The Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
St Paul Lutheran Church, Manito, IL
Rev. James T. Batchelor
Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!
During the last half of the Easter Season, we have been listening to Jesus in the Upper Room just a few hours before Judas betrayed Him. This morning, we had an opportunity to listen to the prayer Jesus prayed at the close of His teaching. Soon they will leave the Upper Room and make their way to Gethsemane where Judas would betray Him into the hands of the temple guard.
This is one of the few accounts of the actual words of Jesus in prayer. The Gospel accounts tell us that prayer was a regular part of Jesus’ life, but most of the time, they do not tell us the actual words that He prayed. At this time, just before Jesus took the disciples to Gethsemane, Jesus wanted the disciples to hear the words of His prayer, and the Holy Spirit inspired John to record them for us.
In this prayer, we hear Jesus in His state of humiliation. Although He is both God and man in one person, He did not use His Divine power for His own benefit. As you listen to this prayer, you hear the prayer of a man who endures great stress. He knows what is coming. He knows that the next 24 hours will hold shame, torture, and death. In His state of humiliation, He will not use His divine power to reduce the anguish of the suffering and death that is coming. At the same time, His words tell us that He is fully aware of His divine nature. He will speak of the divine results of His suffering. He will also speak of His eternal existence in the presence of God the Father.
The Gospel that we just heard is only the first half of the prayer. Never the less, it is useful to look at the overall organization of the entire prayer before we get into the details of what we heard this morning.
Jesus began with prayer for Himself. Just as the flight attendant on an airline instructs you to place the oxygen mask on yourself first and then you will have the oxygen you need to help others, so also, when we pray, it is appropriate to pray for ourselves first, so that we may better pray for others. That is exactly what Jesus did.
Second, Jesus prayed for His disciples. He prayed that the Father would strengthen and keep them, not only during the next few days of grief for their dead teacher, but also for the years of persecution as they proclaimed the Gospel.
Finally, in the part of the prayer that we did not hear today, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. (John 17:20) This part of the prayer is for all New Testament believers. For it is by the proclamation of the Gospel that these people come to believe. It is by the proclamation of the Gospel that you came to believe.
So, the prayer begins as Jesus prayed for Himself. When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come.” (John 17:1) The Gospel according to John speaks frequently of this hour. At the wedding in Cana Jesus had a conversation with His mother. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3–4) At another time, He offended some people with His teaching. So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. (John 7:30) And again: These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. (John 8:20) Now, in this prayer, Jesus acknowledges that the hour has come.
The hour Jesus speaks of is His appointment with the work that will earn the forgiveness of sins for all people. Jesus knows full well about the shame, suffering, and death that waits for Him. He knows full well the wrath of God that He will endure as He takes our punishment onto Himself. And so it is that He begins, “Father, the hour has come.” (John 17:1)
Jesus continued His prayer, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1) The Gospel according to John uses the words glory or glorify about forty times. When we hear the words glory and glorify outside the Bible, they usually refer to fame, honor, wealth, and so forth. This is not what these words mean in the Bible. Within the Bible, glory is lowly service. In the case of Jesus, His greatest glory comes as He hangs on the cross. With these words, Jesus prayed for the strength to submit to death on the cross.
But what is the benefit of Christ’s glory on the cross? Jesus prayed for that as well as He prayed, “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1–3) The glory of Christ on the cross gives eternal life to all who know God, but not just any god. Eternal Life is for those who know the only true God who sent Jesus Christ to suffer the glory of the cross. It is not enough to say, “I believe in god.” There are many religions that believe in god. The true religion knows the only true God, and Jesus Christ who was sent from God.
There is also comfort in this prayer for those who are afraid that their faith is not strong enough … that they are not sure of their salvation. Throughout this prayer, Jesus speaks of the disciples as those whom the Father has given Him. The disciples were not responsible for their faith. The disciples did not attach themselves to Jesus of their own will. Instead, God chose them. Jesus prayed for them as a gift to Him from God the Father. Likewise, God has chosen you. It is God who chooses those who receive Christ’s gift of eternal life.
After Jesus asked for strength for His glorification on the cross, He acknowledged the work that He already did. He prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. (John 17:4–8) The cross is the crowning glory of Jesus Christ, but the cross would be no good if Jesus did not also lead a perfect life. The blood that He shed on the cross must be innocent. He lived a perfect life under the law.
Part of that perfect life involved the proclamation of the words that the Father gave Him to proclaim. The saving work of Jesus Christ does no good if no one proclaims it. It is when the Holy Spirit works through the proclamation of the Gospel, that God brings people to faith in Jesus so that they receive the gifts that He has for them. Jesus conducted a ministry of teaching and healing. He proclaimed the words that the Father had given Him. Jesus had finished the work the Father sent Him to do before He endured the glory of the cross. He had prepared everything according to the Father’s will. Now it was the time for Him to submit passively to the cross.
As Jesus acknowledged the completion of the task of proclamation, He transitioned into prayer for His disciples. He prayed, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:8–11)
With these words, Jesus prayed specifically for those whom the Father had chosen. He knew that they would endure incredible grief over the next few days. He, their teacher and their friend, would be arrested, hung on a cross, and buried in a tomb. He would not be with them to care for them as he had before. Jesus did not want them to be alone at this time.
Jesus was also looking ahead to the time after His resurrection. He knew that He would soon ascend into heaven. Again, He would not be with them to care for them as he had before. After Jesus ascended, they would continue to endure the attacks of this sinful world. They needed protection. Jesus prayed for the Father to keep them unified … not just in any unity, but in the unity of God’s name. Jesus prayed, that in the name of God, they would have the transcendent unity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
With these words, we come to the end of the Gospel reading for this day. Jesus’ prayer continues to the end of the chapter. I encourage you to take the time to read the entire prayer.
Jesus had fulfilled His ministry of teaching and healing. Everything was in place. The time had come for Him to endure the glory of the cross. He prayed that God the Father would sustain Him so that He would glorify the Father and the Father would glorify Him. By enduring the glory of the cross, He would give eternal life to those whom the Father had given to Him. He prayed that the Father would watch over His disciples while He hung on the cross and laid in the grave. He also prayed that the Father would watch over His disciples as, at the time of the ascension, His presence with them changed from the visible to the sacramental. As we came to the ending of today’s reading, we heard Jesus pray for the unity of the church in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus went on to pray specifically for you as He prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. (John 17:20) He continues to pray for you to this very day.
Of course, God answered Jesus’ prayer. Jesus did indeed endure the glory of the cross to earn eternal life for you, me, and all people. Jesus opened the way to eternal life by rising from the dead. God poured out the Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel and enlighten us with His gifts. Eternal life is already ours in Christ. Although our understanding of God’s unity is imperfect in this life, we are unified in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When we leave this world, God will fully glorify us with him forever in heaven. There we will finally see and fully partake of the glory of the Father, not as a reward but as a promise … eternal inheritance for all believers. Until that day, we pray that God would use us to glorify his name in this world in all that we do. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.