John 17 gives us an up close and personal disclosure of Jesus one on one with his Father, where he shares his heart with God. It is the longest of Jesus’ recorded prayers in the New Testament gospels. One might be tempted to say that we are flies on the wall or on a tree in the garden. Better than that, we are participants in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus includes us in his prayer. We are here because of it. What a privilege! Jesus shares his prayer for us with us. Let’s share it with Jesus and one another.
There are all kinds of things Jesus could be praying for, but he prays this prayer. The prayer Jesus prays is quite telling given that Jesus is about to go into the greatest battle of his life. The hour of glory—the cross and resurrection—has arrived. In a very short while, Judas will come and betray him with a kiss and his enemies will take him away for his trial and execution. Usually people share what matters most to them just before they face death. With this in mind, I recall a captain in the Marine Corps stationed in Iraq during the Second Gulf War telling me that he was responsible for conveying to his troops’ families their last written words. Those words were “Tell _____ I love them.” Their last written words were not “Don’t forget to take out the ground beef from the freezer” or “Don’t forget to turn off the lights.” No, they wrote about what really mattered to them—relationships.
So, what really matters to Jesus? Does he pray for revenge against his enemies who seek his death? No, revenge is far from his mind. Does he pray for Joel Osteen’s “best life now” or for success and affluence as if he were Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby’s eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus with golden, fleece diapers? No, the prosperity gospel, success, consumer comforts and the accumulation of wealth do not capture his imagination. Nor does Jesus aspire to have a legacy of fifteen minutes of fame, as if he is foreshadowing pop culture icon Andy Warhol’s declaration, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Jesus does not even pray for his nuclear family! No, Jesus prays in the hour of glory of the cross and resurrection through which he and his Father will make an eternal home with his followers. What really matters to Jesus is sharing in his Father’s relational glory with his followers. We see that the Father and his followers—who include us!—matter most to Jesus. May Jesus, his Father and our fellow believers matter most to us as well. Share in the prayer. Share this prayer. Let’s begin with reading together John 17:1-5. Let’s share the prayer: Father, glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (ESV)
1. Share the Prayer: Father, glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you (John 17:1).
Jesus longs for his Father. Jesus longs to return to his Father now that he has accomplished the work the Father gave him to do and his time is at hand. His Father’s love and delight in him is what strengthens and sustains Jesus to the very end. Jesus knows that there is nothing the Father delights in more than glorifying his Son. There is nothing the Son delights in more than glorifying the Father. They are supremely relational. God’s eternal life and glory are relational. Jesus shares eternal life with the Father as well as his glory. There is nothing that the Father loves to do more than glorify the Son he loves in the Spirit. There is nothing the Son loves more than to glorify the Father he loves in the Spirit. As we shall see, we also share in God’s life and glory through his Son. Such life and glory come to us as the Spirit comes and makes a home with us; the Father and Son make their home with us as well (See for example John 14:17, 23). Jesus gives us eternal life (John 17:2), glory (17:22), and words from the Father (John 8, 14). We experience God’s Fatherly heart in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus is God’s unique Son. This is a staggering truth in view of the Old Testament background. While God refers to Israel as a nation as his son, the Father discloses that Jesus is his one and only Son (See for example Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15, and Matthew 3:17). And yet, as we see in John’s Gospel, God makes us his children through Jesus (John 20:17). This is an even more staggering truth! As we see in John 17, God embraces us as members of his immediate family and household (John 14:2). Just as Jesus’ security in the Father strengthens and sustains him in the face of the battle that lies ahead of him (John 12:27-28), may such security in God’s embrace strengthen and sustain us. And remember, Jesus is victor!
In addition to experiencing God’s Fatherly heart through Jesus’ prayer, we also experience God’s shepherd’s heart through Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prays to the Father to keep his followers close. Share the prayer: Father, keep us close. Keep us in your name. Keep us from the evil one. Keep us in your truth. Let’s read together John 17:6-19:
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 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. (ESV)
2. Share the Prayer: Father, keep us close. Keep your people in your name. Keep us from the evil one. Keep us in your truth (John 17:11, 15, 17).
God’s name pertains to his identity, character, and reputation. God secures us in his name. We belong to him. Moses needed to know God’s name, as did Israel (See Exodus 3). They belonged to God. Moses banked on it in the face of Pharaoh. Since we belong to God whose family name we share, we can take comfort in knowing that he will not let anyone snatch his children from his or Jesus’ hand (See John 10:28-29). While Jesus does not ask his Father to take us out of the world, he does ask his Father to keep or preserve us from evil and the evil one while in the world. Key to such safe keeping is preservation in the truth of God’s word. Dependence on God through his word and in prayer is essential to us moving forward as Christ’s church. We do not need rocket scientists, incredible hulks, beauty queens and millionaires to make it. What we need are people whose confidence is in God and who depend on him with every fiber of their being, just as Jesus does. May we depend upon the Father and Son in keeping God’s word in prayer (John 17:6). What we need to do is shepherd one another in God’s shepherding care. In a church culture saturated with entrepreneurs, we need far more than ever before shepherds for our souls. Praise God that Jesus is not a volunteer, hired hand, or wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (See John 10:1-18). May we respond to such care and lay down our lives for one another.
In addition to experiencing God’s Fatherly and shepherding heart through Jesus’ prayer, we also experience God’s reconciling heart through Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prays to the Father to make his followers one. Share the prayer: Father, make us one. Please read with me John 17:20-26:
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.”
3. Share the Prayer: Father, make us one (John 17:20-26).
God is one. Such oneness is not homogeneous, but involves diversity. As we see in this text, the divine oneness involves the Father being in the Son and the Son being in the Father. Earlier in John’s Gospel, we find that the Spirit of God and of Jesus is one with them as well; he is a comforter and counselor of the same kind as Jesus (See for example John 14:16). We are speaking here of relational oneness. God longs to reconcile us to himself and to one another through his unifying love involving the Father and Son in the Spirit. God makes us participants in the divine life! How can we settle for disunity when we share in God’s unity of love?! When we are one, we demonstrate to the world that God has sent his Son and loves us as much as he loves his Son (John 17:23). When we are not one, we mistakenly tell the world that God has not sent his Son and that God does not love us as much as he loves his Son. All too often our insecurities get in the way of unity. A root of bitterness so easily arises within us when we feel rejected by others. I know what it’s like to feel the pain of rejection. Such rejection can even lead me in the direction of paranoia, if I’m not careful. Only God’s providential love can fill the void. Even if others forsake us, Jesus will never leave us. God will never let us go. He loves us as much as he loves his one and only Son! Nothing can separate us from his love—nothing. God is with us! As we come to experience his victorious love, we can respond to others rather than react to them. May we shepherd one another with God’s heart of love, accepting one another as God has accepted us to bring glory to God (See Romans 15:7). As we come to experience God’s Fatherly and shepherding heart, we come to desire reconciliation more with God’s people. After all, God’s heart beats for reconciliation. We no longer look at people from a worldly point of view, but through the lens of God’s heart revealed in his word and Jesus’ prayer. God’s word is not a cause for divisiveness. How can it be when it flows from the heart of God who is one! God’s word is the ground for unity, as we humbly come before God together in prayer. There are so many voices in our world today, which would cause us to go this way or that way rather than find our identity together in Jesus Christ. May we listen to Jesus’ voice and respond obediently. God loves us. May we love one another. May it no longer be the case that there is more unity in the entertainment world and other secular agencies than in the church, as Dr. King rightly declared so many years ago in “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.” May we be one as Jesus and the Father are one to let the world know that God has sent his Son and has loved us as much as his Son (John 17:23).
Let’s share the prayer. Jesus shares this prayer with us. May we share our prayer with Jesus, his Father, and one another. We will become the answer to this prayer as we participate in Jesus’ prayer in complete dependence on him. Share the prayer.