Nowhere more than in John 17 do we see the distinct difference between John and the other Gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we see Jesus and his disciples leave the upper room to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays. It is a powerful reminder of Jesus’ humanity and total dependence upon the Father.
Here in John, we also find Jesus concluding the evening in prayer, but this is not in the Garden, this is still in the upper room. It’s not that John doesn’t remember the Garden – he was one of the three who followed Jesus deeper into the Garden and waited with him while he prayed. But the other Gospels don’t tell us about this prayer, and in John’s mind this prayer is too important, too significant to miss.
John wants us to hear Jesus pour out his heart to the Father on behalf of his disciples, but even more, to hear Jesus pray for us. And that is too important to miss.
When your heart is troubled do you turn to panic or to prayer? You can only answer that in the context of your prayer life. Think how many times in the Gospels we read of Jesus going up on the mountain or out in the wilderness to pray; how many times, early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray.
Jesus’ life of prayer with the Father was a constant thing. Prayer was the substance of his life, not the window dressing. So, when Jesus’ heart is troubled, he prays.
If you are not in the habit of prayer, if prayer is an occasional afterthought, then when times of trouble come, your first inclination will be to panic. Panic is born out hopelessness and helplessness – no resources and no one to turn to. Prayer recognizes that the only resource we have is the strength of God and he is the first one we turn to.
So on this last night of his life, we see Jesus naturally turn to the Father in prayer – first with his disciples in the upper room and then by himself in the Garden.
His prayer here in John 17 gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus. He prays first for himself, then for his disciples, and then, finally, for us. It was a prayer that was intended to be overheard. As he prays, the disciples listen, and as John records the prayer, he intends for us to listen in as well:
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)
These opening words are not so much a prayer for himself, but an expression of honor and praise for the Father. He and the Father have prepared for this moment since before the beginning of time. The purpose for which Jesus came is upon him and as he anticipates the cross, he expresses it in words we find strange and out of place.
“Father, the time has come.” Nine times in John’s Gospel, we have heard Jesus say, “My hour or my time has not yet come.” Jesus is on God’s timetable. Every moment is accounted for, nothing will happen without God’s perfect timing.
But the moment has arrived and Jesus says, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” If you will remember last week, we talked about significant words in John, words like world and life and light. “Glory” is also one of those words that is far deeper than our casual use of the word. For us, glory is public acclaim for an accomplishment or an honor bestowed. Our picture in the paper, a ticker-tape parade, a building named after us. Glory is all about us – we are being elevated and adored.
But when Jesus uses the word glory, it refers to the cross. Back in John 3, and again in John 8 and again in 12 Jesus says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He is referring to his death on the cross. For us, the cross looks more like humiliation than glorification. We recoil from it and hide our eyes in pity for his shame. But for Jesus, the cross was the fulfillment of God’s perfect plan for the forgiveness of our sin and salvation and eternal life for all humanity. And in the cross, Jesus would bring glory to the Father. And so he begins, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”
Have you given much thought to your life’s purpose? I know, we get caught up in the moment and focused on the many things we have to do every day, and we’re lucky just to keep the plates spinning. But beneath all that, do you have a purpose for living, a reason to get up in the morning, something that ties the different parts of your life all together? For Jesus, his purpose was to glorify God. Everything he did pointed toward that. If you want to be like Jesus, I would suggest that is about the most important purpose you could live for – to glorify God. With every word, with every action, in every relationship, behind every activity, there is that purpose: “I am going to glorify God with everything I have and everything I am.”
There was something else Jesus said that is extremely important for us to hear: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Most of us think of eternal life as something that starts after our death. There is this life and then that life. But Jesus says this is eternal life: knowing God and Jesus Christ. Eternal life is not so much about the length of life, but of the substance. It’s not only that eternal life goes on forever, but that it is found in a relationship with God. Eternal life doesn’t begin the moment after your death, but the moment you begin a relationship with God.
When you are united with Jesus in baptism, eternal life starts for you. You begin living an eternal kind of life, no longer framed by the dates of your birth and death, but defined by the depth of your relationship with God. When you die, it is a continuation of what you have already begun, but much deeper and richer, because then you will know him face to face.
The second part of Jesus’ prayer is for his disciples: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 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. 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. 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. 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. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:6-19)
Jesus has spent the last several hours teaching and preparing his disciples for his departure, and now he prays to the Father for them that when he does leave that the Father will be with them and protect them and give them the strength and provisions they will need to carry his message to the world. Let me pick four things out of this part of the prayer to focus on.
First, Jesus prays, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” Jesus did what only Jesus could do – he revealed God in his fulness. In Jesus we see the Father. He is not the creation of our fertile imaginations, or the hopeful wishing for some father figure, but the very real, eternal God of creation who loves us deeply and saves us by his grace and mercy. Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If you know nothing else, know God.
Second, Jesus prays, “I have taken them and prepared them and protected them, and now I am turning them over to your care, Father.” He prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me.” They cannot make it on their own, Satan is too powerful, the world is too suffocating. They need God’s power and protection. Jesus goes on to pray, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” It is a fine line to be in this world but not of this world. That is the same struggle we have today. We need to remain connected to this world so that we can be the salt and light in the world, but we need to maintain that holiness and set-apartness that keeps us from being assimilated by the world.
And that is Jesus’ next prayer: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” What keeps us from being assimilated into the world? How can we remain holy when we are surrounded by an unholy world? By being immersed in God’s word – to so fill our lives and our hearts with the truth that the lies and seductions of this world will fall on deaf ears.
Fourth, Jesus had invested himself and his mission in those twelve men. He prays, “They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word... I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” When you think about it, how could you possibly adequately prepare twelve men to embark on a mission to take the good news to the entire world… in thirty years, let alone three years. And yet, now, as Jesus departs, it is in their hands – there is no plan B. If they fail, it will be the failure of God’s eternal plan. But Jesus has confidence in them. He has taught them and they have embraced his message and his mission. They don’t know it yet, but they are ready.
Finally, Jesus’ prayer turns to the future – to praying for us: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:20-26)
He begins, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…”
That’s you and me. I’ve talked before about your spiritual ancestry. How fascinating it would be to be able to trace back, person by person, generation by generation, the path the good news took to get to you. But of this you can be certain, that good news began with one of those eleven men who sat in that room listening to Jesus that evening.
But everything else that Jesus prayed for us that evening is summed up in one word, unity: “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
When Jesus prayed for our unity, it wasn’t just that we see things alike and get along without fighting. He was praying that we become one like he and the Father are one. That when you are hurting I feel your pain. When I am in need, you respond with generosity. That our greatest joy is when we are together and our hearts long to be with each other.
It is not just the absence of conflict and tension, it is the abundance of love and joy. That is the distinctive evidence to the world that we are God’s people. When there is disunity and discord, it negates our message, it invalidates our claims. People look at us and know that, whatever else we might be, we are not the people of God. If we can’t even love each other, we can’t possibly love the world.
Jesus’ prayer is that we be one, just as he and the Father are one, and more than that, that we be one with them.
Any notion we might have that we can be close with God without being in relationship with each other is a lie. As John will write in his first letter: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Our unity and love for each other is a proclamation that God is among us. When we love each other we are living in the kind of relationship that Jesus prayed for on that night so long ago, and even this morning is praying for us to experience.