Date: 24 Sep 2017
Text: John 17:20-26
This morning we reach the end of this series of sermons under the general title of Living in Christ. Over recent weeks we have covered lot of ground and hopefully learned a lot about how we can live in Christ even in the hostile environment of 2017. We now come to Jesus’ final prayer before He and His disciples headed off to the Garden of Gethsemane where the final act of this story was played out. When we looked at the early verses in John 17, we saw that Jesus prayed for Himself and then for His disciples. Now, in these final verses, 17:20-26, Jesus prays for all those who believed in Him as Lord and Saviour as well as all those who would come to believe in Him.
Before looking at this prayer in detail I need to remind you of the context in which this is taking place. Jesus had been with His disciples in an upper room preparing for the Passover. Jesus was only hours from being betrayed by Judas before being arrested by the Temple guards. I believe that the disciples were totally unaware of all that was about to happen; despite Jesus having told them that He was leaving them. I’m also not convinced that they fully understood that the hour for His departure was almost upon them. Consequently, it was very close to the end of Jesus’ earthly life and yet here He was still thinking of others, in this case all believers.
It’s worth looking carefully at His comment in 17:20 where He said that He was praying for “all those who will believe in me”. This prayer wasn’t only intended for those who had come to believe in Him at that time but also for all those over the centuries who would come to believe in Him through the work of the Apostles; in other words, “through their message” (17:20). Without the work of the disciples spreading the good news of Jesus there would be few or no believers and we need to take note of that as we help to spread the message of the love of Jesus Christ to as many as possible. We also need to remember that these, soon to be 11, disciples were all from Galilee and as a result were held in rather low esteem. We know from Acts 2:6-7 that the Apostles were preaching the message that Jesus had given them and, being full of the Spirit, were doing so very confidently. Some in the crowd mocked them since they were known to be Galileans, and Galileans had a reputation for being uncultured. It seems that they had some sort of speech impediment that meant that they had difficulty pronouncing gutturals and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking. Consequently they were looked down upon by the people of Jerusalem as being provincial; in other words, country yokels! Given that it is perhaps not surprising that we learn from Acts 2:6 that the crowd’s initial reaction was one of bewilderment. And yet, despite all that, it was thanks to the power given them by the Holy Spirit that they were able to spread the good news of eternal life in Jesus.
As I mentioned a moment ago, we should also notice that this is a prayer not just for those who believed in Jesus at that time but also for all those who would come to believe in Him in the future; including us. I find that to be absolutely amazing; to think that someone so close to a death that He knows is coming was able to find the time and the power to think of others, including those yet to be born, at such a stressful time is truly incredible. I have to wonder how we would cope and react in such circumstances. Not surprisingly I suspect that we would only be focussed on ourselves; and yet Jesus was, as ever, focussed on others, those He had been sent to save. As the line in the hymn that we sing from time to time says, “Alleluia! What a Saviour!”
Having opened the prayer by identifying those for whom He was praying, Jesus moved on to pray that all believers “may be one” (17:21); in other words, that they may be united as one being. In that same verse (17:21) Jesus added that He wanted them to be one “just as you are in me and I am in you.” When we read through the New Testament we soon find that there is little doubt that Jesus and His Father were One; they were united not only in the sense that we understand, but also in the spiritual sense in that they were two members of the Holy Trinity and consequently one God. I don’t want to dwell on the tricky topic of the Trinity at this stage although I may well come back to it at some stage in the future. Suffice it to say that they were united as one God.
Jesus truly wanted believers to be united in and with Him in exactly the same way; to be with Him and therefore one in Christ. The Apostle Paul spoke about this unity and oneness with Jesus Christ when he wrote to the Ephesians and told them, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” (Ephesians 1:13). He went on to add in Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” What Jesus also wanted to see, and what He was praying for, was that believers should become united in such a way that the world would notice and come to believe that He really had been sent by God and wasn’t just another madman claiming to be the Messiah. When you read this prayer carefully you see that this thought of believers being truly united with Jesus becomes one of the main thrusts of the prayer. So much did Jesus want believers to be united in and with Him that He prayed “that they may be brought to complete unity” (17:23). In this way Jesus wanted the world to come to see that not only had God sent Him to be with them but also that God loved them just as much as He loved His Son. It is God’s love for us that is the essence of the gospel. Yes, Jesus came and died on the cross of Calvary so that all repentant sinners who came to faith in Him would have eternal life, but all this happened purely and simply because God loved us. The Apostle John wrote in his first Epistle, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10). I hope you’ll all agree that that is some kind of love and is on a different level to any love that we may feel for someone.
Jesus had already told His disciples that He was soon to return to His Father in heaven. John told us about this in 14:2-3 when he quoted Jesus’ words where the Lord said, “My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” This was surely a very large hint that not only was He going to heaven but that they would join Him there at some time in the future. As ever I wonder if the disciples understood what Jesus was saying to them. Now, in 17:24, Jesus turned that hint into a definite statement when He said, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am”. Where was Jesus going to be? He was on His way to being in heaven and so wanted all believers to be with Him when the time came. That time could be when a believer died and joined Him in heaven or when Jesus returns in all His glory just as He promised. Paul wrote to the Colossian church to reassure them on this matter and what would happen, and he told them in Colossians 3:4, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Jesus wanted His disciples to join Him in heaven so that they could see His true glory, the glory that He had already asked His Father to restore to Him. Notice that God gave His Son this glory “because you loved me before the creation of the world” (17:24b). Many people don’t realise that Jesus had been with His Father all along, they tend to think that He only came in to being when He was born in that stable in Bethlehem. For anyone who does believe that to be the case then they need only read this verse to see Jesus confirm that He had been with His Father all along; since before creation itself.
The closing two verses of this prayer need to be read very carefully as on first reading they may not be 100% clear. Jesus prayed that despite His best efforts, the world still did not know His Father even though Jesus Himself knew Him. In the NIV that word “they” in 17:25 may be a bit confusing as at first glance it could be referring to the world. However, both The Message and the NLT make it much clearer when they use the words “these disciples” instead of “they”. What Jesus was saying was that whilst the world didn’t know Him or His Father, these disciples who God had given Him most definitely did know Him and did know that God had sent Him. Jesus prayed again to confirm that He had made His Father known to His disciples and would continue to do so by being with them and in them. By praying that He “would continue to make you [that is God] known” Jesus was saying that He would always be with them. In saying that He was re-iterating and confirming a promise that He had made earlier in 14:18 in particular where He had said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He made that promise so that “the love you have for me may be in them” (17:26b). Once again we see that love is at the very heart of the gospel and it this love that Jesus wanted to share with His disciples and that He wanted them to share with the world.
It’s amazing to think that millions of people down the centuries and in the vast majority of countries in the world have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour as a result of the activities of these 11 disciples. To say the least these disciples were a truly diverse bunch of people. Most of them were involved in fishing in one way or another; one was a tax collector whilst another was a zealous nationalist with a fiery temperament. They started out as being timid and ignorant and yet thanks to God’s power and the power of this prayer of Jesus they were able to draw closer to Him and learn more about Him. The love that God demonstrated through Jesus was shared across the world and is still being shared two millennia later. Such is the power of prayer.
Through this series of 9 sermons we have seen a number of ways in which we can grow in our faith and be seen to be Living in Christ. This final chapter that we have looked at contains three of the most powerful prayers ever uttered, prayers that show that . Jesus was never concerned for Himself but only concerned for others. In the first of these three prayers Jesus did indeed pray for Himself although it is the shortest of the prayers. He then went on to pray for His disciples that they would remain strong in their faith and remain united in and with Him. Now, in this final prayer Jesus prayed for all believers, not just those who were alive at the time but all those who were still to come, including those of us here today who know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Throughout this series, and certainly in these prayers, it is the love that God has for us all that shines through. It is God’s love that was His motivation for sending Jesus as a human being to live among us to teach us about the coming kingdom of God. It is God’s love that led Jesus to die on the cross of Calvary to pay for our sins and it is God’s love that should lead us to continue Living in Christ.