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LSB Easter 7C Sermon – John 17:20-26

May 9, 2016

May 8, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Jesus prays for His disciples. John’s Gospel records His prayer. In commentaries and other studies written about John’s Gospel, this is usually called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus makes intercession with the Father for the people who belong to Him. He does so in the hours before He offers Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. That great act would gain the benefits of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for all who place their trust in Him. And so, Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of those who believe—or would believe—in Him.

Jesus’ prayer is long; it takes up all of John 17. This morning, you only heard an excerpt of it. But the excerpt read particularly applies to you. Note how Jesus prefaces the petition He offers to the Father: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word….” Jesus’ statement indicates that His concern is not solely for the group of disciples who were with Him in the Upper Room. He anticipates another group of individuals: people who would be brought to belief in Him through what His first disciples would testify about Him.

During this Easter season, you have already encountered this concept. Recall what was mentioned on the Second Sunday of Easter, when you heard the record of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to His disciples. After showing Thomas the marks of the nails and the spear wound, Jesus speaks about others: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And John included the summary statement about his record of Jesus’ words and works: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Those statements are directly tied to what Jesus states in His prayer: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word….” It is directly tied to what Jesus declared prior to His ascension into heaven: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And it is directly tied to the apostles’ selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”

What do those statements all have in common? They each address the matter of belief being created when Jesus’ apostles testify about His work done for the life of the world. That apostolic word which carries the witness of Jesus’ actions and teachings elicits faith. It leads others to confess Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of God, who has brought salvation to mankind. It has led you to make that trusting declaration about Jesus, so that you call Him “Lord.”

So what does Jesus pray the Father to do for you? “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” Jesus asks that you be united with Him and with the Father, as well as being tied together with all the others who believe in Him. This is the bond that all Christians have with each other around the world. You are linked with every single person who has come to know and trust that Jesus is Lord, the One who was crucified and rose again to open the kingdom of heaven to mankind. Regardless of the place of your origin, your age, your culture or language, your gender, or any other earthly distinction, you share the same identity as the people who have God as their Father and Jesus as their Lord. So you may recall from the famous statement in the Scriptures: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Being an heir means having a share in a legacy. For Jesus’ disciples, that inheritance is being raised from death, just as He has been. It also includes having a place in the life of the world to come, which you heard about in the Epistle Reading for this day: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Being brought to that end is what Jesus prays for you to have: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

But think on Jesus’ prayer again, and the fact that He has to offer it. Jesus doesn’t do anything vainly or without reason. His prayer is asked so that you would have the benefits that He has obtained for you. Yet, remember what Jesus said about how that is done for you: “…those who will believe in Me through their word….” When Jesus makes this statement, He speaks about how you are tied to Him and tied to the Father. But this isn’t just a description of what happened. Rather, it is a statement that speaks about an ongoing act. Belief in Jesus through the apostles’ words means that you must be hearers of that word. That’s not just having the sounds hit your eardrums or looking at letters on the page; it is receiving what the apostles’ witness as trustworthy and true.

That is certainly a challenge in our day! But this is not the first time such a challenge existed. The ways of trying to erode the trustworthiness of the apostles’ witness may have changed, but the attempts have always been present. Recall what you heard at the end of the Epistle Reading: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Those aren’t the type of statements one writes when no challenges to the witness exist. There are always competitors and challengers to Jesus and His authority. There are always attempts to cause distrust in what Jesus has said or done. People want to remove parts of the apostolic witness, whether it is moral teaching or the exclusive claims about Jesus as the source of salvation or what being right in the sigh of God truly means. This is as true now as it was then.

But that is precisely why Jesus’ petition is offered on your behalf: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” The prayer is asked, so that you would be completely united in heart and mind with Jesus and with His other believers. That is what the Holy Spirit accomplishes in you through your hearing the apostolic witness about Jesus. Then the bond between Jesus and you is strengthened and secured. You receive Him as the One sent by the Father. You put your trust in the testimony given about His work as the world’s Savior.

So be hearers of the apostles’ word. Be frequent in doing so. The weekly services are one place where this can be done. But your daily reading is another. So is participating in Scriptures studies offered by the congregation. And there is the good and beneficial practice of committing that witness to memory. Through these acts, you are those people whom Jesus describes in His prayer and for whom He prays. Then you keep His words and have entry into His eternal kingdom. That is your intended fate. Let it be so, just as your Lord says: “Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Then you will have your share in what Jesus has accomplished: to be where He is and to see His full glory, the fullness of His resurrection and yours.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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