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The Hemet (California) Central Church of Christ has a beautiful site called The True Light!

I am privileged to have The True Light‘s author as one of my readers.

Recently, the site published an outstanding prayer to be used in times of crisis. It includes petitions not only for our own households but for the world at large. It is inspired and could be used by any church or home in praying for ourselves and the world.

Please take a few minutes to read the prayer in full.

A brief excerpt follows:

Dear Father, we ask for comfort and peace in both the world and in our personal lives. We ask for the ability to stand firm in our faith, even when persecution may be rising up and testing us. For no matter what happens to us on this earth, we must not lose our faith. For heaven is our home and we live in this hope each day.

Guide our leaders, Lord God of all, that they may see they have turned away from you. For despite all of their efforts at peace and protection, regardless of whatever means of co-operation they may seek from and among other leaders, nothing will be accomplished unless you are at the very center of the process!

We end this prayer now with the note of hope which you have given us in the book of Hebrews, when you said you will never leave us, nor forsake us. Through everything in life, we have the eternal kingdom of heaven as our promise. Let us keep our hearts and minds on Godly things and look ever forward to the time of Christ’s coming!

This must be an outstanding church with an outstanding congregation.

I did tell the site’s author that if every church had a site such as this, there would be many more faithful Christians in the world.

Every post of theirs is a gem and one to treasure. I have added The True Light! to my blogroll and hope that you find it equally edifying. May God bless the site’s author and the Hemet Central Church of Christ’s ministers in their work for His great glory.

My thanks to reader and writer Lleweton who sent me news that Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag — held in a Sudanese prison for so-called apostasy from Islam — is now a free woman.

Legislators from the Republican Party in the United States have managed to persuade Sudan’s courts to liberate this young wife, mother and successful entrepreneur from prison. Ibrahim — despite her Muslim-sounding name — was deserted at a young age by her Islamic father and raised as Ethiopian Orthodox by her Christian mother. At no time was she a Muslim.

When I last wrote on the case on June 17, Oklahoma’s Republican US senator Jim Inhofe led 20 of his peers in asking Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat, to grant her and her family asylum in the United States.

Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is also a Christian and has been an American citizen since 2005.

The Associated Press reports that Congressman Chris Smith would like to see Mariam, Daniel and their two children living in safety in the United States.

The Independent (UK) has a recent photo of an emaciated Ibrahim. With God’s mercy, may she be restored to her former health and beauty.

The Christian Post (CP) reports that Sudan’s appeals court threw the case out for insufficient evidence. Sudan’s state news agency Suna confirms the decision.

The CP adds that Republican Congressmen Trent Franks (Arizona) and Frank Wolf (Virginia) have written as follows:

We request that the U.S. State Department, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, review granting Mrs. Ibrahim Significant Public Benefit Parole, asylum, or refugee status, as appropriate. In short, we urge that every legal means necessary be exhausted to ensure that she and her young children are provided safe haven.

I wholeheartedly agree, particularly as Wani is a longstanding American citizen.

God has heard the prayers of His faithful from around the world and has seen that justice be done.

Since my first post about the Sudanese Christian, Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, it transpires that she gave birth to a daughter, Maya, whilst shackled in prison at the end of May 2014.

In mid-May, Ms Ibrahim made world news. She is awaiting flogging and death for apostasy from Islam, despite the fact that her Muslim father deserted her and her mother years ago. He moved away, remarried and fathered more children. Ibrahim’s mother, an Ethiopian, brought Mariam up as an Orthodox Christian from infancy. She was never raised as a Muslim.

Around the time of Maya’s birth, a number of media outlets around the world reported that the Sudanese government was planning on freeing Ibrahim ‘within days’. However, on May 27, Christianity Today reported that the words of a representative from the country’s foreign ministry had been misinterpreted.

Meanwhile, a second Sudanese woman, Faiza Abdalla, has been arrested on the same charges. She has yet to be convicted.

Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, also a Christian, has been frustrated by the lukewarm response from America’s State Department. Wani has been an American citizen since 2005. US News and World Report says that Republican Senator Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) is leading 20 other US senators in asking Secretary of State John Kerry to grant Wani, Mariam and their two children asylum.

The article points out:

The story of Meriam Ibrahim, whom the Sudanese government has decided was raised in a Muslim environment, meaning she must renounce her belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ or die, has not gotten the same level of attention as the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by a terrorist group that objects to their receiving an education. Nonetheless it is, from an American perspective, just as if not more important because she is the wife of a U.S. citizen, and should, therefore, be a priority for the president and his national security team.

That they have failed to act may be due to the intense negotiations just concluded that produced the release of an American soldier allegedly being held captive in Afghanistan in exchange for the release of five high-ranking terrorist detainees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As time passes, however, the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who went missing nearly five years ago from his post in Afghanistan, becomes all the more mysterious.

Many who have read of Mariam’s case wonder how the charges came about in the first place. If readers suspected money as the root of the problem, they were not be wrong.

On May 22, 2014, the Daily Mail reported (emphases mine):

Her half brother and half sister – who had not seen her for decades – tracked her down so they could get rid of her and take over her successful general store, Meriam’s lawyers alleged.

The spokeswoman added that if Meriam is forced to leave Sudan then her half brother and half sister may well take over the business as well.

It is not clear if, under Sudanese law, such a scheme would work as intended, or if a business owner would be allowed to sell it on …

The Justice Centre Sudan spokeswoman said: ‘When Meriam’s father left her mother when she was six he went to another part of Sudan and had another family.

‘Meriam did not know about this. She did not even know her father had died until many years after the event. Nor did she know he was a Muslim.

‘Meriam’s mother died in 2012 and by then she had still not heard from her half brothers and sisters.

‘There were years and years that went by when that side of the family did not want a relationship with her.

‘Recently Meriam has been running a successful business in Khartoum. It’s a general store in a shopping mall and she has been selling some Ethiopian items as her mother was from there.

They’ve been doing really well and the business was growing and Daniel has been helping her out.

Her half brother and half sister must have heard about this and worked out she was a relative of theirs because of her name.

‘The first thing Meriam knew about them was when her half brother and half sister filed the lawsuit.

‘She was arrested from her home and thrown in jail with no warning.’

To cause their half sister to die because they want to take over her successful business and her money is appalling.

Let us continue praying for Mariam and her family that justice be done.

praying-handsThe closest I get to praying for those who have seriously wronged me in the past is to send a blanket prayer of asking God’s blessing on everyone in the world.

I mean it. It is sincere and I do hope God blesses them. That includes my enemies.

However, for those of us who are our own worst critics, finding out that someone else is piling on the dirt needlessly is, well, nearly unforgiveable. Yet, Scripture tells us we must forgive those who offend us. And those words are in the Lord’s Prayer.

The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the subject called ‘Bitter Free’.

In it, he says that the best way to reach them is not by lecturing them but by showing them a godly and Christian example.

What follows is an excerpt, so please be sure to read his entire post (emphases mine):

The hardest thing to do is to pray for people who don’t like you, could care less about you and are mean-spirited toward you. It’s even more difficult to preach or teach to these same people without being bitter toward them in your sermons. Our calling is to pray for the people of God and not punish them for their sins toward us. We easily fall into sin when we fail to do the first thing – commit to prayer. You will never fulfill the second part of this calling if you fail to obey the first. A lot of pastors use their preaching as pay back to mean-spirited church folk. I have done that before and it is wrong

º Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
º Be angry and sin not
º Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath
º Give no opportunity to the devil
º Let the peace of Christ rule your heart
º Cast all your anxieties and care upon Jesus – He cares

His post contains a very useful compilation of ways we can commit to praying for our enemies — and, possibly, encourage them to mend their differences with us.

If you, like me, find praying for a specific nemesis — past or present — difficult, this is a post well worth consulting.

It was appalling to read that a young  Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Sudanese wife and mother, Dr Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag is about to face 100 lashes and the death penalty in Sudan.

One of Mariam’s relatives turned her in to Sudanese authorities on the basis that she is an apostate.

When President Omar Al-Bashir seized power in a coup, he subjected Sudan to sharia law.  In 2011, the southern part of Sudan declared its independence.

Mariam Ibrahim, aged 26, has an Orthodox mother and a Muslim father. The father deserted the family when Mariam was a child. Not surprisingly, the mother raised her as a Christian. The relative who brought the charges contends that Ibrahim should have been brought up as a Muslim, following her father’s religion. The Sudanese court agrees.

That would have been difficult as the father left the family home when she was a toddler.

President Al-Bashir staged his coup in 1989. Ibrahim was only two years old at the time.

Since the mischief making relative turned her in, Ibrahim underwent a Sharia trial. She was given three or four days (reports differ) to repent of her alleged apostasy and escape the death penalty. Ibrahim maintained that she had always been a Christian and was, therefore, not guilty.

To compound the issue, Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is also Christian. Because of his religion, under sharia law, he is not allowed to care for the couple’s son, Martin, 18 months of age. Martin is with his mother in prison. He suffers ill health because of the institution’s poor hygiene. Mr Wani is wheelchair-bound and had relied on his wife for his survival.

It is not clear when Ibrahim will be sentenced for flogging then death. The court ruling is up for appeal and has created diplomatic ructions between the US, the UK and Sudan.

Let us pray for our sister Mariam that she escapes both penalties. She is  in her final trimester of  pregnancy with hers and Daniel’s second child. She is in ill health.

The flogging, by the way, is for having illicit sexual relations with a non-Muslim, despite the fact that they married within their own faith.

Let us also pray for her husband Daniel and young son Martin.

Despite what do-gooders say, sharia law affects everyone.

Incidentally, although I include the article from the Daily Mail below, it is more for the photos of the young couple rather than for the reporting. It appears from other sources that Ibrahim was always a Christian, not a recent convert (as the Mail says).

Further reading:

Wikipedia

The Guardian

Internaute (French site) 

Daily Mail

Doubting Thomas Carl-Heinrich-BlochNewer subscribers and readers might enjoy further reflections on Easter.

One of my most popular posts is Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31. However, I have another which includes reflections for present day Christians from the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of  Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. He examines Thomas’s doubt, looks at the Apostles’ evangelism and offers, among others, this thought (emphases mine):

Declaring the gospel verbally when our lives are disorderly is not evangelism. And perhaps the reason we don’t want to declare the gospel is that we like to sin. But sin–whether it is sexual immorality or greed or whatever else–causes us to be loaded with guilt and we lose conviction and power. How can we have power when we want to practice sin? Proverbs 28:1 tells us “The righteous are as bold as a lion.” Therefore, let us try the way of righteousness and see whether our tongues will declare God’s praises.

Eastertide reminds us that the Apostles and the disciples would need to lessen their dependence on Christ, who would soon ascend to Heaven, returning to God the Father. They were moving from milk to meat. As St Paul wrote to his converts in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3:

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Indeed, this message continued in the Church for centuries. Traditionally, the first Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday, sometimes called Quasimodo Sunday, for the corruption of the Latin Introit for the day. Translated in English, it is

‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before.

This is the first time that the catechumens, baptised on Holy Saturday, would appear without their white robes at Mass. My aforementioned post explains more.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next weekend

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetBefore concluding my series on John 17, the following posts about Holy Saturday might interest newer subscribers:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Now for the third and final part of John 17, Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. You might wish to read Parts 1 and 2, if you haven’t already.

He has already prayed for Himself in advance of the Crucifixion and for His disciples in His absence.

Today’s passage is Jesus’s prayer for us. Emphases mine below.

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If those words do not encourage one to repent, I’m not sure what will.

How marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired John to include this beautiful prayer in his Gospel, my favourite.

Verses 20 and 21 tells us that not only does Jesus wish for holy unity among His disciples, He desires it for us as well.

That holy unity with each other is not a oneness with lukewarm believers or those in error, by the way. John MacArthur explains:

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

Jesus goes on to say that He has shared His own glory with us (verse 22) and He prays that God will unite us ‘perfectly’ with both Himself and the Father, just as they have been perfectly one since before the beginning of the world (verses 23 and 24). That glory enables us to manifest to the world that Christ is our Redeemer and Saviour.

Jesus says that those who believe in Him know that He is the Son of God (verse 25). He has accomplished this during His earthly ministry, now at an end, and will continue to do so afterward (verse 26).

Jesus expresses His enduring, generous love for us in this marvellous prayer. This love is so deep, abiding and comprehensive that we will never be able to appreciate it until we meet Him face to face, sharing His glory.

This is what the Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story is all about. Many of us can hardly wait to be in His presence and give God all glory. And one day we will.

John MacArthur unpacks these verses for us:

This praying first for our holiness, our oneness in holiness even as the Father and the Son are one in holiness. But secondly, He prays for our eternal fellowship with Him. And this is this most overwhelming thing. This is how the whole prayer ends. It really is overwhelming. “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” I mean, there aren’t even too many famous people in this world who are interested in having us around, are they? We’re not many noble, not many mighty. Nobody in the palaces of the world is calling me. Nobody in the Oval Office ever calls me. Nobody in the Supreme Court wants to run around with me. Nobody is interested in most of us. In fact, I guess in some ways we’re sort of the dregs, aren’t we? Especially in this culture we live in today. Is it not remarkable that the glorious Son of the living God prays to His Father that He might have us with Him? Is that not a staggering thing, an overwhelming request? He asks for the Father to grant the eternal presence of all of us with Him …

He’s anticipating the time on the cross and He’s going to be going through the sin bearing and the suffering and He’s really just saying to the Father, “Hang on to them while I’m gone for a while. And, Lord, bring them to glory, I don’t want to lose any of them. Bring them to that place where they’ll trade this vile body for a body like unto His body.” We will have a body like Jesus Christ, reflecting His glory. To be with Jesus, that’s heaven, that’s heaven. To gaze at His glory, that’s heaven. That’s what it is …

And lastly, the final two verses, verses 25 and 26 … 

These two verses just breathe the confidence that the Father will listen, that the Father will hear. He said, “I’m only asking for those who know You. I’m only asking for those who are Yours. I have known You,” and that’s the basis for asking, “and these have known You,” and that’s the basis for the petition and the blessing.

Here is a perfect illustration of prayer. He knows the will of God and He prays for it. Prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind about things as it is affirming God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…and the next line says…Thy…what?…will be done.” I tell you, when we think about the Lord interceding for us, it is a staggering thing. And the Son always prays like the Spirit, according to the will of God and the Father will always answer.

As I mentioned in my first two posts on John 17, MacArthur has preached extensively about this one chapter in 1972, 1997 and again in 2002. He has several lengthy sermons on this great prayer.

As generous as this prayer is, it is meant for those who truly believe in Christ. MacArthur warns:

And when it says in verse 20: “Who shall believe on Me,” in that word “Me” is everything that Jesus claimed to be and everything that He said … believing in the total content of Christ. The only way a man ever enters into a right relationship with God is by believing in Christ. I don’t care if he goes to church or does this or does that or has religious feelings, it’s only through believing in Christ, accepting His person, His work and everything He said as fact revelation direct from God. Good works, church membership and anything else have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now pardon for sin, for example, comes by believing. The Bible says that man is a sinner and consequently will pay the penalty, but Christ comes along and pardons His sin by dying on the cross and bearing the penalty Himself. How do you gain this pardon? You gain this pardon by doing something? No. Acts 10:43 says: “Through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sin.” Pardon comes by believing.

The Bible also talks about the fact that a man can be made just before God. You’re dragged into the court of God, God says you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner every way you look at it you’re a sinner, every way you slice it, it comes out sin, from the beginning to the end of your life you’re a sinner. How in the world are you ever going to enter into His presence? Well, God has the right to declare you righteous by virtue of what Jesus did for you. But in order to receive that righteousness and be declared just, Acts 13:39 says: “By Him all that believe are righteous.” It is by doing what that we receive righteousness? By believing. You don’t earn it.

The Bible talks about the fact that God wants to make men His children, that He wants to make us sons of God, adopting us into His family. How do you ever get to be adopted into God’s family? How do you become a child of God? John 1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the sons of God, even to them that do what? … believe on His name.”

The Bible talks about spiritual light that is available. How do you get spiritual light to understand spiritual truth? Jesus said: “Whosoever believeth in Me shall not walk in … what? … darkness.” Believing.

The Bible says that God has made available to men peace and joy. How do you get it? Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing.” It’s there all the way through the New Testament. Salvation is a matter of believing.

I hope this short series helps to make the Holy Week and Easter story clearer and Jesus Christ more relevant to us.

May we use the time from Easter to Pentecost to contemplate Christ’s immense and eternal love for us. May we turn from sin by asking for more divine grace and profound faith.

Happy Easter to you all!

 

 

Stained glass cross turbophotocom imagesCAGIG2KHBefore I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.

Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.

Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.

The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.

Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.

This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.

The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.

Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:

11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).

Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).

Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.

He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).

He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).

In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.

John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:

What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.

Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.

Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?

In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:

we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.

He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:

God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.

As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:

there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.

I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.

Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.

That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.

In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.

Stained glass cross crown 3rexesblogspotcomBefore exploring John 17, what follows are my past posts on Maundy (or Holy) Thursday. They explain the events and traditions surrounding the Last Supper in which Christ instructed us to commemorate His Body and Blood through consecrated bread and wine:

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions the divine mystery which is the Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

What is Tenebrae?

What is the Triduum?

Now on to a unique chapter in the New Testament, John 17, which reveals how Jesus prayed to His Father.

We often read that Jesus prayed to Him, but often we have only a statement that He did so or a brief prayer of a verse or two. Of course, we have His Lord’s Prayer for our use, however, John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, gives us the fullest sense of how Christ communicated with God during His time on earth.

As there is much to look at here via John MacArthur’s many sermons on this chapter through the years (1972, 1997 and 2002), it is best covered in three parts. Emphases mine below.

The first is Jesus’s prayer for Himself and a review of His earthly ministry. He said these words after a long discourse and discussion at the Last Supper (John 13 through John 16):

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Verses 1 – 5

In the first five verses Jesus prays for Himself. He knows His Crucifixion is approaching (verse 1), but instead of praying for the ability of enduring unimaginable pain through scourging, piercing and hanging on the Cross, He instead prays for the ability to glorify God on this fateful day (verse 2).

Jesus knew He would die crucified. Of this, there was no doubt or no ‘plan gone wrong’. This is what He was sent to accomplish.

Note that He is also aware that it is time for Him to shortly rejoin His Father in heaven and regain the glory they shared together ‘before the world existed’ (verse 5). John includes this in the opening verses of his Gospel (John 1:1-3):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Also notice that in verse 2 Jesus specifically mentions the granting of eternal life to all whom God has given to Him. Therefore, not everyone will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus Christ. He refers to this again in the next several verses.

John 6 tells us that Jesus also talks about this in verses  37-40:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me,that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John MacArthur unpacks these first five verses for us in light of the Crucifixion:

To men the cross appears as an instrument of shame, to Christ it meant glory … glory … glory. And so He says, look at it — verse 1, “The hour is come,” what’s the next statement? What’s the next word? “Glorify Thy Son.” How are You going to do that? How You going … to lift Him up and make Him king of Israel? How [are] You going to glorify the Son? How was He glorified? On a cross, wasn’t He?

Now, it seems strange because from a human viewpoint you’d think He would say — Father, exalt Me now to some great role of rule in the world. If it was real glory why you wouldn’t think it would have anything to do with suffering, but it does. Because, you see, the glory came in the purchase of eternal life and the purchase of eternal life depended upon death and so He had to die. And so, Jesus is simply saying – Father, grant that by means of this event, My death … and you must include death, resurrection, ascension and coronation all in it … that by means of this event I may be glorified.

Now, to glorify God or to glorify Christ means to render what is due because of the glory of His attributes. Because of who He is and because of the display of all of His attributes it is to render Him the honor that He is due. And so Christ is simply saying — Father, let’s get at it so I can display these attributes and receive the honor that is due. The cross was glory for Jesus.

Now some have said — Well, Jesus had an ego problem. And He was very selfish. He was saying — Glorify Me. But if you look at the verse again you’ll see that that’s not the case. It says this: “Glorify Thy Son — hina– in order that Thy Son also … what? … may glorify Thee.” See, He didn’t even have Himself in view. He had the Father’s glory in view. And what’s the key to the whole universe? The glory of God.

In another sermon on John 17, MacArthur explains:

God planned into His master plan, the death of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world. That makes the men who did it no less responsible for their own guilt and their own hate and their own unbelief. But God had designed the death of Christ as a part of His plan. He was born to die.

Why, you read Isaiah 53 and you’ll read the details of His death. You read Psalm 22; centuries before He was ever born, and it gives explicit instruction about what He’s going to say when He’s hanging on the cross, the very words are there. It was no accident when Jesus went to the cross, no accident at all. The cross and all the events ignited by the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the coronation of Christ and His second coming even, all of those events ignited by the cross were planned by God before the world began, it was no accident. The sovereign God of history said it would happen, prophesied throughout the entire Old Testament that it would happen and it happened. The cross was no accident. Jesus Christ was not just a self-styled martyr dying as an example of a guy who thought something was right and willing to give His life for it. He died as one foreordained before the world began to bear the sins of the world.

Verses 6 – 10

In verses 6 – 19, Jesus prays for His disciples. We’ll look at verses 11-19 tomorrow.

The message here is that Jesus has worked with the people God gave Him. Early in His ministry, Jesus prayed in isolation to make the right choice when selecting His Apostles; here, He acknowledges God gave those men to Him. In turn, Jesus taught them as His Father wished and revealed God to them through Himself.

He also tells God that the men have been faithful to His teachings. He knows — and we know through the Gospels — that they were not perfect, but they attempted to be, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. And God planned Judas’s betrayal, too.

MacArthur explains the difference between the Apostles and the disciples:

as Jesus prays for His disciples, that it is a very specific prayer, He’s praying for the eleven Apostles and for the few disciples that were also with Him. Now you know that there’s a difference between an apostle and a disciple. There are only eleven Apostles plus Matthias who made up the twelfth [later in Acts], plus whom? Paul [also later in Acts]. But then they were specific. But of all of the others who believed in Him, they are all disciples. They are all disciples. Now apostles are also disciples, but not all disciples are apostles, there were only eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul. There are a total of thirteen if you want to include Judas in there; he was by name an apostle, not in fact.

All right, so you and I are disciples but we’re not apostles. Right? So, others who followed Jesus were disciples but they weren’t in that group that belonged to the Apostles.

Now, Jesus then in this prayer, verses 6 to 19, directs His thoughts to this little group of eleven plus the others who believed in Him. How many were there? We don’t know. Maybe 500, for that’s how many saw Him after His resurrection, there were 120 in the upper room praying together, waiting for the Spirit of God and so perhaps somewhere around 500 would be a maximum. Can you imagine the Son of God in human flesh, 33 years on the earth and when it was all over with, 500 believed? But Jesus was pleased because they were the 500 the Father gave Him, see. And they were the 500 who were about to do the impossible

You say — Well, He’s just specifically praying for them? Yes, but in a general sense you will see in this the pattern of His mediating work for all believers because it’s so … it’s so much the same for us. It’s very general.

Now, the disciples, as you know including the eleven and I’ll use the word disciples collectively to refer to all of them; the disciples had really depended upon Jesus Christ. So much so that the thought of losing Him paralyzed them, didn’t it? And He knew in His own heart that even with all the promises that He’d given them in the table-talks in chapter 14, 15 and 16, with all of those wonderful promises, it was really going to be trauma when it all finally broke and when they saw what happened, they were going to scatter as sheep just to the winds … when the shepherd was smitten. And He knew that. And He knew that it would hurt. And He knew that it was going to be a shock like no shock they had ever had. And so, He comes to the Father, not only does He lay on them all these promises one after the other, but He comes to the Father and He prays — Now, Father, make it all happen, care for them. I have to give them to You.

While He was going to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world, He committed them to the care of the Father, that’s essentially what we see here. And though Jesus had promised that He would return, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that that would even be better because He would not be just with them, He’d be in them, though He had given them all kinds of promises He knew that they were still heading to a trial that would shatter them and so He now prays that the Father would keep them. He had always been their guide, He had always been their guardian, He’d always been their all-sufficient friend, He had borne their infirmities, He had upheld their weaknesses, He had protected them from evil. And He loves them with the fullest capacity of God to love, in the gentleness that is uniquely Jesus Christ; He gives the Father the task of caring for them while He goes to the cross to die for them. You know, you’d think that Jesus Christ somewhere along the line would get a little bit preoccupied with His own problem, but He never does. All He can think about is — Father, Listen, I love them so much I’m going to go die for them, and while I’m dying for them will You watch them?

Tomorrow: John 17:11-19

 

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetThe Revd Walter Bright has a concise post on seven types of prayer which is a marvellous apologetic for communicating with God.

As he says:

In short, prayer is not just asking and receiving from God it is life with God, intricate, deep, living, a thing not only to enjoyed – but also understood.

In an age where many of us are reluctant to pray because it’s ‘boring’ or ‘time consuming’, Mr Bright offers good reasons to pray. Here are two (emphases in the original):

1. The Prayer of Praise. Verse 13… “you should sing praises” Somebody once said, “praise is the plow that prepares the heart for the planting of the promises of God.” In Acts 16:18-30, Paul and Silas experienced its power when they decided to life up a praise in their midnight hour of chains and pain.

6. The Prayer of Labor. Verse 16… “The fervent prayer.” Thomas B. Brooks once said that “the best prayers often have more groans than words.” 2 Corinthians 11:27; Isaiah 66:7, 8.

I would suggest an eighth — The Prayer of Thanksgiving — especially for good (or bearable!) outcomes from stressful or life-changing events. Exams, surgical procedures, financial worries, moving house and new jobs spring to mind. Supporting verses include Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 28:7 and Psalm 106:1.

So often we wonder, ‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ Two reasons might account for that. One, we don’t talk to Him through prayer nearly enough. Two, we might be ignoring Him when He is trying to get through to us.

The more we pray, the more we appreciate God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate.

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