Never an Orphan


A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on October 30, 2011.

John 14:16-18

Don’t leave us! 

How many times is that phrase uttered every day?  As parents leave the house, with their children at the door, jumping up and down, crying:  “Don’t leave us!  Don’t leave us!  Where are you going?  Don’t leave!”  My Jordan, when she was little, asked the question every time I walked out the door.  It doesn’t matter if I’m going to work all day or going to the corner store.  As I left, she looked me eye-to-eye and said, “Will you be back?”, as if she wanted a verbal contract

We’re that way as children.  We do not want to be left behind when our parents go.  “Don’t leave us,” we cry. Separation anxiety.

Antsy children standing at the doorway – feeling uncomfortable and uncertain because their father is about to go away.  And where daddy is going, they cannot go.  Not this time, at least.

That’s exactly what is happening in the Gospel of John, in the 13th chapter.  It is near the end of the ministry of Jesus.  His disciples had followed Him each and every step of His ministry.  They had recently celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, showing them the meaning of a servant’s heart.  They were very uncomfortable as Jesus – their Rabbi, their Lord, their teacher – took the towel, girded up his robe, slid the basin across the floor and washed each of their feet, the very thing that they were all unwilling to humble themselves to do for each other.

And then, in verse 31 of chapter 13, Jesus began talking about the Son of Man – his favorite designation for himself – being glorified.  He is telling them, “It’s time for Me to go to the cross, to be high and lifted up upon the sacrificial beam.”

Notice verse 33 of chapter 13. 

“Little children, I am with you a little while longer.  You shall seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, I say to you also, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’”

The father is telling the children at the doorway, “I’m fixing to leave and you can’t go with me this time.”

“Don’t leave us,” they begin to cry out.

Notice verse 36.

 “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’”  Jesus knows what he means – “Why can’t I go, Lord?”

“Where I go, you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow later.”

“Don’t leave us,” Peter said to Him.  “Lord, why can’t I follow You right now.  I’ll lay down my life for you.”

“Oh, yes, Peter?  Really now.  The cock shall not crow until you deny Me three times.”

The disciples had left absolutely everything to follow Jesus.  They had dropped the fishing nets; they had closed the tax tables.  They had given up life as they had known it, leaving, in some cases, families behind to go and follow this Jewish rabbi.  Their whole life had been following Him – going with Him, walking, their feet in His footprints.  What is this madness that He is speaking of now – that He’s going some place and they won’t be allowed to go.  “Don’t leave us,” they cried with their hearts.  Their hearts are very troubled.  “Will you be back?” another disciple must be fretting.

And Jesus begins the 14th chapter with those beautiful words.  “Stop letting your heart be troubled.”  The grammatical construction of the sentence makes very clear that their hearts are already troubled.  “Stop letting your heart be troubled” is a better translation than “Let not your heart be troubled” because, indeed, their spirits were already in turmoil.  “Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house – where I am going – there are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”

Jesus has to go now, to get things ready for His children. 

Beautiful verse – verse 3: 

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  You know the way where I am going.”

Notice verse 5: 

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”  Don’t leave us, Thomas is saying.

Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

Of course, a good father never leaves his children unattended.  They need someone to care for them, to watch over them.  Why, a good father doesn’t just leave the children alone, but he sends another to be with them.

Verse 16: 

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (the word is Comforter), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.”

I love verse 18.

 “I will not leave you as orphans.”

Don’t leave us!

I’m not going to leave you as an orphan.  Where I am going, you’re going to come.  It’s a big house with a lot of rooms, and I’m going to get it ready for you.  But in the meantime, I will not leave you as orphans.  I’ll be back.  And you have the presence of the Spirit until I come to you.

There are times that life seems so overwhelming.  Problems coming from every direction – problems we didn’t ask for, problems that we didn’t expect.  Boom.  All of a sudden they knock at your door.  They’re here.  And those problems are no respecter of persons.  They come to all – rich and poor, beautiful and plain, good and bad. 

“Don’t leave us,” we cry out to the Father, as we need Him in a real way, right now.

“I will not leave you as orphans.”  An orphan is one who has known the warmth of a father’s and mother’s love, the security of home and hearthside, and then is deprived of those wonderful gifts.  That’s the way the disciples were feeling.  Yes, Jesus had been their beloved companion, their staunch friend, their never-failing guide.  And now Jesus is only talking about death.  The time is at hand.  It was with dismay the apostles heard his “I go away.”  But Jesus promises He won’t leave us as orphans.

This patient said to the doctor, “Sometimes I wonder why so many bad things happen to me.  And then I thank God for the strength to handle it.”

Wendy Stead, MD, remembers her interaction with a patient who suffered much.  The patient was 41 and had gone through many procedures and months of waiting, trying to have a second child.  Finally the word came, she was 18 weeks pregnant.  And then, the worrisome news.  She is sent to a gastroenterologist by her obstetrician to be evaluated for some bleeding.  The tests show a 4-centimeter mass and the biopsy confirms cancer.  The options are clear from all the experts:  chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery ASAP.  And, all of them advise that she abort the pregnancy – the so-hoped-for pregnancy – because unless she gets started right away, the cancer may progress to an untreatable disease.  But the patient has no interest in abortion, despite the repeated urging of the consultants.  The doctor, Wendy Stead, said she, herself, was humbled to watch her patient digest all this.  She’s such a small lady, but such a strong lady.

Wendy respected her  patient’s decision not to abort and to carry the pregnancy, despite the fact of the new-found cancer.  “At the same time,” she says, “every part of me wanted me to start infusing the chemotherapy.”

Then while Dr. Stead was reviewing the expectant mom’s staging CT scan reports, she found the mention of an incidental splenic artery aneurysm.    Even as a physician, Wendy says she wasn’t even sure exactly what that meant, but she soon found out that it was a very high risk situation.  Many such aneurysms actually rupture during pregnancy or delivery, leading to massive hemorrhage.  She wondered how could so many things go wrong for one patient at the same time?  Oddly enough, the aneurysm would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for the cancer screening.

After a lot of discussion and recommendations, a plan is agreed upon.  There will be a cesarean delivery at 29 weeks.  The child would go to the NICU, and cancer treatment will start immediately.  She delivers a baby girl right after Christmas.  Starts the chemotherapy and radiation, which she tolerates poorly while her daughter struggles in the NICU with an infection.  She quickly goes for her surgery, and, during the surgery, it is discovered there is an enlarged para-aortic lymph node  – stage 4.  And now the planning transitions to palliative chemotherapy.  She is sick several days during every cycle, and  the cancer continues to spread – all the way to the brain.  Somewhere in the midst of all this, her husband is laid off from his job.  And Dr. Wendy Stead said, “I stop counting her tragedies because this patient doesn’t seem to keep up with them either.”

Dr. Stead writes, “As her primary care physician for the last three years, I have deeply felt the limits of what I can offer.  I can link her to the best oncologists.  I can offer her the comfort of clinic visits spent discussing minor ailments, flu vaccines, the basics.  And I can be there on the other end of her e-mails and telephone calls, which I am still afraid to answer sometimes...afraid to let her down with my limitations one more time. 

Despite this, she is the most grateful patient.  Always remarking on how ‘lucky’ she feels to have such good doctors.  She sends me thank-you notes and holiday cards with pictures of her family, and I hang them up.  She is grateful that I am present and that is enough.  It is not fair.  She gives me so much more than this.

“To me,” writes Dr. Stead, “she is a hero.  She is mother of the year.  She is full of grace and power.  I wish I could tell her how grateful I am for what she is showing me, but it would embarrass her.  She shrinks from the bright light of my amazement at her strength.  Hers is the quiet courage of living each day.  Of watching her kids grow and of being there.  Of carrying on because what else can she do?  I rarely see her cry.  When she questions why these years have been filled with so many challenges, it is with more wonder than grief.  She fights for more than three years, the full extent of her disease often masked by her youth.  She dies in the ICU after her lungs quickly fill with tumors.  It’s hard to let the patient go, but she made it clear she is not afraid to die.  As her strength fades, I can see it ripple through her husband as he makes choices she would have made.  Her daughter is 3 now.  Her son is 8.

“Sometimes I wonder why she had to die so young.  Why she had to suffer.  Why the bad news kept on coming in waves.  Why couldn’t I help her more.  And then I thank God for the gift of knowing her.”  (Wendy Stead, MD, “The Gift of Perspective,” JAMA, July 13, 2011)

Congregation, what I am about to say to you I do not say cheaply or naively.  I do not spread it upon your wounds like one heaps up cheap salve.  I do not ask you to take it three times a day, as some physicians would prescribe placebos or sugar pills.  I say it with the full force of the Word of God.  And before I utter it, I want you to know that the enormity of pain in this room is so immense.  Some of your families have just recently received very bad news.  A week doesn’t go by in a congregation of this enormity that we don’t learn of someone who’s received the bad news.  It might be the terrible C – cancer.  It might be MS.  It might be discovering that you’re a diabetic, or that blockages are slowly stopping a good flow of blood to your heart.  Of course, there’s a plethora of possibilities – unending, it seems – the sources of suffering. 

Or death has recently visited your family.  There’s a void, there’s emptiness, there’s guilt, there’s hurt, there’s grief, there’s confusion.  Life just doesn’t seem as if it will really ever be the same.  Or you’ve discovered this week, or in recent days, that your spouse has secretly been unfaithful to you.  You’re reeling with a sense of abandonment, a sense of betrayal that rips to the bottom of your heart.  Why?  Why?  Why?

For some of you, the hurt is in your career life.  The company’s not stable.  Changes are inevitable in your industry.  You just don’t know what’s ahead. 

So before I utter the words, I want you to know that I do not heap them up hastily.  I know that in this room, the pain is immense.  You are caring for an aging parent and – well, quite frankly – it’s not easy to change, it’s not easy to spoon feed your father or your mother.  During my recent shoulder surgery, I found myself – the day after – being spoon fed grits by Chandler.  Now, I know Texans don’t understand what grits are.  They are basically a vehicle which carries butter and cheese, salt and pepper.  You ought to try them sometime.  I looked up at Chandler, grinned, and said, “Are you practicing for when I’m a really old man and you really do have to feed me?”  She grinned, and I said, “You just don’t forget – I fed you with a spoon when you were a baby.”  The one who was your helper seems now to be so very helpless.

Somehow all of us think that our family will be exempt from the pains and the trials and the sufferings of life.  Of course, that cannot and will not ever be so.  Each of us, every one of our families, will experience the loss of life, the suffering of sickness.  Many of us will suffer the disillusionment of divorce of someone in our family.

But you know what Jesus says?  Even as we shout, “Don’t leave us,” we join those disciples, don’t we?  We are right there where they are.  And we shout, like children to a parent, “Don’t abandon me.  Don’t leave us.”  And Jesus says, “I’ve given you another.  I’ve given you the Spirit of God, the Helper, a Comforter.” 

And congregation, here it is.  When God has given us the Spirit, we really don’t have any problems beyond which we can deal with.  If God gives us His Spirit, we don’t really have any problems beyond which we can deal with – through His presence and His comfort.

We sometimes envy those who saw Jesus in the flesh, those who talked to Him and – oh, my – touched Him.  Sometimes in the midst of our personal crisis, we have the wistful thought, “If only I could hear His voice right now.”  As Catherine Marshall has said, we feel the longing of the hymn, the classic children’s hymn,

“I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,

His arms had been thrown around me,

that I might have seen His kind look when He said,

‘Little ones, come unto me.’”

“Don’t leave us,” the disciples cried.  “There’s something better than Me in limited flesh,” says Jesus.  “My presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus, in almost businesslike terminology, says it is expedient for us that He goes away.  “It has been calculated to your advantage,” He says (John 16:7).

Yes, even while we stand at the doorway as children and declare, “Don’t leave us,” He says it’s best.  Because if He leaves, we come to the new era when Jesus’ glorified presence by the Spirit is not only with us, but also in us, progressively transforming our lives, working from the inside out – to face all of life’s uncertainties, all of its tragedies and all of its complexities with a sense of deep peace.  All who are being led by the Spirit, says Paul, these are the sons of God.  “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again.  But you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out Abba, Father.  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”  (Romans 8:14-16)

Those last words – God’s Spirit literally communicates with, bears witness with our inner being, called here our spirit. 

The presence of God’s Spirit does not always promise the quick or immediate release that we would desire. You remember Hippocrates, the Greek physician considered to be the father of medicine.  It was he who wrote the Hippocratic oath, taken by all those entering the practice of medicine.  He lived from about 450 to 375 B.C., which made him a contemporary of philosophers such as Socrates, Dionysius, Plato and Aristotle.  But as Charles Swindoll recounts, he wrote a lot more than the famous oath that bears his name.  And many of his writings, as we would expect, have to do with human anatomy, with medicine and healing.  In a piece entitled “Precepts” these words appear in the first chapter:  “Healing is a matter of time.”  We might paraphrase it this way:  Recovering from extreme difficulties usually requires an extreme amount of time.  We become disillusioned and disappointed when we have prayed for, but do not experience a quick recovery.  When we anticipate Divine intervention and it does not always transpire, we come to an anguish, almost to the breaking point.

But Jesus says, “My Spirit is with you.  I have not abandoned you.  I have not left you as an orphan.  Besides, I’m coming again for you, Myself.”

We can’t quit doing life for fear of what might be around the next corner.  We can’t cancel the journey.  We can’t even pause at the rest stop for very long.  We must plunge forward.  We must not withdraw and hide.

Look at John 14:26-27.

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.  Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, and neither let it be fearful.”

Yes, the amount of pain in this room, the amount of uncertainty, the amount of fear is enormous.  Hearts – many hearts – are troubled.  And yet, I still say it.  Because He hasn’t left us, because He is coming again, because He is preparing the dwelling place for His children, because no one will ever say that He has abandoned us as orphans, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God we don’t have any problems beyond which we are able to face.  Not because of our strength, but because of His.

“Daddy, will you be back?”

“Yes, of course I will, Jordan.”

Daddy always comes back.  Sometimes she just had to hear it again, even though she knew the answer to her question.  It’s the same every time.  Sometimes I told her I’ll be back in 10 minutes.  Sometimes when I walked out the door I told her I’ll be back at the end of the day.  And sometimes when I walked out the door, I told her it will be three mornings she’ll wake up and on the fourth morning I’ll be back in her presence.  But ultimately, always, I’ll be back.

And so Jesus said, notice verse 18:

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

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Tags: Fear, Howard Batson, Orphan, Parents, Sermons