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Here’s a question for you: Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven—then what happened?
Most of us know what happened to the apostles—they continued to teach others “to observe all that Christ had commanded” (Matthew 28:20)—but what happened to Jesus? What is he currently doing? Is he twiddling his thumbs in heaven while waiting for us to join him?
This is a difficult question, but we can find the answer in Romans 8:34-35:
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
After Jesus ascended into heaven, he began to intercede for us. He began to pray on our behalf. It is interesting to note that Romans 8:34-35 says that Christ intercedes for us and not that he interceded for us. This means Jesus is continuing to pray for us. How often does he pray?
Let’s turn to Hebrews 7:25:
Therefore [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Continually. Jesus prays continually on our behalf. Can you imagine praying on someone’s behalf every day of your life? All day? Not once a month. Not whenever you happen to remember. Every day. All day.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to be underwhelmed by this truth. Jesus prays for us. Great. That sounds like something Jesus would do. But think about it for a moment. The God who created the heavens and the earth is praying for you. Every day. In fact, 1 John 2:1 goes as far to say that Jesus is your advocate!
How amazing is that?
Would you like to know how Jesus intercedes for you? Turn to John 17:1-11.
At first, it doesn’t appear that this scripture has anything to do with us. After all, in John 17:9, Jesus says that he is praying “for those whom [God] has given [him].” Doesn’t this mean that Jesus is praying specifically for his disciples? Not quite. If we continue to read this passage, we find that Jesus adds, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20). Because the apostles were faithful to spread Christ’s message, we can share in this prayer. Jesus is praying for us!
What does he pray for us? First, in John 17:11, we can see that Jesus prays for our protection. “Holy Father,” Jesus prays, “protect them by the power of your name.” Protect us from what? John 17:15 shows us that Jesus is asking God to protect us from “the evil one.”
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
The world is a dangerous place for Jesus’ disciples. As Jesus once said, “If [the people of the world] persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The world is not a spa. It is a dangerous place in which only our suffering is promised.
Despite this, Jesus does not pray for God to remove us from it.
What trust this shows! If Jesus did not trust the Father, he would have begged God to remove us from all danger. However, he does not ask for our removal—he asks for our protection. Jesus trusts God to protect us from all hazards.
It is interesting to note that many of the early church fathers believed that the world would fall apart without God’s intervention. God, they thought, was the only force that held the world together. Whatever parts composed the world, God was considered the force that actively held these parts together. If this is the case, then our continued existence is a testimony to God having heard, and accomplished, his Son’s prayer.
Jesus also prays that God will sanctify us (John 17:17). Sanctify is a word with a two-part definition. First, sanctify means to “set apart.” What does this mean? It means that Jesus is asking God to designate you for a specific purpose. Still confused? Let’s look at a simpler example.
You may not know it, but our Pastor Tim is quite the soda connoisseur. Not only did he run a blog dedicated to reviewing various sodas, but he also made his own! These days, Pastor Tim does not drink soda much; however, in the past, Pastor Tim was quite particular about his soda.
You see, Pastor Tim couldn’t just use any glass when he drank soda—he had to use the glass. There was nothing special about this glass that would make it a soda glass—it was just like the rest of Pastor Tim’s glasses. However, Pastor Tim specifically chose that glass for his soda drinking purposes. He refused to drink soda from any other glass and he would not fill the glass with any other beverage. In other words, he set the glass apart from all other glasses.
We are the soda glass. Christ asks his Father to sanctify us—to set us apart—so that we might be used for a specific purpose. Just as Pastor Tim considers his soda glass to be different from all the other glasses (despite there being nothing otherwise unique about it), Christs considers us different from the rest of the world. On our own, we are “just another glass.” However, Christ specifically asks for us to be set apart. This is what makes us unique.
Christ’s request for us is a little different from Pastor Tim’s glass, however—we don’t say that Pastor Tim “sanctified” this soda glass. This is because the definition of “sanctified” has another part to it.
Sanctify also means “to purify.” An object that is sanctified is both set apart and purified. What does it mean to be purified? For us Christians it means that we become increasingly like Christ. Christ’s prayer, then, is for God to set us apart from the world so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit and become more like our Lord.
Finally, Jesus asks God for something curious.
Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one (John 17:11).
Last week, we marveled that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so united that they constantly choose to lift one another—instead of themselves—up. They do this without complaint. Even in this passage, we find examples of this unity. In John 17:5, Jesus reveals that he once possessed great glory, but that he relinquished this glory to be born as a man. John 17:10 shows us that the Father and the Son share all they have. This is an amazing unity—and Christ asks his Father that we might participate in it.
Part of engaging in this unity, as John 17:17 showed us, is to become more like Jesus. We must learn how to lower ourselves and intercede for others. Paul echoes this instruction in 1 Timothy 2:1, saying, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.”
This is astounding.
Not only are we called to pray for ourselves (or for those who we love and admire), but we are called to pray for all people. This means that we must pray for the politician that we hate, the teachers that we consider to be above ourselves, and the enemy that hurt us. Why? Because Christ has asked that we be set apart to become more like him; a man who prays for those who persecute him—constantly.
Not only does Christ pray for us, but the Nicene Creed reminds us of the scriptural promise that, “He will return again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” The one who prays for us constantly is the one who will return and bring us to himself, so we can be where he is (John 14:3). His intercession will give way to his presence, and our imperfection to his perfection.