Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 20, 2012
Text: John 17:11b-19
Beloved in the Lord, our text for this morning comes from what is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, the prayer Jesus prays on behalf of His Church in the upper room on the night in which He is betrayed, the night He institutes the Supper of His body and blood, Maundy Thursday, the night before His suffering and crucifixion as the sacrifice for our sins. Priests make intercession to God on behalf of the people, and as our High Priest, this is what Jesus does for us. He prays for us. He prays, and as the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Father hears and answers Jesus’ prayer. He cannot fail to hear and answer His Son. He surely will not deny His prayer for us. He will give His Church whatever it is for which the Son prays. And in our text, there are three particular petitions that Jesus lifts before the Father for our sake. He prays first of all that we would be kept as one in God’s Name (John 17:11). Second, He prays that we would be kept from the evil one, Satan (v. 15). And third, He prays that we would be sanctified in the truth of His holy Word (v. 17).
Jesus prays that we be kept in God’s Name. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11b; ESV). He prays that we be kept in the Name of the Father, which the Father has given to and revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ. This is baptismal language. This is a prayer that we be kept in our Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism all our sins are washed away by the flood of Jesus’ blood, and we are given the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. We are rescued from death and the devil. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We are made God’s own child, having been baptized into the death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We return daily to our Baptism as we drown the old sinful nature in repentance and daily emerge and arise to newness of life in Christ by faith. Jesus prays that we be kept in this, that we not wander away from our Baptism and so be lost. Because the world hates us. The world hates the Church, because the world hates Christ. And the most effective way the world can do damage to the Church is to lure us away from our Baptism by worldly enticements, be it money, power, influence, sex, altered consciousness, or whatever. The world lures us away by the works of the flesh. The allurements are shiny and captivating, but upon close scrutiny, are empty and unable to give us what they promise. Jesus knows that in our sinful flesh we have a weakness for these allurements. And He is not with us visibly in the way that He was visibly with His disciples during His earthly ministry. Then, He tended His disciples visibly as He talked with them and walked among them. But ever since His ascension into heaven, which we celebrated earlier in the week, though He is very much present with us in His Word and Sacraments, just as present as He was with His disciples in His earthly ministry, still, He is hidden from our sight. He does not walk and talk with us in a visible way. So He prays that God would keep us by His Spirit in our Baptism into Christ. He does not pray that God would take us out of the world. Jesus wants us in the world, confessing Christ and serving our neighbor in our vocations. But He prays that we would be kept in our Baptism so that we do not succumb to the world.
He prays this so that we might be one, even as Father and Son are one along with the Holy Spirit, three persons, but one God, the Holy Trinity. Jesus wants us who are baptized into Him to enjoy an intimate unity and communion with one another in Him. As we heard last week, we are a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Actually, the communion of the Baptized is even more intimate than that. In this communion, we are one Body, the Body of Christ. There are many members, each with their own particular functions, but we are one body. That is the reality of our Baptism. When one member suffers, we all suffer with that member. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice with that member. It is not unlike our own fleshly bodies. When I hurt one of my members, say, for example, when I stub my toe (as my wife will tell you happens almost daily), my whole body hurts along with the injured member. When my taste buds delight in a juicy bacon cheeseburger, my whole body rejoices with my taste buds. And then later on that evening when my stomach is upset… well, you get the point. We’re one Body, the Body of Christ, and individually members of it (see 1 Cor. 12). That’s the reality of our Baptism and our Communion in the body and blood of Christ around His altar. We sometimes rebel against this notion. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we offend one another. Sometimes we hurt one another. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. We need to repent when this happens. And we need to forgive one another. As our Lord Jesus covers all our sin by His blood, so we cover one another’s sins by love. And we stick with each other, because the Father has answered Jesus’ prayer and made us one Body in Holy Baptism. He keeps us in His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And He keeps us from the evil one, the devil. The devil is our main enemy along with the world and our own sinful flesh. The devil does not want us to remain in God’s Name. He wants to sever us from Christ and divide us from one another. If he can’t do it with the help of the world’s allurements, he’ll try to do it by causing divisions among us. When such a division begins to rear it’s ugly head in our midst, we need to see it for what it is, the devil’s trickery. Stamp it out by returning to your Baptism, dying to yourself, rising to new life in Christ, forgiving your neighbor in love. Pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil,” or more accurately, “Deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus gave us that prayer to use against the devil when he afflicts us. He also prays that prayer for us in our text: “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). And the Father hears and answers that prayer. He sends the Holy Spirit to keep us by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, to be ever pointing us to Jesus Christ our Savior, and to guide us into all the truth (16:13). This is the gift of God we will celebrate next Sunday in the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the early Church to guide them into all the truth, even as He is poured out upon each one of us in our Baptism. Chloe Adams and Brad Lowery will be reminded of that in a special way next Sunday as they remember their Baptism in the rite of Confirmation. It will be a day of rejoicing for all of us as two members of our Body confess the faith of their Baptism as they have come to know it from the Scriptures and the Small Catechism. Jesus prayed for them in His High Priestly Prayer, even as He prayed for all of us. Keep them in Your Name. Keep them from the evil one. And finally, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17).
Jesus prays that we be kept steadfast in His Word of truth, the Holy Scriptures. In this way, Jesus prays that the Father would sanctify us, which is to say, make us holy. We are made holy by God’s Word. It is a holiness that comes from outside of us, from God Himself, bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of truth. We are sanctified, consecrated, set apart for God by His Word as the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keep us in the one true faith. It is by the power of the Word that we come to faith in Jesus and are kept in that faith. It is by the power of the Word that we know the truth and hold it sacred, putting it into practice. It is by the power of the Word that we love and serve our neighbor and seek to do what God commands. Jesus consecrated Himself, set Himself apart, for the saving work of our redemption, so that we might be sanctified in the truth of His Word (v. 19). In that Word we have eternal life, because the Word imparts Christ. And He sends us out with that Word into the world, as His Body, the baptized, the holy Christian Church.
Jesus prays for us. And what a comfort. We know that the Father cannot deny the prayer of the Son. He hears and He answers His Son. He keeps us in our Baptism. He keeps us from the evil one. He sanctifies us in the truth; His Word is truth. And so we have eternal life. All our sins are forgiven. We have peace with God. We have peace with one another in love and the unity of the Spirit. And we gather in that unity for communion around that altar. The Body of Christ eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ. It is the answer to Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Because here at the altar, with one another, with Christians throughout the world, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we are one. And the joy of Jesus Christ our Savior is fulfilled in us. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.