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What Jesus prays for his followers. John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19

Today we look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.

It is important
This is the prayer that Jesus prays for us as he goes to the cross
This is the prayer that Jesus prays for us in heaven

It is a prayer for all those who the Father has given him, for all those who come to him. This is a prayer for believers.

“I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours” (v9)

Four things that he asks for: unity, joy, protection, holiness

1. Unity: ‘So that they may be one as we are one’ (v11)

This is the prayer that believers will be united.
Not united physically, but at a deeper level
He prays that we might be one as the Father and the Son are one.

The Father and the Son are like this:

When one is glorified, the other is glorified. At the beginning of this prayer, Jesus prays, “Glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify you”

And we see throughout Jesus’ life his dependency on the Father. He shares the life of the Father and the desires of the Father. He loves the Father, and the Father loves him. Because he loves the Father, and completely trusts the Father, he obeys the Father with great joy. He speaks the words of the Father; he does the works of the Father. He was with the Father from the beginning, and he came from the Father and he will return to the Father. And he has all things, because all things have been given him by the Father.

And Jesus prays that we might be one as He and the Father are one.

That is quite a prayer.

As people who have received the Word of Jesus, who have put our trust in Him, we are ‘in Christ’ and Christ is ‘in us’.

We are not called simply to be like citizens of a country – where we have a language and a culture and a currency in common. We are not even called to simply be like members of the same family – where we have a common origin, common DNA and common blood.

We – who are so different, from different countries, with different languages, with different ways of looking at the world, with different tastes and upbringings and cultures – may only have one thing in common. But it is the most important of all things. We have Christ in common. We are in Christ and Christ is in us

And Jesus prays for our unity, that we might be in communion with each other: with one heart and one mind.

He prays that we might recognize that we belong to one another, we are part of one another, and we can only find full wholeness when we are united together.

Alison had a picture of the church that was like a perfect beautiful necklace, made up of many different jewels. Each member was one of those jewels, and when they were absent, although the necklace is there, it is not complete. It is missing something.

That is why Paul speaks in Romans 12 about how, when one person in the community weeps, all weep. When one rejoices, all rejoice.

And this unity is not just about unity in a congregation.

It is about a unity that stretches beyond space and time. In Christ, we are in communion with women and men who serve Christ right across this world. Today we will be taking a collection for believers in Orissa, India who are facing a double blow: persecution and COVID. We are part of them and they are part of us.

And this unity includes the apostles and martyrs and saints of ages past. We are in communion with the countless nameless men and women who have faithfully followed Christ in the past. It includes people who are in Christ, in different places from different races or who have even not yet been born. That is what we mean when we speak of the communion of saints.

Jesus prays that as people come to him – not to Anglicanism, not to Rome, not to Orthodoxy, not to a particular congregation or religious organization – as they stick close to him like sheep to a shepherd in the deepest darkest valley, or stick to him like a branch to the vine, as we take his Words into them – so we will be made one.

2. Joy: ‘So that they may have my joy made complete in themselves’ (v13)

This is the joy that comes from knowing that we are one with our Father God, one with Christ and one with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Philippians 2, Paul writes,
“.. make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Or John writes, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:3-4

‘My joy’, ‘our joy’, but Jesus prays that we might know his joy – that his delight will fill us.

And what is his joy and delight?

It comes from drawing together the people who God is calling to each other, to him and to His Father.

We can know moments of joy in, for instance, the birth of a child after 9 months of labour, an unexpected victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, or of a great achievement, or a longing satisfied.

Those temporary moments of joy, and they are just moments, are glimpses of a greater eternal joy that is in the heart of God when a lost sheep is found, when a lost sinner returns to him, when people respond to his love with their love.

And God’s joy abounds when all his children are gathered together at a feast, and they are at peace with each other, delighting in him and delighting in each other.

And Jesus prays that we might know his joy, share in his joy.

Peter writes of how we can be filled with an “indescribable and glorious joy”. 1 Peter 1:8-9

One or two of you have told me of times when they have experienced that overwhelming, unspeakable, joy – a joy that fill us and floods us. It is not our joy. It is the joy of God, that he shares with us.

That is a glimpse of heaven, because this joy is eternal.

Sometimes we speak of the dead as having eternal peace. That is not what Jesus prays for: he prays that we might share his eternal joy.

3. Protection: “I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (v15)

Jesus does not pray that we will be protected from suffering, disappointment, frustration, sickness or even death.

In fact, he says that his followers will be hated in the world because they ‘do not belong to the world’, and that he is not praying that the Father will take them out of the world.

No, he prays that they will be protected from the evil one, from the father of lies, who comes to steal and to destroy.

This is the prayer of the pastor and the good shepherd, who has protected his sheep by giving them his word. It is the prayer of the shepherd who has walked with us through the darkest valley.

And now he prays for that protection.

He prays that we will be protected from the lies of Satan: the lies that tell us that we do not need God, that God does not really love us, that his word cannot be trusted, that we can become god, that this world is all that there is to live for.

That was the first lie that he told to Adam and Eve, and Satan is remarkably unimaginative – because that is the lie that he continues to tell: that our being and identity and joy are in ourselves – and that we do not need God and we do not really need other people.

And those are the lies that destroy: the lies that tell you that other people are not treating you as you ought to be treated, that you can prove you are something, that you can get your revenge on them. It is the lie that ‘hell is the other person’. And the lies build up and they fill us, and they twist us up – and, it is an extreme, but we see where they can lead in Kazan last week.

Think of a lie as a block of ice. It freezes us to God or another person. It freezes us on the inside. We listen to the lies, we take the lies in, and we begin to build a wall of ice around us. And one lie leads to another lie, and another lie, and the walls get taller, and when it is too late, we realise that we have built ourselves into an ice prison. We have become a god, a god of all we survey, but it is not much. We have frozen out God. We have frozen out other people. And we are frozen in our own private world.

And so Jesus prays that his people will be protected from the evil one, from his lies.

4. Holiness: ‘Sanctify them in the truth’ (v17)

Sanctify them: Set them apart for sacred purposes.

In v19, Jesus says, ‘For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth’ (v19)

I take that to be John’s interpretation of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, just before Jesus is arrested and taken to be crucified. Jesus has a final choice: to accept the cross or to go AWOL. And in the garden, he prays, ‘Not my will, but yours be done’.

‘Father, you sent me into the world. Now I set myself apart; I will be obedient. I will go to the cross. I sanctify myself, for their sake’.

And in v17 Jesus prays, ‘Sanctify them: Set them apart to live the way f the cross, for freely chosen self-sacrifice. Make them holy, through your word. Change them, so that they become beautiful people. Beautiful on the inside (wait for heaven to become truly beautiful on the outside).

"Heavenly Father", prays Jesus, "as they receive your word, as they take your word into them, as they continue to allow your word to come into them, and grow in them, so fill them with your love. Give them eyes to see this world as you see it, eyes to see people as you see them. Show them your love. Show them your love for me, and my love for you. Show them my love for them and for all who you give to me. Protect them from the lies of the evil one that they do not need you, or that they do not need each other. Give them the desire to choose to sacrifice themselves, in whatever way you call them to do so, so that others come to know you and your love, so that they may be one, and so that they may be filled with your joy."


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