Easter 7 • John 17:20–26 • May 8, 2016
By Rick Marrs
Our text is the end of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. Parts of the rest of this prayer, 17:1– 19, are texts for the same Sunday in different years (John 17:1-11 in Series A and John 17:11b-19 in Series B), so the preacher may want to familiarize the hearers with the salient parts of the earlier verses: Jesus’s hour has come to begin his passion. This passion will glorify the Son which will glorify the Father and bring eternal life to all who believe. Jesus prays for his disciples, that they will be kept in the Father’s name. Jesus has given them God’s word, and its truth has made them holy. But the first nineteen verses imply that Jesus is only praying for his immediate disciples, the ones there at that time. In our text, our Lord makes it explicit that he is thinking about subsequent generations, including (thankfully) ours.
17:23: τετελειωμενοι εισ εν, from τελειοω, “that they may be perfectly one.” But τελειοω can also mean completed, finished, or fulfilled. In the Revelation 22 text we see not just the fulfillment in Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection, but the consummation, what will happen at the end for all those whom he has called to be his bride. The Psalm 133 reading emphasizes this oneness of believers: “How good and pleasant when brothers dwell in unity.” The Acts 1 text teaches that the apostles, along with Mary and Jesus’s brothers and the female disciples were all of one accord and devoting themselves to prayer. Jesus makes the reason for this unity explicit in the last part of v. 23: “that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Possible Sermon Opening: Prayer
Many Christians are finding prayer a simple, less threatening form of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. If you have a friend who is not a practicing Christian, or someone who believes in God but is unaffiliated with organized religion, and they have a crisis in their life, you can ask, “What can I pray for you about?” Now some atheists may still react negatively to such a question, but surveys show us that only about 5 percent of this country have that strong-willed, anti-Christian sentiment. About 95 percent will either think your question is harmless or very much appreciate your intervention for them before the God that you worship. Any civil, clear-thinking person will, at a minimum, rationalize and think “Well it can’t hurt to have someone praying for me, and it just might help. My friend seems to think it helps.” And fellow Christians, whether or not they are Lutheran, will usually greatly appreciate that you are desiring to fulfill your duty as one of the priesthood of all believers, to intervene, to intercede on their behalf with God the Father in heaven. We are taught in James 5:16 to “pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much.” James goes on to point out that Elijah prayed, first for no rain, and it didn’t rain for three-and-a-half years, then he prayed for rain and the sky poured forth and the earth produced its fruit. In the Acts lesson (1:12–26) the apostles and other disciples, including the women, and Jesus’s mother and brothers, were devoting themselves to prayer after his ascension.
It is comforting and inviting to others when they know you are praying for them. How much more comforting and inviting to us is it that Jesus was praying for us, and still prays and intercedes for us today. The timing of this is critical; he is praying for us immediately before he goes to the garden and is betrayed by Judas and is arrested by the soldiers. Jesus knows that he is about to take upon himself the full brunt of human sin and abuse and torture and shame, yet he does not focus on himself, but prays for us. He specifically says that it is not just for the apostles “only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20).
1. Jesus intercedes for us in prayer, then and now.
2. Jesus interceded for us directly after this prayer, in his suffering, crucifixion, and death.
3. Jesus interceded for us by conquering death itself that Sunday morning.
4. His resurrection brought unity among his disciples as they were praying together (Acts 1).
5. We have the great privilege of continuing that unity and intercession in this generation, calling others to hear Jesus’s words and praying that they will know his resurrection is for them.