Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Caught in the Act: Jesus, Praying for You

Here's the video of this past Sunday's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. Below it is the text of the message shared during the service. 

John 17:1-11
One morning a few years back, I was alone in our bedroom, on my knees next to the bed, praying. Ann didn’t know I was there and opened the door. When she saw me and realized what I was doing, she was apologetic. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s OK,” I told her. But again she said, “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”

Christians can and do pray with others, of course. Our first lesson for today tells us of the first Christians disciples that after the risen Jesus ascended into heaven, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14)

But, through Jesus, God also gives us the privilege of doing just as Jesus often did, pray directly to the Father as individual believers. Our private prayers can be intensely intimate conversations with God. We confess our sins, reveal our deepest insecurities and secrets, entrust our most heartfelt requests, and own our doubts. I think that’s why Ann kept apologizing when she opened our bedroom door and found me in prayer.

In today’s Gospel lesson, John 17:1-11, we’re privileged to listen in on one of Jesus’ intimate prayers. The lesson is composed of the first portion of what’s known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the prayer that John says Jesus offered on the night of His betrayal and arrest. This section has four petitions. What’s remarkable about them is that, in the final analysis, each of the petitions is offered on behalf of believers in Jesus like you and me, disciples who live in this world right now. When Jesus prayed on the night He faced the greatest agonies imaginable, He was thinking of you and everyone for whom He was going to die and rise.

The first petition is in verse 1: “‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’”

The hour to which Jesus refers is the one in which He would be glorified by God the Father through His death, resurrection, and ascension. In the gospel of John, Jesus calls these three things, Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, together as His glorification. It may be hard for most people to see any glory in a sinless Savior being nailed to a cross to die. But for the Christian, the cross displays the immensity of God’s love for the human race. On the cross, Jesus faced the wrath and endured the death that we deserve because we are born sinners incapable of making ourselves fit for life with God. And that’s a glorious, weighty thing! This is what the apostle Paul celebrates at another place in the Bible's New Testament, Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In this first petition, Jesus prays that the Father will help Him to see His mission of dying for us through. Jesus wants all people to be saved from sin, death, and futility. That can only be accomplished through His cross.

Jesus then prays in verse 5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” This too, is a prayer for us. Jesus knew that after He was glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, He would send His Holy Spirit to believers. In John 16:7, He already told the disciples, “ is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Many of you know the comfort that the Holy Spirit gives to you. He’s the One Who brings God’s Word to you, prompts you to pray, gives you faith in Jesus, inspires you to share your faith, empowers you to serve others in Jesus’ name.

I enjoy doing the live weeknight Bible studies on Facebook these days. But I would be lying if I said that they’re easy. I generally put in two to three hours of preparation for each night’s session. More than that, I daily pray that God will help me to explain the sometimes complicated things people need to know to more fully understand and appreciate the greatness, power, and love of God that are revealed in the books of the Bible we study. And though I’ve been an ardent student of Scripture for forty years now, there are things that I don’t understand as well as I would like to. That’s why the most important part of my preparation is begging the Father in Jesus’ name to send the Holy Spirit to make something out of what feels like the nothing I have to impart. Whatever good is coming of these studies is because Jesus ascended back to the glory He had before coming into the world and because He is constantly sending His Spirit to needy believers like you and me.

Jesus' next petition is in verses 6 through 9, where He prays for us, believers who have received the powerful, eternity-changing Gospel Word of new life through faith in Jesus. He says in verse 9: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Earlier in the gospel of John, we’re told that many people who had initially believed in Jesus deserted Him. Jesus asks the twelve apostles if they intend to turn away from faith in Him too. Peter responds for all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68) In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays that we will stay connected day-in and day-out to Him through His life giving Word. It’s His Word that can guide us, assure us, bring forgiveness, and sustain us until the day we see the Lord personally, face to face.

Jesus’ fourth petition builds off of this. It’s in verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” God the Father, the New Testament tells us elsewhere, has given Jesus “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) The name of Jesus has power! Martin Luther said that the mere utterance of Jesus’ name by a believer will subdue Satan. Calling out to Jesus when we’re in trouble, when we’re tempted, when we need guidance or inspiration, will ensure that He is present with us, leading us on the resurrection path. The protection that Jesus asks the Father to extend to us may not prevent us from things like accidents, cancer, heart failure, COVID19, or being rejected by others for believing in Jesus. But, as we flee to Him for all our hope and help, Jesus will protect our faith, our justification, our eternal life with God. Anyone who can speak Jesus’ name with trust in Him as their God and Savior has exactly what He came into the world to bring, something we don’t deserve and could never ear, life with God that never ends. This week, ask God to renew you each day in your faith in the Savior Who, as He faced the cross, prayed for you and even now, wants you with Him for all eternity. Amen

Tonight's Midweek Bible Study of Ephesians, Chapter 5