Date: 17 Sep 2017
Text: John 17:1-19
Today’s sermon is the 8th of the 9 in this series Living in Christ. This means not only that we are close to the end of our journey but we have also reached the point where time is running out for Jesus to spend with His disciples. Over recent sermons we have been able to learn more about how we should be Living in Christ by eavesdropping on a long conversation between the Lord and His twelve disciples. They had gathered together so that Jesus could tell them what was going to happen and how they would be able to cope after His imminent departure. I should point out that this was an exclusive gathering of Jesus and His trusted twelve disciples; the people who had been closest to Him over the previous three years or so. Jesus knew that the end was near which was why He gathered them all together for a final meal and a vital last conversation. As believers in Jesus Christ we too are privileged to be able to share in what Jesus had to say in His final hours of being with His closest friends on earth.
The Chapter that we will be looking at this week and next, John 17; consists of three of Jesus’ prayers; one for Himself, one for the 12 disciples and one for all believers which we’ll look at next week. This part of the conversation happened shortly before the time that Jesus and His disciples headed off into the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would be able to spend time in prayer on His own. The passage opens in 17:1-5 with a short prayer where Jesus prays for Himself before moving on to the prayer for His disciples in 17:6-19. Jesus very obviously felt that His twelve friends needed His special prayers. I say twelve friends because at this stage, although Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, the twelve were still all together. As I read these verses where Jesus prayed for Himself; I asked myself how often we pray for ourselves. There is nothing wrong in doing that although I suspect that for some strange reason many of us feel guilty in praying for our own needs. We all have our own special needs and need to seek God’s help with those needs. This is especially true when we find ourselves in a situation where He truly is the only One Who can help.
From John 13 to 17 Jesus has been talking with the disciples about the events that were about to take place as well as the fact that He was about to leave them to go to be with His Father. This all took place on the eve of the Passover Festival shortly before the final hours of Jesus’ life unfolded. This suggests that the conversation took place on the Thursday evening before Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion. I haven’t been able to determine precisely where they were for this special meal other than to discover that to be in keeping with Jewish tradition it must have taken place within the City Walls. We do know from 18:1 that after the meal they crossed the Kidron Valley, a valley to the East of the City, to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus wanted to spend time in personal prayer.
After nearly three years of His earthly ministry the time had almost come for Jesus to return to His Father in heaven. Jesus had spoken of His coming death on a number of occasions and we can read in John 12:23 His words when He said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” When it was just a short time before Passover we then read in 13:1 that “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” God’s plan for His people was about to come to fruition hence Jesus now praying these three very special prayers.
The first thing to note from Jesus’ prayer for Himself is that He regarded the job that God gave Him as having been done. That thought is confirmed by what He said in 17:4: “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do”. God had given His Son a very special job; a job that entailed Jesus teaching that the kingdom of God was near and that everyone who heard the message needed to come to repent of their sins and come to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. By doing that they would bring glory to God. More precise details are given in 17:2 where Jesus says that “he might give eternal life to all those you have given to me”. God had wanted Jesus to share the good news of repentance and reconciliation, actions that would lead to eternal life. Following on from that we read in 17:3 that, “... this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The Bible Society version puts Jesus’ words this way, “Eternal life is knowing you, through faith in me.”
We must never forget that Jesus is the Son of God and when He came to earth to fulfil the task that His Father had given Him, He gave up all His glory and humbled Himself by becoming human and living amongst us. Paul told us just what that meant when he wrote in Philippians 2:6-7 that Jesus “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Just think about that for a moment. Jesus had been in heaven with God His Father since the very beginning. He had been there at the time of creation and had been at God’s right hand ever since. As a result He had all the attributes and all the glory of God. And yet, He was willing to give up all that glory to come to earth to live among us as an ordinary human being by being completely stripped of any glory. Don’t you think that’s amazing? Here was the Son of God making this huge sacrifice by humbling Himself simply because He loves us. However, now that He had completed the job He was sent to do Jesus, wanted to reclaim His glory on His return to heaven.
Having spent time praying for Himself Jesus then moved on to pray for His disciples. Although it is not stated explicitly we can deduce from 17:6 that “those whom you gave me out of the world” are in fact the twelve disciples. We know from the Gospels, Luke 6:12-16 for instance, that Jesus chose His disciples after spending time in prayer with His Father. I don’t think there’s too much doubt that God led Him to those He should choose, hence the comment here in 17:6, “They were yours”.
Jesus had spent a lot of His time on earth in teaching these chosen disciples as much as He possibly could about the kingdom of God and all that it meant. It’s important for us to note though that Jesus wasn’t claiming any credit for Himself as He makes clear in 17:8a that “I gave them the words you gave me and they have obeyed your word”. Jesus only told His disciples what God had told Him to say; He did not stray from His core message of eternal life coming through faith. We can do worse than to do exactly the same; we need to focus on the vital message that He tells us, which is to repent of our sins, be reconciled with God and come to Him through placing our faith in Jesus Christ. Then, and only then will we receive eternal life. No amount of good works can achieve that; it may only be received through faith in Him. Whilst there were still twelve disciples present, Jesus already knew what was about to happen hence His comment in 17:12b that “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture could be fulfilled.” By this Jesus meant Judas Iscariot would soon betray Him. The disciples had been given to Him by God although we read in the gospels that they were “chosen” by Jesus; very obviously though they were already known to Him. I think it is also true to say that Jesus knew when He chose him that Judas would be the one to betray him.
Jesus emphasised the message that He was about to leave when He prayed to His Father, “I will remain in the world no longer” and then added “and I am coming to you” (17:11). However, as Jesus made clear, the disciples were “still in the world”. We gave thought to our being in the world versus being of the world two or three weeks ago, and the teaching from 15:18-19 makes the difference between the two states very clear indeed. That is why in 17:11b-12 Jesus prayed for their protection. The world is a hostile place for Christians to be in and we need all the protection that we can get which is why Jesus prayed “protect them by the power of your name”. We are Jesus’ disciples in almost the same sense as the original twelve were and so we are also included in that prayer for protection. Whilst Jesus was with them He was able to protect them although whether they knew that or not is questionable.
In the final paragraph of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, in 17:13-19, we see just how much Jesus cared for His disciples and how much He worried about them and wanted them to be protected. Jesus was praying this prayer whilst He was still with them in the world and in some ways it almost sums up some of His earlier teaching. He uttered the prayer in the presence of His disciples so that they would hear what He was praying for them. Notice in 17:13b that Jesus prayed this so that “they may have the full measure of my joy within them”. Interestingly, Jesus had already mentioned the joy that He wanted them to experience when He told them in 16:24b that they could now ask for anything in His name and it would be done so that “their joy will be complete”. There seems little doubt that Jesus wanted them to experience joy in its fullest sense, and that joy comes from being in a close and intimate relationship with Jesus.
Jesus then moved on to pray about their being in the world. He had taught them God’s word and as a consequence the world hated them. Have you ever noticed that if you mention the Bible in any way then you are generally mocked or pilloried as being a “Bible basher”? The non-believing world hates the Bible because they have never read it and never come before God to be helped to understand it. Notice though that despite the fact that the disciples were, and would continue to be, hated by the world, Jesus didn’t pray that they would be taken out of the world, rather He wanted them to stay in the world but with God’s protection from “the evil one”. All believers need that special protection that only God can provide. It has been said on many occasions that the more you put your head above the parapet to follow and serve Jesus then the more the evil one will take pot shots at you. That old saying grows more and more true as each day passes.
In 17:17 as we come towards the end of this remarkable prayer, Jesus asked His Father to “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”. Two points come out of this verse. Firstly, Jesus spoke of sanctification. That’s fine but what is sanctification? Put simply it is the process whereby believers are prepared by God to be sent out to serve Jesus and it is an important part of salvation. Salvation is the most important step for our future lives if we are to be reconciled to God. Following on from being saved by coming to faith in Jesus, we need to grow in Christ and that growing is known as sanctification. The Apostle Paul told us at the end of Romans 15:16 that he was “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” to be a minister of the gospel. This wasn’t and still isn’t a one-off process but continues as we draw nearer to Christ. Paul made a comment to the Thessalonians that implied that this was very much the case when he wrote, “May the God of peace make you more and more like Jesus and keep your whole being – body, soul and spirit – untarnished for him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 - Bible Society). As we have just heard, Paul was sanctified by the Holy Spirit, whilst here Jesus prayed that the disciples may be sanctified by truth, adding that “your word is truth”. That comment in 17:17 echoes Jesus’ words in 8:31b-32 where He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." We saw last week that the disciples had had trouble understanding what Jesus had been telling them. It took a while for them to grasp just Who Jesus was and what He was talking about but we saw in 16:31 that finally they did understand. Confirmation of that came in 17:8 where Jesus gave thanks that, “They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”
We have just spent a few minutes looking at two amazing prayers that really get to the heart of Jesus and why He came to earth. Jesus prayed for Himself before turning His attention to His disciples, the friends who He loved dearly. As I have read and re-read that second prayer I have seen more and more just how much Jesus loved His disciples. He cared greatly for them and wanted them to be protected by God as they were sent out into the world, a world that is very hostile to followers of Jesus.
Next week in the final sermon in this series Living in Christ, we will look at Jesus third prayer where He prays for all believers. It was shortly after He had finished that prayer that He and His disciples headed off to the Garden of Gethsemane so that Jesus could pray alone before being betrayed by Judas and then led away to His eventual crucifixion. I commend these two prayers to your hearts and minds for you to meditate on.