How do you really get to someone’s heart? How can you REALLY know what they care about? One of the things I have discovered about people is that you get to know them much better by listening to their prayers. That probably sounds so “churchy” for a beginning, but think about it…
When I “chat” with people, a lot of the time is taken up by very surface things – the weather, our respective jobs, our families and how our kids are doing. That is great, and we need that kind of discourse, but that doesn’t really help you hear what is deeper. All of us face struggles, hurts, hurdles and hassles that we have learned to keep below the surface. When I sit alongside a sister or brother is Christ, and we spend some time below the Cross speaking to our Savior – other things come out…deeper things. Sometimes it is about fear – anxiety about the future, about relationships and where they are going, or deep concern about the life choices of their grown children. Other times it is about hope – longings for a better job or a more peaceful home life. In any case, when I pray with someone I hear more of their heart. One time that is especially true is when they know they will soon be with their Savior.
The last time Pastor Ralph Wiley (after whom the main hall of Grace Church is named) and I were together we prayed about a few things. Ralph grabbed my hand and prayed for our church and the ministry of the school. He prayed that God would give me wise and helpful partners in ministry, and he prayed that I would eventually loosen up in the pulpit just a bit – something he poked me about the whole time we worked together. He always thought I was a bit too serious about everything. I loved that man – he was an encourager to the last breath! The last time Pastor Vince Lohnes (after whom the smaller hall across the way is named) sat together and talked we prayed together. He thoughtfully asked the Lord to continue to guide me and teach me, and he asked Jesus to make me ever sensitive to my wife. I have thought of both of these men and their prayers often.
Today we get a unique glimpse into the heart of Jesus. In this lesson we will “listen in” as Jesus prayed for His followers – including the ONE TIME you and I were specifically mentioned in the Bible. Jesus prayed for His Father to move on the last assignment – He prayed for Himself. Then He asked God to care for the Eleven that walked into the olive grove at Gethsemane with Him, and finally He prayed for the many that would find Him because of their testimony… and that includes many who are studying this passage today! Some of His words unveil deep truths about His burden, His love and His grace.
Key Principle: Jesus showed us what He viewed as essential in His ministry, and how real ministry should be measured.
Jesus Prayed for Himself (John 17:1-5)
The prayer of Jesus opens with the call for the Father to bring all things in the earth ministry to a close, and Jesus read the hour and completed the mission:
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
The opening of the prayer as recorded showed Jesus bringing to His Father a recognition that He understood the times about Him, and He was ready to complete the work ahead. It was offered in three parts:
“Father, the hour has come” – I hear you, and I see what has happened. I recognize Your hand in the time. This was a RESPONSE, not an order. The Father ordered the time, the Son watched for the signs and responded (17:1a). In reference to the Second Coming, Jesus made the point that all the planning was in His Father’s hands – and that the Son did as the Father directed. He said: Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
“Glorify Your Son” – the timing brought a REQUEST not a demand. Because it is time, I have a need. Place the weight on me – and withdraw your protection from Me that the enemy may throw the attention on Me – for I must now do the work I was sent here to do (17:1b).
“You gave Him authority over all people…” – the request was followed by a REMEMBRANCE – a little history to place the request in context (17:2-5). The remembrance reinforced that Jesus understood the signs properly, and the work ahead was annunciated and fully accepted by Him (17:2).
• First, the goal of the work was made plain – to offer men and women eternal life (a reconnection to the Father through the sent Messiah (17:3).
• Second, the acknowledgment of the completion was reiterated – Jesus knew the work was fulfilled as planned (17:4).
• Third, the desire of Jesus was laid bare – to pass through the necessary pain and be restored to the place He was before He agreed to come to earth and become the Sacrifice (17:5).
Essentially Jesus said: “Father, I see the times and I know it is time for you to let loose the enemy. You told Me what to do, and I completed it all. I want to come home and restore My place to where it was in the ions before time.”
Part of the process of prayer can sound like we are informing the Father – but we are never sharing anything of which He is not fully aware. He knew it was time, but desired His Son to say out loud that it He understood the time, and was prepared to face the end. If we learn anything from this, it is that Jesus said out loud before the Father what He felt beneath the surface, and how He reasoned inside. Sometimes people mistake God’s desire to hear the words pour from our heart to our mouth. If He knows what we are all about, why should we tell Him? The answer is simple: He told us to tell Him.
The benefits of prayer probably go much farther than we will ever comprehend – but the simple truth is that we are doing what He told us to do when we pray. It is not unlike the desire of a spouse to hear the words “I love you” from the love of their life – years after they have made the commitment to be together for a lifetime. We dare not operate on the “they already know that I love them” ideology. They want to HEAR the words – and we need to say them. The same is true of exposing our heart in words of prayer – we need it and He desires it.
Jesus Prayed for His Eleven Disciples (John 17:6-19)
The whole prayer was not about the timing and the work. Jesus moved to praying for His followers – where most of the comments for the rest of the prayer are directed. As the lash and nails drew near, Jesus was not unaware of the pain – but chose rather to focus on the needs of His followers…
John 17:6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received [them] and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.
As we take apart the requests He made for the Disciples, a picture emerges from His heart:
• The fact is that Jesus saw in them something NONE of us would have picked out. Even AFTER His Crucifixion, could we HONESTLY say that we could see the potential in this motley band of misfit men to “turn the world upside down?” I doubt it.
Beloved, we are much more attuned to the FLAWS of our followers than their potential.
Many of us as parents have learned to see the PROBLEMS with our children perhaps a good bit more clearly than we see the their real potential. Jesus looked past the petty seating argument of the men walking into the Upper Room. He looked past Peter’s stupid exclamations of undying faithfulness, and John’s youthful misunderstanding of the days ahead. Jesus saw what God could and would do in the lives of the men He had disciple over those years. Can we not do the same? Should we not look with positive anticipation that the God that has been ever so patient with us will continue to work in them?
Paul reflected this as he wrote to the Philippians in 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 [For I am] confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Was Paul delusional in thinking that they would grow up? After all, he wrote an entire letter to correct their thinking and behavior?
No. Paul knew that NO believer becomes mature in human hands. God is at work in our children. God is growing concerns in the hearts of our disciples. The process of spiritual growth is not primarily human – discipleship is a physical manifestation of God at work in a life. Rejoice! Our success rate just began to look much brighter, and our load for carrying the work is much lighter – when we understand that we aren’t at the center of all of their growth and change! Post a sign in your heart beside the disciple: ‘Caution: God at Work!’
• Jesus showed that at the core of His heart there was a desire to reflect the honor and glory to His Father – not to get it for Himself. I can see “they have really begun to see Your hand in all that I have done” – they are beginning to LOOK PAST ME to see You (17:7-8). Jesus came to restore a relationship to His Father – not (strictly speaking) for Himself. That issue is made clear numerous times in the Epistles, as the “other-person centered” nature of Jesus was highlighted (Philippians 2). It was not to fulfill His own desire, but rather to fulfill the desires of His Father that He came, that He died, that He reconciled.
Here is the great secret of Heaven – the Son hungers to have His Father lifted above all. The Father has desired to lift up the Son before all. Neither hungers self-affirmation – they desire to be fulfilled in watching THE OTHER lifted high! This is a picture of ideal relationship. The best marriages I know are the ones that have two people committed to EACH OTHER and each bent of the satisfaction of the other. Selfishness is the antithesis of godliness. The selfish person hoards while the godly gives. The selfish ever hungers; the godly are ever filled from above and overflow blessng to those around. Godliness is, at its very core, other-person centered.
• Jesus said: “It is for their benefit that I ask”. He came to and for the world, but He had a very profound love for those who trusted Him and followed Him – in light of the coming dangers. As Jesus had “waived off” personal protection from the Father in the beginning of the prayer – here He calls for its renewal over His followers (17:9-10). Jesus made His request on the basis of RELATIONSHIP with the Father.
Why is this important? The answer is found in the fact that the relationship is the basis for every request – as it is in our prayers. Our personal relationship with the Father, based on the work of His Son to clear our guilt and reconcile us to God is the basis upon which we are told to ask of the Father our requests. We CAN ask, because we have been granted audience through Jesus. That is the point of the writer to the Hebrews:
Hebrews 10:19 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since [we have] a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”
The central issue is this: God hears my desires and requests because Jesus built the bridge of relationship – restoring what Adam destroyed in rebellion. He made it possible, but I must open my heart to make it work. A bridge never crossed is of no value. I must ask. I must call upon Him. I must draw near over the provided bridge, and not gape endlessly at the chasm created by rebellion. Jesus built it, and I must cross it. I have Divine permission. I have Heaven’s call to come close…
Jesus wasn’t done. The eleven were still close to His side, and even closer to His heart. He said:
John 17:11 “I am no longer in the world; and [yet] they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, [the name] which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We [are]. 12 “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even 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, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
• He said: “I am leaving but they aren’t – Father pull the protection over them!” Look closely at the call of Jesus for protection – and the need for it in John 17:11-12. How did He describe that call? He said “Guard them in YOUR NAME”. If He had said “Guard them in your TITLE” I would have shared how God’s title is a contraction of the term “GOOD” – and all that He does DEFINES what is good.
That is not the case. God has many titles, but only ONE NAME – the Tetragrammaton: YHVH. It is a form of the “to be” verb and means: “I Am.” God is the ever-present One. The NIV translators made that point in their translation of Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
I love the way Judah Smith said it in that small viral You Tube clip. He said:
“IF in fact it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead – He conquered the final enemy – death itself. And… everything has changed. If He rose again… life will never be the same as we know it… the Gospel is the Good News. The Good News about God sending His Son who came to TRIUMPH in this life… Who came to live a SINLESS LIFE… a PERFECT LIFE… a SELFLESS LIFE… that He would give His life as a sacrifice on the Cross. But He did not just DIE… He ROSE AGAIN on the third day. Resurrection is what makes the news GOOD!”
The singer gently sings: “Immanuel, You are here with us! You are here with us! Unfailing love, you have overcome! You have overcome!
Back the preacher comes to say: “We keep preaching the champion that our King Jesus really is… JESUS is the Resurrection and the LIFE. JESUS is the victorious King of Ages…
Graphics of the beating and crucifixion fill the screen as the singer plays gently of Immanuel. I love that clip because it reminds us of two things:
- First, that the coming of Jesus, the death of Jesus in our place, and the Resurrection of Jesus – that proved His Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice – is GOOD NEWS. It is not a scourge that condemns mankind, but a GIFT to offer escape the one who recognizes that without Jesus their life will soon collapse.
- Second, it emphasizes that Jesus IS Immanuel – God with us. He is not a God of yesterday, or a figure assigned a role in the ancient past. He is a LIVING, RESURRECTED and ALIVE God – with a Father Who acts as guardian of my current needs. His Father is the ever CURRENT REFUGE and help in times of trouble. Your BILLS, your ACHES, your TROUBLES – they are all known to the Father. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing.
The ENEMY has no power greater than the One within us. The Holy Spirit breathes out the truth that Jesus has OVERCOME the grave the former prince of the earth. Satan is losing his grip on the earth.
STOP for a moment. Don’t forget that. He is a ROARING LION. You don’t have the power of yourself to defeat Him. He desires to destroy you, to keep you defeated and demoralized. At the same time… Jesus HAS overcome. The darkness you see on the news is a temporary gasp of breath to one who is ALREADY DEFEATED!
Lift up your eyes to the heights of Heaven! Our God is not on the ropes wondering of our future. He IS our FUTURE. He IS our LIFE. He IS our DESTINY. He IS our RESURRECTION. He IS our only needed HOPE.
Did you see the end of the prayer for the eleven? It is very telling as to what Jesus’ intentions were for His followers!
John 17:13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even 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, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
• Their heart filled with Joy: Father, I want them to be FULL OF MY JOY! (17:13).
• Their Priorities based in the Word: I want them to experience that JOY based on the Word I have given them – not based on the affirmation of the world around them! (17:14).
• Their Protection from the Father: I don’t want them removed from the world, but rather walking through it, protected from the clutches of the wicked one! (17:15).
• Their Distinctiveness from the World: They are not to be a PART of the world’s system anymore, but to be distinct from it because of their firm hold on the truth of the Word (17:16-17).
• Their Feet moving on mission: They are to be pushed out, launched into the world with the distinctive marker that I will be known for – the Cross (17:18-19).
Jesus made known the cry of His heart for His followers – that they would be a JOYFUL lot – not burdened by the darkness of the fallen world – but by singing the songs of the coming victory! He wanted them to CLING to the Word, and not be troubled by the rejection of the world. He called on the Father to love and protect them as He did while He walked with them. He wanted the TRUTH they lived to make them stick out. All this, and He wanted them to LIVE IN THE WORLD. They were not to find an excuse to withdraw themselves in some monastery circle – but to be bold and on mission to show the grace of Jesus in their walk!
Jesus Prays for the Future Believers (John 17:20-26)
If all that is NOT ENOUGH to get you excited, here is the part of the prayer that has to do with the believers that are sharing Jesus with the world today… those who are all around you as we read this together…
John 17:20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me. 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus said: “I know my eleven will be effective, so now I want to turn to those who will be following Me in future generations (17:20). Here are my seven requests for them:
• Unity: That they might be ONE, just like We are One in Essence, Father (17:21a).
• Distinctiveness: That they may be walking distinctly in OUR WAY, so the people around them will see the difference (17:21b).
• Attention: That they may garner the attention of the world by their behavior, so the world will consider My origin – sent from above (17:22).
• Reflection: That they may be so like us in their unified deportment, that they would reflect your face, Father, and My face (17:23).
• Evidence: That everyone would see the evidence of My true message in the love between all of us! (17:23b).
• Destiny: That they may one day be gathered to Our place, and see what Our home is like above (17:24)!
• Love: That they may grasp inside the love You gave to Me, and I give to them (17:25-26).
Jesus called on the Father and cried out that His people should be defended – and not be torn apart by the enemy. At the same time, He asked that they not be allowed to tear each other apart from within. He wanted them to stick out in a world that calls for individuality, but in actuality lives by a strict rule of tolerance that abhors anything but the moral consensus of the masses. He wanted the church to get the attention of the world, but to do so by our holiness, and our wholesome love for each other. He wanted His followers to be a reflection of His teachings, and look like Him in conduct. He wanted the changed lives of His followers to give powerful, irrefutable evidence of the truth of His message – that He brings LIFE and HOPE to those who felt DEAD and USELESS. He longed to have His followers eventually join Him in Heavenly places – to see all that the Father has to show! He yearned for a people that would, all along the journey, grasp the love of God – at least in some small measure.
Jesus held up both GRACE and TRUTH.
Randy Alcorn wrote an interesting article I read the other day, in which he made the point beautifully: “Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They may be strong on truth, weak on grace. Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect biblical study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth. Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting and ministry boil down to failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over the other. It reminds me of Moses, our Dalmatian. When one tennis ball is in his mouth, the other’s on the floor…The church I used to pastor (and still attend) was picketed by 30 pro-abortion protestors. Why? Some of our people go to abortion clinics and offer alternatives, passing out pro-life literature and sharing the gospel when they can. So one rainy Sunday morning, our church parking lot was invaded by Radical Women for Choice, Rock for Choice and the Lesbian Avengers. Hearing they were coming, we set out donuts and coffee. I spent an hour and a half with a protestor named Charles, who held a sign saying, “Keep Abortion Legal.” We talked a little about abortion and a lot about Christ. I explained the gospel. I liked Charles. But when you believe as I do — that abortion is killing children — it’s a bit awkward serving coffee and holding an umbrella for someone waving a pro-abortion sign. Yet because of the opportunity to share Christ’s grace, it seemed the right thing to do. It’s not just truth that puts us in awkward situations. Grace does also. On that morning we were picketed, some street preachers showed up to take on the abortion activists with signs shouting hell and damnation. Their message contained truth, but their approach lacked grace. One of the street preachers barged between my daughter and me and a few of the Lesbian Avengers, just as we finally had an opportunity to talk with them. The door of witnessing was slammed in our faces … by Christian brothers. We tried to reason with the street preachers. (By the way, I believe there’s definitely a place for street preaching.) After all, this was our church, and we didn’t want them screaming at our guests — even if they were screaming truth. Most cooperated, but a few decided we were waffling on truth, and it was an abomination for us to offer donuts to people who needed rebuke. The following Sunday, two street preachers picketed our church, scolding us for our “pathetic” attempts at donut and coffee evangelism. In twenty-five years, our church has only been picketed twice — two weeks in a row! — first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and second, by radically conservative believers for showing grace. That’s how it is on this tightrope walk between truth and grace. When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians (and even some Christians). When you offer grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical; in other eyes, not radical enough. Grace-only folk don’t understand why Jesus said, “Fear him who has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). Truth-only folk don’t understand why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why He hung on a cross for them. Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. Grace and truth are both necessary, but neither is sufficient.”