Sermon on John 17:1-26 – “Jesus’ Prayer for His People”

Sermon for Sunday, August 30th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Isa 53:10-12 ESV] 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

New Testament reading:

[Heb 4:11-13 ESV] 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Gospel reading:
[Mat 16:13-20 ESV] 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Sermon text:

[Jhn 17:1-26 ESV] 1 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. 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. 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.”

INTRODUCTION

We have in John 17 the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in the Bible. And since about the 16th century this has been known as the “High Priestly Prayer.” Other have called it the “Farewell Prayer.” And yet others have called it “The Lord’s Prayer” since the prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” could be called “The Disciples Prayer.” That is, it was the disciples who asked Jesus how to pray, and he said, “like this.”

But the description of it as “The High Priestly Prayer” has stuck, and that it is what it is most known as.

So why is it called “The High Priestly Prayer?”

Jesus fulfilled three roles; he was prophet, priest, and king. And perhaps we find more opportunity to emphasize his kingship or his prophecies. But here we emphasize that Jesus also was a priest.

As a priest—and the very highest of them—Christ prayed for his people. He interceded on their behalf with prayers to God.

To intercede is to intervene on behalf of another. We might think of a comet out in space heading for earth. And what is done in all of the movies? A rocket it sent to intercede. The rocket does the work that the people of the earth themselves cannot do—it changes the path of the comet. And this isn’t for the benefit of the rocket, but for the benefit of the people of the earth. So to intercede is to intervene on behalf of another.

In the Old Testament priests sacrificed animals on behalf of the people (Ex. 30:10), especially for those who had sinned. (Leviticus 6:1-7) And they would pray (Genesis 20:17, Numbers 6:24-26, 1 Samuel 1:17. 2 Chronicles 30:27, etc.) to the Lord on behalf of the people. They interceded, they were mediators between man and God.

Now Jesus was not only the sacrifice which atoned once and for all for the sins of God’s people, but he also was the priest that prayed to God on behalf of the people. Jesus made intercession for His people in this High-Priestly Prayer. And, because Jesus went willingly to the cross, he acted also as a priest in giving the sacrifice.

And we do have precedence in Hebrews 4:15 for call Jesus not only “priest” but “high priest.”

[Heb 4:15 ESV] 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

So both the sacrifice of Christ and Christ’s prayer make intercession. Jesus is the very lamb of God sacrificed on behalf of His people, and Jesus functions as the high priest in His praying on behalf of His people.

And in this Christ’s fulfilled the need of a mediator often wished for in the Old Testament:

[1Sa 2:25 ESV] 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?”

Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that the messiah would “pour out his soul to death,” be “numbered with the transgressors,” and yet he “bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the trangressors.” (Isiah 53:12)

We much more commonly think about Christ as the sacrifice for our sins, but we less often this about this High Priestly Prayer where Christ intercedes, praying on our behalf.

So today we want to look more in depth at this prayer of Jesus. And we’ll do so breaking it down into three parts:

I. Prayer for Himself (v. 1-5)

II. Prayer for the Disciples (v. 6-19)

III. Prayer for the Church (v. 20-26)

The hour has now come. We’ve been hearing about the coming hour throughout John’s Gospel. Now it is here. We have arrived at that final “hour.” The hour God has appointed.

While the hour is indeed late in the evening by this point following Christ’s supper and dialogue with his disciples, he is not thereby speaking of the 12th hour or the last hour of the day, but rather this last “hour” is the last hour of his life. And, we do well to realize that times like this are not as definite as they are in our lives. He does not here mean precisely 60 minutes of time. For his death did not happen until the next day.

But he is leaving the world and going to the Father.

And before he leaves, he give this intercessory prayer.

I. Prayer for Himself (v. 1-5)

First, Jesus prays for himself, that he may be glorified.

“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.

Is this selfish – that Jesus prays for his own glory?

When man is selfish he errs in taking focus off of the true center of things—God himself—and putting the focus on man.

But as Jesus Christ is God, so his focus on himself is properly centered.

He asks to be glorified so that God may be glorified. All he does is for the glory of God.

And the Gospel itself, which is presented in verses 2 and 3, brings glory to God.

This is the Gospel, the good news or eternal life through the gift of God’s grace received by faith alone:

Eternal life is “given” of God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The knowledge of God is given right along with eternal life. They go together. Thus our “faith” is not a leap into nothingness, but a belief in the God whom we know. Faith always has content. We believe IN Jesus Christ. We have faith IN God and His promises. And these promises are told to us in the Scriptures.

II. Prayer for the Disciples (v. 6-19)

After praying for himself and the glory of God, Jesus prays for his disciples. In the narrow sense this is the eleven disciples then present, but in the broader since it is the faithful of God in all times.

And a particularly important verse in this section is verse 9.

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.

And this doesn’t match well with the false views of Jesus that exist in the world. Jesus is often presented as loving absolutely everyone and desiring that they’ll love him back. But here he prays not for everyone, but only for his own, and his own will come to him. There is no maybe about it.

And we find this throughout the Scriptures – God has elected some (not all) to eternal life. There are some who are the people of God and some who are not. And Jesus is sent “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (v. 2)

Those whom Jesus saves are the same that the Father has chosen. “Yours they were, and you gave them to me.”

This reminds of Romans 8:30 – “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

The Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit as well) are on the same page, working all things together for the salvation of the same people, the very people of God that Jesus is now praying for.

And those Jesus is praying for have “com to know in truth” that Jesus came from God and “they have believed” that the Father sent Jesus. That is, all of the people of God have faith in Jesus Christ, because faith is a gift from God giving to His people.

Jesus prays also for the future of his people; for the time after he goes to the Father. “Keep them in your name.” “Keep them from the evil one.” “Sanctify them.” These are requests to the Father both positively (for our sanctification) and negatively that we be kept from evil. Just like the “Lord’s Prayer,” here in THIS Lord’s prayer there is the prayer to be delivered from evil.

III. Prayer for the Church (v. 20-26)

Now, in the final section (verses 20 through 26), we find the full expansion that Jesus is speaking not only about those 11 disciples with him, but the entire Church of God in all times. He says:

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.

We see again the importance of knowledge, as it is Christ who brings knowledge of God to His people.

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.”

And this knowledge has a purpose. It is not for “puffing up.” We don’t have knowledge in order to put ourselves on a pedestal above others, we have knowledge in order that we may be sanctified. Sanctification—becoming holy—is always the goal of justification—the being declared righteous.

Thus we hear:

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.

We are not justified so that we can keep living in sin. We are to be sanctified through God’s word; through his truth. We learn from the Scriptures how we are to live. And with the Holy Spirit working in us both to will and to do, we increase in holiness following the Lord. This isn’t always a direct upward linear growth in the Christian life. We struggle. Mightily do we struggle.

WCF 13:2-3 This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

This perfection occurs only in our glorification in heaven.

But we have the promise of one day being actually sanctified because we have Jesus Christ himself praying for us in this intercessory prayer.

Also in this prayer for the church, we find a prayer for unity. “That they [all in the church] may be one as we [the Father and the Son] are one.”

And this is a commonly referenced verse when it comes to the subject of unity.

But note that this is not an outward organizational unity, but a unity in agreement on doctrine.

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.

Twice we find here statements about belief in Jesus Christ. This is what the church is to be united about. There is to be unity on doctrine about the person and work of Christ.

And so, when outward organizational unity is pressed between churches that have no agreement on these important doctrines, it is not true unity at all.
A few decades ago there was a movement called Evangelical and Catholics together. And they sought to unify Protestants and Roman Catholics. But there can be no unity between Protestants and Roman Catholics so long as the Roman Catholic Church teaches error about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those in the “evangelical” camp that found “unity” with the Catholic invariably did so by watering down their own doctrines. It was never Rome that moved towards the Biblical position. It was always Evangelicals moving away from the Bible for the sake of unity. But this is not the unity we desire and should have no part of it. We want true unity, on Christ and the Gospel. Unity on the fact that Christ died FOR HIS PEOPLE and was 100% successful in his mission to save His people. The Gospel is about salvation; actual salvation in Jesus Christ, and has not part in the work’s righteousness of Rome or in the self-aggrandizing of Arminianism. Salvation is not through oneself at all, but in the gift of God’s grace known through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. And with all Christians who believe this we have much unity, and Christ’s prayer has been fulfilled.

So Jesus prays for the glory of God, and for his disciples, and for the whole church.

When we step back for a moment and remember the context, a certain application comes to the forefront.

APPLICATION: Teaching is to be combined with prayer.

Jesus has been teaching his disciples throughout the Upper Room Discourse and in fact over the course of his whole ministry with them. And teaching is very important, for it is the knowledge of God believed in the Gospel that is the instrument of salvation for all of God’s people.

But teaching and learning alone are of no effect if not accompanied by the humble reliance upon God that is shown in prayer.

When we have faith in Jesus Christ we not only understand the words of the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit works in our hearts so that we assent, so that we submit to the Word of God.

Here Jesus shows us by his example that we should pray along with teaching. We should pray for the people of God that they will come to faith and believe the message of the Gospel. And we should pray for God’s glory to be manifested in all things.

With Jesus Christ continually interceding on our behalf we know that God hears our prayers.

CONCLUSION

So we’ll conclude with this verse from Hebrews 7:15

[Heb 7:25 ESV] 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus always makes intercession for His people. Praise the Lord for the intercession of Jesus Christ, our eternal high priest.

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