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Dear Friends in Christ,
John 17 records for us the prayer that Jesus prayed on Maundy Thursday before he was betrayed, condemned and then crucified. The prayer has three parts, a prayer for himself, a prayer for the disciples who were with him that night, and a prayer for those who would believe in him through the message those disciples would proclaim. Our focus today is on that third part of the prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us (and especially for you, Christian and Sam).
In his prayer for us Jesus makes clear what he wants for us. He wants us to be united with him and the Father, and with each other. He wants us to be united with him in glory forever.
In this world that seems to be more and more divided, who would not want unity? But the problem is that each of us wants unity on our own terms. “If you come around to my way of thinking, then we can have unity.” And everyone else says, “No, if you come around to my way of thinking, then we can have unity.” We all think that we know best and, if only everyone else thought and did things the way we do, then everything would be wonderful. The problem is, of course, we are only human. As humans, sinful humans descended from sinful Adam and Eve, we are often wrong. We are limited. We can’t see the whole picture. We can’t see the future. Insisting that everyone else come around to our way of thinking will never create unity.
Jesus’ prayer makes clear that unity starts with God and his word. It starts with the fact that God is what Jesus calls him, the righteous Father. He is the Father, the creator of all that exists. He is the righteous and holy God. He is the only being that is perfect; the only being that can see the future; the only being that can and does control everything that happens in the universe. There can be no unity without acknowledgement that God is above all and that he is righteous, that his thoughts and ways are always higher and better than ours.
The world certainly doesn’t know or accept God as the righteous Father. The world might grant that a higher power exists, but they will not attribute to him all power and wisdom. If they acknowledge him at all they paint him as a distant god who might have been in some way instrumental in starting the process of evolution, but really has nothing to do with the world as we know it today. That’s not the God who revealed himself in the Old Testament Scriptures; it’s not the God who Jesus revealed to his disciples and with whom he says he has perfect unity. It’s not the God with whom Jesus prays we would have perfect unity. In fact it’s a false god, an idol, a figment of sinful man’s imagination. That’s why we spend a lot of time (in Catechism class) studying what God has said about himself in his word where he clearly shows himself to be the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and righteous Father of all.
True unity with God and with each other has to start with acknowledgement of God as the righteous father, the creator and ruler of all things. It continues with knowing what our righteous Father has done for us. He has sent his one and only perfect Son, the one he loved before the creation of the world, into the world. Why? So that the world could be saved through him. Jesus came into the world so that he could do what no mere human could do. He became one of us so that he could put himself under God’s law and keep it perfectly as our substitute. Then, having lived without sin, he went to the cross as the unblemished lamb of God and took the sins of the world on himself. He allowed himself to be punished in our place. That’s the message the disciples received from Jesus. That’s the message they proclaimed. Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and he was raised to life for our justification. All those who, by God’s grace, believe that the Father sent his son into the world to save the world are united with the Father and the Son, and are therefore united with everyone else who believes.
As you can see, Jesus’ prayer for unity isn’t what the world thinks it should be. He grants that the world in general will reject him and those who believe in him. There isn’t going to be complete unity on earth. But, there is a wonderful unity that exists among believers. As Paul says, There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. All those who have believed and will believe in Jesus through the message he gave the disciples, that the Father so loved the world that he sent him to pay for the sin of the world through his life and death, and that his resurrection proves he did, are united over time and space by this one faith. We often call this the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. It is the answer to the first part of Jesus’ prayer. It’s not a visible, physical union, but a wonderful spiritual union that enables us to say that we are one with Abraham, with Peter and Paul, and James and John, and with Luther, with many people all over the world that we have never met, and, by God’s grace with each other. We are united by our common confession (the confession Christian and Sam will make today) that we believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth; that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord to pay for all our sins; that the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts so that we are united with the Father and the Son through faith.
The second part of Jesus’ prayer for you is that you not only be united with him and other believers now on earth, but that this unity continue through all eternity. Jesus prays, Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Those disciples who were with him in the upper room had seen glimpses of his glory. They saw him heal every sickness and disease. They saw him calm the storm and walk on water. They saw him cast out demons and raise the dead. Peter, James and John had just recently seen him shining like the sun when they were with him on the mount of Transfiguration. Soon they would see him in his glorified, resurrected body as he appeared to them after he rose from the dead. But, they had not seen him in his full glory as God, the glory he has with the Father from eternity. God told Moses that no sinful human can witness his full glory and live. But Jesus’ prayer is that these disciples, and all who will believe through their preaching, that includes you and me, will get to see him in his full glory. His prayer is that we will one day be with him in heaven.
That’s our prayer too, especially for our children (confirmands), and all we love. We want them to be united with Jesus right now through faith in him as their savior, the one whom God has sent. But we want that unity with Jesus to continue through their whole lives and then through all eternity.
Jesus lets us know how this will happen. He says, I have made you (your name, the truth about God) known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. Unity with God comes from knowing him and the only way we can know him is through the word he has given us. Notice, Jesus makes it clear that this is not just a onetime thing. He doesn’t say, ‘I made you known to them once. I told them once and that’s it, that’s all they will ever need.’ No. Jesus makes it clear that if we are going to remain united with him now and forever, he has to continue to make the Father known to us. In other words, confirmation isn’t graduation from hearing God’s word. Even graduation from Seminary isn’t a graduation from studying God’s word. All our lives we need to continue to hear, read and study God’s word so that we continue to be united with him and do not lose our faith.
Jesus made it clear in his prayer that those who believe in him are not of the world and that the world hates us. If we are united with Jesus through faith we have a lot of enemies. There are a lot of powerful forces that are working hard every minute of every day to make sure we never get to live in the full glory of God in heaven. We rattle them off easily- the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. But we better not easily dismiss them. Our only weapon against the spiritual forces of evil lined up against us is the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. In order for Jesus’ prayer to be answered for us we need to have him continue, every day, to make the Father known to us through his word.
Jesus’ prayer for you is that you be united. He wants you to be united with the Father and with him through the message the apostles proclaimed, that God sent Jesus to be your savior. This won’t bring about the kind of unity the world looks for, in fact, it will cause you to be separated from the world. But, it will unite you with all who also believe and confess that Jesus is their savior. Jesus wants you to continue in his word, to continue to grow in your knowledge of him, so that the unity you have now by faith will one day be by sight, as you to stand face-to-face with him in glory, in perfect unity with him and all believers for ever and ever.