Don't Worry. Jesus Prays for You
Atonement! Jesus is all about our Atonement. But do you have a clue as to the depth of the meaning of this word? “Originally, the English word ‘atonement’ ment “the quality of being at one (with).” Later it came to refer to human reunion with God through Christ. The Hebrew and Greek terms designate the manner in which Christ puts the sinner in the right relationship with God.” (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary). The Hebrew comes from the root word כֹפֶר which is the noun for pitch or bitumen, the verb כָפַר, means to cover with pitch, what we might think of as sealing something by means of applying a sealer appropriate for the surfaces being sealed. This we will revisit later.
But the word we really want to talk about today is כִפֻּר, Kippur, and its cousin, כִּפֻּרִ֗ים and what that means for us today as Jesus is the only source of atonement to the Father, as He shed His innocent blood on the cross of atonement, fulfilling the will of His Father, He covers, or, prays for, His disciples then as well as His atoned disciples today.
Our test today is the first 11 verses of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. This entire chapter of John 17 is so deep and rich in God’s love for you through His Son Jesus. If this prayer were for Jesus alone, a simple silent prayer would have sufficed. However, Jesus prays aloud to His Father, not for His benefit, but for the benefit of His disciples and those who would believe later through their work as Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the world. That means that Jesus is praying this prayer for you and me even today, and those who would come to faith after us because of our being His witnesses in a very chaotic world today.
Luther said that there is so much to learn about Jesus’ work of atonement on the cross that no one has enough time in life to comprehend it all. And family, I must say that I cannot agree more. And the richness and the depth is awe inspiring. That is the beauty of the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. However today, we are just going to focus on the Hebrew sense of all that Christ has done and prays for to His Father for the strengthening and comfort for God’s children.
Of course we all know why Jesus was sent here to begin with, well, maybe not everyone who is watching today. It all started in the Garden of Eden after God through the Word spoken, created everything out of nothing. He created Adam and Eve and put them in His perfect creation to care for and populate.
However, His perfect creation was torn apart when His perfect creatures fell prey to Satan and his lies. They ate the forbidden fruit because he promised them that they would be like God, knowing both good and evil. The planted lie brought doubt between God’s creation and God. He was presented as being a liar, and withholding good stuff for His creatures.
Everything fell apart at that moment. God, who used to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden, now cursed Satan, Adam and Eve, and finally all creation itself. Ever since then, every child born from Cain all the way to the last person born has inherited this notion that he of she is god. God’s children have become their own little gods. We all think we know better than the other. And way too many people actually believe that they are perfect and do nothing wrong. That is what comes with being your own god. You make your own rules, you live by your own code of ethics, or lack there of, and as your own god, you actually believe that you will not be held accountable for what you have done with the life that was given to you. That’s evolution. That’s the payout of Satan’s lie. However, there is just one little problem. No one can believe God, creator of Heaven and Earth, out of existence, nor believe themselves out of being held accountable to that God they believe doesn’t exist.
This is why God sent His Son. Everything in creation is broken and corrupted. No one seeks after God on their own. Instead, His creatures ignore, rebel, and live according to what is right in their own mind. God’s creatures, whom He created to love Him and be in relationship with personally on a daily basis, are now going to die. And if something isn’t done, everyone will die, not once but twice, die in this life and be condemned to everlasting torment in fire.
You see, God, who created everything, who ordered His creation the way He did, so that man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. One man, one woman, fully committed to each other until the Lord calls them home. This is why there is a food chain, because God created with purpose and more wisdom than the world will ever know. This same God who has done all this and gives you life today, has set a very high price for breaking His order of creation. Blood must be shed. That is why, at the end of Genesis 3, God gives them skins of animals to כָפַר cover their guilt and their shame. God sacrificed innocent to atone for the guilty, through the shedding of blood. That’s atonement.
This is the work of Jesus on the cross. This is the purpose Jesus was born, “for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). We do focus on this very much. Sometimes, we focus more on His death and resurrection than we do His life. And the life that Jesus lived is very important to this concept of atonement.
All through the Old Testament God used animal sacrifice to make atonement for His chosen people Israel. But the lamb or goat had to be without blemish. The animal could not have any disease, or birth defect. It couldn’t be blind or lame. Fast forward a couple thousand years, and Jesus is born to make atonement for the world.
Jesus lived the life that we are incapable of dong. He fulfilled all the Law of God, perfectly, in thought, word and deed. Even though in Jesus, God assumed human flesh, just like you and I, Jesus was also the True God, sent from the Father in heaven. This God-man, Jesus, was perfect. He never sinned. That is what makes Him the sacrifice acceptable to God to כֹפֶר or redeem all of His creation.
This is what Jesus is facing, as He prays this prayer in the hearing of His disciples. They have heard Him tell of His impending doom being betrayed into the hands of the enemy, facing a mock trial on trumped up changes, being tortured almost to death by Roman soldiers and their whips. Then to be ridiculed in front of those He came to save, as he was mocked, and led through the streets of Jerusalem out to mount Golgotha where He was stripped naked, nailed to the cross and lifted for all to see. Jesus bleeds for Adam and Eve. His blood shed on the cross covers your guilt and shame. The blood of Christ pardons us from all that the accuser, Satan, brings against us, where we have followed him instead of God by fulfilling all our fleshly desires. Jesus’ blood forgives you of all of your sin. As John says in 1 Jn. 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Diving into that verse in John, we see the life of the early church as an answer to the prayer Jesus prayed that night. “For 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. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but those whom you have given me for they are yours. All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them” (vv 8-10).
The church is growing under the witness of the disciples/apostles…that means that the Father is answering the prayer of His Son. These new children of God are the result of what is just outside our text for today, but still in Jesus’ prayer. Verse 20 & 21 are just dripping with love of God for you, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.”
Jesus prays not only for His disciples that night, but He was personally praying for you and for me…for our families who have come to know and live in the Lord…it will be for every new born believer in Jesus, whether that be moments old or 110. Jesus is praying to His Father that His love is poured out on those whom belong to the Father from before the foundations of the world. Jesus loves you so much, that He wants us all to be with Him forever. This is why He came, to atone you, to seal you, remember I said I would get back to that root word that meant to smear with pitch, כָפַר.
I’ll just take a moment here to play with some Hebrew. So we have been playing around with כָפַר, כִפֻּר, כֹפֶר, and כִּפֻּרִ֗ים. But check this out. כַף, It is the first two letters of each of these Hebrew words. Guess what it means? כַף refers to the palm of a hand. Noah and sons used the כַף’s, palms of their hands to כָפַר, or to smear with pitch to seal the ark.
The Lord speaks through Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:15–16, ESV). Okay, I don’t know you, but when I see someone engraving something into the palm of a hand…there is blood involved. Notice God did’t say He was writing you on the palm of his hand but rather engraving it…that means digging into something to leave a design.
Several hundred years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is thrown atop a rough wooden beam, His arms were stretched out by Roman soldiers as nails drove deep into the כַף, palm of Jesus’ hands. Blood flowing to כִפֻּר atone, to כֹפֶר ransom. Jesus uses the blood of the כַף palms of His hands to כָפַר, to smear you not with pitch, but with that very innocent precious blood in your baptism. Where all this Hebrew word play is applied to you by water and Word, the cleansing, covering and atoning work of Jesus on the cross. And you are sealed in that blood, through the power of the Holy Spirit until the day Jesus returns, riding the clouds, to take home all He has prayed for, all He has redeemed, all He has been given by the Father.
May the Holy Spirit keep us sealed in the blood of Jesus in the true Christian faith of walking in the light, as He is in the light, in fellowship with one another in faith as Jesus is in His Father and His Father is in He, and we are in Him.
In the name of Jesus and for His eternal glory. Amen.