Jesus Prays For Us

In the tense hours of life, a relative or a friend may seek to comfort us by telling us they are praying for us. These are comforting words. In the Scriptures, Jesus is praying for us. That is even more comforting, for He knows exactly what our real needs are.

The problem for many of us who live in a personal relationship with Christ is not how to pray, but for what to pray. When teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “When you bring your prayer, address God as Father.” This tells us that prayer is very personal. The closer our relationship is with God, the more intimate our prayer life will be. We talk to our earthly fathers about matters that we would not discuss with a stranger, or even with a neighbor whom we have known for years. Therefore, it is clear that our Heavenly Father tells us He is open to all our requests. However, God does not tell us what priority he places on our individual requests.

An earthly parent will listen to his children’s requests, but some requests get his attention more than others. “I have a pain in my stomach” gets dad’s attention more than “I need a new bicycle,” especially when seven bikes are already sitting in the garage. So it is with our Heavenly Father. In our text, Jesus is praying for those who trust Him as Savior and Lord. Let us look at His prayers for the Church. It might give us a better understanding of for what we are to pray.

Jesus prayed that His Church would be obedient to God’s Word.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:6-8).

As long as Jesus was with His disciples, they were obedient to what He taught them. They might have had questions about what Jesus was teaching them, but they were willing to listen and in the end were committed to all the Savior had said. Now He was leaving them, and Jesus prayed that their faithfulness to Him would continue.

Believers must be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, one of our first prayers for self and brothers and sisters in Christ is that God’s Word is our authority. We cannot depart from it.

I once heard a theological professor, speaking to a group of pastors, say that it is necessary for us to interpret Scripture in the light of present-day culture. His point was that if we do not give our culture a hearing, society will not listen to us.

This is not what Jesus taught. He said that believers are to be the “salt of the earth.” We are not to be influenced by culture. Culture is to be influenced by God’s Word.

The professor went on to say if we live in a culture that accepts same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals the Evangelical Lutheran Church should do the same. This is being disobedient to God’s Word.

In the light of such temptation facing the Church, we should pray, “Lord, make your Church obedient to the Word.” You can be sure that this petition has a high priority with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus prayed that His Church would be protected from the evil one.

“I am coming to you, Holy Father. Protect them by the power of your name. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Notice that Jesus did not pray that they would be protected from physical danger. Our Lord knew that they would be beaten, insulted, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and killed for the cause of Christ. He does not ask that the Father would take them out of the world so that they could be spared from such treatment. He knew it would be during those difficult hours that Satan (the evil one) would be testing their faith. Therefore, Jesus prays that their faith would not waver, but they would be spiritually strong.

When I examine my prayer life, I must confess that it is much more common for me to pray for my loved ones’ physical safety than for them to be protected from the temptations that Satan throws at them many times each day. Is that true in your prayer life? Christ places a greater priority on our spiritual well being than on our physical health. Is that shocking? This does not mean that we should not pray for good health and physical healing. Jesus is simply pointing out which one carried the higher priority. After all, this life is limited to a few years. Eternity has no end.

Jesus prayed that His Church would be united.

“My prayer is that they will one just as you are in me and I am in you.”

In spite of our differences, Christ will make us one. That unity is based in love. Jesus says, “Father, I have made them known to you, and will continue to make you known to them, so the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.”

St. Paul makes it clear that while we are on earth, Christians will have differences of belief when it comes to teachings in the Christian faith. However, we do not differ in what we believe about Christ. He is the Divine Son of God who has come into this world to die for our sins. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has made full satisfaction for all of our sins. If we will repent of our sins and receive Him, we will be saved. This is the central teaching of the Christian faith. If one denies this truth, he or she is not a Christian.

Having said this, we might have different understandings of other teachings such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, this difference should not divide us. It might place us in different denominations, but we are still one in Christ Jesus. When we stand before God Almighty in the judgment, He will not ask us how we interpreted baptism. And if our interpretation is wrong, we will not be eternally damned because of it. This is not to make light of baptism, but it should not divide brothers and sisters in the Church whom God prays will be united as He and the Father are One.

Is this Jesus’ all-inclusive prayer? No, but these blessings from God have a higher priority in Jesus’ prayer life.

Can we, and should we, pray for other blessings? By all means. However, as we grow in our relationship with Christ, and our prayer matures, I believe we will have a greater concern for our spiritual needs.

Will we ever get beyond the prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray”? Not on planet earth.

And Then He Appeared to Me

Many years ago I worshiped at a large Methodist church in Houston, Texas on a Palm Sunday morning. The preacher was the well-known minister by the name of Charles Allen. He began his sermon by saying to the congregation, “I live for Easter. I live for Easter so much that this year I am going to preach two Easter sermons. The first one comes today, palm Sunday. I will preach the second one next Sunday when it is Easter. I share Pastor Allen’s feelings, and so today I am going to preach my second Easter sermon.

Imagine you are seventy years old. You have just had your dinner, and your grandchildren say, “Grandpa (Grandma), tell us the Easter story.”

What an opportunity! So you begin by telling the grandchildren that many years ago the story of Jesus’ resurrection was told to you by your parents. What you received from you parents, you now pass on to them.

Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus died for the sins of the world. After His death, he was buried in a rich man’s tomb. The man’s name was Joseph. The crucifixion of Jesus took place on Friday. Nothing could be done on Saturday, because that was the Sabbath. However, on Sunday some women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.

On the way, these women wondered who would roll away the stone from the entrance. When they arrived at the burial place, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. He said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ÔHe is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

The women ran to tell the disciples that Jesus had been raised, but none of them believed the announcement. However, Peter and John decided to check out the story, so they ran to the tomb. To their surprise they too witnessed that the body was not there, and they pondered what could have happened to His body. But then things began to change. Jesus made several appearances to the disciples, convincing them that He had been raised.

But that is not the entire story. During the next forty days Jesus appeared to many people. St. Paul tells us that He appeared to Peter, then to more than five hundred people, to James, and to all of the apostles. Then Jesus left this world and ascended into heaven.

Many months later, Jesus appeared to one of His worst enemies, Saul of Tarsus. Saul, who later was named Paul, had one goal in life: to destroy Christ’s Church by persecuting all of the people who were followers of Jesus. It was to this man that Jesus appeared one day on a highway right outside the city of Damascus.

After Paul met Jesus, his life was changed. Eventually Paul became the greatest apostle, working harder than any of the others. That is what can happen when Jesus meets you and you know that your Savior is very much alive.

By this time, one of the grandchildren asks, “Is that all, Grandpa?”

You reply, “No, you see the Easter story never ends. Through the centuries Christ continues to appear to people through His Word. Each person is important, but let me just mention a few people who have met the Lord and made great changes in the history of the world. There was the old church father, Augustine. He was an unbeliever for years. Then Christ appeared to Augustine, and his teachings are still influencing people in our day.

“Martin Luther met the Lord in a very special way as he studied the Scriptures. Through his ministry millions have come to understand that our salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone.

“John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, met the Lord while studying Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians, and he became a powerful witness for Jesus.

“C. S. Lewis is another great scholar. When this professor from Oxford University met the Lord, he became a great witness for Christ in the academic community.

“Today we thank God for Billy Graham, who has preached the Gospel to millions of people. Chuck Colson met the living Lord, and he has done more than any other person in bringing the message of Christ to our prisons. So the list goes on.”

“Has he appeared to you, Grandpa?” one of the children asks.

“He sure has. He comes to me every day.” Let me give you just a couple of experiences that I have had. When I was a baby, Christ made me His in Holy Baptism. There had to come a time when I received Him as my Savior. I had always been a Christian, but one day, as I was reading His Word, the Jesus spoke to me through this verse: ÔI am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit for apart from me you can do nothing.’ He said very clearly: ÔWithout me you can do nothing. But with me you can bear many fruits.’ That was the day that I committed my life to Him. He speaks to me daily as I read His Word.

“When our children were born, Grandma and I knew that we had been given a big responsibility. We could feed and clothe our children, take them on vacations, and see to it that they received a good education. However, we knew there was more to raising children than doing these things. It was through His Word that the living Lord gave us much help. We read, ÔTrain up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’

“To raise our children according to God’s Word was our primary goal. We did not always succeed. Sometimes we would not act lovingly to one another. Sometimes God was pushed into the background. Yet each day we learned from Jesus that we could be forgiven. As God forgave us, we learned that we had to forgive one another. When we did not do that, our living Lord reminded us of our sin.

“We really enjoyed living so much that the thought of dying was frightening. What would it be like to live on this earth without this relative or friend? We knew that death was a part of living, and frequently death dipped into our family and took one of our relatives. Then a friend would die. Sometimes these people were young and left behind little children. Dealing it with was difficult. Then Jesus, the living Lord, would give us a word like this: ÔI am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.’ Another passage written by St. Paul went as far as to say, ÔFor me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’

“A word from the Living Lord did not keep us from feeling sad when a loved one died, but it gave us comfort to know that if that person died believing in Jesus, he or she was alive and lived with Christ in heaven. Now we are getting old, and we know that one day our bodies will wear out, and we will go to be with the Lord. We know that because of Easter. When Jesus rose from the grave, He defeated death. Death is our enemy, because it separates us from loved ones. However, it is a conquered enemy. That is because of Easter.

“Is that all, Grandpa?” they ask.

“Well, my little ones, it is as far as I can take you, however it is not all. My prayer is that He will appear to you and live in your hearts. When He does, I pray that you will listen to Him as he speaks, and that you will walk through this life with the Living Lord Jesus by your side. If you walk with Him, you will always have strength for whatever comes your way.”

With this, the children left the dinner table, some of them smiling and others with puzzled expressions on their faces.

Today those children range in ages from fourteen to twenty-nine. They are facing many temptations, and without a doubt they have had their spiritual struggles as they sought to make this message theirs in a personal way. If some of them are still struggling, God has not left them. He continues to knock at their heart’s door. As parents and grandparents, we have to let them go as they become adults. Yet how good it is to know they do not walk alone. Jesus, the Risen Lord, walks with them seeking to get their attention and give to them an abundant life before He takes them to heaven.

All of this because of the Easter story. Does this message not bear repeating?

Yes sir, Pastor Allen. I, too, live for Easter.

Christ Lives

The history books enlighten us about the different ages through which the human race has lived. A few of these periods in history are:

The Renaissance. It began in the 14th century and continued into the 17th century. An emphasis on art and literature and the beginning of modern science were its marks.

The Industrial Revolution. It makes its appearance in the late 18th century, especially in England. It marked the advent of power-driven machines, which brought about a rapid change in the economy.

The Enlightenment. This was a philosophical movement of the 18th century, which questioned traditional doctrines and values and put strong emphasis on human reason.

The Nuclear Age. The period of time that started in 20th century bringing with it many blessings and curses.

The Post-modern Age. This is an age in which we find ourselves today where it is taught that there is no absolute truth. There are only competing truths. All is relative.

But there is another age. It had its beginning when the angel said to the woman at the tomb who had come to anoint Jesus’ body, “He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter.” This is the Christian Age. All other ages come and go leaving their marks on the pages of history, but the age of our Lord continues until He returns to earth. At that time He will bring all those who trust him into his eternal kingdom where he will reign forever and ever.

The Christian Age is anchored in an event in history, when Jesus, who had been crucified, came forth from the tomb. Through His sacrificial death, Jesus had paid the price for the sins of the world. Through His glorious resurrection, He won for all who would receive him as Savior and Lord, victory over sin, death, and the devil.

Friday was the horrible day of crucifixion. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, and all was quiet. However, Sunday morning was different, because Jesus’ resurrection changed the world forever.

We are told, and rightly so, that since September 11, our world has changed. Another type of warfare has been introduced to humanity. Yet, even this frightening news is received by the Christian and understood in light of the Easter message. Christ lives, and because He lives, I, too, shall live.

The Easter message changes the lives of all Christians. In the Post-modern age, which denies absolute truth, the validity of the Easter story is no longer argued. We just tell it wherever we find an opportunity and let the Holy Spirit do the convincing in the hearts of an unbelieving world. However, those of us who walk as children of the resurrection know what changes this Easter message.

Go back to the first Easter. Jesus’ disciples had not fully comprehended all that had taken place. They were hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. However, when Jesus stood in their midst and showed them His nail-pierced hands and sword-pierced side, they became fearless witnesses of the Savior. The Jesus of Nazareth, who had once walked beside them, now was the Risen Lord who lived in their hearts.

The same is true today. Nothing can change your life as drastically as having Jesus live in your heart. That is when we become new people. When temptation comes, we find power to resist. The Risen Lord provides the strength if we will call on Him. When guilt tears us apart, we hear the living Savior say, “I forgive you,” and we have peace. When we walk away from the grave of a loved one with a broken heart and tears rolling down our cheeks, we sing with St. Paul:

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin,

And the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God.

He gives us the victory through

our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When that day finally comes, there is the assurance that not even death can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Christian Age is anchored in history, but it is lived out during our years on earth. It will be brought to completion some day in the future when Jesus returns. This is not the end, but the beginning of that eternal age that knows no end.

This truth cannot be compromised in any age by those who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord. I just pray that Mel Gibson, or someone else of like talent, will produce a movie telling the story of the resurrection. For truly Jesus is not the crucified martyr. He is the Risen Lord.

Rejection

At the beginning of this series of sermons, I read a quotation from Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”

“Since God intends to make you more Christlike, He will take you through some of the experiences Jesus had while on earth Ð loneliness, temptation, stress, physical suffering, and rejection.”

Today we center our thoughts on a real heartbreaker Ð namely, rejection. From the cradle to the grave we can experience rejection. It is rough. Even grown men cry when certain people reject them. I thought I sensed a bit of the feeling of rejection when Governor John Dean, on “Meet the Press,” told Tim Russert that he would love to have been the presidential candidate, but the voters chose John Kerry.

Jesus understands the suffering humans experience when they are rejected. He understands, because he died not only with a scared body that had been severely beaten, but also with a broken heart because of rejection. Listen to the prophet describe Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).

John writes, “He came to his own, but his own received him not.”

Luke writes, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I would love to have gathered you under my arms like a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” He was crushed.

If we could have a face to face conversation with Jesus today, he would say something like this: I am crushed when people reject me as their Savior and Lord. The reason is that I can make a difference in their life. To see people wasting these years living without me is painful, and to see them enter eternity without me is heartbreaking.

Jesus expresses His sorrow by telling us a story about being rejected. Remember, it is only hours before He will be crucified. He is teaching in the temple court, and the tension is growing. A high priest asks, “By what authority are you doing these things?” They had heard that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but he was not the kind of messiah they wanted. In the midst of this turmoil Jesus tells this story:

A rich man had prepared a wedding feast for his son. The servants were out delivering the invitation for people to come. It was going to be a great party Ð the best of food, entertainment, and fellowship. However, to the father’s surprise, the invitations were being turned down. Some simply refused to come. Others said they were too busy and went off to their businesses and farms. Others were so angry that they mistreated the servants and even killed some.

When the host received this report from the servants, he said, “Go to the street corners and invited anyone you can find.” This they did, and when it was time for dinner, the hall was full.

This story, spoken first to the Jewish people, was telling them that if they did not receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, he would move on to others. Paul said it this way: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

Jesus extends the invitation to us, and it is good until our last breath is drawn. However, if we do not receive it, He moves on to someone else. Heaven will be full.

The message of the parable is for all people, including those of us who live in the twenty-first century. All is ready. Christ died for our sins, and He has been raised to be our living Lord. The invitation is out, and it is for everyone, including the Jews who first rejected it. It is for all races and nationalities. It is for people of all social and financial groups. Yes, it is even for the highly educated humanist who is often unable to swallow his pride and kneel beneath the cross of Jesus.

Notice that Jesus is inviting us to a banquet, a place of joy where we will first learn what the abundant life is all about. However, human nature has not changed much. The rejection slips keep coming to the Heavenly Father. “I do not want your Gospel. I do not need a Savior. I will make my own banquet. Leave me alone. Your lack of intelligence to accept this unproven message is an offense to my intelligence.”

Jesus’ heart continues to be broken because of the rejection.

However, many did receive the invitation. Remember that the banquet hall was full. Jesus says to these people, You are my servants in your hometown, in your house. Bring the message to those around you. Tell them the joy of being in a personal relationship with me. Tell them how good it feels not to carry around a ton of guilt.

We obediently follow our Lord’s command, but what happens? People reject the invitation brought to them in the name of the Lord Jesus. We, too, begin to experience rejection. Actually, the unbeliever is not rejecting us, but Christ, whom we serve. However, we are hurt. Rejection spells loneliness, defeat, and a bundle of questions all summarized in these words: How can people be so dumb as to reject the One who loves them so much?

A parent punishes himself or herself by asking, Where did I go wrong? My children turned their backs on Christ. We took them to Sunday school and church. We read the Bible in our home and taught them to pray. We sent them to Christian colleges, but they still say no to Jesus. To that father and mother, Jesus says, I understand.

The committed Christian hears the words of Jesus, “Be my witnesses.” They take it seriously. They enroll in courses at the church learning better how to share their faith. They talk to others, but still get a cold response. Leave me alone. Religion is my business. It is none of your affair.

You watch marriages go down the drain when Christ could save all of them if these two people leaving the divorce court would only have turned to Him.

They see people with no hope leave the casket of those they love. Those loved ones have now entered eternity without Christ. What peace do they have except to enjoy the memories of the loved ones left behind? Christ could have given them the assurance that all was well; they would now live in the presence of the Almighty forever.

Do we quit handing out invitations to come to Christ? No. Remember, the invitation to come to the banquet is good until the last breath is drawn. Only then is it withdrawn.

If you for many years have rejected Christ’s invitation to receive Him Ð He is still seeking you. This is true for Jews and Gentiles alike.

Listen again: All is ready. This week we will relive the horrors of Good Friday showing from whence our salvation comes. Next Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection. Christ is risen! He lives! And the Risen Lord once again tells us to come.