Sunday the 28th of May 2017
John 17: 1-17
A couple of years ago in one of my ALC classes one of my lecturers told us of one time when he and his family came to church one Sunday to find that the pastor was kneeling in front of the altar, praying out loud. This pastor was apparently praying for the members of his congregation and he was doing it as people arrived at church. The impact that this made on the people who came to church that day was quite noticeable, and apparently it led to the pastor having to do many extra pastoral visits that week. He did not do this all the time, but did it occasionally to teach the congregation about the role of prayer in the pastor’s life and to show that these people were indeed prayed for. Often we will say to others: “I am praying for you” or maybe “I will keep you in my prayers” but very rarely do we see people actually praying for us.
In today’s Gospel reading from John 17 that is precisely what Jesus is doing for his disciples. On that Maundy Thursday after he had given them his farewell speech, he simply prayed to his Heavenly Father. Jesus did not go off somewhere to be by himself, as he would later to the garden, but he prayed in the presence of his disciples so that they could actually hear his prayer. This was no private matter, but a moment when the disciples got to listen to Jesus praying for them.
I wonder what it would have been like for these disciples to hear their Lord praying for them; where all they were doing was listening. Just as Jesus was praying for his disciples that night, he also prays for you and me in this, but do we hear and listen? I don’t know about you but often my prayers are very busy; it is like I am asking all the time, begging God to do something for me, or that I want him to do something for someone else and occasionally I might praise him, when I remember, or when he pulls me up. To be honest I have come to realise that I complain to him more in my prayers than I do praise him.
I know that I am not the only one who does this, because I believe that it is a part of our sinful natures to always be focussing on ourselves. It comes naturally to us. Our prayers can so easily be all about ‘me’.
As I read through Jesus’ prayer I began to see that he was praying aloud for a purpose. In his praying he was showing and teaching his disciples and also us. So what does Jesus’ prayer teach us about God? What does he expect of God that he would want his disciples to remember? These are interesting questions and there are many things that Jesus said in this prayer that I could speak about, but today I would like to focus on two parts of this prayer of Jesus. Jesus prayed: “ 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 know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Jesus is praying to his Father with confidence, because of who he is. Jesus is acknowledging the authority that has been given by his Father, so that he may give eternal life. As his child, you and I know God, we have access to him in prayer, and we are assured that he listens to us, because we know Jesus the one whom he has sent. Jesus is putting focus on him and the lesson here that I believe he is teaching is for us to do the same in our prayers. When we pray we pray in his name, but I wonder if at times we need to think about what this means; to think about the fact that we can pray is because of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Jesus prays that the Father would be glorified through him. Do we pray that our God will be glorified through us? It is something to think about in our own prayers.
Jesus goes on to pray: “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.”
Jesus the one who is Lord and the one who has authority, the one who should be demanding that his disciples pray to him, is the one who prays for his disciples.
The world of these disciples was about to change dramatically; they were going to be thrown into a world that was so foreign from the one they had known; things were going to be so different and yet they heard Jesus, their Lord, praying for them. They heard him pray about the things the Father was doing in their lives, that I suspect they had no idea about. When Jesus prayed: “…And glory has come to me through them”, even though it was a statement of fact, I can imagine that they would not have understood. But it is the truth God was at work in those disciples before they even knew it. The same is true for you and me; often it is the case that God is working in us, without our knowing; he is working in us long before we realise, sometimes.
These disciples hear Jesus praying for their protection. He prays: “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.”
Imagine what it would have been like to hear Jesus praying for them this way. Over the last few weeks I have been making a point that Jesus was speaking to his disciples, preparing them, so that they remember what he said to them. Now he is doing the same thing by encouraging them, by letting them listen to his prayer to his Father for them. They knew that he was praying for them, that he was interceding for them, not only them, but all believers; they heard that they were not alone, that our God was at work. And again this was something that they were going to remember in the future.
This prayer that Jesus prays that is recorded in his Word is recorded for us here today to listen to. And through this prayer he teaches us. He teaches us that our God works in us, as his children, helping us to glorify him through our Christian lives as we are walking with him. He teaches us that our Lord Jesus is interceding for us, he is praying for our protection, he is keeping us before his Father who is at work in us. He is teaching us that we need to have focus on him.
Prayer is one of the things that are fundamental to our Christian faith, but it is also something that nearly all of us struggle with at times. My own prayer life with God goes through seasons; there are times when I pray with him easily and naturally and then there are times where I find prayer difficult. Again I suspect that I am not the only one who struggles like this. As we as Christians living in this world face challenges that come our way, I believe that we can take comfort here in Jesus prayer. When we struggle to pray to our heavenly Father, Jesus still intercedes for us; when we struggle to see God at work, Jesus tells us through his prayer that our God is at work bringing about his glory in us. The fact that Jesus prayed for his disciples would have given them great comfort. The fact that this prayer is in God’s word to us can give you and me comfort also.
I encourage you all with the fact that our God is at work in us to bring him glory. I encourage you to persist in your prayers, knowing that our Lord Jesus is alongside you, praying and interceding for you also. Finally, I encourage you to remember Jesus’ words of promise that he is always with you.