John chapter 17 can be summed up in saying it is a prayer of our Lord, not to be confused with what is known as The Lord's Prayer, which is found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. The “Lord's Prayer” is intended to serve as a guide on HOW to pray. It was a prayer that He did not pray Himself because he didn’t need to prayer for forgiveness of sin. Today’s scripture gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ personal prayer time and, for us, serves as both instruction and encouragement in prayer.
To help us gain the most from the instruction and encouragement found in this passage we are going to break them down into 6 different sections.
First, in verses 1-5, we find Jesus praying for Himself, which is best understood when read in the context of the circumstance of this prayer. Of all of the times we are told of Jesus’ prayer life in scripture, no other passage of scripture outlines His prayer in such detail. So why now? Well, if you take a look ahead at Luke Chapter 18 you will see that in that very next Chapter Jesus is going to be betrayed and arrested. And so, knowing what was coming quickly, he offered up this prayer, in the hearing of the disciples, as a kind of final farewell and reminder that what is about to unfold is for them and their benefit. It also highlights for us Jesus role as the bridge between His sovereignty and our humanity as He prays, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” in verse 3. In other words, OUR salvation is HIS reward! And, for those of us who choose to follow Him, He is OURS.
Second, in verses 6-10 Jesus shifts from praying for Himself to praying for His people (verse 6) and celebrating the Great Work that had been and continues to be done in and through them (verse 6-10)
Third, we find in verses 11-16 that Jesus moves away from praying generally and begins to pray more specifically. None of this prayer includes earthly blessings such as wealth, or power, or greatness, but, instead, spiritual blessings such as “that they might be kept from sin”, equipped for the task set before them, and, ultimately, brought safely to Heaven. In this section He also specifically prays for their perseverance. Why? Because, as is true for all of us, (1) they are weak and in need of the Lord's strength and help, (2) they are valuable to God and like anything of value He wants to keep and protect them, (3) they are His responsibility and, like any good shepherd, his focus is always to care for His flock. Even when they didn’t see their humanness, He did. And He made a point to intercede, or stand in the gap, on their behalf.
Fourth, Jesus prayed for their sanctification in verses 17-19. What is sanctification? In its most basic sense, to sanctify something is to set it apart for God’s special use and purpose. So why would Jesus pray for their sanctification if they have already been “set apart”? Here He is asking His Father (1) to confirm in them and to them that they are set apart. In other words, to remind them of the call and purpose set before them, (2) to give them the strength, focus, and determination to carry on in the Good work that the Lord has begun in them, and (3) to complete it! So that they can declare with the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 - “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Fifth, in verses 20-23, He prays for their purity of heart and their unity. At first glance it almost seems an odd pairing - purity and unity. However, upon closer investigation we see clearly why these two prayers are lumped together into one. For it is only when our hearts are pure - focused steadfast on the Lord - that we can truly live and work in true unity, which can only be found in Christ. And it is through this unity in desire, drive, passion, and mission that we can bring others into faith and relationship with Christ. Which we see plainly is His desire when He declares in verse 20, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who WILL believe in me through their word.” I just love that glimpse into Jesus’ heart. He can always be found, as Matthew 18 and Luke 15 declare, “leaving the 99 to go after the 1.”
And finally, in the sixth section of this portion of scripture, which is comprised of verses 24-26, we find a petition for all believers to be glorified or rewarded for their faithfulness to Him, His call, and His mission. For it is Christ's desire that all Christians to be with Him in Heaven at last, to see His glory, and to share in it. This image of anxious anticipation makes me think of parents as they wrap presents at Christmas - knowing their kids are going to LOVE the gift they are about to receive, and anticipating the joy and excitement that is going to fill their home as the wrapping paper comes up and the fullness of the gift is revealed. So it will be for us when we one day glimpse heaven. We know there is a great gift waiting for us, and, like a child who has shaken the gift resting under the tree, we have a guess on what the gift will ultimately be. But when that day comes that we see heaven - the incredible and invaluable gift from our Heavenly Father - we are going to be in awe when we realize it far exceeds anything we could ever think or imagine. And there Jesus will be, beaming as only a proud parent can, that His children are finally able to enjoy this priceless gift WITH Him.
But until that day we have a life to live. A path to walk. A mission to accomplish for Him, His Kingdom, and His Glory. So today and everyday, as we navigate the highs and lows of life, let us pray as Jesus did here in John 17 - laying at a beautifully prayer “road map” if you will by:
First, praying for ourselves. For our current situation and our current needs. Second, praying for those around you - celebrating all that the Lord has done and will do in and through them. Third, praying for specific needs, not focusing only on things like healing and deliverence from a situation but also for strength and perseverance in continuing on in the midst of the struggle. Fourth, ask the Lord to remind you, and others, of the call on your lives. To, as Philippians 1:6 states “be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Fifth, pray for a pure heart for yourself and unity with others through it all. That God’s grace will transcend our brokenness in every situation. And sixth, that we will be reminded of the fact that this world and all of it’s troubles are not our home. But there is an eternal reward coming if we stay the course. And finally, as 1 Timothy 2:1-4 instructs, “pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
Lord, give us that same heart for your people and you have for us. Give us that same anxious anticipation for Heaven. An anticipation that goes beyond just the excitement of being able to experience the full weight of your glory for ourselves but to do so surrounded by crowds of others who have joined us on this journey to know You and make You known.