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John 17:13-18, 24
Everyone is familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. We speak it together every Sunday. Many people include it in their daily prayers and devotions. It’s the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus’ words in John 17 are often called his high priestly prayer. It was not a prayer he gave his disciples to teach them to pray. It’s a prayer that he himself prayed.
On Ascension we are reminded that one of the things that Jesus is doing now that he has returned to his place at the right hand of the Father is interceding for us. He is praying for us. Since that is what he was doing in his high priestly prayer in John 17 we can gain some insight into what he is asking the Father to do on our behalf. As we look at these words, three things stand out. Jesus is asking that we be protected, that we be sanctified, and that we be glorified.
Jesus begins this portion of his prayer by pointing out that those to whom he has give his word, the truth, are hated by the world. Those who trust in Jesus as their Savior, as the only Way, Truth and Life, are not of the world just as Jesus was not of the world. It seems that there is nothing the world hates more than a Christian who stands up and insists that God’s word, the Bible is truth, and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. There is nothing the powers that be hate more than a Christian who insists that they respect God’s authority more than man’s. Or that a Christian trusts God’s word more than science, or at least what is called science and seems to change weekly, if not daily.
We have heard about such hatred many times. Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego into the fiery furnace because they refused to obey his order. People accused Jesus and the Apostles of having a king greater than Caesar. In recent days we have seen similar things in our own country as churches who have followed distancing and sanitizing guidelines have been hit with disorderly conduct fines or cease and desist orders. One church building was set on fire by someone who didn’t think they should be meeting for worship. It remains to be seen what will happen in Wisconsin where a number of churches have stated that they will defy the governor’s orders and begin in person worship stating that it seems discriminatory to allow other things to be open but not churches.
Because of our sinful nature no one wants to submit to God. We want to be our own god. No one wants to submit to God’s will; we want to do our own thing. No one wants to be told that they are a sinner deserving God’s wrath and punishment. We object and argue that although we aren’t perfect, we are a lot better than most. Only those to whom Jesus has given the truth of God’s word, who have been born again of water and the Spirit, have the ability to fight against their sinful nature, and stand up for God and his word. But when we do, we will be hated by the world just as Jesus was.
Not only does the world hate us, but the Evil One, Satan is after us. Peter says he is like a roaring lion looking for any opportunity to devour us. But he doesn’t come after us looking like a lion, or a little red man with horns and a pitchfork. He is too smart for that. He comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He comes quoting Scripture for his own purposes. He comes proclaiming that his way is really the loving way; and isn’t that what God said that we are to love our neighbor? Paul reminds us that our struggle as long as we live on this earth is not just against flesh and blood, our own sinful nature, and the sinful world, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
So, if you were Jesus, what would ask the Father to do for us? Maybe send the rapture and zap us all off to heaven? Maybe at least put us in some kind of bubble that keeps anything bad from happening to us? I’m sure you noticed that’s not what Jesus asked. He prays, I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One.
To understand why Jesus would not ask the Father to remove us from the world we only need to think about what Jesus said before he ascended back to heaven. He told his disciples, and us, that repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be preached to all nations. He told them that they were to be his witnesses in the world and share everything he taught them starting in Jerusalem, and then all Judea and Samaria, and that they were not to stop until they had reached the very ends of the earth. He had told them, and us, to be salt and light in the world. He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He has decided for his own good reasons that the way this is to be accomplished is through one person sharing the good news about Jesus with another person. That can’t happen if people are taken out of the world as soon as they came to faith, or if Christians never interact with unbelievers.
When you are tempted to wish that God would just take you out of this world because you are tired of fighting against your sinful nature, against the hatred of the world, and against the constant attacks of Satan, remember what Jesus prayed. Confess your sin of impatience. Rejoice that Jesus has forgiven you. Focus on the reason God still wants you here, so that you can serve as salt and light and bring him glory even in the midst of persecution or suffering. Remember that Jesus is still praying, asking the Father to protect you from the Evil One.
The second thing that Jesus asked the Father to do for his disciples and for us is to sanctify us. That’s not a common word so we need to define it. The simple definition you might have learned in Sunday school is to make holy. But that doesn’t really explain what it means to be sanctified. The way the term is most often used in the Bible it means to set aside or dedicate something to God. That’s the meaning here because Jesus says, as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world. They had been sanctified, set apart from the world for service to God, by the truth. And what is truth? God’s word.
What a wonderful thing it is that Jesus sanctified himself for us. He willingly volunteered to dedicate himself to carry out God’s plan of salvation. He resisted every temptation to go along with the world so that it would not hate him but would give him praise and honor. He set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem and offer himself as a holy sacrifice set aside for God, the only sacrifice the Father would accept as payment in full for our sins and the sins of the world. He sanctified himself so that we would be sanctified, set apart for service to God by the truth; eager to dedicate ourselves to serving God because the Holy Spirit has brought us to see the truth. We were lost and condemned sinners, but Jesus sanctified himself for us. He lived and died in our place so that we would not be condemned but forgiven. Jesus continues to pray that we would be sanctified by the truth, and knowing the truth of our salvation we would offer ourselves every day as living sacrifices to God, praying as Jesus taught, “Lord, your will, not my mine be done.”
The third thing that Jesus asked the Father to do for the disciples and for us is that we see his glory and be glorified with him. Peter, James, and John had seen a portion of his glory on the mount of transfiguration. They saw him shining like the sun and talking to Moses and Elijah in glory. But it was just a short glimpse. They were not able to stay on the mountain. They had to come back down and face all the trials and troubles that lay ahead of them.
The group that went with Jesus to the Mouth of Olives saw a glimpse of his glory when he began to float up into the sky until a cloud hid him from their sight. They saw a glimpse of the glory of heaven as the two angels in bright white clothing appeared to them. But remember their instructions. You can’t stay here looking into heaven. You have work to do before Jesus comes again in glory.
Through the disciple’s eyes, through their words that the Holy Spirit guided them to write and then preserved for us today, we too see a glimpse of Jesus’ glory. We see him walking on water, healing every sickness and disease, casting out demons, raising the dead. We see him in glory on the mount of transfiguration. We see him in his glorious resurrected body appearing to the disciples, inviting them to touch him, and granting them peace. We see him through the eyes of John in Revelation when he appeared to him “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Imagine how wonderful it will be when, as the angels said, he comes again in glory in the clouds of heaven! When he does, he will raise all the dead. He will give us glorified bodies like his glorious resurrected body. He will banish all sickness and disease. Satan won’t be able to tempt us. The world that hates us will be gone. There will be no death. He will take us to be with him in the place he has prepared for us where there will be no need for the sun, no need to lock any doors, where there is peace and joy in serving God forever more.
As you face trials, troubles, temptations, the hatred of the world, the attacks of Satan, as you strive to dedicate yourself to the truth and to serving the Lord with all you are and have, remember Jesus is praying that you would be glorified. The thing he wants most for you is to be finally delivered from this veil of tears and to be with him in the glory of heaven forever. Knowing what Jesus is asking the Father on our behalf helps us to view whatever we face in this life as nothing, a drop in the bucket compared to the glory that will be revealed in us when Jesus comes again in glory.