Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sermon: John 17: 1-26 Famous Last Words - Glorify your Son

When we think of the Lord’s prayer, we immediately think of the prayer we say at every service - ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ But tonight, we’re focusing on the Lord’s other prayer, which comes right at the end of a long piece of teaching. Everything from chapter 13 through to chapter 16 happens over the course of one evening. And the prayer of chapter 17 comes at the end of everything Jesus has been teaching his disciples.

Jesus knows that in a few hours, he will be crucified, and so he takes time to prepare the disciples for his death, and for what will happen after his death and resurrection. And this prayer sums up all that he has been saying to them. As Jesus prays, he does so for his disciples to hear. In other places, Jesus had gone off on his own to pray, but not here. He wants the disciples to hear what he’s praying.

It’s a bit like the wee fella who was saying his prayers by the bed one night. And as he does so, he shouts out really loudly, ‘God, please let me have a new bike for my birthday.’ His mum says to him, why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf. No, he says, but granny is! This is a prayer that the disciples are meant to hear.

So as Jesus prays, it’s late on Thursday night. In a few hours the soldiers are going to come to arrest him. He’ll be tried, beaten, and crucified. How would you pray if that was you? If you’re like me, you might ask God for it not to happen. You might think, I’m Jesus, get me out of here... But that’s not how Jesus prays. So what is it Jesus prays for?

First of all, Jesus prays for himself. Now, that might seem strange. You might have been taught to pray using the ACTS guide - Adoration (praising God for who he is); Confession (saying sorry to God); Thanksgiving (thanking God for answered prayers); and then Supplication (which is asking God for things, for others and for self). Yourself comes last. But here, Jesus prays for himself first.

Here’s what he prays: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’ Jesus asks the Father to glorify him, so that he may glorify the Father. Jesus isn’t out for himself and his own glory - it’s so that the Father is glorified. But what is glory? What does it mean to be glorified?

To glorify means to bring glory to; to honour; to praise; to lift high. A few years ago you might have heard the chorus ‘Glory, glory, Man United’ ringing around Old Trafford. Maybe not recently, though! Or think of the celebrations after Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam victory. All the clapping and cheering for the team that beat all-comers. Jesus prays that he will be able to glorify the Father. It’s a bit like the Lord’s prayer - ‘Hallowed be your name’ (may your name be honoured).

So how does Jesus glorify the Father? He does it by giving eternal life to his people. Jesus gives us eternal life - life that will go on forever; life that is of a different quality; life that is all about knowing God the Father, and the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was sent to earth with a mission. His job was to bring us eternal life, by completing the work the Father gave him to do. So say that your mum or dad sends you out on a mission. You’ve to go to the shop and get a few things. You’ll bring them joy if you get everything on the list, if you’ve completed their instructions. That’s what Jesus has done. He has perfectly fulfilled the Father’s instructions, in everything, every day for thirty-three or so years. And in a matter of hours he will complete the work by dying on the cross.

Jesus asks that he would again share in the glory of the Father which he had before the world began. Jesus came from heaven, and after the cross and the resurrection, Jesus is returning to heaven. He will be glorified, praised, lifted high.

But what about the disciples? If Jesus is leaving them, how are they going to cope without him? In verse 6-19, Jesus prays next for his first disciples, the men sitting with him as he prays. So what does he pray for his disciples?

The first prayer comes in verse 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.’

Jesus asks the Father to protect his disciples. He says in verse 12 that when he was with them, he protected them, and kept them safe. BUt now they need to be safe - how are they kept safe? ‘By the power of your name.’ It’s a bit like when a wedding takes place, and the bride comes under her husband’s name. We belong to God, we are his, under his name, under his power, in his safe keeping.
Jesus prays for the disciples to be protected. From what? Or whom? Jesus says that the world will hate the disciples - and last week we heard of the work of Open Doors, working with persecuted Christians - people who are hated, even by their own families because they love Jesus. In verse 15 we see who we need protected from - ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’ We have an enemy. He is out to get us. But we have the Father’s protection.

Jesus prays for protection. Again, it’s a bit like the Lord’s prayer, where he tells us to pray ‘deliver us from evil.’ But then he also asks that his disciples will be purified. We see it in verse 17: ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.’

Now that word sanctified just means being purified, or set apart for God. Jesus set himself apart by living the perfect holy life, and then dying on the cross for us. He wants us to become purified, set apart for God’s service.

Now, as we come towards the last section, in verses 20-26, we see that Jesus prays for us directly. He has prayed for himself - because if he didn’t go to the cross there wouldn’t have been any disciples, and we wouldn’t be here tonight. He prayed for himself, then the first disciples, and now he prays for you and me. ‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.’

The Christian faith is like a big long relay race. Jesus passed the message to the first disciples, who went and told others, who told others, who told others, until eventually the good news reached here in Richhill, and reached you and me here tonight. And from the very beginning, Jesus was praying for you and me. So what does he pray for us?

Verse 21: ‘that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ Jesus prays that we may be one; together; united - as Jesus says in verse 23 ‘complete unity.’ In the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, together. And Jesus wants us to be the same. Completely united. Standing and working and serving together.

It’s what Paul prays for the Philippians in his letter to them: ‘That you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel...’ (Phil 1:27). The picture to get in your mind is a Roman army unit, standing side by side with their shields linked up. All together like that they are safe. But if they start to break up, go off their own way, go in different directions, then they’ll not be safe. If even a small hole opens up they’ll be hit by enemy arrows. Perhaps the song from Old Trafford might sum up what Jesus is praying for - glory, glory, church united.

Jesus prays that we will be where he is; that we’ll see his glory. And because Jesus died on the cross, we have this promise, this sure future ahead of us, as we trust him.

Jesus is glorified, because he has obeyed the Father, and has died on the cross to show us his love. His prayer has been answered.

His disciples were protected and purified as they brought the good news of Jesus into all the world. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.

He wants us to be united, standing together as one, as we journey towards his glory, to be with him, enjoying that eternal life that only he gives. This prayer too will be answered. So let’s be together, helping and serving each other, because this is what Jesus wants; and this is what Jesus prayed for. Let’s pray that this prayer of Jesus will indeed be full answered, as we take our place with him in glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Wednesday 28th March 2018 as part of the Famous Last Words series in Holy Week.

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