March 27, 2011
John 17:11-13 (1)
Lauren J. McFeaters
If you read the Gospel of John from the first words and straight on through it reads like a play full of twists, turns, and mystery. But when you enter the stage at chapter 17 something happens quite dramatically. Directly before our passage we find Jesus in the upper room surrounded by his disciples. The last supper is over, Judas has gone to do what Judas must do, feet are washed, dishes are cleared, and around the supper table Jesus begins to talk.
Love one another.
Do not be afraid.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
I go to prepare a place for you.
My peace I leave with you.
I will not leave you orphaned.
He speaks like this for four chapters, telling the disciples everything they must know before he leaves them:
What they must remember and mustn’t forget.
What is certain to happen and how they must prepare;
What the Holy Spirit will do to guide them. (2)
But then he stops, abruptly, and the entire rhythm of the drama changes.
There is silence.And within the silence he takes in their faces, their characters, their quirks. He loves them, these disciples; these men and women who have been shaped by his peace, and protected by his care, and challenged by his words; transformed by his grace.
He stops. He shifts. He changes the course of their life together. He lifts his eyes to heaven and begins to pray – Blessed Father, Loving Parent,
Please protect and guard my people.
Shelter them as they live the life ahead of them.
I pray that they be one heart and mind,
Just as you and I are one heart and mind.
As long as I have been with them,
I was the one who guarded them.
Now I am about to die, so
I'm saying these things in the world's hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them. (3)
He changes the course of their life together through a prayer. A prayer filled with a love that is a living, breathing thing. Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took a prayer, he blessed it and broke it and gave it to us.
What does it mean that Jesus Christ prays for us? Can I tell you there are thousands of articles and books on how we can pray, but I could find little to nothing on how Jesus prays for us.
There was a time in seminary when I was working on a class project and I cut and paste every reference to prayer in the New Testament. When I say cut and paste, I didn’t do it with the strike of a key and the sweep of a mouse. I did it with Xerox copies, scissors, and a glue pot, and organized it on a chart by Gospel headings. What appeared before me was fascinating. It was visual bliss for a student of the Bible. Of course I knew that Jesus prayed. The gospels tell us frequently. But what I didn’t know is the gospels hardly ever tell us what he prayed or how he prayed. A few sentences at most are revealed.
When teaching the disciples he prayed:
I thank you, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and the intelligent
and have revealed them to infants.
Father, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come.
There’s a burst of praise at the tomb of Lazarus:
Father, I thank you for having heard me.
I knew that you always hear me.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when Jesus prays his final prayer with his disciples, he is in Gethsemane, and he prays alone, having been abandoned by the disciples.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus has not yet traveled to the garden and when he prays the disciples are before him at table. In John, when Jesus prays, he is the intercessor praying the Pastoral Prayers for the People. (4)
His pastoral prayer is not coaching or tutoring. He’s not preaching, teaching, or rallying the troops. This is no Henry the 5th offing a Saint Crispin’s Day speech:
From this day to the ending of the world,
We shall be remembered --
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
Jesus our priest is praying for our unity.
Jesus our pastor is praying for our protection.
Jesus our intercessor is praying for our joy.
Dietrich Bonheoffer said Jesus’ intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which we must enter every day.
Intercession is our Lord’s priestly way of loving us. And in turn, it’s our way of loving others. When we move to intercede to God on others behalf, we are shifting our center of gravity from our own needs to the needs of others. Intercessory prayer is selfless prayer; self-giving prayer. In the ongoing work of the kingdom of God, nothing is more important than intercessory prayer. It is so desperately needed. If you’ve ever asked yourself what you can do for God’s people, here’s your answer. You can prayer for others.
I probably learned more about prayer from my mother-in-law than from anyone else in my life. May Lou Brothers didn’t believe in dilly-dallying about prayer or quietly, privately lingering around the edges of prayer. She believed in praying in specifics. She’d say God wants our specifics, our particulars, so there’s no use in being wimpy about prayer: be bold, courageous, and daring. If she knew someone was struggling with cancer, she didn’t ask God to gently hold that person and soothe their cares; she prayed that God would take those pockets of Stage 3 cancer in the lower left lung and obliterate it, eradicate it, and wipe it out. If a child was injured in the car accident she wouldn’t pray for peace, she’d pray for a subsuming chaos so that no one would rest until physicians knew exactly, positively, unerringly, what to do so that the child would wake up, get up, and walk. If a marriage was falling apart, she’d pray for God to intervene so powerfully that the two people wouldn’t know what hit them; that they’d be knocked over by grace; and look so deeply into their hearts that nothing could annihilate their love. And Mary Lou Brothers was a modest, humble, wisp of a woman. She was petite, but she prayed like an Amazon. She was elfin, but her intercessions were ginormous. She was unobtrusive but she intervened like the priest she was; like she was ten feet tall and could fly to the moon.
The gift of Jesus intercessory prayer is that we are so loved, Jesus prays for each one of us – in specifics. He also hands us a priestly ministry and calls on every one of us to be his very intercessors. We are his priests and we have the honor of going before the Most High on behalf of others. It’s not optional; it’s a sacred responsibility; a blessed privilege – for all who take up the yoke of Christ. (5)
Hear the good news!
Who is in a position to condemn?
and Christ died for us,
Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us,
Christ prays for us.
1. John 17: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12-While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13-But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.
2. Barbara Brown Taylor. Gospel Medicine. Boston: Cowley Publications, 1995, 79.
3. Eugene Petersen. The Message. Colorado springs, CO: Navpress, 1993.
4. Mary Hinkle Shore. “Commentary in the Gospel of John 17.” Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, workingpreacher.org, May 16, 2010.
5. Richard J. Foster. Prayer. New York: Harper One, 1992, 191.
6. Marshall Davis. “How Jesus Prays.” Sermon, First Baptist Church, Rochester, PA, Feb. 17, 2008.
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