Jesus prayer John 17
It’s good to know that God is always there looking out for us. A little boy once prayed, "Dear God, I hope you’ll take good care of yourself because if anything should happen to you, we’d be in an awful fix."
I heard a story about a guy who stopped in a department store on his way home for work. It was his wife’s birthday and he told the sales lady at the perfume counter that he would like to get her something really special. So, she reached under the counter and took out a really decorative bottle and said, “This is a new fragrance and it sells for $300 an ounce.” “Nah,” he said, “Do you have something a little cheaper.” She reached in and got another one that looked just as nice but it was a little smaller. And then she said, “This one was the top seller in Paris last year and it sells for $150 an ounce.” “Nah,” He said, “Do you have something a little cheaper.” She reached in again and found a quarter ounce bottle that also looked nice and said, “This one comes from Rome and it’s only $75 an ounce.” And he said, “Lady, I’m looking for something really cheap.” And then she reached under the counter and got him a mirror.
Now, as I was said a few weeks ago, it seems like the message Jesus gave that was associated with the upper room took place both in that upstairs room and then as He and His disciples were moving from there all the way to the garden in Gethsemane. And for some reason I think I remember reading that the distance was around a mile to a mile and a half. I say this message took place over the course of an evening because we see at the end of John 14:31 where Jesus said, “Come now, let us leave” and the assumption is, that they left the upper room and He continued His teaching as they were traveling along the road.
So, after the meal was finished Jesus taught in the upper room which is covered in chapters 13 and 14 and then when He used the illustration of the vines in chapter 15 we assume they were passing by a vineyard and then they continued on until they got to the Garden of Gethsemane where the prayer of chapter 17 took place. And, I know that we can’t be too dogmatic about where and when everything took place but this is certainly how it could have happened.
And so, today, we come to chapter 17 and someone said, chapter 17 is like holy ground. John Calvin said, “Here we see the soul of Jesus.” He had just finished pouring out His heart to the disciples in chapters 13-16 and now He focuses His attention on His Father in heaven and you and I are fortunate enough to be able to observe this one-sided conversation which in fact is a prayer.
Prayer is a difficult subject for any of us from the standpoint that we all assume that everyone else finds it much easier than we do. I mean, how many times do you find yourself sitting down to pray and end up picking lint off your clothes or cleaning your finger nails? But, then again, maybe I’m the only one.
I think a lot of us can relate to Charlie Brown who on many occasions expresses a great deal of difficulty when it comes to getting his act together. And what does he do when he can’t seem to handle the pressures of life and nothing makes sense? He goes to Lucy’s psychiatric booth and we all know he’s got to be pretty desperate to go to someone like Lucy.
And the conversation goes like this. Charlie says, “Lucy you’ve got to help me out. I don’t know anything about life. My life doesn’t have any meaning or purpose. You’re just going to have to help me get my act together.” Lucy looks at Charlie and with her typical sarcastic expression she says, “Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair on a ship. Some people take their deck chair to the back of the ship, they unfold it and they sit there looking at where they have been. Other people take their deck chair, and they unfold it, and they put it at the front of the ship so they can look and see where they are going. Now, Charlie Brown, life is simple, where is your deck chair?”
Lucy looked at him and she saw an expression of desperation and frustration on his face and then finally Charlie scratched his head and said, “Lucy I don’t know, because I have never been able to get my deck chair unfolded.” And many of us might feel like Charlie Brown because we think that everyone has it all together except us. And that we are the spiritual pygmies who dwell in the land of giants.
For instance, we read our Bibles and we think that Jesus and all the prophets heard from God every day of their lives and we assume that if that happened to me then I wouldn’t have a problem. And the real problem is, when we think like this we actually misunderstand both the scriptures as well as the way God operates. You see, I don’t think anyone in the Bible ever heard from God every day and let me just give you a few examples.
First, let me begin with Moses. I think Moses is the exception to the rule, simply because he didn’t have a Bible to begin with. So, God gave him instructions to challenge Pharaoh and then He directed him through the wilderness and in the course of time he wrote the first five books. But that doesn’t mean he always heard from God. And then the next major prophet would be Elijah who was instructed and directed by God and yet, there were times when the voice of God very intermittent. Take for instance, when he as at the brook Cherith. It says he sat there and waited for God’s instruction for three and a half years. So, even though God spoke to him it certainly wasn’t very often.
And when we come to the New Testament we see John the Baptist and although his parents heard from God regarding his birth there’s no record anywhere of John ever hearing from God. And then we know the apostle Paul heard from God when he was converted and maybe two or three other times but that was it.
And even in Jesus life although we see signs about His birth and directions that were given to both Mary and Joseph about fleeing the area they lived in because of the danger of the king thirty years went by and there was no word from God and nothing seems to have happened that was out of the ordinary. And then at the age of thirty we come to Jesus baptism where they heard the voice of the Father and saw the symbol of the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. It says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him, and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’" And then the second time God spoke audibly from heaven was on the Mount of Transfiguration, when a voice came from heaven and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.” And that’s the only record we have where Jesus ever heard a voice from heaven during His earthly life. In other words, He lived by faith and not by sight just like He commanded the rest of us to do.
So, Jesus and all the rest of the faithful walked by faith most of their lives and they learned to trust and depend on God in spite of the fact that they didn’t have a steady flow of personal messages coming their way. And the reason I’m emphasizing this is because every once in a while you’ll hear a Christian say they are constantly getting messages from God and whenever I hear that, my first thought is, if Jesus only heard twice from His Father during His lifetime than who are they to claim they have an open line to heaven? Listen, be very, very careful around the super spiritual types, because in the end you’ll find that they weren’t very spiritual at all.
Now, before we look at John 17 we have to wonder, what kind of words Jesus would use when He was talking to His Father. Or what was His pray life like? Well, this chapter shows us exactly how He communicated and what He said.
It was interesting to study this passage because I found that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached 48 sermons on John 17. James Montgomery Boice was a bit of a slacker because he only preached 16 sermons on this chapter and then Thomas Manton who was one of the great Puritans preachers preached 45 sermons on it. And I’m going to do my best and try to sum it all up in one.
We see that the division of the chapter is very simple because in verses 1 to 5 Jesus is praying for Himself and then in verse 6-19 He’s praying for His disciples and then in verses 20-26 He’s praying for the people of God who are everywhere, at all times and that’s includes you and I.
And it’s interesting that when we talk about prayer we always seem to focus on the way we should pray. I mean, some people kneel, some people believe they should lift their hands unto the Lord (which is scriptural but not necessarily acceptable in a Baptist church) and then there are others who simply bow their heads. And I realize there are certain ways of doing things that are cultural and others are scriptural but in the matter of prayer there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of rules. You see, it’s not how you do it but whether or not you pray that’s important.
In the Bible you see people standing, sitting, laying down, kneeling, sitting in the belly of a fish, laying their head on a rock and several other means but do you know something, God answers them all. You see, I don’t think it has as much to do with how we do it as much as it has to do with the attitude of our hearts. After all, if your heart is right then God says He’ll answer your prayer but if your heart is wrong then what does it matter how you pray because God’s not going to listen you anyway.
In this situation here, it says Jesus "lifted up his eyes to heaven" and regardless of the pictures that are painted of Him leaning against a large rock the scripture doesn’t actually say if He was kneeling, sitting or standing up because that’s irrelevant. As I said, it wasn’t His physical position that was important but where His heart was at that got the attention of God.
As we have been going through John’s gospel, we’ve seen many different perspectives on the life of Jesus. We’ve seen His heart of compassion on display as He healed the sick, we’ve seen His power revealed as He raised the dead and fed the hungry and we’ve seen His grace revealed as He saved sinners. And every viewpoint that each chapter gives is both an encouragement and a blessing and when we come to this chapter we get to look inside Jesus heart and all the things He really wants as He prays to His Father in heaven.
And as I said, when He prayed that night, His prayer focused on three groups and I believe His prayer that had power then and will still have power throughout the remainder of time and on into eternity.
And so, we find ourselves looking at Jesus in prayer and we know that this wasn’t a one time thing because we also know that He had a habit of praying. We see Him praying in Matthew 11:25 and then Mark 1:35 and 6:46. And then in Luke 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 11:22,11:42, 23:34, 23:46 and then in John 11:41, 12:27 and here.
And it’s amazing to think about but two thousand years ago Jesus was praying for you and I, as well as dying for us. This tells us that we are His personal possession, a love gift from the Father, cherished by the Son, guarded, protected and some day we’ll either be raptured or raised up to glory. And here we see Jesus is taking care of us by praying for us. And I don’t think any of us will ever really understand how important this prayer is or how much He cares for us. And I believe His prayer didn’t just happen once in that garden but it’s gone on continually since He left this earth. And when we get to heaven we’ll have all eternity to thank Him.
We also notice that His prayer is similar in spirit to what’s known as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and the reason He says He’s praying now is because the hour has come for His glorification.
So, the first problem we have with understanding this prayer is to understand what the term glory or glorification means. As I looked in various dictionaries I found definitions like this. “Glorify means to make glorious, or cause so to appear glorious.” And I don’t know about you but that doesn’t help me even a little bit. It’s like saying, “Peanut butter tastes like peanuts and butter.” Duh!
There was one theologian who gave a clear definition when he said, “To glorify is to remove every hindrance, and so reveal the full worth and perfection of the object, that its glory can be seen and acknowledged by all.” And what he means is that when Jesus came to earth, He came to reveal the nature of God which sin had so entirely hidden from man. Man had been created in the image of God and I think that tells us that when Adam and Eve looked at one another they could see something of the person of God is but once they sinned they lost this ability to reflect Him.
And the Bible tells us that when Jesus came to earth He laid aside the glory which He had with the Father, and He came in weakness and humiliation and by doing this He was demonstrating a union with the human race. We could say, He became like us in time so that, we could become like Him in eternity.
And even though He was God come in the flesh the scripture tells us that He spent a lot of time in prayer. When the crowds came to take Him by force to make Him king it says He slipped away and went up to the mountain to pray. When He went to Lazarus graveside He went there in a spirit of prayer. And then He prayed as He blessed and broke the bread and then there were also times when He went up in the hillsides at night to spend time in prayer. And yet, here is the one place where it seems as though the Lord just lays open His heart before us and we’re able to look deep within to understand the burden of His life and the desires of His very innermost being.
And I believe that if we can understand what motivates Jesus when He prays, then we’ll get the idea of how we are to approach the throne of God as well.
And the first thing I noticed is that Jesus wasn’t selfish when He prayed because in this prayer He actually makes eight requests and only two of them are for Himself. Six of them are for others, there are three for His disciples who are with Him and there are three for the disciples to come and that includes you and me.
I’m always encouraged when people pray for me but to know that Jesus has prayed and is praying is more than encouraging. And His pattern of prayer is a good one to follow.
So, every time we pray, we ought to pray for ourselves and then find several others to pray for as well. That’s the kind of praying God wants to hear and that’s the kind of prayers He answers. I like how someone wrote,
“Don’t ask for blessing without giving.
Don’t ask for grace without a trial.
Don’t ask for peace without a conflict.
Don’t ask for faith without a fight.
Don’t ask for strength without a struggle.
Don’t ask for hope without a goal.
Don’t ask for joy without a burden.
Don’t ask for power without love.
Don’t ask for guidance without obedience.
Don’t ask for success without trying.
Don’t ask for glory without humility.
And don’t ask for life without dying.”
In other words, prayer isn’t just a simple case of the gimmes.
And the first thing Jesus says is, “The hour is come” and what did He mean by the hour? In John 7:30 it says, “No one laid a hand on Jesus because His hour had not yet come." And then it says the same in John 8:20 and in John 10:18 He said "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have the authority to give it up and I have authority to take it again." So, we could say, He was invincible until He decided it was time to go. And when He says "the hour has come" He’s referring to the hour when He was to suffer, die, rise and ascend into heaven. In other words, this was the appointed hour when He was going to save man from sin and hell.
And then He says, “Glorify thy Son.” And here Jesus prays first for Himself but His prayer is anything but selfish because His concern for Himself is actually a concern for the glory of the Father. It will bring no glory to the Father is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not acceptable or if He wasn’t restored to His rightful place in the presence of the Father because that would mean that His mission had failed and the purposes for which He came weren’t accomplished.
So, He says, “Glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee.” And we might wonder, how does the cross glorify the Father? The commentator Tenney said, "The Son glorified the Father by revealing in the act the sovereignty of God over evil, the compassion of God for men, and the finality of redemption for believers.”
And then we might wonder why Jesus prayed such a prayer? Well, it seems to me that every attempt was made both by man and Satan to keep Jesus away from the cross. Peter told Him not to go and no doubt Satan also tried to dissuade Him. There are several who think Satan tried to kill Jesus several times in His life in order to prevent Him from going to the cross. And when Pilate’s men brutalized Jesus they could have easily killed Him as well but His prayer here was answered in that the Father brought Him safely to the cross where He was crucified so He could pay the price for sin.
And then He prayed about what He had accomplished when He said that He knew He was about to finish all that the Father had sent Him to do. So, He said, “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” And it’s like He’s looking forward to getting back home to heaven and enjoying all the blessings He had enjoyed before He left.
And then we come to verses 6-19 where Jesus turns His focus outward and He prays for those men who have given Him their hearts and lives and these of course, are His disciples.
And He gives us several reasons why He’s praying for them. In verse 6-8 He says, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” Now, this is important because He says, I revealed Myself to the very ones you have given Me and they have kept My word. Did you get that? He says, “They have kept or were obedient to My word.” And their obedience to His word was the evidence that they belonged to Him.
In verse 9 He says, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” And then He says, I’m praying for them but not for the world because they belong to Me. As we read the New Testament we see where Jesus healed and fed all kinds of people who had no interest in Him or even what He had to say because they were only there for what they could get. Now, I think He was happy to do what He could for those who would receive it but here He’s only concerned for those who would be with Him for the rest of eternity.
And then in verse 10 He says, “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” And it’s like He’s saying, because they belong to Me they also belong to you and because they belong to you they also belong to Me and I am glorified in them.
He says in verses 11 and 12, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” And His appeal here is based on need because He knew the disciples would need the Father to act on their behalf because Jesus was leaving them and wouldn’t be physically present to take care of them.
And He’s also praying for the unity of the disciples. He knows that if the believers can’t stand each another than what does that say to the world they’re trying to reach? The fact is, for too many believers, the Christian life is more of a ball field than a battlefield and they’re too busy trying to make it in this world than to worry about the world to come. We need to be unified in our love for one another and also in our goal to reach the lost.
And then in verses 13 and 14 He says, “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And here He says He wants us to have joy and our joy is connected to His word and because we have His word it says the world will hate us the way it hated Him. Why is that? It’s because the word of God condemns the world and everything they live for.
And then He prays that we wouldn’t be taken out of the world but kept from the evil or the evil one because we are not of the world anymore than Jesus is of the world. When He says, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world.” He’s praying that we wouldn’t be seeking refuge in Christian isolation, in a kind of a modern day monastery. He wants us to be in the world, but not of it. We are to be like a boat in the ocean, but there’s always a problem when you get the ocean in the boat. I think there are many who feel like they need to retreat from the secular world and associate only with other Christians and yet, we have to realize that Jesus prayed not for us to be taken out of the world but that we would be protected from the evil one while ministering in this world. In other words, we need to be in the world but not of it which means we need to allow our light to shine before the people of this world.
At the end of verse 15 that He asks that we would be kept from evil and not just the evil one. And I think it’s almost like He’s looking at the whole idea of evil in general rather than just warning us about the devil.
And then in verses 17-19 He prays about the sanctification of believers when He says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” The word sanctification in both the Hebrew and Greek expresses the idea "to set apart" or "to make holy". When something is sanctified, it is set apart for a special purpose. Instruments that were involved in the service of the temple were "sanctified" or set apart to be used only in the temple service. You weren’t allowed to use them for anything else. And here Jesus prays that the disciples would be set apart for the special purpose of knowing and being used of God. And again, we see that the means of our sanctification is through the truth which is the word of God. So, the dynamic behind sanctification is truth. It’s the word of God as it’s read, heard, understood and applied. And so, the true believer is sanctified or "set apart" from the world and sin to be used of God.
There are three things that Jesus says in this prayer that He doesn’t pray for. The first one is back in verse 9, "I do not ask on behalf of the world." He is not interceding and He’s not the High Priest of the unsaved. And then in verse 15 He says, "I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." He doesn’t pray for the world and He doesn’t pray for believers to be taken out of the world, but rather to be delivered from the evil in the world because it’s crucial that they be in the world for the purposes of unfolding the advancing kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. And then in verse 20 He says, "I do not ask in behalf of these alone," He’s not praying only for the disciples, "but for those also who believe in Me through their word."
And then in verses 20-23 Jesus broadens the scope of His prayer when He says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
When He says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” this tells us that although Jesus knew they’d all fail and run away He also knew that their failure would only be temporary and that others would come to believe in Jesus through their testimony. So, He went to the cross knowing that His work with the disciples would not be in vain.
And in verse 21 He prays for a sense of unity among all believers and I believe that Jesus envisions that great multitude before the throne of God, of every race, tongue, class and social strata; and here He prays that they may overcome their different backgrounds and understand their common bond. You see, He wasn’t praying for a sense of uniformity, or institutional unity among believers but He was praying about bringing together the church’s rich diversity. Any uniformity that seeks to unite the wheat and tares is wrong. Any unity of institutions never insures the unity of the Spirit. The foundation of our unity is the same as the foundation of unity between the Father and the Son, it’s equality of person. We are all on the same ground at the cross. And that also means that we believe the right things.
Now, you know as well as I do that a lack of unity in the church is a bad witness to the world. God’s desire is that we get along one with another and that we have a oneness of heart that unites us. I believe the secret is being able to disagree without being disagreeable. And you can mark this down, when there is disunity within the church, someone is outside the will of God.
And then He says that the glory the Father gave Him He has given to us. Now, when we talk about the glory of God, we mean the life and the essence and the nature and the attributes of God are all planted within us. And that doesn’t make us God, it just means God lives in our hearts. We are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that tells us that we all ought to love one another because if we are all indwelt by God then there’s something within each of us that should attract us to the other.
This tells me there is no reason for division within the body of Christ. And any division that comes is contrary to the Spirit of God. Now, don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean that we fellowship with and tolerate those who are living and acting contrary to the word of God. But on the other hand, we need to be loving toward all those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus because as I said a few weeks ago we’re going to end up spending eternity together so we might as well learn to get used to them now. And besides that, we were told to do it.
But, let’s say that you and I are not getting along. If we aren’t then the world has been given the right by God to determine two things. And here they are: if you and I don’t live together as one, the world can look at you and say, “You are not a Christian.” You see, they’re not about to evaluate us on our doctrine because they don’t understand doctrine. But if they hear that Jesus preaches love and they watch you and I and we don’t live the way the Bible teaches then they’re going to say, “You are not a follower of Jesus.” And God gave them the right to say that because it says right here in our text that we are to be one that the world may believe that we really belong to Him. Heine, the German philosopher said to the Christians: “You show me your redeemed lives and I’ll be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.” And the first way we demonstrate our faith is by our love for one another. And listen, if we can’t love one another than we won’t be able to love the unsaved either.
The Father and the Son share the same essential character or nature and it is a nature of holy unity. They are one in holiness. If there’s anything that defines God, it’s that He’s separate from sin. And that’s the most defining reality about Jesus. He is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. And that’s the same kind of oneness that God wants to have in His church. And that’s what Jesus is praying for. He’s praying that we would be one in mind, one in heart, one in will, one in purpose, one in truth, but ultimately that we might be one in holiness. Just knowing that, makes me feel like the old cowboy who said, “I ain’t what I used to be and I ain’t what I ought to be but I thank God for what I’m going to be.”
And then He concludes by saying, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
He’s telling the Father that He’s looking forward to our seeing Him in all of His glory so we can see fully who He is and understand the relationship He had with the Father which existed before the foundation of the world.
And do you know the oddest part? It’s when we read this chapter and realize that Jesus was only hours away from being crucified and yet He seemed to be excited about heaven and all the good fellowship we’re going to enjoy. The fact is, Jesus had His eyes on what came after the cross.
During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the British government began to run low on silver for coins. Lord Cromwell sent his men on an investigation of the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal there and after investigating, they said, "The only silver we could find is the statues of the saints standing in the corners" to which Cromwell said, "Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them into circulation!" And that’s what we have to do today. Listen, we need to think of someone we already know. It could be a neighbor, a hair dresser or someone at work and this morning if you sense that Jesus wants to befriend that person through you. Write their name down and start praying for them and ask God for the opportunity to be a witness for Him.