Grace, mercy and peace be yours in abundance! Amen.
Dear friends and family, brothers and sisters of our ascended Lord, Jesus Christ.
Christ has indeed ascended into heaven – we can’t see him anymore. We who remain behind must continue to fight the good fight of faith in a sinful world. We are the Church Militant – a church at war – and where is our leader? He sits at the right hand of the Father, enthroned in power, and ruling the universe for the good of his Church. What’s more – he prays for us and intercedes for us. Our High Priest Prays for Things We Need!
?John 17? is the final chapter of what is usually called Jesus’ “Upper Room Discourse,” which he addressed to his disciples while they reclined for supper (The Last Supper) on the night of his betrayal. We call this particular part of his Discourse his “High Priestly Prayer,” which he offered to God the Father for the benefit of his disciples, his priests—and that includes us. As Jesus entered the final stages of his redeeming work (his arrest, trials, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension), he permitted his followers to hear him present his deepest, most heartfelt concerns to the heavenly Father.
In this prayer he expresses his longing to bring his mission, his work of salvation, to a successful conclusion so that he may bring glory to the Father and may also reassume his position of exalted glory as God the Son. Also, he prays for his disciples. He would soon leave them and would not be able to protect them with his visible presence. He asks that the Father would protect the disciples with his mighty power while they remain in the world.
Our High Priest Prays for Things We Need!
So what do we need?
In a world in which a large majority rejects the saving message of Jesus Christ and presents dozens, hundreds of other “options,” we need to hear the truth:
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you. For you gave him authority over all flesh, so that he may give eternal life to all those you have given him. This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent."
Certainly all this was something the Father already knew…but Jesus prayed this so that his disciples, and we, might hear it, too. Because, while we dwell in the world, we are inundated, besieged, even, by the false teachings of men, who seek to drive us away from the truth. These attacks may come even from within the Church itself: that this blood sacrifice (Jesus' death on the cross) couldn’t be the way to heaven; that salvation is a mystical, individual “Christ experience” that has nothing to do with crosses or sacrifices or even sin.
To such things we shout a resounding "No!" The truth is that there is only one way to heaven and that is to know the true God. That means a real “heart knowledge” of him, a knowledge which is not about mere facts, for even the demons know the facts. No, this knowledge comes through faith that knows and trusts God, and knows that the God-man Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, because his death is the only thing sufficient to pay for our sins.
And just in case there are those who still doubt this, he says:
"I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do."
This is the work of salvation ordained by our loving God. Jesus did exactly
what the Father sent him to do. Not some feel-good message to “be tolerant of others, try hard to do good, build up a lot of good karma and you’ll be fine.” Again, we say "No!" The mighty sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, which in black and white divides the world into two camps says “believe in my Son and his sacrifice and be saved. Reject him, and perish.”
And why is one man’s blood sufficient to pay for all sins? Jesus tells us why:
"Now, Father, glorify me at your own side with the glory I had at your side before the world existed."
Because that man is the eternal God, who was present with God in eternity when time itself didn’t yet exist. What a comfort these words must have been for his disciples, as they went out with him to the Garden, even as he was led away to be scourged and mocked and crucified, and even as he ascended into heaven and left their sight forever!
And it’s a comfort for us, too, which is why the Spirit gave us this Word of our Lord today. He gave it so we wouldn’t be tempted as so many others have been, to fudge just a little bit on the truth so that everyone can be all smiles and we can join hands and sing "Kumbaya" with false teachers and churches that teach something other than this pure gospel we have. We’ve seen the unbelief that results from such teachings, and so we look to our Lord to strengthen us through his Word, that we won’t give in as so many others have.
This is something we need – to hear the truth from our Lord’s own lips.
And what else do we need? We need to know it was God’s work, not ours, that saved us – because we were given to Jesus.
“I revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have held on to your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me, and they received them. They learned the truth that I came from you. They believed that you sent me."
Jesus prays to the Father about those whom the Father gave him. By nature we were part of the world, estranged, that is, separated from God. But by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit working on our hearts, we became believers in Jesus, obedient to God’s Word. We know, by faith, that Jesus’ work is God’s work, and Jesus’ word is God’s Word.
And now we need to be kept in that faith, kept in the trusting bond we have with our God.
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, because they are yours. All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine. And I am glorified in them. I am no longer going to be in the world, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.”
Now, Jesus says that he does not pray for the world, but he’s not saying that he doesn’t care about the unbelieving world. He does care deeply and he prays for unbelievers on many other occasions, he even wept over unrepentant and stubborn Jerusalem.
But here he especially prays for those who have become children of the Father through faith in him. We need the protection of our God or we will fall away. It’s that simple, we CAN fall away, or we would not have been warned: “if you think you are standing firm, be careful, lest you fall.” And God has given us protection, not just the physical protection he provides through his angels, but protection of our souls through the strength and nourishment he gives us in his Word.
He nourishes us so that we may glorify him.
And so let’s glorify God in the world. And how do we do that? Well, God is not glorified when people set aside the truth for the sake of a nominal unity, or for the sake of making everyone happy. He is glorified when his disciples stand for the truth and reflect that truth of God’s love and his saving acts through Jesus Christ by living lives of loving service to him – carrying out the good works he has given us to do in his name, and taking the pure Word of God to those who need to hear it, by preaching it in love.
Dear friends, Our High Priest Prays for Things We Need!
We cannot see Jesus right now, but we are nevertheless under his protective, guiding hand. We bear his name, and he does not take that lightly. We needed his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, and he gave it. We needed the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in him through the Word, and he gave him. We need him to continue to pray for us as we wander through this sinful world, that we would not fall, and he gives himself to that task even now. Everything we need, he has given, gives now, and will continue to give us until we stand at his side in heaven. Praise be to our ascended Lord, who gives us all good things!
May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. Amen.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage VersionTM (EHVTM) copyright © 2016 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved.
Lectionary listings from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal © 1993 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.