First Mennonite Church
October 30, 2022
A Prayer Offered on Our Behalf
Text: John Chapter 17:1-3; 20-23
Mary was Lilian’s English teacher when we lived in Elkhart, IN. Lilian and Mary kept in touch even after we moved back to Belize. Shortly after we arrived here in Paso Robles in the fall of 2005, Lilian got a letter from Mary. It was a farewell letter. Mary said she had been diagnosed with an aggressive kind of cancer and had only a few weeks left to live. In that letter, Mary expressed her joy of having enjoyed Lilian’s friendship which she called “a gift from God.” She expressed her confidence on God’s continued grace upon Lilian and our family. Mary also expressed her sorrow that she was leaving Simon behind, whom she married just three years before. At the same time, she rejoiced in the hope of seeing the Lord whom she had loved and had served her whole life. Mary died before the year was over.
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 was glad to respond. 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. Of all conversations with those who have gone, the one that has a deeper impact in our memory is the last.
The account we find in John, chapters 13-16 is called “Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples.” In those four chapters, Jesus interacted intimately with his twelve disciples. He washed their feet, ate his last supper, and made promises to them. He comforted them in light of his imminent departure. He promised them to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. He promised them the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, which would guide them and remind them of the things he has taught them. He offered them his peace and forewarns them of the challenges coming ahead. 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, there is an open interaction between Jesus and his disciples. It was an incredibly tense moment. At that 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.
Chapter 17 is Jesus’ last prayer for his disciples. 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 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 reveals the tender and trusting heart Jesus had for his disciples as he was leaving them behind. It was a crucial moment in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. In that prayer, Jesus declared having finished the work the Father entrusted him (v. 4). Jesus confessed to having made known the name of the Father, of having kept all those the Father had given him, even unto the end.
Jesus’ prayer gives us comfort and confidence as we engage in the work of God in the world. Jesus, instead of giving a “to-do-list” about the work we need to do, he also prays for us.
Think for a moment of what someone would say to those they are leaving in charge to sit their house. Think of what parents might tell their children when they 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 on the outside lights at night. Secure the door with the deadbolt lock, etc.
Here, Jesus was leaving 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 lifts them up in prayer and places their lives and future 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 the way he works 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. The disciples must have been amazed to know that they belonged to the Father.
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, their fears, their misunderstanding of Jesus’s words, their doubts, and even a traitor was among them, yet Jesus confessed they belonged to the Father. If there is something each one of us should take to our heart is this: You belong to the Father! Yes, you 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 on 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.
When John describes Jesus, in chapter one, verse 14, John writes: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In Jesus’ prayer, he says to the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given them.” That means that Jesus shares with every believer the beauty of the presence of God, which was with him from the beginning. The beauty, uniqueness and power of God’s presence that dwelt in Jesus is now given to the believer. And according to Jesus, it is the presence of God that becomes the unifying force among his followers.
Therefore, when God dwells in us by his Spirit, love flows others. Keeping the unity in the spirit becomes second nature because the Spirit pulls us together.
And the awesome result is that when we love one another and live in unity, the world cannot deny that indeed Jesus is real and that he dwells in us. Therefore, our prayer and goal should be to allow God’s presence become real in our lives. Therefore, let us allow God’s Spirit to reign when we come together in worship.
Let us look at one more of Jesus’ request in his prayer. “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. When the believer receives the Word of God, he or she will likely begin to experience opposition from the world—from those who do not know God. Interestingly, Jesus does not pray for his disciples to be removed from the world, nor for the destruction of the world, but for God’s protection from the evil one. Therefore, you should not be surprised when you forgive someone who wrongs you that your unbelieving friend might say you are coward. Or, if you help someone, that you are called a dummy or naïve. We should not be surprised or express dismay when some elements within our culture clashes with our Christian values of love, humility, and sense of justice. Let us remember that we do not belong to the world and therefore it will treat us as it did Jesus.
John 17 allows us to enter into Jesus’ prayer chamber. There we hear his intimate plea before his Father. There Jesus prays even for those who would believe in him through the message of those willing to 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 for encouraging and exemplifying the Word of God to me. As for all us, let us go and fulfill our obligation sharing God’s love. Amen!