"Keep Them in Thy Name" (John 17:1-11)
The 7th Sunday of Easter May 24, 2020
“Please pray for me!” we often ask of one another. Of course, as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we always have the wonderful privilege to pray directly to the LORD for ourselves and ought to be exercising that privilege often and daily. Yet, how comforting it is to be assured that our fellow members of the Body of Christ are also lifting us up before the Father’s throne of grace. Our comfort is not that we think God will somehow be persuaded by the sheer number of people asking for the same thing. After all, Holy Scripture assures us that the prayer of even one righteous person, one believer, avails much before God (James 5:16). Rather, we are comforted by the fact that others are praying for us because it is always reassuring to have an intercessor, someone to speak up in our behalf. This is especially true during those times when we are so low or so worn out that we can’t even muster the strength or words to pray.
Now, imagine having the Son of God praying for you! Could you have a better intercessor? This is exactly what we are assured of in our text from John’s Gospel today. This whole chapter 17 of John is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples.
The special comfort of Jesus’ prayer stems from the circumstances under which it was being offered. For, you see, Jesus was offering this prayer just minutes before His arrest in the garden. He and His chosen Twelve were walking together from the Upper Room, where they had just partaken of His body and blood in the Holy Supper and were making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus planned to prepare for His upcoming ordeal in prayer. It would be there that Jesus would be arrested, only to be condemned to death by His own people, handed over to the gentiles and crucified. But Jesus would raise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Heavenly Father. All this meant that very soon, His followers would be on their own. So, He pauses and audibly prays to His Father for them and for us.
How can you and I be sure this prayer is not just for Jesus’ original disciples, His holy apostles, but that He petitions the Father on our behalf as well? Jesus clearly says as much in His prayer. In the later part of His prayer which is not included in the portion printed on our bulletin insert, Jesus prays, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word…” (v. 20). Who are these others but you and me and all other believers in Christ, past, present, and future. After all, it is only through the word of the apostles, Jesus’ chosen witnesses, that you and I have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the truth that is Him. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Roman Christians, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the words of Christ” (10:17). You and I and all other believers in Jesus Christ have become members of Christ’s Body, His Church, through the word of Jesus’ apostles. As Holy Scripture also declares, we have been “built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,” Jesus Christ being the cornerstone of their teaching (Eph. 2). So, yes, Jesus is also praying for you and me!
This is why in our first reading this morning from the first chapter of the Book of Acts we are told that the apostles so prayerfully and meticulously went about selecting another man to fill the apostolic office vacated by Judas. Listen to the qualifications this person had to meet. “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
Now, to be sure, in the first part of His prayer, Jesus is clearly petitioning the Father specifically on behalf of His apostles. For He prays, “ …I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them….And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you…While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you…. 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 do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…”
Jesus’ recognized that of first priority, for the sake of the salvation of all of us, it was incumbent upon Him to pray for His apostles, whom He was sending out into the world to be His eyewitnesses. If you and I were to ever hear the truth and be saved in it, then these men needed to be kept in the true faith and in the truth of His Word. If they would succumb to the deceptions of the devil… if they would fall victim to their own weaknesses… if they would lose faith, the whole plan of saving the rest of us would be in jeopardy. Even in His prayer Jesus noted the danger, fully acknowledging that one of the twelve would be lost; Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Oh, how the Twelve needed Jesus’ intercession for them, and, oh, how glad and thankful we can be that Jesus did intercede for them! His prayer for them is also His prayer for us!
Know this, as well, Jesus also prays even more directly on your behalf. His prayer goes well beyond a request for your worldly prosperity or ease in this life. We don’t hear Him praying for God to bless you with physical health and wealth…nor that your lives would be problem free. No, He really gets down to the brass tacks of what you need the most; that is, to remain in the true God by faith so that you might attain to the eternal life He graciously gives to you in Jesus Christ. Jesus prays, literally, "Holy Father, keep them in Your name, those you have given Me, in order that they may be one just as we are."
This is your comfort today, dear believers in Christ. Not only has Jesus gone the way of the cross to redeem you from sin, death, and devil ...but Jesus intercedes in prayer for you, imploring that His Father would keep you in His name.
To be in God's name, is to be in faith in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It means to have eternal life. For Jesus says, "Now, this is eternal life; that they may know You (Father), the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Now, the sobering aspect of Jesus feeling compelled to pray to His Father to keep you in His name, implies that you could fall out of His name. As a follower of the Crucified One, you have some pretty powerful enemies, who have designed your fall. Your own sinful flesh inherited from Adam, the wily serpent the devil, and even this anti-Christian world would like nothing better than for you to abandon all that you have learned and to reject Christ. Scripture, as you well know, pictures the devil as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. You can be confident that he wants to devour you just like he did Judas!
Every day, you and I are tempted to shed God's name and take the name of the world... to become of it not simply in it ... to think like the world and not like God ... to be like the devil and not like Christ ...to be concerned and consumed by worldly and temporal things and not heavenly, godly, and eternal things.
In our Epistle reading we hear Peter himself acknowledging how dangerous it is for a Christian in this world and what a challenge it is to remain in the faith. He says all Christians will suffer as a Christian; that is, on Christ’s behalf. He calls it a “fiery trial” which will come upon us to test us. He even acknowledges that in this way we are experiencing God’s “judgment”. We ought not be arrogant. For we will be “scarcely saved” (1 Pet. 4:18); in other words, purely by His grace!
Against this onslaught of enemies and temptations, you have Jesus' prayer for you. He prays that His Father, who brought you to Himself as a gift in the first place by the Word of the apostles (The Gospel, and by Holy Baptism) will keep you in this confession, faith, and life. So, even though your enemies are powerful, you have your Intercessor Jesus, as well as His Father, on your side. Jesus has said, "I am the Good Shepherd... My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).
Know this also, Jesus’ intercession for you was not merely a one time shot! He did give His life into death on the cross to atone for you once and for all of time. You only need that one perfect, holy, sacrifice, to reconcile you back to the Father. But this does not mean that Jesus only prayed for you once or that He no longer intercedes for you.
Just this last Thursday was the observed anniversary of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. That marvelous event assures you that now Jesus is alive and bodily sitting at the right hand of God, there to continually intercede for you, displaying the blood of His sacrifice before the face of God and pleading for your every help and need at all times. Holy Scripture states: “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us”(Rom. 8:34).
Be of comfort, dear Christian. By His Word as revealed in Jesus, God has brought you into His name. By His Word He will keep you there. But what if you no longer treasure His Word; that is, what if you leave His Word unheard... unread? By any stretch of the imagination can one consider himself treasuring God's Word if he stays away from Church, where Jesus’ Word is preached and taught or if God's Word plays no role in his everyday life?
Be assured of this, no one will be able to snatch you out of God's hand. Jesus will make sure. But by neglecting God's Word you can jump out of God's hand yourself. Such a jump would be to your eternal peril. Jesus says, "If you abide in my Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (Jn 8:31-32).
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ, take comfort also that you do not have to go it all alone like some kind of Lone Ranger. Did you hear what Jesus also prayed for you? He asked the Father, “Keep them in Your name, those you have given Me, in order that they may be one just as we are." Through faith in Jesus that the Holy Spirit has given you through the Word of the Apostles, He made you not only one with your brother, Jesus Christ and one with your Heavenly Father, but also one with all others who are one with Christ. That is why Jesus teaches you to pray in the plural, “Our Father,” and not in the singular: "My Father, who art in Heaven."
You are by faith in Christ a part of a family called the Church, the very Body of Christ. By being brought into God's name, you were made one with all other true believers in Christ. Our Heavenly Father has gifted you with brothers and sisters galore who, like their Lord, desire to care for you... teach you ... admonish you ... and love you with the Father's love and pray for you. By the same token, you have a family in Christ that you are obligated by the Father's love to care for and to love and to pray for.
I invite each of you to join with me and to follow the pattern of our Lord and continually pray for one another. Join me as we join Jesus Christ and pray that our Father in Heaven would keep us all in His name until the end. After all, no greater service could we render to each other. For in God's name we will know and be of the truth... we will know and be in the Way ... and we will always know and have eternal life! Amen!