Summary: In Jesus' longest recorded prayer, offered to the Father just hours before his arrest and crucifixion, he asks for three critical things that we need, and for which God's power is both necessary and sufficient: (1) purity and protection, (2) unity, and (3) glory.
Chapter seventeen of John’s gospel consists of a prayer, offered by Jesus to the Father. It is a remarkable prayer. First of all, it’s the longest prayer of Jesus which is recorded in any of the gospels. Jesus was known to pray for long periods of time, but usually he went off by himself to do so. Luke 6:12 tells us of a time, immediately prior to calling the disciples, that “. . . Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God”. And so this is not by any means his longest prayer. It is, however, the longest of his prayers whose contents are revealed to us. Why? Why did Jesus offer this extended prayer, in the hearing of his disciples, with the intent that John would later remember it and record it here in his account of Jesus’ final hours? Well, earlier in John we have a clue. In chapter eleven, as Jesus is preparing to call Lazarus to life from the dead, he prays,
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” -- John 11:41-42
So here Jesus is speaking at length with his Father, in the hearing of his disciples, in order to build their faith. That’s important, because it means that this is not just an interesting historical record, it is an intentional act by our Lord and Savior to communicate something. By this action, he is showing them, and us, that the things he is praying for are very important. Jesus has only a few hours left on the earth. And so the things he is choosing to ask God for at this time are among his greatest desires for his people, his highest purposes. And he is also communicating that these are things for which they, and we, need God’s power. They are critically important. But if we are to have them, we must also ask God for them. These are things we need. We can receive them; his power is sufficient. However, we have to pray; they have to come from God. That’s what he’s telling us.
But before we look at the content of the prayer, I’d like to address one very significant point, and it concerns the application of this passage to our lives today. Let’s look at verse 20. He says,
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”
“My prayer is not for them alone” — that is, not just for the disciples — but “also for those who will believe in me through their message”. That’s us. Jesus is praying for us. For you. For me. And not just as anonymous members of a group — “the church”, or “Christians”, or some nebulous “whomever may believe”. He is not just praying for whomever “might” believe, but specifically for those who “will” believe. And I suggest to you that he had each one of us in view when he prayed this prayer. Because we were known to him as his own even then. Why do I say that? Because in this gospel of John, chapter ten, we read this,
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. . . . He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” -- John 10:2-3, 14-16
Jesus knows us, and calls us, “by name”. As individuals, not only as members of a group. And so, when he says here in chapter 17 of John, verse 20 that he is praying, not only for the disciples, but also for those who will believe in him, through the message his disciples would bring to the world, he could have stated all of our names. He could have said, “Father, my prayer is not for them alone, but also for [pastor’s name]. My prayer is not for them alone, but also for [name of church member]. My prayer is not for them alone, but also for [list several names of church members] ” And for . . . you. Let’s try it. As I read, insert your own name and hear Jesus stating clearly that he is praying for you. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for [pause].” Doesn’t that make you want to know what he is about to pray, knowing that he is praying for you personally”?