5/26/2020 1:00:27 PM
Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Sunday, May 24, 2020
Several times this past week, I got caught in a minor traffic slowdown. Now, ordinarily that wouldn’t be worthy of mention living in a city, other than perhaps in complaining about it. But, I think you can see why it’s significant right now. It’s been a while since there’s been much traffic on the roads at all, but that’s changed in the last week or two with the lifting of lockdown restrictions and the beginnings of normal activity again. People are starting to socialize again. Businesses discuss plans for reopening. We are looking at ways to resume in-person worship here at St. John’s. So how does all that make you feel? There are many who feel a tone of excitement and relief – finally we can step away from the stress of lockdowns and start getting back to normal! But right along with that, there are many who also feel some measure of apprehension! Will this mean a bunch of people get sick? Will this be one step forward and two steps back? I’m going to guess that for most of us we probably find ourselves swinging back and forth between the desire to get back to normal and concern about what heading in that direction could cause!
So how do you approach all that as a Christian? After all, it’s not like you can open the bible to the forty third commandment and find something that says “when recovering from a pandemic, thou shalt do this and not that.” It doesn’t work that way! God leaves many of these decisions up to us and the human wisdom he has given us, so we find ourselves gathering information, taking the matter before God in prayer, and then deciding about what seems wisest to do, all the while still forced to admit that no matter what our individual opinions and decisions might be, none of us actually know what’s going to happen! We trust that God is in control, and we know God promises that everything that happens will be something that he will use for our good, but at the same time we know that there are plenty of times when God’s way of keeping that promise includes hardships that we probably wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves! So how do you approach all that as a Christian? How do you look ahead to a future that is filled with so much uncertainty?
Naturally, this is the kind of thing that our sinful nature seizes on and tries to use to damage our relationship with God, and so when faced with times of doubt and uncertainty, there usually comes also a temptation to become frustrated with God and blame him for our struggles, conveniently looking past the fact that none of this would be happening if the human race had not fallen into sin and wrecked God’s creation! There’s also the temptation to lash out at other people who have different opinions and perspectives than ours. If you’re on that side, you don’t care if people lose their livelihood. If you’re on that side, you don’t care if people get sick. Both of those are ridiculous overstatements, but as sinful people all too often those are the thoughts and words that come out! The sinful nature is sadly alive and well, tempting us to worry and obsess over what we really can’t control, and all of this with the eventual goal of focusing our attention on ourselves and driving us away from God completely! So in a world filled with uncertainty, and shackled to a sinful nature that is always fighting against us, how do Christians move forward without being paralyzed by fear?
There are many places in scripture one could turn, but one beautiful one is today’s gospel. These verses are the beginning of a prayer prayed by Jesus as he closes an evening of teaching and discussion with his disciples. And this was no ordinary evening – Jesus would be crucified the next day! As you look back in the previous chapters over the discussion and teachings of this evening, you find thought provoking instruction…and also some predictions that displayed the uncertainty and hardships of the future that lay before the disciples! For example, Jesus warned Peter that he would be tempted to disown Jesus, and that he would fall into that temptation! He warned his disciples about how the world would hate them as it hated him, a warning that would become far more disturbing as Jesus was crucified the next day. Jesus described the grief the disciples would experience when he was gone. It wasn’t all bad news however – he promised to send the Holy Spirit and that he would return in glory. Jesus summarized it all with these words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33 – NIV84). What a future! How are God’s people supposed to handle this kind of thing? Jesus’ prayer shows God’s people of every generation where we can turn to find Christ-like Confidence in the face of a future filled with doubt and uncertainty.
Confident in God’s Glory
Despite the troubles that awaited his disciples, and despite the full knowledge of his suffering and death that would come in less than 24 hours, you can see Jesus displaying that confidence as he prays. “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Strange to be talking about glory on the night before a humiliating death, but what is it that brings to God time and again in scripture? It’s revealing himself as the God of faithfulness and love. The God who makes promises to people and keeps them. That’s what Jesus focuses on. Talking about himself, Jesus continues: “For you granted him [Jesus] authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. By jumping all the way ahead to eternal life and his promises about that, you realize that Jesus is praying with a somewhat unusual perspective. It almost as though Jesus sees his suffering and death as things that have already been completed – even though they haven’t happened yet on the timeline of history! That’s more significant than might seem to be the case initially, because it shows what Jesus thinks of God’s promises. In his mind, they are good as done – because God always keeps his promises. There’s zero doubt that he will complete the plan, difficult and painful though it might be, because that’s what he has promised to do! You can see that in the next verse. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Jesus is entirely confident that God will keep his promises and bring glory to his name by showing himself once again to be the loving, promise-keeping God. Jesus prays, not worried about the difficulties of tomorrow, but with absolute confidence in God’s glory. That’s what allowed him to reassure his disciples that he has indeed “overcome the world!”
That perspective is one that every child of God can embrace as we approach an uncertain future. The sinful side of us does want to react with doubts and fears, but when those arise we can turn to the promise of God where we see that even if we don’t know details of how it will happen, we do see promises that we know God will keep, just as he always has. Jesus demonstrated that over the next few days. He did pay for our sinfulness, just as he said he would. He did rise from the dead, just like he said he would. He did return to his throne of glory in heaven, just like he said he would. He did overcome the world just like he said he would, and he still overcomes it today, keeping his promises one after the other. With that knowledge, we can approach life with a Christ-like Confidence, confident that God will bring glory to his name by keeping promises, just as he always does! Such confidence in God’s Glory also gives us Confidence in our own glory, because make no mistake – that is what God promises you too!
Confident in Your Glory
There are probably times when that seems harder to be confident about, especially when we struggle with the ongoing doubts and fears produced by our sinful natures. How can we find the perfect trust Jesus displayed in our lives? What’s to say that we won’t screw up the glory God has planned for us? What’s to say that we won’t be overcome by anxiety and fear and doubt? What’s to say we won’t be dragged away from our Savior? Once again Christ-like Confidence is found – not by looking to ourselves, but by looking to our Savior.
The chapters before this prayer are filled with Jesus’ teaching, but mixed in with that are reactions of his disciples – reactions that could be characterized with words like misunderstanding and doubt, words like pride and arrogance, words like mistrust and disbelief – in short, all kinds of evidence of the disciples’ struggles with their own sinfulness. But despite all that, listen to the next couple verses of Jesus’ prayer: “I have 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.” (John 17:6-7 – NIV84). And that sounds odd given the undeniable fact that the disciples had NOT been obedient to God’s Word in their lives any more than we have. So, what’s going on here? Jesus continues: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believe that you sent me!” (John 17:8 – NIV84). Jesus see his followers through the lens of his suffering and death. He sees his followers as people who trust him as the Savior. He sees his followers as glorious evidence that his work as messiah has been a resounding success – people whose lives are filled with sinful struggles have been forgiven, and because of that, Jesus is Confident in Your Glory. He knows you’ll be in heaven with him one day, and he can’t wait to greet you and show you around and watch you enjoy the glory he has prepared for you! “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All that I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.” (John 17:9-11a – NIV84).
Even while you and I remain in this world with all its ups and downs, its uncertainties and struggles, Jesus still sees us as the culmination of his glory – as living testimony to the success of his work as the Savior. He’s confident in your glory, because he knows you’ll be in heaven one day and he can’t wait to welcome you there! Because of that, you and I can have Christ-like Confidence in our own glory, based entirely on what Jesus has done for us. We can see ourselves not as we naturally see ourselves, but as our Savior sees us – forgiven and holy, and on the path to eternal glory in heaven! Seeing ourselves as our God see us helps things fall into perspective. There certainly are things in the immediate future that are uncertain – and there always will be. There are times when we do have to take the information we have and make the best decisions we can and live with the results – and there always will be! There will be times when Christians will have different ideas and opinions about what’s best – and that will always be the case too! But as children of God we can look beyond all of that and approach the future with Christ-like Confidence, knowing that God will bring glory to his name by keeping his promises, and knowing that he can’t wait to share that glory with you when it’s all said and done. Amen.