TITLE: Living in a Kosmos World SCRIPTURE: John 17:6-19
Jesus knew that he would soon die. He was leaving his disciples behind to carry on his work and was concerned about them. He knew that their lives would not be easy. When they followed Jesus' teachings, people would hate them just as they had hated him.
Of course, not everyone hated Jesus and not everyone would hate his disciples. Most people loved Jesus. They came in great numbers to hear him. They crowded around him, hoping for miracles. They brought their children so that he might touch them. They welcomed him into Jerusalem with palm branches and Hosannas.
But some people did hate Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus. They were well-established -- powerful. They were used to people catering to them -- standing aside as they came down the sidewalk -- reserving the best seats for them. They were religious men -- holy men -- but they had come to enjoy too much the perks of their office. They had forgotten that God had called them, not for honor, but for service.
Jesus didn't honor the scribes and Pharisees. He insulted them. He exposed their sins. He called them hypocrites. He told them that they were whitewashed tombs -- beautiful on the outside but full of dead men's bones on the inside.
It is no wonder that they didn't like Jesus. It is no wonder that they sought to kill him. Given their power and wealth, it is no wonder that they succeeded.
Jesus knew that these same men and others like them would bring their power and wealth against the disciples, just as they were bringing their power against him. So Jesus prayed for the disciples.
First he prayed, "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (v. 11). "Protect them!" Jesus wasn't praying that the disciples have an easy life. He wasn't praying that they become rich and famous. He was praying that God would protect them.
"Protect them...so that they may be one." We need God's help, don't we! We Christians are often our own worst enemies. We have divided ourselves into denominations. We have divided ourselves by theological persuasion -- liberal versus conservative. We have divided ourselves by race -- someone has observed that eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. And at the local level, we have divided ourselves into those who want red carpet versus those who want green carpet. The devil must be licking his chops!
We Christians need to learn to work and play nicely together. We need to learn to respect each other, even in our differences. We need to love one another, which is often difficult. We need to do those things so that we can be effective witnesses for Christ -- so that we can draw people to him. We certainly need help with that -- so Jesus prays, "Protect them...so that they may be one."
Then Jesus prays, "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (v. 15). The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek word for world is kosmos. In this prayer, Jesus says that Christians "do not belong to the kosmos" but "are in the kosmos." He doesn't ask God to take us out of the kosmos, but instead asks God to protect us from the evil one.
When Jesus talks about the kosmos, he isn't talking about planet Earth. When Jesus talks about the kosmos, he is talking about the forces of evil opposed to God. What are those? We don't have to look far to see them. There are so many kosmos-forces all around us. The church exists as an island in a kosmos-sea -- and it's our job to clean up the sea.
I think that you know what I mean, but I'll give some examples anyway. We live in a kosmos-world where motion pictures and television are saturated with sex, violence, and coarseness -- where the Internet is saturated with pornography and gambling -- where our streets and schools are saturated with drugs. It is a kosmos-world -- a world where the forces of evil are always in opposition to God -- and Jesus left us here to set the world right. He left us here to be a bit of leaven that would leaven the whole loaf. It is a huge job, and we have a long way to go.
So Jesus prayed, "Protect them from the evil one." We need that prayer. We need it for our children, but we also need it for ourselves. Our children are at risk, but we are at risk too. I have known Christians who let themselves become addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling or pornography or violent entertainments. One friend, a respected member of our community, lost his job, his wife, and his family because of an addiction to Internet pornography. We live in a kosmos-world. Jesus prayed, "Protect them from the evil one!" We need God's protection.
We also need to use our heads! We need to avoid the things that would drag us down -- the things that threaten to destroy us. We need God's help, but we also need to cooperate with God when he tries to help us.
Finally Jesus prays, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (v. 17). This word "sanctify" is interesting. It means "make them holy" -- "make them into saints." Some of you wives are probably sitting there right now thinking of your husband and rolling your eyes. "Fat chance!" is what you are thinking. But we serve a mighty God! Everything is possible!
Sanctify them! Make them holy! Make them more like you, God!
We need God to make us holy -- for our sake -- for the sake of our families -- for the sake of those with whom we work -- for the sake of our community -- for the sake of our nation -- for the sake of the world. That is the only way that we can make things better -- by first becoming better ourselves. We cannot become better by ourselves. We need God's help. "Sanctify them!" Jesus says. Make them holy.
Holiness has power to make things better. Holiness has power to change people's lives. Holiness has power to change the world.
Let me tell you about A. C. Green. Some of you will probably recognize that name. Green is retired from basketball now, but he was a member of the LA Lakers team when they won three NBA championships. He holds the NBA record for the most consecutive games played (1192). They called him "Iron Man." Wouldn't that be great -- to play in the NBA and to have your teammates call you "Iron Man"! Cool!
But Green is more than a great basketball player. He is also a great Christian. He is a man who determined to use his fame and fortune to make a difference for Jesus. He determined to use his fame and fortune to help kids -- to help his teammates -- to help his community -- to make this a better world.
As some of you know, sports heroes are exposed to more temptations than most of us -- money temptations -- sexual temptations. Green determined to let God make him holy so that he could help others. The thing that got him the most press was his determination to abstain from sex until marriage. Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly called Green "The NBA Player Who Has Never Scored."
Green didn't try to do it by himself. He found other Christians who shared his values, and he invited them to hold him accountable. Hear that! We can't become holy people in isolation. We need the help of holy friends. Green says of his friends, "They keep me in line so much that I'm sure there have been temptations around the corner that thankfully I've never known about."
That's possible, you know. Each time you avoid temptation you strengthen yourself against future temptation. It's like working out in the gym. Strength begets strength!
Green maintained his convictions through thick and thin. He said, "I promised God this, and I'm not going to break it. I love myself and my future wife too much to waste it."
I should mention that Green finally married in 2002, so he no longer has to practice abstinence. He does continue to practice his faith though. He has established the A. C. Green Youth Foundation to promote abstinence until marriage. He is continuing to do good things through the Christ who strengthens him.
I was struck in particular by something that one of Green's teammates once said about him. Anthony Mason, a young man who had lots of off-court troubles, found himself drawn to Green. Like lots of troubled people, he was looking for someone solid -- someone trustworthy -- and he found that person in A. C. Green. Mason was quoted as saying, "You would think of Green as a goody-two-shoes, but to see (his convictions) up close, you realize that's the way you're supposed to live."
It might seem like a small thing that Green did -- keeping himself sexually pure until marriage -- but it didn't turn out to be a small thing. By the grace of God, it became a way of changing lives for the better -- of changing the world for the better.
"Sanctify them!" Jesus prays. Make them holy. Make them part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help them to make a difference in their family -- in their church -- in their community -- in their world.
"Sanctify us!" needs to be our prayer. Make me holy. Help me to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help me to make a difference in my family -- in my church -- in my community -- in my world.
I invite you to pray that prayer. Pray it daily. Ask God to help you -- and you can be sure that he will.
Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (BH #280; CH #587; TNCH #197; UMH #301; VU #142; WR #479)
Victory in Jesus (BH #426; UMH #370)
What a Friend We Have in Jesus (BH #182; CH #585; LBW #439; LW #516; PH #403; TNCH #506; UMH #526)