Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Passion of Christ, Part 2: The Failure of Religion

The Passion of Christ, Part 2: The Failure of Religion
John 18:12-27
Introduction: Have you ever had the conversation with someone drift toward spiritual matters, and suddenly the hands go up, “No, that’s all right for you, but I’m not religious!”  Sometimes people can get so passionate its as though they are afraid they might catch a disease or something!  One possible response at a moment like that is, “that’s ok, I’m not religious either! I just believe Jesus!” The truth is Christianity is unlike every other “religion” in the world in that it is not based on human effort, its putting our trust in what has been done for us.  That’s what the reformers meant when they used the Latin phrase sola gratia. Grace ALONE.  What is grace?  Well if you receive a days pay for a day’s work, that is a wage. When you compete with an opponent and receive a trophy for winning, that’s a prize.  When you receive recognition for long service or great achievements, that is an award. But when you can’t earn a wage, can win no prize, and deserve no award, yet receive a gift anyway-that is unmerited favor, that’s grace. Today’s scene in John 18 illustrates why that is the way it had to be, the only hope for sinful humans.
     As we’ve come to the story of the passion of Christ, we’ve arrived at the climax of God’s story of redemption.  The sin of Adam brought separation from God and judgment on all humanity. God, being rich in mercy, provided the temporary covering of the Old Testament sacrifices that looked forward to a perfect sacrifice that would be offered in the fullness of time. The passage before us today underscores the desperate need of humanity for the grace of God.  The leaders of Judaism, the guardians of Revelation that God himself had given to his chosen people, reject the One who is the central character to whom all Scripture pointed.  It was tempting to me to separate this passage into two different sermons: one, focusing on the initial phase of Jesus’ trial, the other on the failure of Peter as he three times denied that he even knew the Lord. But the juxtaposition of the two stories, and the shifting back and forth between one scene and the other, is not by chance.  John is purposefully telling the story in this way and contrasting the regal dignity of Jesus and the human failure of Peter (and of the Jewish leaders). Last week we looked at “The surrender of the Servant” as Jesus allowed himself to be arrested. This week we’ll consider part 2 of the passion in John, “The Failure of Religion.”

The Big Idea: Religion will fail and human effort falls short.  Jesus did it all, all to Him we owe. Sola gratia, Grace alone saves.

I. “Religion” won’t save us: We need a Substitute, a perfect One.  Jesus showed his love by being willing to allow his accusers to arrest him and bind Him (12-14).
            After the awesome scene at the beginning of Chapter 18, Jesus the great “I AM,” allowed himself to be arrested by the Jewish authorities.  He was no victim, but rather His hour had come and God’s plan of redemption was unfolding exactly according to plan.  Jesus was not resisting, yet we read in 18:12 that they “…arrested Jesus and bound Him…”  Jesus was “bound,” like Isaac was in Genesis 22 as Abraham prepared to carry out the “instructions” of the Lord.  He was bound, like a sacrifice. Remember the scene in Genesis 22:9,
Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.”
 We know how that story unfolded: Abraham stretched forth his hand, ready to sacrifice his son in obedience to the Lord, but God intervened, and provided a ram stuck in the bushes for the sacrifice.  Now, 2000 years later, near that very spot, God himself has provided the lamb, and this Son too is bound, ready for the sacrifice.  In this case, God did not intervene, He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.
     *Do you remember that scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Aslan delivered himself up to the White Witch before the stone table in exchange for Edmund.  They couldn’t touch him unless he permitted it. And then he allowed them to bind him. He took Edmund’s place.  And the White Witch did her cruel work. Lewis was illustrating the story of Jesus, who allowed himself to be bound, like a sacrifice, ready to die in our place. Like Edmond we were traitors, lost, unable to save ourselves. We needed a substitute, a perfect One.
            In v.13 Jesus is brought first to Annas.  This might seem strange since we know from John 11:51 that Caiphas was the High Priest at this time.  But Annas  was still influential, perhaps the most influential religious leader among the Jews. Just as some in the Catholic church wondered how a new pope would be esteemed with a pope “emeritus” still living, Annas was still very revered and influential in Judaism. He had been forced to step down from his position by the Romans in AD 15 after over 20 years in office. Four of his sons served in the office in the intervening years, and now His son in law, Caiaphas, was the official High Priest. Still there is little doubt that Annas was extremely powerful. He was probably considered the “true High Priest” by many.  He also had a financial stake in what was happening in the religious system of the Jews.  He received a “cut” of the transactions in the temple. Since Jesus twice upset the trade in the temple, he had Annas’ attention.  By mentioning this appearance by Jesus before Annas before His being sent to Caiphas John is underscoring the corruption of the priesthood and of Judaism in general. It had drifted far from the faith of Moses and David.  The God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, now incarnate, was present, and they were clueless. They had such difficulty in recognizing their own messiah even as He stood right before their eyes. Preserving the system, maintaining the “status quo” took precedence.
Ironically, 18:14 alludes specifically back to 11:51, “Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. Another reminder that God is in control. After the controversy that followed the raising of Lazarus, the leaders began to plot in earnest to kill Jesus. His ministry had become too visible, too disruptive, he was gaining too many followers.  Caiaphas had unknowingly prophesied the substitutionary death of Jesus when he said that it was better for one man to die for the nation.  Even in the deliberations of the leaders as they planned to kill Jesus, the words of one of them, their reigning high priest, revealed the amazing grace of God which would be revealed in his sacrifice of himself for his sheep.  Religion won’t save, only Jesus saves. No man comes to the Father, but by Him.  Religion will fail and human effort falls short.  Jesus did it all, all to Him we owe. Sola gratia, Grace alone.

II. Human effort will fall short, we can’t save ourselves: Peter’s First Denial (15-18). In contrast to Jesus who demonstrated quiet trust in God’s plan, Peter is curious, but confused and cowardly. Peter was strong and out spoken, he was ready to die with Jesus, wasn’t he? Well he thought so, but Jesus knew better. Remember that scene at the end of John 6, Peter had professed faith in the strongest of terms. In John 6:65-69,  Jesus said,
"For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."  66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore67 So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"  68 Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."
That’s a mountaintop moment at that point in the story, for Peter and for the other disciples. They had recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God” and had decided to follow Him!
Of course, earlier this very night this same Peter had been shocked when he was warned by Jesus that he would not only falter, but that that very night he would deny Him three times: John 13:36-38 ,
 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered, "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later."  37 Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You."  38 Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.
That had to hurt—no doubt it seemed unthinkable to Peter. He was committed! He would rather die than deny Jesus, right? And not only would he deny Him, as in a momentary weakness, but he would deny Him three times that very night!  As we saw last week, this same Peter had gone to arms, prepared to defend Jesus at a moment of need, only to be rebuked: John 18:10-11,
“Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus.  So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" 
Jesus didn’t need Peter’s intervention, and He doesn’t need us, but we desperately need Him! The rebuke of Jesus no doubt confused Peter, his head was probably spinning, and like the others, he ran.  At least at first. But he and another disciple, confused but curious, followed at a distance, probably wanting to see who this story unfolded. Then we read in John 18:17 the first sad denial,
Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not."
Religion will fail and human effort falls short.  Jesus did it all, all to Him we owe. The reformers had it right, Sola gratia, Grace alone!

III. Human reason won’t be enough, apart from Christ people are blind to the truth: Jesus before Caiaphas (19-24). Don’t be surprised by those who reject the truth, they are deaf, blind, and dead! Our faith is reasonable, but we are saved by grace through faith. That means taking God at His word.
            Caiaphas is looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, to condemn him by his own words. Jesus knows his heart and says his teaching is a matter of public record, it wasn’t given in a corner. He knew the hearts of his accusers as He knows the hearts of all humans. It’s almost like when the blind man who was healed in John 9 and the leaders kept on questioning him. He answered “I’ve already told you, why do you keep asking? Do you want to become His disciples too?” There would be no sense in repeating to Caiaphas what he already had heard, his mind was made up, he would not believe.
            Jesus knew this was not an inquiry for truth, it was an inquisition. They were seeking a reason to justify their decision to reject Him and kill Him. And so, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
            Listen, we are to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. We are called to clearly and earnestly present the truth and to urge people to be reconciled to God. But we can’t change a single heart, we can’t save anyone. It’s all of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not as the result of works, that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8,9).  Earlier in this Gospel Jesus said,
"But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;  28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand…” (John 10:26-28).
Yes, religion will fail and  human effort falls short.  Jesus did it all, all to Him we owe. Sola gratia, Grace alone.

IV. We are saved by grace, grace alone: Peter’s Second and third denial (25-27).   John reports the events as it happened, without some of the details we get in the synoptic gospels. We read nothing of Peter swearing and denying Jesus with an oath, nothing of Jesus turning to Peter at the moment of the third denial, no mention of Peter being convicted, and weeping bitterly in remorse. Just the fact, as fulfillment of the word of Christ and as a demonstration of the need of men was enough for John to report:
One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, "Did I not see you in the garden with Him?"  27 Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed” (John 18:26-27).  
As heart-breakingly serious this denial of Jesus by Peter is, it only underscores the grace of God in forgaving Peter and restoring him to fellowship and service.
           We’ll see that scene of grace in John 21, where Jesus allows Peter to confess his love, three times, and commissions him to “feed his sheep.” And then comes Acts!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Religion will fail and  human effort falls short.  Jesus did it all, all to Him we owe. Sola gratia, Grace alone.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you come to God on His terms?  It means admitting that you are a sinner, because we all are, there is none righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10,23).  It means believing that Jesus died for your sins, and that He was raised from the dead the third day (I Cor 15:1-3).  It means calling on Him as your only hope of salvation, “Confess with you mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved…” (Rom 10:9,10). 
       Believers, there is a word for you here as well.  Paul said in 1 Cor 4:7,For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” We’ve been saved by grace, we should be gracious, there is no room for pride, no room for boasting. 
     I’ve told you before a bit of our experience in São Paulo, Brazil.  When you stop your car at a traffic light, the street children will appear at your window.  Sometimes selling something, sometimes performing a little show, twirling a baton or stick, sometimes just with an outstretched hand, begging.  When you live immersed in such a reality, it’s hard to know what to do.  You can’t help them all.  Some are sent out there by family members, and bring the money home for drugs or alcohol.  Some are just hungry, hopeless, and desperate.  But there are thousands of them.  Usually I would carry some candy in the car and give it to them, like giving a glass of water in the name of Jesus.  Sometimes, when I was busy, I didn't even see them.  If I opened my window and give something I felt a little better, at least I had acknowledged them.  When I read the book the “Ragamuffin Gospel” a few years ago, my perspective changed.  I realized I was that little child.  Dressed in rags, dirty, smelly, nothing to offer and no right to expect anything, I held out my hand.  And Jesus didn’t just crack the window open and give me a piece of candy.  He threw the door open wide and embraced me.  He washed my dirty face and gave me new clothes.  He not only fed me at his table, he called me his son.  That is GRACE.
     If we grasp what Jesus has done for us, we must be filled to over-flowing with thankfulness. We should be patient, compassionate, and passionate as we seek to share Christ with those around us.  I am not religious. Are you? Think about that, amen.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Passion of Christ, Part 1: The Surrender of the Servant

The Passion of Christ, Part 1: The Surrender of the Servant
John 18:1-12
Introduction: This week the stories coming out of Boston and Texas remind us that we live in a world that is fallen. In his devotional this morning, Rick Warren said "Everything is broken!"  It reminds us how desperately we need Jesus.  As we come to the story of the Passion of Christ, we find hope, we’re reminded that God understands our pain, and that He loves us so much He sent the Son to endure the Cross, so that we could experience forgiveness and life.  
     We’ve been walking with the “beloved disciple” through his Gospel for quite a while. Remember that he started the Gospel with a series of miracle stories in the first 11 chapters. John calls them “signs” because they revealed to those with eyes to see something about who Jesus is. The story continues in the second part of the gospel, which has been called the Book of Glory by some, by others the “Book of the Passion.”  The Gospel ties beautifully together since the cross and resurrection really are the last “sign” as prophecies are fulfilled and Jesus proves beyond question who He is. It’s perhaps the greatest sign because it reveals the depth of His love for His people. Its one thing to hear teaching about love, like the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep. But here we see it unfold before us as Jesus does exactly that. It’s pretty amazing that John devotes over a third of the Gospel to Jesus’ final week on earth:  in Chapter 12 we have the triumphal entry, then we go to the upper room, and now to the garden and the story of his arrest and all that follows, until the climactic “lifting up” of the Son.  John emphasizes the astounding truth that Jesus wasn’t a “victim” of circumstances. He chose to hand himself over to sinners so that the Father’s plan could be carried out, and sinners like us, could be saved. 
The Big Idea: The Lord Jesus demonstrated His love by laying down His life for us.  We should follow Him, making God’s glory and His mission our top priority and putting the needs of others before ourselves. We can fearlessly love and serve others in His name because of who He is, and what He has done for us.
I. Jesus is Lord, so we can be fearless (1-7)! As we open John 18 we come to one of the most poignant moments in the Gospel.  Jesus spent an evening with his disciples, showing them a lesson about humble service as He washed their feet.  He gave them a new ordinance, the Lord’s Table, which would be a perpetual reminder of his loving sacrifice.  He then taught them about the coming persecution and the promise of the Spirit.  And then we get a glimpse of His intimate communion with the Father in his “high priestly prayer.”  Now the hour is at hand, and Jesus embraces the moment as Judas leads the Jewish leaders and a contingent of soldiers to the Garden. They meant evil against Him, but He is God incarnate, fully in control of the moment.
    Everything is broken, we’re not in Eden anymore! It seems like more than a coincidence that the original act of human disobedience, that of Adam and Eve, happened in a garden.  Now the act of obedience that would bring about redemption happens in a garden. Later He would be buried, and resurrected, in a Garden.  He is Lord. And this is His Story.
We read in John 18:4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’" The point here is that He did not hesitate out of human weakness or out of a natural desire for self-preservation.  He knew the intentions of the approaching crowd, and He knew the Father’s plan. He knew how this story had to unfold, so he stepped forward to meet the situation head on.  He was fearless. Of course He is, He is God!
·         John wants us, as we read the Gospel, to know that Jesus was in control then as He carried out the Father’s plan. 
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus passed through the midst of an angry mob because it was not yet time for Him to lay down his life.  He was in control then and He is in control now.  In Vv.4b-6 we read…
  "…Whom are you seeking?"  5 They answered Him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I AM He." And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.  6 Now when He said to them, "I AM He," they drew back and fell to the ground.”
     Notice also how Jesus responds to their answer.  They say they are looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus answers with the name He had long before the day when Joseph and Mary named Him “Jesus.” He responds, “Ego Eimi,” (“I Am [Him”]).  By now the reader of John has surely made the connection.   The “I AM” statements that had a “predicate” revealed much about Jesus and His mission. Remember some of them: He said “I AM the Bread of life…” (6).  “I AM the Light of the world” (8:12; cf. 9:5).   "I AM the Good Shepherd" (10:11), “I AM the resurrection and the Life” (11:28), “I AM the Way, the truth, and the Life” (14:6).
     As amazing as those statements are in all that they reveal about Jesus, perhaps more striking, and shocking in their contexts, were the few “I AM” statements that were absolute, just “Ego Eimi”, “I AM”:  It started in the fourth chapter with the Samaritan woman as she made a statement about the coming Messiah who would teach truth, and Jesus replied, “I AM.” That was striking because it was a clear affirmation by Jesus that He is the promised Messiah.  And His use of the phrase “I AM” echoes Exodus 3 and hints that Messiah is more than a merely human descendant of David.  Jesus later came to his disciples walking on the stormy waters in John 6:20 and assured them, “Fear not, I AM…”  Think about it. If we really believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, what have we to fear?  Whether it’s a natural disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake, or an accident like the explosion in Texas or the evil intentions of fallen men like the terrorism in Boston, Jesus promises to be with us, He whispers to us in our pain and confusion, “Fear not, I AM.”
     Later, in Jerusalem at the feast He warns, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (8:24).  The question at stake here is sin and salvation. Salvation requires believing who Jesus is, the Great I AM, God incarnate.   A few verses later we read, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things’” (8:28). He was saying that finally, at the climax of the story, the Cross and Resurrection, the identity of Jesus will be make clear to those who have eyes to see.
     One of the most provocative statements came at the end of John 8, there could be no missing what He was saying.   He said “Before Abraham was, I AM…” (8:58 ).   And now as they come for Him in the Garden, looking for “Jesus,” He says, “I AM,” and they fall back on the ground before Him. There is no question that He was identifying himself with the God of the OT, The Great “I AM” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, The Word made flesh, dwelt among us.
·         Jesus was in control then and He is in control now as He works God’s plan through us
Jesus was in control then, and He is in control now. We can be fearless (or at least “fear less”!) in a fear-filled world, because we know the One who holds the future, and He is all powerful, and He loves us. It doesn’t mean we won’t face trials, or pain, or hardship. The brutality of the passion was in front of Him. Recall His words at the end of chapter 16, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” The Lord Jesus demonstrated His love by laying down His life for us.  We should follow Him, making God’s glory and His mission our top priority. We can fearlessly love and serve others in His name because of who He is, and what He has done for us.

II. Jesus is Love, so we should show love in His name (7-9)! It is interesting that John uses “fulfillment language” here, the same kind of language that is used to describe the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  Its another indication that He is God. Just as the Old Testament prophecies had to happen as God had determined, the Words of Jesus had to happen according to God’s predetermined purpose. The reference here is to what Jesus was praying about in the previous chapter. The disciples would face a moment of great testing. They would be driven almost to the point of despair, but the Master would not let them lose heart and lose faith.  Jesus intercedes for his friends, “You are after me, let these go their way.”   Earlier, in the upper room, he said in John 15:13  "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” As this story was unfolding, Jesus was ready for exactly that moment. He knew what was coming.  Jesus speaks here, interceding for His disciples, v.9 “That the saying might be fulfilled, ‘…of those you have given me, I lost none.’”  Jesus has taught  his disciples about love.
Love for God – Jesus referred to this as the greatest commandment: to love God whole-heartedly.  We read in Luke 10:25-27,
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"  27 So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.' "
Jesus acknowledged that answer as correct.  For Jesus himself His love for the Father is evident in His steadfast obedience to the Father’s plan. 17:24 makes it clear that the Father loved the Son from before creation.
Love for one another – Jesus demonstrates love for his disciples by stepping in between them and leaders who mean to do Him harm.  “…Let these go their way…”  He was choosing to lay down his life for his disciples. We can’t say that we love God and then fail to love our brother.  In his first epistle John uses the word “love” thrity-six times in five chapters. One key passage is in I John 4:8-11,
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
We spoke about this last week, our love for one another testifies to the world that we have something real.  Jesus said “By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35).
Love for our neighbors – He also spoke about loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus stops Peter and the others from resorting to violence to save Him (as though He needed their help!). The power of His name was evident, and if he had wished he could have called legions of angels. From the other gospels we know that He even healed the severed ear of the servant Peter struck. That surely defused the moment – and it was another quiet “sign” that revealed again who Jesus is.  Jesus told the parable of the “Good Samaritan” to show the Pharisees that love for our neighbor could not be something that is given grudgingly or only to those who deserve it. It means showing love even when there is no reasonable expectation of getting anything in return.   John tells us in his first letter that “God is love.”  The Lord Jesus demonstrated His love by laying down His life for us.  We should follow Him, making God’s glory and His mission our top priority and putting the needs of others before ourselves. We can fearlessly love and serve others in His name because of who He is, and what He has done for us.

III. Jesus is the Lamb, so we should have the attitude of a servant (10-12)!   “… Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?"  The “cup” is the cup of God’s wrath against sin.  Earlier in the Gospel Jesus asked in John 12:27 "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” Jesus was alluding to Psalm 6:3,4. In that Psalm David echoed that his soul was troubled, and he prayed for the Lord to save him.  Jesus didn’t pray David’s prayer, because He came to give his life so that we could be saved.  This was Passover week after all, and the time approached for the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” to be sacrificed.
Since the months have gone by in our study of John we might forget what happened earlier that same night. In the beginning of His time with the disciples in John 13 Jesus did a remarkable thing.  By then they had not only called him Master and Teacher, but they at least had some sense that this was no mere man they were following through the highways and byways of Palestine.  And then, he girds himself with a towel and kneels down and begins to wash their feet, one at a time.  It was the task of a humble servant, normally the lowest ranking servant in the household.  When he finished, Jesus said,
“…Do you know what I have done to you?  13 "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  14 "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you…”  (John 13:12-15). 
In his letter to the Philippians Paul spoke to this same idea.  He said, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:5-7). 
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Lord Jesus demonstrated His love by laying down His life for us.  We should follow Him, making God’s glory and His mission our top priority and putting the needs of others before ourselves. We can fearlessly love and serve others in His name because of who He is, and what He has done for us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are we willing to serve others because of Jesus, to love unconditionally, and to live by faith, fearlessly trusting Him to take care of us as we carry out his mission in the world?
     What is it that burdens you most today? It may be big, it may be painful, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you.  Get this: God is on your side, and the battle belongs to him. Trust Him, give it to Him, and follow Him, fear not, the Great I AM is with you!  I have a little cross stitch book mark in my Bible, it says “If you knew that you couldn’t fail, what would you do for the glory of God?” If we act for His glory we cannot fail since all God requires is our obedience.
     Is there someone around you that has been a thorn in your side (or, in more modern imagery,  a pain in your neck!)?  They were created by God, and somehow, they too bear His image. Can you choose to love them, even if they don’t love you back? Start by praying for them and then see what happens. They may change, but you will change. You’ll begin to see them differently.
   Jesus took the form of a servant, and scripture says we should have the same attitude. Do you have the attitude of a servant? Here’s the test: How do you react when someone treats you like one?  Jesus is Lord, so “fear not.” Jesus is love, so choose to love. Jesus is the Lamb, so work on your serve.  Think about that, amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lord's Prayer, Part 3: United for the Glory of God!

THE LORD’S PRAYER, Part 3: United for the Glory of God
John 17:20-26
Introduction: Have you ever been on a trip, and heard repeatedly from someone in the car, usually a little someone in the back seat, saying, “Are we there yet?”  Kids can be so focused on the destination, they have little appreciation for the journey.  In this prayer Jesus looks ahead to the destination,  but, for the most part, it’s a prayer for us on the journey. One of the beauties of preaching through books of the Bible is that the passage for the next week is pretty much chosen for you.  Here we are at the end of John 17.  In my flesh, if it was up to me, I probably would have chosen something safer.  Over a year in the Gospel of John, and “just by chance,” we have arrived at a text that speaks precisely to this moment in the history of our church.  At the heart of John 17, really the foundation of the entire Gospel of John, is the revelation of the glory of God in Christ and in His church.  The question for us, as a church family, as a body of believers is, “are we there yet?” Is God’s glory, above all else, the desire of our hearts?  Is it the desire of my heart?  I want it to be. It certainly was a chief concern of Jesus in his prayer in John 17.  The prayer began talking about the glory of God manifested in Jesus (4,5) and it ends in this passage talking about the glory of Jesus shining in and through the church (22).  We’re on a journey together, I’m with you in the back seat, and together we’re asking Abba, “Daddy, are we there yet?” If the answer to that question is our final destination, that will only be answered in the affirmative when we are in heaven with Him.  But God isn’t only interested in the destination; He is interested in the journey.  If the answer to that question is the path that we are on, I would say that we absolutely are right there, where He wants us to be.  God is in this place. He is working. He is changing us individually as we know Him better and grow in our relationship with Him, and He is changing us as a church, even through our willingness and desire to shine more brightly in our community.
The Big Idea: Jesus prayed that we would be so united that it would be visible and attractive to the world and glorifying to God. Are we there yet? Because Jesus prayed we can be sure that is indeed our position. The question is will we choose to live in the light of that truth today, now?
I. Jesus prayed for the church to be united (21-22).  What Jesus prays is clearly His desire for the church, this is what He wants for us. More than that, it’s also the best for the church. This is what we need if we are going to carry out His mission to maximum effect in the world.  Jesus is praying for “those who will believe through their word” (v.20).  That means all subsequent Christ followers through the ages, including us!  As He prays, He makes an astounding request on our behalf…
·                He prays first of all for a supernatural unity among believers: “they may be one as we are one.” What a statement! The measure of the unity that Jesus desires for us is the unity that exists between the Father and the Son! Remember how John 1:1 expressed that? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” The doctrine of the Trinity is a great mystery – one divine essence, united in purpose, three distinct persons. That unity, in all its perfection, is viewed as a model of the unity between believers. Eph 4:3 says we should be “…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace...” That is in the imperative mood, its something we strive for.  Yet our reality is described in v.4-6:  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all…”  That means we experience a unity that is more than just theory, its something visible, it’s something we work out in our relationships, it’s tangible, and so it becomes evangelistic.
·                A tangible unity, is something that goes beyond “position” to being visible to the world. Another passage in which  Paul mentions this theme of unity is Philippians 2:2, where he says, “…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Consider each of those aspects…
-The same mind: Not that we always agree.  Unity does not mean “uniformity.”  One of the beauties of the church is the diversity in its composition and expression. But it does mean that we always agree to seek God together, that His will trumps our will, that His Word is truth and so stands as our final authority. That is the "Great foundation" for Christ followers, the God who is had spoken, His Word is Truth.
-The same love: This is “agape” love that we choose.  That's the Great Commandment for his disciples, love God, and love your neighbor.  It’s not based on feelings it’s based on the love God has shown us which compels us to love one another (Jn 13:35).
-United in spirit… NKJV says, “being of one accord.” It means literally “one souled.”  John MacArthur says it points to a “passionate common commitment to the same spiritual goals.”  We seek and strive together for God’s will and His glory. That means God’s agenda is preeminent, not mine. Together we seek Him and seek to discern His will and direction for us.
-Intent on one purpose: Because we are united in Spirit, love one another, have the same goals, we should commit together to carry out God’s mission to His glory. His mission is the Great Commission that has been entrusted to us. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission reinforce one another.  As we love God and love our neighbor, united in Spirit, the world will take notice.  So this unity, as it is realized experientially, testifies to the Truth.
·         It is a unity that is tangible and visible like that is attractive, and so it is a unity that is evangelistic: A supernatural, tangible unity that testifies to the world and attracts them to Jesus (21, cf.23). In Jn 13 Jesus said “By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another…”  That has to be talking about more than a “feeling,” it’s a choice. It means that we care about each other, sacrifice for one another, bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Jesus is praying to the Father for a unity among his followers because of the Son and by the power of the Spirit that is tangible, visible to the world, and so promotes a positive response to the church in its mission.  Jesus prayed that we would be so united that it would be visible and attractive to the world and glorifying to God. Are we there yet? Because Jesus prayed we can be that is indeed our position. The question is will we choose to live in the light of that truth? That’s a decision we make every day as we choose to walk the path that Jesus desires for us.
II. Jesus prayed that the world might be persuaded by our unity (23).  “…so that…” or, “…in order that…” the world may know.  Verse 23 picks up on the theme from v.21, the effect that the visible, tangible unity of the church can have on the world, it speaks volumes that we have experienced something real, something supernatural, something that can be used by God to draw people to himself. 
            This does not preclude the importance, indeed the necessity, of sharing the Gospel with our words. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.”  When Paul wrote his letters he communicated the Good News in human language.  As all the writers of Scripture were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit they wrote down exactly what God intended.  We need to share the Christ of Scripture with the World and God will use that. You may not be confidant about your Bible knowledge and so may be hesitant to actually talk to someone about your faith. God doesn’t call you to be an expert, just a witness! Carrying a couple of Gospel tracts with you at all times is not a bad idea, if you have time you can walk someone through it, if not you can leave it with them and encourage them to read it later. God uses the Word!
            But there is another side to our witness that is equally important. This statement by Bruce Milne is so to the point I have to quote it:
“…the gospel proclaimed from the pulpit [and by our words] is either confirmed, and hence immeasurably enhanced, or it is contradicted, and hence immeasurably weakened, by the quality of the relationships in the pews.  In this sense every Christian is a witness. Every time we gather together we either strengthen or weaken the evangelistic appeal of our church by the quality of our relationships with our fellow church members.”
That’s convicting, I don’t know if I like to think that the world is watching me, but like it or not it’s true, and they are watching you too.  Not just our conduct in terms of morality, but especially our relationships, our “oneness” as Christ followers, speaks, one way or another, to those around us. This kind of “practical” experiential unity is what Jesus is praying for us in this text. There was an old Hagar the Horrible cartoon (I think it was) with Hagar following some “enemy” footprints, which leads him and his men around in a circle right back to his starting point.  At that point someone announces “We have found the enemy, and it is us!”  Well our enemy is not “us”, it’s the devil, but if we allow jealousy or a negative spirit, or critical attitude or a refusal to forgive to divide us, we are playing into the enemies hands! Scripture warns us not to give the enemy a foothold.  Because God loved us, we love one another, and if we choose to love we will live out the reality of our unity in Christ.
            The words of the psalmist reflect the idea of a unity that is visible, that outwardly testifies that something supernatural and real is going on in this community: In Psalm 133:1 it says,Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!”   Look! See how beautiful and evident is the hand of God on these people!  Are we there yet?  When Barnabas arrived at Antioch in Acts 11 he saw the church that had been planted there among the gentiles after the persecution had scattered the church in Jerusalem.  Acts 11:23 says, “He saw the grace of God, and was glad…”  It was evident that God was working, Jesus was building His church, and it brought joy to the heart of the son of encouragement.  We’re on the path that God wants us on. The evidence of God’s grace is overflowing in the lives of the people in this church. It’s one of the things that attracted us here, that made us feel like we could be a part of this family and continue on a path with you of learning and growing together into what Christ wants us to beJesus prayed that we would be so united that it would be visible and attractive to the world and glorifying to God. Are we there yet? Because Jesus prayed we can be that is indeed our position. The question we must ask every day is will we choose to live in the light of that truth?
III. He prayed that the Father’s mission might be accomplished: the unity of the church was envisioned by God in eternity past, accomplished by Jesus in his infinite sacrifice, and, if we trust Him, it can be lived out in our experience today (24-26).
            What Jesus wants is the will of the Father to be carried out in His disciples, and in all Christ followers throughout history.  He prays for “Those you have given me… to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…” We see His glory partially already, as 2 Corinthians 3:18  says:  “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord...” But the day is coming which John speaks of in 1 John 3:2 where he says Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” What a day that will be! Jesus is praying about that day in 17:24 when He says,
"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
In that day we will be with him in Heaven and will see His unveiled glory – does that motivate you to live differently today?  Have you heard the saying that someone is “…so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good…”?  Actually the opposite is much more of a problem in the American Church in the 21st century: we get so “earthly minded” that we are of no “heavenly good”!  We’re too comfortable. We have so much.  I’ve not been to Haiti or Uganda as many of you have, but from what I’ve heard from you it’s not too different from some of the churches in Brazil that we’ve been in. There is a joy, an excitement about God’s presence and God’s work. Many of the people are as poor as dirt, but they know they have something of infinite worth – so they are happy, truly happy!
            Jesus is praying for all those who believe, all who will be with Him. There is an implication there: we will be together, with Jesus, and with each other, forever! We might as well embrace the unity we have in Christ – we are a family. And we will be forever!
            Vv.25, 26, The world doesn’t know God, but God has revealed himself to us through His Word. And God’s love, the love He demonstrated when He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, God’s immeasurable love, is in us, because of Jesus.  1 John 4:7  says “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” In His Gospel John said that love would show the world that we are Jesus’ disciples: “…By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another…”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus prayed that we would be so united that it would be visible and attractive to the world and glorifying to God. He prayed for us! Are we there yet?  Because Jesus prayed we can be sure that is indeed our position. And we are on a path, exactly where He want us to be, choosing to live in the light of that truth, one person at a time, one relationship at a time, forgiving, choosing to love one another, bearing one another’s burdens.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  If God wants us united in such a way that the world sees something real here, something attractive, what does the enemy want?  What are the kinds of things can so easily divide us? Cultural things like how I dress or the style of the music we sing?  It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus.  As long as the music is true to Scripture and is sung from a heart that wants to worship Him – it’s all good. 
     I read this week a story of two men who individually began attending a church at about the same time, and though they had been there several weeks no one had ever come up to them to greet them.  Finally one guy decided, “If no one greets me today, I’ll never go back into that church again.”  The other guy decided, “If no one greets me, I’ll go right up to someone and introduce myself.”  That same Sunday they came into church, and no one greeted either of them.  The final hymn finished and the first guy was ready to leave, determined never to come back.  The second guy, just as the song ended turned around, put his hand out to the first guy who was sitting directly behind him and said “Good morning, I’m glad to see you, that was a good message wasn’t it?”  They became friends and both stayed in the church!  Let’s choose, each one of us, to make our church the most welcoming, the most loving, the most inviting body of believers that we can be.  It starts with me, and with you.
     We have to constantly be seeking God, asking Him to lead us in our lives and in our church. But when Jesus prayed for us, we know some of what He surely wants: that is that we would be of one heart and mind, intent on His mission. That kind of unity will confirm the words we speak, and will testify there is something real here.  To God be the Glory! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pastors Report: April 2013

      On Easter Mary Ann and I finished our third year with Boothbay Baptist Church.  It is difficult for me to write an annual report like this without reflecting on where we have come as a church family over the last three years.  We are surely not a perfect church, but there is no such thing as a perfect church!  We are not where we might be, or even where we should be, but we have come a long way even over the last three years.  Healing, forgiveness, and personal growth have happened in many lives. For that we should be thankful to the Lord.  On the other hand, there has been some reservation on the part of some people in terms of a commitment to make a choice to seek God together, and to choose to love one another.  John makes it clear that we can’t say that we love God and then fail to love each other:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…” (1 John 4:7-11).
     That means choosing to love others, not to wait for them to love you first.  Paul said that love “seeks not its own” (I Cor 13:5, NASB).  That means it’s not about me.  I like a little acrostic for the word “joy”: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.  We are trying to take a look in the mirror as a church, we need to be willing to do that, every one of us, as individual Christ followers, as members of this church.
      Earlier this year we decided as a church to engage the services of CBMissionNortheast to help us initiate a “ministry mapping” process which is intended as a conscious decision to discern where we are as a church, and then to ask the Lord what steps we need to take as we refocus on His plan for us and our part in His mission.  We’ll be voting today, at our annual meeting, on the prescriptions that the ministry mapping consultants gave us for moving ahead as a church.  I am writing this report on Monday morning, April 8th, following our informational meeting which was intended to discuss the ministry mapping recommendations. We never quite got there.  On the positive side, I am encouraged that many were able to share their feelings, thoughts, and ideas about where we are as a church and the direction we need to take.  On the other hand, there were a lot of strong feelings expressed about personal preferences in music and the “style” of our worship service.  Can we agree that the key factor in worship is the attitude in our hearts?  That means each one of us choosing to come to church expecting to meet with God, seeking to join together with God’s people in worship of the Creator of the Universe. Perhaps more critical was the evidence that some still harbor hurt and ill feelings from the past. We need to forgive. We need to heal.
     This has not been a typical annual report for a pastor.  I love you, the people of Boothbay Baptist Church. I know I love you imperfectly because of my personal shortcomings, but I do love you.  God loves you, each one of you, perfectly, completely.  He sent His Son to die for you.  Each of us that know Jesus is forgiven, forever. We didn’t deserve that. It’s all grace, God’s unmerited favor. We should overflow with love and thanksgiving to God for what He has done. And we should be gracious, forgiving, and overflowing with love for one another.  That’s a choice we must make, individually, every one of us. No one can make it for you.  And then, if we are to be the called out people of God that He wants us to be, we will be able to embrace the mission He has entrusted to us.
                Now for my actual report! I view myself as a pastor/teacher, called to equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:12).  That gifting and calling has been confirmed over twenty five years of fulltime ministry.  I’ve enjoyed preaching through John on Sundays and teaching from the Psalms on Wed. evenings. I continue to be available to counsel individuals and couples. Our small group Bible study on Thursday provides an opportunity to dig deeper into the passage preached on Sunday and to explore further the personal application of the text in our lives.
                We are at a critical moment in the history of our church. I sense that God is ready to do a great work among us if we will seek Him together. We have an excellent mix of families in our church, none of whom are a part of this body merely by chance. God has brought us together. Will we seek Him together? Will we choose to love one another and to embrace the mission He has entrusted to us? It is my personal mission in life to know God intimately, to love Him passionately, and to serve Him joyfully as a part of this church, and to use my gifts and experiences to help others to grow as His disciples.  Is that your heart’s desire as well?  Let’s seek Him together, and we will see what God will do!
Your co-workers in Christ,
Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Lord's Prayer, Part 2: Jesus Prays for His Own

The Lord’s Prayer Part 2: Jesus Prays for His Own
John 17:6-19
Introduction: In a world that can seem chaotic at times it’s good to know that God has a plan!  But if God has a plan, have you ever wondered, “What in the world is God doing?”  As we look at the Scripture today we see that the heart of Jesus is apparent in His prayer as He thanks the Father for His electing grace, and prays that His disciples would be protected and set apart as they carry out His mission in the world and ultimately bring Him glory. As we get into the details we'll see that His prayer applies to us as well.
Review: It was back in February that we started to look at John 17.  Ministry mapping, the missions conference, Palm Sunday and Easter all intervened, so as we return to that chapter we’ll need to remind ourselves of the context.  We have the most extensive teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the Gospel of John in the Upper Room Discourse in the preceding chapters, as He is preparing them to go on without His physical presence. He warned them that tribulation and trials would come, but also promised that He would send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them to help them to continue His mission in the world.  By the way, immediately after this chapter comes chapter 18, the betrayal and arrest in the Garden.  As we opened our study in John 17 over a month ago, we saw Jesus praying.  Think of that, God incarnate found prayer important during His sojourn on this earth – how much more do feeble humans like us need to pray!  Yet prayer is surely one of the most neglected of the spiritual disciplines.  Yet Jesus prayed. First of all, He prayed to the Father, submitting to His will and seeking His glory. Because of Him, we who are in Christ can and should do the same. As the prayer continues we see Jesus prayer for His disciples and in it we can see some lessons for us.
The Big Idea: Be encouraged, God has a plan and it includes us! Will we trust Him? Will we be available? Will we be obedient?
I. The Subjects of Jesus’ Prayer: Chosen for the Glory of God (6-10). John 17:6 starts,  "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” Or as our brother Herb told me: Chosen on purpose for a purpose. Since Jesus is talking about his disciples as he is praying, we might wonder if this prayer of Jesus for the disciples can fairly be applied to us, but v.20 will make it clear: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word” So his prayer for his disciples at that moment, in His omniscience, is also for all who would believe through the centuries, including you and me! Jesus prayed for you then, its right here in the Bible, and He prays for you today, interceding for us as our High Priest.
      First, Jesus prays for His followers. He emphasizes who they are, specifically, Recipients of Revelation, chosen by the Father. Earlier in this Gospel Jesus said in John 10:26-29,
But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  28 "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.”
Those who are His, given by the Father, hear His voice, His Word, His revelation, and they respond, they follow, they believe. Discipleship really has to engage the head, the heart, and the hands.   There has to be balance.  If we picture the Christian life as a triangle, the base, the “Great Foundation,” is the fact that the God who is has spoken.  He has revealed himself to us, He wants us to know Him!  That means engaging our “head,” our mind.  Truth matters. That is why God has given us His Word. One leg of the triangle is The Great Commandment, to love God whole heartedly, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  That means the heart is important to being a disciple.  The other “leg” on the triangle is the “Great Commission,” to make disciples of all the nations, starting right here in our mission field.  The head, the heart, the hands, we need to use them all if we are going to be Jesus’ disciples.
       Here we read in 17:6-8:
"I have manifested Your name [“I AM”] to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  7 "Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  8 "For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them…
We have His Word, if we will receive it.  As we read the Bible, we are reading a love letter, breathed out by God himself to us. We know His name, His character is revealed to us.  Do you hear his voice?  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. 
     Next Jesus speaks about  What they have learned: That is, that Jesus has come from the Father. There was a lot the disciples still did not understand.  They didn’t didn’t understand the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, that Jesus had to walk, all the way to the cross.  But they did understand that He has come from God, and at least at moments in the story, they had a glimmer of understanding that this was no mere man.  We read in John 17:8
  “…and [they] have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me…”
They heard His voice, and they followed Him.
       He also speaks of the Path they are on: To bring glory to Him through obedience.   Being a Christ follower means that we are on a path.  It doesn’t mean we have arrived, we are certainly not sinless. But we are set apart. We belong to God.  If we believe Jesus, the NT assumes that we will obey Him.  We saw that in John 3:36 for example, where the NASB version says,
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
     In John 17:10 He says “…I am glorified in them…”  We heard in John 15 that the Father is glorified as we abide in Christ, and bear much fruit.  Is the glory of God your heart’s desire? Or are you too busy seeking to establish your security and comfort in this world?  Is it your heart’s desire to obey God and please Him, or are you driven by a desire to please another person, or people in general?  None of this will follow us into eternity!  We should “count the cost” of being a Christ follower, the Bible knows nothing of “easy believism” where we just say we believe.  Jesus said to take up our cross, and follow him. That is radical discipleship.  Be encouraged, God has a plan and it includes us! Will we trust Him?
II. The Concerns of Jesus’ Prayer: What is needed to be equipped for His mission (11-19).  The mission we have been given is not one that can be carried out in our strength with our merely human resources.  Remember in the Book of Acts when Jesus talks about the call to be His witnesses, the disciples were told their mission would commence when, in a few days, on the day of Pentecost, they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6-8).  The battle is the Lord’s, and it’s in His name that we bring the Gospel of Christ to the world.
First of all, Jesus prays that they might be protected (11-12,15).  We like to be self-sufficient. We might even smile at this aspect of Jesus’ prayer and think, “thanks, but I can take care of myself.”  Really? (Have you ever seen a television commercial and didn’t know what they were selling?  I saw one recently in which a guy jumps with confidence into a boxing rings, and he turns and sees a giant grizzly bear towering over him – immediately he responds, “I don’t think so…” and jumps out of the ring!). Peter says our adversary goes about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Don’t think we can engage the enemy in our own strength.  But, don’t give up – greater is He who is in us, than He who is in the world.
         One enemy that would trouble us is “the world,” i.e. this world system that is in rebellion against God.  Earlier in the Upper Room discourse Jesus warned the disciples not to be surprised by the world’s hatred – they hated Him first, the world will hate those who follow Him as well! If you try to share Christ and you are rejected or ridiculed, don’t take it personally—their real problem is not with you!
       Most importantly we must recognize that behind all that there is an enemy that would seek to destroy us, and he is an expert in human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He is not eternal, nor omniscient, and certainly not omnipotent – only God has those attributes.  But he has been around for millennia and has seen many strong, seemingly stable believers crushed and spiritually disabled.  The Lord is our shield, our strong tower, our protector, our deliverer. The enemy is real, but greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world!
             Jesus prays that they may be united (11).  If a predator is attacking a flock or herd of animals, his chances of success are increased if He can isolate one from the pack. They are vulnerable, relatively easy prey.  Our adversary, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We are created for community, to be a part of a body.  We need each other.  “One another” is one of my favorite phrases in the NT.  We are to love one another, encourage one another, build up one another, and bear one another’s burdens… We are made to be a community, more than that, a family.
       Ironically, if we are in Christ, we are united, we are one, spiritually speaking.  Yet we see this prayer, and admonitions in the Bible to strive for unity because we don’t always live in the light of what we have and who we are in Christ.  Paul said in Eph 4:3 that we should “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
            Jesus also prays that they might have joy (13).  We might be in a war, but God wants us to live our life with joy.  Not only the hope of joy in the future when we see Him – but now, today.  We are forgiven.  We have peace with God.  We have, now, eternal life and we shall never perish!  We are in Christ and Jesus has overcome the world!  That is cause for rejoicing! Paul says “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!”  At the end of chapter 16 Jesus talks about trouble in the world, but then says “…be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”    
             Jesus prays that they may be dedicated and sanctified (14-19). *John Stott said that suffering is practically indispensable to sanctification. God uses the journey to teach us and mold us. The hands of the potter will shape us into something usable if we will receive it.  But the emphasis on 14-19 is that we are “set apart” or “sanctified” through the truth, the revealed word of God.  Why do I preach through books of the Bible?  My judgments about what we need to hear are very fallible. My choices of topics to preach on would not be where I am struggling or what I need to hear. But as we read through a book of the Bible together, pay attention to the context, ask what the writer was trying to say to his original readers, and ask God what He is telling us in the text, we have His Word to us. That word is power to change us, to set us apart, and to help us grow more like Jesus. 
What is saying to me in this passage? Be encouraged, if God is for us, who can stand against us? God has a plan and it includes us! Will we trust Him?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  There was a song we used to sing fairly regularly at the church where Mary Ann and I met, we would sing it often on Sunday  nites: “I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back…”  It was a good reminder that being a disciple, a follower of Jesus, was a life changing commitment. It meant that He was now to be Lord of my life, it meant that His will, His plan for me had to become my priority. In John 15 we read about “abiding in Christ.”  Among other things that means being conscious of His presence and of my dependence on Him. Discipleship means a lifetime commitment, it’s a 24/7 proposition, not something we do only on Sundays. It means His glory becomes my heart’s desire, and His mission becomes my driving passion. He has shown us His love. Remember that the betrayal, arrest, and passion follow immediately after this chapter.  The Lord’s table turns our hearts toward the cross, and gives us pause to consider the love he demonstrated for us, when He laid down His life. In view of what He has done for you, shouldn’t it be your heart’s desire to love Him return, to believe Him and obey Him, to seek to discover your role in His mission, and to desire above all else His glory?     AMEN.