Great Expectations come from Greater Prayers
This Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is sometimes called "Expectation Sunday" (Reed, 515) because for the apostolic church Jesus had physically ascended into heaven but had not yet sent the Spirit, so they were expecting that. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is not our expectation it's our realization. We don't expect the Spirit to be poured out by the ascended Jesus; we experience it. We do, however, share some expectations with the apostolic church. They are great because they come from greater prayers.
Jesus prays for us as He prayed for them. The insert by putting "Jesus prayed" in parentheses before the reading misses this. Jesus says, "My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message [Literally "Word"]." Jesus is praying for all who come to faith in Him through the Word passed down by the apostles. Do you think Jesus prayed just one time for you in the upper room on the night He was betrayed?
Think again. Last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension. Romans 8:34 says "Jesus is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus "always lives to intercede for" us. Hebrews and Romans tell us when Jesus prays for us: now and always. Our text tells us what He is praying. We will get to that in a moment, but for now let me say He is praying for greater things than most of us expect.
For your comfort and so your expectations would be great, we must get earthy about Jesus' heavenly intercession. The only way for us to appreciate this unearthly, constant interceding is in earthy terms we can understand. So picture a heavenly throne room as John sees in Revelation 4 with Jesus, the Lamb of God, before the throne. He stands there with nail pierced hands always uplifted praying the words of our text.
Lest you think I'm merely using an illustration consider that when Luke reports the Ascension he makes a point of saying that Jesus nailed pierced hands are in heaven. He does so by writing this: "lifting up His hands Jesus blessed them. While He blessed them, Jesus parted from them, and was carried up into heaven." Scripture records Jesus lifting up His eyes to heaven and lifting up His voice to speak, but only here does it record that He lifted up His hands. He could have done so on many other occasion, but here the Holy Spirit wants you to note it because when Jesus lifted up His hands you could see the nail holes the apostles saw and Thomas stuck his fingers into. Those nail holes go to heaven.
So Jesus is praying for you right now. Has been ever since He ascended into heaven and will do so till He returns on the Last Day. I expect that Jesus' prayers are answered, don't you? After all during His earthly ministry Jesus made a point of saying He only did what the Father willed, so His prayers must always be in accordance with what the Father wills. Prayers made according to the will of God are always answered.
But Jesus is interceding for us sinners who are constantly asserting our own will rather than God's, who don't deserve to have our prayers answered. We don't but Jesus does. Jesus lived the perfect life in our flesh and blood. All the ways we are tempted and give in to sin, Jesus was too but did not sin. Every place we have ever fallen, Jesus was at that place and stood. Perfect living by the Man Jesus won Him the right to intercede for imperfect men and to have His prayers on our behalf answered.
Every parent has been asked something by a child who has been a brat all day. You can't believe they have the gall to ask you after what they've put you through. Well that's us before God apart from Jesus. God should answer our prayers or any prayers on our behalf with lightening bolts. But Jesus, after living totally pleasing to God, took on the judgments, the lightening bolts, the wrath our wretched lives deserve. God threw bolt after bolt of lightening at Jesus. He spoke death sentence after death sentence against Jesus for our sins till there were no more to die for. So when Jesus intercedes on our behalf, the Father is pleased as can be to hear them and to answer them.
Jesus is saying greater prayers than you and I dare hope for or even imagine. We are to expect that God answers the prayers of God the Son on behalf of the fallen children of men because He always prays in accordance with God' will and has won the right to intercede for sinners. So Jesus expects us to believe that the 3 things He is always praying for are always being given to us.
We are to believe that all believers may be one as the Father and Son are. Jesus can't be praying for what can't be. He must be praying for what can be and what the Father wills: that we would have the unity they have. So do the Father and Son teach different things? Does one teach that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days and one teach they evolved? Does one teach that babies are to be baptized and the other teaches that they are not? Does the Son teach that His mother should be prayed to and the Father teach don't you dare? Does the Father say it's fine with Me if women become pastors and the Son say, "I don't permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man?" Does the Son say Communion is My body and blood and the Father say, "Communion bread and wine represent Jesus' body and blood?"
Do you get my point? Jesus is not praying for the kind of union churches have established today where everyone gets together, worships together, communes together agreeing to disagree. Jesus is praying for what St. Paul asks for in 1 Corinthians 1:10: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." It is an offense before God; it's contrary to Jesus' prayer; it's not believing Jesus' prayer can be answered when people who believe contrary things commune together.
Wrestle in particular with that, and wrestle in general with the kinds of petitions the Son prays on our behalf. He prays that all those who believe through the Word of the apostles may be one as He and the Father are one, that we may be where He is seeing the glory He had before the creation of the world, and that God's love and Son would be in us. I'm not saying, "Don't pray in time of sickness or for earthly things;" I am saying that we don't find Jesus interceding like that. Jesus is focused elsewhere.
You know where I'm focused? On world problems, my problems, or on men's solutions. So Jesus asks the Father to do for us what He did for Isaiah: show us the glory Jesus has always had. In chapter 12 John says that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus 800 years earlier, and because Isaiah saw it John says he said the following: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" And, "The Lord has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them." This is the glory of the Lord that Jesus prays you will see and unless you do you will despair.
You will despair utterly if you only look at the Lord's Church with your two eyes. It's not a mighty army; it's not united. Some faction of the visible church in our day has given up every single doctrine of the Christian faith. Some don't believe Jesus was born of a virgin. Some don't believe He rose from the dead. Some believe babies may be aborted in the womb; that living together is not fornication; that homosexuality is no sin. Some believe that the Bible contains myths, legends, and errors. The one thing all these different factions do believe is that all who profess to be Christians are to commune together.
Isaiah saw the same things you see. His visible church too was overrun by error and false teachers. There were male homosexuals in the temple acting as priests. Women were ruling men. And the preaching and teaching of the truth was doing nothing visibly. So the Lord showed him what He prays everyday the Father would show you: His glory. The glory of the ascended God-Man Jesus has been constant, consistent, uninterrupted since before the world was created. The six-winged Seraphim call out what they see in Jesus, the Man who is God: All they see is holy, holy, holy.
You are to believe this prayer of Jesus is answered. You are to see with the eyes of faith that the glory of your Savior is not spotted, stained, or even effected by unbelief, false teachers, or faithless churches. You are to believe that the good and gracious will of God to save sinners is happening right now and the glory of the Son is that though so very many are lost He does not lose even one of the ones the Father has entrusted to His nail-scarred hands.
Jesus prayers are greater than mine, and I am to have great expectations based on them. I am to expect that God's love and God's Son dwell within me by the Son making known to Me the Father's name because Jesus always prays that this would happen. Gone are to be my doubts, my fears, my worries that God cannot love me or doesn't love me enough. Gone are to be the feelings that Jesus left me here alone when He ascended.
Let me be plain: You are to believe that knowing the Father's name in your Baptism you have the Father's love and the presence of the Son every time you remember your Baptism. You are to believe that knowing the Father's name in Absolution you are assured of the Father's love and the Son's presence every time you are absolved. You are to believe that knowing the Father's name in the Body and Blood of Communion you eat and drink both the Father's love and the Son's presence every time you commune.
You've probably read Great Expectations. You probably remember Miss Havisham. There she sits in her rotting wedding dress before a moldering wedding cake expecting what will never come. We expect what is based on what Jesus prays for, and because His prayers are greater than any sinner has a right to expect our expectations are to be, can be great. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday of Easter (20130512); John 17: 20-26