Sunday, March 29, 2015

Opening the Door ~ PURPOSE

For us, Palm Sunday is a kind of celebration.  We remember the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem to the cheers and support of the people.  We picture it as a parade with people laying palm branches and coats down in front of Jesus who rode into town on a donkey.  We remember the statement Jesus made by riding that donkey.  He was coming to be The Messiah but he was going to be a leader with a humble servant’s heart not a conquering generals hand.  It was a joyous day for the people, but it was also a day of deep emotion for Jesus because he knew that this was the beginning of the end.  This was his final week and it all started on the Mt. of Olives which literally overlooked everything.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
 This is what Jesus saw as he entered Jerusalem.  Well, not exactly this because this wasn’t how Jerusalem looked in those days, but he would have seen the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.  He would have seen the people coming and going and getting ready for the Passover.  He would have seen lots of lots of lambs as it was the day people selected their lambs for the Passover.  Jesus would have seen the Garden of Gethsemane, in fact, he might have actually walked through it, and he might have even seen Golgotha or Calvary because it wasn’t that far out of the city.  In fact, I wonder if there might have already been a cross set up, or the beginnings of a cross, because the Roman’s knew that executions were coming.

Jesus not only saw all of this and what was waiting for him, but he could see what was coming for the disciples.  Jesus could see the challenges they would face on the day of his arrest and trial and crucifixion, and he could see the challenges they would face far into the future.  This was his final week with the disciples and Jesus is concerned for them and so he takes time to pray for them and it is from this pray of Jesus that we not only see Jesus concern for his followers but his plan for them to survive and succeed in this world.

In John 17 we have Jesus’ final prayer and because it was recorded it must have been audible.  Jesus prayed out loud with his disciples as a way to encourage them but to also teach them.  The prayer is broken into 3 sections and begins with a prayer Jesus prays for himself in  John 17:1-5.

To understand what Jesus is saying here we need to think about where Jesus is praying.

 At the end of John 14 Jesus and his disciples leave the upper room and in John 18 they arrive in the Garden of Gethsemane and so the teaching and prayers found in John 15, 16 and 17 would have taken place along the way and what was in between the upper room and the garden was the Temple and its courtyards.  So Jesus is asking God to glorify him and complete his mission while standing close to the place where sacrifices where offered to God.  Jesus is praying for God to glorify him in a place where lambs had just been offered for the Passover.  When Jesus prays for himself it is for strength to follow through with the mission God has for him which is to be the perfect lamb of God whose sacrificial death would take away the sin of the world.   Jesus prays for the strength and power to accomplish his purpose and die on the cross which will both glorify God and redeem the world.

Can we pray such a prayer?  Can we pray for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in our lives even if it means knowing that we will suffer?  Jesus understood his purpose was to glorify God and that the glory would come through the cross and an empty tomb and so Jesus prays for the strength and power to be glorified.  Can we make this our prayer?  

Jesus then prays for his disciples, this is from John 17:6-19.  This part of the prayer shows us three main concerns Jesus has for his disciples and the first is that they would be protected.  While he was with them, Jesus could protect his followers from the evil one and keep them moving forward in faith.  Jesus could teach them, encourage them, correct them and love them in ways that would keep them safe and growing, but once he was gone they would be vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, so Jesus asks God to protect his followers, look at 17:12 and 17:15.

It’s important to see that Jesus doesn’t ask God to spare his disciples from evil, he doesn’t want them taken out of this world where no evil could harm them, he just wants them protected in some way when the evil comes.  Jesus knows the evil will come.  He knows persecution and suffering is going to come and he doesn’t ask God to remove it but to protect the disciples and their faith through it.

This prayer teaches us that we won’t be spared evil in this world and as Christians we might have to face great hostility and persecution.  In fact, we might need to expect some trials and hardships because the evil one in this world works against God and his people.  We won’t always be spared, but we can trust God to protect us so that we can survive and even thrive.  God can actually strengthen our faith and grow the church through times of suffering so while we can’t avoid all suffering, we can ask God to protect us through it.

The second thing Jesus prays is for his disciples to hold on to God’s word and the teaching he has given them:  John 17:14.  Remember the purpose of Jesus in this world was to share the word of God because he believe that it would be God’s word that would bring power.  Jesus wants the disciples to hold on to this word.  He wants them to embrace it, know it, study it and most of all live it out so they can experience God’s power.  This final prayer of Jesus reminds us once again just how important God’s word is for our lives and our faith and for the church and its future.  We need to embrace it, study it and most of all live it out.

The third thing Jesus prays is for the disciples to be sanctified or made holy and this happens by the word Jesus has given them and by his life and death:  John 17:17-19.  So the word of God helps make the disciples holy as they live it out, but it is also Jesus who helps make them holy by his own willingness to be fully obedient to God.  Again, remember where Jesus is when praying.  He might be in the courtyard of the temple, the very place sacrifices were offered to God to make people holy.  When Jesus says he wants to sanctify himself so that we can be sanctified he is saying that it is his death that will make his followers holy, and it is.
While we need to strive to be faithful and obedient to the word of God, what makes us holy is not our own actions and obedience but the grace and power of God.  It is Jesus’ death on the cross that paid the price for our sin and God accepts this sacrifice as an offering for us so we can be forgiven.  It was the blood of a sacrifice offered to God that made people holy and it is Jesus blood that makes us holy.  When we trust in what God has done for us through Jesus, we are forgiven and made clean.  Jesus’ prayer is that we would accept this way of holiness by accepting what he was about to do on the cross.

This is the foundation of our faith.  We are made holy and acceptable to God when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior which means trusting that what Jesus did on the cross he did for us.  When we accept that Jesus died our death and that God forgives us through that death, it brings us new life.  If we are willing to accept this through prayer, Jesus is our Savior and the door is opened for us to have a dynamic and eternal relationship with the living God.  This is the prayer that opens the door; accepting Jesus as our Savior and placing our full trust in the grace that is ours through the cross.

So Jesus’ prayer was that the disciples would be
protected from the evil one
embrace the word of God 
sanctified by the death of Jesus on the cross
 But the prayer doesn’t end there.  Jesus not only prayed for himself and his disciples, but he prayed for us as well.  Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and he could also see us and the church in the future and so his prayer was for us as well.  Look at John 17:20-26.

Here we see two main concerns Jesus has for his church.  The first is that we would be unified.  Unity was important to Jesus because he believed that it would be our unity that would reveal God’s presence, power and love to the world.  When the church is unified it proclaims peace and power because it takes power and a willingness to work for peace that keeps the church together.  Our unity also reveals the reality of God’s love because it takes a lot of love, divine love, to keep the church together.

The one thing that holds any group of people together over the long haul is love.  While laws, values, morals and even physical force can hold people and nations together from the outside, it is love that holds people and communities together from the inside.  When we love God more we will automatically love others more and when we love others more we are united.  It’s like the spokes of a wheel.

God is in the center and as we love God more and move closer to Him we grow closer together.  We are unified and grow stronger.

Unity and connection were important to Jesus because he experienced the power of that connection in his relationship with God.  Jesus and the Father were one and the unity of that relationship gave Jesus strength, peace, and purpose.  Being one with God gave Jesus everything and made his life complete and Jesus wants this kind of unity and connection for us.  Over and over Jesus taught about we needed to love God and love others and that it would be this life of love that would bring in God’s kingdom.  So his final prayer was that we would become one by loving God more.

I have to say that I believe it is this kind of love that has helped Faith Church grow and bring glory to God.  There is a spirit of love and unity in this place that in my experience is unique in churches.  When many churches want to fight over the little things, this church works together for the big things.  While we aren’t perfect and have to constantly work on loving God more so that we can love each other more, there is an amazing spirit of Jesus here and his prayer for us would be to keep working on that love and unity and preserve it in any and every way we can.

The last prayer of Jesus found in John’s gospel is this, John 20:24.  Jesus wants us to be with Him forever.  Jesus wants us to see the glory of God and experience the eternal life and love that God has to offer.  Knowing that the time was coming when Jesus would leave this world and go to the Father, he wanted his disciples and the world to be with him and the Father as well.  It is this passion and the desire for all the world to know God’s love and glory that drives Jesus through the next few hours of his life.

Again, Jesus knew it would be through his death that we would be able to see God’s glory and enter into God’s kingdom.  Jesus knew it would be through his obedience to God on the cross that we would be forgiven and reconciled to God and have the opportunity to enter into an eternal relationship with God, so he prays for this to happen.  Jesus prays for the strength to fulfill his purpose so that the church can fulfill its purpose which is to be united in love so that people could see God’s glory and enter into God’s kingdom.    

We need to make this final prayer of Jesus part of our prayer life.  We need to ask God to use us in ways that will help the world see Jesus and experience the love of God, even if it means our own suffering and sacrifice.  That is the purpose of the church, that we would live a faithful life that would not only help us others see God’s glory but that would draw more people to God.  Jesus’ final prayer teaches us that we can fulfill our purpose by embracing God’s word, accepting the work of Jesus on the cross for ourselves and maintaining unity by loving God and one another.  May this final prayer of Jesus guide the living of our lives not just this holy week, but every week.

Next Steps
Opening the Door ~ PURPOSE

1.  This week, read and reflect on the final prayer of Jesus found in John 17.

2. If this was your final week, what would be included in the prayer for your family and friends?  Can you share these concerns, hopes and desires with them this week?

3.  Jesus said, for them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.  (John 17:19)   How does the faithful obedience of Jesus on the cross help make us holy?

4. Loving God helps us love one another.  Name one thing you can do this week to deepen your love for God.

5.  Jesus is eager for us to be with him in heaven and to see the fullness of God’s glory.  (John 17:24)  Is this your heart’s desire?  Are you sure of your salvation?  If not, you can be sure by opening yourself to the love and grace of God and accepting the work of Jesus on the cross as forgiveness for your sins.  In Jesus name, ask God to forgive your sins and help you make Jesus Christ your Savior and Lord.

6.  The world sees Jesus in us as we love and serve others.  Consider signing up this week to love and serve others by Serving our Seniors on April 25 or going on the Mission Trip which begins April 26.

7. Continue to open the door to a deeper relationship with God through special times of worship this week:

Easter Cantata tonight at 7:00 PM;
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Worship at 7:00 PM; Easter Sunrise Worship with Holy Communion at 6:30 AM.