Farewell Discourse of Jesus: The High Priestly Prayer

Sermon by David Felker on March 28

John 17:6-20

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Please turn with me in your Bible to John chapter 17; John chapter 17, as we’re close to the end of our series, our Sunday night series on the upper room discourse, looking at John chapters 13 to 17. Remember where we are in the story. Jesus and His disciples are huddled up in a room. They’ve just celebrated the Passover feast, and Jesus has been really drilling into their minds and into their imaginations that His death is at hand. He is, in just a few moments, will be arrested, taken away, crucified. And here tonight we are in the middle of Jesus’ famous high priestly prayer. Last week, Gary looked at verses 1 to 5, and we’re continuing on in this prayer tonight looking at verses 6 to 20.

And before we jump in and read, something to consider. If you were to come to our house and eat supper with us, one of the things that we are loving in this season is that our children are beginning to learn how to pray. And it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve gotten to experience as a parent because they, really like all of us, they’re learning to pray by praying. That’s how you learn to pray is, you pray. And one of the things that stands out to me the most is that they pray, children pray for what is closest to their heart. And so they pray for things like their birthday, which may be ten months away. They pray for Dak Prescott’s leg to heal. They pray for Drew Brees and his family in retirement. They pray for March Madness basketball. They even pray they hope that God would get to see the March Madness games as well. They prayed recently for their beach trip with their cousins which is not until July. They’re praying for the things that are closest to their heart. They tell God when they have soccer practice, when they have dress up day at school, when they have donuts for breakfast. Whatever is closest to their heart, they talk to God about it and it’s really beautiful. And that’s not just children of course. Prayer is the language of desire. But that is humorously seen often in the prayers and petitions of children.

The gospel of Luke records this line – that Jesus Christ, that He would often withdraw to lonely places to pray; that Jesus would withdraw to lonely places to pray. And there are a few places in the gospels where those prayers are recorded, but not many. Tonight in John chapter 17 we are eavesdropping on Jesus Christ talking to His Father about what is closest to His heart. He’s talking to His Father about what is near and dear to His heart. His most prized possession. He’s praying for you. And so before we jump in and read, let’s pray and ask for His help as we consider this text. Let’s pray.

Our great God and heavenly Father, we pray tonight that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue, that You would come and give Your Word success, that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to You, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

John chapter 17, beginning in verse 6. This is God’s Word:

“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. 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. 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.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

Derek Thomas preached on this text in this pulpit almost 20 years ago in 2003 and he said at the beginning of that sermon, “At no time have I felt my inadequacy in preaching as I do this evening coming to this particular chapter, John chapter 17.” He said it’s because, “this is holy ground.” At no place are the words of John Calvin truer than here about the gospel of John. Here in John 17 we see “the soul of Jesus Christ.” And we get to listen in to this intimate conversation between Jesus and His Father about you. And just so that we see it clearly, if you turn to chapter 18 verse 7, remember at the end of this prayer the soldiers come to arrest Jesus and Jesus identifies Himself to them. And remember we read that they drew back and fell to the ground. And if you look at verses 7 to 9 of chapter 18, we read that Jesus asks them again, “‘Whom do you seek?’ and they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, “‘ I told you that I am He, so if you see Me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that He had spoken.” This was to fulfill what He had just prayed, “Of those whom You have given Me, I have lost not one.” And so when Jesus says these are those given to Him, who is He talking about? He’s talking about His disciples who are right there with Him. These are those that were given to Him. And so Roman soldiers let them go.

And so maybe you say, “Well that’s not me. And so is Jesus praying for me? I guess this prayer isn’t for me.” And that’s why we need John chapter 17 verse 20. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” And so who are those people who will believe through their word, through the disciples’ word? It’s those who have been ransomed and healed, restored and forgiven; those who know Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners – saving, helping, keeping, loving. He’s praying for you. He’s saying, “I am praying for those who have heard and do hear, or will hear.” He’s praying for you, believer in Jesus. He’s talking to the Father about His most precious possession, what is near and dear to His heart – you.

And I want to consider this question tonight – “What is Jesus’ heart for you? What is Jesus’ heart for the Church?” This prayer, Jesus’ prayer here, it reorients us to a true understanding of who we are. Listen to Jesus talk about you. Listen to Jesus talk about you to the Father. What is Jesus’ heart for you? And there are at least two answers here. There are two great currents that pull this prayer along in this section as we are reoriented to a true understanding of who we are. Jesus prays, first, about who we are. And Jesus prays, second, about who He intends us to be. And that’s what we’re going to look at tonight. First, who we are, and then second, who He intends us to be.

Who We Are

And so first, who we are. Jesus spends a lot of time in this section praying about who and whose we are. He says much about your identity, and I want you to listen to the repeated emphasis in this prayer. Verse 6, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were; you gave them to me.” Then 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.” Verse 10, “All mine are yours. Yours are mine.” And so who are we? Who are we in relation to God? Where does our identity come from? How is it held together? And here is what Jesus is telling His disciples sitting at this table and to us as well. “You belong to God. You belong to Him. You belong to God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Remember, Peter is at this table listening to Jesus’ prayer, and decades later, Peter will write 1 Peter chapter 2 verse 9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” – and then what? “A people for His own possession.” You belong to Him. Peter is writing to the Church. You are a special people for God’s own possession.

Jesus prays, “Father, yours they were.” So your life originated in the hands of God. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the hands of your Creator. Your heart, your soul, your mind, your body began with purposeful, beautiful, original intent behind your existence. “Yours they were.” Paul says in Ephesians 1, “Blessed be our God and Father who chose us before the foundations of the world. He predestined us for adoption.” And so your life, your destiny, your salvation, your full and final deliverance – it is God’s project. You were chosen and created and held and loved and purchased and made alive and acquitted and adopted and sent and made fruitful and kept through it all by Him. It is God’s project. It was His decision. It is His responsibility. It all begins with Him. You are His. And so you are the apple of His eye. You have the ear of your Abba Father. You have the smile of God Almighty. You didn’t choose Him, and so you can’t lose Him. That is who you are. That is your identity.

You also see here how your identity is held together – you are known and cared for and given to Christ by the Father according to an eternal covenant, an everlasting covenant, made and sealed long before you were born, long before you knew Christ or cared about Him. So you are a gift from the Father to the Son. You belong to the Son. Verse 6, “Yours they were and You have given them to Me.” So that is who you are. Maybe we can say it better – that is whose you are. That is your most fundamental identity. You are not your own. You belong, body and soul, life and death, to your faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. You belong to Him.

We say in common Christian jargon, “I gave my life to Jesus.” This is what’s accurate. The Father gave our life to Jesus. The Father gave us to Jesus. The Father entrusted what is His to His Son. Your life has been entrusted to Jesus Christ by the Father. And here is the best part – Jesus is faithful. Jesus is faithful to what has been entrusted to Him. Jesus is faithful with your life. Jesus is faithful with what the Father has given Him.

I remember as a child begging my dad for a football, and not just any football, but my dad has these game balls that he received when he played in college. And so when the winning team, when that team comes back to the locker room, that victorious head coach will give game balls to different players on the team. And so dad has different game balls in the home and had those growing up. And I asked him and I begged him to let me play with one of those outside in the backyard with my friends and my dad obliged and said something along the lines of, “This is yours now. I want you to take care of it.” And you know where the story is going and you know how kids are. They play something for twenty minutes, and probably my friends then wanted to play Legos or go ride our bikes and so we did. The problem was that a few days after, after some weather, after some rain, after some wear and tear, my dad found that ball. And that’s not the end of the story, but the point is, the son was not faithful with what the father had entrusted to him. And we could all share stories about messing something up that our father gave to us. “I borrowed his truck and I wrecked it.” “He gave me a tool or a pocket knife or his baseball glove and I lost it or I mishandled it.”

The point is, Jesus is not going to leave you out there. Jesus is not going to wreck your life. Jesus is not going to lose you or leave you or mishandle you. Jesus is not going to leave you out in the world, but Jesus will be faithful with what has been entrusted to Him. You have been entrusted to Him. Jesus will be faithful with your life. Verse 12 says, “I kept them in Your name. I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost.” He says, verse 9, “I pray for them. I pray for those whom You have given Me.” As J.C. Ryle said, “You are daily watched and thought for and provided for with unfailing care by One whose eye never slumbers and never sleeps.” That your heart will be broken and He will heal it. You may stumble, but you won’t fall because His prayers will uphold you. That you will be afraid, but He will be right beside you. You will fail; He will not. You will be exhausted, and He will not tire or faint. He will be faithful with your life. And so first, Jesus prays about who we are. You are not your own. You belong to God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and your faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

Who Jesus Intends Us to Be

And now second, Jesus prays about who He intends us to be. Look at verse 15. “I do not ask that You take them out of the world.” And He prays in verse 18, “As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” And so Jesus’ prayer is reflecting a pattern that we see all over the Bible. When God saves someone, He sends them. He reveals Himself that His people might reflect Him. You see this in Genesis chapter 12 when Abram was called by God. The pattern in Genesis 12 – “Abram, I have pursued you in My grace. I have rescued you. I have covenanted with you.” In Genesis 12, “Now go. Leave what is familiar, leave what is comfortable to showcase to the world who I am.” And Jesus is picking up on that same Biblical pattern and He is praying, “Father, this is who they are and this is who I intend them to be.” He saves us to send us. He pardons us, He makes us His people so that we will be a part of what He is doing in this world.

And I think this prayer gives us helpful categories as we consider the Christian’s relationship to the world. And so it’s not isolation. If you look at verse 11, verse 11 says, “They are in the world.” Verse 15 says, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world. No, but I ask that You keep them from the evil one.” And so it’s not isolation. It’s not creating high walls. It’s not holiness by flight. It’s not insulting or isolating. But it’s also not assimilation, because verse 14 says, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Verse 16, “They are not of the world.” And so we are distinct in character. We are distinguishable from the world around us. We think about sex, money and power differently because we are not enslaved to comfort, because we are not determined to keep the status quo at any cost.

So not isolation and not assimilation, but look at verse 18 – we are sent into the world. You are to live a life of costly mission. We’re talking about ministry, Christian ministry – taking the gifts and the resources that God has entrusted you with and exercising them publicly and using them in the name of Jesus for the kingdom of God. That’s ministry. What might this look like? Here’s a story by Chuck Colson.

He said the prison was opened in 1931. It holds about 1,100 maximum, medium and minimum security inmates. Colson was there, along with his friend Bruce Wilkinson, to lead worship services on Easter Sunday. A huge crowd gathered in the center area of the prison compound. There was a big chain-linked fence between the platform and the prisoners. Certainly any event like this is a security risk. Well Colson gave his testimony. He spoke about Jesus Christ, the prisoner. He said, “I tried to put the story in a way those inmates, mostly under 30 years of age, in a way that they could relate.” Colson thought to himself, “What a great Easter morning!” But it wasn’t over. Colson got Bruce Wilkinson to close the service in prayer:

“Bruce had never been in a prison before in his life. This was all new to him. He’d not been through the 18-hour Prison Fellowship training in which volunteers are carefully counseled what to say and what never to say, never to do, in a prison. Bruce walked up to the microphone, looked at the inmates and said, ‘I want all of you men pushing against this fence, I want you to move back ten to twelve steps.’ And in a setting like this, you don’t tell prisoners what to do, particularly if you have not won the right to be heard or have the authority. And when Bruce told the men to move back, nothing happened; no one moved. There was cold silence. You could feel the tension in the crowd but Bruce was not rattled. ‘Go ahead,’ he said. ‘Get back from the fence. Move back ten to twelve steps.’ I caught the eye of the Commissioner of Correction and he looked worried, as did the prison chaplain.” Colson said, “I muttered a prayer under my breath. It was not theologically sophisticated. ‘Lord, help us. I don’t know what Bruce is doing.’ Meanwhile, Bruce said again, ‘Men, move back a few more steps.’ And finally the men moved back, about twelve feet back from the fence.”

“Okay now,” he said, “I want all of you who are Christians, including those who gave your lives to Christ today and those who have been following Christ for a while, I want all of you to talk toward the fence in the cleared out space.” And Colson said, “I covered my face with my hands at this point. This is it. You can’t do this in a prison. He is setting these guys up for trouble.” But Colson said, “When I looked up, to my amazement they poured forward. About 200 inmates walked up to the fence and stood there.” Bruce continued, “Alright, good. Now you men who have stepped forward, you have stepped forward as the people of God in this prison. Now I want you to turn around with your backs to me, turn around and look at the rest of the prison population here.” And at this point, Colson said, “My heart was in my mouth.” The prison officials were shooting glances at one another. Bruce seemed to be setting up a situation with two sets of inmates in confrontation, and something like this could easily get out of hand.

But what happened next was unbelievable. Bruce kept pushing and he said, “I want you believers, I want you to get down on your knees. You are the people of God here, and I am going to pray for you. I am going to ask you to turn and face the rest of these men, because they are your mission field. And your job is to share the Gospel with them, love them, and serve them. And I am going to pray for you now.” And he did. And Colson concluded, “I will never forget that Easter morning in that Delaware prison.”

I think this story gives us a picture of humility and courage, this posture that Jesus is praying for. The world around us may seem cynical. The world around us may seem cold and even hostile, but no more so than that prison crowd. And I like that pastor’s charge – “You are here to share the Gospel, to love and serve the people around you. That is why you are here.”

And I wonder how that story ends, but if we want to follow Jesus Christ, then the basic question for us tonight is, “Are you living a life of costly mission?” – not a life of isolation or assimilation, but costly mission. “I have sent them into the world.” I think this is one small thing to practice that this week. “I have sent them into the world.” Take one of the Easter flyers and give it to a coworker, a neighbor, or a friend and invite them to one of our Easter services here at FPC. I have often found that most people don’t mind being invited to an event like this, even just for curiosity sake. Invite someone to church. That’s one small thing.

God’s Word

But as we do this, as verse 18 is calling us to, in conclusion, what does John 17 give us? What are a few things John 17 gives us in this calling? I’m going to mention three things briefly. First, His Word. Verse 17, in verse 17 Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is truth.” And so Jesus prays that you, through the Bible, through the Word of God, through the reading and the exposition of the Scriptures, that you might be more holy, that you might be more lovely. And like Jesus, that you might grow in grace. As Derek Thomas said at the end of that sermon on this text, “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 holy.’” And so how do you go to Jesus? How do you pursue holiness? Verse 17 is telling us that He will meet you in the pages of this book. And so what does John 17 give us that helps us in this calling? His Word.

God’s Steadfast Delight

And second, His steadfast delight. His steadfast delight in you. I am sure that there are some in this room who don’t come to God in prayer because they privately feel, “I’m not a very good Christian,” because they privately feel, “Surely He is disappointed in me. Surely He is exasperated with me. Surely He thinks, ‘Won’t he ever get this? When will she stop failing?’” I want you to consider the 11 men that Jesus is praying for – how weak they are, how weak was their faith. A very little time after Jesus spoke these words they all forsake Him. They all flee. They desert Him. They deny Him. And yet, as one commentator said, “These very weak servants with feeble faith were the men of whom the gracious Head of the Church speaks here in high and honorable terms.” I think just let that sit with you for a moment – the least degree of faith is precious in Jesus Christ’s sight. And so Jesus never changes. For you, He knows everything about you. He knows all of your past, all of your future, failure and mediocrity. He never changes. And what He did for them, He will do for us.

Jesus’ Ongoing Ministry of Prayer

And so what does John 17 give us that helps us in this calling? His Word, His steadfast delight, and then third and last, His ongoing ministry of prayer. Jesus says here in verse 9, “I am praying for you.” And now, the New Testament tells us that Jesus, in His resurrected state, He has ascended to the Father, He is beside the throne, and He always lives to make intercession for you. One author said, “What if you heard Jesus praying aloud for you in the next room? What if you heard Jesus in the next room praying for you?” “Father, I pray for David. I pray for Lauren. I pray for Tom. I pray for Kim. Father, I pray for them.” How might that calm you? How might that change you? It’s what Stephen saw. You remember that in Acts chapter 7 when the Jewish leaders and their followers, they began to stone Stephen. And Stephen, remember the account – the heavens opened. He saw the glory of God. He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And what does he see? He sees Jesus beside the Father, interceding for him. Wouldn’t that make all the difference – to believe that no matter what you are going through, there is an Advocate who has eternal priorities, who is beside God, who knows the heart of God, who has the power of God, who is praying for you. What if you heard Jesus praying aloud for you in the next room?

And so go to Him. Go to Jesus tonight. He knows the burdens you are carrying. Aren’t you tired? You can never exhaust His heart. He says, “Come to Me, all who we are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Amen. Let’s pray together.

Jesus, we pray that You would remind us of Your heart for us tonight afresh, that You would be with us, that You would sanctify us and send us and remind us tonight that we belong to You. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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