First Mennonite Church
March 15, 2015
“Entrusted into the Hands of the Father”
Text: John Chapter 17
I once told you about a farewell letter Lilian received from a dear friend we had in Elkhart. Mary was Lilian’s English teacher during the last year we were in Elkhart and the two of them remained very close friends until Mary’s death in late 2005. In that letter Mary expressed her joy of having Lilian’s friendship; she said it as a gift from God. She expressed her confidence on God’s continued grace upon Lilian and our family. But more importantly Mary expressed her confidence in the grace of God. Although she lamented that she was going to leave behind Simon, whom she married just three years before, she rejoiced in the hope of seeing the Lord whom she loved and had served.
I also recall the last conversation I had with my grandfather just two days before his sudden death. I went to see him on a Saturday morning; he only had a light fever then and so we talked about various things. I was interested to know more about his childhood so I asked him lots of questions, which he responded to me. I remember that after I went home I jotted down the things we had talked about. Sunday I did not see my grandfather and on Monday upon arriving at one of my aunt’s house after a trip to a city in Mexico, I was given the news that my grandfather had died about mid-morning that day.
Last conversations with dying friends or family members are hard to forget. It seems that of all other conversations with those who have gone, the one that has a deeper impact in our memory is the last.
Chapters 13-16 of the Gospel of John contain Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples. In those four chapters, Jesus interacted intimately with his twelve disciples. He washed the feet of his disciples. He ate with them his final supper. He made promises to them. He comforted them in light of his imminent departure. He promised them he would prepare for them many dwelling places in the house of his Father. He promises them the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth. The Spirit was to guide them and remind them of the things he has taught them. He offers them his peace and forewarns them the challenges they will have. The world will hate them just as it has hated him. But he also reminds them that the Father loves them, because they have loved his Son. In those four chapter of John, there is a back and forth interaction between Jesus and his disciples. It was an incredibly tense moment. At this time Jesus revealed to them in details the troubles that awaited him: his arrest, trial, crucifixion. But more troubling was Jesus’ announcement that one of them would betray him. And despite Peter’s vows to stand or die for Jesus no matter what, Jesus tells Peter that he would deny his Lord.
Chapter 17 is his final prayer. There is a major shift in Jesus’ focus. Verse one begins with: “He looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come….” Here is a prayer in which the disciples and the readers of this chapter are privileged to participate in an intimate moment between Jesus and God, whom he calls “Father.” For the disciples as well as for believers of all times, this prayer as recorded by the apostle John, reveals to us the tender and trusting heart of Jesus before he left his disciples behind. It was a crucial moment in the lives of Jesus and his disciples, as the hour of his glorification arrived. In that prayer Jesus acknowledged finishing the work the Father gave him to do on this earth (v. 4). Jesus confessed to having made known the name of the Father, of having kept all those the Father has given him until the end. And Jesus affirms of having delivered the words the Father had intended to communicate through the one who borne his glory, the glory of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth (1:14).
This prayer in John should give us confidence about the work of God in the world. It is so amazing that as Jesus was about to leave this world and have his disciples continue what he started, in terms of ministry, that Jesus did not hastily give them a list of pragmatic instructions as to how to proceed.
Think for a moment of what you say to your children when you are going on a week-long trip. Turn the heater off, check the bird feeders; water the plants. Give food to the dog or cat. Turn a light on at night, see to put the deadbolt lock, etc. When Lilian and I go to the store just for an hour or so, we tell our children, “Do not open the door to anyone, do not answer the phone unless you see our number on the ID, wait until we come for you to go out to play, etc.” Whenever we are away we’d like the same order of doing things to continue at home and the same safety precautions to be in place like when we are at home.
Here, Jesus was about to leave his work to these eleven men who up to this moment had not fully understood his identity. Yet, Jesus knew that they were the ones who would give continuation to the work he began. And what does Jesus do? He prays for them! He submits their lives and their future work into the hands of God. That is amazing.
Let me focus on the part of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. It is said that prayer reveals our theology. When we pray, especially when we do in loud voice, we reveal our understanding of God and his way of working in the world. This prayer in John 17 does reveal Jesus understanding of who the Father is and His way of working.
Jesus said, “I am asking on their behalf…of those you gave me, because they are yours” (v.9).There were the disciples watching and hearing what Jesus was saying to the Father. And here we are listening to what Jesus prays for us today.
Dear friends, we are not ours, as Paul would say. We are the Lord’s. Just as were the disciples, with their quarrels, their jealousy, fears, their misunderstanding of Jesus’s words, their doubts, and even a traitor among them, yet the belonged to the Father. If there is something each one of us to take to our heart is this: You and I belong to the Father! Yes, you and I belong to the Father because those who belong to Jesus Christ also belong to the Father God. Hear it once again. This is what Jesus is praying for you and me today: I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
Jesus pleads to the Father, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus did not give the disciples a recipe for how to keep unity among themselves. Jesus did not give a recipe to the church on how to maintain unity either. In verses 22 and 23, Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Jesus shares with every believer the beauty of the presence of God, which he refers to as “giving them the glory you have given me”. And so when we come together in worship and share together in this gift we in common, we simply cannot avoid the power of God to unite us. We cannot resist but love one another.
Jesus did not give a recipe for unity nor a list of “self-help” instructions on how to love one another. He prayed for our unity and for God to be able to love one another. Therefore, when God dwells in us by his Spirit, the power of God pulls us together by the same Spirit. When God dwells in us by his Spirit, love flows towards one another. Keeping the unity in the spirit becomes second to nature because the Spirit that dwells in us pulls us together. In the same way, loving one another comes by freely because God who dwells in us is love.
And the awesome result of us being united and loving one another is that the world cannot deny that indeed Jesus is real and that he dwells in us. Therefore, the concern each of us should have when we come together is whether or not we have Christ dwelling in us. Is God’s presence, that is his glory, being revealed in us when we come together to worship or to discuss the business of the church? If we can say “yes” to this question, then there is no doubt unity and love is flowing among us. And not only that: the world is be able to see that Jesus is real and alive in us. That is what Jesus prays for in John 17.
Let me finish with one more request Jesus makes to the Father. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. The Word of the Father is cause for conflict between the believer and the world, because the believer has received the Word. And because the conflict between believers and the world will not go away, Jesus prays not for our removal from the world, nor for the destruction of the world, but for God’s protection from the evil one. This part of Jesus’ prayer is interesting in some ways. First, the conflict between the world and the believer should not surprise us. Often times we hear Christians expressing dismay that some elements within our culture clashes with our Christian values. Let us remember this part of Jesus’ prayer. Again, the fact that there will always be conflict between the believer and the world should raise serious questions for those who believe that there was a time in American history when the world was friendlier to them.
Another reason this prayer is interesting is because Jesus does not even pray that the believer would be able to identify who is the evil one. There are many who are always trying to figure out who the anti-Christ is or will be. Jesus prays that God may protect us from the evil one—whomever this might be, in whatever forms his wicked tactics might come. And we can thoroughly trust that God will answer this request because the one who prayed in none other than Jesus, the Son of the Father God.
In John 17 we can enter into the prayer chamber of Jesus. We can hear his intimate plea before his Father. In this prayer Jesus lays into God’s hand our identity, our safety and our future. In this prayer Jesus prayed for those who would believe in him through the message of those who will share it. Today we are here because somehow in the Divine providence we heard the message of the gospel from someone who shared it with us. And God gave us faith to believe and receive his Word. This morning I want to thank God for those who shared the gospel message with me. I thank God for my parents, my pastor, and my seminary professors who shared the Word of God with me. Today I want to thank each of you who encourage me and remind me of the Word of God. But in this prayer Jesus also prayed for those who will believe in him through the message you and I will share. Let us fulfill that obligation and let the prayer of Jesus continue to be answered.
Our lives are entrusted in the hands of the Father when Jesus prayed in John 17. Amen!