Dr. Annalena Tonelli was born in Italy in 1943. She received a scholarship to attend college in the United States, returned to Italy to get her law degree, but all the while she felt like God was leading her to use her time to do something different. At the age of 25, she moved to Africa to work with the Committee Against World Hunger.
In 1970, she and a young friend headed to Kenya where they worked with the sick and helped in educating children. It was in Kenya that she fell in love with those suffering from tuberculosis. War broke out in Kenya and Annalena was driven from the country to Somalia where she set up a care center in Mogadishu. She was robbed and kidnapped. Her car was stolen. It didn’t stop her. Annalena rode a donkey to care for those who were ill.
About one year later Annalena moved down the coast of Somalia to Merca where she worked as a doctor in the Caritas Hospital. Annalena had friends all over the world who sent her money and supplies. The local officials used underhanded means to try and get her supplies as they would arrive by ship, but she fought them on a daily basis to make sure she could use every resource for her patients. Word got back to Annalena that the officials of the city had decided to kill her so many of her patients decided to appear before the mayor of the village, asking that her life be spared. She was removed from the hospital and moved into an old abandoned church to care for the sick. Eventually she was expelled from the church. Meanwhile back in Italy, family and friends begged her to leave the country and come home–things were far too dangerous. All the humanitarian organizations left the country, but she stayed for about one year after everyone had left.
In 1995 Annalena decided to leave Merca and begin again in Borama, Somalia. Annalena built a hospital to care for those suffering from tuberculosis and other illnesses. The hospital grew through the years and eventually had 75 doctors and nurses who worked alongside of Annalena. Even though Annalena was beyond 50 years of age she was tireless in her work. She slept only four hours a night. She worked without breaks. She ate rice and beans. She only had two tunics and a pair of sandals that someone had given her when he saw her walking barefoot. She was a small woman who seemed to be just skin and bones, but she was full of energy.
Annalena recognized that those who were suffering from HIV/AIDS were not being cared for so she decided to bring them to the Borama hospital because she believed they deserved to be treated like human beings and children of God. This decision did not sit well with those in her community and in November of 2002, protesters threw stones through the windows of the hospital and chanted “Death to Annalena.” She received countless threats, she was beaten and assaulted, and finally on October 5, 2003, a gunman put two bullets in the back of the 61 year old doctor’s head, the day before she was to dedicate a new wing to the hospital. Annalena said about her own life,
I only wanted to follow Jesus. I was not interested in anything else: Christ and the poor in Christ. Nothing has meaning outside of love. In my life I have lived so many dangers, I have been in the danger of death so many times. I have lived for years in the midst of war… And I have one conviction: the only thing that counts is love. Only love frees man from all that enslaves him. Only love makes him grow and flourish. Only love makes us not afraid of anything, capable of turning the other cheek to those who strike us, able to risk our life for our friends, able to bear everything, hope for everything… This is how our life becomes a blessing. It becomes happiness even in the midst of suffering. I strongly feel that we are all called to love, that is to say, to holiness. (Annalena Tonelli)
In our Scripture for today we are going to listen in on Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. In His prayer Jesus asks the Father to protect His disciples. This is one of the great examples of how we need to really study Scripture rather than lift one verse out of context and try and make the Bible say something we want it to say. What kind of protection did Jesus have in mind when He prayed for the protection of His followers? Did Jesus fail to protect Annalena or was Jesus’ prayer for protection about something other than physical protection? I hope by the end of our time in God’s Word this morning there will be no question in your mind. Let’s read our Scripture found in John 17:11-19.
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:11-19 NIVO)
In verses 6-19, Jesus prayed for His disciples. I want you to notice some things about Jesus’ prayer before we get into our study. In verse 11, Jesus says He is getting ready to leave the world, but “they are still in the world.” In verse 14, Jesus states, “they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” In verse 15, Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” The last thing I want us to notice is found in verse 18 where Jesus prays, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
Those who are followers of Jesus are not of the world, but we are sent into the world as people of purpose, people on a mission. As I have been studying and praying through Jesus’ prayer this past week God has really taught me an incredible truth that I believe most Christians today fail to understand. Let me explain. When I first became a follower of Jesus I believed the by-product of my new found faith would be a better life for me and an eventual seat in heaven when my life was over. My relationship with Jesus centered solely on me–Jesus and me. That way of thinking is certainly not what we find at the heart of Jesus’ prayer for His followers is it? We are called to Jesus, but then sent out into this mean, broken, and often adversarial world as ambassadors of Jesus as though God is making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Let’s take a deeper look at Jesus’ prayer. There are aspects of Jesus’ prayer that I want to highlight for you this morning. First, Jesus prays that His disciples will be protected. We need to pay special attention to the kind of protection Jesus is seeking for His disciples or we will become disillusioned with the hardships of life. Jesus prays that God’s protection will be twofold: First from the world and second from the evil one. In verse 14, Jesus confesses in His prayer that the world hates His disciples. He says, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them…” (v. 14) Jesus can’t be praying for the physical protection of His disciples because He has already told them that they are going to be persecuted, flogged, and even killed because of their allegiance to Him. In Matthew 10:16-22 we read,
16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:16-22 NIVO)
You and I are unfamiliar with this kind of persecution, but we have brothers and sisters all over the world who are facing persecution of every stripe, even rape and death, for no other reason than they are followers of Jesus. We must also recognize that all of Jesus’ disciples, except for John, were killed because of their relationship to Jesus and their unwillingness to be silent about who Jesus was and why He had come.
Even though we may have never faced persecution because of our love for Jesus that doesn’t mean that you and I don’t face pressure to downplay our love for Jesus or not to speak about Jesus in a public setting. This kind of pressure from the world around us, from our culture, is growing daily and I want to encourage you not to succumb to the pressure. I’m sure many of you have seen the Christmas ads that went up on billboards and on television during this past Christmas. They carried statements like, “Who needs God? Be good for goodness sake.” Or, “Who needs Christ at Christmas? Nobody.” These are impersonal attacks that are just put out there for the general public, but what I’m talking about are personal attacks that demean and denigrate people who are seeking to live out their faith. I had a friend who worked in the field of genetics. The doctor who headed up the lab was a staunch atheist, an evangelistic atheist, who let everyone know that worked in the lab that if they believed in Jesus they were nothing short of an idiot and were incapable of being a scientist. Another friend of mine plays on a tennis team where all of his teammates are atheist. When the topic of God and Jesus came up at a dinner my friend was put on the hot seat. This kind of pressure can easily cause a follower of Jesus to become quiet and succumb to the pressure. Paul said,
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIVO)
We are to be unashamed of our faith and love for Jesus, but know this, if you do what you are supposed to do, “go into all the world and make disciples,” then you will face opposition.
Jesus also prayed that God would protect His disciples from the “evil one.” A growing number of Christians do not believe in the literal existence of Satan in our day, but disbelieving in the existence of Satan is like closing your eyes in the middle of the day and saying you don’t believe in the sun. Regardless of your disbelief the evidence is overwhelming. Peter wrote about the relentless, stealthy mission of our enemy with this descriptive warning.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9 NIVO)
The devil, or Satan, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Satan’s schemes are much more subtle, seemingly much more innocent, than what we see in the movies. C.S. Lewis, in his incredible little book, The Screwtape Letters, tells the story of temptation and resistance. Uncle Screwtape is mentoring the young junior demon, Wormwood, on how to effectively secure the damnation of a British man only known as “the patient.” During one lecture, Screwtape emphasizes the importance of encouraging the small sins that will gradually edge the patient away from God. He tells Wormwood,
But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters, pg. 61)
Little pet sins that we’ve convinced ourselves really harm no one. Attitudes that are not Christlike, but that we say are just part of who we are… “that’s just the way I am.” Emotions that brew like a cauldron deep within us, but that we don’t allow anyone to witness. All of these and more are the subtle schemes of our enemy who quietly, but persistently prowls around looking to destroy us.
There is another quiet scheme of the enemy that I see rising within the Body of Christ today and that is teaching that is contrary to the teachings of God’s Word. We take a little of the Bible and a little bit of this or that and blend them together to create our own truth. While I was in Florida a friend of mine sent me a link to an interview with Nick Cannon on The Breakfast Club. Some of you may not recognize the name, but Nick has incredible influence in our society. He’s a writer, producer, stand-up comedian, musician, actor, host of America’s Got Talent, and he was married to Mariah Carey at one time. It’s not Nick’s accomplishments that I want to share with you, it’s Nick’s beliefs.
Nick was raised in a Christian home and today he often speaks about his Christian faith. In his interview with the Breakfast Club he said his first language is Christianity, but he has become fluent in many other spiritualities. He’s been greatly influenced by the teachings of Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam as well as the Moorish Science Temple. Nick said he wears a turban as a result of what he has learned from the Moorish Temple. He said it is his crown and reminds him of his sovereignty. Because of Nick’s popularity lots of people are hearing his message, a message of syncretism, or the blending of different religions.
There are others who don’t blend religions as much as they put a slight twist the teachings of the Bible. They’ll take one verse, lift it out of context, and create a “biblical” teaching that really isn’t biblical at all. This is really nothing new. The Apostle Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth who were being misled by these kind of folks.
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NIVO)
What resources do we have against these subtle schemes of the enemy of God’s people and the world? Well, Jesus prayed for His disciples and He prays for us as well. He prayed that God would protect them, or maybe “keep them” is more easily understandable for you and me. The Greek word translated in the New International Version as “protect,” is the word, “?????” (tereo) and it means, “to attend to carefully, take care of, or to guard.” Jesus is praying for our spiritual security and not our physical security. If we will take the time to read verse 12 once again I think we will see this understanding more clearly. Jesus said,
12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12 NIVO)
Still a little fuzzy? I mean it does say, “I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” The NIV is the only translation that translates the Greek in this way. The NAS, KJV, and ESV translation are much clearer. Let’s read the ESV together.
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV)
During His entire time with His disciples Jesus had watched out for them, He had kept them, spiritually watched over them to keep them from the false teachings that filled the land. They had received His Word, they had believed that He was the Messiah, and their spiritual well-being had been guarded and cared for by Jesus. None of them had been lost except for the one who had always been lost, Judas. Anytime we talk about Judas it seems that someone protests, “Was it fair of God not to choose Judas?” My question for you is, “With so many opportunities for Judas to choose Jesus why would he be so adamant about refusing to surrender his will to the will of Jesus?” Do you remember, even at the Last Supper Jesus dipped His bread into the cup and extended it to Judas, but Judas refused.
Back to our being guarded and spiritually protected by God. This is such a powerful lesson for you and me to recognize, not just as some theoretically theological truth, but as one of the most practical day-to-day realities of life. We need the Lord to guard our hearts and minds because we are so gullible, so easily deceived. A.C. Gaebelein was born in Germany, but migrated to the United States where he served as a Bible teacher for many years. He wrote about how God guards His own by saying,
That keeping means everything. Keeping from falling away, from evil doctrines, from being overcome by sorrow, or in tribulation and suffering, keeping them in life and in death…If a true believer, one who belongs to Christ, who has been given by the Father to the Son, for whom the Son of God intercedes, can be lost, it would mean the loss of Christ’s glory, the loss of a part of the travail of His soul. (A.C. Gaebelein)
The pastor is so right–God’s keeping of you and me means everything. I know how prone I am to wander. I know how prone I am to be deceived. I know my emotions can lead me astray because I’ve witnessed it time and time again. I know me all too well, but I also know the faithfulness, the holiness, and mercy of God who sent His Son to rescue me from sin and myself. Peter shared one of the most powerful truths with those of his day and it is equally true for you and me. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, he writes,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 NIVO)
For those of you who are here this morning and you are a follower of Jesus you need to know that your salvation, the inheritance of eternal life won for you by Jesus, is kept, guarded, secure in the One who shields you by His mighty Power.
If you are here this morning and you have never surrendered your heart to Jesus, like Judas you just keep resisting, don’t you know that He has brought you here this morning so that you might have your eyes opened to your great need for Jesus? Won’t you come to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love, the One who when He saves you will keep you until the day He comes for you? Won’t you give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 5, 2017