Sunday, June 05, 2011
Sermon - John 17:1-11 - Easter 7
June 5th, 2011
We usually think it's a little strange when someone talks to himself. So how can God pray to God? Here's another one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith – part of the hidden nature of the Triune God. One God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that both the Holy Spirit and Jesus, God the Son, pray to God the Father on our behalf.
The Holy Spirit does so with “groans that words cannot express” and prays for us when we don't know what to say in our prayers. But he's always been the mysterious person of the Trinity, anyway. Somehow we can shrug when it comes to the Spirit's unsearchable workings.
Jesus, on the other hand, is like us. He is one of us. He is True Man, even while True God. So is it any wonder that he, too, should pray to the Father? That he, too, should petition God for those things he desires? The imagination wonders at Jesus praying in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but yours be done?” Or in the solitude of his wilderness temptation, or in some other quiet place.
In John 17, we have the longest prayer of Jesus recorded – we call it his “Great High Priestly Prayer”. Our Gospel reading today is just the first half of it. And yet, it's a prayer so full of truth that sermons could be preached on each verse. Here in this prayer we see teachings about Jesus' relationship with the Father - his glory and what it means – the Divinity of Christ – the election of his people – the truth and power of the Word – the relationship of that truth with faith – the contrast between the world and those that belong to Christ.
Jesus prays for us as a priest. That's what a priest is, someone who represents you before God. As pastors, we serve in that role to some extent – remembering you in our prayers. Often because of a special request, but sometimes when you don't even know it. Your pastors pray for you, our people. (And we don't mind if you return the favor either). But Jesus is our true, our great, our high priest – the one mediator between God and man. All of our priestly prayers are prayed in his name, and for his sake.
You see, without Jesus, we have no access to God anyway. Our sin prevents it. Surely God knows all – even the thoughts and prayers of the most wicked unbeliever. But apart from Christ, why should he hear them favorably? Why should he pay any attention? Why should he answer with anything but punishment and judgment?
But Jesus prays for us, those given to him by the Father. And he prays not simply on the basis of who he is – but also on what he does.
He accomplished the work he was given to do. He healed people and cast out demons. He demonstrated power over nature. He miraculously fed the crowds. He even raised the dead. But best of all – he preached. He brought the good news of the kingdom. The forgiveness of sins. The favor of God. The promise of the Gospel. Only Jesus could accomplish all this – and it is why only Jesus can approach the Father on his merits.
And he was about to accomplish his greatest work – which was to die. To suffer and die for the sins of the world. So that those who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. His humility would know no boundaries, the depths of sorrow he would see. This, too, is to his priestly credit. For a priest offers sacrifices. And he, the High Priest, is also the Once and For All Sacrifice. The one whose blood counts where all the blood of beasts falls short. A sacrifice, literally, to end all sacrifices.
All this priestly work for you. His life, as your representative. His prayer, as your go-between. His death, in your place. A holy substitute.
In the knowledge and joy of his work for us, we now work for him. Not to gain a thing – all is already ours. But simply because that's what Christians do.
We pray. We pray for ourselves, for others, for the world. We pray for our church and its mission. We pray for people to know the truth and to live in it. We pray for true unity, not based in outward things, but unity in the truth. We follow the example of the Great High Priest in our prayers. We want what he wants – what could be better?
And we sacrifice. Our High Priest gave his all. We strive for the same, halting and failing as we are. We offer sacrifices – not for sin – but sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Offerings of joyful response for his sacrifice. Gifts returned from the many gifts we've received. Even our bodies are living sacrifices to him.
And as we believe in him, and as we live for him, Jesus' own prayer is answered! What a thought. That God the Father answers Jesus' prayer each time you repent and are forgiven. Each time someone is baptized. Every time you receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus' prayer is answered. “Keep them in your name... that they may be one”. He does just that. And we are just that – one, in Christ our Lord.
Give thanks to God for Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. And you, his royal priesthood, live for him, and believe in him always, who has done all things for your good, on your behalf. In Jesus Name, Amen.