When you stop to think about it (as we often do in times of natural or national disaster) prayer is a simple, less threatening, and highly effective form of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. If you have a friend who is not a practicing Christian, or someone who believes in God but is unaffiliated with organized religion, and they have a crisis in their life, you can ask, “What can I pray for you about?” Now some atheists may still react negatively to such a question, but surveys have shown that only about 5 percent of this country have that strong-willed, anti-Christian sentiment. About 95 percent will either think your question is harmless or very much appreciate your intervention for them before the God that you worship.
Any civil, clear-thinking person will, at a minimum, rationalize and think “Well it can’t hurt to have someone praying for me, and it just might help. My friend, at least, seems to think it helps.” And fellow Christians, whether or not they are Lutheran, will greatly appreciate that you are desiring to fulfill your duty as one of the priesthood of all believers, to intervene, to intercede on their behalf with God the Father in heaven. Yes, prayer can be a powerful witness.
We are taught in James 5:16 to “pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much.” James goes on to point out that Elijah prayed, first for no rain, and it didn’t rain for three-and-a-half years, then he prayed for rain and the sky poured forth and the earth produced its fruit. Why? Not because our prayers are powerful, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer them is!
If it is comforting and inviting to others when they know you are praying for them, how much more comforting and inviting it is that Jesus was praying for us, and still prays and intercedes for us today. And what’s more, the timing of this prayer is critical; Jesus’ hour had come to begin His passion. This passion will glorify the Son which will glorify the Father and bring eternal life to all who believe. Jesus prays for his disciples, that they will be kept in the Father’s name. Jesus has given them God’s Word, and its truth has made them holy. He is praying for them, and for us immediately before He goes to the garden and is betrayed by Judas and is arrested by the soldiers. Jesus knows that He is about to take upon Himself the full brunt of human sin and abuse and torture and shame, yet He does not focus on himself, but prays for us. He specifically says that it is not just for those apostles “only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20).
And that is the first comforting fact we Christians must know about prayer. Jesus intercedes for us in prayer, both then and now. As our great High Priest He stands continually before the Throne of the Father, pleading our case, bringing our petitions and demanding God’s gracious answer for we sinners who dare not speak on our own behalf before a holy God. He pleads for us in our sin and weakness. He prays for our every need. He speaks for the church, and calls for God’s every blessing to be richly bestowed in His glorious name. He prays for us now, even as He prayed for those disciples then.
Yet Jesus is not merely a man of words but of deeds. For Jesus interceded for us directly after this prayer, in His suffering, crucifixion, and death. Not content to simply “talk the talk”, our Lord and Saviour “walked the walk”. Our walk of guilt and shame. A walk that took Him straight to the cross. He walked the highways and byways of this world confronting sin, and grief and shame and sorrow wherever He went. He faced it all and overcame it with a divine love and compassion that interceded for one and all alike. The Israelite and the Gentile. The broken and the proud. The destitute and the rich. The religious braggart and the abject sinner in their shame. There was not a man woman or child that Jesus did not intercede for while they suffered in this broken life.
But He went one step further than even that. For Jesus interceded for us by conquering death itself that Sunday morning. He brought all those prayers to their ultimate fulfillment in His own life death and glorious resurrection. He answered all the grieving and tormented cries of this dying world with His resurrected life free from the grave.
And it was His resurrection that brought unity among His disciples. A unity of knowledge. A unity of hope. A unity of purpose and joy. We see this in the first reading for this morning (1:12–26) where the apostles and other disciples, including the women, and Jesus’ mother and brothers, were devoting themselves to prayer after His ascension. Just as Jesus had prayed that they might.
20[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I 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.
“that they may become perfectly one” as Jesus prayed could also mean that they may be completed, finished, or fulfilled. In Revelation text for this day we see not just the fulfillment in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, but the consummation, what will happen at the end for all those whom He has called to be His bride.
And with that promise ringing in our ears, that glorious vision always before our eyes, that blessed hope filling our hearts – we humbly approach our friends and neighbours with the offer of sharing our prayers. For we have the great privilege of continuing that unity and intercession in this generation, calling others to hear Jesus’ words and praying that they will know his resurrection is for them just as we know it was for us.
- Introduction and outline by Rick Marrs Concordia Journal vol 42 num 1 2016