The High Priest Prays for God’s People
John 17:1-11 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. 6 "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles. Amen. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Your stomach is churning. Your report card is on the counter. Your parents are going to blow up. What are you going to say to get you out of this?
Your mind is racing. You’ve been busted. The police lights are flashing behind you. What are you going to say to get you out of this?
Your palms are sweaty. You are waiting in your boss’s office. You messed up big time. What are you going to say to get out of this?
In situations like these, words don’t come easily or naturally. But, you’ve had your parents wrapped around your finger for years. You can plead ignorance to the police officer. You can appeal to your track record at work with your boss.
It might be difficult trying to figure out what you are going to say to an authority figure like a parent, officer or employer. But, what if you’ve messed up and you are speaking to the Ultimate Authority – God. Now, that makes people blush and stumble. It’s hard to figure out what to say. I’ll let you in on a little technique I’m going to start using next year in confirmation class. If the class doesn’t want to be quiet, I’ll volunteer one of them to lead the group in prayer. I guarantee that the room will be eerily quiet within a second.
We are afraid to pray. And, rightly so, considering that sinful mortals are talking to the holy God of heaven and earth.
And yet, we have no reason to be afraid. That’s because we are approaching the holy God of heaven and earth through Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.
Can you remember back all those decades ago when you sat in your confirmation class? Do you remember the three offices Jesus fulfilled while He was on earth and He continues to fulfill while in heaven? His offices are Prophet, Priest, and King.
While on earth, Jesus fulfilled His role as High Priest by offering a sacrifice on the altar, just like the Old Testament High Priest did. But, our great High Priest went farther. He was also the sacrificial lamb laid upon the altar of the cross. As High Priest in heaven, He intercedes for us, taking our prayers before the throne of God. He takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect before they reach the ears of our Father in heaven.
We should be a terrified, quivering mess, to approach the throne of God with our meager words. Yet, what allows us to speak to God is that we are speaking through Jesus. He is our High Priest, our Intercessor, our Advocate.
Have you noticed how we end our prayers in church with some variation of praying “in Jesus’ name”? We often end the Prayer of the Day with words like these: “through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” We prepare ourselves for Holy Communion with the words: “It is truly good and right that we should at all times and in all places give you thanks, O Lord, holy Father, almighty and everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord …” I transition from the Prayer of the Church to the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who also taught us this prayer …”
Praying in Jesus’ name is not some magical incantation that makes our prayers suddenly able to be heard by God. Rather, those words are said with faith that because of Jesus’ incarnation, redemption, resurrection, and ascension, He is our Savior. Jesus pays attention to and hears the prayers of His brothers and sisters – the baptized – for He dwells within you by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can pray to God through Jesus, because Jesus has already prayed to God for us. On the night Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and instituted the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room, He also prayed His High Priestly prayer. We call this the High Priestly Prayer because Jesus our Great High Priest offers prayers for Himself, His apostles and all who believe in Him.
Isn’t it awesome that the Son of God prays to God the Father for us?
It is awesome. But, it also shows the weakness and frailty of our own prayers. Jesus praying for us demonstrates just how bad off we are in life. Our children get sick, our bodies are falling apart, we are struggling with corrective surgeries; we are confused, worried, afraid; we doubt, question, cry out; at times, we feel like strangers in this world and at other times, sadly, we feel like we fit in all too well in this world. Because we are lost and condemned creatures, sinners in thoughts, words and actions, marked as children of God but living so often as the spawn of Satan … we need prayers. And not just “any old” prayers. We need the prayers of the greatest Pray-er of all time – our High Priest – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It always feels good when you are going through a particularly difficult time in your life and someone says to you, “I’ll pray for you.” When someone is praying for you, whether in the Prayer of the Church or on a Prayer Chain or just a personal prayer of a fellow saint – it makes you feel a bit vulnerable, a bit uneasy. It is an admittance that things are beyond your control. You’re not strong enough on your own. You need help. You need hope.
But you also receive the feeling of comfort and peace of mind in knowing that you are not alone. Someone cares for you. And, the greatest Someone of all – Jesus Christ – definitely cares for you.
And so, Jesus prays.
The apostle James writes that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). How much more powerful and effective is the prayer, then, of THE righteous man – Jesus Christ?
Jesus begins His prayer by looking up toward heaven and saying out loud, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Jesus first prays that God the Father would glorify Himself through Jesus’ coming crucifixion. The Roman cross was never connected with glory; it was a symbol of shame and dishonor. St Paul would call it a “stumbling block to Jews” and “foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The Jews stumbled over the idea that God would let His Son suffer and die on a cross, rather than sit in glory on a throne. The Gentiles thought it foolishness that you could receive salvation through someone else’s execution.
Jesus continues, “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus, in the midst of death, would not seem very powerful. As He breathes His last on the cross, Jesus would not appear to be the Creator of the world. He would not seem to be given all power and authority, but yet, He was. Through His impending death in less than 24 hours, Jesus would give eternal life to those He loves. Jesus was praying for that outcome.
“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” As an earthly father glories in the athletic and academic accomplishments of his sons and daughters, so our heavenly Father would glory in the accomplishment of His only begotten Son. The Father’s glory would be in His Son’s passion, suffering, scourging, sorrows, cross and death. There would be glory in Christ taking creation’s deserved suffering upon Himself and replacing it with His righteousness and goodness. Glory would be in having mercy upon creatures who did not deserve it. Christ’s glory would shine brightest through the darkness of Mt Calvary. Jesus is praying that God would glorify Him by punishing Him for the sins of humanity.
Then Jesus shifts His focus from praying for Himself and His work of salvation to praying for the protection and safety of His disciples. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”
Remember, in the next few moments, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the protection of the Upper Room. They are heading out into the cruel world – the cruel world that was going to betray Jesus, arrest Him, chase away His disciples and put Him to death. But before this happens, Jesus prays for His disciples, telling His Father how the past three years had been spent training these men to begin to understand that Jesus was not just a carpenter from Nazareth, a babe born in Bethlehem; but He was the promised Messiah. And how did they come to believe this? The same way you and I have – through the Word of God. He preached and they listened. He taught and they learned. He educated and they were encouraged.
Then Jesus gets very specific in His prayer. “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” This was not the time to pray for the world. The disciples were His special charge and they needed help and strength to face what was coming. Jesus is praying for all His elect – all those past, present and future disciples who were chosen by God since the foundations of the world.
Jesus continues by praying for our protection. “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one.” The world is hostile toward Christians who truly believe Christ and follow His teachings. We are foreigners living in enemy territory. Jesus describes you in this way, “they (Christians) are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” You might live in this world, but that doesn’t mean that you’re of it. You may look the same, but you are different. And what makes you different also makes you dangerous to the devil and hated by the world.
You are in danger – some by your own doing, much from the works of the devil. What are you going to say to get you out of this? Don’t be scared. Pray in Jesus’ name. He is praying for you – praying, interceding, watching, and protecting. He is your great High Priest. Amen.