The Text: John 14:18
Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans”
Orphans the world over are a tragedy of tremendous proportions. According to UNICEF there are 153 million orphan children worldwide with over five and half thousand being becoming orphans every day. Whether in refugee camps in Africa, India, Romania, Bulgaria, or South East Asia these figures are mind blowing especially knowing the tragic affect that the loss of parents has on children and how this loss shapes the rest of their lives.
Even a child left without parents here in our country, although infinitely far better off than those in the countries I have just mentioned, is affected in ways that we don’t fully understand. Children who lose their parents lose their security and are vulnerable and powerless physically, emotionally and psychologically. The love and care given to them by others will, in time, make up for this but unfortunately some children never get over their loss. Some never get over the psychological wounds that comes with being an orphan. It’s as if they have lost their story, their roots, their history, their identity, their sense of direction.
In the light of this, the words of Jesus take on a special meaning. “I will not leave you orphaned” Jesus says to his disciples. Or this could be translated, “I will not leave you desolate, deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless”.
The disciples knew Jesus in a very close and personal way. They had walked together, talked together, eaten together, shared good and bad times together. They had been constant companions of Jesus. They felt confident and safe in the presence of Jesus.
When they experienced doubt, pain and suffering, they felt Jesus understood what was happening to them.
When they were filled with joy and happiness or overcome with sadness and sorrow, they felt secure in the knowledge that Jesus experienced the same emotions and feelings as they did.
When they were hungry, Jesus fed them and a great crowd with a few loaves and fish.
When they were in danger on the sea, Jesus was nearby to rescue them.
When they witnessed the grief that death brought into their lives, Jesus was at hand to comfort and raise the dead to life.
You see there is a kind of fatherly or perhaps brotherly relationship between Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus could see that his disciples were dependent on him. In fact, Jesus occasionally addressed them as “little children”. In the presence of Jesus they were like “little children” who relied on his love and comfort.
When Jesus warned the disciples that he will no longer be with them he had to quickly assure them not to be worried and upset, but to trust him. Now if that’s how they felt before Jesus’ death imagine how alone and abandoned they must have felt after Jesus’ death on the cross. Under the shadow of the cross, Jesus knew that they will feel like orphans—lost, without hope, helpless, powerless, uncertain about their future and confused. So he makes them a promise:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you….Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14.16,18,27).
Note this unique way Jesus reminds us that we will always have a home and a family. He says, “I am in the Father, and you are in me, just as I am in you (John 14:20).
This is a good passage to pause and meditate on. Simply what Jesus is expressing is the very close and intimate relationship between himself and the Father, himself and his disciples and his disciples and God. That tiny word “in” describes a special bond, a unique oneness. A family relationship.
You who believe in Jesus already have the Holy Spirit. God the Father has sent you the Holy Spirit through the Son. He did this for you at baptism. Because of God’s work for us in baptism you have a place of belonging in the family of God, by which you are no longer orphans, for God our Father has made you heirs with Jesus his Son. We are sons and daughters together with the Son. And since that is the case for every person who is in Christ then we are all a part of that Triune God’s loving, supporting family. We are all brothers and sisters joined together in God’s family, the church.
In this family God the Father continues to give you the Holy Spirit, through the Son, who meets you in the word, the scriptures. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit continually comes to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are given a new direction, a new future and a new life.
This new life is one in which we will always have a home. We will always have a loving family—God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These words of comfort carry the message that we won’t ever be orphans—we will know exactly who we are and where we belong.
True enough Satan will always try to break up that togetherness we have. He just loves to drive wedges of doubt, anger, hostility, and jealousy, either between us and God, or between each another in his family. He will constantly tempt us to sin and break the bond and put up barriers between the members of the family, and break apart from it. But that’s not what God has planned for any of us.
God wants no one to feel like an orphan. When Jesus says to us “I will not leave you as orphans” he means that we belong to the Father, adopted and claimed through Jesus the Son. We are loved by the Father. We are forgiven by the Son. When there are members of the family who are feeling like an orphan because we have had a falling out with someone, as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to make amends, whether it was our fault or not.
When there is a member of the family who is feeling like an orphan—lonely, scared, uncertain because they are facing illness and even death—as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to pass on the love and care that we have received from our heavenly Father.
When there are members of the family who are feeling like orphans—feeling unloved, needing a guiding hand, wanting someone to know their pain—as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let them see the love of our heavenly parent through us.
When there are members of this special family who are feeling like orphans, needing someone to provide them with basic essentials and to empathise with them in their circumstances, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let them see in us the love of our heavenly Father as we meet those needs.
Jesus’ words need to become our words to one another as people of God’s family “I will not leave you as an orphan”, as we reflect the love and care of God into the lives of the people around us. Let Jesus inspire us to say to our fellow brothers and sisters, “I will not leave you desolate, feeling deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless”.
At the 400 metre race at the 1992 summer Olympics a young Englishman, Derek Redmond was hungry to win a gold medal after being forced to withdraw from the previous Olympics because of injury. However, shortly after the start of the race, he popped his right hamstring. All the other runners continued the race leaving him like an orphan alone on the track. Amazingly Redmond got back up and started hopping towards the finish line. The other runners had all finished the race in a matter of seconds. Redmond, in tears, slowly and laboriously kept hopping. It looked as if he would fall any moment.
Suddenly, a man appeared beside Derek. It was his father. He had run down from the stands and pushed his way through the security guards to reach his son. Redmond’s father put his arm around his son and let him cry on his shoulder. Then, with his father holding him up, Derek hobbled to the finish line and then he hopped over the line by himself to finish the race.
There’s a word of hope for you and me, to help us finish the race of life. It is God’s own word. When we are feeling like orphans to run the race of life in this world—a race we cannot run by our own strength—we have a Father who gives us his strength to keep on going, a Saviour who walks beside us and the Spirit who comforts us, and strengthens us in faith, pointing us to everything Jesus said and still speaks, enabling us to cross the finishing line. We are not abandoned because we have a God who loves us. He says to each of personally and individually, “I will not leave you as orphans”. Amen.