Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 16, 2016)

JOHN 17:20-26

IN THE UPPER ROOM WITH JESUS:
Jesus Prays For Us.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus often went off by himself to pray.  Rarely do we ever hear of the content of Jesus' prayers.  In the upper room with Jesus, the apostles got to hear and record Jesus' prayer in detail.  In this prayer, Jesus prays for us.  He prays that we may know the Lord, that we may know his love, that we may know his glory, and that we may be perfectly united through him in knowledge, in love, and in glory.
     The glory Jesus prays about catches our attention immediately.  We all crave glory because we believe that glory is always a good thing.  Hollywood craves the glory of Oscar statues and best-whatever awards.  Athletes crave the glory of championships and Hall of Fame recognition.  The glory we crave is that we want to be the best and brightest at whatever we put our hands and minds to.  Being the best and the brightest means wealth, fame, and other rewards.  We believe that glory ultimately means happiness.  We want glory not so that we can benefit others, but so that it benefits only us.  That is why we crave it, and that is why we envy others who have it.
     Jesus prays for us—that we will see his glory.  But our warped view of glory gives us the wrong idea.  With a sinful view of glory, we think that Jesus wants us to see him in holy radiance and eternal splendor so that we can stand in awe and so that he can bask in our awe.  But that means Jesus' prayer is ultimately for himself and his own ego.  Jesus is God, and therefore he is glorious.  He is holy, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Those things are glorious.  Those things are awesome, but those things do not save us.  In fact, they only terrify us.  Jesus revealed his divine glory at the transfiguration where, as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:29)  When the apostles became fully awake they saw his glory. (Luke 9:32)  But this did not redeem them.  Rather, it terrified them.
     Jesus prays for us, and if he prays that we would see his glory, that is ultimately for our good.  So if it is not that we stand dumbfounded by Jesus' holy awe, what is the glory that he wants us to see?  The glory that Jesus reveals to us is the love that God has for sinful men.  His glory is that he has mercy upon sinners.  Jesus reveals that glory not in dazzling splendor, but in bloody agony, in shameful mockery, in brutal crucifixion, and in bitter death.  This glory has to be revealed to us because it is not evident from our vantage point.  The prophet Isaiah described Jesus' appearance, saying, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” (Isaiah 52:14)  He was “as one from whom med hide their faces.” (Isaiah 53:3)  And this, says the Lord, is glorious.
     Jesus prays for us.  Jesus always prays for us.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed fervently.  It is one of the few times we are privileged to hear the content of Jesus' prayers.  And while it is true that Jesus prayed for himself in Gethsemane, ultimately, his prayer was still for us.  Jesus prayed that he would receive strength to do the work the Father had assigned to him—to take away the sins of the world.  That has always been Jesus' prayer, because that is God's will.
     This is the glory that God reveals to us: Jesus' suffered and died for us.  Jesus' glory is not for his own benefit, but for ours!  Jesus was not obligated to pay for our sins, but he has sought our good.  And seeking our good meant that Jesus took himself into the pains and torments of bitter sufferings and a cursed death for us.  We crave glory, but Jesus humbled himself to death, even death on a cross.  Our sins separated us from God; for God cannot endure sins.  God does not tolerate our own personal rivalry with him where we exalt ourselves over others and even exalt our will over God's.  But Jesus took those sins upon himself.  Jesus became sin for us, and therefore God could not endure his own Son.  Jesus Christ was forsaken by God, hung to die in the darkness of Good Friday, cursed upon a cross, and carried lifeless to a tomb.  Jesus was condemned so that we would be pardoned.  Jesus humbled himself into death so that we would be exalted to eternal life.  He has reconciled us to God and promised that we will dwell in life eternal in the presence of God.
     This is precisely what Jesus asks for when he prays for us.  Jesus prays, “I do not ask for (the apostles) 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....” (John 17:20-21)  Jesus prays for us, that we would all be united in him.  And indeed we are!  For, there is no difference among us.  We are all sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus' sufferings and death.  Any glory we have comes from Jesus.  If we are holy in God's sight, it is because Jesus has cleansed us of all sins.  If we are heirs of the heavenly kingdom, it is because Jesus has marked us for eternal life.  If we are children of the heavenly Father, it is because Jesus has united himself to us and, in turn, united us to him.  Our glory comes from Jesus.  He has redeemed our bodies and souls so that we will partake in the resurrection to everlasting life.  This is because Jesus was made a body and soul man who went into death for us and conquered it in order to deliver us from sin, from death, and from hell.  And the glory that Jesus bestows is not for a moment, but forever.  This is the glory we have, and we have it only because Jesus Christ has revealed it to us and bestowed it upon us.
     Jesus prays for us.  He said, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)  The love of God which was revealed to us now lives in us.  Therefore, our glory is not that we make ourselves famous or rich, but that we love God and our neighbor.  Since we are in Christ and since he dwells in us, our lives conform to him.  We live as the new creation which God has made us to be.  That means we seek the good of our neighbor, just as Jesus sought ours.  It may not appear glorious as far as the world defines glory.  In fact, it will cost us money, energy, and time, and it may go unnoticed or unappreciated.  But we do not do our work to gain notoriety or honor or reward.  We do it because that is what love does.  As it was with Jesus, so it is with us—our glory remains hidden until the resurrection.
     But in all of these things, Jesus prays for us.  He continues to intercede for us.  Even on our best days we are not perfect.  Therefore, Jesus still lives to serve and bless us; for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.  That does not change.  Just as Jesus lived on earth to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so even now he lives and reigns to serve and to give his gifts to redeem sinners and to retain us as his saints.  Jesus prays for us.  He seeks our good.  And he reveals his glory—that he saves us and will deliver us to the glory that is without measure and without end.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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