Sermon for May 21, 2023, Sevent Sunday of Easter

John 17:1-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Christ Prays and Intercedes for You”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 21, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 17:

1Jesus spoke these things, and after He lifted up His eyes into heaven, He said, “Father, the hour is come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, 2just as You gave Him authority over all flesh, so that He might give to all whom You have given to Him eternal life. 3Now this is eternal life, namely, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent. 4I glorified You on the earth by accomplishing the work that You have given Me to do. 5And now You, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world existed. 6I made known Your name to the people whom You gave Me out from the world. They were Yours and You gave them to Me and Your word they have kept. 7Now they have come to know that everything You have given to Me is from You, 8for the words which You gave Me I have given to them, and they received and have come to know truly that I came from You, and they have come to believe that You sent me. 9I Myself am asking for their sake; I am not asking for the sake of the world, but for the sake of those whom You have given to Me, because they are Yours. 10All things that are Mine are Yours and all Your things are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And 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 so that they may be one just as We are one.

          John 17 is often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Its outline follows that of the role of the High Priest on the Old Testament Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest would first make atonement for his own sins, then for the sins of the priestly house, his family, and finally, atonement would be made for the whole people of Israel. In the portion of Jesus’  prayer we read this morning, Jesus prays first for Himself and then for His disciples. Following this, in verses 20-21, Jesus also prays for those who would come to believe in Him through the preaching and witness of His disciples.

As we look at Jesus’ prayer this morning, we find the wondrous truth that Jesus, before His arrest, suffering, and death, prayed for all of His followers, then and now and in the future. Let this sink in . . . before His death on the cross for the sins of the whole world, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed that all of His disciples might be made holy by the truth of God’s Word in Christ. Jesus asked the Father in heaven that we may be one, even as He is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed for our new life of holiness, and in that holiness, He prayed for our oneness. Jesus would pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 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” (John 17:17-21 ESV).

          Jesus, the only Son of God, came into this world as a man in order to secure for us a new life of holiness. Jesus’ prayer before His sacrificial death on the cross is that people would be made holy through His life-giving blood shed on the cross.

          By nature, we are not holy. We are not set apart from sin and evil. To the contrary, we are, as we confess, sinful. A small boat in a stream of swiftly rushing water is secured to shore by a chain of only ten links. How many links must be cut to set the boat adrift? A lady, wearing white gloves and wielding fine steel sheers, may open one link—there goes the boat. Just one little link, but the boat is gone. A man may come down with a blow torch. He burns out all ten links—there goes the boat. The person who commits one so-called “little” sin is the same in God’s sight as the person who breaks all the commandments. If a person is less holy than God, he or she is a sinner. Whether one link is broken, or all the links are broken, the boat is adrift.

Since every one of us is conceived and born sinful, we are not holy in and of ourselves. We are not perfect as God wants us to be. We do break the Ten Commandment by what we think, say, desire, and do. We don’t always fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We place our trust and love in ourselves and in our abilities or in what we have. We love our money or status more than God. We trust more in our abilities to get what we want or to get us out of a situation than we trust in God’s help. We curse, swear, lie, and deceive by God’s holy name. St. James writes, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10 ESV). The Lord Jesus Himself also tells us, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

As a result of our complete lack of holiness, we are condemned by the wrath of God who alone is holy and, according to His perfect justice, must punish sin. That punishment is physical death and eternal condemnation. Because we are not holy, you and I would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). God sent us Jesus, His One-of-a-Kind Son, to be our Savior from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. Jesus came to make us holy in the sight of God so that we would live forever with Him. We read in our text, “Father, the hour is come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all flesh, so that He might give to all whom You have given to Him eternal life. Now this is eternal life, namely, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent” (John 17:1-3).

Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, sacrificed Himself for our sins on the cross. He died in our place for all of our sins of thought, desire, speech, and action. Jesus’ shed His blood to make us clean from our sins of loving other things and self more than God. Jesus paid in full our sins of lust and foul language, for our lying and cheating. All of our sins, every last one, are covered in the blood of Jesus, shed for us in His death on the cross. That means you and I are forgiven. We are forgiven by the Word of God that declares to us holy in God’s sight because of the death of Jesus on the cross. We have been called into the holiness of Christ as we have been cleansed by His blood shed for us on the cross. The writer to the Hebrews said, “And by that will we have been [made holy] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being [made holy]” (Hebrews 10:10-14 ESV).

Jesus, our Great High Priest, who prayed for His disciples before His suffering and death, offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins to make our lives holy, cleansing us from sin and rescuing us from death by His blood. We receive this new life of holiness through the waters of Baptism. In Baptism we were washed. We were made holy. We were declared “not guilty of sin” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor. 6:11). Our sins are forgiven and we do have eternal life!

In our text, Jesus not only prayed for our holiness but also our oneness as His people. “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which you have given Me so that they may be one just as We are one.” Through the washing of Holy Baptism, we are all made members of God’s family, the Church. In and through Baptism, we receive the oneness that Jesus prayed for before His suffering and death. 1Peter 2:9 declares this wonderful truth, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  We are God’s holy people in Christ Jesus. We are reminded of this in Ephesians 4, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV). In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all our sins as Jesus continues to pray and to intercede for us.

This is where our text this morning impacts our everyday lives. Jesus, who died and rose again, who has ascended to the Father, continues now to pray and to intercede for us to His Father in heaven. He continues to pray for our holiness and oneness. Jesus “always lives to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25). The Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord Jesus speaks to the Father in our defense, praying for us that we might continue steadfast in the faith and life of holiness which He alone has given us through His cross and resurrection. As our Great High Priest, Jesus continues to pray for His holy Church, that we maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

This is pure comfort and joy to know that Jesus, our Savior, prays for us. Jesus prays for you continually. He who died to give you His holiness, prays for you, even as He did for His first century disciples. He prays that you may be kept in your baptismal faith unto life everlasting. He prays that you would “be kept safe and secure in the ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving God’s name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope.” 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, your Savior today is praying and interceding for you with His blood. The Lord Christ continually intercedes for you before His Father in heaven, showing you to be marked with His cross, the people redeemed by His blood. May your holiness of faith and life in the oneness of Christ’s Church always be filled with excitement and joy in Jesus Christ, who is praying for you. Amen.

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