Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter based on John 17:1-11
Dear disciples who have been given to Jesus by the Father: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus’ prayer recorded in our Gospel lesson took place on Maundy Thursday, the day He was betrayed and arrested. Jesus knew what was about to take place. He had even told His disciples, including Judas, that one of them would betray Him and that He would be killed.
Jesus knew the pain He was about to face. Jesus knew the rejection and mockery, and the brutally difficult task He would undertake. Yet Jesus prayed for His disciples. He wasn’t concerned about Himself even though He is the one that was heading to suffering and the cross. Jesus prayed for His disciples, for whom He was going to die.
When you have some weighty matter on your mind; some stressful matter; perhaps some difficult decisions, or some upcoming medical diagnosis or procedure, do you pray for others at such a time or for yourself? Our tendency is to think of ourselves first in every situation, most certainly when we are facing something difficult or trying. We tend to turn inwardly in every situation and think about ourselves first. Not Jesus. Jesus prayed for His disciples when He was just about to undergo more suffering than anyone in the history of the world. Even as He hung on the cross He prayed for those who crucified Him, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the prayer for His disciples on Maundy Thursday, note the words that Jesus prayed. He speaks of His disciples as a gift from the Father: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me.” Jesus considers the disciples to be a gift from the Father to Him. He considers this sinful bunch of misfits to be a wonderful gift!
Jesus further says that the disciples have kept God’s Word; that they know that everything that the Father has given Him is from the Father; that they have received God’s Word and know the truth; that they believe that the Father sent Him.
You may well wonder what on earth Jesus is talking about. Is He talking about the same disciples we’re thinking He’s talking about? Those disciples who did not understand the things He taught them? Those disciples who didn’t trust Jesus to keep them alive in the boat during a storm, whom Jesus asks, “Where is your faith?” Those disciples who questioned what Jesus said and did, from saying that someone in the crowd had touched Him to telling them to feed the five thousand? Those disciples who could not cast out the demon from a boy, resulting in Jesus words, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” Those disciples who argued about who was the greatest, got jealous over other disciples, and wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village? Those disciples who opposed God’s plan of salvation, including Peter to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan,” and who would deny knowing Jesus three times? Is Jesus really talking about those same disciples who would all abandon Jesus and flee that very night when He was arrested?
How can Jesus say that they have kept God’s Word, that they have been faithful and know the truth? How can Jesus speak of these disciples like they are some great gift from the Father?
Jesus just overlooks their sins and their failures. The disciples didn’t always keep God’s Word, but Jesus says that they did. The disciples didn’t always trust Jesus in what He said and did, but Jesus says that they did. The disciples didn’t always bring glory to Jesus, but Jesus says that they did.
That’s what God’s forgiveness is. Forgiven sins are taken away from you like they’re simply gone, like they aren’t there now and never were there. Forgiven sins are not remembered by God. Yet those times when the disciples did what was right are remembered. Thus Jesus says that the disciples have kept God’s Word, know Him and the Father, and know the truth.
Jesus hasn’t changed the way that He prays for His disciples. He is your mediator and intercessor and you are His disciple, so you know that He prays for you, and you know that He prays for you in the same way as He prayed for His disciples years ago.
He prays to the Father saying that you are a gift to Him. You are a gift to Jesus! Jesus looks at you and says, “What a wonderful, perfect, gift! A dear disciple who keeps God’s Word, knows the truth, is faithful in all things, and brings glory to me.” That’s what Jesus says about you.
Jesus does not see your sins because He has completely taken your sins away from you. His death on the cross was for you and in your place. Through your Baptism you have put on Christ and His perfection covers your imperfections; His righteousness covers your unrighteousness; His holiness covers your unholiness. Through His Word and holy Supper He continues to give you His perfection, His righteousness, and His holiness.
Every good work that God has done through you even gets credited to you. Your sins are covered and forgotten and your good works are piled up and remembered. When Jesus prays for you, He prays for you like you are a gift from the Father to Him, and like you have done everything God has ever commanded you to do.
Jesus prays for you this way. He doesn’t pray for the world in this way. He prays to the Father, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus doesn’t pray for those who are under the power of the devil, but for those whom He has claimed as His own through the waters of holy Baptism. Jesus doesn’t pray for the multitudes of unbelievers; He prays for those who are separated from the multitude of unbelievers by being Baptized into His death and resurrection.
Jesus prays and tells the Father that He will give eternal life to everyone the Father has given Him, so He tells the Father that He will give eternal life to you. Jesus gives you eternal life because He has paid the price of your sins, so when He prays for you He says that you are a gift from the Father; that you have kept God’s Word; that you know that everything that the Father has given Him is from the Father; that you have received God’s Word and know the truth; and that you believe that the Father sent Him. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.