Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)
May 24, 2020
Text: John 17:1-11
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And as He says here in our Holy Gospel, the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh” (John 17:2; ESV), the authority He already possesses as God now bestowed upon Him as Man, and this authority is for a purpose: “to give eternal life” to all whom the Father has given Him, all whom the Father has drawn to saving faith in Christ. Jesus reigns. He is the Ruler of all things. He is our King. And His rule always has as its aim the purpose of saving us and giving us eternal life.
What else is Jesus doing there at the right hand of the Father? He is praying! “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (v. 9). Jesus has the Father’s ear. He is interceding for His Church, for you! And this morning we get a little glimpse of the content of His prayers. Jesus bears our flesh. He knows our need. He is one of us. And on that basis, He knows just what petitions to present to the Father on our behalf. As He is removed from our sight (though very much still present with us in His Word and Sacraments), Jesus knows how challenging and difficult it will be for Christians living in a fallen world hostile to Christ and His people. He knows that there are dangers, and He knows our frail nature. So He prays that God would keep us. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me” (v. 11). The Name, of course, is the Name placed upon you in Holy Baptism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the Name Jesus bears and reveals to us in His Holy Word. It is the revelation of God as our God, our Father, who loves us and gave His only Son into death to make us His own.
And He prays that in that Name, we Christians would be one, just as Jesus and His Father are one. Jesus and the Father (with the Holy Spirit) are one by nature. Christians are one by grace. Such unity is a gift from God. It is not something we can create by brushing aside doctrinal differences or basing unity on superficial expressions of sentimentality. It is a unity we discover with one another as we unite around the Word and gifts of Jesus, a unity we recognize as we mutually confess. God has done it. It is His work. He has given it to us out of His own goodness on account of Jesus.
Thus King Jesus prays for us at the right hand of the Father, and what could the Father possibly say to His Son but an unqualified “Yes!”? Yes, the Father will keep us. Yes, the Father will make us one. Yes, He will bring us into the unity of the blessed Trinity. See how this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus flows out of His Ascension and drives us toward Pentecost and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and Trinity as God reveals His own essential unity in Three Persons. Heady stuff these next few Sundays. But the key point is this: The Father hears Jesus’ prayer and answers by sending you His Holy Spirit.
And why? That you may have eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). Such knowledge is not simply an acquaintance with the persons or the facts. It is an intimacy. I can say I know President Trump, but I actually have never met him. I simply know about him. On the other hand, I can say I know my wife and children, and you understand that this is a different kind of knowing, a knowing in relationship, a knowing that binds me to them and that deepens and grows each day. That is the knowledge Jesus means when He speaks of knowing the Father and the Son. He is speaking of faith.
And notice, this knowledge is eternal life. Eternal life is not just some future event when you die and go to heaven. It is now, knowing the Father, knowing the Son. Believing. Trusting. Yes, there will be eternal life in heaven, and we long for the full manifestation of our eternal life in the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day. But don’t think this life is all something to come later. You have it now. You know God now. Through Christ. And so you live in God now. Through Christ. Through His glorification, by which He means His suffering, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. His glory is His saving work by which He makes you His own.
Jesus prays for you that you may have life through His saving work. And now you pray. You pray through Jesus. This is the incredible thing about your Baptism into Christ. Now that you are in Christ, you have all that is Christ’s! And that means you have the Father’s ear! That is why Jesus teaches you to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.”
You never pray independent of Jesus. This is, by the way, what it means to pray “in Jesus’ Name.” It is not just tacking on the magic words at the end of a prayer. Those are fine words to say at the end, but they aren’t included in the Lord’s Prayer, and yet whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer we do so in Jesus’ Name. It means that we pray to the Father through Jesus. In fact, this is a whole Trinitarian action. Remember what St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). So we pray our faltering prayers, marked as they are by the weakness of our flesh, but the Spirit takes up those prayers with groanings too deep for words, inexpressible in human language. And He places them in the wounds of Christ, who speaks them before the Father on our behalf. And the Father always hears and answers our prayers for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.
When you are praying, you can form an image of it in this way: As you pray in the Spirit for a particular situation or a particular person, you are placing that situation or that person in the wounds of Christ, who is risen from the dead. His sin-atoning blood covers all that is wrong and bad with the situation or the person. And in that condition, covered by His blood and death, He presents the petition before His Father. And the Father answers through the atonement and resurrection victory of the Son. Our Lord’s resurrection life bestows all that is right and good upon the situation and the person. Now, of course, this is all hidden. It may not look like the good has happened when, for example, the person you prayed would be healed, dies. But God is doing His thing. His ultimate good. And we know what that is by Jesus’ prayer this morning. He is keeping His own unto eternal life. And that, whether we realize it or not at the time, is ultimately what we’re praying for.
But do you see what this does for your whole life now in Christ? You can live confidently and faithfully now in the midst of a world hostile to Christ and His Christians, simply commending all things to the Father in the Name of the Son. And you can know: He is keeping you. He is keeping his Church. He is giving you eternal life. No one can take that away.
Yes, the world will try. We learn that from St. Peter this morning in our Epistle (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11). The world will mock you and reject you and throw all manner of roadblocks in the way of the life and mission of the Church. We know from history and from the situation of our brothers and sisters today in many parts of the world, that the world may imprison you, torture you, or even kill you for the Name of Christ. The devil will rage. He prowls about like a roaring lion. Your sinful flesh is weak. But none of that changes the truth of it. The Father keeps His own in Jesus, as Jesus prays this morning. He keeps you through it all. He gives you eternal life. Beloved, pray. And rejoice. And live. In Jesus. For His life is yours. And He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! He lives and He reigns. And right now, this very moment at the right hand of the Father, Jesus prays for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.