daily biblical sermons


Jesus prays to his Father as he did before the incarnation, when he lived in the splendor of his love
Fr. Steven Scherrer
Homily of Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020
Acts 1:12-14, Psalm 26, 1 Peter 4:13-16, John 17:1-11a


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:1-5).

 

 

Jesus prays to his Father even though he and the Father are one God with one common divine mind and will between them, which they share also with the Holy Spirit, for there is only one divine mind and will in God, not three divine minds and three divine wills.

 

 

Mind and will pertain to the nature, not to the person, since Jesus had no human person but had a human mind and will, it had to pertain to his human nature. It is the same in God who has only one nature, and therefore only one divine mind and will, even though he has three persons that share in that one nature and in that one mind and will.

 

 

The mind is the faculty with which we know other people and things as separate from ourselves. Jesus knew his Father as a person separate from himself with both his divine mind and his human mind.

 

 

The will is the faculty with which we love. Jesus had only one common divine will that he shared with his Father, but he could nonetheless love him as a person distinct from himself, using the one common divine will to do so, as well as his human will.

 

 

Jesus is about to die and return to his Father’s glory, and he asks the Father to glorify him so that he could once again bask in the splendor of his Father’s love, as he had done from all eternity, before the world was created and before he was incarnate as a man with a human mind and human will. He says who, “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5).

 

 

What was Jesus’ relationship with the Father like before the world was made and before he was incarnate, which means before he had a human mind and human will with which he could easily know and love God the Father as a person separate from himself? Today’s prayer of Jesus to his Father shows us that these three persons knew and loved each other from all eternity as persons separate from each other. Yet they had only one common divine mind and will between the three of them to do so.

 

 

Before the incarnation the Son did not yet have a human mind and human will, because he had not yet been united to a human nature. So how could the Son love the Father as a separate person from himself whom he knew as a separate person, using the same common divine mind and will to do so? Today’s reading shows us that he was able to do that, so it gives us some insight into the Blessed Trinity. There is only one God with only one divine mind and will, and yet God is a community of persons, each knowing and loving the other as a person separate from himself and basking in the splendor of the love of the other.

 

 

Jesus is now about to return to the glory of his Father that he had before the incarnation, and he says to his Father, “Glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee” (John 17:1). The two glorified each other. They were two separate persons that basked in each other’s love and splendor, and they have done so from all eternity and will continue to do so forever, with the Holy Spirit being the bond of love between them. Jesus was about to return to this glory in which the Father would glorify him, and he in turn would glorify his Father with his own love. So he says, “Glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee … Now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:1, 5).

 

 

We see from this prayer that God the Father and God the Son can know and love each other as separate persons, even though there is only one common divine mind and will between them, and this is especially striking since Jesus talks about this having also been the case before the world was created, that is, before he had a human mind and human will with which he could clearly and easily love the Father as a separate person. Even in the Trinity before creation this was true.

 

 

Jesus next tells his Father that he has accomplished his mission, that is, the work which the Father sent him to do in the world, and in doing so he glorified his Father because his Father sent him to do this. “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). And what was this work that the Father gave him? It was “to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him” (John 17:2). How did he give those who believed in him eternal life? Verse three explains this by explaining what he means by eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

 

 

This is obviously not mere intellectual knowledge, for it gives eternal life to those that believe in him. Note that to have eternal life one must know both the Father and the Son. This knowledge is akin to the sense of knowing as we often find it in the Bible, which is a complete possession of the other person, a complete knowledge of him or her. In this sense the word “know” was often used for sexual intercourse, so that to know someone is to have an intimate relationship with him or her.

 

 

This is the kind of knowledge that we should understand here that gives eternal life. “To know God as he is … is to yield the whole soul to him, and to strive to obey his law … It is to feel our need of such a Savior, to see that we are sinners, and to yield the whole soul to him, knowing that he is a Savior suited to our needs, and that in his hands our souls are safe” (Albert Barnes, 1798-1870).

 

 

But how is it that knowing God and Christ is (or gives) eternal life? “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Here is the great mystery of the atonement, whereby Christ was sent into the world to reconcile God and man. Those who would accept Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world and put their trusting faith in him would have eternal life. That is, they would be justified and saved. And when they die, if they remain faithful, they will go to heaven to be with God.

 

 

But what about their sins that a just God must punish, if not in this life then after death? That is why knowing Jesus Christ with this deep, intimate, bonding love, which St. Paul calls faith, meaning trusting faith or entrusting yourself with faith to Jesus Christ, is essential for having eternal life, because we have no ability on our own to have eternal life with God forever in heaven, since we are weighed down with our sins and face a just God that must punish every sin justly. But this just punishing of sins God did in the flesh of Christ on the cross (Romans 8:3-4).

 

 

That is why the Father sent his Son into the world, namely so that all that believe in him would no longer have to worry about facing a just God with all their sins, which would prevent them from having eternal life forever in heaven. Once we know Jesus in this profound sense of putting our trusting faith in him for our salvation, we have eternal life, because God then counts Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as paying our debt that we have with God of suffering and death in punishment for our sins. In other words, God credits everyone who believes in Christ and has this profound knowledge of him with his suffering and death on the cross as paying his debt that he has with God of suffering and death for his sins.

 

 

Therefore once a person makes this act of faith in Christ, God justifies him, that is, he declares him righteous, because God then considers his sins justly paid for by the substitute (Jesus Christ) that God sent into the world for this purpose. Christ died vicariously on the cross in our place. We are the ones who in justice should have died in just punishment for our sins, but since we owe God eternal death in hell for them, no one would ever be saved. Therefore God sent his only Son as our substitute to die in our place, and all who accept him with faith will be credited with his death as paying their debt of suffering and death that they have with God for their sins.

 

 

So these are the ones that are saved. They are the ones that Jesus is now praying for. “I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou has given me, for they are thine … Keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:9, 11).

 

 

Jesus’ death was for the sins of the whole world. It was “a redemption sufficient for all mankind … but … his redemption is effectual only to those who believe” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900, emphasis added). These are the ones for whom Jesus is now praying, namely those whose redemption is effectual because they believe. In other words, he is praying for his own disciples.

 

 

This is how Jesus describes those whose redemption is effectual because they believe: “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. I am praying for them, I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine” (John 17:6-9).

 

 

Jesus is clearly praying for his own disciples who believe in him. Despite their slowness of understanding, their faith is sufficient, and they are saved. They will have eternal life if they remain faithful. Now that Jesus was about to leave his disciples to be crucified, he prays for them, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus prays for the unity of his Church, which is the community of those that have accepted him and have known and believed in him.

 

 

We are that Church if we put our trusting faith in Christ, and so he is now interceding for us with his Father, for “He [Christ] is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

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