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Today marks the final Sunday in our seven-week celebration of Easter. Every year, the church sets aside 50 days to remember and reminisce about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. A 50 day celebration may seem a bit extravagant, but for those who are ‘in Christ,’ Easter is the most significant day in our lives. More significant than birthdays, anniversaries, even graduation from school. For neither our birth nor marriage nor education would mean very much if in the end, if Christ had not conquered our sin, our death and the devil.
But now because of Easter, our whole life has real meaning and purpose and hope and life attached to it. For all who are “in Christ,” everything from our worship together to our daily vocations in life are a joyful participation in the “new creation” that Christ our Lord initiated when He stepped out of the grave.
This connection of our entire life to what Christ as done is what St. John is talking about when he says that all that is written in the scriptures is for the purpose that “you might believe and by believing have LIFE IN HIS NAME.” Apart from faith formed by the Word, there is no LIFE IN HIS NAME. Apart from Christ and His Good Friday and Easter Sunday we are completely defeated and without hope in this world.
And so, how appropriate that as we come to the conclusion of this Easter season, we hear the Son pray to the Father. “Holy Father, keep them in your name.”
This should be a great comfort to us to hear Jesus, our Savior, praying to the Father for us. On Thursday evening we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” And what is He doing there right now? Paul writes that Jesus, “who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”(Romans 8:34) Showing His Father His nail scared hands from which He hung from the cross as the purchase price for YOU.
Jesus prays that the Father would “KEEP” His disciples. “While I was with them, I kept them in your name. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
It IS possible to wander away from and become separated from Jesus and the name of His Father and His Easter victory. Jesus once told His disciples, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) “Children” need to be “kept.” They are not capable of “keeping” themselves. And as long as they realize this and accept this, they’re okay. It’s when they think that they are old enough and wise enough to ‘keep’ THEMSELVES and don’t need to BE ‘kept’ that they get into all kinds of trouble.
Jesus prays that the Father would “keep” them. “Keep them in YOUR NAME.” “The name You gave them when the Holy Spirit baptized them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. KEEP them in their Baptism, where You gave them to ME and they were united to ME in life and my death and my resurrection and my ascension.
“Keep” them from all the temptation that wants to separate them from their baptism; “keep” them from their own propensity for self-destruction, like when they think that they’re too big and too intelligent to grown up to cling to something that happened to them when they were just infants.
“Keep them…” as a good shepherd “keeps” His sheep from going astray and from being devoured by wolves and other predators.”
Jesus is at His final hour before He is handed over for execution, and this is what He uses His last hour for – to pray for you, that the Father would KEEP you in His name. It's also what He taught His disciples that they should pray for. “When YOU pray say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven… lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.’” As a dear Father cares for His dear children, “keep” us in Your name because we are only children and we cannot keep ourselves.
As long as we live in this world, we must be “kept” by God. If the Father were to take His mind off of us for just a second, we would be lost. The sin of the world attacks us from the outside, and our own sin attacks us from the inside.
But interestingly, Jesus does not ask the Father to take away the temptation that surrounds us or to remove the evil from the world. He prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
“IN THE WORLD” but not “OF THE WORLD.” What a great way to describe the Christian life. “In the world” that wants to separate us from our Baptism. But by our Baptism and the power of God's promise in the water, already NOT OF THE WORLD.
Christian, you need to make the careful distinction between being IN THE WORLD but NOT OF THE WORLD! Make the distinction between WHERE YOU ARE and WHO YOU ARE; between what is PROFITABLE in this world and what is PROFITABLE for salvation; between the gods of this age and the only true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Jesus prays to the Father that the Father would “keep” His disciples, He does not ask that He transport them out of this world, or to relocate them to a commune or a remote island just for the baptized. He doesn't give them a directory of Christian stores to shop in and Christian car mechanics and plumbers to do business with.
They are to be the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world.’ (Mat.5:13-14). And so are we. We’ve got to be in the world in order to ‘salt’ it and ‘light’ it. The Baptized are in the world, in society, in the workforce, in the schools, in the community, in the college dorms, in the classrooms, in friendships, in the family… IN THE WORLD. What would this world be if the Baptized in Christ were not in it?
But to be ‘in the world’ does not mean that we are to be “of the world.” To be ‘of the world’ means to be driven by the particular ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to God’s thoughts and God’s ways. The Baptized in Christ have been given the name of the Triune God and made heirs of eternal life by that holy Name. What could possibly be more precious and valuable than that? The un-baptized place no value in such things and think that they are nothing but superstitious mumbo-jumbo. And so the Baptized who are in the world are bound to have different values than the un-baptized in the world, different values that determine different decisions and different ways of behaving than unbelievers.
When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he asks them to look at their life after baptism verses before baptism. “You WERE dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course OF THIS WORLD… the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph.2:2). But you have a different Spirit at work in you and you follow the course of the Holy Spirit that is at work in the sons of obedience.
But it’s not so simple is it? It’s never so simple. We live in the world where we are tempted from within and from without, and we fall into temptation daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes faster than that. We are influenced by the ways of the world in many ways.
The world puts the highest priority on self-preservation and self-advancement. Live for this life because this life is all there is. Survival belongs to the fittest. Enemies are to be crushed. Wrongs are to be revenged. If you see something you want, take it even if it already belongs to someone else, even if you don't need it. Strive to life the good life, however you choose to define 'good'.
Don't kid yourself, motives determine behavior. No one DOES anything apart from a particular motive. There’s always a reason for why we do what we do. 'Self-preservation' and 'self-advancement,' are motives. And we all know what kind of behavior these motives produce.
This is the world that we live in. And it’s no coincidence that we find many of these behaviors to be disgusting. We are not “of the world.”
And yet, if we will be honest with ourselves, as we were at the beginning of the service, we must confess as we did, that we are also influenced by these motives and we also participate in these behaviors. We are often disgusted with ourselves.
And it is right in this 'SELF-DISGUST' that God is at work ‘keeping’ us in His name. The ‘world’ is not disgusted by its actions. It’s proud of it's behavior. But we are appalled.
So, the Holy Spirit is at work in us creating this ‘self-shame,’ ‘self-disgust,’ motivating us to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness and gratefully begin again with a ‘clean heart’ and a ‘right spirit,’ to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world. We are to live ‘in the world’ and work in it, and make contributions to it, motivated by a totally different set of values than those all around us – not “self-preservation” or “self-advancement.” We have been set free from all of that. We are already “preserved” and “advanced” in Christ in the heavenly realms. We are motivated by the love of God and we strive to glorify God with our behavior.
Sadly, the world we live in and serve in the name of Jesus, resents our service, just as it resented the service of the One in whose name we serve. We should not be one bit surprised to find ourselves being persecuted for our values and actions by the world. But this world is where Jesus says we should be, sharing in His suffering and bearing our cross along side of Him.
It isn’t easy and it is dangerous for the baptized. And this is why Jesus prays that the “holy Father would keep us in His name.”
But remember, this is Easter. And we celebrate the victory of Christ OVER THIS WORLD. Despite all appearances to the contrary, Christ has OVERCOME THE WORLD. Despite all of the set backs and failures of His baptized people to be the ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in this world that we should be, CHRIST HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD.
So do not loose heart. Do not depart from your Baptism. The day will surely come when we will no longer live in this world. We will be taken out of this world, either when we die or when He comes again, and we will live with Him in a new world, where everyone is “one” in the same perfect “oneness” as the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.