This week is the penultimate stop in our series, Plugged In. Last week, we started a conversation about what it looks like for us to get staying plugged in to Jesus right. It wasn’t all that encouraging. In fact, it was a bit of a downer. If we live our lives plugged in to Jesus, the world is going to make us pay for it. But that’s not the end of the story. The beginning of the rest comes here. The world may be coming after us for following Jesus, but He has already overcome. What this means for us is what I want to talk about. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Standing in His Shadow
All degree programs have certain courses that everyone has to take. More than that, most colleges and universities have certain classes that they want all their students to take regardless of their degree program. For my undergrad, it was a JINS class—Junior Interdisciplinary Seminar. Being an officially liberal arts university, they wanted students to take a course that touched on two different academic disciplines so we were well-rounded. Apparently one course is enough to hit the mark. There were a variety of JINS courses as most professors had to teach one. I took one called The Ethical Implications of the Human Genome Project with Dr. Ryan who also happened to be my Calc 3 professor. I loved the course, but then, I’m a huge nerd, so of course I would.
In seminary, one of our school-wide requirements was a ministry immersion course. One was for rural ministry and you had to spend a week somewhere in Nowheresville, KS. That wasn’t in the cards for me (or most students, for that matter), so I took one on inner city ministry. Although we had some traditional class time, most of the classes met in various locations in downtown Denver. One of these had us meet at a ministry called Sox Place. Sox was the name of the guy who ran it. That wasn’t his real name, of course. His name is Doyle Robinson, and he got the name “Sox” because in his efforts to minister to the street kids in downtown Denver, he found an inroads to build trust and relationships with them by handing out socks to anyone who needed them. It’s still around impacting street kids in downtown Denver today.
After giving us a quick tour of the ministry, we were divided up into groups to be led around the city by a team of former street kids. And by “former,” I don’t mean they had experienced it once years and years before. These were still kids, most of whom were currently living in some sort of transitional housing and were only a few weeks out of being homeless. And these tours took place at about 9:00. In other words, we got to spend an hour wandering around downtown Denver with a former homeless 20-something who had recently lived on the streets in the dark. It was an interesting experience. Had I tried to do something like that on my own being the wide-eyed suburban kid that I was, I would have been a nervous wreck. I’d have been scared to death of what or who might be waiting to try to get me. But with these kids who were essentially showing us around their home, it was fine. The whole group of us could walk around the city in confidence because we had someone with us who had already conquered it.
This morning—after that fantastic musical reflection on the power of this season from the choir—finds us in the penultimate stop in our series, Plugged In. For the last several weeks we have been talking about what it looks like, how, and why to live lives that are plugged in to Jesus. Just like Nate’s hot glue gun from a couple of weeks ago, while it may look like our lives are working just fine when we aren’t connected to Him, eventually they won’t be. He is the source for everything we need to successfully navigate our way through this life with the peace, the joy, the hope, the meaning that we long for. Without Him, while we can make up some pretty good stuff, it all proves empty in the end, leaving us searching for that thing that will finally fill the gap in our souls that seems suspiciously shaped like God.
Along the way, we have talked about the importance of humility and love to these efforts. We have talked about why doing it Jesus’ way matters so much. We’ve talked about the results of staying connected. And, just last week, we started talking about what it actually looks like to get this all right. The initial picture, honestly, wasn’t all that encouraging. After talking with the disciples about the importance of love and the fruits of staying connected to Him, Jesus looked at them and dropped the bomb that hard times were soon going to come their way. In fact, hard times are going to be a part of life for anyone who endeavors to follow Him because the world hates Him, can’t get direct access to Him, and so goes after the next closest target: us. Or, as we put it last week, if you are plugged in to Jesus, the world is going to make you pay for it. Hard times are simply part and parcel with the life spent pursuing Jesus. But while that may not be a terribly encouraging fact, it is a fact, and no less than Jesus Himself was pretty big on making sure people had all the facts before they started following Him. Or, as He encouraged people on more than one occasion, if you are going to follow Him, you need to first count the cost.
But is that all there is to this? Following Jesus is hard and good luck? No, it’s not. There’s actually something more that Jesus was equally clear about and which I want to set before you pretty firmly this morning. This next part won’t necessarily make the hard parts any easier, but it will give us what we need to bear up under them and keep pursuing Him in spite of the challenges that come with the territory. If you have your Bible on page or on screen, find your way to John 16 with me.
After Jesus introduced the idea of forthcoming persecutions to the disciples, which itself was sitting on top of the idea already gripping their hearts and minds that Jesus was soon going to be leaving them, which had them all wondering what exactly they were supposed to do now, He shifted gears on them and started trying to help them understand why His departure—even coming as it was in conjunction with the increasingly hard times they were going to face from the world for being His followers—was actually going to be a good thing. This took the form of His teaching them a bit about the third person of God to whom the world had not really been introduced yet—the Holy Spirit. Because of the Holy Spirit, their sorrow of His departure was actually going to be turned to joy as they were filled with Him on the inside such that He was actually going to be even more intimately involved in their lives than He was able to do while He was physically with them.
But again, every time Jesus said, “I’m getting ready to get out of here,” that was the only thing the disciples could think about. They didn’t hear anything else. Starting v. 19, Jesus tried to address these two issues—their anxiety combined with the joyfulness He was promising—at the same time. Look at this with me: “Jesus knew they wanted to ask him, and so he said to them, ‘Are you asking one another about what I said, “In a little while, you will not see me; again in a little while, you will see me?” Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. [He’s talking about the crucifixion here.] You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world. So you also have sorrow now, but I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you.’”
Now, as modern followers of Jesus we hear all of that through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb and it fairly well makes sense to us. Jesus was going to die, making them sorrowful. But then He was going to live again, making them joyful. The momentary separation and the ensuing persecution would be awful, but it wouldn’t last. He would rise on the third day, bringing new life into the world, and everything would be better. In an even bigger sense, Jesus was talking to us, reminding us that even though He is gone and we experience a whole world of sorrows, the time for sorrows will one day come to an end because, “I will see you again.”
Well, part of the reason the disciples had so much trouble getting their hearts and minds around what Jesus was telling them, was that Jesus kept being euphemistic about it. As for why He did that, I’ve got to trust that, being Jesus, He understood better than the disciples what they could handle at any one moment without completely blowing their minds to pieces. To go all nerdy-sci-fi on you, if He had told them too much about the future they may have tried to mess with it, and who knows what kind of trouble they may have caused then. In any event, as the big moment drew nearer, He was able to speak more and more plainly with them. Even though they appreciated this, though, and thought they finally had it all down, they still didn’t know what they were in for.
Look at this with me starting in v. 25: “‘I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. A time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I am not telling you that I will ask the Father on your behalf. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.’ His disciples said, ‘Look, now you’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that you know everything and don’t need anyone to question you. By this we believe that you came from God.’”
I know that’s an odd bit of conversation, but the disciples are basically saying, “Wow, you know the future. I guess you really are from God. We’re in.” This, no doubt, makes Jesus chuckle a bit, but just like with Peter an hour or two before, He didn’t want their newfound confidence to translate into arrogance, pride, or foolishness, so He chides them just a bit, but with an encouragement we dare not miss. Look at v. 31 now: “Jesus responded to them, ‘Do you now believe? Indeed, an hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave me alone.’”
And at that moment, they probably all started to protest again, “No, no, no! We’re with you to the end Jesus! Don’t you trust us? [The answer to that question was a resounding, “No,” but He wasn’t going to say that directly to their faces just yet.] We keep saying we’re with you, and you keep telling us we’re going to fail.” They were probably starting to get a bit of a complex.
But Jesus goes on, “‘Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.’” In other words: It’s going to be okay. And, you know, that’s a phrase I’ve used a lot when I’ve been ministering in crisis situations. I know I’ve said it directly to some of you. But I always add something to it because that’s a pretty hollow reassurance in the moment of tragedy. I say, “It’s going to be okay. We don’t yet know what okay is going to look like, but it’s going to be okay.” Thinking about it more, that’s probably not the best thing I could say or you could say or anyone could say in that moment, because the truth is even better as Jesus indicates right here.
Jesus says, “I’m not alone because my Dad’s with me.” I can face what’s coming in spite of your all running out on me because I’m standing in His shadow.” Have you ever stood in someone’s shadow and felt the power of that. Maybe you were a little kid peeking out through your dad’s or mom’s legs at something new or different that you weren’t sure about. On your own, you would have been scared stiff. But standing in the shadow of your dad, you were a whole lot more confident. Jesus says, “I’m standing in my Dad’s shadow, so I’m going to be okay. In fact, I’m going to be good.” Then He looks at them all for a minute and says, “And you; you’re going to be good too. I’m telling you this all now so that when it comes it won’t come as a surprise. You can be at peace in those hard moments just like I’m going to be because you’re not alone either.”
Then He goes on to get rid of all the pretense and euphemism and tells them straight out: “You are going to have suffering in this life.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer guarantee than that. Walking through this life is going to be like walking around downtown Denver at night without a guide. You’re going to get lost and there are going to be scary people and some of them are going to try to hurt you and some of them will succeed and sometimes unexpectedly tragic things will happen because the world’s broken and sometimes that just happens and I know you aren’t going to want to go on once you start encountering this stuff and so I’m telling you now so it doesn’t catch you off guard. You will have suffering in this world. And when you experience that suffering—especially the incredible suffering that will come because you bear my name—it’s going to feel like it is going to completely overwhelm and overcome you. But you’re not alone. You are standing in my shadow. And I have already overcome the world.
That’s not actually all He says there, though, is it? That’s often how we look at this passage. We look at it for encouragement and hope. And it gives us that. No doubt about it. The knowledge that Jesus has overcome the world is an incredible boost to our confidence when the world tries to overcome us. Knowing that we are not alone in the midst of whatever tragedy or trial we may be facing is a huge encouragement. But that’s not all Jesus said. This word from Him is meant for more than that. He didn’t just say, “I have overcome the world.” What else did He say? Depending on your own translation, you might actually miss the significance for us of what Jesus says here. That is, your translation may make it look like Jesus simply tells us to be encouraged. The New International Version, the King James Version, and the English Standard Version all have Jesus telling us to “take heart.” That sounds to our ears like He’s just telling us to be encouraged. But the word Jesus uses in His command here doesn’t just mean they should be encouraged, but that they should have courage. In other words, you shouldn’t just have a buoyed spirit because Jesus has overcome the world, you should be courageous in your pursuit of faithfulness to His word. Don’t simply “take heart” because He’s overcome the world, be courageous because of it. We are standing in His shadow. We can be courageous in our faithfulness because Jesus has already won.
Let me say two things about that and then we’re out of here. When I was walking around downtown Denver in the dark that night, had I gotten separated from the group, I probably would have been able to eventually find my way back to the garage where I had parked the car and picked up Lisa who was seeing a show downtown that same evening, but I’m not entirely sure of it. And this was before I had a smart phone with a built-in GPS map. I know I would have been an anxious, nervous wreck by the time I figured it out. There would have been no courage in me. But because I was being led around by these folks who knew the streets, knew where they were going, knew where was safe, knew who was safe, knew how to engage with the people we met, and so on and so forth, I was completely at ease. I was actually enjoying the experience rather thoroughly. As a matter of fact, I have a great deal more courage walking around downtown in any city now because of that night. Ask me sometime about navigating downtown Baltimore, MD at 11:00 at night.
Because Jesus has overcome the world, we can have the courage to live our lives faithfully no matter what challenge is standing before us. We can love people who aren’t like us. We can learn from people whose opinions we think are crazy. We can listen to people who hate us. We can be humble in situations that are insisting we embrace pride. We can be gentle where the world screams at us to be more aggressive. We can be compassionate with the hurting even when their pain is their own fault. We can be generous with our resources even at the risk of being taken advantage of. We can do all of this and more because Jesus called us to it and it is under His shadow that we’re standing. We can be courageous in our faithfulness because Jesus has already won.
Yeah, but what about when we lose? Come on, you know some of you were thinking about it. What about when we do get steamrolled and abused and demoted and injured and hated and persecuted? What about then? How does it matter that Jesus has overcome the world when the world has beaten us? You’re not thinking big enough. We can be courageous in our faithfulness because Jesus has already won. His victory wasn’t just over this life. His victory was over all space and time. He’s overcome everything. If we are standing in His shadow, then even if we are going to lose our very lives, we can still be courageous because His victory extends beyond the grave.
If we are going to understand this properly, we have to do some big picture thinking. We focus all our efforts and attention on the here and now. We evaluate threats and apparent benefits on the basis of what they will do for us right now—or at the longest, in the context of our physical lives. Jesus is thinking bigger than that, and if we want to enjoy the fullness of the victory He has won in this life, we need to be thinking bigger than that as well. As soon as we begin to truly understand that nothing in this world poses any meaningful threat to our lives, our ability to accomplish incredible things for the kingdom without fear will zoom into the stratosphere. We can be courageous in our faithfulness because Jesus has already won. At everything. For all time. Be courageous! He has overcome the world.
No matter what it is you are facing in your life right now, you can be courageous in your faithfulness because Jesus has overcome it. As Paul asked, is it affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Whatever it is, Jesus has overcome it. Be courageous. As Luke and Jonathan Smallbone, the geniuses behind the band For King and Country, wrote, because Jesus has overcome the world, you can love like you’re not scared, give when it’s not fair, live life for another, take time for a brother or sister, fight for the weak ones, speak out for freedom, find faith in the battle, and stand tall wherever you are because you have fixed your eyes on Him, the one who has overcome the world. You can be courageous in your faithfulness because Jesus has already won. If you’ll join us on Friday, we’ll talk about how that victory was won, and if you’ll come back in a week, we’ll celebrate it for all we’re worth.