October 28, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of My name, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
Being Jesus’ friend is a hazardous enterprise. That is what is made clear by Jesus’ own words that you heard on this day when the Church commemorates Saints Simon and Jude. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus spoke at length with His disciples. Gathered around the Passover Meal, they heard Jesus disclose things about His future and theirs. Jesus made clear that He was going to leave the Twelve, leaving both to make atonement for the world’s sin by suffering crucifixion and then to ascend in resurrected glory to His Father. He revealed what would happen after He left, what the Twelve could anticipate as they lived as His faithful followers.
Jesus’ statement to the Twelve indicates that they were being given a new status that night: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” What Jesus would undergo at the hands of the Jewish leaders and Roman officials was done for the benefit of the Twelve. They were now His friends; He was laying down His life for them. They had been made Jesus’ friends because He had handed over to them everything that His Father had delivered to Him. From that night on, there was no mystery about what Jesus was doing, about His identity, or about His purpose. After receiving what Jesus had made known to them, the Twelve were going to be sent to fulfill His commands, including His great command: “that you love one another as I have loved you.”
But Jesus discloses something about what the Twelve would encounter as they fulfilled their callings. Their status as Jesus’ friends, those to whom He had handed over all the teaching from the Father, would bring them opposition: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Hatred and enmity are what the Twelve would face, what they would experience in their lives. The cause of that hatred and enmity is the new identity that Jesus gave the Twelve: they no longer belonged to the world, but to Jesus. That difference put them at odds with the world.
The difference between the Twelve and the world was not going to be kept hidden, since what Simon and Jude and the rest of the apostles were going to do was not secret. They were going out into the world to do something very public: to take the words that Jesus had handed over to them and proclaim them in the hearing of all. That was their task. And so Jesus reminds them of the word that He had spoken about their calling: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of My name, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
This is what friendship with Jesus would bring Simon and Jude and the others. Jesus’ words that they spoke and Jesus’ actions that they imitated would be noticed. The Twelve’s identity would be shown by what they said and did. It would be noticed just as the preaching of the Old Testament prophets was noticed. Just as Jeremiah spoke the words that the Lord gave him in the Temple, so the Twelve would speak the words that Jesus gave them. Those that heard the truth of Jesus and treasured it would also welcome His apostles who spoke the same. But Jesus promises that those who had persecuted Him for what He said would also persecute those who confessed the same truth about His identity and work. This is how it would be for the Twelve; what Jesus said is true: “A servant is not greater than his master.”
What Jesus spoke concerning the Twelve is also true about you. You also have been given a new identity. That is what Peter, one of the Twelve, describes: “According to [the Father’s] great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Such words tell what has been done for you and the benefits of that divine action. You have a new birth given to you in Holy Baptism. You have a new hope found in the resurrection of Jesus. You have a new fate that will be revealed at the end of this age. This is all yours because Jesus laid down His life for you, His friends, and has made known to you all that the Father willed, especially His great mercy for you who were ensnared by sin, imperfection, and death.
But Jesus reminds you about what comes with that identity: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Jesus’ calling you to follow Him, His identifying you as His friends, brings opposition. You also stand at odds with the world. For what you do as Christians is not secret, just as the apostles’ work was not. No, your identity becomes evident in what you say and do. And there are many who desire not to see or hear any of it.
Jesus tells you: “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” What has Jesus commanded? What has He disclosed to you? He has told you about His identity: “I am the resurrection and the life…. No one comes to the Father except through Me…. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” He has handed over a way of life to you: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus has given you instructions on how you are to think and act in all manner of aspects of living, including very personal things: how to consider human life, how to act on one’s sexuality, how to utilize your property and possessions. Because you are Jesus’ disciples, His words shape and form you. They direct you.
But the way that you think, speak, and act runs counter to the way the world thinks, speaks, and acts. It is this way, because you begin to think, speak, and act as Jesus did. That is what Jesus reveals: “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” At the heart of this enmity and hatred is the sinfulness of the world, the same sinfulness lingering in you that requires constant repentance and restoration. There is no desire to be subject to anyone or anything. There is no love of God and His ways that would limit or constrain our independence. “Who are you to tell me what to do?” is the question directed at the Creator, the question that even spills out of our mouths from time to time.
Confrontation exists when the ways of the Lord encounter the ways of the world. It is so in your own hearts, minds, and souls. And when you abide by the ways that the Lord Jesus handed down to you through Simon and Jude and the Twelve, your practicing them becomes a living, walking presentation of the same message that Jeremiah brought to the world: “Mend your ways and deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God.” And what Jesus said would happen comes to pass: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.” This makes being Jesus’ friend a hazardous enterprise.
But in the midst of the hazardous enterprise of being friends of Jesus, there is the reminder of what has been done for you. You have been called out of the world. You have been given new birth. You have something that awaits you beyond this age. The apostle Peter reminds you: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is what kept Simon and Jude faithful and zealous in their mission. It is what sustained the prophets like Jeremiah. It is what the psalmist clung to, saying: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” It was the source of strength for Luther and the Reformers. And it is what will keep you going in these days.
Jesus’ statement to the apostles and you stands true now: “If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.” You keep the word that the apostles spoke, the words that delivered the identity and work of Jesus, His way of life, and His promises of a glorious inheritance to you: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Such joy is found even in the midst of the opposition, enmity, and hatred that the world has for you and all of Jesus’ friends. The confrontation will come to an end, when the Lord sends out His light and truth to lead you to His holy hill and eternal dwelling. That is the greater fate that awaits you who have been made Jesus’ friends, the ones for whom He laid down His life and raised it up again.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.