Sermon – Easter 7 – “The High Priestly Prayer” – John 17:1-11 – 6/5/11

This is now the third consecutive Sunday that our Gospel reading has been taken from the Words of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the night He was betrayed. As we’ve said, only St. John has preserved these precious Words of our Lord. John devotes half of chapter 13 and all of chapters 14-17, or just over 20% of his entire gospel, just to these words of Jesus. Obviously, John believes that these words are important for the Church to have. And of course, he’s right.

For the last two Sundays, we have looked closely at the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples as recorded in the first half of chapter 14; ‘Let not your hearts be trouble;’ ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ It’s been good to consider these precious words in little bites and savor them. Since we follow a three-year series of readings through the gospels, we’ll come back and savor the rest of chapter 14 next year and then chapter 15 and 16 the year after that.

So, this morning we jump to chapter 17 and our attention is directed to the first 11 verses. There is a slight change in the direction of these words from what it has been. We’re still in the Upper Room. The disciples are still listening to Jesus speak. But now, His words are not directed to them. Now, Jesus ‘lifts his eyes to heaven’ and speaks to His heavenly Father. Now, the disciples listen as Jesus prays. They listen as He prays for Himself and as He prays for them.

So, this is not a lesson or a sermon. This is no time for them to be interrupting to ask questions as they had done several times in chapters 13-16. Later, on this same evening, Jesus will pray again in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, He will invite only three of them to ‘remain with me and watch.’ But here, in the only prayer of Jesus recorded in such detail in all the gospels, they are all present to ‘remain and watch.’ And through the inspired record that John has left us, so are we.

In the 5th century AD, the Bishop of Alexandria whose name was Clement, said that in this prayer, Jesus was acting like a high priest for His people. Ever since then, this has been known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. That’s a good way for us to think about how we should hear this prayer of God the Son to God the Father. Jesus is being our Great High Priest.

In the Old Testament, there were three Holy Offices instituted by God: Prophets, Priests and Kings. No one assumed these offices on their own. Only those called by God and properly appointed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit entered into these offices. Although Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of all three of these offices, it’s the office of Priest that occupies our attention here.

The work of the priest was to mediate for man to God. Priests carried out their work at the Temple where they would take the sacrifices that the people would bring and present them to God on behalf of the people. There were ‘thank offerings’ that were burned and ‘memorial offerings’ that were waved. But mostly, there were ‘sin offerings’ that were sacrificed. The Priest was the called servant of God who would take the animal from the sinner, present it to the Lord, sacrifice it, throw some of the blood onto the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies and then throw some of the blood onto the sinner. And as he did so he would say, ‘the Lord has forgiven you all of your sins.’ That was the work of the Priest.

The High Priest was also a priest. Many priests, only one High Priest. But the High Priest didn’t mediate for a man or woman and their family before God. The High Priest mediated for the whole nation of Israel collectively. The High Priest would carry out one, very special offering to the Lord. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, no one entered into the Temple except the High Priest. He alone would take one animal, a lamb, into the Temple on behalf of the whole nation and sacrifice it at the altar. And then, the High Priest would take the blood of that lamb behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies, and pour it right onto the Ark of the Covenant, where God Himself was located. And in this way, the High Priest would atone for the sins of the whole nation by one sacrifice, ‘once for all.’

So, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to see why Jesus is our Great High Priest. He is the great Mediator between man and God. He offers one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world to God, a sacrifice far more significant than any of the sacrifices that any of the High Priests of Israel ever made. Jesus offers Himself, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the ‘Paschal Lamb,’ the Passover Lamb.

Now in the Upper Room, just before He gives His body over to be sacrificed and His blood to be shed, Jesus prays. Here we see our Great High Priest interceding for His disciples, and for all who will believe through their word.

First, Jesus prays for Himself. ‘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 to him.’

Several times through the gospels, we heard that Jesus’ hour had NOT come. The first episode in John’s gospel takes place at the wedding in Cana, Mary tells Jesus to do something about the lack of wine. Jesus replied, ‘my hour has not yet come.’ When the religious leaders try to seize Jesus and even stone Him, they’re not able to because, ‘His hour had not yet come.’

Now Jesus says, ‘the hour has come.’ The great hour to which the eternal clock had been set was the hour when the Son of God would be crucified on the cross. And Jesus prays to the Father that He would be a worthy High Priest. ‘Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son.’

To ‘glorify’ means to give honor and dignity and respect that can be seen by others. To ‘glorify’ is a public thing, not a private thing. Jesus is asking to be glorified so that His glory may be seen by others. And in seeing His glory, they will worship Him. And in worshipping Him, they will worship the One who sent Him.

So as the disciples listen to Jesus’ prayer and hear Him pray, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,’ what do you think they were thinking? That the time had finally arrived for Jesus to do what they had hoped all along He would do. The hour had come for Him to break the teeth of those who caused Him so much trouble? The hour had come for Him to take organize a revolution to overthrow the government and clean up the corruption in the Temple. The hour has come for Him to call down a legion of angels from heaven to fight for Him and establish His earthly kingdom.

That’s the way we think of glory and being glorified isn’t it? Power, success, prosperity. ‘Glorify me, Father with a pretty face and a successful career and fancy car and a fat wallet so that others will show me the honor, dignity and respect that I deserve. And I’ll glorify you by being humble and meek about it all and saying that it all came from You. This is the way we pray that God would glorify us isn’t it?

But Jesus is about to be arrested, bound and falsely accused ‘ and in this, God will glorify Him. He will be ‘despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces’ and in this, God will glorify Him. (Is.53:3). Crucified, died and buried ‘ and in this, God the Father will glorify His Son with ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ ‘ glory to God in the highest.

God’s ways are not our ways are they? His thoughts are not our thoughts either. We pray that God would profit a man so that he gains the whole world. But God says, ‘What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life’? (Matthew 16:26) Ah, but if that same man were to loose everything, ‘goods, fame, honor, spouse and home’ and wind up in a homeless shelter, but through this, he comes to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus and dies and goes to heaven? Then, he is glorified and God is glorified and all of heaven rejoices. BUT WHO PRAYS FOR THIS?

God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus is glorified in His terrible suffering and death. This is what the Father sent the Son into the world to do. His perfect and willing obedience to do the Father’s will glorifies the Father. ‘I glorified you on earth havening accomplished the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.’

And God raised Jesus from the dead, and in this, the Son is glorified. Seated at the right hand of the Father, and given the ‘name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and this is to the GLORY of God the Father.’ (Phil.2:9).

We can’t help but notice however that in all of this, Jesus is no further ahead than He had always been. This is not a glory that is bestowed on the Son that He didn’t previously have. This is the ‘glory that He had with the Father before the world existed.’ Jesus set aside the glory that was rightfully His for a time. Now, the hour has come for His glory to be resumed.

So, clearly, there was a bigger purpose behind all of this. Clearly, the Father sent the Son into the world to suffer and die, and the Son came into the world and accomplished the Father’s will ‘ not for the sake of His own glory or for the Father’s glory. He did this for our sake, so that we may see His glory and worship Him.

Jesus prays for us. ‘I have made known your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth, that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.’

The Father and the Son are in such perfect unity that the Father gives His Word to the Son so that the Son may speak His Word to them and by His Word, bring them to the knowledge of God. And the Son speaks the Father’s Word to all whom the Father has given Him, and they hear the Word and receive it, and the Son gives those who were at one time estranged and dead in their sins, back to the Father, alive and the children of God.

So, what is this that Jesus prays for His disciples and for you and me who believe through their word? This is nothing less than eternal life. ‘That you know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.’ This is the prayer that our Great High Priest prays for you.

That our attention is being directed to these holy words the week before Pentecost is just perfect. Having heard His prayer, we anticipate with joy the coming of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who reminds us of Jesus, Who gives us the knowledge of the only true God, which is eternal life.

What shall we say to this? What else can we say but ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.’ Amen.

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