First Mennonite Church
March 21, 2021
Jesus Is Praying for You and Me
Because we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper next Sunday, I will skip John’s version of the Passover meal in chapter 13. We will reserve that account for next Sunday.
Today we will look at the whole chapter of John, 17. In some way, this is also John’s version of Jesus’ prayer the night he was arrested. This prayer of Jesus for his 11 disciples (because Judas had already left 13:30) and for all future disciples, which includes us today, is very pastoral in nature. This prayer has been called “Jesus’ priestly prayer.”
(Reading of the passage.)
Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest took place around the Last Supper table and not at Gethsemane, as the other gospels place it. (Although, John does mention that Jesus went to a garden immediately after this prayer (18:1), a garden he had often went to.) After Jesus finished eating the Last Supper, he washed the feet of his disciples, predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of him, and told them his hour has come to depart from this world. There in that intimate gathering of only Jesus and his 11 disciples, Jesus opened his heart to them. Upon seeing their anxiety taking them over, He comforted them and promised them the coming of the Comforter. Then Jesus proceeded to pray for them.
Unlike the accounts of Matthew and Mark, Jesus did not pray at a distance from his sleeping disciples, but in their midst. The disciples could hear the intonation of his voice, full of compassion and assurance. As Jesus prayed in their midst, the disciples could feel his heart and soul being poured out for them. It must have been a very touching experience for the disciples to hear Jesus pour out his heart before the Father on their behalf. They were the immediate objects of Jesus’ supplications to the Father.
Chapter 17 of John contains one of Jesus’ longest prayers on behalf of this disciples and for all future disciples down the ages. And although there is whole lot to consider in this prayer, I would like to focus on only three items in this prayer.
At the very beginning of this prayer Jesus describes “eternity” in a way very seldom spoken about. In his prayer he says, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent . . . .”
It is very clear to each of us that it is through Christ Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father that we have eternal life. The Father gave all authority to Jesus over all flesh/humanity to dispense eternal life and to execute judgement. The gift of eternal life is what Jesus offers everyone who places their trust in him and pledges allegiance to his lordship. God the Father gave Jesus that authority to dispense the blessedness of life everlasting. However, something we do not often talked about is, what then is that eternal life Jesus gives those who believe in him? More often than not, eternal life is spoke about as something that we will enjoy in the future. Eternal life is often times spoken about as synonymous to heaven, a place where we will live in peace, joy, and where pain and sorrow will no longer exist. Eternal life is sometimes spoken about as a disembodied experience of bliss, a spiritual state of infinite tranquil existence.
In this prayer, Jesus defines what eternal life is. He prays, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” Our having eternal life is by knowing God as the only true God and knowing Jesus, whom God sent. First, eternal life begins here and now, not only after we die. Eternal life is the gift we have been given by believing in Jesus Christ and God as the only true God. That means that as of now we have begun living the eternal life. It is not be something that will only start the day we close our eyes in death. We have eternal life as we breathe in and out now because Jesus has given us this marvelous gift.
Secondly, eternal life is by “knowing” God and Christ Jesus. However, it is important for us to understand what John means when he uses the verb “to know” in his gospel. The verb to know in its various forms are found 83 times in John. And every time it is used in relationship to God, Jesus, and scriptures, the meaning is usually that of a relationship. Therefore, when Jesus says that eternal life is by knowing God and Jesus, he is not speaking of knowing in the sense of grasping something cognitively, with the mind nor a special kind of knowing or knowledge, but of an intimate relationship with God and the Lord. It is about a relationship of obedience, reverence, and love.
As Jesus continues his prayer, he says, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”
My loving sisters and brothers, this prayer of Jesus is a reminder that God’s people are a people for whom Jesus prayed and for whom he continues to intercede before the Father. This might sound selfish on our part, because John says that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, but here Jesus says that the objects for his prayer is not the world but those whom the Father has given him. That’s us! Jesus is praying and interceding for us, not for the world. As Jesus continued, he reiterated his position on whom he is praying for: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
Jesus knew how influential is the worldly forces that surround his followers. We live in the same world everyone lives, whether believers, non-believers or agnostics. But the major forces of influence that shape our perspective about life, what to eat, what to buy, what do with our time and resources, and what is important in life, come from the world. We do not live in a bubble nor in a void, but we share the same world as our non-believer does. It is for that reason that Jesus prays for us that the Father would keep us from the forces of the evil one that holds sway over the world. “Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth,” Jesus says. Jesus is praying for you and me to be kept apart for God by the truth of the word of God.
My dear friends, our capacity to discern how the influences of the world are shaping us is only possible by searching the word of God, the words of Jesus.
Jesus also prays for our unity. In his priestly prayer, Jesus pleaded for the unity amongst his followers. Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father is the model for unity among his followers. Unity in the church is strategy of convenience or economic wellbeing. That is, we are not called to be united for our own survival, as the popular slogan in Spanish claims: “Un pueblo unido, jamás será vencido.” (A people united will never be defeated.) We are called to unity not because by doing so we broaden the pool of our resources, whatever they are. Rather, we are called to unity because it is the natural reflection of the intimate relationship we have with God. Unity in the church is the concrete evidence of a people already living the eternal life they have in Christ. The church models the close relationship between Jesus and the Father when it lives in unity. Unity is the result of an intimate relationship with God, His Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit and reflected in love for one another in the community of believers.
In Hebrews seven, verses 24 and 25, we are told that Jesus is our high priest forever . . . and he is interceding for us day and night. The privilege we have of being part of God’s people is because of the life Jesus has given us—the eternal life, a life of intimate relationship with God. As such, our salvation is not primarily a status nor a certificate of acquittal from our sins, but a relationship with God that overflows towards our fellow sisters and brothers. The salvation we have is the effect of God’s love for us. He loved us first and so we are able to love, him and those who follow his Son. The unity we aim to achieve is also grounded on the model of the relationship modeled between Jesus and his Father. Again, unity is born of our relationship with God, but is displayed horizontally in our relationship of love towards our sisters and brothers.
The Lord is praying for us, here at First Mennonite, as he is doing for every local Christian community. The eternal life has already begun in us. And the unity Jesus is praying is reflected in the love for one another. Amen!