The Lutheran Hour: May 17, 2015 "Without a Fight or a Prayer"

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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: May 17, 2015 "Without a Fight or a Prayer"

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"Without a Fight or a Prayer" #82-37

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 17, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Can the devil hear what you are thinking?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 17:11-19

Jesus prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. ... 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. ... 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." 

Christ is risen! Jesus is risen, indeed! And because He lives, we too will live eternally. Amen.

It was a theft that made history. It wasn't the most clever theft ever construed. In fact, it all happened pretty matter-of-factly, one might even say that the robbery was routine. But what made this theft unique was the fame that it created for the object that was stolen. Perhaps you've heard it: it's the Mona Lisa. It is said to be one of the most famous paintings in the world. Why? What makes her so popular?

Is it her enigmatic smile? Is it the mystery surrounding Mona Lisa's real identity? Is it the fact that she was painted by the most famous of Renaissance artists, Leonardo da Vinci? Well, yes to all of that. But the most important reason that she is famous today is because she was stolen!

The painting was stolen from the Louvre in France in 1911 when Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia simply walked out of the museum with the painting under his smock. The theft embarrassed the French government who ran the museum. It perplexed the French police who never really found the painting. And the loss of one of Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings captured the attention of the world. People who had never heard of it suddenly were drawn into the drama of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa gone missing. I'm sure that Peruggia never could have guessed that the two years he kept the Mona Lisa in a trunk in his home would be the very thing that made the painting the most recognizable painting on the planet. 

For the next two years, it was lost with no hope for recovery. The police and the museum had almost given up hope for its recovery, until Peruggia decided just to return it in 1913. That's why I think she's smiling; the painting was home; the drama, the intrigue, and the publicity surrounding the theft made the Mona Lisa one of the most recognized pieces of art in the world. 

Is the woman in the painting smiling or not? Whether she is or not, I personally think that she is because everything has worked out for her then, and is still working out for Mona Lisa today. She is no longer lost, but found. She is no longer stolen away; she's back where she belongs.

Today the Mona Lisa, covered by an 1 and a half inch of protective glass, is kept in the temperature-controlled, humidity controlled, high-security environment it needs. The museum today still faces the constant challenge of keeping her safe from robbers as well as other dangers like vandalism, bugs, humidity, and improper cleaning. A new theft of the painting today would be an even greater scandal. It's safe to say that the Louvre is taking all aspects of its security seriously, doing everything in its power to ensure that a fiasco like this never happens again.

That's what happens when something precious is lost or stolen! But, for all the fame of the Mona Lisa, for all the attention it draws, its theft in 1911 isn't by any means the most tragic loss the world could know, even if it hadn't been recovered. The world can survive the loss of a painting. Life can continue even if every treasure of history with artistic and cultural significance were to disappear, though the loss would be devastatingly sad. But, there is a loss that is more than we can truly bear. In fact, the greatest loss humanity has ever known, was a theft that separated the ultimate work of art from its creator. It's a theft that still impacts every person today. It took place on the day, when the first man and woman stole themselves away from God their Creator because of their rebellion and sin. It happened when Satan convinced them to turn their back on God's word of truth, to turn away from the One who gave them life, allowing death and the possibility of eternal death into their lives and the lives of every human being since. 

The book of Genesis tells of the grave circumstances. Humanity's self-inflicted heist broke God's heart. A work of art with eternal worth was stolen away from its loving Creator and was sold into sin, sold by succumbing to a cheap, deceptive trick. Every human being since has suffered because of that theft. Eternal life and joy has been stolen away. We're not sitting cozy in a trunk like the Mona Lisa; we're not lifelessly immune from our new predicament, but sinfully now vulnerable to sin, death, and Satan himself with no protection or power of our own. Even worse, there is a self-inflicted separation from God, the very God who created us for so much more.

The Bible clearly paints the picture, if you will, of humanity's problem, humanity's need. But just as clearly, the Bible says that God the Creator of us all, found a way to paint another picture, one of restoration, one of reconciliation, one of salvation for that which was lost. He had a plan to find you and me, a plan to win us back to be His people. God's promise of restoration and blessing would provide hope not only to Adam and Eve, but to generations of people across the ages, finally coming to fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. He was born to be the One who would rescue what was lost, who would heal what was broken, who would make life possible again for sinful people who are dead in their trespasses and sins. You might say it this way, "God won't let you go without a fight or a prayer." Why, because He loves you, He really, really does.

In the movie, "Taken," Liam Neeson plays a father who suddenly finds out that his daughter has been taken, kidnapped by a human trafficking ring. The thieves used the girls as prostitutes, even selling the really pretty ones to the highest bidder. Neeson, a CIA agent with tremendous tracking skills, warns the criminals. He says, "I'm coming to get her. I'm coming to get you." As you watch the movie, you see not just his skills, his abilities to find his lost daughter; you see his love for her. He won't stop until she is found, dead or alive. Incredible.

But that passion is nothing compared to the passion that we see in our text for today. In John, chapter 17, it is the night before Jesus would be crucified. But what is Jesus doing? Is He lamenting His predicament? No. Is He trying to find a way out? No. What is He doing? He's praying for His disciples then. He's praying for His disciples now. That's right, He's praying for you on the eve of His own crucifixion.

And, make no mistake, Jesus knows what lies ahead on the cross, but He knows even more what joy it will mean for His beloved creation. 

I love the Bible verse in Hebrews 12 where it talks about that joy that Jesus had in the face of the cross, that this Jesus, it says, is, "the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

He came to bring joy. He came to bring life. He came to bring God's love to you and me and that's why He lifts the disciples up, and lifts you up in prayer. 

Yes, on Good Friday's cross, Jesus would break into death itself, entering into death's dark prison so that He Himself would rip humanity back out from its bondage into the new life possible with God. 

Yes, on Easter Sunday, because of Jesus' work on the cross, the public proclamation of God's gracious forgiveness means that God's most precious treasure, you and me and all of sinful humanity, was reconciled, back into its rightful place with Him. In fact, right now, you my friend, by faith in Jesus, like the Mona Lisa, you too can be returned home to the One who loves you with an everlasting love. 

Jesus prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one."

Now, in Jesus' prayer in John 17, we don't just see Him praying for your return home. He's also praying for your protection. He prays for resources for your faith, His Word, His Name. He prays for you knowing that there are still dangers surrounding God's work of art today.

Incredibly, God has a passion to find you even when you lost yourself, stole yourself away from His love and care. Indeed, God has a real love for you and for me, for all of us. Back to the Mona Lisa. It's hard to imagine the dedication of the French police for the task of finding the Mona Lisa. Amidst the ridicule and the pressure, they put almost every man they had on the force on the case. They worked diligently day after day after day. Can you imagine the hours and hours and hours that were spent searching for this painting that wasn't just stolen, it was lost and hidden away from the world, maybe never to be found again?

What if I told you, though, that God is searching for you right now with a passion that would put all of that to shame? You see, in our text we get a real glimpse of the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. He didn't just come to show you the way of salvation. He came to earn it on your behalf. And He didn't just come to let you find out this good news, "He prays for you." He seeks to deliver that good news to you so that you might trust it for your life and salvation.

Listen again to Jesus when He prays for you. In fact, close your eyes right now and just listen to the very words that He speaks on your behalf. He says, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, the name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them.......... I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." 

On this night, He was praying for His disciples in particular, but He was also praying for you and for me, for all who would come to believe in Him by faith. 

That's the kind of Savior we believe in. He holds our life in trust. He doesn't just start us on the road of faith; He guards us, He protects us, and He will see that life of faith through to its eternal end. In His life and ministry He guarded the ones who were following Him, and on the cross He would fully restore them to their joyful place in God's kingdom. He comes to restore you, to guard you, to protect you too. Even for those who trust in Christ right now, there are still troubles and temptations; they're all around us. We still live in a broken, unsafe world, surrounded by dangers of all kinds. And so Jesus prayed then, He watches over us now.

Isn't that incredible to know, to believe? In the midst of the evils of this world, Jesus wants you to know this for yourself, to know that He loves you, that He cares for you, that He has your eternal best interests at heart. We can see the brokenness, the evil all around us. It can overwhelm us so easily. Jesus wants us to know and to never forget then our new identity in Him.

Your identity is a precious thing. Did you know that identities are one of the most popular targets of thieves today? They don't just want your stuff, they want you! The IRS, in fact, warned us to file earlier last month. Why, because thieves were targeting people who file taxes on April 15th to steal your returns! Or did you hear about the information theft from a popular insurance company last year? Hackers stole the names, dates of birth, member IDs, and Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and employment information of 105 million people! That's a lot of people!

Imagine, though, the mess that is created when someone has your identity to do with as they will. Such a mess takes months to clean up. Believe me, I know, we had our identity stolen several years ago. It was months of frustration. Money lost, credit challenged, bill collectors coming for our bank accounts even though we didn't purchase any of the stuff they were talking about. I pray this never happens to you. I'm sorry if it has. You see how important our identities are?

Jesus prayed for us the night before His crucifixion because He knew He would succeed in His mission to rescue us, but He also knew that we would still live amidst the bombardments of trouble that could steal our joy and try to convince us that we are alone, unloved, and vulnerable. He wants us to never forget our true identities, children of God, created, redeemed, and restored to Him for eternity because of Jesus Christ our Savior.

God's truth prevails declaring you are not alone. You are His. In Christ, you are not unloved. You are God's precious treasure. Jesus' prayer uttered on the eve of His victory reminds us that we are not vulnerable without protection and power when we are His people. We are guarded closely in God's almighty Name given to us in our baptism. We are His treasure and nothing will separate us from Him. "Identity secure." Identity secure in the hands of the Savior who would pray for us even on the eve of His most horrifying night!

Martin Luther was not only a famous pastor and theologian who proclaimed this good news so clearly that a whole nation, a whole culture, was transformed; he was also a musician who put this powerful truth to music literally to be sung into our hearts. In his great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," he writes:

God's Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God Himself fights by our side With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away, They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom's ours forever!

That's a promise that is sure! Why, Jesus prayed for it, and literally died and rose again to make it possible. That's right, merely a day after this prayer, He would journey to the cross, face down Hell itself to fight for us so that the words of His prayer might be true for all who put their faith in Him.

So, was Mona Lisa smiling? I think so, because she now was back home where she belongs. You can smile an even bigger smile today, joyfully putting your trust in Jesus Christ, the One who makes home, and coming home to God, possible for you in His forgiveness and grace. That's His prayer, that's His offer. And He faced the cross and rose from the grave to make it possible for you, this very day even to eternity. God bless you. Amen. 

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 17, 2015 
Topic: Can the devil hear what you are thinking?

ANNOUNCER: Can the devil hear what you are thinking? That'll be a listener's question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, what do you think? Does the devil have that sort of power over us? 

SELTZ: Mark, that is a potent question. Let's see what God has to say about this in His Word, then. 

ANNOUNCER: Right, because when we fear things, we should go to God's Word and find reassurance.

SELTZ: Our listener is right in one sense. Satan is a scary being; the Bible says a fallen angel. So, the Bible warns us in 1 Peter 5:8, to "be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." 

ANNOUNCER: Because he seeks our destruction.

SELTZ: That's for sure. And, he is much more powerful than we are. Angels in the Bible, both good and fallen ones, have tremendous power. They are spirit beings who operate within our world. So, Satan is not one to be trifled with.

ANNOUNCER: But wouldn't you say our listener is coming from the opposite direction? She's afraid of the power of Satan and she's taking him, maybe, very seriously.

SELTZ: I think you're right. She does. She isn't underestimating Satan's power. But, I do think that she is overestimating it too. As a created being, Satan does have limitations. He is not God. He is not omnipotent--all powerful, omniscient--all knowing, or any of the other "omnis" of God. So, there doesn't seem to be any biblical reason to believe that he can hear our thoughts or know our prayers. And, believers can be confident that he doesn't have unfettered access to them.

ANNOUNCER: And at the same time, let's remember there are also good angels who serve to protect God's people.

SELTZ: Absolutely. But there's even much more than that. God Himself gives people resources for their life and protection. The very Name of God is a powerful tool to calm our fears and keep the temptations of Satan at bay. In fact, that's one of the main reasons that God tells us not to take His Name in vain. He isn't merely saying "Don't curse or swear." He's saying more so to put His Name to work in your life and in your mind. Call out to Him in prayer by the power of His Name. Immerse yourself in His Word, the power of His Name offered there for you. Receive His Baptism, washed in His Name, as a gift that blesses and protects you each and every day.

ANNOUNCER: So, instead of us fearing Satan, perhaps he should be afraid of God's people putting God's Name to work in their lives.

SELTZ: I like that. I think you're right. Instead of worrying about whether or not he can hear our prayers, let's immerse ourselves even more in the blessing and protection of the Name of Jesus. Let's put that Word of God to work in our lives. Let's pray in the Name of Jesus, a Name at which Satan, himself, must bow, even flee. Let's respect his power for sure, but let's not be afraid. 

ANNOUNCER: In other words, stop playing defense, start playing offense?

SELTZ: Exactly. Let's put the power of prayer to work. Even if Satan could hear our prayer, it's more important to realize that God Himself hears our prayers. In fact, the Spirit of God takes our prayers and lifts them up too. With God's concern for you and me, with His capability to be everywhere for everyone, why be troubled whether a fallen angel can hear what we're up to.

ANNOUNCER: And as Scripture says, "If God is for us, who can stand against us."

SELTZ: What a powerful passage of peace and protection that is for all of us who put our trust in Christ. And when it comes to other kinds of questions about good angels or even the demonic realm, I think 1 John 4:1-4 says it well. It says, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." Then he says this, "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come into the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. That is the spirit of the antichrist, which" he says, "you have heard is coming and is even now already in the world."

ANNOUNCER: So, to sum things up; the things of Christ provide our best defense against the devil, and faith in Jesus can cast out our fears and concerns. 

SELTZ: It sure can, and that's what we should focus on, especially when troubled by Satan's capability or power in our lives.

ANNOUNCER: Very good. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. And we thank our listener for that interesting question. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Christ Is the World's Redeemer" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Hear Us, Father, When We Pray" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)


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