It exceeded my expectations. It wasnt what I expected. Were expecting. What did you expect? Expect is actually a common word. This Sunday that falls between Ascension and Pentecost has been called Expectation Sunday. In our text, which is Jesus prayer on Maundy Thursday, Jesus informs our expectations.
First, our expectations dont look so great. Based on Jesus prayer we expect to need protection in this world. Holy Father, protect them.While I was with them, I protected them. This petition brings up the image of a mobster going into a business and telling the surprised owner, You need protection. Jesus isnt a mobster, but we are naive businessmen who dont know the ways of this fallen world. This is always a disagreement between parents and children. The child doesnt think he needs protection from the rain and cold; the parent does. The teen thinks her parent is being too protective; the parent thinks otherwise. Here Jesus prays, Protect them Father, and we say, From what?
Later on Jesus refers to the world and the Devil, but in the immediate context of the prayer for our protection the only referent is Judas. He is not the one doomed to destruction as the insert paraphrases, but the son of perdition as King James translates. What path did Judas take to hell? The path of misbelief, unbelief, and despair. He started down the path believing wrongly about Jesus. He wanted Jesus to be something more, better, different. Then misbelief gave way to unbelief. Jesus was no savior, no messiah. And after he sold his friend out, he fell into that despair that knows no hope. His crime, his sin, his betrayal was too heinous to be forgiven and too horrible to live with, so he went to hell with it.
You think you need protection from cancer, heart disease, crime, taxes, poverty? Sure, but not one of these robs you of salvation, not one of these leads to perdition. You can have all of these in spades and still be saved, but persistent misbelief leads to the crack of unbelief which brings the complete crumbling of despair which denies that God can, will, or has redeemed you. You are a lost and condemned creature who has neither been purchased nor won from sin, death, or the power of the Devil. The Norwegian painting The Scream, show this last state. It depicts a tortured person, hands on his face, mouth opened, shrieking against a blood red sky.
Despair is what we need protection from because this is where the world would lead us. In His last extended words to us, Jesus warns us time and again about the world. The world hates us; what pains us causes the world to rejoice. In the world we have no peace but tribulation. The world beckons us to despair as orphans lacking a father should. If you really had a Father in heaven, wouldnt He protect you on earth? Wouldnt you prosper and evil doers suffer? Would wrong be labeled right and right be labeled narrow minded? Give up, give in, give out, the world preaches and all we can do is scream.
Our not so great expectation in this world is that we need protection from our own flesh, this fallen world, and from the Devil himself. Jesus specifically prays, Protect them from the Evil One. He is our chief enemy says our Large Catechism. He not only wishes to lead souls astray with his lies. He destabilizes governments; brings lightening and hail to destroy; poisons the air with sickness. He is the special enemy of those who have Gods Word and would like to be Christians (LC, III, 80,81).
The Devil is very much involved in Judas despairing to death. Misbelief and unbelief took over. He started stealing from the Church. Remember how he grumbled that the oil Mary used to anoint Jesus could have been sold to raise money for the poor? Remember that Judas said this not because he cared for the poor but because he was thief and use to steal from the common moneybag? That was the Saturday before Palm Sunday on the Tuesday after Luke tells us, Then Satan entered into Judas, and he went away and conferred with the chief priests how he might betray Jesus. Then on Maundy Thursday John tells us that when Judas took the piece of bread which Jesus said marked His betrayer, Satan entered into him. Judas didnt scream then. The Devil keeps us sedated in our sins only waking us when the pit is deep, the walls are slippery, and despair screams in our ears.
We are to expect that the Devil is gunning for us. Those that are already his he leaves alone. He lets them slumber on in their sins, in their unbelief, believing all is alright. Luther said the Devil keeps those he owns in this world happy because he knows if they ever woke up to the real misery of their sins they would shriek in despair and God could not help but have mercy on them.
So our not so great expectation is that the Devil, the world and our own flesh would lead us by misbelief and unbelief to the utter despair of damnation. We are to expect that our battles will not be against flesh and blood but against the prince of the power of the air, against the noonday devil of hopelessness, against the ruler of this world who has a beachhead already established in our fallen hearts.
Who would not scream? Who would not despair at our plight? But despair in the right way. As long as you despair of your being able to do anything, then Luther calls your despair delicious. As long as your despair leads you to give up your evaluation of the situation and your expectations for the outcome, your despair is delicious not deadly, and you can move on to great expectations.
Great Expectations is a theme in this text. You need protection and you are to expect it. You are to expect protection not by the power of Your name, but literally in Your name which You have given Me. Jesus goes on to say it was always by that name that He protected His disciples when He was with them. The point is that when Jesus goes bodily into heaven his name doesnt go with Him. The name the Father gave to the Son, the only name in which there is salvation, stays on earth. That name is on you in Baptism, over you in Absolution, and in you by Communion.
But how much protection is in a name? Think how much comes with the last name Obama. Think what protection comes with the name FBI. The drug bust happens; the police storm in, and one of the people there starts screaming not in despair but confidence FBI, FBI. Do you put your name on everything you own? No, but what you do you especially protect, keep, watch over. When life, when death, or when despair come crashing in you can scream, Friend of God, sheep of the Good Shepherd, Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven! and the Lord will recognize and protect you.
You are to expect protection in Jesus name, and you are to expect joy. Jesus says He prays this prayer so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. What is Jesus joy? Your salvation. Thats why God the Son came down to earth. He came not to be served but to serve you. The unyielding demands of Gods Laws that you must despair over and scream I cant do this, God the Son did in your place. He took all those Laws and all your sins against them and carried them to the cross. And there Jesus screamed in pain, in hell, in despair because God really did forsake Him, so that Jesus might pay the last installment on your great debt of sin.
Why did He do this? Hebrews 12 tells you. For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. The joy set before Jesus was your redemption, your rescue from sin, from death and from the power of the Devil. The joy set before Jesus was seeing your mouth opened in a song of thanks for salvation rather then in a scream of despair. Jesus prays that His joy now be your joy. It is not from Jesus that despair of a situation, of sin, or your salvation comes. Thats of the Devil, the world, or your own sinful flesh.
Expect protection; expect joy; and expect sanctification. Jesus prays, Sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is Truth. What Jesus asks for He gets. The Word of God attached to the waters of Baptism not only saves you but sanctifies you. The Word of God from the mouth of a man Absolving you not only forgives you but sanctifies you. The Word of God that makes Bread the Body of Chris and Wine His Blood not only gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation but sanctifies you.
You are to have no doubts let alone despair that you stand before God sanctified, sinless, as you stand in the Baptismal font, hear the absolving Word, swallow the Body and Blood of Jesus. The insert doesnt convey this as strongly as it could. It says, For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. Jesus says, In place of them I did sanctify Myself in order that they may be forever sanctified in truth. Jesus sanctified Himself for the purpose of forever sanctifying us. Sanctification isnt something we do but something He did for us on the cross, gives to us in the Sacraments, and works out in our life.
Jesus says as sure as I sanctified Myself in your place, so sure are you to expect to be sanctified forever in this truth. Jesus was set apart in our place. The demands of the Law went on His back. The punishment of your sins was borne by His body. The despair over broken laws and required punishment went into His soul. Jesus suffered all this in order that you may be forever sanctified in this truth. Truthfully now, can you find a law Jesus didnt keep in your place, or a sin Jesus didnt pay for in your place? If in Jesus name God sees you keeping all His laws and all your sins as having been paid for that makes you holy. Holy people expect great things from God. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (20090524); John 17: 11b-19