Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon -- 7th Sunday of Easter (May 28, 2017)

JOHN 17:1-26

JESUS, 
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST, 
INTERCEDES FOR US.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

We are all familiar with the Lord's Prayer.  What we call the Lord's Prayer is the prayer which our Lord Jesus taught us to pray.  But the entire 17th chapter of John's gospel is the prayer the Lord actually prayed for us.  The Lord's Prayer is recorded in John 17.
     The most familiar title for Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.  Christ is from the Greek word meaning, “Anointed One.”  In the Old Testament, people were anointed as they entered God-ordained offices.  Aaron was anointed as high priest.  David was anointed King.  Elisha was anointed to be prophet.  Jesus of Nazareth was anointed to fulfill all three of those offices.
     John 17 highlights Jesus' work as our great high priest.  Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  The first petition of our great high priest's intercession is that God would be glorified through him: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
     This is not some egotistical plea.  Jesus does not pray for us simply to gawk at him and his majesty.  The reason we might think that Jesus' petition is egotistical is because that is how sinners think.  Our goal in life is to look good.  So we embellish our stories to make ourselves more impressive than we are.  We lie to cover up our faults and pin the blame for our mess-ups on others.  We brag about how we have taken advantage of other people or belittled someone, and we expect our friends to congratulate us on how bold or smart we are.  We want others to bask in the glory we think we have.
    Jesus does not think or act this way.  Jesus prays that we would see God's glory—which is that he loves and saves sinners.  He prays that our guilt would be transferred to him so that he can suffer what we deserve.  He prays so that he can go forward to suffer shame, to be falsely accused, wrongly condemned, painfully executed, and condemned by his Father for sins he did not commit.  As our great high priest, Jesus makes the sin offering which appeases God's wrath and atones for our sin.  Jesus IS that offering, the Lamb of God slain for sinners.  At the same time, Jesus prays that the Father would give us the credit for the works he did, and that, for his sake, the Father would regard us as blameless and, therefore, eligible for heaven.  Jesus, our great high priests, intercedes for us that this glory would be known to us.
     Jesus, our great high priests, intercedes for us.  The second petition of Jesus' prayer is for his apostles.  While Jesus was with them, he taught them and preserved them from any real harm.  After he ascended into heaven, Jesus would no longer be in the world.  The apostles would remain.  They were charged with proclaiming all that Jesus said and did to redeem mankind from sin and death and to deliver us to life and salvation.  They had witnessed Jesus' works and works, and they declared it through preaching and writing.  While you cherish this message, many do not.  Jesus was hated for preaching it.  The apostles, who went forth in Jesus' name with Jesus' authority, would face that hatred too.  Most of them would be martyred for it.
     Jesus, our great high priest, interceded.  He prayed for the apostles: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)  The hatred the apostles would face did not excuse them from serving in this world.  They were commissioned to preach the Gospel, and Jesus prayed for them that they would do what they were given to do.
     The Lord has given you vocations, too.  The Lord does not pluck you out of this sinful world and excuse you from living and serving here.  The Lord calls you to serve your neighbor.  Through the vocations the Lord has given you, you get to demonstrate the love of Christ through patience, kindness, and charity.  You get to do good to your fellow man by providing honest work.  You also confess your faith as you have opportunity, knowing that people need salvation more than anything else you can give them.
     That does not mean that people will appreciate it.  Some will be rude and abusive.  Some may mock you.  Some may even become violent.  Jesus, your great high priest, intercedes for you—not that you will be delivered from problems.  Jesus prays that you will be kept from the evil one.  As hard as it may be to endure insults, false accusations, theft, or bodily harm, these will not destroy your salvation or remove God's mercy from you.  Your real enemy is the devil who seeks to lure you out of the kingdom of God.
     The devil would have you believe that if you must suffer for being a Christian, then it is not worth being a Christian.  He cites your problems as evidence that God does not love you and is not faithful to you.  Jesus intercedes for you that you will be kept from the evil one.  Jesus keeps you safe through his word so that you will recognize that God is faithful to you, loves you, and will set you forever free from all pain and problems.  This is what Jesus ultimately prays for when he says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  His third petition is for you.  Jesus prays: “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...” (John 17:20-21)  Jesus has established one Church, and he desires that we all be united in it.  Sadly, the devil has sown seeds of false doctrine, and they have taken root in the Church.  Our Lord is grieved that the Christian Church is fractured by them.  Christians are not excited about it either.  That is why we are tempted to fix the schisms and forge unity.  However, whenever people want to establish unity, it is done by negotiation and compromise.  When world leaders make treaties, each side sits down and takes turns giving up some of his interests.  After compromise, each side agrees to a treaty with neither leader getting what he wants.  And as soon as circumstances change, those treaties are nullified and new ones are drafted.  This is why it is not man's job to create unity in the church.  If it were, we would have to determine which parts of God's word are negotiable, alterable, or could be ignored.  And when the winds of popular opinion shift, we would be forced to renegotiate terms of unity again.  This is not what Jesus prays for at all.
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you...” (John 17:21).  Since it is God's kingdom and God's word, it is our Lord alone who establishes unity.  Jesus unites us with himself through the Scriptures.  He conforms our hearts to his word.  If the whole world insists that God's Word is scientifically wrong or socially offensive, we still take our stand with the Lord.  When God's Word shows us that we are wrong, we humbly acknowledge that the Lord is right.  We repent, purge ourselves of our sinful behavior, and flee to Christ for his mercy.
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  Jesus prays for unity of the Church.  We will probably not see that on this side of heaven.  But do not fear.  You are not saved by a denomination.  No church body ever died for you.  Only Jesus Christ has suffered and died to take away your sins.  Only Jesus Christ has words that save.  Only Jesus Christ will bring you out of this world to the perfect Church in heaven.  And there, the prayers will be answered.  We will all be united in perfect agreement with God's word and understanding of God's will.  We will all know the glory of God and dwell in it.  We will be forever free from the evil one.  If that is what you long for, then cling to God's word for your salvation.  Our Lord desires that for you.  He suffered and died to redeem you so that you would have it.  And he continues to intercede for you so that you will be preserved in the saving faith and brought to heavenly glory.

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

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