‘I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one’
(John 17:15 – NRSV).
Just before his death, Jesus prayed to his Father on behalf of those who would believe in him: ‘The glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, so that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:22,23).
Even while Jesus was praying, events were turning against him. Injustice and violence would soon be inflicted upon him, but he would not turn on his accusers. He would not condemn the one who betrayed him or those who abandoned him. He would glorify his heavenly Father and love the world and its people to his last breath. For, ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:17).
Jesus prayed that believers may ‘become completely one’, as he and his Father are one. The love and unity that believers show the world will be a visible sign of God’s own love and unity. (See also John 13:34,35.)
Therefore, God sends believers into ‘the world’, placing them among the nations, ethnicities, clans and languages. Believing in Jesus as our Saviour not only changes our lives – how we think, how we use our bodies and the choices we make – it also changes our world.
Today, such lived faith seems to be in retreat, particularly in affluent western societies. For centuries Christian churches set the pattern of social, moral and ethical standards. They had respect, wealth, and influence. Today, that is not always so. The world has changed. What are we to do when events turn against us?
Some say we should fight to reclaim the church’s hard-won, historical place in society. Believers can be tempted to try to save the world using earthly power, something Jesus refused to do.
Some say we should separate from the world to keep the purity of the faith. But doesn’t God send us in the other direction, into the world? If I ever start thinking that I am better or holier than another, the Small Catechism reminds me: ‘ … that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him …’ (Explanation to the third article of the Creed). Believers need the continued grace and goodness of God just as much as non-believers do.
Jesus prayed that believers like us, united in him, would bear witness that his death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins and eternal life in him, are freely available to all people throughout the world. He wants us to be ‘in the world’ so that we can love it, but not to be ‘of the world’ through neglecting God’s love and so falling into disunity.
This Easter season we can receive comfort and joy in remembering that, just before he died, Jesus took time out to pray for those who would come to believe in him. We matter to him, as does our unity in faith. ‘The glory you have given me I have given them’, he prayed, ‘so that they may be one, as we are one.’ Let that be our prayer, too, for ourselves, our church, and the world.