Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church | Portage, Indiana

March 25th, 2020

Midweek Lent 2020: Jesus our Great High Priest (John 17)

“The High Priest Prays for our Unity”

Midweek Lent 5


Psalm 125 (ESV)

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
    which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people,
    from this time forth and forevermore.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
    on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
    their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
    and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
    the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
    Peace be upon Israel!

Passion History: Mark 15:16-32 (ESV)

16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Homily: The High Priest Prays for our Unity

Rev. David H. Locklair

John 17:20-23

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

          Dear friends,

          The past four weeks we have examined parts of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in which He has prayed for His own glory and for the eleven disciples. We have seen that His glory is for our benefit and we have said that by application His prayer for the Eleven applies to us too. Yet, we may find ourselves wondering, “Is this prayer really and truly specifically for me? Is it meant for me personally?” The answers is “yes!” Jesus really, truly, specifically affirms that He prays this prayer for you personally. He affirms it in the section we examine today as He prays for our unity.

Hear again the first verse of this text. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” There it is; the proof this prayer is for you. Martin Luther wrote of this verse, “Yet so that a fainthearted conscience might not have any occasion to doubt … [He] so names and includes us Gentiles as well and embraces all Christendom until the Last Day in the prayer… For us Gentiles there is surely no more comforting passage in Scripture than this one.”[1]

These four verses focus upon the unity of believers in time. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, faith is created in our hearts. The object of this faith is Christ; we believe in Him. Faith in Jesus unites believers. Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”

Christ has previously spoken of such unity in this prayer. Jesus and the Father are united; They are One in essence. Through God’s Word, God causes unity amongst us by incorporating us into His body, the Holy Christian Church. The Word of God creates unity and we find that unity wherever the Word of God is rightly confessed.

Christ prays for such unity and the Lord creates it through the sending of His Word. There is nothing we can do to create unity, but there are things we can do to damage or destroy it. One way people do this is through sinning against one other. Grudges, unkind words, and slowness to forgive one another hurts the Church. Fighting, dissensions, and slowness to reconcile hurts the congregation.

Another way is through sinning against the Word by deviation from it. When people depart from the Word, they create divisions. This is why there are so many denominations today; not everyone has held to God’s Word. If all Christians would hold to everything God’s Word said, there would be no division. When we insist on faithfulness to everything taught in Scripture, we are not causing divisions with other churches who are not entirely faithful; quite the opposite, we are maintaining the unity God created while they are harming it. On the other hand, if we disregard parts of God’s Word, then we cause the same damage.

What does the High Priest do about our sins of disharmony or misuse of God’s Word? He stepped in to deal with it. Jesus faced the same temptations we do: the temptations to anger, bitterness, and grudges, the temptations to shrink back from the Word, water-down the Word, or alter the Word. He overcame them all. Hebrews 4:15 reads, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus lived a perfect life to cover your imperfection.

Our High Priest has brought us into harmony with the Father by giving His own holy blood unto death to wash us clean from our sin. This has ended the conflict between us and God. This has done away with our sin which caused the conflict. Our High Priest now gives us His Word that forgives our sins, brings us into unity with God, and brings us into unity with one another.

The unity for which Christ prays and which God does create has a blessed result: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” What flows from faith? Christ’s Word being spread abroad throughout the world. This is the work of the Church. Through faith, created by the Word, we all receive glory. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” We will share in all Christ’s glory in the life to come.

                In the final verse of our text, Jesus speaks of three unities. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.” First, there is what’s called the “mystical union.” Through faith, God dwells in our hearts. He has made His home in our hearts. He particularly did this through holy baptism. Second, there is the unity of Christ with the Father; They are one divine essence. Third, there is the unity of believers; this unity does exist for God creates it through His Word.

          Note the purpose of these unities: “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” This is for our comfort. We are assured that we are God’s children. This is for mankind’s sake. Through the proclamation of the Word, many will come to faith; they will come to know Christ and His love. We know this love. In praying for our unity, Christ is praying for our very salvation.

          Dear friends, Christ prays for our unity. He prays that we be strengthened in the unity of faith which He has brought about in us. This prayer is answered through God’s Word and Sacraments. It is these Means of Grace which bring people into the family of faith. It is these Means of Grace which build up our faith. It is these Means of Grace which empower us to hold to God’s Word and therefore maintain true unity. This prayer will have its ultimate answer in heaven where all who believe in Christ will be perfectly unified. Amen.

 (link to audio: https://soundcloud.com/hopeportage/midweeklent5_2020)

(cover art by Rev. Jeff Hendrix, Lutheran Synod Digital Publishing, https://lutheransynodpublishing.com/ )

[1] Luther, Luther’s Works: Vol. 69, 102.