John 17:1-19

August 5, 2001


Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor

The Grantham Church

John 17 is a prayer of Jesus. In this prayer he prays that his Father might be glorified, that his disciples might be protected, and he prays for us. What is on Jesus’ heart at the end of his earthly life?

Before we look at that question, I want to explore Jesus praying during his lifetime. How often and in what circumstances did Jesus pray in the three years of his ministry? We know that in response to a question from his disciples about praying he taught them a prayer we call the Lord’s prayer. The text is in Matthew 6:9-13. We know Jesus prayed in agony in Gethsemane to be able to do his Father’s will as he suffers and is crucified, Matthew 26:36-44. A text that helped me about prayer is in Mark 1:35 where Mark tells us that a great while before day Jesus went out by himself to pray. But there are many other times when Jesus prayed and one or other of the Gospel writers thought it worthwhile to note that for us. Let me briefly make a list and you’ll be able to note the verses from the printed sermon text.

In John 11:41-42, before raising Lazarus, Jesus prays.

In John 6:11, Jesus gives thanks before feeding the 5,000.

In Luke 3:21, Jesus prays at his baptism.

In Matthew 19: 13, Jesus prays for children.

In Luke 9:28-29 Jesus prays as he is transfigured.

In Luke 5:16 “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

There were many more of these incidents of Jesus praying than I expected where, in the course of some teaching or some incident in his life, Jesus prays: John 12:27,28a; Matthew 14:23 (parallel to Mark 6:46); in Luke 6:12 he prayed before choosing his close disciples; and there are other passages, like Luke 9:18 and Luke 11:1.

The overall picture is of a person who takes prayer seriously, who often withdrew from the crowds around him to pray, but who also prayed in public before events so that the glory for what happened might go to his Father. We want to ask, how does Jesus pray? The prayer in John 17 is the longest prayer of Jesus we have. Let us consider in that prayer how Jesus prays..

1. Verses 1-5. As Jesus prays he is not avoiding the world. He keeps the world situation and people in his mind. So here, verse 1, when he says “the time has come,” that time is the time that we have been made aware of since chapter 2 of the Gospel. It is the time for Jesus to die. This time has cast a shadow over the whole story of Jesus. Jesus knows the time has come and even though he has come to earth to die, he prays for strength to do God’s will in his dying. We can’t automatically assume Jesus will overcome sin and succeed where Adam failed. But in fact Jesus will do the thing Adam and Eve failed to do when confronted by a test of their obedience to God. Jesus prays to be able to do the Father’s will. Sometimes stopping an action we are involved in and praying right there that we would do God’s will can keep a person from sin.

Jesus states in the beginning of his prayer that he wants the Father to glorify him. (Verse 1) When Paul in Romans 3 talks about how all humans have sinned, he says that what happened to us was that we fell short of the glory God had for us. That’s the great tragedy of the human race. Now the great eucatastrophe (to use Tolkien’s expression) is on the verge of happening in Jesus’ life. Jesus will bear the wrong choices of all the people who have lived, and he will bear our sin in such a way that he glorifies the Father in his dying. “Glorify your son,” he prays, and we shall see that he does not fall short of God’s glory.

There are two consequences to Jesus’ request in verse 1 that the Father would glorify him.

The first consequence is in verse 1, that your son might glorify you.

The second consequence is in verse 2, that he might give eternal life to those given to him.

There is a lot about glory in John 17. Jesus wants the Father to glorify him, and he relates in verse 4 how he has glorified the Father while he was on earth. How did he do that? Well, he tells us in verse 4, “having finished the work you gave me to do.” How many of us when we come to the end of our lives can say, “Well, I’ve accomplished the work I was called to do?” There is usually in us a sense of incompleteness, “I wish I had visited that person. I wish I had done that task, but I didn’t and now it’s too late.” But Jesus comes to the end of his life able to say, “I completed the work you gave me to do.” That was how Jesus glorified God, by finishing successfully his work. Our attempts to glorify God sound like a major league batting average of 0.230, or something like that.
Because Jesus has glorified the Father, now he wants the Father to glorify him; and in a particular way. According to verse 5 he wants the Father to glorify him “with the glory I had in your presence before the world was.” This is what makes Matthew 25 so remarkable. Chuck Wright preached on this passage three weeks ago. What a great thing that God would say to any of us, “Well done good and faithful servant.” All those servants in Jesus’ account in Matthew 25 had to do was double what God had given them. I’m not fully certain how we measure that, but one thing I know is that it has to do with acting in such a way that God is glorified. The first consequence of Jesus’ request that the Father would glorify him is that he glorifies the Father.

The second consequence of glorifying the son is in verse 2, “that he might give eternal life to those you have given him.” Those you have given him might include simply the disciples, but it seems to include many more, all those who followed Jesus or did what he told them to do. Then Jesus tells us what the eternal life he gives people is: verse 3, “to know you, or to acknowledge you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” What we see in all of Jesus’ ministry is that he was trying to tell people about God. Like in John 8:26, “he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” Over and over Jesus teaches about the Father.

If you know God and his Son, Jesus Christ, you have eternal life. Do you know him? When Jesus says in verse 6, I have revealed God, the word he uses, “revealed”, means “to cause to be known.” Before people know God personally, there is a lot of the teaching of the Bible that seems difficult and not particularly relevant. But when people know God personally what the Bible says strikes home. Is it striking home in you?

Well, we have seen how Jesus will glorify his Father, how will the Father glorify the Son? Jesus also prays for the Father to glorify the Son in verse 1. To answer that question we need to read verse 5 in relation to Philippians 2:9, 10. In verse 5 Jesus is asking to be glorified with the glory he had in the Father’s presence before the world was. In Philippians 2, we learn that when Jesus humbled himself and submitted to death, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” The Father glorifies Jesus by saying to him, “well done good and faithful Son. Unlike Adam, you have done what I asked you to do, and so I am going to exalt you. I am going to glorify you.”

2. So Jesus prays about glory for the Father and for himself. But in verses 6-19 he also prays for his disciples. What has Jesus done for these disciples?

He says in verse 6 he has made the Father’s name known to them. To reveal God’s name is to reveal God’s character. We are used to separating people’s names from their characters. But it hasn’t always been so. Weaver’s Lebanon Bologna, True Value Hardware, Prudential Insurance, names you can depend upon it is said. In small towns people might say of someone, oh, if he says it, you can depend upon it. That’s true with God His name reveals his character. And further, according to verse 12, Jesus kept these disciples in God’s name and protected them.

Now what does Jesus pray for the disciples? What would you pray for people who were close to you whom you have encouraged in ministry? Do you have any people like that in your life? Jesus prays two things for these disciples.

A. He prays that God would protect them in the midst of the world, according to verse 15, and protect them especially from the evil one. Verse 15 states this the way the Lord’s Prayer does where we may be praying either for help against evil or against the evil one personified. You remember the Lord’s prayer, “And deliver us from evil” and many scholars translate those words today, “And deliver us from the Evil One.” Maybe both are meant by Jesus. Now when Jesus is protecting you, that’s pretty affirming. And Jesus says in verse 12, none of those I am protecting is lost. But then he makes an exception. What about Judas, who is called here “the son of ruin”, or “the Lawless one?” The New International Version translates that in a way that makes it look as if Judas’ fate is predestined, “the one doomed to destruction.” But in the history itself Judas’ own pride leads him to refuse a way out of destruction. That way out is to repent. We must always have a care in our lives for pride. Judas’ problem was that he did not obey the Father’s word. He didn’t receive Jesus for what he truly was, and then he was unwilling to repent of his error.

But when we trust Jesus we can pray that Jesus would keep this promise and protect us from evil and the evil one. And he will do that.

Let’s be clear. That does no mean we will avoid death or hardships. It means those things will never overwhelm us so that we are lost eternally. This point is clear in 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul, out of his own experience, writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” This indicates how frail we are. But then he goes on, “We are hard pressed on every side, but NOT CRUSHED; perplexed, but NOT IN DESPAIR; persecuted, but NOT ABANDONED; struck down, but NOT DESTROYED.” There are always limits to what God will let Satan do. The disciples and we are protected by Jesus and he prays for that.

B. Jesus also prays in verse 17 that the disciples would be consecrated, or, as it might be translated, that they would be sanctified. What does this mean?

If you would go to a Greek lexicon, it would give several meanings of the word, depending upon the particular context. 1.To sanctify means to prepare to enter God’s presence. For example, when Israel in the Exodus stood before Mt. Sinai, the Lord says to Moses what he is supposed to do with the people in Exodus 19:10, “Go to the people and consecrate (or sanctify) them today and tomorrow.” And here’s what was to happen, “Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai.”

2. To sanctify also means to commission someone for a task God gives him, like the task of being a priest. In Exodus 28:39-41, God gives Moses instructions for making the priest’s clothing, make it from fine linen, hire an embroiderer to decorate the sash, and then put the clothes on the men and ordain them, and then consecrate, or sanctify, them so they may serve the Lord.

3. The word, thirdly, is used to set people of any sort apart for God. So when God set Israel apart for himself, he called them to be holy (which means set apart) in Leviticus 11:44.

So when the disciples are set apart for God, they have a task to do that is going to mean people they preach to will turn to God. And so in verse 18 he prays for them as he sends them into the world. To be set apart does not mean to become a monk or a nun or to be separate from society. To be set apart means to be dedicated to doing God’s will but within the world in which you live because it is the people in the world who are the ones who need to know God.

So here is the paradigm. The disciples of Jesus are to be set apart from the world and protected from the world and the Evil One, but they are then sent into the world. Their mission is out there, as Jesus’ mission was, making God’s name known among people who don’t know it. We can’t avoid this. If we - and I include myself in this - aren’t talking about Jesus and our faith in him among people of the world, we aren’t doing what Jesus prays for his disciples. But, on the other hand, if we become too involved in the world, we aren’t hearing what Jesus prays for his disciples, that we be set apart from the influence of the world.

This is what Jesus prays for at the beginning of John 17 in his great prayer. In the second part of this prayer, he specifically prays for us and we will come to this next week, the Lord willing.