I remember a conversation I once had with a parishioner. We were in the kitchen of the fellowship hall, getting ready for the spaghetti dinner. Joyce was filling one of those large coffee pots with water and I was browning meat for the sauce. I asked how her daughter was doing. Weeks ago, her daughter had been hospitalized and diagnosed with the onset of juvenile diabetes. I was remembering a particular visit to the hospital. The medical team was there to check on her daughter and Joyce asked questions, many questions. Unfortunately, the medical team was so intent on their work that they disregarded Joyce. As they turned to leave, Joyce said to me, “Just a minute, Pastor,” and she went out in the hall and planted herself right in front of the doctors and staff. She stood there, determined, aggressive, and demanding they talk to her and answer her questions about her daughter.
I had never seen this side of Joyce before. She was normally so quiet. At church functions, she would be in the background, preparing the coffee or cleaning up... not getting all up in someone’s face. So, it surprised me.
While we were working in the kitchen, I said to her, “You know, Joyce, I saw a side of you I’d never seen before in the hospital.” She knew what I was talking about. But, instead of admitting it, she just smiled and said, “Really, Pastor?” I said, “Yeah. That time you chased the doctors out into the hall and demanded they talk to you.” “Oh Pastor,” she said, shaking her head. “You know me, I’m pretty harmless. People mess with me and I don’t care. I figure I can take it. But...” she said, and at this point she turned off the water with determination, “...but you mess with my children and you’ve got another thing coming.”
That other thing was love; protective, parenting love. A love that will not let go until every question has been answered, every possible way has been tested, and every path of healing has been explored. A love that will fight for one’s children. A love that can be relied on in time of trouble.
I thought of that conversation when I read this prayer from Jesus. That is the kind of love Jesus expresses in these words. It is a protective, parenting love that can be relied on in time of trouble.
[Jesus’] is a protective, parenting love that can be relied on in time of trouble.
It is the night of His betrayal. Soon, Jesus will be tried, beaten, and broken on a cross. His disciples will desert Him. His church will reject Him. The Roman government will crucify Him. There is so much for Him to pray for in these last moments of His life. For Himself, that God will remove this suffering or give Him the strength to endure it. For His mission, that the work He has done will not have been performed in vain. For the world, that it will change and not reject God’s working.
But what does Jesus pray for in this moment? He focuses on His disciples.
On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus prays for His disciples. He does this out of love, a love that is fierce, protective, and parenting. Jesus once said of His sheep that, “No one will snatch them out of My hand” (10:28). He will not let go of the ones His Father has given Him. In this prayer, we overhear His love. It is a love which will protect us to the end.
That is what is so beautiful about reading this prayer in the season of Easter. This love of Jesus continues. It lives on. He has conquered the forces of sin, death, and the Devil. He has risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven and now sits at His Father’s right hand. He lives on and He lives on to love on. And He does it by lifting His people in prayer.
Jesus knows what will happen to His disciples. He knows they will be confronted, accused, beaten, and martyred. But He does not pray God would take them out of this world. No, Jesus has no fear of this world. “In the world, you will have trouble,” He says, “but fear not, for I have overcome the world” (16:33). So, Jesus prays to His Father to protect us as we engage in His mission in the world.
He does not pray God would take them out of this world. No, Jesus has no fear of this world.
“I do not ask that You take them out of the world,” Jesus says, “but that You keep them from the Evil One” (15).
The mission of God is difficult. Sometimes, it calls us to walk in ways that are isolating, to work in environments that are hostile, and to speak in conversations that are conflicted. But it is the way of Jesus. It is the way of our God who enters places of death to bring about life. Jesus prays for you today and He will be praying for you tomorrow, that His Father protect you from the Evil One. He has gone into Heaven and taken His place next to His Father and remembers you in prayer.
Imagine that... the One who has defeated sin, death, and the Devil himself is now living in Heaven and praying for you. Because of His glorious death and resurrection, there is no sin we know which cannot be forgiven, no anger we endure which cannot lead to reconciliation, and no death we encounter which will not lead to resurrection.
Today, Jesus stands before His Father interceding for you. He does not want to take you out of the world but to send you into it. He promises you the power of God and the certainty of His love. This love will not let His people go but will continue, in mission, to reach out into the world, until the day He returns and brings about a new creation.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 17:11b-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 17:11b-19.