“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.“–John 17:15
The greatness of God’s love is seen in several ways– the communications we have received, the commandments He has given, the crucifixion of Christ, the compassion shown by Christ, etc. But there is another way, which generally gets overlooked, and that is the commission to the church. Jesus sent His followers to Jerusalem, knowing they would be persecuted, and then commanded them to continue on into the whole world, subjecting them to great hardships for the sake of winning the lost. The same One who sent His own dear Son, to give His life for us, also sends His children into the world like sheep among the wolves. That has to be love.
God’s children are not here by accident. Whatever times we live in is the time of which it can be said, we were born “for such a time as this”, and those times can be tough. Jesus knew the apostles would be hated and persecuted and that heaven would be a sweet relief, but He said, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world”. Taking them out would mean that they could escape the trials and enter the joy of the Lord, yet Christ prays for them to remain, which meant suffering. Why would He do that?
We can only account for this by considering the importance of their mission. He left them here that He might send them to the world (John 17:18). Others would come to believe on Christ “through their word” (John 17:20) and that made their suffering worth the price they paid. After all, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save the lost. What right did they, or we, have to complain about the hardness of the way? Should our life be spared, considering that He spared not His life for us?
In times of desperation many pray to die, or for the Lord to come. Trying to sound spiritual, they might say they did so because they wanted to be with the Lord, but the real reason is that they want to be rid of their troubles and trials. While Paul said to die would be “far better” (Phil. 1:23) he also said it is “more needful” (Phil. 1:24) that we remain in this world until the time of God’s own choosing when He will call us home. To die is gain, to live is grief, but to stay and suffer for the good of others is glory, and that should be our desire. That’s something worth living for! And that should make us happy here.
Looking at the rest of our text, it’s obvious that Christ knew we would struggle with this, so He prays, “but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil”. You can rest assured that, whatever hardships you face in the pursuit of God’s will, the grace of God will keep you. It is sufficient for every need. Christ never said it would be easy, but He did promise that He would enable us. So, let us not complain about the hardness of the way, but rather focus on Christ, and busy ourselves in fulfilling our mission, so as to glorify God. God proved how much He loves the world by giving His Son and by allowing His children to suffer, let us prove how much we love God by being willing to suffer for His sake.
Christ loves lost sinners so much that He put His people in harms way in order to save them. As a parent I cannot imagine allowing my children to suffer horribly for the sake of helping someone who hates me, yet that is precisely what God has done. We can’t understand it because we can’t comprehend the wrath of God, nor fathom the greatness of His love. However, we can know that He isn’t asking us to do anything for Him that He wasn’t willing to do for us. May God help us to have the attitude of Esther. When Mordecai asked, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”, she responded by saying, “I go….and if I perish, I perish”(Est. 5:16). If you are afraid to make a commitment such as that, remember the words of David, “My times are in thy hand”(Ps. 31:15). You couldn’t be in a better place than that! Never forget– we are here for Him. Whatever “here” might mean to you that’s exactly where you ought to be, and you ought to be happy here. Think about it!