COURAGE AND COWARDICE

January 31, 2009

John 18:1-27

 

INTRODUCTION

At around 10am on Friday 4th August 1944 German and Dutch security police made a raid on an office building in the centre of Amsterdam.  They had received information that eight Jews were hiding in sealed-off rooms in the annex.  Their tip-off proved to be correct.  Otto Frank, the Jewish owner of the building, had been hiding his family and some others there for two years, supported by a small group of friends who had provided them with black-market food and clothes.

 

The discovery led to the arrest and deportation of all the Jews.  Among them was Otto’s 15 year old daughter, Ann, whose diary of those awful years has become one of the most important eye-witness accounts of Jewish suffering during the war.  She eventually died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp just a month before it was liberated by British troops.

 

The riddle of who betrayed them has never been solved despite repeated investigations.  The finger has been pointed at certain people but nothing has ever been proved.  One wonders at what kind of person could betray innocent people.  One wonders how such a person could live with themselves knowing the fate that befell these victims of Nazi brutality.

 

BRIDGE

When he had finished praying Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.  Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.  (v.1)

 

This is the story of courage and calm in the face of cowardice and confusion.  Here is the Lord Jesus deliberately going to a place where he would be found; identifying himself clearly to those sent to apprehend him; refusing to resist arrest; and when put on trial retracting  nothing of what he had taught but challenging his detractors to find him guilty of any wrong. 

 

The contrasts could hardly be stronger.  Judas, betraying his friend; while Jesus protects his.  The detachment of soldiers armed with torches, lanterns and weapons; while Jesus rebukes Peter for drawing his one sword.  The violence of the petty official who struck Jesus on the cheek; while Jesus meekly allows himself to be discovered, bound and led away.  Most of all, Peter’s denial, not once, not twice, but three times, as he warms himself at the courtyard fire; while Jesus accepts the blows and insults of sinful men in order to become Peter’s Saviour and ours. 

 

We may be tempted to stand in judgement over all of them—the Roman soldiers, the temple hierarchy, Judas, Peter, the Nazis, the quislings, the bankers whose greed has cost us our jobs, the liars and cheats and thugs who make life a misery—but no one should be able to read this story and not discern themselves depicted somewhere, in contrast to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

For this story cries out to us all: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

 

It is the story of the Lamb of God being the Lamb of God; of the Good Shepherd being the Good Shepherd; of the Son of God being the obedient Son of God.  Let’s look at it carefully.

 

 

STORY

The period of detailed instruction in the upper room has ended and Jesus has concluded his long, solemn prayer for his disciples and those who would follow them.  Now he is confronted with the events that would take him to the cross.  It is only a matter of waiting for Judas to bring the police who would set the train of events in motion.

 

Jesus takes his little band to a familiar spot, an olive grove on the Mount of Olives.  This is the Garden of Gethsemane referred to by the other three Gospels, where Jesus prays again, wrestling in prayer, asking the Father to remove the cup of sorrow he must drink, yet determined to do God’s will.  Although John doesn’t mention this, it’s clear he knows about it from v.11: Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?

 

Judas arrives with a detachment of soldiers, that is, Roman soldiers, and temple officials.  Jew and Gentile, so often in conflict, brought together in the task of bringing Christ to the cross.  They represent a world united in its hatred of Jesus. 

 

How many soldiers we are not told, but the impression is, a lot.  Given Jesus’ popularity among the people they were expecting trouble.  Judas may have warned them that the disciples were a bunch of hot-heads.  It’s night-time so they are carrying torches and lanterns, for they might have to carry out an extensive search.  They are also carrying weapons.

 

I suppose the basics of policing haven’t changed much down through the centuries.  Generally speaking success depends having accurate intelligence, superior numbers and the element of surprise.  They had all these so they must have been feeling quite confident.

 

Yet, let me ask you: who is control of the situation?  Who is in charge?  Clearly, the Lord Jesus.  v.4: Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, Who is it you want?

 

This isn’t how a criminal acts.  This isn’t someone terrified of being captured.  This isn’t a man on the run finally admitting defeat.  This is the Son of God laying down his life of his own accord.  What he did was not by constraint but by consent.  (Matthew Henry).

 

Oh let us never cease to praise our Lord Jesus Christ for his willingness to die for us.  They may have bound his hands and led him away; but he was already bound to his work, to his mission to be Saviour of the world. 

 

Who is it you want, he asks.  Whose name is on the arrest warrant? 

Jesus of Nazareth, they reply.  None of the disciples are mentioned; they are free to go.  

 

Here is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, protecting his flock.  He is no hire hand who runs away at the first sign of trouble.  He stays with his flock; he is attached to them.  Later, in v.19, when he is quizzed about his disciples and teaching, he says nothing about the disciples.  He leaves them out of it altogether. 

 

There are three lessons we learn from this.  First, our salvation is not a team effort.  There is only one Saviour, one Redeemer.  The apostles, when they were alive, took no part in winning us forgiveness of sin.  Nor can they do so now that they are in heaven. 

 

 

Indeed, Peter himself declared about Jesus (Acts 4:12):

Salvation is found in no-one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

 

Second, what a friend we have in Jesus who does not abandon us to the enemy.  Sometimes we’re pushed to the very extremes of our faith.  The night has closed in around us, and we can hear the wolves howling.  Fears and anxieties surround us; failures and doubts snap at our heels. 

 

But who does the enemy really want?  Who is the real target in Satan’s sights?  Jesus of Nazareth.  You are his, so Satan attacks you.  But the voice of the Lord Jesus is still heard:

If you are looking for me, then let these men go. v.8

Satan, let this child of mine alone. 

 

Christian, he laid down his life for you; he isn’t going to surrender you to Satan now.  Truly he can look the Father in the eye and say: I have not lost one of those you gave me. (v.9)

 

And third, we can be sure that Christ will never let us be tested more than we can bear.  In the years to come, the apostles would be imprisoned, beaten, flogged, martyred.  Through it all they rejoiced at the privilege of suffering for Christ.  But that was come.  They were not ready for that yet. 

 

Be in no doubt, if you are a Christian, your faith will be tried and tested.  It’s the only way for us to develop any spiritual muscles.  But just as with physical exercise, we build up slowly.  No one tries to run a marathon on their first day out jogging.  Let me put it another way: any army that puts its troops into battle before they have been through rigorous training is taking a terrible risk.  Well, the Lord Jesus will never expect us to fight battles we’re not prepared for. 

 

The Apostle Paul assures us (1Cor.10:13):

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

 

Who is it you want?  Jesus of Nazareth. 

 

I am he, says Jesus.  Literally, I am.  The normal way of speaking, yet on the lips of Jesus somehow there are overtones of the divine. 

            I am the Lord, that is my name Isa.42:8

            I am the Lord and there is no other (Isa.45:6)

            I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he. (Isa.41:4)

 

Thus Jesus declares:

I am the bread of the life; I am the light of the world; I am the Resurrection and the Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the gate for the sheep; I am the vine; I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

 

And therefore, while we might explain the rather comical sight of the troops bumping into each and tumbling backwards on the suddenness of the front column coming to a halt (it’s like something out of “Dad’s Army); yet we detect something more.  Before the serenity of Jesus, his enemies are awestruck.  He is in control; they are in confusion. 

It’s worth asking: If that is how Christ’s enemies react when facing him de-robed of majesty and surrendering himself meekly; how will they respond when they face him on that great and terrible day when he appears to them as their king and judge?  They will fall, not upon their backs, but upon their knees.

 

Having waited till they straightened their helmets and sorted themselves out, Jesus repeats his question and gets the same reply. 

 

v.10 Then Simon Peter who had a sword drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.  The servant’s name was Malchus.

 

Peter, Peter, Peter—we admire your courage, we admire your devotion to the Lord.  You said you’d be willing to lay down your life for him, and so you are.  You’re no fair-weather friend.  The odds are against you, but yet you fight. 

 

But Peter this isn’t the time.  You’ve never understood.  Our Saviour is a suffering Saviour.  Our freedom comes, not from a blood-stained sword, but a blood-soaked cross. 

 

Zeal can be misplaced.  Zeal can be used as an excuse for our own desire for heroics. 

 

We walk into the devil’s trap if we try to play the world at its own game, fighting spiritual battles according to the world’s tactics.  (2Cor.10:3):

For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.

 

So we do not trade insults for insults.  We do not vilify or demean or belittle.  We are not sneaky and underhand.  We love our enemies, we pray for enemies, we turn the other cheek.  And if we get crucified, so what?  If you have died to self already, how can they kill you again? 

 

v.11 Jesus commanded Peter, Put your sword away.  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me.

 

One of the ways the Old Testament prophets described God’s judgement befalling someone was to talk about how they had drunk from God’s cup.  The picture seems to be related to the humiliation and degradation of drunkenness. 

 

Isaiah talks about the cup of his wrath…the cup that made you stagger. (51:17)

Jeremiah refers to the cup filled with the wine of my wrath.  (25:15)

Ezekiel calls it the cup of ruin and desolation.  (23:33)

 

What makes the image particularly powerful is the role played by the one drinking from the cup.  To drink is a deliberate act.  The cup is proffered and accepted.  The wicked bring judgement upon themselves.

 

There in the olive grove, in the Garden of Gethsemane, God the Father had proffered the cup of his wrath, the cup of ruin and desolation not to the wicked, not to the unrighteous, but to his Son, his sinless Son. 

 

And Jesus had accepted, knowing that to do so would be to drink the unmitigated, unrelenting, unrestrained wrath of God against the sins of the world. 

 

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and Jewish officials arrested Jesus.  They bound him and brought him to Annas (v.12, 13)

 

Jesus was tasting his first bitter sips from the cup. 

 

Annas had been high priest when Jesus was a boy.  That’s why he is called high priest in v.19.  Although he was retired, the fact that five of his sons had succeed him, and his son-in-law Caiaphas was now in charge, helps us to understand why the police took Jesus to him first.  John reminds us in v.14 that Caiaphas was the one who, back in 12:50, had suggested that it would be good if one man died for the sake of all the people.  It hardly bodes well for a fair trial.

 

Meanwhile, Peter hasn’t given up.  Along with an anonymous disciple, who may well be John, he follows Jesus to Annas’s house.  This other disciple seems to be well connected and gets Peter an entry into the courtyard. 

 

Peter—you shouldn’t be there.  The Lord has secured your release.  You are putting the Lord your God to the test.  You are running ahead of yourself.  You don’t have the strength, you don’t have the maturity to handle this.  It’s a principle we all do well to remember. 

 

Before you set out to evangelize the world, how about sharing the gospel with just one friend.

If your desire is to be an example for young Christians to follow, let’s see the example you set in your own family. 

If you want to do great exploits for the Lord, show us the small exploits first. 

 

Big mouth Peter: though everyone else desert you, Lord, I will never desert you.

He falls at the first hurdle.  The girl at the door asks him:

You are not one of his disciples are you?

She’s making what we might call a cautious assertion. 

You’re not John Smith’s boy are you?

You’re not the gas man are you? 

 

And Peter says, No.  I am not. 

 

Oh Peter, if you’re frightened of a wee lassie, how will you cope when it’s men who want to tear the flesh from your back? 

 

And then look what he does.  He warms himself at their fire.  Jesus (v.21) is asking for witnesses, as the law required.  Peter, you could have been a witness.  You could have told the high priest what Jesus taught.  But no, you stand warming yourself at their fire.

 

What was their conversation?  Did these servants take their cue from their masters?  Did they mock the Lord Jesus, triumphing in his capture?  And did Peter stand there, keeping his mouth shut, laughing at their jokes, yet inwardly dying? 

 

You’ve heard the saying “silence is golden”.  But sometimes silence is just plain yellow!  As ashamed as I am for all the times I have said the wrong thing, I am more ashamed of the times I’ve kept my mouth shut.  Times I should have spoken up for Jesus.  But I didn’t want people to think I was a fanatic; I didn’t want to bring religion into the conversation. 

 

Am I the only one who feels that way? 

they that warm themselves with evil-doers grow cold toward good people and good things (Matthew Henry)

 

Indoors, Jesus is being interrogated.  This isn’t the trial before the Sanhedrin.  In modern parlance, Jesus is helping the police with their inquiries.  He’s asked about his disciples probably in order to ascertain the potential for any uprising. 

 

The second line of questioning, about his teaching, is what interests them most.  They want to pin blasphemy charges on him.  But there’s no need to question him like this. 

 I always taught in synagogues or at the temple where all the Jews come together.  I said nothing in secret.

 

Of course, Jesus did speak privately to the disciples, but not in the sense that there was one message for public consumption and another, more sinister message for a select band of initiates.  Jesus couldn’t have been more open and upfront. 

 

v.22 When Jesus said this one of the officials nearby struck him in the face.

Little did that petty official realize that he was fulfilling prophecy:

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.  I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. (Isa.50:6)

 

Oh dear Lord Jesus, there is more to come, so much more—the beating within an inch of your life, and the crown of thorns pressing down upon your brow; and the nails.  Soon you will gulping down the wine of God’s wrath. 

 

Could the contrast with Peter be drawn more starkly?  How foolish we are to imagine that if we give in to sin it will go away; as if giving in to a demanding child will leave it satisfied for long.  Yield once and you merely weaken your defences.  Yield once and Satan will be back for more.

 

v.25 As Simon Peter stood warming himself he was asked, You are not one of his disciples, are you? 

 

He denies it; but soon afterwards someone recognizes him, a relative of the man whose ear he’d cut off.  Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?

 

John is kinder to Peter than the other Gospel writers.  They tell us that Peter cursed and swore and used language that would make a soldier blush.  John simply says, Again he denied it. 

 

And it’s then, as Jesus predicted, that the cock began to crow.  Have you ever had the experience of something common-place, something quite ordinary, acting as a spiritual wake-up call, slapping you on the face as it were, bringing you back to your senses? 

 

The sound of the church bell, perhaps; or a child singing a Sunday school song; or a snippet of a conversation overheard.  Or maybe an intimation of mortality—the tightening of the chest, breathlessness, a lump, a mole, the death of someone close. 

 

John, brilliant writer that he is, leaves us hanging on to the very end of his book, to find out what happens to Peter, how the Lord restored him by forcing him to confess his love for him three times, thus cancelling out each denial.  Forgiveness that Jesus was going to the cross to procure.

 

CONCLUSION

Betrayed by a friend; disowned by another.

Rejected by his own people; surrendered into the hands of the authorities to be killed.

 

Everything seems to have conspired against our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Yet throughout this story his mastery of events shines through, as they will continue to shine through. 

 

What do you make of this man? 

A tragic victim?  Surely not.

A brave martyr?  For what cause?

 

No.  What we have here, as I said earlier, is the Lamb of God being the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.  Here we have the Good Shepherd, being the Good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock.  Here we have the Son of God being the Son of God, demonstrating the love of God for sinners just like us. 

 

Surely our only response is to bow down and worship and cry aloud, My Lord and my God. 

 

I will sing of the Lamb of the price that was paid for me

purchased by God, giving all he could give

Here now I stand in the garments of righteousness

death has no hold for in Jesus I live.

 

                        Once I was blind yet believed I saw everything

                        proud in my ways yet a fool in my part

                        lost and alone in the company of multitudes

                        life in my body yet death in my heart.

 

What shall I give to the man who gave everything

humbling himself before all he had made?

Dare I withhold my own life from his sovereignty

I shall give all for the sake of his name. 

(Stuart Townend)

 

 

 

 

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John 18 – some notes

January 29, 2009

Originally I began this blog as a way of sharing with my congregation some of the gems I discover during sermon preparation.  This Sunday morning we’re on John 18v.1-27.  Here are some quotes from Matthew Henry and John Calvin.  First, Henry on Peter’s denials.  And then Calvin on the way Christ protected his disciples. 

v.10 Peter’s rashness.

Acknowledge Peter’s goodwill, yet his action was not justified because he had no warrant from Christ so to act.  He was opposing his Master’s suffering.  As we may be guilty of a sinful cowardice when we are called to appear, so we may be of a sinful forwardness when we are called to retire. He foolishly exposed himself and his fellow-disciples to the fury of this enraged multitude. 

Commenting on Peter’s later denial of Christ: the true Christian hero will appear in the cause of Christ not only when it is prevailing but when it seems to be declining; it will be on the right side though it be not on the rising side.

v.15 On Peter following Christ: They that truly love and value Christ will follow him in all weathers and all ways.  As kind as Peter was the problem was he had not strength and courage enough to preserve in it.  Re Jesus had said, “You cannot go where I am going”.  We must take heed of tempting God by running upon difficulties beyond our strength and venturing too far in the way of suffering.  If our call be clear to expose ourselves we may hope that God will enable us to honour him; but if it be not, we may fear that God will leave us to shame ourselves.

v.17 Note how slight the attack was.  If we cannot bear ridicule and insults, we cannot bear much. 

 

Peter is much to be blamed because:

1. he associated with these wicked men and kept company with them.  Were they scoffing at Christ?  Did Peter keep his mouth shut?  Could he not at least have retired to a secret corner and wept for his Master? if he could not have done good he might have kept out of the way of doing hurt. 

2. because he desired to be thought one of them that he might not be suspected to be a disciple of Christ. 

 

v.25 Peter: It was a great folly to thrust himself into temptation by continuing in the company of those that were unsuitable for him and that he had nothing to do with…they that warm themselves with evil-doers grow cold toward good people and good things. 

Yielding to one temptation invites another and perhaps a stronger.  Satan redoubles his attacks when we give ground. 

 

v.26 They who by sin think to help themselves out of trouble do but entangle and embarrass themselves the more.  Dare to be brave, for the truth will out…We are often drawn into sin by groundless, causeless fears, which there is no occasion for and which a small degree of wisdom and resolution would make nothing of…The beginning of sin is as the letting forth of water; when once the fence is broken men easily go from bad to worse. 

 

Calvin

v.8 Here Jesus is the Good Shepherd. 

v.9 Consider how weak they were; what do we think they would have done if they had been on trial for their life? 

And from this we may deduce a general doctrine that even if Christ tests our faith with many temptations still he will never allow us to come into the ultimate danger without also supplying us with strength to overcome.  And indeed we see how he continually bears with our weakness when he comes forward to repel so many attacks by Satan and ungodly people because he sees that we are not yet able or prepared for them.  In short, he never brings his people into the field of battle until they have been well trained so that even in perishing they do not perish because they can gain both in death and in life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay away from hospitals!

January 28, 2009

Here’s something that made me laugh.   

Do you ever worry about the NHS ? You should!!  These are sentences actually typed by Medical secretaries in NHS Greater Glasgow
 
 
 1. The patient has no previous history of suicides.
 
 2. Patient has left her white blood cells at another hospital.
 
 3. Patient’s medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only
     a 40 pound weight gain in the past three days.
 
 4. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was
     very hot in bed last night.
 
 5. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
 
 6. On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it
     disappeared.
 
 7. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be
     depressed.
 
 8. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
 
 9. Discharge status:- Alive, but without my permission.
 
 10. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert, but forgetful.
 
 11. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.
 
 12. She is numb from her toes down.
 
 13. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.
 
 14. The skin was moist and dry.
 
 15. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
 
 16. Patient was alert and unresponsive.
 
 17. Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.
 
 18. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life until  she got a divorce.
 
 19. I saw your patient today, who is still under our care for physical therapy.
 
 20. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.
 
 21 Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.
 
 22. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.
 
 23. Skin: somewhat pale, but present.
 
 24. The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.
 
 25. Large brown stool ambulating in the hall.
 
 26. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.
 
 27. When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room.
 
 28. The patient was in his usual state of good health until his airplane
       ran out of fuel and crashed.
 
 29. Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady pregnant.
 
 30. She slipped on the ice and apparently her legs went in separate
      directions in early December.
 
 31. Patient was seen in consultation by Dr. Smith, who felt we should
      sit on the abdomen and I agree.
 
 32. The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job as
       a stock broker instead.
 
 33. By the time he was admitted, his rapid heart had stopped, and he was feeling better.

Latest news from Aberdeen

January 26, 2009

Here is a copy of what was reported in today’s Press and Journal newspaper.  A point of clarification.  I understand that the Dissent and Complaint (= the appeal) will be heard by a Commission of Assembly (that is, a proportion of the members of last year’s Assembly which meet between Assemblies to decide such cases).  They are probably looking at the end of March.  From my understanding of church law this is what is required; they are not allowed to wait till the next Assembly in May. 

It is also interesting how evangelicals are said not to approve of Mr.Rennie’s lifestyle.  What we think is irrelevant.  This is an issue that takes us to the heart of Scripture.  And this is what raises the stakes so high.  It’s not a matter of personal opinion.  Scripture says that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.  How can a minister of the gospel (or any Christian) continue in sin? 

 

A gay minister at the centre of a major row which threatens to divide the Church of Scotland says coming to terms with his sexuality has made him “better” at his job.

The Rev Scott Rennie, whose provisional appointment at Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen outraged some evangelicals, claims he is now more able to connect with people than ever before.

The 36-year-old – divorced from Ruth with whom he has a daughter Rachel – revealed his thoughts to the nomination committee at Queen’s Cross Church.

A booklet produced by the church says he re-evaluated his life after the breakdown of his marriage and the death of someone close to him.

“It has allowed Scott to come to terms with his sexuality, something he had long resisted and wrestled with due to his conservative church roots.

“He and Ruth remain the best of friends (and) both love their daughter Rachel and many happy days are spent together still.

“Scott feels these challenges and changes in life have undoubtedly made him a better minister and pastor, more compassionate and understanding of the complexities of people’s real lives.”

The booklet says Aberdeen-born Mr Rennie now shares a committed relationship with his Christian partner David – thought to be a religious and moral education teacher at a secondary school.

Mr Rennie, a Dons fan and Liberal Democrat member, is currently minister at Brechin Cathedral in Angus.

The congregation and office bearers at Queen’s Cross Church overwhelmingly support his appointment. He is regarded as one of Scotland’s best young preachers.

Joint session clerk Professor Trevor Salmon says Mr Rennie has the qualities required to build upon the tradition of excellent ministry.

Aberdeen Presbytery voted to instal the ex-Bankhead Academy pupil and Aberdeen University graduate by 60 votes to 24 on January 6.

But 12 members, including ministers Louis Kinsey of St Columba’s, Bridge of Don; Peter Dickson of High Holburn; Hugh Wallace of Newhills; and Nigel Parker of Bucksburn Stoneywood, lodged an appeal because they did not approve of his lifestyle.

Mr Kinsey described the decision to appoint Mr Rennie as “heartbreaking”.

Evangelical organisation Forward Together claims the dissenters represent the majority of Church of Scotland members and the situation represents the biggest “crisis” facing the Kirk since 1843.

The appeal is being examined by a church committee. If it is upheld, it will be referred to the Kirk’s General Assembly in May.

Ps.43 with Rom.13:8-14 (Eph.6:17a)

 

INTRODUCTION

What made Gordon Brown stand by Tony Blair those ten years from 1997 when Blair was Prime Minister and Brown his Chancellor?  What persuaded Brown to remain as No.2, the dull, boring man of finance and figures, while Blair strode the world’s stage solving other people’s problems, smiling, charming, saying not very much but saying it so well?  Why did Gordon Brown keep him mouth shut about Iraq, when every sinew in his body knew it was a disaster waiting to happen?  Why did Brown remain loyal in public when others couldn’t wait for Blair to go?

 

The answer is easy: the hope of the top job.  His eyes were fixed on Ten Downing Street, and nothing would distract him.

 

It was the same with Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill’s heir-apparent, who also waited ten frustrating years before getting what he coveted most.  He was willing to remain in the great man’s shadow, even when Churchill was long past his best, because it was his best hope of becoming Prime Minister.

 

Hope is a very powerful emotion.  The hope of rescue keeps alive survivors lost at sea; the hope of profit keeps the wheels of industry turning; the hope of liberty keeps the oppressed from despair.  Without hope, all is lost. 

 

As Christians we have a hope, a very definite hope.  A hope that looks beyond this life to the life to come.  The Bible calls it the hope of glory, or the hope of eternal life, or the hope of salvation. 

 

RECAP

In our studies on the armour of God we’ve reached the penultimate piece, the helmet of salvation.  v.17: Take the helmet of salvation.

 

We’ve thought about the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our gospel boots, and the shield of faith.  Together with the helmet of salvation these all make up our coat of armour.  The only remaining piece is the odd one out, the sword of the Spirit.  The rest are all defensive.  The sword is the only attacking weapon mentioned.

 

Has the importance of this sunk home with you, that most of the armour given to us by God is for our protection?  The command is “to stand”.  vv.10,11:

Therefore be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

 

We win the day when we have withstood an attack; when we have resisted the temptation to sin; when we have done nothing to tarnish our witness.  The armour is given us not to protect us from sorrow or suffering, but from sin.  We are to stand our ground; as saints bought by the blood of Christ, we must not allow Satan to plant his flag in our hearts. 

 

BRIDGE

What, then, does Paul mean by the helmet of salvation?  Some commentators place great store on the image of a helmet and deduce that Paul has the protection of the mind in mind.  It’s certainly true that a prime target of Satan’s is the mind, the intellect.  It’s there that doubts arise as to the veracity of Scripture and the goodness of God; and there’s many a sin conceived in the mind that the eyes or the lips or the hands give birth to. 

 

But I think we can take the imagery too far.  I can’t see how anything would be lost if some of the images and the spiritual realities to which they point were swapped around.  Nothing would be lost if Paul had referred to the helmet of truth, or the helmet of righteousness, or the helmet of faith. 

 

The reason he associates salvation with a helmet is because of Isa.59:17, a verse we’ve looked at several times recently, with its description of the Lord God of Hosts:

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head, he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 

 

So I’m not going to spend any time looking for links between helmets and salvation.  Instead, the questions we’re going to be asking are: What is salvation?  And, how does salvation defend us from the schemes of the evil one?

 

SALVATION

What, then, is meant by “salvation”?  It’s one of those words which we as Christians use all the time.  We talk about “being saved”; we call the Lord Jesus our Saviour.    

 

The word simply refers to the act of being rescued, being delivered.  The Bible uses the term to describe being saved from all sorts of harmful situations.  When the ancient Israelites referred to God’s salvation they were often thinking about the defeat of their enemies.  In the Gospels where in our English translations we read of Jesus telling someone (like the woman who touched the hem of his cloak) “Your faith has healed you”, in the Greek original he says “Your faith has saved you.” 

 

But of course by far the most common meaning in the New Testament is deliverance from sin and the consequences of sin.  The single word “salvation” sums up everything God has done for us in Christ.  Indeed, salvation is the very reason for the incarnation of the Son of God:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1Tim.1:15).

 

The effective call of God to himself; and the conviction of sin that tormented us; the experience of the second birth (regeneration); and the ability to place our faith in Christ for forgiveness and pardon; the repentance of our sin and our desire to live a holy life; our justification (God’s declaration that we are now in a right relationship with him); our adoption as children into his family; being united to Christ so that I am in Christ and he is in me—all of it summarised in one word: salvation. 

 

Take everything the Lord has done for you—that you are born again of his Holy Spirit; that you can address him in prayer as “Father”; that the fruit of his Spirit is ripening in your life; that you have an inheritance in heaven that cannot spoil—take it all, add it all up, and the total is “salvation”. 

 

It’s the comprehensive, all-embracing, all-inclusive term that tells us what God has done for us in Christ. 

 

So what does Paul mean when he tells us to take the helmet of salvation?  Because at first sight we might imagine that he is encouraging his readers to accept Christ as their Saviour for the first time.  But that, of course, can’t be true.  Throughout the letter he treats the Ephesians as Christians. 

 

In the opening verse he refers to the them as the saints in Ephesus.  In 1:13 he assures them that they were included in Christ when you head the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  In 2:8 he speaks in the past tense: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith.

 

There’s no doubt that the Ephesians were Christians.  So why is he directing them to take the helmet of salvation? 

 

The answer lies in what we might call the “tenses of salvation”.  As we read through the New Testament we discover a past, present and future dimension to salvation.

 

I’ve already quoted Eph.2:8 which makes quite clear that the Christian has been saved, saved from the guilt and penalty of sin.  This is something that happened in our past.  When we accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to his kingdom of light; we were freed from slavery to sin to become slaves to righteousness. 

 

To return to Eph 2, we, who were far away from God were brought near.  We were once foreigners and aliens to the covenants of promise; now we are fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of his household. 

 

I think of what the Lord Jesus said about Zaccheus (Lk.19:9):

Today salvation has come to this house

 

It’s done, and nothing can alter the fact.

 

But there is also a present aspect to our salvation.  For example, Paul says in 1Cor.1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

 

In 2Cor.2:15 he says:

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

 

The point is that though we have been saved from the penalty and guilt of sin, we are not yet sinless.  The process of being saved from the power, the lure of sin is on-going. 

 

And the wonderful promise is that there’s more to come.  There is a future dimension to salvation, when we shall be saved to sin no more. 

 

This is what Paul is envisaging when he says in Rom.13:11-12:

And do this understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over, the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. 

 

Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  Hallelujah!

Then we shall be where we would be/Then we shall be what we should be

Things which are not now nor could be/Then shall be our own.  (Thomas Kelly)

 

Clearly, it’s this full sense of salvation that Paul is referring to.  It’s not just that we have been saved.  He’s thinking of the on-going battle against sin which has its eye on the final victory. 

 

This is borne out in a parallel verse, 1Thes.5:8 where the apostle says:

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Like the politician who remains loyal to his leader in the hope of preferment; like the student who remains in the library till closing time in the hope of getting a good degree; like the entrepreneur who stakes his savings, his house, everything, in the hope of making it big in business; so the Christian stands his ground, resists temptation, refuses to compromise, for he has the hope of salvation, the hope of full salvation.

 

HEAVEN

Let me briefly sketch for you this hope of salvation, this hope of heaven, and the perhaps you’ll appreciate how this wonderful hope can act as a defence against Satan.

 

Heaven is where Jesus is.  We were thinking this morning about our Lord returning to the glory he had with the Father before the creation of the world (Jn.17).  Jesus comforted his distressed disciples by telling them: I am going there to prepare a place for you.  (Jn.14:2)

 

He outshines the brightest jewel in heaven.  He is it’s light, its lamp.  He is the Lamb upon the throne of heaven, who takes centre stage.  Heaven is where Jesus is and our hope tells us we shall see him there.

 

We shall be reunited with our loved ones in heaven.  Only last night I was speaking to a widow who misses her late husband so dearly.  I comforted her by assuring her that they would meet again and reminded her of that old chorus we used sing in Sunday School:

If you get there before I do, look out for me for I’m coming too.

 

There’s a fascinating verse in 2Sam.12:23.  The baby born from David and Bathsheba’s adultery dies and David is heart-broken.  He has fasted and wept hoping that the Lord would allow the child to live; but it was not to be.  His servants are surprised that now the baby is dead he stops his fast and goes back to normal. 

 

Listen to what he says and wonder at how deep his faith is at this moment:

But now that he is dead why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me. 

 

I will go to him—somehow David had this hope of being reunited with his little one.  It’s a hope all of God’s people have. 

 

In heaven we shall be what we are meant to be.  It’s not just that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev.21:4).  There will be no more sin; no more prayers of confession; no more flaming arrows of the evil one.  We will be perfect in wisdom, in holiness, in truth, in love. 

 

No need to sing in heaven: Finish then thy new creation/Pure and spotless let us be

For that is what we shall be: Perfectly restored in thee. 

 

John says (1Jn.3:2):

Dear friends, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

That’s some hope isn’t it!! 

 

Now, John goes on to say (v.3):

Everyone who has this hope purifies himself just as he is pure.

 

Do you see what John is saying?  He is saying that the hope of seeing Jesus, the hope of being like Jesus is an inducement to holiness, an incentive to resist sin.  

 

It’s like the student who alone among his friends went to university.   He used to be one of the lads, but not any more.  His mates still go to the pub, and to parties.  They’re having a great time while he is chained to his books.  In his first year he viewed them with a certain envy, and there were times when he gave in to the pressure and joined them.

 

But not now—not now that he is studying for his finals.  He views their nights out in a very different light.  They hold no attraction to him.  Because he has a goal in mind.  He is hoping for a 1st class honours degree and nothing is going to distract him. 

 

The hope of salvation enables us to see sin in a different light.  So we might not be as rich as we could have been for we have passed on certain opportunities; and we’re not as popular as we might have been because we always have to be the odd one out.  We’ve refused to lie and cheat and cut corners and that doesn’t always win you friends. 

 

The hope of salvation enables us to place a true value on this world and what it offers.  If you own a plot of land which is rich and fertile, you’re not going to be easily persuaded to swap it for waste-ground. 

 

Satan is like these insurance companies which offer you a lump sum in exchange for the title to your house when you die.  You get the money now; they get the house later.  The only problem is, the title Satan demands is to your home in heaven.  Nothing you have here below is worth exchanging for heaven.

 

The same hold when we are going through trials and afflictions, when we are discouraged and ready to throw in the towel.  Everyone seems to be prospering but us.  Satan will tell you what a fool you are to stick with Jesus.  Jesus is holding you back.  Jesus is preventing you from having a good time. 

 

It’s a common experience.  You could say that much of the New Testament was written to encourage discouraged believers. 

 

3000 years ago the Psalmist complained (Ps.43:2):

You are God my stronghold.  Why have you rejected me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? 

 

But he recognized what was happening; he saw the trap before it was too late.  So he says to himself (Ps.43:5):

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

 

Our hope assures that whatever we are enduring is not worth comparing to the joy that awaits us.  2Cor.4:17:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

 

CHALLENGE

I wonder if a major factor in so much of our half-hearted devotion to the Lord is our lack of hope.  We are so fixed on our immediate circumstances that we fail to look beyond them to the hope of glory. 

 

Gurnall puts it like this: This hope of salvation, where it is steadfast, makes the Christian active and zealous for God.  They are men of mettle that have it.  You may expect more from him than many others, and not be deceived.  Why are men dull and heavy in the service of God.  Truly because their hopes are so.  Hopeless and lifeless go together. 

 

Hopeless and lifeless go together.  Is this not what stands behind so much backsliding, so much apathy, so much listlessness in the church?  And so much giving up ground to the devil. 

 

But when that hope of glory is real, when that hope is ever before us, it whets our appetite, it makes us long for heaven.  A holy impatience develops in us and an abhorrence of anything that jeopardize our place there.  We’re like children listening in to the fun the adults are having and we can’t wait till we’re old enough to join them. 

it moves my soul and causes me to long/for greater joys than to the earth belong.

 

O my dear friends, if you would press on in the faith, if you grow in grace, if you would mature in holiness set this hope of salvation, full salvation, before you at all times.  If you would stand your ground against Satan, if you would be encouraged in days of discouragement, then take up the helmet of salvation and wear it.  

 

The words of the writer to the Hebrews still apply (Heb.6:11,12):

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. 

 

 

 

 

Jesus prays

January 26, 2009

John 17

(A note for those interested in sermon construction.  When I began this series in John’s Gospel I set my task as to preach big picture sermons as Don Carson recommends.  There is so much more I could have said in this sermon and certain themes are not touched at all eg. Judas, “thy word is truth”.  Contrast this with my approach to Ephesians which has been more detailed.  It has been a very interesting to be taking these different approaches at the same time.)

 

INTRODUCTION

It’s always nice when someone tells us that they’ve been thinking about us, particularly if we’ve been going through a difficult time.  It’s even more encouraging when someone tells us that they’ve been praying for us.  That indicates that they’ve given us more than a passing thought.  It suggests that being aware of our circumstances, they have deliberately brought us to mind and have named us to our heavenly Father.  Often that’s all we can do for each other.  The problem is not something we can fix.  But we can pray.  As David Young reminded us last Sunday night, we pray because we are helpless.

 

Let’s take this scenario one step further.  If we feel encouraged that someone is praying for us, how do we feel if that person themselves is going through a bad patch.  Perhaps even worse than ourselves.  I have visited people in hospital, who are seriously, terminally ill.  I am there to minister to them, to comfort them, to pray for them.  Yet, what do they tell me: I’ve been praying for you, I’ve been remembering you in my prayers. 

 

It’s amazing.  And I can’t help thinking: There you are, in pain, probably in the final days or weeks of your life, and you’ve been praying for me!  And for the church.  It’s so humbling.  How do they manage to divert their thoughts from themselves and their circumstances to think, to pray for others? 

 

Let me tell you, it’s not a lesson to be learned on the hoof.  It’s not a spirit, an attitude that develops overnight.  It comes from a life-time of selflessness, a life-time spent in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who on the very night he was arrested, less than 24 hours before he was crucified, poured out his heart in prayer, not for himself, but for his disciples. 

 

Who would have blamed him if the lion’s share of his prayer had been about himself?  Asking for courage to face what he had to face; asking his Father not to abandon him.  But no.  Out of this chapter of 26 verses, only 5 specifically concern himself.  All the rest are about the disciples, and those who would follow them.  That’s what he says in v.20:

My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.  That means us. 

 

It’s amazing to think that with the shadow of the cross looming over him, our Lord Jesus did  more than just give us a passing thought.  He prayed for us. 

 

CONTEXT

We’re near the end of John’s Gospel.  There are only five chapters left.  And in common with the other three Gospels these final chapters concern the death and resurrection of our Lord. 

 

Some ministers plan out their preaching programme for the whole year.  They decide which book they are going to preach through, or what topics they’d like to cover, and they make a plan.  They even announce that plan to the congregation so that everyone knows what to expect Sunday by Sunday. 

 

I’m not like that and never have been.  All I know is that I would like to preach through a certain book of the Bible.  I have no idea how long it will take me; because I have no idea which chapters or verses will arrest me in the course of the series. 

It might seem that a particular chapter can be covered in one sermon; but what if a particular verse in that chapter grabs my attention and demands to be given a sermon all of its own.  I just take things verse by verse, chapter by chapter.  If I were the kind of minister who plans his preaching programme in advance we wouldn’t be studying the closing chapters of John’s Gospel; not in January.  These chapters are for Easter. 

 

Yet here’s what happens when we leave room for the Holy Spirit.  What is the driving force behind this prayer of our Lord’s.  What does he have his eye on?  What great goal motivates every petition within this prayer?

 

Mission!  Ultimately, this is a missionary prayer. 

 

Why does he ask the Father not to take the disciples out of the world?  Because he is sending them into the world on mission (v.18): As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

 

Why does he want his disciples to be united? (v.23):

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 

 

What could be more relevant for our church today?  Many of us have been thinking very carefully about mission to the parish.  The Community Questionnaire has been a first step.  It won’t be the last. 

 

I may not be one for planning my preaching programme well in advance; but I think all of us are awestruck at just how relevant the Bible passages are for us.   It demonstrates quite clearly who really is in charge of the preaching! 

 

PLAN

What I want to do, then, is ask these three very simple questions:

1. For whom is Jesus praying?

2. Why does he pray what he prays?

3. What does he pray for?  What is the content of his prayer? 

 

WHO?

First of all, for whom does Jesus pray?  Initially, he prays for himself.  In typical Jewish fashion he raises his eyes heavenwards and addresses God as he had taught his disciples.  v.1:

Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.

 

In the run up to Christmas I preached a sermon entitled “From riches to rags” about how in coming into our world the Lord Jesus Christ forfeited the splendour of heaven and exchanged it for poverty and disgrace.  It cost the Lord Jesus dear to become a man.  It cost him dear to win our salvation. 

 

The time has come for him to fulfil his mission, to complete the work the Father gave him to do.  Beyond the cross, beyond the tomb, is the glory Jesus enjoyed as the Son of God from before the world began.  But don’t let that obscure from your mind the road he had to take. 

 

The Lord Jesus prays for himself.  But very quickly he turns his attention to his disciples.  Though they do not know it, they desperately need his prayers.

 

He’s very specific, indeed, we might say exclusive.  He says in v.9:

I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

 

He is not praying for the world.  By the world he means the world in distinction from the church, the world which has rejected him.  We pray for the world in our prayers of intercession.  We pray for peace in war zones; we pray for wisdom for our political leaders.  What we can’t do, as Jesus could not do, is pray God’s blessing on the world’s worldliness, on the world’s godless mentality.

 

When we pray for the world we are really expressing our desire to see God’s kingdom permeating the world, till the world ceases to be the world, till the kingdom’s of this world become the kingdoms of our God. 

 

If the Lord Jesus made a distinction between the world and his disciples so should we. 

 

It’s worth examining how the Lord Jesus describes his disciples.  He uses a variety of phrases.  Many of us like to think of ourselves as Christians.  Though diminishing in number every year the latest polls still indicate that when asked about religion the majority of Scots still call themselves Christians.  What do they mean?  Do they mean someone who believes in God (but so do Jews and Moslems); do they mean someone who is good and upright (so are most atheists)?

 

Surely, if we want a definitive answer to “what is a Christian?” the person to ask the Lord Jesus Christ himself. 

 

When Jesus prays for his disciples he refers to them in terms of those who know God, those to whom he has revealed God, those who obey God, those who accept Christ’s words, those who are convinced that Christ came from God.  In summary, they are those who, as he says in v.20 “believe in me.” 

 

There’s a very strong sense of ownership throughout the prayer.  For example v.6:

I revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.  They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

 

A Christian is someone who no longer belongs to themselves.  I am not my own man; I am not my own woman.  I do not do it “my way.”  My decision is not final.  I belong to God.

 

And therefore it follows that I obey his word.  I have surrendered to him my will, my ambitions, my dreams.  I obey God’s word even when it doesn’t suit me; when it’s commands inconvenience me; when they conflict with what I want.  I obey God’s word when I don’t understand why he is saying what he is saying. 

 

But this is not an abdication to the impersonal forces of fate.  This is not the kind of attitude that says “que sera sera”. 

 

No.  It’s based on knowledge, the knowledge of a person, of a God who is personal, of a God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  The original twelve disciples had many faults.  They weren’t the brightest kids on the block; nor were they most spiritual.  But by God’s grace they recognized Jesus for who he really was.  v.8:

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.

 

That’s what distinguished them from everyone else.  The Pharisees couldn’t deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles, so they accused him of being in league with the devil.  The chief priests couldn’t deny the reality of his popularity.  So they labelled him a rabble-rouser, a threat to national security. 

 

Eventually, even the ordinary folk deserted Jesus.  His teaching was too difficult, too challenging for them.  But the disciples stuck by him.  Back in 6:67, as the crowds turn away from him, the Lord asks the disciples: You do not want to leave me too, do you? 

 

Peter, on behalf of the Twelve answers:

Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

 

Ultimately, what makes someone a real Christian is their relationship with Jesus.  That there is a relationship.  An active relationship.  A relationship of love, obedience, faith, dependence.  A relationship that binds us to him, so that we are in him and he is in us.   

 

This, my friends, is eternal life.  v.3:

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 

Don’t think of eternal life as life that goes on and on and on for ever.  Eternal life is life that goes on and on and on for ever with God, with Jesus.  Think about when you’re in love.  You gaze into your lover’s eyes for hour after hour after hour.  When you’re on the phone, you don’t want to hang up: you hang up first, no you first, no you first…Or quite simply being on your own together, not doing anything, just being, just knowing.

 

This is what Christians have with Jesus.  Eternal life.  Knowing the Father, knowing the Son. 

 

I wonder if you realize that you can know God.  To some ears it sound ludicrous.  How can the creature know the Creator?  How can the worm know the eagle? 

 

It would be ludicrous if God had not revealed himself to us in his Son. 

v.6: I have revealed you

 

Jesus prays for those who know him, who accept him, who obey him.  Was Jesus praying for you that night? 

 

WHY?

Second question: why was Jesus praying for his disciples?  The immediate reason is that he was about to leave them.  v.11:

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. 

 

He goes on to say in v.12:

While I was with them I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. 

They need protection, and while he was with them he could do that.  But now that he is leaving, he has to entrust them to his Father’s care. 

 

What do they need protection from?  They need protection from the world v.14:

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 

 

And they need protection from Satan (v.15):

My prayer is not that that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

 

When you pray for your loved ones to be protected, what do you want the Lord to protect them from?  Illness, physical danger (perhaps on the roads), unemployment, sorrow, their own stupidity? 

 

Isn’t it interesting that our Lord doesn’t pray that his disciples would keep good health, or that they would be successful in all they do, or that they would always be happy.  Our Lord homes in on the greatest danger facing his disciples: that they would succumb to the pressure to conform to the world around them and abandon their faith in him.

 

Ill-health won’t keep you out of heaven, nor will being poor, nor will sorrow.  But giving up on Jesus will. 

 

Jesus had warned the disciples back in 16:18 that the world would hate them.  Their message, their lives would show up the spiritual poverty of the world, the moral bankruptcy of the world.  Their call to repentance would offend people who liked to think that sinners are those with a criminal record.  Their insistence on the lordship of Christ would rile everyone who prefers to do their own thing. 

 

Christians still do that; and the world still hates us.  Unbelievers mock us, ridicule us, persecute us and in the same breath accuse of being intolerant.  The pressure to swim with the tide is enormous, and the Lord Jesus knew it.

 

He also knew that the assaults from the evil one would be almost unbearable.  He himself had done battle with Satan all his life, not just with the three temptations in the desert.  Indeed, that very night, as the crucial hour approached, the temptation to disappear into the darkness of the night was so overwhelming that he begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering if possible—yet not my will but yours be done. 

 

If Satan was not frightened to attack the Son of God and attempt to deflect him from his mission, you can be sure that he regards you as an easy target.  In Eph.6 the Apostle Paul talks about the devil’s flaming arrows which rain down upon our souls, aiming to consume our faith and leave nothing but the ashes of love and devotion for him. 

 

There are no Queensbury rules with Satan, no Geneva Convention.  He’ll use sweet promises or dire threats.  He’ll get at us through our family, our friends, our wallets. 

 

Jesus knew what he was doing when he prayed that the Father would protect us from the world and the evil one.

 

How seriously do you take the threat to your faith?  The threat to your witness?  You ask the Lord to forgive your sins.  Do you ask him to keep you from sin?  To lead us not into temptation.  And not just yourself, but others.

 

Why does Jesus pray for his disciples?  Because we need praying for.

 

WHAT?

Thirdly, what does Jesus pray?  What is the content of his prayer? 

 

With what I’ve just said you’d think it would have been kinder to take the disciples out harm’s way all together, to take them out of the world.  But in v.15 the Lord specifically says:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world

 

All of us have had times when we’ve wished we could be removed out of this world, out of our hard and trying circumstances and immediately transported to heaven—like Captain Kirk (“beam me up, Scottie). 

 

But that’s not what the Lord wants.  This takes us back to what I said at the beginning.  The whole thrust of our Lord’s prayer is towards mission.  He loves this world that hates him.  For God so loved this self-centred, rebellious world that he gave up his only begotten Son, sacrificed him, so that whosoever in the world believes in him should not perish, should not be condemned to an eternity with God, but should have eternal life. 

 

Now the Man Jesus of Nazareth was one man, confined in time and space.  If his work was to be continued it would be continued by his people.  v.18:

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

 

So what does Jesus pray so that the church’s mission will be effective?  Does he pray for handsome evangelists with a winning smile?  Does he pray for clever programmes that will take people step by step from unbelief to faith?  Does he pray that the church will always have the resources to employ the latest technology? 

 

Answer: none of the above.

 

v.20: My prayer is not for them alone.  I also pray for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

 

v.22 I have given them the glory that you gave me that they may be one as we are one.

 

He prays that we might be one, that we might be united.  A lot of people have used this prayer of Jesus as a justification for trying to erase the denominational barriers that exist within the worldwide church.  Their hearts may be in the right place.  The problem arises when these people push for institutional unity at the expense of Biblical truth.  Often they are willing sweep under the carpet the very distinctions between the church and world which our Lord is so precise about in the rest of this prayer.

 

I’m not addressing the World Council of Churches so I’m not going to say any more about that.  I am addressing the members and friends of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church.  Surely what we learn from our Lord’s prayer here is that the biggest barriers to evangelism in our parish (and here I’m quoting Bruce Milne) is not so much outdated methods or inadequate presentations of the gospel, as realities like gossip, insensitivity, negative criticism, jealousy, backbiting, an unforgiving spirit, a root of bitterness, failure to appreciate others, self-preoccupation, greed, selfishness and every other form of loveliness.

 

He goes on to say: These are the squalid enemies of effective evangelism which render the gospel fruitless and send countless thousands to an eternity without a Saviour. 

 

It’s a wake-up call, isn’t it.  It’s alerting us to the consequences of disunity.  If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must be united—not around one man, not around one idea; it’s not the unity of a dictatorship.  It’s a unity in Christ.

 

That’s why Jesus prays that our unity would reflect the unity he has with the Father.  It’s personal.  It’s relational.  It’s visible. 

 

CONCLUSION

It’s always encouraging when someone tells us they are praying for us.  What an encouragement to us, then, to know that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

 

He prayed for us who would believe in him, who would obey him, who would gladly receive eternal life from him.

He prayed for us because he knew we would be tempted to give, in take the line of least resistance against a hostile world. 

He prayed that we would be united, for only a united church can be a missionary church, and our Lord’s greatest desire is for the world to cease to be the world, for the world to glorify the Father through him.

 

Jesus prayed and his prayer has been answered.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations!

January 20, 2009

Barak Obama is not the only person who will remember 20th Jan 2009 for the rest of his life.  Today Eddie Farrow and Jo Olsen got married in London.  Congratulations, guys.  It hasn’t been easy.  They had to get married in a hurry – but not for the usual reasons.  Jo is an American student whose visa runs out at the end of this month.  She had hoped that it would have been automatically renewed, but it wasn’t.  So the date for the wedding had to be brought forward from 21st Feb to today.  They are now hoping and praying that our Home Office will show its human side and give her an extended visa now that she is a spouse. 

Eddie is from Kirkmuirhill and when he got a job in London he did the right thing.  He went looking for a good church.  The fact that he found one in All Soul’s, Langham Place, is no surprise.  And not only did he find a good church, he found a wife.  Learn the lesson, one and all! 

There’s to be a big celebration on 21st Feb in which I’ll be taking part.  In the meantime, God Bless, Mr and Mrs Farrow.