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Easter 7, “Pray, Christian, Pray”

Pastor Gary, Wong May 16, 2021

John 17:20-26

20 “I am praying not only for them, but also for those who believe in me through their message. 21 be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one: 23 I in them, and you in me. May they become completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am so that they may see my glory—the glory you gave me because you loved me before the world’s foundation. 25 Righteous Father, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these men knew that you sent me. 26 I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have for me may be in them and that I may be in them.

What is the first thing you do in the morning? What’s the last thing you do at night? How many of you answered, “I pray?” Christians certainly know the value of prayer. Indeed, God commands us to pray and he promises to bless us as we go to him with our petitions and requests. God says, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Ps. 50:15). Yet, how many of us take advantage of this gift from God? How many of us pray regularly and often for all kinds of situations and people? Sadly, how many of us treat prayer like it’s a fire extinguisher—to be used only in the case of an emergency? Today’s lesson gives us an opportunity to take a look at prayer in the light of God’s Word. May the Good News of our Savior motivate and empower us to praise God as we worship under the theme, “Pray, Christian, Pray!”

If you’re anything like me, your prayer life probably has room for improvement. The question is what can we do to make it better? Whom do we know who has or had an exemplary prayer life, someone who would be a perfect role model? We don’t have to think too hard or long to come up with the answer. It’s Jesus. Jesus did everything perfectly, including prayer. So, what do we know from the Scriptures about Jesus’ prayer life? We know that he prayed. He prayed a lot. It seems as though Jesus prayed on any and every occasion. Indeed, we might be hard pressed to find an occasion recorded in the Bible where Jesus did not pray. Yet, only a very precious few of Jesus’ prayers have been recorded. One of those prayers serves as the basis for our meditation.

Jesus begins what has been called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer with a simple, one word address: “Father.” Right off the bat, Jesus teaches us to whom we are to be praying. We don’t pray to a tree, a rock, or an animal. We don’t pray to some unknown god or universal force. You and I pray to a personal God who knows each one of us individually and intimately and who makes himself known to us in his Word. Now, we might not pay much attention to the fact that we address God as Father; but we shouldn’t take this privilege for granted. After all, what right do we have to address the Creator of the world and all who live in it as Father? Jesus can and does because he is the Son of God. Jesus and the Father are one from all eternity. But what about our relationship with God? We did not enjoy a loving relationship with God at the beginning of our lives. Because of the sinful nature we inherited from our parents, we were born God’s enemies, rather than being God’s dearly loved children. Because we are sinners, we deserved to die. On our own, we would end up suffering in hell for all eternity if Jesus had not interceded on our behalf. And that’s exactly what Jesus does in the next part of his prayer. After he calls upon his heavenly Father, Jesus prays for “those who will believe in [him] through [his disciples’] message” (John 17:20).

What is that message? It’s the gospel. It’s the Good News that even though we are sinners who deserve God’s punishment, God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from the consequences of our sins. It’s the good news that our salvation doesn’t depend on who we are or what we have or haven’t done. Rather, we are saved simply by believing that Jesus lived a perfect life in our place; that he died on the cross to pay for our sins, that he rose from the grave, and that he will bring all believers with him to heaven. The Apostle Paul puts it very simply: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). And how do we come to believe in Jesus? Jesus gives us the answer through the inspired words of Paul: “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Another question we might have is for whom was Jesus praying in his High Priestly Prayer? Who are the ones who believe the message of the gospel? Jesus was praying for you and me! Isn’t it amazing that Jesus had you and me (and countless others) in mind as he prayed this prayer nearly two thousand years ago? Jesus knew, even before the creation of the world, that your parents would bring you to the baptismal font where you were made a child of God as the water connected to God’s Word washed away all of your sins. In my case, Jesus, knew that through the patient witness and prayers of my dental school roommate and his wife, that the Holy Spirit would use the gospel message they had shared to create faith in my heart. Whether through baptism or God’s Word, Jesus’ prayer then and now is that all would believe in him and thus have eternal life.

In this most excellent prayer, Jesus reminds us of the great privilege we have of calling on our heavenly Father in prayer. We also have the comfort of knowing that Jesus is praying for you and me. The next question we might have is what is Jesus specifically praying for us? The answer has two parts. First, Jesus prays that “all of [us] may be one” (v.21). What does Jesus mean that we should be one? Jesus is talking about our unity in Christ. Since we have been baptized into Christ’s death, we are also united with him in his resurrection. Our faith in Jesus unites us to him and to our Father in heaven. Jesus’ prayer is that we continue to be completely united in faith.

Jesus is also talking about the unity that we have with our fellow Christians—that we be united in all that we believe and all that we do in the name of Jesus. Yet, as we look across the landscape of Christianity in 2021, we see that there are hundreds of Christian denominations whose teachings and practices are not in line with what the Bible teaches. Why isn’t there complete unity? What threatens the unity that we do have? There are three enemies against which the church militant fights: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Two of those enemies, Satan and the world, want to tear us away from Jesus. The third enemy, our own sinful natures, would rather listen to the world and the devil rather than following God and his Word. If our enemies are successful in getting us to fight amongst ourselves, the gospel might not be preached and many would be lost. So, how can we fight and win against our enemies? As we resist the devil and his temptations with God’s Word, our faith and unity are strengthened. Our new man delights in God’s Word and wants to carry our God’s will. Jesus’ prayer and his promise is, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

In the second part of Jesus’ prayer, he asks his Father that “the world [would] know that you sent [Jesus] and have loved them just as you have loved [him]” (v.23). God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The problem, as Jesus points out in his prayer, is that the world does not know Jesus. That doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t acknowledge that there was a Jewish carpenter turned rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus who lived a moral life and set a good example; what it means is that the unbelieving world doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Savior. The only way that the world is going to truly know Jesus and experience his love is by hearing the gospel. The question is how are unbelievers going to hear that life saving message? God could have done it himself. He could have sent his angels. Instead, God has chosen you and me—weak, imperfect human beings that we are—to share that message. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of earth” (Acts 1:8).

Now, you might be thinking, “How can I be a witness for Jesus? I don’t know what to say or how to say it. What if I mess up? I don’t want to be responsible for someone missing out on heaven. So, thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to be a witness for Jesus.” If you are having those doubts, you’re not alone. But realize that the devil is trying to put those doubts in your heart. Also understand that we are not alone as we share the good news of our Savior. Paul reminds us that “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20). Therefore, we can simply share the good news of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit work through our witness. As we share the gospel in its truth and purity, we will grow closer to Jesus and our Father, and more people in the world will know of God’s love in Jesus.

Dear friends, hat a blessing and privilege we have in bringing our petitions and requests to our Father in prayer! What comfort we have in knowing that our ascended Lord is sitting at the right hand of his Father, interceding on our behalf. Because of Jesus, you and I can go to God at any time with any thing, knowing that he not only hears but answers our prayers. It doesn’t really matter where or when you pray. It does matter if we don’t take advantage of this wonderful gift. Knowing that the prayers of a Christian are powerful and effective, why wouldn’t we want to pray at all times and in all places and all circumstances? So, what are you waiting for? “Pray, Christian, Pray.” Amen.

“Christians, While on Earth Abiding” (CW 408)

Text: John Newton, 1725-1807, abr., alt

Christians, while on earth abiding,

Let us never cease to pray,

Firmly in the Lord confiding

As our parents in their day.

Be the children’s voices raised

To the God their parents praised.

May his blessing, failing never,

Rest upon his people ever.

Bless us, Father, and protect us

From all harm in all our ways;

Patiently, O Lord, direct us

Safely through these fleeting days.

Let your face upon us shine;

Fill us with your peace divine.

Praise the Father, Son, and Spirit!

Praise him, all who life inherit!

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