The setting for our gospel reading this morning is, once again, the Upper Room. Just to give you an idea of the significance of what takes place in the Upper Room, we note that John devotes 5 full chapters of his gospel to it. That’s over a quarter of his gospel, devoted solely to the couple of hours that Jesus spent with His apostles in the Upper Room. And John doesn’t even spill any ink on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, knowing that Matthew, Mark and Luke have already covered that thoroughly enough.
John records what Jesus said. It’s all teaching and final instruction. Until we come to the 17th chapter. Still set in the Upper Room, John begins this chapter by telling us that the teaching and final instructions are done. He writes, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…”
Before leaving the Upper Room to go the garden of Gethsemane for His eternally scheduled appointment with Judas and the soldiers and the High Priest, and Governor and the cross and the tomb, HE PRAYS. We call this pray that Jesus prays His ‘HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER.’ Here we see our HIGH PRIEST praying to God the Father.
First, He prays briefly for Himself. “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that he Son may glorify you…” (17:1)
And then He prays for “THEM.” And the “THEM” includes His apostles who are in the Upper Room with Him.
But He does not pray only for THEM. He prays for THEM who are not in the Upper Room with Him. This is where this morning’s gospel reading invites us to listen to Jesus pray. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…”
Who are ‘THESE’ whom Jesus is praying for in His High Priestly prayer?
The answer is, you. He is praying for you. And you are the answer to Jesus’ prayer. You believe in Jesus through “their word,” the apostle’s word, which is really Jesus Christ’s word.
Beginning on the day of Pentecost, these 11 plus Matthias began telling others what Jesus had told to them and what they had SEEN JESUS DO and what they had SEEN DONE TO Jesus. They made sure to write it down to be sure to keep the story straight after they were no longer around and so the story would continue to be passed along. Today, we call it THE NEW TESTAMENT. You believe in Jesus through their word.
You are living proof that Jesus’ prayer was answered.
And the thing is, Jesus continues to pray for you. The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus as our GREAT HIGH PRIEST, saying, “Christ has entered…into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God ON OUR BEHALF.” (Heb. 9:25)
We should stop and let this sink in a bit. I know that we emphasize how important it is for US TO PRAY. And it is. Jesus tells US TO PRAY and He shows us HOW TO PRAY. But here this morning, we hear Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, PRAY FOR US.
In those times of great loneliness or depression;
in our pain, whether it be physical or emotional or both;
in our frustrations and disappointments,
when, as the psalmist describes it, “the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.” (Ps. 69:1-2)
These are the times when we may not be able to pray as we should, if at all. But Jesus is praying for us. Luther calls this knowledge that Jesus is praying for us, “the fluffy featherbed of the soul.”
I. Prayer for Unity
Here in the Upper Room, Jesus prays out loud, in the presence of His disciples, and through them, we hear WHAT He prays for.
I suppose it would be nice to know that when Jesus prays for us, He prays for our prosperity or happiness or our good health or even job security or our nation – all the things that we tend to pray for when we pray.
But He doesn’t. “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, that they also may be in us…”
Jesus prays that His apostles would be ONE with one another and with God. How often has He seen them “dispute” with one another over which one was the greatest? Even as He is praying, Judas was acting according to his own selfish interests.
This ‘ONENESS’ among the apostles that Jesus prays for, is not a ‘UNITY’ that based on ‘COMPROMISE’ or ‘COMMON CONSENSUS.’ It’s certainly not that ridiculous business of AGREEING TO DISAGREE that we sometimes call ‘ONENESS.’
Men and women, united as ONE with one another is not the end itself that we sometimes make it out to be – as though THE BASIS FOR UNITY really doesn’t matter – just so we all get along.
Think about it. There was a time when everyone was united together by a common purpose “to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face for the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4-5) The cities name was Babel and tower was called the Tower of Babel.
In response to this UNITY, that was based on what is contrary to God’s Word, God actually created DISUNITY. He actually CAUSED such disagreement between these people who were happily UNITED together around a common cause, that after awhile, they couldn’t stand each other and the whole happy society collapsed.
We think of our own society, with all its division and dissention and all of the cries for unity and oneness. And it seems as though there is an ever increasing UNITY among us based on things that are opposed to God’s Word. That is clearly NOT THE UNITY that Jesus prays for.
The ONENESS that Jesus prays for is the UNITY that based on the perfect UNITY of the Trinity – “that they may be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they may be IN US…”
This “in us,” is the same “US” as in the beginning when the Triune God said, “Let US make man in our image…” (Gen.1:26).
The IMAGE OF GOD is, among other things, the IMAGE OF UNITY. Perfect agreement within the Godhead. Three persons, each distinct from the other. Yet in perfect UNITY with one another that there is only ONE God. This is at least part of the IMAGE in which we were made. The UNITY of individual men and women, boys and girls that we all desire, is based on God, just as the desire for UNITY is from God.
Which essentially means that we will never realize real ONENESS with one another apart from ONENESS with God. Which may help to explain why we are such a fractured and divided society.
But Jesus is not praying for SOCIETY, either ours or any other. He is praying for His CHURCH, which exists as a HOLY SOCIETY within an UNHOLY SOCIETY. If there is no UNITY in the Church, what does the Church have to say to a splintered and DISUNITED world?
Jesus prays that the ONENESS in the CHURCH world entice the world to come to the church when it sees the UNITY that it has. “That they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”
He prays that “they may be PERFECTLY ONE, SOT AHT THE WORLD MAY KNOW THAT YOU SENT ME AND LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU LOVED ME.”
UNITY within the Church is a critical element of the Church’s evangelism. And so Jesus prays “that they may be PERFECTLY one.”
This is the “perfect unity” that we were baptized into that made us brothers and sisters with one another, and by which we pray together, “OUR FATHER.”
This is the “perfect unity” that is built on a confession of faith in which we all say the same thing, with one voice, about what the Word of God says about God. “I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”
It seems obvious, but sadly even the obvious seems like it’s not that obvious, but there can be no ‘perfect unity’ in the body of Christ where there is no agreement in confession of faith.
But this “perfect unity” is also marked by love for one another. Jesus prays for His church, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
This love for one another is based on the love of the God the Father for His Son, Jesus Christ who glorifies His Father by laying His life down, in love, for the world. The love that Jesus prays would be in His Church is God’s love – which is always cruciform love – husbands laying their lives down for their wives, mothers laying their lives down for their children.
And brothers and sisters in Christ putting to death the old, sinful nature in us so that we may love one another as we should. St. Paul describes what this putting to death for the sake of love in the local congregation as well as the church at large, looks like. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32).
This UNITY of the BODY of Christ with its HEAD is the way that it should be and it’s a WONDERFUL THING when it happens, however imperfectly.
In today’s Psalm we heard the psalmist say, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). He compares it to the “precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes.”
A little background here might be helpful. Aaron was the first High Priest of Israel. The high priest wore a necklace that hung underneath his beard. The necklace was made of 12 stones engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. As the anointing oil, that is, the Holy Spirit, was poured over the High Priest’s head, it ran down over the necklace and Israel, the people of God, were anointed through their High Priest. The UNITY that is celebrated in this Psalm is the unity of God’s people gathered together under their GREAT HIGH PRIEST who prays for them and who, through His prayer, are blessed. .
As long as we live in this fallen and sinful world and as long as we remain the conflicted union of saint and sinner, we will not fully realize this PERFECT UNITY which our Lord prays for us. BUT WE WILL.
In the meantime, Jesus continues to pray for us. And we continue to strive to live together “with one accord” in ONENESS with God and with one another. We pray that our Great High Priest would keep praying for us.