It seems rather ironic that so soon after Easter we should head back into a prayer in the gospels that immediately proceeds the betrayal, denial of and crucifixion of Jesus
But then this is how the gospels operate – we see new truth in the light of the cross
Prior to the cross so much of what Jesus said sounded like he talked in riddles
Some of his closest followers probably though he was a bit weird at times
Through the cross Jesus’ words and became aha moments
Through the cross – riddles become truth
This morning we are looking at the final prayer of Jesus before he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane.
It’s a prayer not only filled with tension at what is about to happen but also about the tensions of following Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer for us, his desire for us is pretty much that we continue his mission. In Matthew 28 he commissions his disciples – US to go and make disciples,
here in John 17 as they gather round to share the last supper he prays for them as he sends them out into the night
A night when they’ll be separated from him –
This prayer is like the last will and testament of what Jesus wants to see his followers become.
On the night he spoke this intimate prayer to his Father but with his followers listening in I suspect it didn’t make much sense – after the events of that Easter weekend, after the ascension, as they moved on in the mission I suspect it would have made more and more sense.
It’s a prayer but it’s also instruction
Not about how to do the mission
But about whom we need to be – how we need to relate to each other and to the world o live with tensions.
You don’t have to be a scholar to realize that there are three uneasy tensions in this prayer –
In verse 9 Jesus says
“I pray for them but I do not pray for the world”
That’s kind of a weird prayer isn’t it?
John 3:16 Jesus says For God so Loved the …….. (world) that he gave his only son that
His prayer seems to be contradictory – on one hand we are talking about God loving the world on the other but I am not going to pray for it…
How do we make sense of that?
God loves the world – he created it, he brooded over it, but at the same time he sees what it has become,
The world as we know it is not what God intended
Look at it like this
John 3:16 – Jesus is talking about the created world the world he made – that is what he wants to redeem
John 17 – it’s the world we have created,
- the political systems that are corrupt,
- the way we have exploited our neighbor in the name of greed
- the way we pollute the planet
Our world is a world that on one hand is blessed with the finger prints of God, but on the other decaying, dying,
In Revelation 21 one of the final images of John’s vision is of a new earth because the old has passed away – God’s kingdom has come so not only the world God created that god created that reflects his Glory – everything does.
So while Jesus does not pray for the world, he does leave us to be part of that world and that’s our second tension,
Tension Two – We are in the world
In verse 11Jesus goes on to say, I am no longer in the world but they are in the world –
How do we live in a world that is corrupt and dying – clearly with the presence of Evil and remain safe?
How do we handle being in the world but not of the world?
I guess most of us are aware of the two extreme of Christianity
Liberalism – where anything seems to go
And fundamentalism – where nothing goes –
One extreme embraces everything of the world – one shuts itself off from the world.
Living in tension is not easy – so when you think about it moving to the extremes is the natural thing to do –
I mean if the world is an evil place there are two responses move into the Christian ghetto – which I guess is fundamentalism at a pinch or
Ignore the fact the world is an evil place and baptize everything and say it’s from God – which is liberalism at a pinch.
On one hand we can have lots of fellowship with one another and await the Lords return on the other we can look at the world through rose colored glasses – and when someone does something evil we’ll say it’s not evil they are just expressing themselves
But does mission exist in either of these two worlds?
How do we be Salt and Light?
Well from what I have seen the people who are called to be salt in the ghetto look as though they have been sucking lemons.
For liberalism – well we all no what too much salt does in a diet
As for light, well fundamentalism recognizes that the world is a dark place but when you are called to be light you probably blame the dark for being dark.
Or should we blame the light for not shining on the dark.
Liberalism tends to respond to the call to be light by turning off the light and groping around in the dark
I don’t think Fundamentalism holds the answers for how we are to live for Jesus
Shutting yourself off avoiding everything that isn’t Christian is not being Christ Like
Nor do I think Liberalism is the answer either…
Liberalism tends to be absorbed by everything
Jesus calls us to a middle way in but not of the world
Don’t run away from the world – engage with it but don’t compromise
That’s the middle way – that’s what Jesus prayers for us to be.
If we are going to do carry on the mission of Jesus we can’t do it from the ghetto, nor can we do it if we have no good news to offer.
We need to follow the middle way
Tension three - Unity
Now were talking about Mission about being called to carry on the task of Jesus – telling people the Good News but here’s the rub
If you walk into this world by yourself you’re going to end up a casualty – You may not realize it but the world hates our message – we call our message Good News – the gospel – but the reality is that to a world that is set in its ways it’s not Good News.
So when Jesus says in John 17:14 that the world he means it.
John’s Church knew this too well –
They were persecuted for their beliefs – driven out of the synagogues
John himself was imprisoned on Patmos for his beliefs.
“Hated” – yes you can expect that
But God has a plan to help us survive – even to help the message spread- it’s called Unity – it’s called community, because there is strength in numbers
When two or three come together Jesus is with us and the Church becomes an irresistible force for good
When the world sees us working together it starts to think these Jesus fella’s or not so bad – it actually becomes soft to our message
Community/Unity is part of God’s plan for surviving in this world – if we are to go out and not hide, if we are to go out and not be absorbed then we need to do that together
But that doesn’t mean we have to be uniform – we don’t have to all look the same.
In the God head we have perfect unity – so much so that the Son, Father and Spirit can describe themselves as one – yet three persons. The Father is not the Son the Son is not the Spirit- unity yes uniform NO
Jesus did not take a cookie cutter and make us all the same
We will argue,
we will disagree
but our unity comes in our love of Jesus – if you love Jesus and I love Jesus well we have something on common we can be united in Christ.
The first disciples were unified because of Jesus not because of themselves – there were fishermen, tax collectors, revolutionaries, brothers who though with each other but there focus was on Jesus – that unified them.
When Jesus ascended the point of unity became the one Spirit that was sent from God – the Holy Spirit unites us.
Its God desire for us to be one – but the practicalities of it is not that easy.
Though the Spirit is at work so is our humanity – community doesn’t just happen
We can’t just all turn up on Sunday morning and expect to be community – it doesn’t work like that
It has to be worked at
In Leviticus 16 there are instructions for the priestly duties on the Day of Atonement –
If you know the Exodus story Moses at the commands of God brings the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt.
In order to be the people of God the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses establish a covenant relationship with God at Mount Sinai
On the one hand the covenant promised life to all who obeyed it, and, on the other hand, it pronounced a curse upon all its transgressors.
The Day of Atonement was then like a get out of jail free day – an opportunity to find forgiveness for the inevitable that you will mess up.
On that Day according to Leviticus 16:17 the high priest was to perform the ritual of purification –
For his family
For the whole community
In the same way in this prayer Jesus follows the same shape
For his Disciples – his earthly family
For the Whole Community for the Whole Church
When we say Jesus is the great High Priest we mean it – not only in the sacrifice he offers in his own life, body and blood but in the way he prays for us
Roman’s 8:34 tells us that the Jesus who dies and was raised is seated at the right hand of God pleading with God for us.
So in John 17 he starts a process that he continues into eternity – pleading. Praying intercessing for us.
In the cross he has fulfilled the requirements of the Covenant
– becoming the scape goat for our actions,
– the perfect sacrifice for our sin.
But his high priest role still continues – in prayer
If you are ever tempted to say no one ever prays for me – know this
– I may forget,
– the prayer chain may forget,
– Peter may get too busy
– and even Derek the most organized man in the world may forget
– but Jesus doesn’t – he prays, he pleads, he intercedes – he is our great high priest.
In his death and resurrection Jesus is the perfect realization of the Day of Atonement
In prayer he is our great high priest
So while the life of a disciple is filled with tensions we can hold fast to the fact that Jesus is praying for us
Don’t take them out
Deliver them form the evil
That they would be one
While Pre Easter we might read this prayer and focus upon the sacrifice through the lens of Post Easter – that side of Jesus ministry is finished, but prayer continues, his mission continues in us and because it continues in us – we need him praying for us.