What's Jesus Doing Now?
This Sunday is about prayer. It's called Exaudi, hear, from the first word in the Latin Introit which is the same as ours: "Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;" And in the Collect we pray to the now ascended Jesus, "King of glory uplifted in triumphwe pray, leave us not without consolation." This Sunday is about prayer, but the Introit and Collect focus on our praying. We want to focus on Jesus. This Sunday answers the question: What is Jesus doing now? Having been incarnated in the Virgin's Womb, crucified, risen, ascended to the right hand of God, but not yet returned to judge, what's Jesus doing now?
He's praying. I've pointed out before that our inserts are wrong when they introduce a Gospel reading with "Jesus said" in brackets. Today it's "Jesus prayed." They make the words of Jesus, and in this case His prayer, in the past. At one time Jesus said this prayer. Wrong. You stand for the Gospel not because the pastor rather than an elder reads it but because Jesus is speaking. Though my mouth announces the Gospel, it is Jesus whom you give glory to in the present: "Glory be to Thee, O Lord!" And though it is my voice which says, "Here ends the Gospel," your praises go here and now to Christ, "Praise be to Thee, O Christ!" Luther asks the question, "For what greater thing could anyone desirethan to hear God speak once with His own mouth" (LW, 69, 94)?
Today you just don't hear God speak; you hear God pray for you. This is what Paul in Romans 8:34 told us Jesus does for us: "Christ Jesus, who died more than that, who was raised to life is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." And Hebrews 7:25 says He prays for us continually: "He always lives to make intercession." Do you get comfort from someone telling you they're praying for you? How much more so to not only know but hear God the Son praying for you?
The ascended Jesus is praying for us now. The first prayer we hear is "Keep them in Your name." The insert adds the word power which is not there at all, and changes the word "keep" to "protect." "Protect them by the power of Your name." That makes it sound like God's name gives off some sort of force field. It doesn't. People baptized into God's name; absolved in God's name; and communed in God's name sin, get sick, and die with no less frequency than those outside His name.
What Jesus prays for right now is that sin, sickness, and death not drive us outside of His name. May they not bump us outside of Baptism so that our faith suffocates and dies like fish out of water. May they not push us outside of Absolution so that without forgiveness God's name is to us what it is to demons: a torment, an ear splitting sound we cover our hears from. Jesus prays that nothing from the Devil, the World, or our own Flesh keep us away from communing with the flesh and blood of our God in His name.
What Jesus is doing right now is praying that you be kept in God's name and that you be kept from the Evil One. At least the insert is consistent. Both places where the word is "keep" they translate "protect." But again the thought is not that the Evil One not get to you at all, but that you might not give up to him. Luther was fond of pointing out that if we could see all the arrows, spears, and darts the Devil has aimed at us at every minute of ever day we would die of fright. Jesus prays not that we might not see the danger but that we might not give up, give in, and give ourselves over to fear.
Another facet of this prayer is Jesus' teaching we're no match for the Evil One. The Rolling Stones were right. The Devil has been there in all the tragedies, crimes, and sins of history. The Devil is neither eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, nor omnipotent. But he was there when Eve first ate the fruit and when David was slain by Bathsheba's beauty. And He was there when not only your parents, but grandparents, and all the greats you can put in a row were born. He knows you better than you know yourself. That's why Jesus asks that we be kept from the Evil One and why He told us to pray every day, "Deliver us from the Evil One."
Jesus not only lets us hear Him praying for us but how His prayers are answered. They're answered by Him sanctifying Himself and in turn sanctifying us. The problem is that word sanctify. It can mean to purify or cleanse, but Jesus without sin needed neither of those. He was the spotless Lamb of God, the blemish free Passover Lamb. Another meaning of the word is to separate for service to God. When Jesus says, "'I sanctify Myself,' He is telling us He is carrying out His priestly office and work. I am offering Myself as a holy sacrifice'" (Ibid. 98).
Jesus the only Man who never sinned, the only Man who ever kept every jot and tittle of God's Law, offered Himself up as sacrifice in place of sinners. Death, Judgment, and Devil should have taken us in God's Name because God's Law authorized any sinner to be taken away by Death to Judgment, and then to be handed over to the Devil for eternity. But Jesus said, "Take Me instead." Though not only did He never depart from God's Name but He is true God Himself, Jesus gave Himself up to the punishment, damnation, and dying we deserve. He gave up the full use of His rights, powers, and privileges as True God so that we might be sanctified.
That's His third prayer for us. "Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth." This Word we don't listen to, don't study, don't take to heart is the means by which we are kept in God's name and from the Evil One. We listen and study the words of science, of so-called science, philosophers, and politicians more than we ever do God's Word. The thing Luther said nothing could be greater than hearing God speak but once we think little of because He speaks so often. Every Sunday Jesus speaks in the Gospel; every Sunday He teaches in Bible class. Every day His voice sounds forth in the Bible, but it's muffled because your Bible is closed.
Depressing isn't it? But do you think Jesus prays with the intent of leaving you in depression anymore than you do when you pray for someone else? Jesus makes His purposes for praying today pretty clear. They really stand out in Greek because they're purpose clauses.
First Jesus is praying for us not that we may become one but that we may continually be one. It's a unity already given (Morris, 727). More startling than that, Jesus doesn't pray that we continue in a similarity or even unanimity but in one substance (LW 69, 77). Think about it; if the individual parts of the Body of Christ are just similar to each other or even in unanimous agreement then when one member was hurt the whole body wouldn't be hurt. No, that only happens, and Paul says it does, because we are one in substance. In the Nicene creed we don't confess that there is similarity of saints or unanimity of saints but a communion of saints.
You are to look at the visible Body of Christ fractured in a thousands of parts and believe contrary to all feeling, all seeing, all hearing that Jesus' prayer is answered. We are one even as God the Son is one with the Father. We are one despite being unable to share the same loaf that is the Body of Christ and share the same Cup that is His Blood. We are One because Jesus' prayers are always answered. All of those kept in His name and from the Evil One will be in heaven together. One day says Luther, this battle we are engaged in to believe what we can't see will give way to the eternal safety and glory of seeing (LW, 58, 186).
We testify that we believe Jesus' prayer is answered by not exchanging a oneness of substance, a oneness like that of the Father and Son, with a manmade oneness. We refuse to become one by agreeing to disagree, by saying God's Word can be interpreted in contradictory ways, by accepting that there is no absolute truth. And this is a battle. We are called the enemy. We are called the troublers of Israel. We are the problem in this world. Yet Jesus prays that we be kept in the world.
O but the sentiment is strong among the faithful, "Get me out of this vale of tears; deliver me from this valley of sorrows." Moses, Elijah, Jonah, and Job all prayed that way, yet none of them were taken out of the world till the Lord was ready to. If the Father didn't answer the Son's prayer to keep us in the world, what would be left without Christians? Only darkness and putrefaction. Jesus declares His people are light and salt. Remove light and salt, and you get a world where no one is saved and nothing is preserved.
A third purpose of Jesus' praying right now is that we should be forever holy. Jesus prays that He be set apart for suffering and death in place of the world winning holiness for all, and He prays that we would forever be set apart for holiness by, in, and for the Word of truth. The liquid Word of Baptism clothes us with Christ's holiness. The audible Word of Absolution separates you from sins leaving you holy. The edible Word of Communion gives His holy Body and Blood for you to eat and drink holiness.
The more you are kept in this regenerating, forgiving, holiness giving Word the more of the Word you will want to keep and the more Word you will want to hear. Hebrews 4 declares the Word is sharper than any two edged sword. Jeremiah declares the Word to be a hammer and a fire. You can't be sliced by a sharp sword and not bleed; you can't be hit by a hammer and not reel; you can't be burned by fire and not scar.
What's Jesus doing now? He's praying for you, and He's piercing, hammering, and burning you with His Word to keep you in His name, to keep you from the Evil One, and to keep you in His holiness so that you may continue to be the one Body of Christ in this fallen world. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (20120520); John 17: 11b-19