Jan. 11 lesson: Jesus prays for the disciples
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 2: Learning to Pray
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 11, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: John 17: 6-21
Background Scripture: John 17: 1-26
Our focus this week turns to the Gospel of John. John was written around 100 A.D., the last of the Gospels to be written. Gail O’Day describes the gospel this way: the Gospel was written by a Jewish Christian for a Jewish Christian community in conflict with the synagogue authorities.
There are some intriguing traditions – perhaps well-grounded in fact. When Jesus entrusted his mother to John, they went to Ephesus, a once great seaport city, now in Turkey. There John was pastor of the church. The church was in conflict with both Jews and Romans, which is reflected in the gospel.
John 17 is part of the Gospel where Jesus is saying “good-bye” to his disciples. The events recorded in chapters 13-17 are among the most precious moments recorded: sharing of the Passover meal (The Last Supper), washing the disciple’s feet, giving the new commandment of love, bestowing the gift of his peace, making the promise of his presence, assuring them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and affirming the reality of the abiding relationship with him even in the face of persecution and suffering. The richness of these chapters never loses their power and freshness.
Chapter 17 concludes this section and has its own special impact. Jesus is praying for the Twelve and for us! Because Jesus’ prayer is an intercessory prayer, it has been called “the high priestly” prayer. Next week’s lesson from Hebrews will show Jesus as the Great High Priest. In our Methodist and Protestant tradition, priest is not a word with which we are comfortable.
A priest is one who stands “in the breach” between God and the people. Moses did that for the Hebrew people when they created the golden calf and worshipped while he was on the mountain with God (Exodus 32). Jesus is “standing in the breach” in this prayer.
Notice the scripture for the lesson begins at vs. 6, but Jesus’ prayer begins in the first verse, with the affirming of the relationship with the Father and the work the Father gave him to do. That work is reaching its climax, and, for Jesus, that work is to be his glory! A shameful death on the cross, the Roman equivalent of the electric chair, is to be Jesus’ glory. In these opening verses that word is used five times. No wonder we can sing, “In the cross of Christ I glory.” He is ready to finish the work, looking forward to the return to the Father (vs. 5). Remember in John’s gospel Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished!”
In verse 6, Jesus begins to pray for his disciples. In these verses Jesus uses the word “world” eighteen times! Jesus will return to the Father and His glory, but the followers of Jesus have to live in this world. Here in the wilderness of day by day living, the disciples will need all Jesus has promised them, and he asks the Father to fulfill the promises Jesus has made to them.
There are three petitions Jesus specifically prays for: Protection, joy and sanctification.
The dangers of the world will frighten and frustrate them and will be a threat to the work of spreading “the good news”—the gospel of God’s forgiving and abiding love. This prayer for protection was answered powerfully, as history confirms. Within a generation, the people of the Way spread across the Mediterranean world!
Jesus wants his joy to be the joy of his disciples. Obviously, Jesus thinks of joy very differently from the world. Disciples of every age are in the world, but not of the world. Joy is knowing, doing, and being faithful to the task, the mission, the Father entrusted to Jesus. That word has been given to the disciples (vs.8), and, if they keep that word, joy will be theirs. Think of all the times Jesus talks to them about the way of the cross, of sacrificial love, of focusing on others. That’s the word and being doers of the word is the source of joy.
Finally, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples. He wants them to be made holy. He knows how imperfect they are, but holiness is not perfection. Being sanctified, or holy, is being different from the world. The world needs to see the difference, and wonder why these people live by different “rules” from others. Being holy does not mean being holier than thou. To share the joy of Jesus, disciples share the life of Jesus. The word blessed used in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5, can be translated happy. Get the picture?
Jesus then shifts the focus of his prayer from the first followers to us, “his latter day saints!” Yes, he prays for you and all of us who have come to believe in him. And what does he ask on our behalf? Unity! Oneness! Has that prayer been answered? Only partially. Sadly, the church of the crucified and risen Lord is fragmented and the world ignores us. The very love we proclaim as the hallmark of Jesus, we often withhold from each other.
The issue is not just one of different denominations and our practices we hold so dear, but of attitudes within those denominations and the churches within those denominations.
Sam was pastor of churches in South Georgia for 42 years. In our first years of service, the clamor for civil rights by our African-American citizens was beginning to be heard – and loudly rejected by both church members and churches. To preach the love of Jesus for all was seen by many as subversive and un-American.
We continue to have divisive issues today, and Jesus’ prayer is still being made “that we all may be one” – so the world might know who Jesus is! For example, how different history might have been without the Crusades in the world of Islam! There are many ways in which we are becoming one. This Universal Series of Sunday School lessons is one small way. Co-operative work on behalf of the hungry, the homeless, the dis-enfranchised, the under-educated, and impoverished is done every day. Much work remains for his church to be completely one. Do the work—experience the joy—be different. You will see the glory of Jesus.
One last word: His last petition was “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them” (vs.26). Love is always the last word!