May 12, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said:] “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.”
Last Sunday, you heard Jesus teach His apostles about prayer. Jesus told them that they would ask things of the Father in His name and that the Father would grant them what they asked. Jesus’ followers had been given a status through Jesus’ actions that allowed them to pray this way. That same status has been granted to you. But today, on this final Sunday of Easter, you do not hear Jesus teach you about prayer. Instead, you hear Jesus praying for you. Your Lord asks things of the Father for you to receive and to experience. That is important to note. Even though last Sunday you heard Jesus’ words describing how His followers would ask things of the Father and depend on Him answering their petitions, Jesus still prays for His disciples. It is part of His role as your Great High Priest.
When hearing Jesus pray for His disciples, it is not enough to know that He prays. Attention must be paid to what Jesus prays for, what He requests from His Father for you. Your hope and trust in Jesus is not that He does something for you. Your faith is in specific things that Jesus has done for you and in the specific promises that He has made to you. The same is true about Jesus’ praying. You must know the specific things that Jesus prays for, not just that He prays. You need to hear what He is asking for, so that you know what you should expect to receive from God the Father.
So hear the specific words that Jesus prays to the Father: “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.” Looking at those specific things that Jesus asks for, you should notice that they are requests that might not be typically thought about in your prayers. But they are things you need. More importantly, they are what only God Himself can provide. Now you might think that only God Himself is able to provide everything that you ask for. And that is true in a way. But usually God uses things or people of this world to meet your physical needs. This prayer that Jesus offers for you is a bit different. He is asking the Father to grant you spiritual items that come directly from Him, not through the pieces of His creation.
Jesus asks the Father to give you unity, faith, glory, an eternal presence with Him, knowledge of the Father, and love. These don’t come through the general operation of the world. Unity, faith, glory, eternal life, knowledge of God, and love are all part of a realm of things that come directly from God Himself. They are what God the Holy Spirit provides to believers through the word of Jesus, the word that His apostles carry. That is why Jesus prayed: “I ask for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one.”
On this Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost, Jesus’ words focus your minds on what the Holy Spirit delivers to you. Like all of God’s actions, it’s necessary to know what He is doing, not just that He is doing something. Jesus promised His disciples that a Comforter, a Helper would be sent to them. No longer would Jesus be earthly present with His followers. Knowing this, He does not leave them abandoned, but sends the Holy Spirit to them.
Jesus’ prayer is all about what that promised Helper would accomplish among His followers. The Holy Spirit’s actions are how God the Father answers His Son’s prayer. That is how unity, faith, glory, eternal life, knowledge of God, and love would be bestowed to His disciples, both on the first Day of Pentecost and in the present day. These gifts are granted through the renewing, transformative work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus requests the Father to send into this sinful world.
You certainly need that renewing, transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Without it, you would have nothing that Jesus prays for. Without the Holy Spirit’s work you would have no unity, no faith, no glory, no eternal life, no knowledge of God, and no love. These are the things of God, not the things of sinful humanity. To realize this, you need only look around you. There are times when such things are absent even in the community of Jesus’ followers. The absence is seen even more so in what you encounter outside this community of believers. Think not only of what you encounter, but what you yourself even perpetrate.
No unity naturally occurs in the world, while discord and war and hatred thrive. Just again in these past several weeks, the crises in Syria and Korea were back on the front pages. Faith and trust are replaced with cynicism and doubt. Read the polls of how little people believe their government officials or business leaders, or even their own family members and loved ones. Knowledge of God is lacking, even in America that some try to call “God’s country”. Eternal life is nowhere to be found. Look at the way that modern, Western society has even discounted earthly life, with the pursuit of a culture of death, the unbridled manipulation of biology, and the profaning of the gift of sexuality that the Creator has granted. While horrific details of the Gosnell trial in Philadelphia and the decade-long enslavement of the women in Cleveland stand out, they are not once-in-a-lifetime events, but just another in a long series of atrocities.
And what must be confessed about such things? All of the above is humanity’s awful work, the skilled handiwork of sinful beings. But Jesus’ work is the opposite. His work was to reverse all that and to bring to you what you were missing, what you could not provide for yourself or others. That is what Jesus accomplished by His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His powerful resurrection. In His life, you see the divine things made present in this world: unity, faith, glory, eternal life, knowledge of God, and love. They characterize everything that Jesus did.
After His work was fulfilled, Jesus ascended into heaven. But with His earthly departure, Jesus is not present to do the same things He did while He walked in Galilee, Judea, and Samaria. But the divine acts are not ended with Jesus’ ascension. The Holy Spirit is sent to continue the work of Jesus. Or to put it a bit more precisely, the Holy Spirit is sent to carry the effects and benefits of Jesus’ work into the world. This is how God the Father fulfills His Son’s prayer.
Jesus’ prayer is answered as the Holy Spirit gathers all believers in Jesus into the one Christian Church on earth. His prayer is answered as the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel and enlightens you with His gifts, creates faith in you, and brings you a true knowledge of God. It’s answered as the Holy Spirit raises the faithful to everlasting life, to experience the glory of God for all eternity, to bring you where Jesus has gone.
How does the Holy Spirit do these things? By bringing Jesus’ word to you. He brings that word to you when it is taught and proclaimed. He brings that word to you as it is connected with water and with bread and wine. The Holy Spirit works through that word to carry the message of Jesus to each one of you. He brings you the content and foundation of your faith. He provides you what you need to know about your sin and your salvation. That word of Jesus, recorded for you by those who heard and believed, then becomes what you speak and teach, so that the Holy Spirit may lead others to hear and believe.
This is how Jesus’ prayer is answered in our midst. He asks the Father to help you. For you are the ones that Jesus speaks about: “those who will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word.” And Jesus asks help 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.” That is what the Holy Spirit has done for you. You have believed through the apostles’ word, the teaching of Jesus that they have handed down. So you are one with Jesus, united to Him, beneficiaries of His work, recipients of His grace and gifts. You are one with each other, united with every condemned sinner who has been forgiven and brought into the Church’s fellowship. You are one with the Father, children of His holy household, with His name on your foreheads.
Like everything Jesus says, this prayer of His has been fulfilled. It has been fulfilled for your benefit. So you can be most thankful, responding by offering your own prayers of worship and praise, both now and in eternity. For Jesus’ prayer is not meant for just this present day; there is a future for you disclosed in His words: “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.” That is what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desire. And most importantly, that will is what they accomplish for you. That is the specific something that will be yours, just as the same Jesus whose work made it possible asks it.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.