One of the great joys in life as a parent is listening to our young children pray, because their prayers are so very honest. I heard about one mother who was eavesdropping on her young daughter one night and she overheard her praying, “Dear God, please send a new baby for Mommy. The new baby you sent last week cries too much.” Perhaps some of you may have overheard a similar prayer in your house in years gone by!
But have you ever overheard an adult praying for you? Maybe you’ve been talking to a friend about a problem you’re going through, and they offer to pray for you right then and there. And their prayer will tell you something. If you listen to what they are praying for you, you will learn a couple of things. First of all, you will learn what they really want for you. But more than that, you will learn what they believe God can do for you.
For example, if somebody prays for you to be healed, that means they believe that God can do something to heal you. If somebody prays for you to be kept safe while you’re traveling, they believe that God can do something to help keep you safe. If they pray that God will give you the wisdom and strength you need to meet the problems you’re facing, they believe that God can do that for you.
And as encouraging as it may be for us to know that a friend is praying for us, how much greater encouragement is there from knowing that Jesus Christ himself is praying for us?
Here in John 17, we get this wonderful opportunity to eavesdrop and listen in on Jesus while he is praying. Last week, I said that this prayer is sometimes referred to as the “high priestly prayer of Jesus” because, in this prayer, Jesus is making intercession both for himself and for his people, just like a high priest would do.
Last week, we looked at the first five verses where Jesus was praying for himself. “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” And we talked about the importance of praying that we might glorify God in our lives. That we might be able to do what Paul said we ought to do in I Corinthians 10, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
But then, in verse 6, Jesus turned to his disciples, specifically those eleven disciples who were right there with him, who had been with him for about three years.
Years ago, there was a preacher who spoke at a missions conference, and there was a young Christian who approached this speaker, asking for his advice. The young man shared his desire to spend his life teaching the Bible, but he indicated with considerable regret that he wasn’t able to attend a preacher training school. The speaker’s response was this. He said, “Read a book.”
What he meant by that was that if you can’t attend a Christian college, you can still learn a great deal by reading good books. And I would agree with that. In fact, I’ve come to know and respect many men over the years who didn’t attend a Christian college, but they have become very good students of the Word of God. But even though reading good books is of great benefit, there is still something especially beneficial about being around a godly person who can share their knowledge and wisdom.
In the first century, there were no printing presses, no Bible concordance programs, no Internet web sites from which to download good Bible study materials. In those days, books were extremely rare. If you wanted to share a book with someone, it had to be copied by hand. And so, most learning took place not by books, but by means of discipleship.
A disciple would choose someone to be his “master”, and then he would follow that person around, listening to him, watching him, and learning from him. And that’s how Jesus taught, or “discipled,” his disciples. They went with him virtually everywhere he went. They watched his every action, and listened to him speak and asked a lot of questions, and they learned.
By the time we come to John 17, the discipleship program which Jesus had designed for his disciples was coming to an end. You could say that this was graduation time. Jesus was ready to return back to his Father, leaving his disciples behind to carry on his work. In this “high priestly prayer”, we’re going to look at verses that were specifically focused on those eleven disciples who were with Jesus, the ones who overheard him praying that night.
I want to share with you three key themes that Jesus prayed about on behalf of his disciples. First, he mentions that the disciples were…….
1. God’s Possession
Beginning in verse 6, Jesus prayed to his Father, “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. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 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. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:6-10)
Several times in this passage, Jesus makes mention of the fact that his disciples belonged to him, and they belonged to his Father.
Verse 6, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
Verse 6, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me.”
Verse 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.”
Jesus specifically says here that he’s not praying for everybody in the world. He’s not even praying for all the Christians around the world. He’ll get to that eventually, but right here Jesus is praying just for his disciples. These are eleven men that he has a very special relationship with. He says to the Father, “These men are mine. They belong to me.”
In just a moment, Jesus is going to make mention of the suffering that lies ahead for these men. And when you come face to face with suffering, it is important for you to know whom you belong to. This sense of belonging is going to be the basis for their ability to handle the coming persecution. In other words, our ability to deal with suffering is made easier by remembering who we belong to.
There may have been times in your life when the hardship was so intense or so long that your only comfort was the knowledge that “I belong to Jesus.” Because while Jesus was praying here specifically for those eleven men, scripture is clear that all of God’s people belong to God.
Psalm 100 is one of my favorite psalms, and in that psalm, David says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3).
Paul says in Romans 14:8 (NIV), “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Psychologists tell us that we all have a sense of belonging. There is a human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, religion, or something else, people have an inherent desire to belong to and be an important part of something greater than themselves.
And there’s nothing in this world that’s greater than God. So, what comfort there is in knowing that we belong to God. I am his, and he is mine.
The story is told of a little boy who built a sailboat. He got it all fixed up, and painted it. He took it to the lake and set it in hoping it would sail. Sure enough, a strong breeze filled the little sail and it went moving through the water. But before the little boy knew it, the boat was out of his reach, even though he waded in fast and tried to grab it. As it floated away, he watched it go farther and farther until it was out of sight, and he went home in tears.
Sometime later, the little boy walked past a second-hand store. There in the window he saw his boat. It was obviously his, so he went in and said to the owner of the store, “That’s my boat.” He walked to the window, picked it up and started to leave with it. The owner said, “Wait a minute, sonny. That’s my boat. I bought it from someone.” The boy said, “No, it’s my boat. I made it. See.” And he showed him the little scratches and the marks where he hammered and filed. The man said, “I’m sorry, boy. If you want it, you have to buy it.”
The poor little guy didn’t have any money, but he worked hard and saved his pennies. Finally, one day he had enough money. He went in and bought the little boat. As he left the store holding the boat close to him, he said, “You’re my boat. You’re twice my boat. First, you’re my boat because I made you, and second, you’re my boat because I bought you!”
We belong to God, first of all, because he made us, and secondly, because he bought us. He redeemed us. And if you have something precious that belongs to you, you take good care of it, you hold onto it. Because we belong to God, he holds onto us and takes care of us.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 27:10 (NLT), “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.”
In Isaiah 46, there’s a beautiful statement where God says, “I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you.” (Isaiah 46:4). What comfort there is in knowing that!
But the fact that we belong to God also means that we have certain responsibilities. As Paul said in I Corinthians 6, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
If you belong to a group, to a club or an organization, you have certain responsibilities to that group. You may have to pay dues. You may be required to do certain tasks. Because the one that you belong to has the right to expect you to follow their instructions.
I’m reminded of some servants in the Old Testament. If a Jew had a slave, he was required to set that slave free after seven years. But that servant could say, “I don’t want to leave. You’ve treated me well. I want to stay here in your home and continue to serve you for the rest of my life.”
And that’s what those of us who are Christians have done. We have made the voluntary choice to belong to God. We’ve made the decision to serve him for the rest of our lives. Someone has said, “[My only comfort is] that I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
When things get tough, we need to remember who we belong to. When we’re tempted to sin, we need to remember who we belong to. When it gets difficult to serve God, we need to remember who we belong to. If God decides to take away our health, our wealth, our relationships, or whatever else, we need to remember that we belong to him, and everything we have is his.
And if we will do that, then we can say, “I belong to the Lord, so everything I am and everything I have are his; I put it all in his hands, to give or withhold as he sees best. Because I belong to God, I am at his disposal to use in any way that he wants me to be used. I am his, and he is mine.”
After Jesus acknowledged that his disciples belonged to him and to his Father, he then prayed for their….
Verse 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. 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.
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 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. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:11-15)
Jesus prayed for his disciples to be protected. And they were going to need God’s protection because there was some serious persecution that lay ahead. In verse 14, Jesus says, “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.”
Those disciples were going to be hated by the very same people that will crucify Jesus in just a few hours. And so, Jesus prays for their protection. Jesus says, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me.” The NIV says, “protect them.” The Good News translation says, “Keep them safe.”
In verse 12, Jesus says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them.” The Berean Study Bible says, “I protected and preserved them.”
So, the first thing that Jesus asks his Father on behalf of his disciples is that they might be kept. You know, I’m thinking there are so many things that I might pray for if I were in Jesus’s place. There are the usual things that we tend to pray for one another. Why didn’t Jesus pray, “Use them, or strengthen them, or teach them, or guide them?” Those are the kinds of things that we might pray for one another.
But when Jesus comes to this moment when he is leaving his disciples and he chooses one phrase to identify what his heart’s desire is for them, he says, “Keep them.” Keep them safe.
But, when I think about it, that’s what I pray when I am about to leave my family or when I’m away from them. When I’m with my loved ones, I find myself praying all sorts of different things for them, but when I’m away, I find myself continually praying, “Lord, keep them, keep them safe. Watch over them.”
And I think what that tells me is that this prayer of Jesus is all about relationship. He’s praying for his disciples exactly what we would pray for our families. “Father, keep them, keep them safe. Watch over them.”
In verse 15, Jesus says, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
Notice that Jesus wasn’t praying that his disciples would be protected from trouble. Rather, he’s praying that they would be protected in the midst of trouble, and specifically that they would be kept from the evil one.
As Christians, we are not called by God to be withdrawn from this world, nor are we to live immersed in the ways of this world. We are not to be of the world, but we are to remain in this world, bearing witness to the truth about Jesus Christ, dealing with all the hatred that this world can muster, but protected by the Father himself.
When suffering and hardship come our way, we shouldn’t be surprised. And we need to resist the temptation to either lose the battle or leave the battle. There’s a temptation for us to just “give in” by becoming like the world — what it values, what it loves, and what it does. But there’s also a temptation to try to leave — to run away and hide ourselves from the world. But both of those are wrong responses to the world.
Jesus’s mission for his disciples is for us to glorify the Father by living through our difficulties, trials, and temptations. We are to live in the battle with the assurance that God will protect us. If you belong to God, he will hold you fast!
And so, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples is for their protection, “Keep them”. But there’s one more thing that Jesus prayed for them….
Verse 16, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:16-19)
Jesus prayed that the Father would, “Sanctify them in the truth.” Let’s be honest, sanctification is not one of those words that we use much in our everyday language, so what exactly does the word “sanctify” mean?” In Greek, the word “sanctify” is closely related to the word “holy”, and both of those words indicate something that is set apart to be used for God’s purposes.
For example, in the Old Testament, God sanctified or set apart his people, he sanctified his priests, his holy place (the tabernacle), and all the items of worship. Everything and everyone was set apart as “holy to the Lord.” So, to sanctify refers to the way that sets apart, dedicates, and purifies his people. It has the sense of being set apart to have our character reflect the character of God. We are holy, because he is holy.
You see, the idea in Scripture is not just that Jesus saves people from their sins and forgives them, but he also makes them progressively more and more righteous in their practical lives. In other words, a relationship with Jesus not only changes your eternal destiny, but it also changes who you are right now!
In this prayer, Jesus asks that the Father would make his disciples more and more holy. To put it another way, Jesus prayed that his followers would be changed more and more to look like him.
One of my favorite texts about this progressive change in holiness is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Our goal as Christians is to be formed into the image of Jesus. I like the way the New Living Translation translates this verse, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” More and more like him. That’s what sanctification is all about.
John Newton, the person who wrote “Amazing Grace” once said, “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was.” I think that describes the process of sanctification. It is a continual growth, and if we are being sanctified by God, then we are closer to where God wants us to be than we were, but as our sanctification continues, we will be even closer to where God wants us to be in the future.
I think this prayer of Jesus is recorded here in John 17 not just so that we would know what Jesus prayed about, but so that we might learn to follow his example and pray for the same things.
If you are not yet a Christian, your first step is choosing to belong to Jesus. God has created you and he has redeemed you, but it remains your choice as to whether or not you will choose like the servants of the Old Testament to serve God for the rest of your days. Because only after you have done that can you take comfort from the knowledge that “I am his, and he is mine.”
For those of you who are Christians, I encourage you to include three things in your prayers that we find here in this prayer of Jesus:
Lord, sanctify me, make me holy — help me to be transformed into your image.
Lord, keep me faithful and protect me from the devil
Lord, may you be glorified in every part of my life