6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I’m Praying for You” Jesus High Priestly Prayer from Jn 17, Easter 7, May 13, 2018
There is a line in my favorite movie, Fiddler on the Roof, where the main character Tevye, is walking along the roadside praying to God (as he often does in the movie). Often in his conversation with others he will be quoting (or as often as not, misquoting) the Bible with the phrase, “as the good book says…”. On this particular occasion as he is praying, and says to God, “as the good book says…”, and then realizes to whom he is speaking and rightfully interjects, “why am I telling you what the good book says”. God the Father not only knows what the “good book” says, but knows the prayers of Tevye, you, and I, and even the prayers of our Lord Jesus as we read in this text…and yet welcomes these prayers nevertheless. Today we will be briefly looking at this amazing prayer that Jesus prays on behalf of his disciples, often referred to as the “high priestly prayer”.
Before doing so, I would like to comment on the topic of prayer itself. Earlier this week as I was visiting among acquaintances/friends I asked if I could pray for them, to which they gladly agreed. In all my years of ministry, I have never once had a person reject this request. It is a beautiful thing to have others intercede on our behalf, and pray for us, to pray ourselves, and to know that Jesus does so for his disciples, and for us.
In today’s reading we get a glimpse into the humility of Jesus which Paul describes powerfully in Philippians 2:6f; Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer as recorded in John 17 (and this prayer must have been prayed audibly by Jesus and impacted John to the point of him recording it), Jesus ascribes to God the Father His due, in both Jesus’ own life and calling, and that of His disciples. All that Jesus (regarding his humanity) is, has, and does, comes from God. He speaks the words God gives him to speak, and he does the acts God calls him to do. He is never “free-styling”, or “flying by the seat of his pants”, but rather throughout his earthly ministry is constantly attuned to the voice of the Father. Although it was from the mouth of Jesus that his disciples received their first call, Jesus himself recognized that God the Father is the one who initiates that call, and it is to Him they ultimately belong. In essence, Jesus’ life and ministry reflects that of an ambassador of a country who relates to other countries. The ambassador’s mandate is not to make up policies, but rather simply to echo that which comes from government officials. Our discipleship will take the very same posture, relating to others the statutes of God, not “our best guess”.
Jesus goes on to petition what would already be obvious to the Father, that the disciples be kept safe after he has died and ascended to the Father, as they were kept safe while he was with them (all except one, Judas Iscariot). The falling away of Judas provides fodder for no small theological debate within various Christians denominations, but in its very essence we must accept the facts as the Bible reveals them. Just how the sovereign will of God intersects with the will of man is a topic beyond the scope of today’s message (quite likely beyond the scope of human understanding), but the outcome regarding Judas’ end is clear. He is called the “son of perdition” for a reason in Holy writ, and no pastor, or theologian, or denomination has authority to call him otherwise. Assuming he has some responsibility in
his demise, his example is a warning to all harden their heart and will not repent, thereby committing the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit.
The safety of which Jesus prayers for his disciples is not necessarily from safety from danger, sickness, misfortune, suffering, and even death (for last time I checked, Christians die at pretty much the same rate as non- Christians), but rather safety regarding the second death and eternal separation from God. Jesus, as does David in the 23rd Psalm prays that as we go through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, but rather trust that God will walk through that valley with us, and be there to meet us on the other side.
The paragraph that follows joins two realities that are not easily harmonized. If I were to ask you what most people aspire to in this life, most likely you would say something to the effect of; fame, fortune, ease (perpetual long weekends/retirement) happiness, good health, perhaps even joy. Jesus’ prayer for joy comes with a resounding “Amen, or yes, I’ll take it!” After all, who couldn’t use a little more joy in their lives. Perhaps at this point it might be helpful to have a working definition of joy as it is used in the Bible. The Reformed pastor/theologian John Piper describes joy as, “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world”. Understanding joy in this sense helps us realize the need for Jesus’ prayer for us, and the work that God desires to do in us, or as the Church Father Augustine stated, “Father, command what you will and grant what you command.” The joy that God desires for us cannot come from within, but rather must be granted from without, thus Jesus’ prayer for us.
This joy however, comes with a bit of a twist, as it comes in the midst of being despised and hated by the “world” (John uses the term “world” in different ways in his gospel, here It’s used to describe those who do not share God’s ideals). How exactly do joy and rejection/hatred/persecution fit together. It makes little to no sense to the rational mind… but does apparently to those who’ve had a chance to experience it. The book of Acts tells of Peter and John rejoicing after being jailed and physically beaten, “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” Acts 5:40b-41. The book of Hebrews tells of this in the life of Jesus:” fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb 12:2. Using “joy” and “cross” in the same sentence seems like more than a bit of a stretch for many of us, but there it is.
What those of us who have loved another deeply discover with our relationships with others, is that Jesus’ prayer, as difficult as it might be, describes an essential reality. When one decides to love, one exposes themselves to pain. Great love will one day be accompanied with great pain at the loss of the beloved. Love and pain go together like hand in glove You can’t have one without the other. Those who choose to forgo love to avoid the eventual pain, chose poorly. May God grant Jesus’ prayer that we can experience and recognize true joy…and all the while be sustained in our rejection from the world, and in our suffering.
After Jesus death, the disciples found themselves behind locked doors for fear of their lives. Since that time, many Christians have found themselves in similar places. Increasingly Christians in what used to be Christian lands are feeling this as well. At the same time however, we must realize that our calling is to bring the love of Christ to this world both in word and deed, and in order to do that, we must in fact be
“in that very world”. At the same time however, I know only too well how that world can “swallow up” both young and old disciples alike with its temptations and its lures. As Jesus relates in the parable of the soil, the seed sown in the thistles (world) can and will be surrounded by the world and the cares therein, and if not careful, those thistles will choke out the life of faith. How good and important it is to know that Jesus is praying for his disciples, and for us to persevere, even while we are in this world.
Jesus ends the reading for today with a prayer for his disciples to be “sanctified in the truth…for his word is truth”, and then he sends them out. Sanctified is a word used in temple worship and relates to being set apart for sacred (Godly) use. The tabernacle was “sanctified”, as was the temple and its furnishings. The priests who served there were sanctified. In its fuller meaning sanctification means to function as God originally intended. We see this stated clearly in Lev 20;26, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. ”As followers of Jesus, we too are set apart for holy living and holy service, as revealed in God’s Holy Word. The Holy Spirit continually works this process in and through us as we daily read God’s Word, repent, and align our lives with God’s. You and I have been set apart for holy living…and for living “wholly”.
Jesus has committed to pray for his disciples then and continues to pray for his disciples now (Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25”). His prayers were effectual in seeing his disciples through the “ups and downs” of their lives, and see them safely to the “others side”, and will do the same for us as well. May we all find comfort and hope knowing this. Amen