In Christ We Are Orphans No More
John 14:15-21 (Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22)
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Series A
John 14:15-21 (ESV)
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
In the spectrum of a society, there is arguably no group of individuals who are more vulnerable than orphans. Having no parents or relatives to take care of them and no possible means of taking care of themselves they face a bleak and trouble filled existence. Being at the mercy of whatever system is in place, orphans throughout the world face overcrowding, minimum care and nutrition, and almost non-existent love and affection. Not because their caregivers are cold and heartless, but because they are being asked to care for far more children than they can possibly give adequate attention to. Orphans are extremely vulnerable and often exploited because the reality is, very few people will ever notice if they go missing. All this is despite the tireless work of countless people throughout the world who dedicate their lives to helping orphans.
And as bad as being an orphan is today, it was far, far worse when our Lord Jesus spoke the promise of today’s Gospel reading. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” For some 2,000 years ago, being an orphan almost always meant a long slow death broken up only by moments of abuse, slavery, and starvation. Being an orphan meant no hope, no comfort, no life - only a bleak and lonely existence. One look into an orphan’s eyes, even today, often shows this to be the case.
For an orphan, the greatest thing that can happen is for someone to come to them and claim them as their own. To adopt them into a family where instead of just existing they can live. To bring them into a group that will watch out for them, take care of them, protect them, comfort them, and love them without condition.
This is exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ is promising to us as He says “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Not in the worldly ways of physical adoption, but in the heavenly ways of spiritual adoption.
For each and every one of us was born as a spiritual orphan. That is what the inheritance of original sin gave to us. Sin cut us off from our spiritual Father, God the Father Almighty, and from our spiritual mother, the church which God has graciously given. Sin has caused us to be spiritual orphans, not because God our Father has abandoned us, but because we have abandoned Him and demanded that He not be a part of our life.
Thus, left to our own, we would have a bleak and lonely existence. One with no hope, no comfort, no love. One in which Satan would exploit us, enslave us, and use us to his own means until we died physically. An existence that would certainly lead to everlasting death, being cut off from God forever. Satan’s goal is to use ever means possible to keep us as spiritual orphans.
It is into that hopeless existence that Jesus shouts His promise and His pledge. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” And He does come to us lifting us out of the orphanage of the sinful world and carrying us to His heavenly family. Adopting us as His children and giving us an equal share of His inheritance.
How does Jesus do this? In ways that the sin blinded world does not see. Jesus says immediately after His promise to come to us, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” He says this because the world does not see Jesus in the simple things of Word and Sacrament, what we call the means of grace. It does not see how the Lord of all creation could possibly be present in the waters of Holy Baptism, washing us clean of our sin and giving us a rebirth in Christ Jesus. But through the eyes of the faith given to us in the means of grace, we see Jesus coming to us, calling our names and not leaving us as orphans.
The World does not see Jesus in the bread and wine which are given to us to eat and drink. But through the eyes of faith, we see God incarnate in Christ’s own body and blood which He sacrificed on the cross to pay the full cost of our sins. In the Lord’s Supper, we see Jesus coming to us, strengthening our faith, and assuring us that He has not left us as orphans, but has joined us with all the saints, past, present, and future, in the marriage feast of the Lamb which has no end.
And the world definitely does not see Jesus in what it regards as the mere words of Scripture. But through the eyes of Faith, we see Jesus, The Word of God, living and active in the Scriptures. In the Bible Jesus comes to us, not leaving us as orphans, but revealing Himself to us and telling us all that we need for life and salvation thereby giving and strengthening our faith.
Now, as any adoptive parent knows, the cost of bringing an orphan into your home is great. In fact, it can often be so great that it often prevents an adoption from taking place. However, I can assure you that the joys and blessings of giving an orphan a family and home are worth any cost needed to make it happen. Our heavenly Father knows this as well. That is why He did not shy away from the cost required to adopt us. He willingly and gladly paid it in full, sending His only begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us, take our sin, and die our death. On the cross, Jesus willingly became an orphan in our stead, as He endured the complete separation from the Father that our sin causes. Such is the unending love of our Savior, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).
Having paid the cost in full, Jesus lovingly joins us to Himself through those same means of grace that the world ignores but in which we see Christ so clearly. By joining us to Him, Jesus is giving us the promise of life in His name as He said, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Of course, being adopted by God does not mean a life here on earth that is easy and carefree. As I said earlier, Satan will use every means possible to keep you as spiritual orphans. He will send trials and tribulations your way in order to get you to abandon your spiritual Father once again. He will send death, disease, family disharmony, financial disaster, and apathy in order to get you to leave your spiritual mother, the church.
Which is why Jesus gave us yet another promise in today’s reading. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” When Jesus ascended to heaven, he did not abandon us. He didn’t even send us a different helper, one to replace Him. He ascended into heaven and sent an additional helper, the Holy Spirit, who works side by side with the Father and the Son to give and sustain faith in Christ our Savior. Faith that allows us to love God and to keep His commandments. Faith that allows us to rely on Jesus and overcome the temptations of Satan. Faith that allows us to cling to Jesus’ and His promises.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… Because I live, you also will live.” In that promise, we find endless hope, comfort, and strength. For the Words of Jesus aren’t just trite platitudes spoken to give us false hope. They are accomplished fact. When God speaks, what He says is, no matter what our worldly senses may tell us.
Thus our Lord and Savior is with us always, as He has promised. Thus our Lord and Savior has not left us as orphans, but has come to us. Thus we have life, because Jesus, through His Word and Sacraments, has joined us to His death and resurrection. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.