May 25, 2017
Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)
May 28, 2017
Text: John 17:1-11
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
“I’m praying for you.” How often do we say that to one another when one from our midst is suffering or facing uncertainty, when their faith is weak or they have been caught in some particular sin, or perhaps they have forsaken the faith altogether? We also say this to one another as an expression of our common faith in Christ. When someone is leaving on a trip, or when we speak with loved ones we rarely see due to distance, or even just when we want someone to be encouraged, we speak these words: “I’m praying for you.” And it’s a wonderful thing to say. We have the prayer list in our bulletin, and it’s so encouraging when I can tell people that I know a number of you pray through that list faithfully, daily or weekly. And of course I’m always telling people, “I’m praying for you.” Speaking those words, we encourage and comfort others. Hearing those words, we are encouraged and comforted. And if that is the case, how much more so when we hear this morning that Jesus is praying for us. Jesus prays for His Church. Jesus prays for you.
We heard about this on Thursday at our Ascension service, that one of the things our Lord Jesus is continually doing for you now that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, is praying to His Father and yours for His Church, which is to say, for you. He prays on the basis of His sin-atoning self-sacrifice for you on the cross, which is the same basis, by the way, of your prayers. He is always praying through His blood, through the merits of His suffering and death. He is praying for His Body, the Church, that she be kept and preserved through the Word and the Sacraments in faithfulness and holiness and righteousness, that she be one in the oneness of the Holy Trinity. He is praying for you as a member of that Body, a member for whom He suffered. Jesus prays for you in your afflictions. He prays for you when you are sick or hurting or alone. He prays for your marriage and your family… if you are single for your chastity and patience. He prays for you to be faithful in your vocations. He prays that you be sanctified by the Truth of His Word. He prays for your loved ones. He prays for you when death causes you grief, and he prays that you have a blessed death in the faith of Christ, that He may bring you to Himself in heaven. Yes, Jesus prays for your eternal life and salvation. He prays for your repentance. He prays for your forgiveness. And what does the Father answer Jesus? What else could He answer? He answers, “Yes. Yes, My dear Son, I forgive their sins. Yes, My dear Son, they have salvation and eternal life. Yes, My dear Son, I will sustain them by My Holy Spirit, by My Holy Word. For You have shed Your blood to purchase them for Me. You have suffered and died that they might live forever. Their sins are forgiven already. My ministers declare it so. And they are My dear children.”
Jesus prays for you, and the Father hears and answers. Jesus gives you a little glimpse of His prayer for you in the Holy Gospel this morning, what is known as our Lord’s High Priestly prayer. Priests sacrifice for the sins of the people, and priests pray for the people. And so Jesus, your High Priest, makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself on the altar of the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, rendering all other sacrifices unnecessary and useless for your salvation. Your atonement is complete in Him. And now as your risen and ascended High Priest, He prays for you on the basis of His sacrifice. Now here in the Holy Gospel it is the night of His betrayal, just before His crucifixion. He is instructing the disciples, washing their feet, commanding them to love one another, and instituting the Supper of His Body and Blood. And as we hear in John Chapter 17, He is praying for His disciples, and for you who believe on Him according to their word recorded in Holy Scripture (John 17:20). And what does He pray in this beautiful text? He prays that, now that the hour has come, the appointed hour upon which hinges the whole history and destiny of the world, that He, the Son, may be glorified, and in so being glorified, thus glorify the Father (v. 1). Don’t misunderstand what He is saying. Jesus is praying that the Father would lift Him up on the cross to die, for you. And that His death would make atonement for your sins. That His death would free you from death and from hell. That the Father would accept Jesus’ sacrifice and raise Him from the dead, and give you, with Him, eternal life. That is the Son’s glorification, and in the Son’s glorification, the Father is glorified. For His delight is in your salvation, in bringing you into His Kingdom to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Jesus prays that you may know the Father by knowing Jesus Christ, knowing, not just about Him, but really knowing Him, which is to say, believing in Him. For in so knowing Him by faith you have eternal life… “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3; ESV). Jesus has the authority to give eternal life to all who believe in Him, all whom the Father has given to Him, called to be in Christ (v. 2). And He does give that life, in Baptism, Word, and Supper. He gives you life in Himself. He does it by manifesting God’s Name to you and to the whole world (v. 6) in preaching and Sacrament. The Name, of course, is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the Name the Father has given the Son to bear in Himself and reveal to you, the Name of our Triune God. That is the Name placed upon you in Holy Baptism. God writes His Name on you in the Blood of Jesus. And why do you write your name on something? Because it is precious to you and you don’t want to lose it. God has written His Name on you because you are chosen and precious to Him. The Father gives you to the Son, who keeps you for Himself by giving you His Word. He gives you the words that the Father has given Him, and so you come to know in truth that Jesus is the very Son of the Father, made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for you and for your salvation (v. 8). Jesus prays for you. He prays that you be kept in His Word. He prays that you be kept in the faith. He prays that you remain His and that He be glorified in you by your justification and sanctification, your life of faith and works of love, and your eternal salvation in Him (v. 10). He prays that God would keep you by His Spirit, in spite of this fallen flesh and fallen world, in the midst of so many dangers to your body and soul, in this time when you cannot see Jesus with your eyes, but can only know Him by faith. Jesus prays that the Father would keep you in His Name (v. 11).
And that is what He does here in the Church. He makes you one with His Church. He makes His Church one as His own Body. The whole thing is a Trinitarian action. The Father keeps you in the Name that the Son has given you, the Triune Name, by His Holy Spirit, who works upon you in Word and Sacrament to give you faith in Christ, join you to His Body, and sustain and strengthen you in that faith. That is what we will celebrate next Sunday in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus prays for you, that you remember your own Baptism, where the Spirit is given to you personally, and that you be ever faithful and bold in your confession of Jesus Christ. Jesus prays that you be preserved when you must suffer the fiery trial of persecution and rejection on account of His Name, as St. Peter warns you in our Epistle (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus prays that you rejoice and be glad as you share in Christ’s sufferings (v. 13), knowing that you are blessed, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (v. 14). Jesus prays that you would humble yourself (5:6), that you would cast all your anxieties upon Him and recognize that He cares for you (v. 7), that you would be sober-minded and watchful, resisting the crafts and assaults of the evil one, firm in your faith, suffering in patience in the hope that God Himself will restore, comfort, strengthen, and establish you (vv. 8-10). And again, what is the Father’s answer? What else can it be? He says, “Yes.” God does it. He does it for you, for Jesus’ sake.
“I’m praying for you,” we say to one another, to comfort and encourage one another. That is good and right and very important. But even better and more important is what Jesus says to you this morning: “I’m praying for you. I’m praying for you and for the whole Church of God. Be at rest. I have the Father’s ear. I intercede on your behalf. And because of My blood and death, the Father hears and answers, and He delivers.” What do you do when you need the comfort of this promise? You simply trace the sign of our Lord’s glorification upon yourself, and speak the Name He manifested to you by writing it upon you in His own blood: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.