When Jesus prepared to leave his friends upon this earth, he didn’t rush out a buy them a parting gift. Jesus didn’t have parting gifts for his friends, but he did provide for them a special time of love and reflection at the Passover – what we know as the Last Supper. Together they ate a meal. Then he washed their feet. Most importantly he prayed for them.
Jesus has a purpose in his prayers, and that is to secure their destiny. In the context of this passage Jesus has traveled from Ephraim to Bethany to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus has recently raised Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders are determined to have him arrested. Jesus hides himself away in Ephraim until the time of his final Passover celebration when he returns to visit Lazarus in Bethany. Jesus knows the risk of coming to visit Lazarus, and he knows the risk of entering Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus is not deterred from his purpose.
With this being Father’s Day it is truly appropriate for us to reflect on Jesus’ relationship with his Father. As we look at this text we see how Jesus has postured himself to gaze up at his Father in submission.
The prayer includes certain people. As good Methodist we recognize a helpful rhythm in our daily prayer lives, right? Now in this passage Jesus offers us a helpful method to remember. Jesus begins by praying first for himself, then his close friends – the disciples, then onward and outward to include all those in the world who would one day believe in him through the witness of the disciples. Those he prayed for help us to see how important it is to pray for ourselves and others in times of crisis.
Jesus had a life long pattern of prayer. He developed a relationship with his Father over the course of his recorded ministry by getting away in solitude to pray. Jesus was always intentional about his personal prayer life. And, in this text we get to hear what that personal prayer life looked like up close and personal.
There are key points in his prayer –
- a shared life together in eternity,
- safety – not from people but the evil One and rebellion,
- unity of all believers (not all people) in the fellowship of love,
- a place to call home forever,
- even love between God the Father and his people.
These ingredients are the fabric of his greatest hopes for his posterity in light of his greatest achievements. Jesus’ parting words were not a pompous speech about himself or his achievements, but a prayer that the work he completed would continue in the lives of his disciples. He was not simply uttering flattering words about himself. Jesus had been entrusted with his disciples and he trained them well to know the legacy of eternal life. And, in this passage he releases them back into the hands of his Heavenly Father. Jesus trusted that his work was not in vain, but would bear good fruit in due season.
When we think about pompous speeches, surely the Roman Empire comes to mind. The Roman way to protecting and expanding itself was through conquering people. Julius Caesar famously wrote to the Roman Senate in 46 B.C. in the wake of his stunning victory in the east: veni, vidi, vici — I came, I saw, I conquered. This famous phrase has become the motto most remembered of the Roman era. Even today these words inspire the same feelings of victory in our culture. Not so for Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus’ phrase would be shalom. The ancient Hebrew language uses the word shalom as a blessing upon greeting someone. Shalom means peace, and is rooted in the word שלם (shaleim), which means completion. In the Bible, the word shalom is most commonly used to refer to a state of affairs, one of well‑being, tranquility, prosperity, and security, as well as circumstances that are unblemished by any sort of defect. Shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace.
Surely, Jesus experienced this sense of shalom even on the eve of his death. Because of Jesus’ faithful prayer life, we witness that he was able to persevere through the most challenging circumstances. And, you and I can understand the peace of shalom in its greatest form at the foot of the cross when Jesus spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This shalom peace came to Jesus by way of his prayers to his Heavenly Father.
Protection is an important aspect of survival. Jesus’ aim in this prayer was to protect himself, his disciples, and future believers. When we think about protecting ourselves, prayer is probably not our first go to. Natures’ way of protecting itself is by running away, hiding, and fighting. Rabbits run. Turtles draw-up into their shell. Hedgehogs roll-up and stick out their quills. But Jesus’ way of protecting himself was to open his arms wide in prayer and welcome the cross.
This prayer is a model for us to learn how to pray. We pray with purpose and posture. We pray for people. We pray with key points in mind. We develop a life long pattern of prayer. We pray for our posterity, our legacy to be secure. We pray for the blessing of peace, shalom. We pray for the ability to persevere. We pray for protection – not by running away, hiding, or fighting with one another – but by opening our arms wide in prayer, dying to ourselves, and taking up our own cross and following Jesus. Will you join me on this journey of prayer?