In the four gospels there are several accounts of Jesus going off alone to pray.
We have very few recorded prayers of Jesus. We have the account of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray and he gives them the form of the Lord’s Prayer to use. It follows the form of some of the prayers recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. We have Jesus’ prayer at the place of the wine presses, Gethsemane, and some of Jesus’ words on the cross could be called prayers.
We heard part of another prayer today that John attributes to Jesus at his last Passover meal. Judas has left them and Jesus prays for himself, for the eleven, and for future believers. This is probably my all-time favorite Bible passage because of the words Jesus uses to describe his relationship with God and with his followers. He praises God for the gifts he has received and for the gifts that will be given to these eleven men.
Jesus speaks of revealing God’s name to the eleven. In the passage from I John, we get an idea what he is talking about. The testimony of humans refers to the Mosaic law. One witness could not condemn anyone-two witnesses must agree for a testimony to stand up in court. Three is even better. God’s testimony trumped them all.
So what testimony-how many witnesses could testify to Jesus’ authority? Looking only at the gospel of John we find several: First, there was John the Baptist, “John pointed him out and called, ‘This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.’” Second were Jesus’ deeds themselves, “But the witness that really confirms me far exceeds John’s witness. It’s the work the Father gave me to complete. These very tasks, as I go about completing them, confirm that the Father, in fact, sent me.” Third, we have the scriptures; “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!” Fourth, God the Father, “The Father who sent me, confirmed me. And you missed it. You never heard his voice, you never saw his appearance.” And, finally, the Spirit, “When the Friend I plan to send to you from the Father comes-the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father-he will confirm everything about me.” [Excerpts from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message]
Jesus taught them not only the name of God but also about God’s character. It is hard to turn one’s life over to an idea or to someone who elicits uncertainty. If one knows the full character and nature of God, then one is willing to wholeheartedly follow the One. Jesus had told them about God so that God was no longer distant-they knew the name of God-that secret knowledge that was only spoken within the Holy of Holies.
These eleven men knew Jesus-they believed what he said and what he did but they also believed in him. He was the kind of man people will follow into battle because they know they can trust him in mind and in character. Jesus had revealed to them the name and character of God in the way Jesus interacted with people, the way he cared for people, in healing people in God’s name, and in including all people in his life no matter their status economic or spiritual.
And, as Jesus had lived, these men would now live and display how God through Jesus could live in the world. They would be the new light. They would follow Christ though they could no longer see him, they would breathe his words though they could no longer hear them and they would heal the sick and teach others how to live in Christ, how to believe in Christ though many would not have the direct experience of the incarnate Christ.
They must have been frightened to the core at the responsibility. These were, after all, ordinary people. Tradesmen, working stiffs, and uneducated for the most part. When they heard those words, “They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. … those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them. For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you. Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.” [The Message] I can feel the passion and compassion in those words as Jesus prays for these men and argues their case before God-as he argues our case before God.
Jesus finishes with a prayer of consecration: “Make them holy-consecrated-with the truth; your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes so they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.” [ibid.]
So in the first chapter of Acts, we have these same eleven men meeting with others after the ascension. Jesus’ last words to the witnesses were, “What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” [ibid.]
There were 120 at this gathering in Jerusalem including the eleven, women including Jesus’ mother, and Jesus’ brothers. After choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they waited there in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. What is truly phenomenal about this is that they started with these 120 people. There were about four million Jews in Palestine at this time; that is, 1 in 30,000 that were committed to following Jesus and look what they did with this. [William Barclay The Daily Bible Study Series the Acts of the Apostles] With these statistics, there wouldn’t be a single Christ-follower in Grays Harbor County-especially if we only counted the Jews.
These were ordinary people like us, they were a small group like us, and they had the indwelling Holy Spirit like us. Jesus prays for us like he did for them. He is our advocate before God as he was for them.
“They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it, and were convinced that I came from you.” [The Message] These 120 people, these eleven leaders (twelve with Mathias) were the firstfruits of Jesus’ mission; just wait and see what happened at Pentecost when they all received the Holy Spirit. We, too, can glorify Christ. We, too, can tell people of our experiences with Christ. This wonderful prayer is also for us-we are weak, contentious, and reluctant but, Jesus will help us by giving us what we need to tell the world about him. He will help us to grow in truth and holiness. We can share the gifts God has given us in this place and we can draw others in to share their gifts, too. We do need to pray alone and together to keep our focus on what we might accomplish.
Please pray with me: Dear God we ask that you bless our gifts and help us to recognize all that we have received from you. We ask that you help us to build up our members so each person can use their gifts in this place. We also ask that more would join us and that we can honor the gifts that each new person brings to our community. Help us to display Jesus’ life in our own lives. In the love of Christ we pray, Amen.