21st January 2012

Safe And Sound

“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…. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
John 17:6, 18-19 (NIV) 

Before Jesus’ crucifixion, he spoke at length to his disciples, his close friends who would form the nucleus of the early church. He spoke of the connection between love and obedience, and promised them the power and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. He encouraged them to face resistance with confidence. He granted that the Father would give whatever they asked in his name. He prayed towards his own re-entry into the glory of eternal life, and he prayed for their future. 

Throughout this prayer, Jesus maintains a deep connection between himself and these eleven. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it,” he says (verse 16), and, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them”, they reflect glory to Jesus and their sanctification is of a piece with his. 

Like Jesus also, they were to face severe religious persecution, and, like him, most of them were eventually martyred.  Strange as it may sound in that context, one theme that emerges in reading the prayer is Jesus’ will for their safety: “Holy Father, protect them…. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe…. Protect them from the evil one.” (verse 11, 12, 15) 

What was the greatest danger? Luke 12:5 gives a clue. As far as I know, nobody has written a Screwtape Letter about the beginning of the New Testament Church, but plainly they had their vulnerabilities and they certainly suffered attack. There was the official denial of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15); there were serious and challenging changes of religious observance ((Acts 11); there was plenty of direct persecution (Acts 8:1-3)… but, favourably for all of us, the forces of destruction receded (Matthew 16:18). The security of those early believers in the grace of God was sustained. 

The expectation of physical safety and well-being for God’s people, commonly seen in the writings of the Old Testament, had changed along with the relationship between God and man, when God subjected himself to all the hardships and dangers of human existence. God would still help and provide for the apostles, but the guarantee now was: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

Holy Father, we offer praise for what you accomplished in establishing and preserving your Church. In Jesus’ name.

Study by Fiona Jones 

Note:  Wikipedia says, “The Screwtape Letters is a satirical Christian apologetics novel written in epistolary style by C. S. Lewis, first published in book form in February 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior “tempter” named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as “the Patient”.  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in living out Christian faith by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, as seen from devils’ viewpoints.

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