Danger, Opposition and Sorrow
I do not ask thee to take them out of the world but to keep them from the evil one. (John 17:15)
You daily face untold danger, opposition, and sorrow. The danger takes many forms. You could be killed on the way to work this morning by a third shift worker on his way home who falls asleep at the wheel and hits your car head on. There are sexual predators everywhere. One could lure your daughter from the sidewalk on her way home from school. You could face financial ruin. Dave Ramsay has said that many in America are only a couple of lost paychecks away from bankruptcy and homelessness. You also may face opposition from co-workers, neighbours, or family members who find your Christian values irritating or repulsive. Standing around the water cooler and saying that you reject gay marriage could cost you your job in some companies. And you no doubt have suffered sorrow in the death of a child or spouse. Some of you are sorrowful over a child who has left the faith and is living in concupiscent debauchery.
If God loves his blood-bought child with an everlasting love, if he has drawn us with lovingkindness (Jer. 31:3), if we are the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8), if we are his chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for his own possession (1 Pet. 2:9), if he has freely given us all things (Rom. 8:32), then why does he allow us to face danger, to suffer opposition, to experience sorrow? More specifically, because he is sovereign (Psa. 115:3), because he foreordains everything (Eph. 1:4-10), because he is the author of well-being and calamity (Isa. 45:7), why does he orchestrate, or ordain our danger, opposition, and suffering?
In John 17:14-17, in his high priestly prayer, the Lord Jesus states his disciples’ present position. He prays to his heavenly Father, telling him that he has given them the Father’s word, that he has drawn them to himself by his preaching, saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matt. 4:19). In so doing, the world has hated them. By world Jesus means the system of thought, the values, the conduct of those who live without God, who live contrary to God’s Word, who live as though all is well with them, who have no fear of standing before him in the day of judgment. And why does the world hate them? Because they are not of the world, even as Jesus is not of the world. Not everyone hates the Christian, but some do. Why are the Karen people of Myanmar despised? Why are the Christians in Banda Aceh persecuted, having their churches torched by Muslims? Why are Christian pastors in Iran on death row? Some hate the exclusive claims of Jesus and the holy, godly life believers live. Such is a rebuke to some.
But why all this danger, opposition, and sorrow? In verse 15 Jesus prays, asking his Father not to take us out of the world. That is, Jesus is praying, ‘Father, I am not asking you to extract them from their sufferings.’ What? Why not? Why would Jesus pray such a thing? Before I answer that question note that Jesus goes further in his prayer, saying, ‘But Father I do ask that you keep them from the evil one.’ And the Father delivers on Jesus’ request, setting his people free from the destruction and damnation the devil brings eventually on all who are not Christ’s. Through the death of Christ, the Father delivers us from the domain of darkness, transferring us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Col. 1:13-14). In verse 16 Jesus reiterates their position, again telling the Father that they are not of the world, even as he is not of the world. Why does Jesus repeat himself? He is setting up his next petition, a most glorious one that answers the why question. He prays in verse 17, ‘Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth.’ Your heavenly Father is all about his glory being made manifest in your sanctification (Matt. 6:9). The Father is not primarily interested in your happiness. He is after your holiness that reflects well on his being, character, and attributes. There are two parts to sanctification. It is positional. You are set apart (like a bird sanctuary) for a special service. When you were born of the Spirit and converted you were justified, adopted into God’s family, and sanctified, called as saints (1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:2). But it is also progressive. You are to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-4, 2 Pet. 1:5-10, 3:18). You ought today to be more god-like as a father, husband, wife, mother, child, student, or employee than you were two years ago.
So, Jesus does not ask the Father to take you out of your hardship. He does not petition the lover of your soul to deliver you from this danger-filled world of hatred, opposition, violence, and sorrow; and he does not do so because he knows these hardships are how you grow in faith and godly character. It is simply human nature to coast, to take it easy, to back off, to relax; and when we do so we get soft “” physically, spiritually, or intellectually. We need to be pushed beyond what we think is possible. If your physical therapist pushes you through the pain of rehabilitation after knee surgery, if your financial planner makes you tighten your financial belt to reach your long-term investment goals, if your physical trainer constantly raises the bar on your cross training in the gym, all doing so for your own good, then why should we expect God to do anything less for those whom he loves eternally!
The world’s philosophy constantly seeks to draw you away from the truth, telling you that Jesus is not the only way, that non-Christians really do not go to hell when they die, that many roads lead to God. The world’s draw is always gradual and repetitive. Your indwelling sin works persistently to discourage you. You probably battle the same lust, bitterness, anger, impatience, and hostility you have for many years. Your indwelling sin is subtle but relentless. And the devil and his minions work to destroy you and your family by convincing you that the good looking young woman at the office is worth another look, especially when your wife is out of town and you have a free night. Often the devil’s temptation is sudden, dramatic, and shocking.
But you have Jesus, and he prays for you constantly (John 17, Rom. 8:34, Heb. 7:25). He is working all the hardships in your life for good. He is making you more like Jesus in them. He knows what he is doing. He is all goodness (Psa. 34:8). He is all wisdom (Rom. 11:33-35). He never makes a mistake. He always does it right the first time, every time, at the right time. Are you grumbling at your hardships, your opposition, relentless pressure, your unmitigating sorrow? Will you trust what Jesus is doing? Will you thank him for putting you right where you are? He is sanctifying you, making you fit for heaven.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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