Praying for Others

| John 17:9-26 | November 4, 2018

Week of November 11, 2018

The Point:  Go to God on behalf of others.

The High Priestly Prayer:  John 17:9-26.

[9] “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. [11] And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [12] While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. [13] But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. [14] I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. [15] I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. [16] They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. [17] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. [18] As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [19] And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. [20] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [22] The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, [23] I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. [24] Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. [25] O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”   [ESV]

“The High Priestly Prayer [17:9-13].  Having prayed for His own consecration in taking up the cross, Jesus now takes up His priestly intercession in prayer, and He begins by specifying precisely for whom He is praying [9]. This is the interceding prayer of the High Priest on behalf of the people whom He represents to God, namely, those whom God gave to Him, who are the very people for whom Jesus was preparing to offer His own blood as an atoning Sacrifice. Jesus offers salvation for the entire world, but He intercedes as Priest before God to effect salvation only for those who belong to Him, dying to atone for their sins and then sending the Spirit to open their hearts to saving faith. Jesus not only states that He prays for His own, but also explains why He prays for His people. He gives two reasons, the first of which is that His people belong to the Father and were given to Jesus by the Father. Jesus realizes that He has been entrusted with the salvation of this people who belong to God and have been handed over to Him on behalf of God’s saving purpose for them. Since they belong to the Father and Jesus’ role as their Savior comes from the Father, He is especially zealous to pray on their behalf. The second reason Jesus prays for His own is that, as He prayed, I am glorified in them [10]. How is Jesus glorified in His people? There are many answers, a few of which deserve to be emphasized. First, Jesus is glorified in His work of grace for our salvation. Jesus offers Himself for sinful, lost, blind, and unworthy sinners. He cleanses us from our sin by His blood and then renews our soul with His life-giving Spirit. Second, Jesus is glorified in His people to the degree that they lead holy lives and perform good works. This is our true incentive in turning from sin, cultivating holy graces, and pursuing good works in Christ’s name: that Jesus might be glorified in our lives before the world. Third, Jesus is glorified by our bold confession of faith. Fourth, Jesus is glorified by our work to extend His kingdom. Let Christ be glorified in your prayers for the church and for gospel success. Let Christ be glorified by your generous giving to support the gospel ministry. Let Christ be glorified by your sacrificial involvement in missions, or mercy, or hospitality, or spiritual encouragement. In whatever we do for the extension of Christ’s kingdom, in the home or at work or in the world, Jesus is glorified in us. Jesus’ having explained His particular focus in praying for His people and His reasons for doing so, verse 11 then contains His actual plea. This is a moving prayer. Jesus tells the Father that in coming to Him, He is leaving His people behind in the world. So He appeals to the Father to watch over and protect them, placing their salvation into the care of the Father while He departs to take up the cross. Jesus’ prayer proves that His people, as vulnerable sheep, require careful keeping. His prayer makes clear the dangers that He sees set against them. First is the danger of the world. Jesus is concerned about the corrupting influence of worldliness. Jesus prays to the Holy Father to preserve His people from the domination of sin. Though we struggle in the world, we know that Jesus is now in heaven, praying for His own in the world, so that their faith will hold firm. If the first danger that Jesus foresees is external, in the world, the second danger is internal, that Christians might suffer division and disharmony among themselves. Thus, He prays that they may be one, even as we are one. Jesus prayed for a unity of spirit among His people, so that Christians would cooperate in their mutual edification and in their witness before the world. During His ministry, Jesus kept His disciples in the faith, with the sole exception of Judas. The point of verse 12 is not that Judas was Jesus’ sole failure, but that he never was one who truly belonged to Christ, just as there are many false professors in churches today who neither obey nor belong to Jesus. Finally, we should note that Jesus asks the Father to keep them in your name, which you have given me. Jesus prays that His people would remain true to the revelation of God that He has given them, not falling away into unbelief or heresy. This is Jesus’ ultimate concern: not that His people would be comfortable or at ease in the world, but that they would be true to God through faith in Christ’s gospel. What is the effect of Jesus’ prayer in the hearts of those for whom He prays? Jesus continues: that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. This prayer introduces the first of six marks of the church that we encounter in Jesus’ Farewell Prayer: the mark of joy. According to the Bible, it is essential that God’s people live in this world with great joy. Believers are not to find joy in the circumstances of the world, which often inflict pain and give joy with one hand while taking it away with the other. Instead, we gain joy in knowing that Christ our High Priest has died for our sins and is even now interceding for our salvation in heaven. We rejoice to know that we are kept by God for eternal glory, so that whatever else happens to us in life, we know that in Christ we are being ushered into everlasting delight in the presence of God. Second, Jesus emphasizes that the joy He desires for His people is His own joy. Jesus tells us that He rejoiced to do the will of the Father and bring glory to His name. The way to rejoice is to live in close communion with Christ in God’s Word and in prayer.

Sanctified in the Truth [17:14-17].  The first threat that Jesus perceives to the church’s holiness is the hatred of the world for His people [14]. Jesus points out that His disciples are no longer like the world, since they have received God’s Word in faith and been born again to new and eternal life. The holy values that they receive from God are a threat and a reproach to the world, which resents believers and wants to draw them back into sin. A second threat from the world is moral and spiritual corruption: keep them from the evil one. The point being that Satan corrupts the church by infusing it with worldly values. Here is a threat to the church far greater than mere outward persecution: the spirit-destroying assimilation into the world’s evil ways, as it is dominated by Satan. Jesus prays that His church would be kept by the Father from the ways of the world and of the evil one, so that His church may be holy. Jesus’ prayer is especially important in helping Christians understand our relationship to the world. We can deduce three statements about the church and the world from Jesus’ prayer. First, Jesus insists that Christians are to live in the world. A second statement Jesus makes is that while the church is in the world, it is not to be of the world. As much as is prudently possible, we are to interact with the world and its people, but we are never to become like the world or unbelieving people. Third, Jesus’ prayer makes it clear that the church is to impact the world by being different from the world. Jesus’ petition for the church is summed up in John 17:17, in which He presents the second and third marks of the church: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. First, Christ’s church is to be holy: sanctification refers to the process by which God increasingly makes us holy, turning from sin and embracing practical godliness. And second, Christ’s church is to be committed to the truth of God’s Word. The church has received God’s Word of truth from Christ. The disciples received the Word personally from Jesus; we receive it from the witness of Christ’s servants the prophets and apostles in the bible. Christians are not those who embrace every passing intellectual fad, therefore, but those who stand firm in the truth revealed to us by God through His written Word. This means that the way for the church and for Christians to avoid being corrupted by the world and becoming secularized is to be people of God’s Book, the Bible. We must submit to the authority of the Bible because it is God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. Whenever biblical authority is compromised, the dam is broken and the flood of secularism and worldliness breaks in. We must also embrace God’s Word as wholesome and good, so that we desire to know it and eagerly put its teaching into practice. Not only does the Bible teach Christian holiness, but Jesus stresses that God’s Word creates holiness within His people. The way to be holy, then, is to study and apply the Bible. The great need of our time is for churches and Christians to be devoted to the study, belief, and practice of Holy Scripture. Do you desire to become more holy? Do you desire your life to make an eternal difference in our present world? Then, devote yourself to the study of Scripture, not merely for a season but as a lifetime and lifestyle commitment. If you do, you will find that Jesus is right in saying that sanctification comes through the truth of God’s Word.

Sent into the World [17:18-19].  In verse 19, Jesus identifies the holiness of His people as the intended result of His own mission and sacrifice. In light of this strong emphasis, we must conclude that any churches or any Christians who take the matter of holiness lightly, casually adopting the stance of the world, are badly out of step with Jesus Himself. Jesus’ emphasis on holiness warns us that we must take the matter of our sanctification seriously. His prayer in verse 19 continues this emphasis. How can Jesus consecrate or sanctify Himself if He has never known sin? How can Jesus progress in holiness when He is and has always been the perfectly Holy One from on high? The answer is that while sanctification is generally understood as moral improvement, this being an essential component of holiness, its more basic meaning is being set apart for service to God. This is why the word for sanctification is often rendered as consecrated. On the brink of the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sanctified Himself to make the true atoning sacrifice. As Jesus consecrated Himself as our Mediator, He also consecrated us for holy service to His Father. Because we were set apart by Christ for God, we are therefore to pursue lives of corresponding holiness. Christ consecrated Himself to fulfilling God’s calling on His life. We are likewise set apart for worship and service to God. Our calling is not exactly the same as Jesus’ calling. Our Lord was uniquely called to perform the work of salvation for God’s people. But our consecration is like His in that we are to obey the Scriptures, to live a life of sacrificial, humble love, to witness and teach the truth of the gospel, and to offer our whole lives in worship to God. Jesus’ prayer not only shows us His power for our sanctification, but also reveals His purpose in our sanctification. In other words, when Jesus says that He has sanctified His people, He has set us apart for a specific mission. In our study of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, we have been noting the marks of Christ’s church that are seen in His requests to the Father. So far, we have noted the marks of joy, holiness, and truth. The prayer of verse 18 adds the fourth mark of Christ’s church: mission. In our union with Christ, we take on His mission; as He was sent by the Father, now we are sent by Christ into the world. As Jesus has secured our place beside Him in heaven, He calls us to take His place as witnesses on earth.

Christian Unity [17:20-23].  Having begun His prayer with a request for His own consecration [1-5], and then continued with His priestly prayer for the first believers [6-19], Jesus concludes with petitions aimed specifically at the church that will follow in generations to come [20-26]. He prays: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word [20]. If you are a Christian, you may be excited to realize that on the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed specifically for your blessing as a member of His church. In Jesus’ prayer, our Lord sets forth His vision for the church. We see this in six marks of the church that are expressed in His petitions to the Father. So far, Jesus has prayed for the church to be marked by joy, holiness, truth, and mission. Now, he prays that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you [21]. The first step in pursuing Christian unity is defining it biblically. Reflecting on the New Testament generally, and on Jesus’ prayer specifically, we may make three statements about the unity that Jesus had in mind. Christian unity is, first, an organic, mystical unity. The unity that Jesus defines in His prayer is patterned on the unity within the Godhead. Christians are to be one, Jesus said, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us [21]. This is a mystical unity because it transcends our understanding. What we can know is that this supernatural union is an organic one. We see this in the two main New Testament metaphors for the church: a body and a family. Second, we should observe that not only is church unity organic and mystical, but it is also a spiritual union. The Son is in the church through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a unity that cannot be legislated or brought about by any human organization, but is rather a oneness created by the unifying presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Third, having unity in the Spirit, Christian unity is unity in the truth. We know that the Spirit indwells those who believe Christ’s Word and, moreover, that the Word of Christ was inspired through the apostles by the Holy Spirit Himself. This is what Jesus told the disciples to anticipate [John 16:13]. Jesus now prays for those who will believe in me through their word [17:20] that they may be one. This unity can only be, therefore, a unity in belief and in truth. The mistake most commonly made in pursuing Christian unity today is to set aside matters of truth in order to gain unity. Jesus said that when the Spirit came, He would lead His church into truth [16:13]. God’s truth alone would sanctify the church, and Jesus prayed only for those who believe the truth. How can Christians, then, have unity without truth? The answer is that a unity without truth is something other than Christian unity. The unity that our Lord was concerned about is a spiritual unity in the truth of the gospel. Therefore, it is truth that determines the bounds of our unity, just as it is in the truth that the Spirit bonds us as one. Three observations will help us apply the principle of unity in the truth. First, Christian unity requires us to believe what the Bible says. To remove obedience to Scripture does not promote but rather destroys true spiritual unity. Second, Christian unity requires us not to add to the Bible. Sadly, man-made rules and extrabiblical doctrines have often divided Christians who should be one. Third, unity in truth requires us to discern essential and nonnegotiable doctrines from those that are not essential to Christian oneness. This raises the question: does the Bible specify which teachings are essential? The answer is Yes. The New Testament explicitly identifies the following: the deity of Jesus [John 20:31], Jesus as the Christ, that is, the world’s only Savior [1 John 2:22], Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement [1 Cor. 15:3], Christ’s bodily resurrection [1 Cor. 15:4], and justification through faith alone [Gal. 1:8]. Unity in truth also requires us to agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word, apart from which its authority is compromised. Doctrines other than these core teachings are not essential to Christian unity, however important and beloved they are.

To See My Glory [24].  As we eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we are first shown the source of our hope for glory, and the true source of our assurance in salvation. The question is rightly asked by many a troubled believer: on what ground may I be certain of arriving safe in the glories of heaven? The answer is never going to be found within ourselves. We know our weakness and our tendency to change. Looking within ourselves for assurance of salvation can lead only to a fearful dread of what tomorrow may bring. We find the answer to our quest in Christ’s prayer. Praying as High Priest for the people entrusted to His ministry, Jesus places the capstone in the bridge that will lead us into heaven. Our hope of salvation is held up by nothing less than the saving will of God the Son for the people given to Him by the Father. Our assurance of salvation is grounded in the will of Christ that conquered sin and death in His resurrection. Seeing the believer’s assurance in the priestly ministry of Christ, we see the necessity of belonging to Jesus if we desire to be saved. Christ’s prayer in 17:24 shows not only the assurance of salvation for all who believe in Him, but also the love in Christ’s heart for His people. Finally, Jesus sets forth the crowning gift that He has prepared for His people. Christ has prepared a gift of infinite worth for His own when we enter into heaven: to see my glory that you have given me. This is what believers have to look forward to in the life to come: the utter and complete fulfillment of our very beings as creatures made in God’s image; to see God the Son in His glory and to be elevated by Him into a share of His inheritance in glory.

God’s Love In Us [17:25-26].  As we come to the end of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, we are given the sixth mark of His church. Jesus asks the Father to fill His people with love. Love is not only the last mark of the church, but also the greatest. Jesus indicates that the source of love among God’s people is knowledge of the truth concerning the Father. Jesus says that in order for His people to have God’s love, He has made the truth of the Father known to them: O righteous Father, He prays, I made known to them your name. Jesus’ statement tells us three important things about truth as it relates to Christian love. The first is that the knowledge of God is the source of Christian love. In Jesus’ understanding, knowing who God is, what God is like, and what God has done is an incalculable blessing. Jesus sees the revelation of God’s name as the key achievement of His ministry before going to the cross. An increased knowledge of God – that is, theology – must rightly result in a corresponding love for God and the love of God working in us. To grow in our knowledge of the character and being of God is to be changed with awe, humility, and joy in the Lord. To understand the doctrines of grace that Jesus has so strongly emphasized in this High Priestly prayer – doctrines such as sovereign election, particular redemption, and the perseverance of the saints – is to be melted by the love of Christ so that our love for others grows. In this way, a true grasp of the knowledge of God can only instill in us a patient, merciful, Christ-honoring love for everyone that we know. Jesus’ second emphasis is that knowing God accounts for the difference between Christ’s people and the worldthe world does not know you. It is precisely because of its ignorance of God’s character and of His saving work in Christ that the world lives in such perpetual selfishness, hostility, and mutual exploitation. Without a personal belief in the true and living God, there is no basis for a life of humble, servant, sacrificial love like that which was modeled and taught by Jesus. This means that if you desire to experience the love of which the Bible speaks, you must first come to know the God of the Bible through faith in the Son whom He sent, Jesus Christ. Third, Jesus notes that He will continue to lead His people into truth, that they may grow in God’s love. Every Christian is to be growing in the knowledge of God, especially through an openhearted study of Scripture, with the result that our love for God and others will expand and be enriched. The final thing that we need to know about both the knowledge of God and the love of God is that they come only through the saving ministry of the Son He has sent: and I in them. This statement corresponds to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our individual hearts as the result of our new birth into saving faith. Christians have been born again by Christ’s power to the knowledge of God and His love. This means that if you wish to know God and be set free to love, you must first submit to Jesus as Lord and trust Him as your Savior. It is our union with Christ that secures all the blessings about which Jesus prayed on this last night, so that we know God and enjoy His love at work in us.”   [Phillips, pp. 426-486].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is Jesus saying by using in the world, of the world, and into the world? Contrast His meaning of the world with His use of in you name. How does the Father keeping us in His name protect us from being in the world and of the world?
  2. How is Jesus glorified in His people [10]? What role can you play in Christ being glorified in you? Make this part of your daily morning prayers that Christ be glorified in you this day.
  3. Phillips describes six marks of the church in Jesus’ prayer: joy, holy, truth, mission, unity, love. No local church exhibits these six marks perfectly, but evaluate your church according to theses six marks. What are your church’s strengths; her weaknesses? What can you do as a member of your local church to help her better exhibit these marks? For example, how can you be a more joyful person in church? Use these six marks as the basis for your prayers for your church.
  4. What does sanctify mean? What is Jesus praying for when He prays: Sanctify them in the truth [17]? What is the relationship between sanctify, truth and word? Phillips writes: “The great need of our time is for churches and Christians to be devoted to the study, belief, and practice of Holy Scripture.” Do you agree with Phillips? If you do, then devote yourself to the study, belief, and practice of God’s Word.

References:

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Message of John, Bruce Milne, Inter Varsity Press (ebook format).

John, vol. 2, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.