The last prayer - John 17

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 16th December 2007.

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I don’t you if you saw it on the news, but last Sunday the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, cut up his dog collar during a live TV interview with Andrew Marr. So what was all that about? Well it was a visual aid for the archbishop’s long-standing criticism of Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s been in charge of Zimbabwe since 1980 and whichever way the electorate votes, Mugabe thinks he’s got a right to stay at the top until he dies. Now I know we could think of lots of countries with a democratic deficiency; but what’s extreme about Mugabe is that he’s turned Zimbabwe from the bread basket of Africa into an economic basket case. 20 years ago, Zimbabwe exported grain to the rest of Africa.

Today, there is 80% unemployment, nearly 4,000% inflation, virtually nothing in the shops and the people in the streets are literally starving to death.

And in the meantime, Mugabe’s built himself a £6mn 25 bedroom presidential mansion. He once said that "We pride ourselves as being top". He wants to be known as one of Africa’s or even one the world’s great leaders, and so he’s building himself a White House to match. Mugabe wants the glory of being No 1. And he wants all the trapping of being No 1.

Mugabe’s a graphic example of why we don’t like leaders who glorify themselves. Because glory and power nearly always go to people’s heads; and unless they’re brought down a peg or 2, then long term leaders often turn into self-glorifying megalomaniacs.


But the very first thing Jesus prays for in this Last Prayer is that the Father would glorify him. Let’s look at it again in Jn 17:1 on p [1007/ 1679].

1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son,

And so the question is as we look at this last prayer together, has Jesus turned into some kind of Mugabe’ian megalomaniac? And if not, why is it a good thing for Jesus to be glorified? Well that’s the issue we’re going to examine as we as we go through this Last Prayer. So we’ll see:

  • In v1-5, that Jesus prays for His own glory
  • In v6-19, that Jesus prays that His disciples would be protected and prepared; and
  • In v20-26, that Jesus prays that the church would be united in the truth.
  • Background/ Link

    But first of all look again at the beginning of v1: "After Jesus said this"

    After Jesus had said what? Well in the immediate context, everything Jesus has been saying in chapter s 15 & 16. But in a broader context, the whole of chapter s 12-17 which we’ve been looking at this term have been about Jesus preparing the disciples for His imminent departure. All through the first half of John’s Gospel, Jesus kept on saying that His hour had not yet come. But in 12:23 after J’s Triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus announced that His hour had now come. And it was clear when we looked at that Last Prediction in chapter 12, that J’s hour meant His death on the cross on Good Friday. From chapter 13 onwards, Jesus has concentrated exclusively on teaching His disciples; and in chapter s 14-16, we’ve seen Jesus giving them intensive preparation for His hour; for His immediate departure and return to His Father in Heaven. And chapter 17 is the finale of J’s getting the disciples ready. Because in chapter 18, just as He’s predicted, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and led off to a kangaroo court. Look with me at 17:11 just to get the point:

    11I will remain in the world no longer, but [the disciples] are still in the world, and I am coming to you.

    The Last Prayer then.

  • J prays that He might be glorified (v1-5)
  • So what does Jesus pray then? Well in v1-5, Jesus prays that he would be glorified. Right at the beginning of the prayer, Jesus asks the father that He, the Son, may be glorified. And at the end of the section in v5 he prays similarly: "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence"

    J prays that He might be glorified.

    So is Jesus praying here for the Father to insulate Him from all the economic and social pressures of living in a messed up world? Does he want the F to whisk him away to a £6mn 25 bedroomed house in heaven?

    And the answer is no. And the answer is no for 3 separate reasons:

  • because of who Jesus is?
  • Because of what it means for Jesus to be glorified?
  • And because of the ultimate purpose of J's glorification
  • So first of all then, Jesus asking to be glorified is a good and right thing because of who Jesus is. Look again at v5:

    5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

    Once again, Jesus is claiming to have existed before the creation of the world. More than that, Jesus the Son, is claiming to have had intimate relationship with the F back in eternity. Before the creation of time and space, the Son had shared or participated in the Father’s glory; been part of the Father’s very essence or Being that is, as we say in the Nicene Creed. Because the F and the Son are both equally God. Because there’s One God in 3 persons: F, Son and HS. As John puts it back in Jn 1:1:

     1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

    J, the Son, Jesus the Word was both God himself, and yet a separate Person from God the father. One True God, yet existing in 3 separate persons as we saw when we looked at the Last Gift of the HS back in chapter s 14 & 16. But if there’s only One God, how can he exist in 3 separate persons. Surely there’s either One God or three gods?

    Certainly that’s what Muslims say about us. A Muslim would say that they believe in One God, and that Jesus was only a Prophet like Mohammad. By saying that Jesus is god, Christians believe in 3 gods – that the charge a Muslim would accuse us of. To which we say no. There’s one god in 3 Persons. But how? And the answer’s in the rest of chapter 17. Look down to v8:

    8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

    The Father sent the Son and the Son was perfectly obedient to the F’s will. Obedient to death; even death on a cross. So obedient in fact, that there is only One will of God. Look onto v10:

    10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine [says J].

    Everything the Father has, the Son has and visa versa. Why? Because they’re One; One in essence or being; god from god as the creeds puts it. And finally look down to v20:

     20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me.

    The reason the F and the S share the same divine essence or godness, is that they mutually indwell each other. Father in the Son and the Son in the F. 3 separate divine persons, F, Son and HS, but all perfectly united in their godness so that they have a single mind, purpose and will.

    And that Will leads us onto the second reason Jesus isn’t being a megalomaniac. Because of what it means for Jesus to be glorified. Come back with me to v1, where Jesus prays:

    "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son"

    Literally, the hour has come. And we already know from chapter 12 that the hour for Jesus to be glorified means Jesus going to the cross. The very next morning, Jesus was going to be glorified as he died a shameful and agonising death on the cross under the judgement of His heavenly F.

    How could such a hideous death be J’s moment of supreme glory? Because of God’s plan; His plan of salvation that is, as v2-3 spell out for us.

    2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

    J’s death on the cross was the means by which the F could grant salvation, eternal life that is, to those he’d chosen back in eternity. Because each and every one of us are sinners justly deserving God’s righteous judgment in hell. But Jesus went to the cross taking the punishment for all the sins of God’s people; why? So that they could be justly forgiven; because someone had to pay the price for their sins; and for God’s people, that someone was Jesus. So for God’s people, that salvation is given to them as they come into a living relationship with God the F, through an understanding of what Jesus has done for them on the cross. An understanding which we learnt a couple of weeks ago, is given to them as the undeserved gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Despite the person costs, Jesus is so confident that he will go through with the F’s plan that He speaks about having already achieved it in v4:

    4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

    The work of the cross that is. And so in v5, Jesus is looking ahead beyond the cross to His resurrection and ascension back into heaven where he will once again be restored to His Father’s full presence; to where he will once again share the glory they had together before the creation of the world.

    J isn’t a megalomaniac because of who he is: God the son and because of what it meant for Jesus to be glorified. A hideous death on the cross in line with the F’s will. But finally, Jesus isn’t being a megalomaniac because of who gets the ultimate glory. Back in v1, Jesus asks to be glorified so that the Son may glorify the F. When the Son has perfectly obeyed the father’s will and gone through with His plan of salvation the cross, then the Father will be truly glorified in and through the Son. Because ultimately J’s glory points to the glory of God the F.

    And that’s why we often say at the end of our corporate prayers: for your ultimate glory we pray, Amen; because that should be our ultimate aim in everything we do and say: the gory of God the Father.

    And that’s in a different league to President Mugabe. And it’s probably in a different league to most of our prayers as well. We may tack on ‘in J’s name’ or ‘for your ultimate glory’ but how many of our prayers are truly in line with the Father’s will? His will that the Kingdom of God would be extended as His people grow to know Him better; that His kingdom would be extended as more people begin a living relationship with Him. How many of our prayers are more to do with our comfort and our glory: O Lord, pl get rid of this headache; please help me get all the Christmas shopping done; help me to make a good job of this piece of work I’m doing so I get lots of praise and credit and maybe even a Christmas bonus. To God be the glory, great things he has done. And that’s exactly what Jesus is praying for.

  • J prays that His disciples would be protected and prepared for Mission (v6-19)
  • But secondly, in v6-19, Jesus moves on to praying for His disciples.

    And in the bulk of that section in v6-16, Jesus prays that His disciples would be protected or kept. And the heart of that prayer, is the middle of v11:

    Holy Father, protect [or keep] them by the power of your name.

    The context of course is the violent opposition that Jesus and His disciples are about to face, as he reminds them again in v14:

    14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

    And of course the peak of that opposition was triggered by one of J's own disciples: Judas as Jesus spells out back in v12:

    12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

    And so the issue is: if Judas was going to betray Jesus and fierce opposition was coming, would the other disciples stand their ground? Would they remain or abide in Jesus as He’d commanded them back in chapter 15? And that’s why Jesus prays that the F would protect or keep or guard the disciples’ faith. So how does Jesus see the F answering that prayer? By whisking the disciples off to a monastery where they’ll be able to escape from all the pressure of the world? Well look at v15:

    15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

    No, Jesus prays for the F's protection of the disciples as they remain in the world. They’re not of the world, because Jesus has saved them out of the world, but they remain in it; and so need their F’s protection not to drift away or be blown off course by discouragement, persecution and any other attacks by the Evil One.

    And it’s the same for us. When we pray for our F’s help in a situation, His normal answer is to give us the strength to endure in the circumstances He’s put us in. Our normal human response is to flee away from trouble and hassle. But God’s answer is usually to stay and stand firm in it: my power is made perfect in weakness, the Lord told the Apostle Paul when he asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh.

    So what does it mean for the F to protect of keep His disciples? Is it like one of those prayers that it won’t snow over Christmas, because I need to get to dad’s or where you’re going for Christmas dinner. Well no. Jesus is praying in line with His F’s will; His settled and fixed will. Look back to v6 to see the point:

     6"I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me

    Before Jesus even came into the world, God the F had already identified His people; they were His, and when Jesus came along, He revealed the Father to those the F has given to Him, to those the F had chosen out of the world; where here the world means human society in opposition to God and His purposes.

    Which is why Jesus says down in v9: I am not praying for the world. Jesus doesn’t pray for those the Father hasn’t chosen. But only the disciples in v6-20, and later in v20-26 for the rest of the church which the F would give Jesus from out of the world.

    And so the fact the Judas was about to betray Jesus shouldn’t shake the disciples’ confidence, Because as Jesus makes clear in v12, Judas had always been doomed to destruction so that the prophecies about Him in the OT might be fulfilled. No, those whom the F has given Jesus out of the world, in accordance with His eternal will, they will indeed remain in Jesus. And Jesus is simply praying in line with the F’s will and plan. And the proof that the rest of the disciples are truly His is in v8:

    8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

    Unlike Judas who ended up rejecting Jesus because he no longer accepted who Jesus claimed to be, the rest of the disciples accepted J’s words; yes they were over confidence and about to mess up as we saw last week.

    But despite their flawed understanding and obedience, they believed the heart of the Gospel: they accepted who Jesus was: the One sent from the F.

    And that faith is the means by which God saves us. As the modern chorus puts it; "only by grace can we enter, only by grace can we stand." God has promised to keep His true children to the end; through the trials and struggles of life in this difficult and hostile world. Jesus prays for His disciples in line with His F’s will, so that His F may be glorified when it’s seen that His Word comes true.

    And again that’s a model of prayer we see throughout the Scriptures. A model that we should pray in line with God’s will & promises as revealed in the Scriptures. Prayers that our faith may grow and be strengthened as the Lord protects and keeps us. That Jesus will come back and usher in the New heavens and the New Earth, just as He’s promised. Come L Jesus come we pray and sing. And that in the meantime, we pray that those the F has given to Jesus would come to saving faith as they hear and receive J’s word, the Gospel that it. As the Angles said on Christmas night: Glory to God in the highest & peace on earth to those on who His favour rests.

    So in v6-16, Jesus has prayed for His disciples’ protection. And in the last 2 verses of this section, Jesus builds on that prayer as he asks the F to prepare them for the Mission he’s got I store for them. Look at v17:

    17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

    The root of the word sanctify means to be set apart, which is where we get the word holiness from. But here, it means to be set apart for some special purpose. Jesus was about to sanctify himself as he set himself completely apart from any personal preferences and went ahead with his work of dying on the cross. And it’s that work which is the basis for the disciples’ work or mission, for their work of spreading the Gospel. Jesus has been praying that His disciples be protected in the world; and here he’s praying that they would also be prepared for their mission to the world.

    3. Jesus prays for the church to be united in the truth (v20-26)

    And so that leads on to v20-26 where we see that Jesus prays that whole church be united in the truth. Look at v20:

    20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

    J clearly expected the disciples’ missionary work to be successful; and we know from the book of Acts that it was. And in these verses, Jesus is praying for all those who would come to trust in the Gospel through the apostles’ witness; Jesus is praying for people like us who have come to accept the apostolic message in the NT: that Jesus is God and that he died to save us from our sins. So what does he pray? He prays for unity. Not a fake institutional unity that ignores even blatant wrong teaching; no, a unity that’s modelled by the unity within the Trinity. A unity in the Truth, the truth of the Gospel; the truth about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

    We can’t rip this verse out of context and use it as a pre-text to be united with every other person and church which claims to Christian no matter what they believe. But on the other hand, we’re commanded not to be isolationist. Ultimately there’s one catholic or universal church in heaven, of which churches like Riverside are local visible expressions.

    And there should be a basic unity between all believers of whatever tradition or background who believe the basic gospel message. And that unity must start right here within Riverside.

    We need to work hard at breaking down any internal barriers or divisions within our church; division based on age, or how long we’ve been here; or what our personal preferences are when it comes to corporate worship or whatever. Because when it comes to true believers who genuinely believe the Gospel message, Jesus pray that they may be One, just as there’s perfect unity within the godhead; within the heart of the Trinity that is.

    But why? What’s so important about that unity:

  • well first of all in v23, unity is important for evangelism; a church that’s divided won’t be any good at reaching out, and if it does, no one will want to join it, because there'll be no difference between it and the world; .
  • But secondly, in v24; we’re heading for heaven: if you’re are a true believer, then you’re going to spend eternity with both the Trinitarian God and His church. And so we might as well start getting on with each other now, which is basically what he’s saying in v26:
  • 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

    Growing unity with our Trinitarian God, and growing unity with our fellow Christians, growth that will reach perfection in the new creation. And all for the glory of God the Father. Amen. Let’s pray.

    Closing Prayer

    Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus to save His people like us. And thank you that Jesus prays for your will to be done, that he might be glorified in you and that His disciples and the wider church might be protected, and prepared for the work of spreading the Gospel, so that all those who are yours, might be united in the truth and spent eternity together with you in perfect harmony. Help us to understand your will and plans more clearly, that we might worship you more knowledgeably, for our benefit, but your ultimate glory we pray, Amen.

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