Easter 7b -- Ascension

Preached: May 20, 2012

Jesus Prays for You: “Holy Father, Protect Them with Your Word.”
John 17:11b-19

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit enters our hearts today is a portion of Jesus' prayer for his disciples, often called his high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17:

Holy Father, guard them in your name, which you have given to me, that they may continue to be one as we are. When I was with them, I was guarding those you have given me, and I protected them. None of them perished but the son of destruction that the Scripture may be fulfilled.

Now I’m coming to you, and I speak these things in the world that they may have my joy completely filling them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. I’m not asking for you to take them out of the world but to guard them from the evil one. They are not of the world just as I am not of the world.

Sanctify them through the truth. Your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so also I sent them into the world. I sanctify myself for them that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:11b-19).

This is the word of our Lord.

My children had their religion semester test on Friday. Earlier in the week one of them told me that they had heard enough details of how the Old Testament priests prepared animals for sacrifice. As important as those details were for the religious life of God’s people in the centuries before Christ, they can sound tedious to us. We understand the overall picture. Those bloody sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in our place. We don’t want to lose that message in the details, rather we want the details to reinforce the message.

But the work of the priest was more than preparing sacrifices. So even though I’m going to talk a little bit about priests, I’m not going to focus on the sacrifices. So keep on listening.

Place yourself at the foot of Mt. Sinai with the people of Israel. About three months earlier they had crossed the Red Sea on dry land. The Lord had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Now the Lord God comes down on Mt. Sinai in smoke and fire with the trumpet blast. Out of the thunder and lightening he speaks: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me …” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV84).

After he had spoke his commands, the people pleaded with Moses that he serve as a go-between rather than God speaking to them directly. How could sinners like them endure to hear the voice of the holy God? Surely they would all perish.

And that, dear friends, would also be the work of the priests. They stood between the people and God. The people could not offer their own sacrifices. They could not enter the sanctuary. The priests represented them before God. The priests interceded for them. The priests prayed for them.

But Moses and all the priests were sinners like us. This too was only a shadow picturing the work of Christ Jesus, the great High Priest. He not only offered his blood and died, but he still intercedes for us, like the priests of old. He is your advocate who stands between you and the holy God. Unlike the priests, Jesus has no sin of his own. He himself is the holy God, the righteous Son of the Father. But he became man as well to be the Mediator between God and humanity. “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

As you remember Jesus’ ascension, dear friends, see him at his heavenly throne interceding for you, praying for you. Yes, dear Christian, Jesus prays for you. And what does he say? “Holy Father, protect them with your word.” That’s our theme today. Protect us from what? From this world and evil one who is the prince of this world -- part one. Protect us for what? For the mission Jesus has sanctified us to do -- part two.

A. Protect them from this evil world

Jesus prays for you. John 17 is the prayer Jesus prayed before he and the disciples left the Upper Room and went to Gethsemane where Judas betrayed him. Even in this most weighty hour, Jesus’ heart is turned to you, dear Christian. He prays for you. He prays for the Father to protect 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. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:11, 12 NIV84)

What is God’s name? In a word: Savior. That’s who he is. That’s what he does. He saves. How do I know this? How do you know this? Because he tells us so in his Word, the Bible. No one can know his saving name except through his word. You cannot separate his name from his word. When Jesus prays, “Protect them by your name, the name you gave me,” that’s like saying, “Protect them through your word, for only your word reveals me as their Savior.”

During his three years or so of ministry, Jesus had protected his disciples through the words he had preached and taught. He protected them from the world and the evil one, who is the prince of this world, Satan. That word had united them in faith, given them one mind, one will, one heart. Jesus prays that his word continues to unite them and protect them, now that his earthly ministry is coming to an close and he is returning to his heavenly Father.

And look, dear Christian, at what that word has done for you. Look at how it protects you from this world, just as it did for those first disciples.

You and I, like those disciples, began life as children of this world, born under God’s wrath, headed for destruction. We were of this world. We belonged to it. So the world loved us. It controlled our heart, mind, soul, and will. The dark prince of this world ruled over us. We were his.

But you, dear believer, were reborn through the living and enduring word of God. He placed his name, his saving name, on you through the water and word of Baptism. You are no longer of this world, just as Jesus, who came from the Father, is not of this world. For you have been reborn into his Father’s family. Through faith in the Son, you are a son or daughter of the heavenly Father. You are his.

So the world view you and me as traitors. We have renounced its prince with all his evil deeds and desires. The world hates us for following Jesus. This world and its prince rage against us. For example, the world labels you and me as homophobic bigots for insisting that marriage is between a man and a woman. It labels us as backward simpletons for thinking that the Bible is completely true despite evidence of science. It labels us as heartless dogmatists for standing up for God’s truth even when others feel offended by his truth. And worst of all it calls you and me arrogant, intolerant, fanatical zealots for proclaiming Jesus as the only Savior so that those who do not follow him are lost forever no matter how good or sincere they were. Only Jesus saves.

But take heart, dear Christian, Jesus prays for you: “Holy Father, protect them through your word. Protect them for this evil world.” Listen to his words of prayer recorded in John 17: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:14-16).

Dear Christian, God’s Word is your mighty fortress. That’s how your heavenly Father protects you. Don’t leave his word behind, thinking you can make it on your own in this world. You are no longer of this world, don’t live as if you were. The only way to make it in this world without God’s Word is to become part of this world again. Then you too will share in its destruction forever, just as Judas did. Don’t leave behind his word. Don’t leave it behind until next Sunday or until next school year. His word is your defense, your strength, your security every moment of every day.

Even as they world attacks you, take heart. In fact, rejoice. For Jesus prays for you. The heavenly Father answers his pray by guarding and protecting you through his word. Even while under this world’s daily bombardment, Jesus’ word fills us with his joy. Satan and this world are powerless against it, for the word of our God stands forever.

B. Protect them for the mission I’ve sanctified them to do

By now maybe you’re wondering why Jesus didn’t simply ask the Father to take us out of this world to the eternal safety of heaven? At the right time the Father will do that. But until then Jesus leaves us in this world to carry out the mission he has set us apart to do. That’s what that word “sanctify” means: to set apart as holy for service to God.

Jesus prays: “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” (John 17:17-19 NIV84).

The Father sent Jesus into this world on a specific mission. Jesus sanctified himself, that is, he set himself apart for this service to God. He set himself part to do for us what no one else could do. As our great High Priest he offered his offered his blood and died. He is the only Sacrifice that atones for all sins and satisfies God.

Now as he was completing that mission, he soon will be sending out his disciples, and you and me, on our mission. In the First Lesson, you heard tell them about the mission before he ascends into heaven. “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV84). That’s our mission as well, dear Christians. We are the witnesses of our risen and ascended Savior. We baptize and teach all that he has told us. That’s how he makes disciples, as his word of truth works faith in the hearer’s heart.

God’s word sanctifies you, sets you apart, for this mission. For his word has washed you clean in Jesus’ blood. His word has enthroned Jesus as King in your heart. His word overflows from your heart into your words and actions. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Now, dear Christian, as you live for God’s glory, doing good, showing kindness, enduring patiently, practicing love and forgiveness -- as you live in that way, that light shines out so that others glorify your Father in heaven. As you, dear Christian, give the reason for the hope that you have, as you share the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus, as you tell the message of eternal life in Christ, the Holy Spirit kindles faith in the hearts of others. What a mission you share in through your words, through your prayers, through your offerings! You are his witnesses. The Father protects you to carry out this mission.

Yes, dear Christians, one greater than all those Old Testament priests, one greater than even Moses himself, prays for you. Jesus does. “Holy Father, protect them through your word.” Always stay within the safety of God’s Word. For it protects your from this world. Fill your own thoughts, words, and actions with his word. For it protects you for the mission he has sanctified you to do.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313