Father is one that asks God to be with people in the tough times so that they can grow and mature in faith. He is asking God to make the hard times strengthen the faith of those who love him. For, ironically, it is in the tough times that we are most in need of faith.
The second reason for Jesus’ prayer is found in John 17:17-19 (NIV) which says, “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.”
To sanctify is to be made holy. It is to walk every day closer and closer to God, to every day become more and more the people that God created us to be. That’s what Jesus asks the Father to do, to fill them with the Holy Spirit that they can grow and mature into fully functioning disciples of Christ.
Why does he want God to do that? Jesus answers that question too when he says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” What this means is that Jesus wants his disciples to continue the work of building the kingdom when he goes to be with the Father.
That is ultimately what Jesus wants them to do and, quite frankly, that’s what he wants us to do as well.
At Cottam United Church, we’re trying to figure out how to do that. With the changing nature of our community, we are looking at hiring a second person to help us with our ministry to families with children. Neil and Millicent has initiated some important evenings where they have brought people together to talk about things like Alzheimer’s disease and positive parenting. Those are great initiatives. We’re also talking with other churches to see if we can join forces and help each other with our missions. The Girl Guides have met here for years and the Scouts are going to begin meeting her later on this year. Who knows what else we can do to build the kingdom? What opportunities will present themselves so that we can be the hands and feet of Christ in our community?
And then, of course, there is the message of Jesus and his love for us. We are called to share that to, how Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sins, how he rose from the dead on the third day and, in rising, shattered the power of sin and the gates of hell so that through faith in him, we may spend eternity with God in the kingdom that we call the New Jerusalem.
That is why Jesus prayed to the Father
to protect his disciples, so that we can do that work that he calls us to do until,
at the end of time, he returns in glory.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we welcome you this day, remembering that you are our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. We depend on you for all things, knowing that you are faithful and just to meet our needs and sit by our sides.
We thank you for sunshine and warmth. We thank you that farmers have been able to get onto their land this spring. We pray for good planting and adequate rainfall during the growing season. We are also bold to pray for good prices and even better crops.
We offer thanks for the youth of our congregation. Enable us as adults to raise our children in the faith of Christ that they may know the wonder of his love and the amazing power of his Spirit.
We thank you for this Mother’s Day as we remember our birth mothers, adopted mothers, grandmothers and those other special women in our lives who have been mother figures for us. Thank you for their caring, nurturing and guiding. Thank you that they did not give up on us but continued to love us no matter what, just as you do too.
In light of this being Mother’s Day, we also give thanks for the birth on Hailey Grace, born on Thursday, a daughter for Nicole and Justin and grand-daughter for Anita and Rick Mayea. Bless this new family, O God, in many ways.
We pray for those of our congregation and community who are sick at home or in hospital. We remember, especially, Sharon, Helen, Lyle, John, Rachel and David as they seek healing and wholeness
We would be bold to ask that you would open the hostile nations of this world to the truth and peace of your love. Only you can change hearts for the good and we would ask that you would mould them into images of your being so that needless bloodshed and violence may cease.
Heavenly Father, it is a comfort to
know that you understand our ways. You understand when we succeed, and when we
fail. Help us to trust you at all times, for we know that you look upon me with
compassion. Enable us to trust in your unfailing love. Remind us that we can
bring any need to you without hesitation or fear of rejection. In you all
things are possible. We lift our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 13, 2018 / Easter 7
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; John 17:6-19; 1 John 5:9-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
Brothers and sisters, we are blessed by our God whose Love is sure.
We are blessed by our God whose Care is complete.
We are blessed by our God whose Compassion is eternal.
We are blessed by our God whose Joy is full.
Let us worship God, who is all in all.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Eternal God, we look for signs of new life in our midst:
in cities and in fields, on streets and country roads,
in mountains and in lakes, in trees and in wind,
in the face and lives of everyone we meet –
in all of these things, we see signs that you, O God, are with us.
Come, once more, into our presence and touch us by your grace. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, hear our prayers of confession and cleanse us from our sin. Help us to openly and truthfully examine our lives, what we say and do, the decisions we make, and the motives behind them. We want to always live by your truth, walking in your light, so that we will demonstrate your character and way of doing things. Transform our lives into shining witness for those who do not know your truth. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The Mercy of the Lord is our desire and our joy. It comes to us in our weakness and it gives us strength to face a new day, assured that we are loved and cherished by our God, who gave us Jesus, the Messiah, to pay the price of our sinfulness and lead us into the paths of righteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Your gifts, O God, are many and complete. Your generosity fills our tables and our hearts with good things. How can we begin to express our sense of thanksgiving? How can we even start to imagine how many ways that you have blessed us? We give you thanks, honour and glory for all of your creative power. Amen.
There is one who calls us to enter into worship together. His name is Jesus. He is the same one who calls us to go into the world to be disciples and to live in faith. Worship and work are the stuff of holy living. Let us be God’s people and change the world around us. Our faith has enabled us.