June 5, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[Jesus] lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’”
On this final Sunday of Easter, the Church hears her Lord pray for His disciples. He had said that He would do so: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” That same evening, Jesus offers another petition for His followers: “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.” Jesus’ prayer is a continuation of what He had promised, as you heard last Sunday: “I will not leave you as orphans.” His words show how He cares for His disciples here on earth.
But the prayer does more than express a feeling that Jesus has for close friends. Jesus’ words testify about who He is and what He has done for them. It speaks of the purpose for which Jesus was sent, the purpose given by His Father and completed by Jesus’ actions here on earth. The Church sees in these words of Jesus a summary of His identity and work. The summary of Jesus’ identity and work is given just as He goes to die and rise again to bring salvation to sinners condemned by the Divine Law.
The summary of Jesus’ identity is seen in the beginning of His prayer. Note how He begins: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You. . . .” Jesus makes a claim in those words: the One whom He addresses is His Father and that He is that Father’s Son. It echoes what was said all the way back at Jesus’ birth, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary who her Child would be: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Jesus makes explicit the close relationship that He has with God the Father: Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the Father; He tells His Father that He looks forward to be given again “the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”
But Jesus speaks about more than the relationship that He has with the Father. Jesus’ words tell what the Father has charged Him to do. That is also seen in the beginning of His prayer: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” The Father has given His Son authority over all people. That authority is more than simply the ability to rule or govern the world. This divinely-given authority grants Jesus a pardoning power greater than any President or Governor possesses. Jesus has the ability to give life, but not just the extension of earthly days. Jesus can give eternal life. That eternal life is granted to those who receive the benefits of Jesus’ work: “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
In His prayer, Jesus testifies that He has fulfilled this purpose that the Father had given Him. He has done what His Father sent Him to do, exercising His authority and power for the benefit of others. Jesus’ work was to make known the true God, the Father who had sent Him. That work was done very well. Jesus reminds the Father about what He has done on earth: “I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from You. For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.”
The way that Jesus made known the Father is by speaking what the Father had given Him to say. As you heard on the Sunday after Easter, Jesus says to the Eleven: “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” Jesus Himself had been a faithful apostle, one who was sent. The purpose of His sending was fulfilled: “I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” Jesus’ disciples were enlightened, given to know the identity of the true God and what that true God thought about them: “Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from You. For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” Those words included many teachings. The Father’s words spoken by the Son made known moral demands. The words described the fallen state of creation, the world that does not meet those demands. But most importantly, they included the prophecies about the Promised Messiah dying to atone for the sins of the world and rising again to give eternal life. All of these were the words that Jesus gave to His disciples and the words that He fulfilled. Receiving them, the disciples came to know the truth about Jesus’ identity: He is the Son of the Living God who gives life to those who believe in Him and His work.
That is what you have come to know. It has happened in the same way that it did for those Eleven in the Upper Room, those for whom Jesus prayed. How can you make the statement: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”? Why do you say: “And [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”? What leads you to say: “Lord, have mercy on us.”? These are all statements of faith, creedal words. They are spoken because of what the Holy Spirit has done for you through the words of Christ. He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the one true faith. And this means that you have eternal life, what Jesus’ prayer defined: “This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
What happened for the Eleven has happened for you and for generations of Jesus’ disciples before you. You know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. This knowledge comes because of what Jesus first did: “I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” You have received the Father’s words spoken by Jesus to His disciples because of what those first disciples did—testifying about what they saw Jesus do and heard Jesus say. You have heard the testimony of the faithful apostles, the ones whom Jesus sent, the men who accompanied Jesus “during all the time that [He] went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us.” So you know the identity and work of Jesus done for your salvation. Receiving those words, you know that it was by dying and rising again from death that Jesus did what He said to the Father: “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”
This is how you know that the true God is more than just a Supreme Being that lives somewhere in a far dimension, separated from creation. Through the words and works of Jesus, you know that the true God is an active, sentient being who shows compassion to His fallen creation. You see the way that this true God has considered you and what He has done for your benefit. But that knowledge is given only through the way that Jesus mentioned in His prayer for His followers: “I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” The knowledge of the true God is given by receiving the Father’s words spoken by Jesus. You recognize Him as your Benefactor. So you can heed the apostle’s instructions: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” Knowing that the Father cares for you, you can turn to Him in times of need. You know He cares for you, because you understand what He has done for you through His Son.
But note what Jesus said about His disciples. They received the Father’s words spoken by Him, but they did one thing more: “Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” That verb “have kept” is significant. The original Greek word tethrhkan has a multi-faceted definition: “to keep, observe, pay attention to, guard, obey, hold, maintain.” And it is a tense that means something has happened and continues to happen. Jesus’ disciples have first received the Father’s words that Jesus spoke to them. But they have also kept, observed, paid attention to, guarded, obeyed, held, and maintained them. It isn’t a one-time deal. No, it is an ongoing thing. And that is true for you, also. You don’t just have all of Jesus’ words deposited into you once. Instead, they are given and given and given over and over again. And you are to recognize them as special for you. Or as Luther put it about the Third Commandment: “hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
It must be an ongoing thing for you, because you are always needful of hearing about the true God and what He has done for you. Jesus’ followers always need to hear it, because of what He says: “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” You are in the world, the domain of sin and evil: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He prowls around. He’s bitten you and me more than once or twice. Your adversary doesn’t have an offseason or take a summer vacation. Even now, you need to receive and keep Jesus’ words that make known to you the salvation that He has accomplished for you because His Father willed it.
So you have the opportunities to hear and keep Jesus’ word. They bring the same message, because the truth about the Father and His Son does not change: “You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Guard and keep that word of truth, for in it is your salvation. Your adversary is out there, but the true God is greater: “God shall arise, His enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate Him shall flee before Him! As smoke is driven away, so You shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!”
You have the ability to exult and rejoice even in the face of opposition from your adversaries in this world. Why? Because the Father’s desire for you is to benefit from what His Son has done and said for you. You have the witness of His Son’s resurrection and ascension that opened heaven for you. You are not left without consolation, but have the Spirit of Truth that was promised. The Father’s will remains for you who receive, believe, and keep His words spoken through His Son and handed down through His Son’s apostles: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.