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Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Supplication

February 5, 2006

John 17

I would like to draw your attention to the architecture of our Sanctuary. Many of you here today have worshipped in other places, and you know that the arrangement of a Baptist church is a little different from the more liturgical churches. At the front is the Lord’s Supper Table, the Communion Table. The words inscribed on that table are “Do this in remembrance of me.” Usually on that table is the open Bible, symbolizing the fact that we are people of the Book. We gather around the Word of God Sunday after Sunday. Behind the table and the open Bible is the pulpit, the place where God’s Word is proclaimed. Sometimes we refer to the pulpit as “the sacred desk.” Beyond the pulpit, is the baptistry where we experience baptism as believers. Baptism symbolizes the fact that we are buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life. Above the baptistry is the cross. Our two ordinances – The Lord’s Supper and baptism – serve as symbols of the fact that we are people of the Bible. The open Bible and the pulpit do the same. Everything points to the cross. When Jesus spoke about glory, he spoke about the cross. We could describe the cross with many words. We talk about it as being old and rugged. We talk about it as a symbol of suffering and shame. We talk about it as an expression of agony. Do you think of the cross as glory?

Sometimes, death magnifies a person’s life. We have recently remembered Dr. Martin Luther King. His death magnifies his life. If we had not grieved at his death, we probably would never have understood the impact of his life. Many people despised Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. The editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast frequently mocked him in political cartoons. The Secretary of War at the time of Lincoln’s presidency, Edward Staunton, did not attempt to conceal his dislike. When Lincoln died by an assassin’s bullet, however, Staunton stood beside the body of the president and wept, stating, “There lies the greatest leader the world has ever known… He belongs to the ages.” Sometimes it is only in death that the life of a person is magnified. That is true in the life of Jesus.

The extended prayer of Jesus in John 17 occurred while he and his disciples were in the Upper Room. First, he washed their feet, giving them a symbol of servanthood, of a servant heart. Jesus then celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, reinterpreting the elements so that they would understand that his body and his blood were now the way of redemption. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. At the conclusion of the meal, he gave some last discourses and then prayed that he might be glorified. In this way, he acknowledged that he would die soon. In this prayer, Jesus stated that he had come to complete a task and that the task would be finished with his crucifixion. Then he turned his attention to his disciples.

The group Jesus chose was some of the most improbable. I sometimes think of them in the way I think of Boy Scouts. They were just ordinary people, but the training they received from their Master caused them to become extraordinary men. Of course, they still had their flaws. They had a tendency to deny that they even knew him, as Simon Peter did. They had a tendency to run the other way when times became difficult. Jesus was looking for “a few good men,” as the United State Marine Corps advertises. He found a few good men and trained them to be his disciples. I have tried to imagine what the disciples must have felt, knowing that their Master’s death was inevitable. Can you imagine those men listening to Jesus pray for them?

Jesus’ prayer consisted of four requests. First, he prayed that they would be in the world, but not of the world. I understand that concept best by thinking about a boat. I have seen a boat used in many ways: as a coffee table, turned upside down; as a buffet table at a wedding reception; and as a planter for flowers. You only have a boat when you put it in the water. You want the boat to be in the water, but you do not want it to be of the water because it would fill with water and sink to the bottom of the lake. Jesus wanted his disciples to be in the world, but not of the world. He wants us to be among people, but not filled with the world’s values.

Jesus also prayed that his disciples, his followers, would be one. We are one with the churches in Alabama. We are one with persecuted Christians around the world. We are one with each other. Whenever we think about the great church, the world communion we know as Christianity, we are part of a fellowship. We do not all believe the same ideas and do not necessarily agree on the same issues, but our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord binds us as a church across the globe.

Jesus prayed that his disciples would be delivered from the evil one in a prayer of protection, “Protect us from the evil one.” The Bible says that the evil one is like a “roaring lion,” that will devour its prey (Ezekiel 22:25).

I do not know who set the fires in Alabama. The arsonists were rather indiscriminate. They chose Baptist churches, both black and white, starting the fires on the Communion table in every church. Even in the churches where the fire was contained, the pulpit was singed. Pastor Hailstock and I have a sense of solidarity with the pastors of those churches. Imagine having your church set on fire. We must pray for the members of those congregations.

Jesus said of his disciples that the world hates them. If we do what Jesus wants us to do, people are going to hate us. If the Lord Jesus is pleased that two congregations can worship together as we are doing today, the evil one is furious. He will try to find a way to disrupt this. Jesus’ prayer includes us. He prayed that we, too, would be protected from the evil one. Then he prayed that we would assume the great task that he himself had, to make disciples who could carry on his work. Jesus healed, he taught, he preached, and he performed miracles. Our task, as so clearly directed in the Great Commission, is to “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). Disciple making marks the Christian church.

When I came home from a date as a teenager and young adult, my custom was to let my parents know I was home. On one particular night, just as I got to the door of my parents’ bedroom, I saw my mom and dad kneeling and praying together by their bed. I heard my dad calling my name in prayer, a moment that had a profound impact on my life.

Can you imagine how the disciples felt as they listened to the Lord Jesus praying for them? If you look carefully at this passage in John, you will see that we are included in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said, “I pray not only for them, but for all of those who will believe because of their testimony” (John 17:9). Friends, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed for me. Two thousand years ago, before he went to the cross, the Lord Jesus prayed for us. He prayed that we would be in the world but not of the world. He prayed that we would be one with all other Christians. He prayed that we would be protected from the evil one. He prayed that we would make disciples. The last words he spoke were that we might know his glory and his joy. We know a little bit of that here, but the way we know it best is in eternity, in eternal life. As we take the Lord’s Supper today, keep in mind that your Savior not only died for you and conquered death by his resurrection, but also that your Savior prayed for you.

As we come to this table, I remind you that this is not a Morningside table. It is a not a New Day table. It is not a Baptist table. It is the table of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has prayed for you. We invite any believer to take part in this supper. Let us take this meal together.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread. He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Let us have a prayer of blessing for the bread.
Prayer of Blessing: Holy Father, we come before You, humbled by the gift of Your love, the gift of Your only begotten Son who was obedient, even to the cross. He died to fulfill the plan for my salvation, for our salvation, for all who will believe. We come now in remembrance of him whose body was pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We thank you, Lord, for the peace that this truth brings to our hearts. We pray that You will accept our worship as we take this symbol in honor of You. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my soul, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat it as often as you eat it, in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it. Let us have a prayer of blessing for the cup.
Prayer of Blessing: Our Father, we do thank You for Your Son who died on the cross for us. We thank You for his great love. We thank You that he prayed for us. We thank you that we can go forth and share the message of the love of the Lord Jesus to a world that needs to know about you. We thank you that in this service, You have restored our souls in so many ways. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the cross of Christ, our glory, Towering over the wrecks of time
My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin not in part but the whole
Has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

When we come to worship, we come with a variety of emotions. Some people come to a service like this, with a heart burdened with pain and grief. Some come, with a life filled with anxiety. Some come to worship despondent, wondering if life is worth living. When we come to worship, the Lord Jesus restores our souls. The Lord Jesus touches our heart. The elements of the Lord’s Supper remind us that we share his glory and his joy in this life.

If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior, we invite you to make that decision today. Ask him to come into your heart. He will save you from your sins and set you on the road to glory and joy. Some perhaps desire church membership. You can make that decision today. We will be glad to receive you. Whatever decision the Lord has laid on your heart, we invite you to respond as we stand and sing a beautiful hymn written by Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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