John: Inner Sanctum

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 11, 2003

John 17:1-26

John 17:1-26
“Inner Sanctum”

Turn with me to the seventeenth
chapter of John’s gospel and we’ll read it together. Hear the Word of God.

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to
heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may
glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You
have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may
know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified
You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with
You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave
Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept
Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from
You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received
them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You
sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of
those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine
are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer
in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy
Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may
be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name
which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but
the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I come
to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My made full
in themselves.
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not
of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out
of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world,
even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their
sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I
do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me
through their word; that they may all be one; even 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
sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may
be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected
in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as
You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be
with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for
You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although
the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You
sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so
that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

So far God’s holy and inerrant Word; may He bless the
reading of it. Let’s pray.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of
my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

At no time have I felt my inadequacy in preaching
Scripture as I do this evening coming to this particular chapter, John 17.
Philip Melancthon’s friend and disciple, a man by the name of David Hitraus, in
the 16th century was the first person to refer to this chapter as
Jesus’ sacerdotal prayer, or as we sometimes call it, Jesus’ High Priestly
. Before that, as far back as the fifth century Cyril of Alexandria,
theologians and Bible students have perceived in this chapter something of the
picture of a high priest going into the most holy place and taking with him the
names of the tribes of Israel, the children of God, the people of God, and
interceding on their behalf.

This is holy ground. Nowhere are the words of Calvin
truer than here about the gospel of John, “Here we see the soul of Jesus.” Jesus
is finished speaking to His disciples, and now He turns to His Father in heaven.
We’re eavesdropping a prayer. We’re over hearing a prayer of Jesus.

Do you ever wonder what kind of words Jesus employed
when He prayed. How did He pray? Well, this is how He prayed; this is Jesus’
prayer language. I’ve been wondering this week. Did John take it down notes as
he listened to Jesus praying? Did he recall it, perhaps, the next day and make
some notes? Was it just given to him afresh by the Holy Spirit? I don’t know the
answers to those questions. John Knox had this prayer read to him every day
during his last days when he was ill and dying, and just before he died he
confessed to drawing from this prayer the greatest source of comfort and

I’ve been looking for help in how to preach this
chapter. I turned to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and discovered that he preached 48
sermons on John 17. I turned to James Montgomery Boice and discovered that he’d
preached 16 sermons on John 17. I have a book in my library by Thomas Manton,
one of the great Puritans and one time chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and I
discovered that he preached 45 sermons on John 17. And I have to do it in one.

You will note in your Bibles, especially if your
Bibles are divided into sections with chapter or section headings added to the
Scripture, you’ll notice that it falls fairly neatly into three sections. In
verses one to five, Jesus is praying for Himself; in verse 6-19 Jesus is praying
for the disciples; and in verses 20-26 Jesus prays for the people of God
everywhere at all times–that’s us.

We could take those three segments, but that’s not
what I’m going to do. That would be a wonderful way of looking at John 17, going
through it almost verse by verse. Instead I want you to notice verse 24 because
in many ways, verse 24 encapsulates some of the main ideas and petitions of this
prayer. In many ways verse 24 provides for us what we sometimes call an
epitomizing text: “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given Me, be
with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory which thou hast given
Me. For thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.”

I. The basis on which Christ
prays for His people.
I want us to see first of all the basis on which Christ prays
for His people. There are two things, two platforms on which Jesus seems to base
the petitions of this prayer. First of all, He seems here to be fully conscious
of His role as divine mediator. He says, “I desire,” or perhaps better, “I will
that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me.” This is His certain
petition. In a few hours from now, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He makes His
way from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, the tone of Jesus’ prayer
will change. Then, He will pray in the darkness of Gethsemane, “Father, if it
be possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will but Thy will
be done.” That was a prayer about Himself, but now, here in the upper room,
there is a certainty to this prayer, a certainty that is based upon a
consciousness in His role as the divine Mediator.

As you read this prayer, something of the splendor of
Jesus’ deity seems to shine forth in the words that He uses. He seems fully
conscious, “Father, glorify Your Son,” He says. Glorify Your Son, that’s how He
begins this prayer. He’s the Son of God, He’s the Lord of Glory, He is the Word
incarnate, enfleshed to be sure, incognito to many, but He is the eternal Son of
God, the one who had been with God from the very beginning. “Thou didst love Me
from before the foundation of the world,” He’s conscious of an existence before
the world was created. And on that basis, He seems to bring forth now from
within Him petitions on behalf of His disciples based on that consciousness of
who He is, the second person of the Trinity, as the divine Lord and divine
Messiah. But then again, He prays on the basis of His Father’s eternal love for
Him, “Thou didst love Me,” Jesus says, “from before the foundation of the

How reassuring it must have been, for Jesus on those
two occasions when His Father spoke to Him directly. You remember, once in the
waters of the Jordan River, when Jesus was baptized, set apart, commissioned for
the task that lay before Him, a voice came from heaven, “This is My beloved Son,
and I love Him, listen to Him, because I love Him.” And then on the Mount of
Transfiguration, when John was there and Peter also, and again that voice came
from heaven, “This is My Son, and I love Him.” How reassuring it must have been
for Jesus at those two epochal moments, in the fulfillment of His redemptive
ministry, to be reminded that His Father in heaven loves Him. “I love You,” His
Father had said to Him. And now, on the very verge of Gethsemane and Calvary,
within hours of His crucifixion, within hours of the darkness and dereliction
that will descend upon Him as the darkness begins to envelope Him, as those
mists seems to come from beneath the door of the upper room to remind Him that
He must now walk through the land of the valley of the shadow, He’s reminded of
His Father’s love. When Jesus feel abandoned and forsaken and derelict,
tomorrow on Friday, now, this evening, in the upper room, He bases this prayer
on the assurance, on the platform, that His Father in heaven loves Him.

II. The subject of Christ’s
It’s interesting what Jesus says here. He prays, in verse 24,
for those whom Thou has given Me. It’s a phrase that repeats itself in this
prayer, in verse 2 and again in verse 6 and 9. Four times in the course of this
prayer, Jesus makes a prayer on behalf of those whom the Father has given to
Him, donated to Him, before the foundation of the world, in election, in
sovereign choice. He’s not praying for the world. He’s not praying for the
mass of humanity, whatever love there is in God for the mass of humanity, and I
think it’s perfectly biblical to use that expression, that God loves this mass
of humanity in some form.

Whatever and however you define that love, that’s not
what Jesus is praying here. This is a prayer on behalf of His elect. This is a
prayer on behalf of the chosen ones. This is a prayer on behalf of those whom
the Father had gifted to the Son in the covenant of redemption. It’s a phrase
you’ve seen before. In chapter 6 verses 37-39, “All that the Father gives Me
will come to Me. And whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” You’ve heard
it again in chapter 10 when Jesus speaks of His sheep, saying, “No one is able
to snatch them from out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is
greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” Who are
they? Who are they, exactly? Two groups of people. One group, in verses 6-19,
the disciples, the eleven disciples, now that Judas Iscariot has left. Jesus
has been praying for them. They have been given to Him, gifted to Him, but now,
in this section He’s praying for another group, a wider group, the circle is now
growing. He’s praying not just for them, “I do not ask in behalf of these
alone,” verse 20, “but for those who believe in Me through their words.”

Dear folk here. You listen to this. Because this
applies to you. You think you’re not going to find something about missions in
here? Well, it’s here. I’m not making it up. It’s right here in the text.
Jesus is praying for those who will come to faith through the instrumentality of
the disciples. The disciples will go out into the world. They’ll preach the
gospel, they’ll teach the gospel, they’ll witness to Jesus Christ, and through
them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, others will come to know Jesus Christ.
They’ll come to know God from every tribe and every tongue and every people and
every nation. And you are going, you are going to various parts of the world,
various continents of the world, and do you understand how significant a thing
you are doing? You are fulfilling the last words, the final prayer and petition
of Jesus. That’s what you’re doing. That through you, through what you do on
behalf of Jesus, God will bless that, God will use that testimony, God will use
that gift that He’s given to you, and He’ll bless it, and cause that seed to
grow in the hearts and lives of others. Through you, God is accomplishing His
great task of gathering His peoples from the four corners of the world.

Let me pause for a second and ask, “What effect
should Jesus’ prayer on behalf of His elect have on us this evening?” Three
things come to mind. It should promote humility. Those of us who believe are
the Father’s gift of love to His Son. Did you give your mother a gift? I hope
you did. You are the Father’s gift to His Son. He’s saying to His Son, “I love
You, and I’m going to give You these people, I’m going to donate them to You,
that through You and through Your ministry and through the accomplishment of
redemption that You will provide on behalf of these people, You will bring them
to Me.” It should provoke humility. It should promote dignity.

I remember receiving a letter, a handwritten letter,
from Alec Motyer. That may not mean much to you, but Alec Motyer is one of the
world’s finest Old Testament scholars and commentators. I would go a million
miles to hear him. He’s a one wonderful and extraordinary preacher. I had this
handwritten letter from him a few years ago, and in the letter he said, “I’ve
been praying for you.” I had no idea he even knew I existed. And the very
thought that Alec Motyer would pray for me, but that pales into insignificance
in comparison, that Jesus prays for me. Jesus prays for me. He prays for me
continually at the right hand of God. He ever lives, the Bible says. He ever
lives to intercede for me. Have you ever said, “I’ll pray for you,” and you’ve
forgotten all about it. I’ve done that. I’m sorry, I’ve done that. “I’ll
remember you in prayer,” and you forget. That’s why I write things down now.
And I still forget. Jesus never forgets. He never forgets your name. He knows
you intimately, He knows you better than you know yourself, He knows what it is
that you need prayer, and that should promote dignity and stability. Do you
notice what He says in verse 12? When Jesus prays, He loses none. Of all the
millions that His Father in heaven had gifted to His Son, He has lost none of
them. Not a single one.

III. What is the focus, then, of
Jesus’ prayer?
Notice the words of the text, He prays, “That we may be with
Him where He is.” With Him where He is. It’s reminiscent, isn’t it, of the
opening words in the upper room, “In My Father’s house are many rooms or
mansions, and I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place
for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you
will be also.” Where I am, there you will be also. The answer to the question,
“Where is heaven?” The answer is, “It is where Jesus is.” To be absent from the
body is to be present with the Lord.

Now, what does He mean when He prays, “That they may
be with Me where I am?” Let me suggest a few lines of thought. Let me suggest,
first of all, that He’s praying for their sanctification. It’s not there
specifically in verse 24, but follow the logic with me, because it’s in the rest
of the prayer. The logic is that if we are going to be Jesus, we can’t be there
with our sins. Sin cannot be in heaven. And that’s why Jesus prays, “Sanctify
them,” in verse 17. Jesus is praying for you, and what does He want? Look what
He says: “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth.” His prayer is that
tonight, yes, tonight, through the Scriptures, through he word of God, through
the exposition of the Scriptures, through reading the word, which He caused by
His Spirit to be written down and kept pure through the ages, that through that
word you might be sanctified, that you might be made more and more holy, that
you might be kept from the evil influences of the world.

Part of the prayer had been, that He is leaving the
world but His disciples are still in the world, and He’s not praying that God
would somehow take them out of the world, but that His Father in heaver would
keep them from the evil one. Remember Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you
that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you.” Jesus, what is it
that You pray for? Answer: I pray for your sanctification. I pray that you
might be made more and more holy. Jesus, what do you want from me tonight?
Jesus, as I go to the mission field, what do you want from me tonight? Answer:
I want you to be holy. I want you to be like Me. I want you to grow in grace
and in the knowledge of God. I want you to be different from the world.

What else does Jesus mean by this? I want them to be
with Me. He’s praying for their perseverance. I’m going to go away, Jesus is
saying. “I’m coming to You, My Father, but I’m leaving those whom You’ve given
Me in the world, and I want them to be with Me, I want every single one of them
to be with Me.” Trouble lies ahead. Difficulty lies ahead. It is through many
tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God, but Jesus is saying, “I want You
to keep each one of them. I want you to lay You hand on each one of them and
bring every single one to Me in glory.” So that you can say with Paul, I’m not
ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to
keep that which I’ve committed to Him against that day.” You can say that
because of the certainty of the prayer of Jesus on your behalf. And He’s
praying for unity. I want them, I want all of them, I want every single one of
them, and in the course of the prayer, that’s the basis of what He’s been
praying for. I want every single one of them. Those who will come to faith.

Do you see what Jesus is saying in this high priestly
prayer? There is neither Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free nor male nor female,
for you are all in Jesus Christ. And whatever divisions may exist in the world
amongst the Church of Jesus Christ, for whatever reasons, and many of those
reasons are sinful reasons, whatever reasons may exist on earth, Jesus’ prayer
is that in heaven they may be one with no divisions whatsoever. That is what
Jesus prays, that we might be with Him where He is, and that means holiness and
that means perseverance and that means unity.

But there’s something more. Because Jesus’ prayer
is, in verse 24, “That they may be with Me where I am in order that they might
behold My glory.” Every now and then in the ministry of Jesus, the incarnate
Jesus, His glory had shone through a little. In the miracles, John records it
in chapter two, in Cana of Galilee, “He manifested forth His glory.” In a few
hours they would not see His glory. They would see a disheveled
human being. They would see One upon whom the world would spit at and mock and
scourge and nail to a cross and crucify. And any glory that was His by right
was entirely hidden form view, and Jesus is saying, “I want them to see Me as I
really am. I want them to see Me in My glory and in My splendor.” Just as some
of you who have just been to see your children walk across a stage and receive
their certificate of graduation and awards, and did your children not spy you
out to see where you were sitting in order that they might have some
consciousness that you were looking at them? And Jesus is saying, “I want them
to see Me as I really am. I in you, and you in Me, in the resplendent
effulgence of whom and what God is as He exists in Trinity, the Son in the
Father, the Father in the Son, and the Spirit in the Son and the Father, and all
of that glory, in all of that splendor.” And that’s what Jesus wants for you
and me. To catch a little glimpse of His glory.

And you know, my friends, whatever else is on your
agenda, and however relatively important that may be to you, it pales into sheer
with this petition of Jesus, that He wants you to see His glory.
Do you see what that’s saying to us? That if that is our destiny, if that is
what God is preparing for us, that we might behold that vision of Jesus in all
His glory, if that is what God is preparing for us, shouldn’t we, right now, be
preparing ourselves for that? “Finish then Thy new creation, pure and spotless
let us be, let us see Thy great salvation, perfectly restored in Thee. Changed
from glory into glory, til in heaven we take our place, til we cast our crowns
before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.” Glory, that’s what Jesus prays
for, glory. May God bless His word to us for His namesake.

Father, we thank You for this extraordinary
prayer. We truly are not worthy even of the least of its petitions, and we pray
that You would fill our vision with the glory and splendor of Christ, we pray
for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

A Guide to the Evening Service

The Summer Missions

Tonight, we publicly pray over and set apart our various short-term summer
missions teams. This special service gives us an opportunity, mid-way through
the year, to reconsider our own personal commitment to the work of missions, as
well as to be encouraged by the dozens and dozens of members of our church who
are taking their precious time and energy to do the Lord’s work in foreign
lands. Pray for your hearing of the Word (that your heart would be open and
teachable under the proclamation of God’s word). Pray for our congregation
members who are going abroad as short-term missionaries (that they would be
useful in kingdom service and would be transformed by their experience). Pray
about your missions giving (that the Lord would enable you by grace to give more
willingly, cheerfully, and sacrificially than ever before). Pray for the various
summer projects (that the Lord would use these outreaches and perhaps even call
you to such service!).

The Psalm, Hymns and Spiritual
Jesus Shall Reign (based on Psalm 72)

This is Isaac Watts’ famous New Testament paraphrase of Psalm 72. This hymn is a
bold declaration that one day “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess
that Jesus is Lord.” It speaks of the sovereign reign of Christ the Mediator.

We Have Heard the Joyful Sound
Owens was a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, for almost half a century. She also
taught Sunday school at her church, and most of her hymns were written for her
Sunday school students – as was this one.

I Greet Thee Who My Sure
Redeemer Art

This glorious hymn of praise to Christ comes to us right out the great
Protestant Reformation and the Strasbourg Psalter. The words evidence a
deep experiential knowledge of God and piety.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds
A great old Christian hymn, whose composer was converted at age 16 under the
ministry of George Whitefield.

The Sermon
John 17 must surely be the most profound chapter in the Bible! And we will deal
with it in half an hour! Thomas Manton, a seventeenth century Puritan minister
and one time chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, preached forty-five sermons on this
chapter alone!

Traditionally, this chapter has been
called “The High Priestly Prayer.” It was called such by David Chytraeus, a
disciple of Melancthon in the sixteenth century. As early as the fifth century,
Cyril of Alexandria speaks of Jesus here as a high priest making intercession
for His people. Despite some criticisms of this description, it seems suitable
enough for what Jesus does in this chapter.

The focus of the prayer is
that we (the people of God) might behold His glory! At this moment they were
seeing Him in all His human weakness, and in a few hours they could have seen
Him at his weakest of all as He hung upon the cross. They did not, of course,
(apart from John) because they all fled. But one day, they would see Him in all
His native glory: as the Son of God. Think of it! Thomas Binney, in his hymn,
Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
put it this way:

O how shall I, whose native sphere
Is Dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the Ineffable Appear
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?

There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime abode,
An offering and a sacrifice
A Holy Spirit’s energies,
An Advocate with Go

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