Christ’s Prayer for Us 7th Easter
Acts 1:6-14 1Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11
In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children have stumbled into the land of Narnia. It is winter, and has been for a long time (but never Christmas!), because the evil witch that rules the land likes winter. The children are told an ancient prophecy:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
Aslan is the Christ-figure in these stories, and when he returns, all the good creatures are delighted! When the children meet Aslan, he takes the oldest one (Peter) aside and begins instructing him what he will need to do in his battle against the witch. Peter protests, “But you will be there yourself, Aslan.” (In other words, he expected Aslan to be in charge of the battle.) But he replied, “I can give you no promise of that.” Then he continued giving Peter his instructions.
This had to be alarming for Peter because he was just a kid; he had only recently received a sword; he hardly knew how to use it; and he knew nothing about organizing a military campaign! But Aslan clearly intended for him to step into action, not just be a bystander!
I thought of this scene when I was reading the Acts passage for today. And, indeed, the Epistle and Gospel readings seem to carry the same expectation! But it comes with a mighty promise of Christ’s help. Let’s take a look.
Their Plan versus God’s
First, let’s remember a few things about these disciples at the time of the reading in Acts. They had come to Jerusalem with Jesus, expecting that he was going to reveal himself as the Messiah, expecting that he would usher in a new Golden Age and that they would somehow be a part of his administration. But Jesus was killed on a cross, dashing their hopes. Then he was resurrected, and spent about 40 days with them, speaking with them about the kingdom of God.
Then, in today’s text, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (They are right back at their previous expectations!) He deflected their question about when, and instead focused on who. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then he left them! They must have been stunned! But Jesus was commissioning them to continue his ministry, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew remembers this commissioning in a slightly different way. He has Jesus saying to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In both accounts, Jesus is making it clear that 1. He will be with them and 2. They will be empowered to take the good news to the whole world!
Just as young Peter Pevensie would have been alarmed at having a huge responsibility thrust onto his shoulders, I am certain that the disciples had similar misgivings! After all, a disciple is student, a learner, a follower. And Jesus had just told them, “YOU will be my witnesses here, there, and all over the world.” No wonder they went back to the Upper Room and devoted themselves to prayer!
Now, in our letter from Peter, we hear the words of one who has experienced this anxiety and now says with authority that God is dependable. He says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you…Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” And how do we do that?!
We get a word of assurance from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Cast all your cares on God… in prayer with thanksgiving.
Many of you are familiar with Ben and Erin Napier and their show on HGTV, “Home Town.” They help people in Laurel, Mississippi, to find a home and renovate it. In their book, Make Something Good Today, Erin describes the process she went through as she decided to give up her “safe” job and go into her design business wholeheartedly. In order to overcome her fears, she prayed, she sought counsel, and she kept a “thankfulness journal” every day—writing down things for which she was thankful. She credits that journal with overcoming her anxieties as she waited for God’s clear direction. She seems to have taken to heart Paul’s advice to pray with thanksgiving!
Christ Prays for Us
On those Sundays when we have a Prayer of Confession, we also have an Assurance of Forgiveness. Sometimes we say together, “Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.”
Our passage today from John is an excerpt from the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before his arrest and crucifixion. It’s always a challenge for me to study this prayer, because I know what’s coming next, and it is painful. But there is comfort in hearing Jesus pray for his disciples. He is asking the Father to protect them when he is no longer in the world.
Now, next week is our celebration of Pentecost, that amazing day when God’s Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, just as Jesus had promised. Together, we will remember that day, and affirm that God’s Spirit is working in us and through us to this day!
But, in the meantime, we will keep these three things in mind:
- Christ has commissioned US to be his witnesses here, there, and everywhere;
- We release our anxiety about this by remembering that God cares for us;
- We keep in mind that Christ prays for us, and we focus on our blessings instead of our fears!
These are good principles for life in any season, and they are especially appropriate for Christian life during a pandemic! These are days of anxiety, uncertainty, and fluidity. I need to hear Peter’s words, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” And that’s the basic question God’s people have asked for centuries, any time there is suffering and pain and injustice, “God, do you even CARE?!” The Psalmist shouts, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?…But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
We will sing to the Lord. We will cast all our cares on God because God cares for us. Christ prays for us. And we will prevail.