In our gospel reading, Jesus prays to His Father. I would like to pause and consider the profound mystery of this moment.
In His ministry, Jesus has demonstrated His power. His disciples saw His power over creation as He stilled storms and turned water into wine. His disciples saw His power over demonic forces as He cast out demons and freed the possessed. His disciples saw His power over sickness as He made the lame walk and opened the eyes of the blind. His disciples even saw His power over death as He raised Lazarus from the grave. So, Jesus has revealed to His disciples the far reaches of His power.
Yet, this One who has power over all creation, whose power extends from the demonic spirits in Hell to the hosts of Heaven, whose power has brought healing to His creatures and even life from the dead... this One chooses to pray rather than exert His power.
Think about this mystery.
Jesus, the Son of God, has power to change lives and yet, rather than exercise His power, He prays. Jesus could do all of the things for which He asks here in prayer. But, instead of doing them on his own, He offers them to His Father.
Because there is something more important than the things for which He prays. Above all petitions, even above life itself, Jesus values His relationship with His Father.
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus has confessed to us that He does not do things by His own authority. He does things by the authority of His Father. When the disciples are in Samaria, they go into a town to get food. As they return, they find Jesus sitting by the well, having witnessed to a woman who came to get water. They ask Him to eat but He answers, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Then, Jesus lifts His eyes and sees the Samaritans coming out of the town to meet Him and He tells His disciples that the Father’s time of harvesting has come.
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus has confessed to us that He does not do things by His own authority. He does things by the authority of His Father.
After Jesus feeds five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish, He goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and the crowds follow Him. There, Jesus recognizes they are attracted to the loaves. But He knows of a mission greater than feeding five thousand people: The mission of His Father. As Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:37-38).
What Jesus has revealed and proclaimed throughout His ministry, He reveals here in this prayer on the night when He was betrayed: The importance of His relationship with His Father. That mutual conversation, that mutual love, that seeking of His Father’s will above all things and entrusting His work to the hands of His Father is at the heart of who Jesus is. Life, for Jesus, is lived in intimate relationship with His Father.
And this is precisely what Jesus prays for... for you.
And this is precisely what Jesus prays for... for you.
Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus has focused on doing the will of His Father and, even at the end, as He looks to the future, to the millions of people who will come to the faith through the witness of His disciples, this intimacy with the Father is something Jesus desires for His disciples to share. Jesus prays for us: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us” (17:20). The intimacy Jesus has with His Father (“You in Me and I in You”) is what He desires for us (“they also in Us”).
Now, what is remarkable is how Jesus prays for this on the night when He was betrayed. Intimacy with His disciples was about to be shattered. They would scatter and leave Him to face the cross alone. But there He would do what His Father had sent Him to do. He would bear all sin that He might gather all people into His Father’s Kingdom. Because Jesus loves His Father and is the fullest expression of His Father’s love toward us, when Jesus brings us into relationship with Him, He brings us into relationship with His Father. And this is not just for now, but for all eternity.
I think we often miss the mystery of this moment. Why? Because prayer for us can sometimes have a transactional quality. We turn to prayer when we come across something we cannot accomplish on our own. We pray as a last resort. After we have tried counseling and the tensions in our marriage continue to get worse, we turn to God in prayer. Do not misunderstand me. Turning to God in prayer in any situation is a beautiful thing. It is something over which God rejoices. But, because we so often turn to God in prayer when confronted with situations where we are powerless, we lose sight of the deeper beauty of prayer. Prayer is the heartbeat of a relationship with Jesus and His Father. It does not save us, but it does express the depth and wonder of what it means to be saved. We have a relationship with Jesus and with His Father. That means all of life, not just the things we cannot control, can be lived in relationship to God.
So, we pray. Not just in times of need, but we pray at all times. Because this is part of what it means to be saved. We are loved by Jesus and His Father, and we bring all of our lives to His Father and our Father in prayer.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 17:20-26.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 17:20-26.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 17:20-26.