Sermon / May 8, 2016 / John 17 / Jesus' High Priestly 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.” (N.I.V.)
Grace, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
With this morning's worship service, the season of Easter is drawing to a close. Last Thursday, the Christian church celebrated the Ascension of our Lord -- which is the focus of our worship service today. Our text from John chapter 17 is a powerful reminder of Jesus' presence with us. It encourages us not to feel abandoned when life’s challenges come our way. In these weeks after Easter, we reflect upon the fact that Jesus has finished the work of salvation that His father sent him to do. Next week, Confirmation Sunday, we celebrate the festival of Pentecost and the beginning of what some have called the “long, green season” of the church year. Our text for this morning is Jesus’ “High-Priestly Prayer.” I pray that God would bless the time we spend in His Word this day!
In John’s gospel, Jesus’ story is told in straightforward language, communicated to us in words like glory, life and light, truth and love. In John's Gospel, the focus is on relationships - relationships marked by the God-kind of love. A critically important theme throughout John’s gospel has been called "mutual indwelling." Many times Jesus says something like, "I in them and they in me.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that the prayer we're looking at this morning is meant to affirm and strengthen our Lord's close relationship with His people. Every word in John's Gospel is a witness to Jesus, the "Word become flesh" (1:14) And, as is typical in John's Gospel, the writer wants us to understand that the concept of the"Word" has two possible meanings - first, as God's written Word, the Scriptures, and, secondly, as the Word that was with God in the beginning, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
Prominent in the introduction to John's Gospel is the good news that
“... to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, NIV).
And that is what we are – God's beloved children – members of his worldwide family of believers. By the Holy Spirit’s enabling, Jesus followers, then and now, have received His word and have become members of God's family. As we read in chapter 6 and verse 29 (N.I.V.):
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.
On Jesus' last night with His disciples, just before He went to the cross, He tied up several loose ends. He shared a meal. We call it the Last Supper. He washed His disciples feet. On that last night, He gave His disciples a new commandment -- that they should love one another. And He answered their questions concerning His imminent departure. After all that, with His disciples listening in, Jesus prayed – for himself, for his disciples, and for all believers in all generations. Jesus prayed the prayer before us this morning just before He departed for the Garden of Gethsemane and the events leading up to the cross.
Our text this morning is an important part of Jesus’ farewell to those who had been with him during his ministry. The disciples were sitting with him at the table. They belonged to God, says John, but God had graciously given them to His Son to care for, to teach, and to nurture. Jesus wanted His followers to be prepared for the shock of his departure and death. And, when He prayed to His Father, He wasn’t off by Himself somewhere. His disciples were right there with Him.
I have a question for you as we begin this morning. How would you feel if someone prayed for you, out loud, in public? One pastor says,
When I asked a few friends this question, they said they might feel many emotions: comforted, vulnerable, grateful, humbled, appreciative, like someone really cared.
When someone prays for us in public, we're not in control. They, not we, are doing the asking, and God, not ourselves, receives the prayer. Another pastor says,
[A public prayer for me] ... was a reminder that I don’t have to do everything, that others are there to support me, that I'm not alone, but am valued and cared for by another.
That night, Jesus sensed His disciples' anxiety, their confusion and fear. He wanted to reassure them that He would always be there to support them, that they would never be alone, and that they would always be valued and loved. It was a powerful moment. And Jesus wasn’t just praying for His followers back then. He was also praying for us today. He said to His Father:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. (John 17:20-21, N.R.S.V.)
Jesus’ High Priestly prayer inhabits the space between earth and heaven, between time past and time present, and time yet to come. In His prayer, we gather valuable insights about His priorities. Jesus prayed that His people, back then as well as now, would remain faithful to God and would rely on the Holy Spirit to bring to mind His words and to lead them into all truth. Jesus prayed that His Church would display the kind of unity He shares with His Father (v. 21) in their relationship of mutual love. (v. 23) Jesus prayed that His people would be with Him in heaven, sharing his “glory,” the glory given to Him by the Father before time began. Jesus' prayer isn’t a lengthy to do list for Christians. It's not meant to be a burden, but instead a source of enduring joy and encouragement. Rather than seeing this prayer as a long list of things we must do for the Lord, I would suggest that you to consider it to be a "God has done it for your benefit" kind of list instead!
Jesus prayed for unity. He prayed that “all [Christians] may be one.” (17:21, N.I.V.) To be a follower of Jesus is to be a member of a very special worldwide community of faith - what we know as "the one holy Christian and apostolic church." But I suspect that, as the disciples gathered together that Thursday night for what would be their final meal with their Master, they felt anything but unified. Given all that had happened to them, and all that would happen in the next few days, they were confused and uncertain, feeling insecure.
Jesus' request for unity makes modern Christians uncomfortable because we know only too well just how deep and hostile the divisions are among Christians today. The secret of Christian unity, however, is to realize that, no matter who we are, we are equally loved by God. No matter who we are, and no matter what our Christian denomination may be, certain spiritual realities abide for us all. Christ died on the cross for all of us and He was raised from the dead for our justification. As Christ's forgiven people, living out our Christian lives in various parts of the Lord’s vineyard, we serve each other, we listen to each other, and we pray for each other. This unity that Jesus wants to see more of is God's doing, not ours! He initiated it. Our task, by God's gracious enabling, is to do our best to maintain it. For Christians, unity is God's gracious gift to His church. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said:
Christian unity is ... a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
This kind of unity strengthens our mutual outreach efforts. Jesus’ prayed to the Father that his followers might be one so “that the world may believe that you sent me.” (17:21, N.I.V.)
Another major theme in Jesus' prayer, and in John's gospel as a whole, is glory. For John, 'glory’ is an important aspect of God’s being and a primary characteristic of His activity in the world. The glory of the Lord is His presence – in whatever form that presence may take. You and I glorify God when we bring His love in Christ to the world God created – the world he will love to the end (3:16). The theme of glory is introduced early on in John's gospel and carries right through to the end. We find these words in chapter 1, verse 14:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (N.R.S.V.)
Throughout John’s gospel we see evidence of God's glory and our participation in it. And John ought to know about glory. He was there on the Mount of Transfiguration. He saw it for himself. In John, chapter 12, when Mary anointed Jesus' feet for his burial, (12:23) Jesus said:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (N.R.S.V)
In John's Gospel, God's glory is closely connected to the cross, which indicates that something very special, something world-shaking, was taking place there. We are told that Jesus brought glory to God by finishing the work that God had given him to do (17:4). The most important work Jesus accomplished for His Father was the work of salvation. Even though, on the surface of it, the cross appeared to be a great defeat, it was, in fact, a decisive victory over sin, death, and the devil. The glory that God gave Jesus came to its fullest expression at the cross. The crucifixion brought Jesus' work of glorifying God to completion. By laying down his life in this way, he gave of himself completely. At the cross, the world encounters the fullness of Jesus' amazing love and grace.
When Jesus' disciples returned after Jesus had been speaking to the woman at the well, they urged Him to eat something. "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work." (4:34, N.I.V.) The original word for "finish" here is the same word Jesus that cried out at the time of his death on the cross when he said, "It is finished." (19:30, N.I.V.)
After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven, returning to His former glory. Jesus prayed that his followers would one day join him in the Father's presence to share this glory with Him. (17:5, 24-26). Jesus’ prayer traces His transition from glory on earth to glory in heaven. When Jesus entered Jerusalem near the end of his ministry, he said, (12:23, N.I.V.)
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
He compared himself to a seed that falls into the earth and dies (12:23-24) only to come forth as new life in the spring. When Judas left the last supper to carry out his betrayal, Jesus said, in John 13:31,
Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. (N.I.V.)
Another way Jesus brought glory to God was through the miracles and signs he performed. Jesus made God's power visible by performing seven signs. These signs included His first miracle, changing water into wine; (2:1-11) the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda; (5:1-15) feeding the 5000; (6:5-14) and raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-45).
In His prayer, Jesus asked God to protect His people on their journey through life. (17:15) One pastor says,
“I remember talking to a woman whose son was in our youth group. ‘Every time he goes out of the house, I say a prayer that he’ll be safe,’” she said.
Jesus does the same for us. He prays that, no matter what might come, we would be safe. Trials, persecution and suffering are part of the Christian experience. When all of our human resources have been spent, our sufficiency is in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). It's in our daily struggles, and in our hurts that we encounter and receive God's amazing grace. And in those struggles and hurts, along with the apostle Paul, we come to realize that God's grace is sufficient for us – it's all we need. The Lord Jesus bestows joy on us despite life's many challenges. (v. 13-14).
Despite the risks encountered on the journey, and spurred on by the Father's love, God’s people are sent out into the world, just as the Father's love sent His own Son out into the world. For John, the “world” is made up of those who do not know the Lord and who reject His Word (1:10). But the world is also the object of the Father's love. The church works diligently to bring the message of God’s love in Christ to all who have ears to hear the message. For John, "the world" refers to those who oppose Jesus and His message of law and gospel. Nonetheless, it was God’s love for the world that led God to send His Son into the world in the first place (3:16), and in this prayer, at the close of his ministry, Jesus intercedes not only for his own but also for a world that has no time for Him.
In John's gospel, human beings are created by God and His intention is that they live in relationship with Him. In Jesus' prayer, he clarifies the concept of eternal life:
And this is eternal life, [He says] that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (17:3, N.I.V.)
So, in John's gospel, knowing God means being in a right relationship with Him - a relationship initiated by God himself, maintained by God's word and strengthened by the Lord's Supper. God sent His own Son into the world so that we have an abundant life in the here and now and a place with Him in heaven someday. May God grant us His richest blessings in Christ! Amen.
And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in this same Christ Jesus. Amen.
Let's pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER -- We thank you for Jesus' ongoing prayers on our behalf. We thank you for adopting us into your family through Holy Baptism and for making us your dear children. May our service for You bring glory to your name. When life sends daunting challenges our way, enable us to trust you unconditionally. In Jesus' our Savior's name we pray. Amen.