Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Joyful Words in a Dangerous World (John 17:13-20)

One of the most popular movies in America right now is called “Inside Out,” and after just a few weeks, it is already the number three grossing movie that Disney-Pixar has ever released. The movie is about an eleven year old girl named Riley – no, actually, it is about the emotions within her: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Joy is the dominant character, always wanting to be in charge and push the other emotions to the side. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that by the end of the movie, Joy has learned that she needs her fellow emotions to be complete and whole. What fascinated me most about this movie was how close it comes to presenting a biblical, Christian, perspective on emotional well-being. The Christian life is not all about running around being happy all the time. If you can genuinely do that, congratulations, but if you can’t, that’s okay. Life’s about more than that. The Christian life is about growing in joy, and joy is something that God Himself must impart to us, that can exist within us in spite of our circumstances, and that needs to exist alongside of other emotions and states of mind.

How would you define “Joy”? C. S. Lewis was captivated by the notion of “Joy,” using it to describe many aspects of the Christian life and the spiritual hunger of all humanity. It shows up in almost every one of his books, and ironically, he even married a woman named “Joy.” But, even Lewis had a hard time defining joy. Last year, a previously unseen, handwritten letter from Lewis to a Mrs. Ellis was found tucked into a second-hand copy of his book The Problem of Pain. In the letter, Lewis writes, “Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony. … It jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. … [O]ne second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”[1]

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5. That means that we cannot manufacture it by our own natural resources or will power. It is imparted to us, and through us, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In 1 Peter 1:8, the Apostle speaks of rejoicing with joy inexpressible and full of glory. John Piper says that, with this phrase, “[Peter] is not describing a decision; he is describing an explosion. You can decide to brush your teeth … but you cannot … decide to rejoice. You can decide to do things that may bring you joy — drive to the country, visit a friend, read a psalm — but whether joy actually happens is not in your own power.”[2] And joy cannot be shattered by contrary experiences or emotions. It is deeper, more enduring, and more ultimately satisfying. That is why the Bible can speak of rejoicing in suffering (Rom 5:3), in affliction (1 Thes 1:6), and in poverty (2 Cor 8:2). Because joy is rooted in our inseparable relationship with Jesus Christ, it transcends the hardships of the world.

This is the point of the passage we have just read. The seventeenth chapter of John is one long prayer – we call it “the High Priestly Prayer” – of Jesus. We’ve given attention to it for several weeks and will for several more weeks. In the portion we are considering today, you will note that Jesus acknowledges His imminent departure from the world. He says to the Father in v13, “now I come to You.” Surely His departure means suffering the cruel death of the cross, but also the joy of returning to His heavenly home and the eternal glory and fellowship with the Father that were His from eternity past. But His disciples will remain behind in the world. For them, His departure could mean nothing but unchecked and unrestrained sorrow. All they have known of this new life they have enjoyed for 3 years will come crashing down in a very short time, bringing them into a potential death-spiral of despair.

This is why Jesus prays for them, and prays for them in such a specific way. He prays, “These things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” But it is always helpful to remember that He is not praying only for that first generation of disciples, but for all of us who have come to follow Him by faith. In verse 20, He prays, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.” That’s you and me, and every other Christian who has ever lived or ever will. He is praying that we all may have the fullness of His joy within ourselves. Notice that the joy He wishes us to have is His own – the very joy that characterized His life; that divine joy that the Holy Spirit imparts to and through us. He prays that we will have this, not in part, but in fullness. He desires that our lives would be characterized by complete and total joy, even when our circumstances are not happy, desirable, or pleasant. Jesus said that He speaks these things “in the world.” In the world, there is much suffering and hardship. Jesus Himself had endured it, and was on the precipice of the worst that anyone has ever experienced or ever will. He knows His disciples will experience it as well. But in the midst of it, we can have joy – His joy, made full, in ourselves, in this world (of all places).

Jesus says He speaks “these things” for this reason – that we might have this kind of joy. So what are the “things” He speaks that enable to us to experience the fullness of His joy in ourselves in the world? There are at least three here that I want to draw your attention to in the time we have today.

I. God’s Word gives us joy in a world that hates us. (v14)

When I first started traveling overseas, I would grow very homesick. On those first few trips to Africa, there was virtually no way to communicate with folks from home. Nowadays, we are a bit spoiled. We have wifi and cell phone signals almost everywhere in the world, and we can email, text, twitter, facebook, facetime, and skype so that we never have to be entirely severed from our comfort zone. And yet, as Christians living in a fallen world, we are never in our true comfort zone. We are, as it were, in enemy-occupied territory. It is as though we are secret agents in a foreign land, and our very presence there is despised and dangerous.

Jesus said that the world hates His disciples. The “world” refers to the general mass of humanity which is marching along in its unregenerate and sinful state in unflinching rebellion against God. As a Christian, you represent everything the world hates, and so you yourself become a target of that hatred. In America, we have been immune to this for a long time, because traditionally it was socially advantageous to be at least friendly toward, if not openly aligned with, Christians in the broader culture. But that day is gone and a new day is upon us. If you want to know how Christians are viewed by “the world,” just read the opinion pieces that circulate daily about issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. We are viewed as intolerant, hate-filled bigots. And in a world that champions tolerance so ardently, we may be surprised to find out how intolerant the world is toward people who do not hold to its moral values.

Hatred. It is a strong word, but it is not an exaggeration. True Bible-believing Christians of consistent conviction and action have always been shunned by the broader culture, even when the broader culture was nominally Christian itself. The world hates the Christian because, Jesus says, the Christian is “not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus came into the world from another realm. This world was not His home; heaven was. But though we were of the world, having been born into it and lived as a part of it for some part of our lives, we were chosen from out of the world, as Jesus said several times in the preceding verses and paragraphs. This world which was once our home is no more. Our citizenship has been transferred to heaven and we live in this world now as alien residents. We do not share this world’s values, priorities or passions, and for that reason, the world hates us.

It can be a lonely place, living in this world as aliens and strangers. But Jesus says that He has given us the Word of God so that we might have joy. When I was in Nepal, I could read the Greensboro News and Record every day online, and communicate with my family online, and feel connected to home, though I was on the opposite side of the world. In a similar way, Jesus has given us God’s Word so that we may stay connected to our true homeland and have His joy in the midst of a world that hates us. Every day, we can read the Word and communicate with God through it. His promises remind us that we are not alone, though we are surrounded by a culture that hates us and the God in whom we trust. He reminds us that He is present with us and in us. Though we are hated in the world, His word reminds us that we are loved at home in heaven, and when this world has done its dead-level worst to us, we are welcomed there. We find unshakeable joy in the midst of a hate-filled world as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God which Jesus has imparted to us. We must not dare to neglect the Word, for we do so to our own peril and to the forfeiture of our own joy.

II. God’s Protection gives us joy in a world dominated by evil. (v15)

Many of you know that my aim in life as a young man was not be a preacher. From my childhood, I dreamed of being an Air Force pilot, and had it not been for God’s intervention in my life, that is probably what I would be doing today. During those years, I went to every air show I could go to in order to see the jets that I dreamt of flying on display. I recall vividly a demonstration that I saw at numerous air shows involving a modified C-130 cargo plane that had the ability to extract a downed pilot from enemy territory without landing. On one pass, the plane would drop a crate via parachute, which the downed pilot would open once it hit the ground. Inside the crate was an apparatus that had a large balloon on end, and an elaborate harnessing system on the other. He would strap himself to the line and deploy the balloon, and the plane would make another pass to grasp the balloon, yanking the downed pilot from the ground and reeling him into the cargo door on the rear of the plane. The entire process took about ten minutes. I never ceased to marvel at that. As an aspiring pilot, I never wanted to experience being downed behind enemy lines, but I was glad to know that there was a way to be extracted if it ever happened.

I’m sure that, as Christians, there have been times when we wished that we could be similarly extracted from this hostile world. Truly, the world is enemy occupied territory, under the domain of the chief of evil, Satan. Under the sovereign rulership of God, Satan is allowed authority here on the world for a season – a season that began at the fall of man into sin in the Garden of Eden, and will end at the return of Christ at the end of the age. The world is a battlefield for Satan and his demonic and human forces to wage war against God and the people of His kingdom. And as we endure life on this battlefield, seeing sin and suffering abound, and experiencing the brunt of it in our own persons on a regular basis, it is only natural to wish that we could be delivered from it. In Scripture we find Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all praying that God would not delay in removing them from the world, even by way of death (Num 11:15; 1 Ki 19:4; Jon 4:3, 8). We may have prayed that way ourselves. We need not be surprised to find that the answer to our prayer is the same as the answer to theirs. In each case, the answer seems to be a resounding, “No!”

For God to answer our prayer to be removed from the world would be for Him to deny the prayer of His only begotten Son, who prayed in verse 15 that the Father would not “take them out of the world.” Though this world is not our home, and it is enemy occupied territory which Satan has filled with evil, Jesus Christ desires that we remain in it, at least until our work here is finished. This would be utterly depressing and disheartening if it were not for the fact that He has prayed for something better than evacuation for us. He has prayed for our protection. In verse 15, He prays, “Keep them from the evil one.”

Every time I have ever traveled overseas, the one question I receive most often before I go is this: “Is it safe where you are going?” I don’t think I have ever been to a country that wasn’t on some kind of watch list of the State Department. So, I suppose the answer is, “No, it isn’t safe.” But, friends, if the last few years have taught us anything in America, it is that safety is a myth. You do not have to travel overseas to be unsafe. Satan is as active in the United States as he is anywhere else in the world. Jesus did not promise safety to His followers, He promised and prayed for our protection. If the world in which we live were safe, we would not need protection. Not only did He pray for us to be kept from the evil one, He taught us to pray for it ourselves. In the model prayer, we are instructed to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We need constant protection from the evil of the enemy with which he ravages this fallen world.

So, there is joy to be had, though the enemy is powerful. We are kept, protected, by the power of one who is even greater. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). And though the world is unsafe, we are protected, and therefore we can have joy, come what may in this world.

III. God’s Mission gives us joy in a world that needs Him. (vv16-19)

We have this sort of notion that life is all about enjoying ease and leisure, and work is what interferes with that aim. This is not the case. Work was given to Adam to do before the fall. Frustration in work, and the laziness and lethargy it produces, is a product of the fall – fruit of our sinfulness. We were made to be active and at work in the world. To work with the abilities and talents God has given us provides a sense of satisfaction. But the greatest and most abiding joy is to labor toward the purpose for which God redeemed us. He saved us to put us on mission, carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ Himself to the ends of the earth, until Christ returns or calls us home in death. This is why we are left in this unsafe world, but protected by the Father’s power. To be taken out of the world might mean relief and ease for us, but it would mean destruction for the world. The world perishes apart from the witness of the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jesus has left us in this world for this purpose.

He reminds us again in verse 16 that we are not of the world, even as He is not of the world. But though the world is not our home, it is our base of operations for Him. And in order to be effective in our mission, we must be prepared. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them.” To sanctify something is to set it apart from the rest, and in the Bible it has the sense of consecrating something or someone for a holy purpose. Jesus prays that the Father would do just this, consecrate His followers for a holy purpose. He sanctifies us as His indwelling Spirit shapes us to reflect the fullness of the image of Christ. But the tool that the Spirit uses for this sanctifying work is the Word that Jesus has imparted to us. Remember that in v14 He said, “I have given them Your word.” Here in v17 He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” As we ingest the Word of God, the Spirit of God uses it to transform us for the Father’s good purpose in our lives. And His good purpose is that we would become participants in the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

“Sanctify them,” Jesus prayed, for “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” We have been sent by Jesus in a way that reflects His own sending from the Father. Jesus was sent into the world to seek and save the lost, by laying down His life to redeem humanity from sin. He was born to die, and to die for the sins of the human race. Having done that, and conquered death by His resurrection, salvation is available to all who call upon His name. But as Romans 10 says, “How will they call on Him in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will the preach unless they are sent?” We have been sent by Jesus Himself so that we can proclaim the good news of His salvation in the hearing of the whole world – a world that hates us, a world that is under the reign of the enemy, but a world that desperately needs to hear and call upon the name of the Lord. Jesus sent us as He Himself was sent by the Father. We are not sent to accomplish redemption, as He was. Only He could accomplish that through His sacrificial death. But we are sent to make that redemption known by pointing others to Him. Like His own mission, ours may not always be safe or pleasant, but there is joy to be found in the doing of the work for which we ourselves were ransomed from sin. Ours is not a purposeless existence. We have a divine mission and a holy calling to make Christ known among all nations. As we engage in that mission, we will find a deep and abiding sense of joy that cannot be shaken by this world or anything in it.

Jesus said in v19, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” In sanctifying Himself, Jesus was consecrating Himself fully to the Father’s mission. He was accepting the charge to live, to die, and to rise again for the redemption of humanity. If it were not for His self-sacrifice in laying down His life on the cross for our sins, we could have no joy. We would be separated from Him forever because of our sins. But because He has sanctified Himself, He has made it possible for us to know God through Him, to be reconciled to God, and to be cleansed, transformed, and used by God to extend His rescue mission into all the world. There is joy in knowing Him and making Him known. It is the abiding and satisfying joy of doing what we were created, redeemed, and empowered by God to do. Though the world may not celebrate our labor for the Lord, their own eternal destiny depends on the faithful carrying out of our mission.

Next to Jesus, I suppose the world has never seen a more joy filled man than the Apostle Paul. Paul comprehended and experienced the joy of the Lord to such an extent that he could sing praises to the Lord from the confines of a dingy jail cell and turn every perilous circumstance – from imprisonment, to earthquake, to shipwreck – into an opportunity to testify of the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus. I don’t know that any follower of Christ ever suffered for the Lord to the extent that Paul did, and I don’t know that any were ever more effective for Christ than he was. And as we follow Christ in this world, we can expect no better or different reception than Paul did. In Acts 17, after preaching the gospel of the risen Jesus, the Bible says that some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this,” and yet others “joined him and believed.” For the joy of seeing those who will join and believe, we must endure the sneering and the questioning of others. God’s word provides us with joy in the midst of the world’s hatred. His protection safeguards us in an unsafe world controlled by the enemy, that nothing could ever steal our joy. And His mission gives us the joy of satisfaction in knowing that we are doing what He has made us, saved us, and called us to do.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/09/unseen-cs-lewis-letter-defines-joy-surprised-by-joy. Accessed July 24, 2015
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-fruit-of-hope-joy. Accessed July 24, 2015.

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