Click here to listen to this sermon.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Shh! Listen closely! Our Lord is praying. It is the night of the Last Supper. He is soon to be betrayed, but not yet. He and His disciples have not even reached the garden. They are in the upper room, and the Lord is praying. So, listen closely, dear friends—because He is praying for you: “Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those you have given Him” (John 17:1-2).
The Son prays to be glorified. But consider this carefully. He is not praying for the world’s idea of glory. The world defines glory in terms of splendor, strength, beauty, and celebrity. The one who wins is the glorious one. But Jesus defines His glory quite differently. Because the Father has given Him authority over all people, all people are His responsibility. And the Son is about to serve all people by His crucifixion, so that all who believe in Him might have eternal life. This is the glory of the Son—to serve all, according to His Father’s bidding.
Jesus clearly prays, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do” (John 17:4). As He prays this prayer, Jesus has lived that life of work—He’s fulfilled the prophecies by His teaching and miracles. He’s been the righteous servant, upheld by God as He’s mercifully exercised justice. He’s lived His perfect life for the world to credit all who believe in Him with His righteousness. Now, the ultimate glory: He’s going to die for the world.
Jesus’ glory, then, is to fulfill the work that His Father has given Him. But it will not be glorious in the world’s terms. In exchange for beauty, the Lord takes a beating. In exchange for strength, He accepts weakness. Instead of putting His foes in their place, He allows their mockery on the cross. It’s not glorious in the world’s eyes, but it is the Father’s will. And it is for this gory glorification that Jesus prays—that He might give eternal life to you.
Jesus’ prayer continues for His disciples: “I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out of the world” (John 17:6). Jesus has given the disciples a precious gift: His Name. He’s told the disciples that He’s going away to prepare a place for them. But even while He ascends, He won’t be far away. He’s placed His Name upon them and made them His own. And with His Name, He bids them to call upon Him in time of trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
There will be all sorts of other gods and religions, which will confront the disciples and seek to confuse them. There will be events in their lives and ministries that make it seem that God is far away. But Jesus has given them His Name. And because they have His Name, they have the honor and privilege of praying to the one true God in all situations with the certainty that their heavenly Father will hear and answer those prayers for His Son’s sake.
The Lord Jesus prays of another gift given to His disciples: “For I have given them the words You gave Me” (John 17:8). The disciples will be far from lost. Not only do they have the Lord’s Name to call upon, but they also have His Word. Jesus has painstakingly taught them the Law, so they might clearly know what’s required of man, lest they be led astray to teach or live some false doctrine. He also patiently teaches them His Gospel, that He’s going to the cross to redeem the world. While the disciples don’t understand the significance of all of this yet, it doesn’t matter. It’s still His powerful Word, whether they understand it or not.
Furthermore, with His Name and Word, the Lord leaves other gifts as well. Add His Word and Name to water, and there is Holy Baptism to cleanse the sinner. Speak His Word and Name, and there is Holy Absolution, as sinners are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Add His Word to bread and wine, and the Word-made-flesh is present for the forgiveness of sins.
These are the precious gifts that Jesus gives to His disciples as He prepares to be glorified on the cross: His Word and His Name. By His Word, He speaks to them and tells them all they need to know about sin and grace, faith and life. He places His Name upon them and declares them to be His; and by His Name, they can speak back to Him and always call upon Him.
And so, He prays: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your Name—the Name You gave Me—so that they may be one as We are one.”
“That they may be one.” This is where true unity will be found—among humble, penitent Christians who believe His Word and call upon His Name. They are not just united on behalf of Christ; they are united in Him, for He is with them.
As the cross draws near, the disciples are given His Word and His Name. After Pentecost, these same disciples go out into the world, to make disciples of all nations. They will do so with the Lord’s Word and Name, and nothing else. But that’s enough! In a hostile, sinful world that has demands, doubts, and questions, they have the abundance of God’s Word to proclaim the saving answer. When troubled and persecuted, they have God’s very Name to call upon for help.
These are great gifts, for sure, but not to the world. The world watches the disciples go forth. It sees them harassed, persecuted, and executed. Thus, the world decides that the disciples didn’t have a very glorious life at all. But in truth, the disciples have glorious lives. It’s just that their glory is not that of this world, but of Christ. Their glory is Christ’s presence with them; and as He suffered, they suffer as well. Yet this is their glory, to do the Father’s will by the Father’s grace.
There’s a lesson here for us today. The glory of the Christian should never be measured by the world’s standards. The glory of the Christian is to do what the Lord has given us to do. To receive and make use of His Word and Name, and to serve where God has given us to serve.
Two thousand years later, we confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” The Church is holy because her sins are taken away and she has been declared righteous. The Church is Christian because her sins have been paid for by Christ. And the Church is apostolic because, in a very real way, we live just as the apostles did—we continue in Jesus’ Word and in His Name. We continue in Christ’s Word, living according to His commands and confessing our failures to do so. We rejoice in the forgiveness He announces in His Gospel. We continue in His Name, as His holy people who call upon Him in time of trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. And as long as we continue in His Word and in His Name, we are one—one holy Christian and apostolic Church.
This is the life of the Christian—to live where God has placed us, to deal with the tasks He has given us, equipped with His Word and Name. And where His Word and Name are, He is present, too. Jesus dwells with us, with the glory of the forgiveness He has won.
It is quite simple. But while it is simple, it is certainly not easy. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh launch attacks against us daily. Take, for instance, glory. The world would have you see glory in its terms of splendor, strength, beauty, and celebrity. Look at whom the world glorifies in the news. The celebrity who flaunts her immorality is praised for her individualism. The heavy-metal rocker is adored for his crass speech. Brash rebellion against God, the world says, is glory. But it’s not glorious by Christ’s definition. His glory was obedient service to His Father, His death for the world. Christians reflect Jesus’ glory when, as forgiven children of God, they also live lives of obedient service.
Take the vocation of motherhood for example: There is little the world sees glorious about being a mother. And to be sure, it is difficult to see any glory in the dirty diapers and dirty clothes. In fact, some in the world have tried to characterize motherhood as slavery, a way to oppress women. Jesus does not call it oppression, but a holy vocation. It’s a privileged position that some women are given to serve. As with Christ’s death and resurrection, the glory is not apparent right away, but it is eventually seen. In fact, mothers, it’s quite probable that your children will express sincere thanks to you by the time they reach their thirtieth birthday.
But this is the glory of the Christian, to live where God has placed them, with the vocation God has given them, equipped with His Word and Name. Mothers and fathers reflect that glory by caring for children. Single adults do so by leading a chaste and decent life in word and deed. Children do so by obeying their parents. All such behavior is mocked by the world because the world has a false idea of glory. But this is the life of the Christian, and it is good.
We are also under attack when it comes to the Word that our Lord Jesus gives. We live in the information age, bombarded with all sorts of data daily. Rather than say “I need more information,” we usually find ourselves saying, “I have too much information! I just want to know what I need to get by.”
This is fine when it comes to programming the DVR or understanding the smart phone; but our Old Adam delights to make us view God’s Word in the same way. Rather than relish the rich depth and detail of our Lord’s holy revelation, we prefer to learn only what we need to know and nothing more.
The consequences are devastating. Believing that the bare minimum of the Bible is a good thing, many declare that we should ignore all differences among Christians. But with little grounding in the Word, Christians are apt to buy into all sorts of aberrant teachings. In personal struggles, they will find that a superficial knowledge of Scripture is like an anchor crafted in aluminum foil, which fails to give strength and security in the storms of life. It is a great victory for the old Adam when we fail to hold God’s holy Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
As the Lord’s glory and Word come under attack, so does His Name. Jesus can be one name to call upon, in the privacy of your own home or worship setting, declares the world. But He’s not allowed to be the only One. There must be other gods with other names, depending upon one’s personal faith and preference. And unfortunately, the more shabbily and superficially Christians treat the Word of God, the more likely they are to agree.
The devil delights in this as well. Prayers to false gods are not answered. And the one who prays to false gods has no help against the devil. Prayers to a Jesus who is just one name and god among many are not answered, because such prayers are not to the only-begotten Son of God.
Those who offer such prayers might invent comfort for themselves and might even experience glory in the world’s terms; but in their unrepentant hearts, they do not have the glorious forgiveness of sins that Christ has won for them.
As we have already alluded, if the Word, Name, and glory of Christ are all under attack, then so is Christian unity. Unfortunately, the world, and far too much of the Church, makes unity by agreeing to compromise on differences. “As long as we are together, it is pleasing to God” seems to be the rule of the day. But Jesus does not say that unity comes from sinners who simply compromise to agree. True Christian unity comes from His Word, His Name, and His glorious forgiveness. He gives these things for the express purpose of Christian unity.
Confronted with these attacks against Christ’s glory, Word, Name, and unity, Christians respond with the same. We rejoice in the Word that the Lord gives us in abundance, this inexhaustible treasure of Scripture. Hearing His call for us to repent there, we confess our sins against the third commandment and rejoice to hear His proclamation of forgiveness. Rather than be shamed for believing that there is only one Name to call upon, we give great thanks to God that there is a Name at all. The Lord has not turned His back on this sinful creation, but still calls all people to salvation. He still hears our prayers and answers. He still saves us in the time of trial and delivers us to everlasting life.
No, we will not be ashamed that there is only one Name to call upon. Instead, by His grace we proclaim that Name to all who will hear. And as we continue in His Word and Name, we do so with immense joy. We are united. Not just with each other here—no, we are united in the faith with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; with Peter, Paul, and John; and with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. We are not united because we say so. We are united because God says so in His Word, and because He places His Name on us and makes us His.
This is why Jesus prays in the text today … that you would thankfully receive His Word and gladly hear and learn it. That you would call upon His Name in time of trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. That you would hear Him and call upon His Name, rejoicing in the forgiveness He has won for you, giving thanks that He has united you with the rest of the Church. That you would then go about your daily tasks and vocations in service to others and share His message of forgiveness and love with everyone you meet. It may not seem glorious now, but the Lord says otherwise; and the glory will be revealed on the Last Day.
Until then, dear hearers, listen to the Lord Jesus pray. He prays for you. And because He prays for you and gives you His holy Word and Name, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.