Sermon / Lipton, SK / June 1st, 2014 / John 17:1-11 / Jesus' Special Prayer / Pastor Terry Defoe
1 … Jesus … looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (New International Version © 2011)
Jesus Christ came to this earth with a task to accomplish – a task given to Him by His Heavenly Father. You know the story: Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth. In his 30th year, He began His ministry. He got up in a synagogue one Sabbath day and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read words about giving sight to the blind. He read words about setting prisoners free. He read words about proclaiming the year of the Lord. And then, Jesus utterly shocked his listeners by saying that He was the One, personally sent by God, to do these things. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His holy Word this day!
Jesus of Nazareth was a man of compassion. He went about doing good. He healed the sick. He forgave sinners. He gave hope to the despairing. Jesus was a religious man in a religious nation. But there was something very different about Him. He wasn't stuffy or overly intellectual, like the Jewish religious leaders. He wasn't irrelevant or boring. The message he brought was vital and fresh. He was approachable. He had compassion. And his faith and message were contagious. A lot of people caught it from him, including you and me all these years later.
Jesus of Nazareth was a man on a mission. He had a goal. And that goal was the salvation of the whole world. But reaching that goal meant challenging the religious status quo of his day. Reaching that goal meant encountering a Roman cross. During His three-year ministry, Jesus often healed the body. But, at the cross, he did what was necessary to heal the soul. Jesus cared for people – physically. But at the cross, he dealt with our most important problem, and that’s our problem of sin and separation from a holy God. Jesus of Nazareth went to the cross where He paid the price for our sins. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that he was seen – during the following 40 days – by his disciples and many others. His work of salvation was done. Salvation had been accomplished. The time had come for him to rejoin His Father in Heaven. His disciples were there when He was taken up to heaven. We call that the ASCENSION.
Our sermon text this morning is taken from John chapter 17. It might surprise you to know that Jesus spoke these words, not on the day of his ascension, but the night before his crucifixion. In other words, the night before Jesus went to the cross, he prayed. We call this Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer." This morning, I’ve called it “Jesus’ Special Prayer.” In this prayer, Jesus prayed for himself. He prayed for his disciples. And He prayed for you and me. You know, it's not often that we can listen in on one of Jesus’ prayers. But, this morning we can be the proverbial "fly on the wall." As we listen in to this prayer we learn a lot about our Savior. We learn about His relationship with his Father. And we also learn about His love and compassion for us, today.
In this prayer, Jesus speaks to his Father. As He prayed, Jesus knew that his time had come. It was time for Him to deal with the sin that had cursed the human race for so long. God’s Word tells us that, since that fateful day in the garden of Eden, humankind has had a problem with sin. Since that fateful day in the Garden, God’s relationship with humanity had been broken. God’s word tells us that, no matter what we do, we cannot live up to the lofty standards lays out for us in his Law. We are sinners. We sin by the thoughts that enter our minds. We sin by the careless words we say. We sin by our actions as well. The truth is that we are caught in a spider web of sin, and the more we struggle to free ourselves, the tighter we are bound in it. But I have Good News for you this morning! Jesus Christ came to this world to be our Savior from sin. He came to break sin's bondage and curse. He came to set us free. He came to grant us an abundant life. He came to be the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sin. He came to take the punishment we deserve. He came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
A woman by the name of Marie Stewart once wrote an article for a Lutheran publication called "Evangelize." In that article, she illustrates the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross with a real-life story that took place on Wednesday, January 13th, 1982, 31 years ago. Marie Stewart says:
As the television cameras focused on the icy tragedy below, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. On the screen before me, I caught a glimpse of an unknown man, repeatedly refusing to save himself from the frigid waters. Each time a rescue line was offered to him, he passed it on to one of the others.
Air Florida flight 90 had just taken off from the National Airport in Washington, D.C., but never made it over the 14th street bridge. With most of the passengers and crew still aboard, the wreckage now lay beneath the ice. Helicopters and paramedics had been on the scene in moments, and heroic rescue measures had been applied. But when they returned after pulling the other five to safety, the man was gone.
For all I know, these were perfect strangers to our hero, but he made the supreme sacrifice and went to a watery grave. This modern-day hero is 46-year-old bank examiner Arland D. Williams Jr. The 14th Street Bridge complex over the Potomac River at the crash site was renamed in his honor.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says:
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV © 2011)
In the Christian church, we proclaim the story of God’s sacrificial love in Christ. At the cross and the empty tomb, Jesus earned salvation for the whole world. All sins – sins past, present, and future – were paid for, in full, at the cross. As the Holy Spirit works, through God’s Word and Holy Baptism, we realize what Jesus has done for us, and we receive salvation as a gift of God’s grace. Jesus did what He had come to do. At the cross and the empty tomb, He brought glory to His Father. In a most dramatic way, Jesus demonstrated the depths of the Father's love. When you think about it, the heart of the Christian message is love –not just any kind of love, mind you, but a sacrificial love that’s called agape in the New Testament. The most surprising thing about God's love is that it's made available to people who don't deserve it. It’s made available to people who deserve punishment for their sins. But thankfully, that’s not what God has in store for those who trust Him. By the Holy Spirit’s enabling, you and I trust Jesus Christ Son as our Lord and Savior. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1, NIV © 2011)
In the special prayer we’re looking at this morning, Jesus spoke of the authority He had been granted by His Heavenly Father. In the original language, the word authority literally means "the ability to decide something." Jesus had been given authority by His Heavenly Father to grant eternal life to those who "KNOW" God through his Son.
Jesus ended the first part of his prayer – the part where he prayed for himself –asking that His Heavenly Father return him to the glory they had once shared in heaven. In John chapter 17, verse 5, Jesus said:
5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (NIV © 2011)
God answered that prayer with Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
In the second part of His prayer, Jesus prayed for his disciples. They had left everything to follow him. They had accepted His words as true, even though, they didn't always understand everything he said. Their faith and their "knowledge" of Christ put them into a saving relationship with him. And then, when he went to the cross, the benefits he earned there were credited to their account.
In the second part of His prayer, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united in their faith. He prayed that they would be united with Him in the same way that He was united with His Father. After Jesus returned to heaven, He wanted his disciples to be united in their determination to carry out the Great Commission. They would need to be united if they were to be successful in taking the Gospel out to the world. In our Lutheran tradition, you will often hear the word "CONCORDIA." Concordia literally means "hearts together." For Lutheran Christians, Concordia points to agreement in matters of faith. In the prayer we’re looking at this morning, Jesus prayed that his followers would always experience "Concordia."
In the special prayer we’re looking at this morning, Jesus prayed that his Father would protect his people. From its earliest days, the Christian church has experienced persecution. For some strange reason, the world often finds Jesus of Nazareth threatening. Jesus knew that – within 24 hours of his prayer – his disciples would scatter in all directions.
You and I and all Christians belong to a very special family – it’s a family of like-minded believers – and it’s a worldwide family – it’s not just made up of Germans, or northern Europeans, it’s not just made up Canadians, or people from North America. God’s family is comprised of people from all around the world – from all nations and all ethnic groups – It’s a most amazing family! In our Baptism, God Himself established a relationship with us. He is our Heavenly Father. And we are his adopted children. Our faith in Jesus brings "glory" to God just as Jesus' obedience at the cross brought glory to His Father.
In our text this morning, the Christian faith is expressed in four different ways. Faith is, according to Jesus, "KNOWING" God. Secondly, faith is RECEIVING Christ's blessings. Third, faith OBEYS God's will. And fourth, faith BELIEVES God's word.
In the Bible, those who “KNOW" God have a relationship with him. They understand His will. They are members of His family, the church. RECEIVING God’s blessings refers to holding out the hand of faith, something enabled by the Holy Spirit, and letting God put his blessings there. When you think about it, before we can receive from God, we need to let go of what’s already there. Lutheran theologian, Helmut Thielicke shares this illustration:
I once heard of a child who was raising a frightful cry because he had shoved his hand into the opening of a very expensive Chinese vase and then couldn't pull it out again. Parents and neighbors tugged with might and main on the child's arm, with the poor creature howling out loud all the while.
Finally, there was nothing left to do but to break the beautiful, expensive vase. And then, as the mournful shards lay there, it became clear why the child had been so hopelessly stuck. His little fist grasped a paltry penny which he had spied in the bottom of the vase and which he, in his childish ignorance, would not let go.
Before we receive God’s blessings, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we let go of the things that used to separate us from Him. This process of "letting go" is called "repentance." And repentance is God’s work in us.
So, according to Jesus in our text this morning
- Faith is KNOWING God.
- Faith is RECEIVING His gifts.
- Faith is BELIEVING what God says in His Word, and
- Faith is OBEYING God.
I close with this. Jesus Christ has visited this world. And He has ascended to be with His Father. But He has left footprints behind. You can see those footprints in the Bible, and in the Sacraments, and in the church. Jesus speaks to us in his word. He feeds us with the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He washes us in the waters of Holy Baptism. As we fellowship and worship together He keeps us unified in our faith. This morning, we have seen that, when Jesus' work was done, after he had earned our salvation, he went back to heaven to be with his Father. Before He left, however, He gave His people the responsibility of proclaiming His word to the world. As we have considered Jesus’ special prayer this morning, we have seen just how much our Savior believes in us. We’ve seen that He’s proud of our service in his name. He wants the world to know him, through our efforts. We have been given a very great responsibility. May our Heavenly Father, enable us to fulfill it. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We thank you for our Savior Jesus Christ. We thank you that He always prays for us. We thank you that he’s always with us – as we live out our Christian life. Enable us to do his will. In His most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.