With apologies, we don’t have the audio from this sermon – but here are Peter’s notes, and he’d be delighted to discuss them if you get in touch via the contact form at the bottom of the page.
Jesus prays for his people
Last week we began to look at the prayer of Jesus which takes up the whole of Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel. We can divide his prayer into three sections. In the first part, which Alan was speaking about last week, Jesus was praying for himself – about his connection with his Father – about completing the work he came to do – about returning to the glory of heaven and about eternal life.
In the second section, which we are looking at today, Jesus focuses his prayer on his disciples:
‘Those whom you gave me out of the world’ [17:6]
‘I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.’ [17:9]
Jesus is not praying for the world. We know that God loves the world he has created; that’s why Jesus was sent in the first place, but the world in the context of this prayer of Jesus, and much of the NT, is not the physical created world in which we live, but the world of humankind insofar as it has rebelled against God – what the Message paraphrase calls ‘the God-rejecting world’; it’s that aspect of the world which is opposed to God and to the Gospel Jesus came to proclaim.
So Jesus is now praying specifically for those who have heard and believed and received his message and have now been separated from that world as his followers, his disciples. That small group of men and women, given by God the Father, whose lives have been transformed; who have followed Jesus, been taught by him, seen his amazing signs and wonders, have been sent out by him to proclaim the kingdom of God, and have come to believe that Jesus was sent especially from God and is indeed the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour of the world.
Jesus already knows what will soon be upon them, and has been preparing them to face even more opposition and persecution. And so he intercedes for them. He prays to his heavenly Father on their behalf.
‘All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.’ [17:10]
Jesus is glorified in and through his disciples. From the Message paraphrase:
‘My life is on display in them’
As the disciples have followed Jesus’ teaching and lived by his word and done his will, their lives have been, and will continue to be, transformed, and by that they have brought glory to Jesus. Even though we know that they haven’t always ‘got it’ or understood what was required of them.
And so it can be for us. What an amazing thought that if the life of Jesus is on display in us, then he, not us, receives the glory – through our worship, our obedience and our service. Even if it isn’t always wholehearted.
So, as Jesus prepares to leave his followers he is praying to God for their continued protection and for their unity and faithfulness:
‘I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.’ [17:11]
Literally, Jesus is praying; ‘Father, keep them faithful to your name’. His prayer is that as his disciples continue faithfully to pursue the life Jesus has laid out before them Father God will watch over them, guard and protect them, and keep their faith in Him intact.
‘While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’ [17:12]
These followers had been given to Jesus by the Father, and now as he prepares to face his own suffering and death, he lovingly gives them back into his Father’s care.
By now, Judas Iscariot has left the gathering in order to go and betray Jesus to the authorities. He has lost faith in Jesus and has cut himself off from the blessings and joy that await those who stand firm in their faith. He is ‘the one doomed to destruction’. Jesus continues:
‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.’ [17:13]
In spite of all the horror which awaits them in the next few hours, and the difficulties that face them in the world, Jesus wants to ensure that they don’t lose the joy of knowing him and belonging to him; that they might have his joy abundantly in their hearts, whatever their circumstances.
‘That they might have my joy fulfilled in them’
Hebrews 12:2 says:
‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…’
What does it mean to have the joy that Jesus had? What do we mean by joy? The original Greek word can mean joy, delight, gladness. It comes from the same root as the word ‘charis’ which means grace, favour, blessing. When Jesus speaks of ‘my joy’ it carries the sense of being aware of the Father’s grace and blessing, and rejoicing in it. And this is what Jesus wants to be fulfilled in his followers – that they too may be fully aware of the grace and presence of God with them whatever their circumstances. This was the joy which enabled Jesus to endure the cross. It is joy because of grace! It is that which will enable them to face all the trials which lie ahead.
‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.’
You may remember that in Chapter 15 Jesus had told the disciples:
‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’ [15:18]
‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’ [17:15]
Jesus knows that his followers will face fierce opposition from what Paul later called –
‘the devil’s schemes … the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ [Ephesians 6:11-12]
They would need all the help and support they could get against both physical and spiritual attack. We too need to be constantly alert for these same attacks. The same dark and evil powers are ever-present in this world. We see their effect every day in the news. We need to stand firm, stand together and remain faithful to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ [17:16]
Followers of Jesus no longer belong to the world, they don’t follow the world’s ways, but rather stand firm against them and seek to transform them. They live in the world but are not of the world. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome –
‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ [Romans 12:2]
As someone else put it: ‘Do not let this world squeeze you into its mould.’ We need to be constantly aware and alert to the pressure we are under to accept the world’s standards. Jesus was not defined by the world, but by the standards of the kingdom of God. And neither should his followers be defined by the world’s ways. We march to a different drum! Our standards, if we are following Jesus, should be those of God’s kingdom, not the earthly kingdoms in which we live.
But what are the standards of Jesus and his kingdom? Righteousness; justice; truth; peace; love – in fact, the fruit which comes into the believer’s life through the Holy Spirit –
‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ [Galatians 5:22]
God’s plan has always been that his people should be living and working in the midst of the world in order to transform it. To be like the yeast in a loaf of bread.
‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’ [17:17]
To be sanctified means to be made holy – to be set apart from the world in our thinking and our actions. Not withdrawing from the world but living in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit and holding true to the word of God, which is the word of truth. If we believe in the truth of God’s word – we will not influenced by the woolly notions of the so-called ‘Post-truth’ age. We are sent into the world by Jesus, to be different and to make a difference! We need to be confident in the truth of the gospel; confident in the truth about Jesus; confident in the word of God as we have received it in the Bible. Confident that the Holy Spirit of God is with us and dwells within us.
‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’ [17:18]
The Message: ‘In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.’
Just as Jesus humbled himself and was sent into the world to save the world and establish the kingdom of God, so he sends out his disciples to proclaim an alternative kingdom, and to bring his counter-cultural message of salvation and rescue from sin and death.
‘For them I sanctify [consecrate] myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.’ [17:19]
[Tom Wright: ‘And on their account I set myself apart for you, so that they too may be set apart for you in the truth.’]
So in this middle section of his prayer we have heard Jesus praying to his Father specifically for the disciples and followers who have been with him on his earthly journey – the men and women who followed Jesus, who walked the dusty roads with him; who sat by the lake shore and listened to his teaching; who were sent out to tell people about the Kingdom of God; who were excited, frightened, bemused and captivated by Jesus. Whose lives had been turned inside out by him.
At first they were the twelve, then later there were seventy-two who Jesus sent out, and at the beginning of Acts, just before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we read that they numbered 120, including the women, Jesus’ mother Mary, and his brothers. The world ahead of them was the vast, powerful Roman Empire, pagan, violent, idolatrous and completely ignorant about Jesus, the Holy Spirit or the love of God the Father. The disciples were so few, so insignificant, surely the task Jesus had given them was impossible!
I read this the other day – ‘You can describe an elephant by its size, but a mosquito by its impact!’ The impact of that small group of Jesus-followers would change the world. Within a few years there were Jesus-followers all over the Roman Empire, in spite of brutal persecution. Nothing has been able to stop the spread of the good news about Jesus! To take Winston Churchill’s words totally out of context – ‘Never in the history of humankind has so much been owed by so many to so few!’
We can often feel that any impact we have is small, insignificant, even pointless; but even small actions – a kind word; a helping hand; a word of encouragement; a smile – have the potential to make a difference in the lives of others. You may feel as tiny and insignificant as a mosquito, but you can still make an impact!
I saw a YouTube clip this morning which had gone viral and been seen by millions around the world. A guy driving a big cement mixer stopped and got out of his truck to help an old lady with a trolley cross the road. He said, ‘I was brought up by my parents to do good and show respect and it’s just in my nature to do it.’ Impact!
Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the contributions we make as insignificant – done in Jesus’ name they can bring glory to God. They can go viral in the heavenly realms!
Remember what Jesus taught about the mustard seed. Faith as small as that can move mountains!
Jesus prays for these disciples and companions of his to be protected and kept safe from evil (the devil’s schemes). He wants them to continue to live in the world even though they don’t belong to the world. He has spoken to them about the opposition and persecution they must expect to face from the world, and now he prays for them: he prays that they might be made holy – sanctified, set apart – to live in accordance with the truth they have learned through Jesus’ teaching and example and the word of God.
Jesus speaks to the Father about things for which he has already been preparing the disciples – the hatred of the world; protection from evil; knowledge of the truth. Always remember what God’s word tells us about Truth: Jesus is the Truth; the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth; the written word of God is the word of truth; disciples of Jesus are made holy by the truth. Truth is such a key word in John’s Gospel – as it is in the whole message of Jesus and the New Testament. We’ve spoken about this before and it’s the great battle ground that we face today in this post-truth world. Truth matters!
Jesus is interceding for us right now, just as he did then for those first disciples. But we’ll hear more of that next week as Keith looks at the conclusion of this great prayer of Jesus. As Alan said last week, we can bring glory to God by doing things the Jesus way in our lives. Not my way or your way; not the world’s way, but the Jesus Way.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.