Jesus prays for us.
Hesham Shehab: Staying God’s Word, Keeps Us in God’s Holy Name
Sermon text preached by Rev. Hesham Shehab
Sunday, May 16, 2021
(Sermon on John 17:11–19)
John 17 (English Standard Version)
11 And 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. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.1 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them2 in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,3 that they also may be sanctified4 in truth.
Today’s Gospel once again places us in the upper room on the evening before Jesus died for us on the cross. Judas has left the gathering and is on his way to the authorities in order to get the band of soldiers that he will lead to Gethsemane in order to betray Jesus. Jesus has pretty much finished the teaching He intended to give His disciples in that place. He is almost ready to go to Gethsemane where He will be arrested.
Jesus, knowing that His disciples were about to experience three of the scariest and loneliest days of their lives, has one last thing to do before they leave for Gethsemane. He prayed to the Father on their behalf and He allowed the disciples to listen in. We call this prayer Jesus’ high priestly prayer and the Gospel for this day is part of that prayer.
This prayer teaches us much about Jesus’ attitude towards us. This is the evening before His death on the cross and He knew it. We could certainly understand if He were totally focused on His upcoming suffering and death. But He’s not – His concern is for His followers. Later on, in Gethsemane, He will pray for Himself, but there in the upper room, just before they leave for Gethsemane, He prayed for those who will feel so alone and so frightened during the coming days – the days of His sorrow, suffering, and death – the days of His wait in the tomb. He prayed for those who will hide behind locked doors until they see Him face-to-face after His resurrection.
This prayer is for us as well. Although Jesus has never left us, He has taken His visible presence away from us. He has ascended into heaven and although He is with us, we cannot see Him. He has not yet come to take us into our eternal home. So, we find ourselves in a time of waiting for Jesus to reveal Himself. Even though He is with us now, but we can not yet see Him with our physical eyes. He has given heaven to us now, but we can not yet experience it as we will in eternity. All of Christ’s gifts already belong to us now, but we can not yet experience them to the fullest. So we live in the time of now, but not yet. Jesus’ prayer is for all those who wait in the world of now, but not yet.
While we live in the tension of the now, but not yet of the Christian life, we also live in the tension of being in the world, but not of the world. We are like resident aliens – people who reside in one country, but are citizens of another.
One of the problems we have is that, even though we are aliens in this world, we expect to get along with it. We expect to prosper in a world that is not our home. Some will even tell you that when you become part of God’s family, everything will start turning up roses. You will become wealthy and more attractive. Your relationship with your spouse will blossom and your children will rise up and call you blessed. Your health will improve and you will have more energy. This deception will tell you that God wants nothing but material and social prosperity for you. This deception tells you that worldly success indicates a superior standing with God.
Jesus has a different teaching. In His prayer, He prayed, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world.” That does not sound at all like the prosperity we hear so much about from this world. Because we are resident aliens in this world, the world is out to get us. The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, constantly confront and attack us.
Sometimes the attack is direct. Martyrs die in Roman arenas. In modern times, governments have actually used aircraft to bomb and destroy Christian communities in their own countries.
Other times, the temptation is more subtle. The evil forces in this world use enticements and pleasures to draw us away from God.
This world is a world of sin. Whether we are citizens of this world or citizens of heaven, we will sin while we live in this world. Even we who are bound for heaven must mourn with Paul [Romans 7:19] “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” We are saints in God’s eyes for Jesus’ sake, but we continue to sin. We are in the world, but not of the world.
On the other hand, some Christians are quite proud of their own righteousness. Others don’t really care. Still others destroy themselves in despair, like Judas did, without repentance and trust in God’s Grace. Eventually, they will all stand before God and realize their mistake, but it will be too late.
When the Holy Spirit works faith in us so that we place our trust in Jesus Christ, a new way opens before us. Our citizenship is no longer in this world. Instead, it is in heaven. We live in this world as aliens. When the forces of evil overwhelm us and we sin, we have an ambassador with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
The Holy Spirit has given us the sight to see our sins and mourn our inability to keep God’s law. He has made known the reality of the punishment that our sins deserve. However, instead of driving us into despair, our sin drives us to Jesus Christ. The depth of our sin shows us the height of His love – the love that sacrificed itself on a cross in order to free us from the guilt of our sin – the love that revoked our citizenship in this world and made us citizens of heaven. By the Holy Spirit’s power, we do not deny our sins, but readily confess them before God. By the Holy Spirit’s power, we find ourselves offering God the highest praise as we beg, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Jesus prays for us. In His high priestly prayer, He prayed that the Holy Father will keep us in His name.
How did Jesus keep us in the Father’s name? His prayer tells us that as well. He prayed to the Father, “I have given them your word.” He kept them in the Father’s name by teaching them the Father’s Word.
He still works that way today. Martin Luther said that very thing when He explained how we keep God’s name holy among ourselves: God’s name is kept holy when the word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, lead Godly lives according to it. Help us to do this dear Father in Heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this Heavenly Father! It is God’s Word in Divine Service, in Bible Class, and in family and private devotions that keeps us in the Holy Father’s name. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to revoke our citizenship in this world and establish and maintain our citizenship in heaven.
Jesus, our great High Priest loves us so much. When any normal person would be concerned for his own upcoming suffering and death, Jesus was praying for us. He was praying that we would remain in the Holy Father’s name by the power of His Word. Amen
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