John 17:14-15 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Hate is a strong word. Does the world really hate those who follow Jesus? Doesn’t it announce its respect for Jesus as a friend to the poor, and the outcast, and the morally questionable? Doesn’t it love to quote Jesus, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” or “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”
Don’t be fooled. When the Washington Post asked a Harvard professor if faith groups were too absent in the war on poverty, he stated that organized religion has been using all their resources on issues regarding sexual morality. “This is the most obvious point in the world.” It’s true, Christians are concerned about sexual morals. But what Christian institutions spend on fighting poverty dwarfs what is spent on morality. If just one Christian charity, World Vision, were a country (not a charity but a country), its spending on poverty would rank it twelfth in the world. What that one charity spends fighting poverty is about 10 times all the donations to all the pro-life or pro-family organizations in the country.
When this was pointed out in a response to the Washington Post, one commenter replied, “Yes, but evangelical Christians often expect the people they help to listen to their message.” The nerve of those Christians–telling the people they help that God loves them and sent Jesus to pay for all their sins! The world hates us for the word Jesus has given us, whether his word defining right and wrong, or the word that asks us to believe we are sinners saved by God’s grace.
So Jesus prays for our safety, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Sometimes being a Christian can be physically dangerous. You know how Jesus’ 12 disciples ended up. Only one died a natural death. I know a Christian woman who had a husband so jealous of our faith that he mocked her as “Mrs. Jesus” for years. He eventually became violent because she spent an hour or two in church each week.
But Jesus’ prayer is really more for the safety of our souls. “Protect them from the evil one.” If the devil can’t lure us to his side with his bribes; if he can’t entice us with promises of pleasure; then he wants to intimidate us with his threats. He is the prince of this world, after all. He has more people on his side than on Christ’s. Christianity may be the biggest world religion, but it is still embraced by less than a third of the world’s inhabitants. The number of Christians in the land where we live grows steadily smaller every year.
So being a Christian is going to cost you. To part of the world you appear stupid and naive, believing the nonsense about morals, and an all-powerful Spirit in the sky whom atheist Richard Dawkins ridicules as “the flying spaghetti monster.” To an ever growing part of the world you are a hater, a bigot, for believing what you do about good behavior, or believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
So Jesus prays for you. He prays for your safety, to protect you from the evil one. He is praying for your faith, your salvation, your eternity, your relationship with him.
About 30 years ago a young pastor came to his first wedding rehearsal blissfully ignorant of what awaited him. He had poured himself all week into crafting the best sermon for the couple he could manage. Then the wedding party arrived. In a few minutes it became clear that mothers on both sides had their own agenda. The order of things in the ceremony was all wrong. The positioning of the bridesmaids and groomsmen was all wrong. The bridesmaids should pause after each step. No, the bridesmaids should pick up the pace. On it went. It was exhausting.
Criticisms about the service and the sermon found their way back to the pastor even before the reception was over. Feeling weary and defeated, he dragged back into his office about 9 p.m. Saturday night knowing he still had a long night ahead of him. He still had to write a sermon. On his desk was a card with some Bible passages and a note from the soloist: “Pastor, last night at the rehearsal I realized how hard it must be to be the new kid on the block. I just want you to know that I appreciate all your work and that I’m praying for you.” Someone cared and was praying for him. It was like a long, cool drink of water in a dry and parched desert.
Do people ever tell you they are praying for you? It’s always appreciated, but sometimes their words may not strike us as a deeply moving, desperately needed message. All the same, there may be few greater ways to express genuine love for each other.
The greatest expression of Jesus’ love comes from the cross and the empty tomb. But in Jesus’ prayers for us we find another little gospel gem. We know he loves you and me, because Jesus prays for us. He prays for our protection from the haters set on destroying our souls.