John 17:1-26 JESUS: THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

          The apostle John has given us many awesome pictures of Jesus so far in his Gospel. As He healed the sick throughout His time on the earth, we saw His great heart of compassion. We have witnessed His tremendous power over His own creation as He raised the dead and gave the hungry what they needed. As He saved those who came to Him out of desperation, He revealed His grace. In every chapter so far, we are being encouraged and blessed by these pictures. When we come to chapter 17 the revelation of who He is continues. Here in the garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus pour his heart out to God the Father.

          This is Jesus’ last night on earth, and even during His own struggle with His impending crucifixion His first thought is to pray for us. His prayer is three main parts that I want to share those with you this morning. I want to share them because this prayer, that he offered up that evening, still has an influence upon you and me. In fact, this powerful prayer will have an impact throughout the remainder of the time and on into eternity. I also want to share it because I find it to be very encouraging that on this the last night before His death Jesus takes the time also to pray for you and me.

          The first thing we should notice is that throughout this prayer Jesus has a singular focus. That focus is always upward towards God. From verse 1 we see that Jesus begins His prayer with this singular focus of wanting to glorify God the Father. Jesus’ entire time on earth had centered on just one thing: to reveal God to people. Jesus was the perfect representation of God, so much so that He could tell one of His disciples, Phillip, earlier in this gospel of John, in chapter 14:9, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

 

          Even today, Jesus is still the only way for a person to see God according to John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known”. Jesus Himself even declared in John 14:6 that, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. People may say they believe in God but then they try to avoid Jesus. Unfortunately, that is a completely useless way to do it and it will always fail, because Jesus is the only way anyone ever comes to God.

          Jesus continues in verse 6 to place all the emphasis on God when He talks about the ones God has given to Him. Jesus is revealing a truth here that many of us have forgotten, even other Christians: Salvation is the direct sovereign act of God. What I mean is that no one just decides or chooses to be saved! That is an impossible thing.

          Let’s think about that for a minute, the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that, “[we] were, dead in [our] transgressions and sins.” He was describing our natural state before our salvation. Do dead people think? Do dead people have a will? Can dead people do anything? No, before a dead person can live, they need to be made alive. This is what the Holy Spirit does, He gives us an awareness of our sin and the coming judgement. He wakes us up to the fact that we need to have a right relationship with God. The Holy Spirit first convicts our wicked hearts and draws us to Jesus. This is the powerful action of God. Jesus affirms this in John 6:44 when He says, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.

 

          For all of us here this morning this is a warning that salvation is not something that we should treat as a joke. In Genesis 6:3 God warns that, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” Let me remind you that is the ‘maximum’ number of years and not a ‘guarantee’ as I’m sure we have all experienced in our lives. The time to be saved is when God is working in your heart through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. To ignore His voice, it is to play ‘Russian Roulette’ (explain this activity) where you leave your life in the hands of chance, or luck, or some other impersonal force. However, verse 6 does give us hope and encouragement along with confidence, because believers are the Father’s gift to the Son. And as it says in John 6:37, All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.

          In many verses throughout this chapter, Jesus speaks of God’s grace, and how it is the catalyst, the decisive power, not only in calling but also in using and sustaining those He saves. Throughout this prayer, Jesus reminds us that what we enjoy is not something that we made. We are what we are by the grace of God. When you come to chapel on Wednesdays or go to church on Sunday what do you see? You see people praising God for His wonderful Grace!

 

          True Christians know that we were nothing when God intervened in our lives and we did not deserve to be saved. But because of His great mercy, in grace He saved us. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us of this great truth every time we read it or recite it, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

 

          Another truth that the Bible teaches is that, even after we are saved, we are still unable to obey Him out of our own strength. Everything we have, or ever hope to be, is due to the great grace of God. Do you remember that this was the teaching of the sermon on chapter 15 of John’s gospel about the vine and the branches? This is why the topic of grace results in hearts full of praise.

            In this prayer, we are also reminded what it is Jesus came to the earth for. He came to die for sin. And His prayer also reflects this fact as He prays for the Father to help Him during these last few hours of His life. He senses He needs help so that He can accomplish the task for which He came. This is His desire; to go to the cross, die for sin, glorify the Father, and then be glorified Himself as He is raised from the dead.

          Why did Jesus pray for help? Because he was coming under direct attack from Satan. Since his birth, Satan did not want Jesus to go to the cross. Even now, right after he was arrested the Romans brutalized Him and He could have easily been killed. We see Jesus’ prayer was answered as God the father brought him safely to the cross where he paid the price for the salvation of our souls. The proof we have that this mission was accomplished was that on the third day He arose again from the dead.

          Jesus also includes in His prayer the fact that He is about to finish all that the Father has given him to do. In verses 2 and 3, He knows that he is about to provide the way for sinners to have eternal life. When Jesus died on the cross John 19:30 records that He said, “It is finished!” He meant that the price for eternal salvation had been paid in full. Now, no matter who you are, where you come from, what kind of life you have lived, you can be eternally saved by coming to Jesus. That is what Jesus accomplished on your behalf.

          Jesus’ prayer is filled with assurance. He knows that after the cross and the grave He would be returning to the Father in heaven where He would once again enjoy the glory he had before coming to this earth. Jesus knew that he was going home! I don’t think any of us can imagine what it was like for Jesus to come into this world and suffer the agony that He did. We catch a glimpse of what it must have been like through passages like Philippians 2:6-8. This is what it says, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

          This passage tells us that Jesus was living eternally in absolute equality with His Father in heaven. Then he willingly gave up His glory by allowing it to be hidden under human flesh. He then entered this sinful world by being born as a human child. He did all that for the one purpose that I have already mentioned. He came so that people could see God and so that God could die for people. And now, He is in heaven once again enthroned and receiving glory but this time He has a glorified physical body. And the good news is that everyone who places their faith in Him will join Him there one day in our glorified bodies.

          Jesus then spends the bulk of His prayer verses 6-19 praying for those who have been given to Him, His Disciples. In His prayer for them, we can also find the truth that applies to us as well.

          First, He prays that they would be kept by the Father. The Father would need to take the responsibility for the relationship because Jesus knew that, if left to themselves, the disciples would not be strong enough. They could not resist the wickedness of the world. Jesus had experienced the misery and the sinfulness of the human heart.

          Aren’t you glad this morning that it is not up to you to keep yourself saved? I am very glad that our salvation is not like a bicycle that we have to keep pedalling or we eventually will fall over. I am relieved to know that all believers are kept by the power of God as the apostle Peter tells us in 1Peter 1:5 when he says of believers, who through faith are shielded (protected) by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

          That is because if our salvation was left up to us, if we had to maintain a life of sinless perfection, then we would all end up in Hell. Salvation is God’s gift to us and therefore He is the one responsible to uphold it. Of course, this does not mean that once we are saved, we can continue doing what we want. Our salvation, if it is real, will result in a hunger for righteousness and living a pure life. Anyone who claims to be saved and does not, at least, attempt to live a clean life is deceived and needs to be born again.

          That does not mean that those who are saved live in perfect sinlessness. No, we still sin, but less and less. And when we do sin, we are convicted by the Holy Spirit, and receive the rebuke and correction of the Lord, but we are not kicked out of the family of God. What I mean is that salvation is forever because as it teaches in Ecclesiastes 3:14, I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing was taken from it. God does it so that people will respect him.

          Let’s take some time to think about this truth as well. If salvation was something that was mine one day and then gone the next, then why did Jesus call it “eternal” and “everlasting”? If we dispute that truth, then that would mean that either Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about or, salvation iseternalit iseverlasting”. Now you can believe whatever you like about this. But just because you believe something doesn’t make it true! I would rather believe in the Word of God like the apostle Paul who says in Romans 2:4, “Let God be true and every man a liar!

          Jesus goes on to pray for the protection of the disciples from the “the evil one”. Here is praying that they would be given strength to do what God calls them to do and to stand against the attacks that would surely come from the Devil.

          Let’s not be naive about this. The Christian life is a battlefield and not a playing field. We quickly learn once we are saved that the Devil hates us, opposes us, and often attacks us. This makes the Lord’s promise of protection from Psalm 34:7, The angel of the Lord encamps around those who honour him, and he delivers themand His promise in Matthew 28:20 that He will, “surely [be with us] always, to the very end of the age.” all the more precious to us as we go through this life.

          These promises give us the assurance that if the devil now wants to come against us then the Lord comes to our defense. Before the devil can get to the Christian, first he has to go through the Father and then through the Son. So, what does the Bible tell us? In 1 Peter 5:8, we see the devil, “prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. But as we are told in Colossians 3:3 we are now, “hidden with Christ in God”. The devil cannot touch the redeemed, adopted child of God.

 

          Jesus then prays that the disciples would be set apart by the Word of God. This means that they would live lives that are pleasing to God. The only way to do that would be to live according to the revealed Word of God. This is the Lord’s will for His people today, it hasn’t changed. As it tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:17, Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you”. This purity is not based upon the traditions or teachings of men, but it is a righteousness that is based solely on the Word of God alone. God also reveals His will for us in Philippians 2:15, that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”

 

          Now finally here in verses 20-26, Jesus prays for those who would receive Him also in the future. Doesn’t that give you such comfort knowing that, even though He was going through perhaps the greatest struggle of His earthly existence, Jesus took the time to pray for you and me. So, let’s look at what He prayed for as it concerns those of us who believe in Him.

 

          First, Jesus prayed that our lives might be known by the unity we have together. The way we live together would be a testimony to the watching world. But here Jesus was not talking about cultural unity, or national unity, or even racial unity. He is talking about unity in the Body of believers. The kind of unity which will be sustained no matter what kind of storms we face will be unity in the Truth. That truth is found completely in God’s Word.

          Now it is obvious that when you have two people you will have two opinions and when you have 100 people you are going to have 100 opinions. This why our unity needs to be based upon an objective standard something that we can all agree upon no matter what our opinion. That truly objective standard is God’s Word. It is not our personal interpretation of God’s Word, or what we think it means, but its actual meaning which never changes. One of the core principles we learn at UCC every Sunday is that God’s Word cannot mean to us what it could not have meant to the original hearer or readers. The applications can be numerous, but the meaning can never change. Because God is not the author of confusion but of order and unity.

 

          In verse 24 we have one of the most comforting and assuring statements I think that Jesus makes. He prays to the Father, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world”.

          In the New Testament, there are 2 Greek words that are translated "to want". They are ‘Thelo - which means to a purpose. This word is used when describing God’s will, which is unchanging and will always come to pass no matter what. The second is Boulomai - which means to have a wish of a desire about something. This word is used when God's desires something that may or may not come to pass. It depends upon the actions of others. For example, the word ‘Boulomai’ is used in 2 Pet. 3:9, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. In this verse, we see that God does not want anyone to perish. But for that to be a reality then people must receive the Lord. Unfortunately, we know that for everyone this is not the case.

          Here in verse 24, the word used is ‘Thelo’. So what Jesus means is that, "I am declaring that it is my purpose that everyone who receives Me will be with Me in Heaven and will behold My glory!" In other words, if you are saved, you are going to heaven to be with Jesus!

          Finally, Jesus prays that we would be filled with His love. It is His desire that His people would be known by their love for one another. Jesus even said in John 13:35 that our love for one another would be a sign to the world that we are genuinely the Lord’s. How will this type of love be a sign to the world? Because this type of love cannot be manufactured or duplicated in the world. It is only produced in the hearts of every born-again child of God. Who but God could produce this kind of love within us for people who are from different backgrounds, social or financial standings, and races and belief systems.

As I bring this sermon to a close, I want to say one very important thing. Christ’s prayers are always heard and answered because as it tells us James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. If anyone was 100% righteous it was Jesus. Also, we know, as it tells us in 1 John 5:14, “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. If anyone knew the will of God it was Jesus, God the Son.

 

          So, here are some things you should think about today:

 

  1. Are you saved? It is His desire that you come to know Him.
  2. Is there unity in UAUT? It is His desire that there is.
  3. Are we loving each other as we should? That is His prayer for us.

 

Let’s pray: Lord we are here to listen to your Word because it is the word of life. You have spoken to each one of us who has listened this morning. Unfortunately, some of us have ignored Your Words. Some have forgotten already what you said. But some have taken your words to heart and I pray that your word will not return to you without having accomplished what you sent it out to do. Lord, I pray that the Holy Spirit will convict each one of us as is necessary to bring us back to you. Lord Jesus thank you for your continuing prayers for us before the throne of the Father in heaven. We are comforted knowing that even though you are not with us physically you didn’t leave us alone but sent the Spirit to live within us so that God’s will for us, and through us, could be accomplished. Lord, we ask you to help us and give us the strength and courage to live the life that is pleasing to you. A life that will be marked with love for one another as it is your will. A life that will be lived for your glory and that will honour you before this dying world. We pray everything through the name of Jesus, Amen!