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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Jesus Prays for Us
April 21, 2011

Have you ever asked someone to do something, only to have them respond, “I’ll pray about it”? Sometimes the response is fully appropriate, but sometimes it is a religious-sounding brush-off by someone with no intention to respond affirmatively. If I don’t intend to pray sincerely about something or for someone, I had better not say otherwise. I have learned to say “I’ll pray about it” or “I’ll be praying for you” less often, as I have come to take that commitment with greater seriousness.

On this night, the night before he died, Jesus made a commitment to us – “I will pray for you.” (John 14:16) This promise referred specifically to his asking the Father to send us the Holy Spirit, but that isn’t the end of his prayer for us. As our high priest before the throne of God, Jesus continually makes intercession for us. (Hebrews 7:25)

Jesus did not flaunt his prayer life. The gospel writers tell us that Jesus often withdrew to spend time in solitary prayer, but we know very little of his prayers’ content. Nobody was with him on those occasions to register his words; in fact, we don’t even know whether those prayers were audibly spoken. The Gospel writers relate a few brief prayers that he offered amid his ministry engagements, and that’s about it.

Except for one prayer. On the night of the Last Supper, the night Jesus promised to pray for us, he demonstrates that commitment by offering up a prolonged prayer on behalf of his disciples. The prayer is recorded in John 17. This great prayer, sometimes called his “high priestly prayer,” not only discloses the nature of Jesus’ prayer for his followers on the eve of his execution – it suggests the nature of his ongoing intercession for us.

What about us matters so much to Jesus that he makes it a matter of intercession with the Father? Note the prayer’s key theme, which he repeats four times: That we may be one. A second theme gets repeated three times: That we may be protected from evil. Other key points are that we love one another, that we be made holy, and that we may know the Father. If these things lie at the heart of Jesus’ intercession for us, we ought to take them as our top priorities as well.

Midway through the prayer, Jesus underscores that he is praying not just for the people in the room that night, but for all who come to faith through their testimony. That means you and me. At that juncture in his prayer, his theme gets focused even more tightly – it’s all about our being one, from there to the end of the prayer. But it’s not just unity for its own sake – it’s a unity that reflects the unity of the Father and the Son, “so that the world may know” the love of God poured out for the world in Jesus Christ. (John 17:23)

The church’s unity is not the only thing that matters to Jesus. But it’s at the core of our authenticity and integrity as his disciples and ambassadors. If our unity is broken, the credibility of our witness to God’s saving nature and purpose is broken. This is why Jesus prays for it again, and again, and again. The other features of the prayer matter too – that we be protected from evil, that we love one another, that we be made holy, and that we may know God intimately. Unity without holiness is hollow; holiness without unity is barren. Only as both flourish is the church able to bear credible and effective witness to God’s love for the world in Christ. And if that isn’t enough, only as we visibly live in this way will we be the people that our Intercessor prays we will be.

That His will be done,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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