February 15, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Jesus in Prayer
#3—Jesus Prays for Us
Have you ever wished you were a better pray-er? I want to be a better pray-er! So how does that happen? Let me tell you how I learned to pray.
First, I listened to others pray, whether it was prayers in church, or praying one on one or in small groups. I watched, listened and learned. I’ve also learned from others by reading books on prayer.
Second, I prayed. If you want to learn how to swim, you can read a book on swimming, you can watch others swim, but you won’t really learn how to swim until you get in the water and try. The same is true of praying. You’ve got to get in the water!
So today, we’re going to do both. First, we are going to learn by watching Jesus pray. Who better to learn from than Jesus! And then we’re going to put what we learned into practice: we’re going to pray like Jesus.
This story of Jesus in prayer is found in John 17. On the last night of his life, Jesus prays with his disciples in the upper room. It is a holy moment. Only hours from giving His life on the cross, we get to watch Jesus in prayer.
The Big Idea: Let’s learn how to pray by watching Jesus, and then praying like Him.
Here’s the prayer:
John 17 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For 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. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While 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.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I 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. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “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.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I 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.”
Please look at your outline. Jesus prays for three things. Here they are—you can fill in your outline, and then we’ll unpack them.
1. Jesus prays for Himself: “Glorify me.” 1-5
2. Jesus prays for his disciples: “Keep them.” 6-19
3. Jesus prays for us: “Unify them.” 20-26
Here’s the first thing to notice. Jesus prays first for himself, then for the 11 apostles who are with Him in the room (Judas has already left), and then for everyone who would believe their message about Him. He starts with Himself, then prays for those closest to Him, and then out to everyone. It’s a series of concentric circles, starting with Himself and ending big—all of us.
This is how most of us naturally pray. We start with ourselves: our needs, wants, and concerns. Then we pray for those closest to us: our family and friends. But many of us rarely get to that third circle: we don’t go big in our prayers. We tend to stop at circles one or two. I’m glad Jesus didn’t stop there, because you and I are in circle three. When Jesus prayed big, He prayed for us—and we need it! When was the last time you prayed big: for all Christians around the world, for the Church (capital C), for God’s work worldwide?
Here’s our first prayer: we’re going to pray in circles.
- First, for yourself: what is your greatest need?
- Then for those closest to you: who is on your heart?
- Then let’s pray big: for God’s people everywhere—especially, the persecuted, those suffering for their faith.
Prayer: pray in circles.
Let’s unpack this prayer and see what we can learn from Jesus in prayer. If you brought a Bible, it will be good to have it open to John 17.
1. Jesus prays for Himself: “Glorify me.” 1-5
John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Notice how Jesus addresses God: “Father.” This was new. No observant Jew ever addressed God as Father. We know that the Aramaic word Jesus used was Abba, a word still used by children for their fathers, comparable to our daddy or papa.
ILL: I have a friend who begins his prayers, “Papa.” Even though I know it’s perfectly appropriate, it’s still jarring. It’s so familiar, so intimate and personal.
That’s exactly how this struck people in Jesus’ day too. No one had ever dared to call God, “Father” or “Papa”. But Jesus did. And He taught us to do the same. “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’” Prayer is a child talking with his/her Papa.
“The hour has come.” Jesus had often spoken about “his hour”—the appointed time when He would fulfill His mission by giving His life. That time had come. The cross was before Him, casting its dark shadow into the upper room. What does He pray?
What’s with that? Doesn’t this sound a little egotistical? “Glorify me!” It sounds like this: “I’m all that…and more.” What does this mean?
The word “glory” (GK: doxa) originally meant, “opinion” or “reputation.” It came to mean “honor”, and when applied to God, referred to the revelation or manifestation of God’s nature and character. God’s glory is the revelation of who He is, His splendor, His greatness, His majesty. In the Old Testament, it was the “shekinah glory” or the shining splendor of God. That idea of brightness, splendor or radiance carried over into the New Testament.
ILL: Imagine someone standing in a bright spotlight so we can see them clearly. Now take away the spotlight and imagine that the brightness is coming from the person himself.
This is what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Matthew 17:2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
For a moment, the curtain was pulled back and the disciples saw the glory of Jesus shining like the sun.
Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Jesus is the radiance, the outshining of God’s glory. When we look at Jesus, we can see who God really is in all of His beauty and greatness. Hold that thought.
So Jesus prays: “The hour has come. Glorify your Son.” Jesus believed that the moment of glory, the moment of the full revelation of God when His true nature would shine brightest, was about to happen. Where? On the cross. There, dying a criminal’s death on a cross, beaten and bloodied, we see the glory of God. There in weakness and shame and death we see the radiance, the greatness of God. Not what you’d expect.
ILL: To put this in perspective, I’m going to show you two pictures, and ask you which one represents “glory”. Here’s the first. Very painful…I’m sorry. Here’s the second. Pete Carroll’s reaction to that last second interception. Which one represents glory? That’s easy. The first one: Tom Brady holding up the Vince Lombardi trophy, celebrating victory! But Jesus flips this; His glory is more like the second picture…more like this picture.
God’s glory is His sacrificial love. If you want to see the full revelation of God, look at Jesus on the cross. It is the brightest and clearest display of God’s nature and purpose. On the cross we see God’s justice, condemning and paying for human sin. On the cross we see God’s love, securing our salvation at enormous cost. On the cross, and in His resurrection, God answered this prayer. He glorified His Son.
But why was this so important to Jesus? He prays, Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
Jesus was all about glorifying His Father. He wanted everyone to know how great, how loving, how gracious, how merciful His Father was. He knew the Father, and He wanted us to know the Father too.
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
This is eternal life: knowing God—really knowing Him as He is. This is why Jesus wanted the spotlight turned on God, why He wanted the Father glorified. This was His passion. Everything Jesus did was for the Father’s glory. He lived so that God would be glorified. And He prayed that God would be glorified.
So here’s our next prayer point: it’s not, “glorify me!” Let’s pray that God will be glorified in our lives, so that others can know Him and experience eternal life. Jesus said in John 17:10 And glory has come to me through them. Jesus expects our lives to bring glory to Him.
Do you have a passion for God’s glory? Most of us have a passion for our own glory. We’re most concerned about our own reputation, what others think of us. One of my goals on my sabbatical last summer was to break my addiction to approval. I’m still working on it. “Glorify me”: I may not pray it, but sometimes I think it. I want to be more concerned with God’s reputation, God’s glory, than my own. I want to think, “God is so good that I want everyone to know Him. I want my life to point people to Him.”
ILL: Do you know anyone whom you think so highly of that you would love to introduce them to everyone? Laina is like that for me. She is such a remarkable person—so selfless, kind, thoughtful and others-centered—that I think anyone would love her and benefit from knowing her. So I “glorify her”. I love talking about her, introducing her to others.
I want to do that same thing with Jesus. I want everyone to know Him and the Father. I want my life to point people to Him.
Prayer and song: In my life Lord, be glorified.
2. Jesus prays for his disciples: “Keep them.” 6-19
John 17:11 Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
John 17:15-17 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
“I pray for them,” Jesus says. “Them” is the 11 disciples who are there in the upper room with Him. What does Jesus pray? He says a lot of wonderful things that I wish we had time to explore, including many amazing truths about who Jesus is and His relationship to the Father. But we’re going to focus on one thing: what does Jesus actually ask the Father to do for them? Protect them and sanctify them. Many translations use the word “keep”. Keep them safe. Keep them holy (that’s what “sanctify” means). Keep them.
Jesus says that He is leaving the world and coming back to the Father. “I am coming to you,” Jesus says, “but they are still in the world.” Jesus knew that He was leaving His followers in a hostile world. They would be assaulted from every side: from the devil, the world, and from within.
He knew they would face temptation and opposition from the evil one.
John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
We have a spiritual adversary, the devil, who seeks to destroy us.
1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
I think we tend to underestimate the animosity of our enemy, and the ferocity of the spiritual battle we’re in. Friends, the devil wants to destroy you. He wants to destroy your faith, your relationship with God, you relationships—your life. He doesn’t just want to make your life hard; he wants to destroy you. Devour you.
If he can’t destroy you, he’ll do the next best thing: neutralize you. Jesus said:
John 17:18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
Jesus entrusted His entire mission to them—these 11 men—and through them, to us. We are the ones who glorify the Father, who point people to Jesus, who bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Jesus sent them—and us—into the world on mission. We are not just passively living in the world; we are God’s agents, actively sharing the gospel, doing God’s work. We are on the front lines of the battle. If the devil can’t destroy you, he’ll just sideline you. He’ll make you half-hearted, indifferent, apathetic, lukewarm. He’ll neutralize you: “I don’t have to worry about this one. He’s not doing anything.”
So Jesus prayed, “Father, keep them from the evil one.” This doesn’t mean that we are protected from temptation or hardship. It means that God will protect us by giving us the strength to stand. Jesus prayed a similar thing for Peter, a prayer that we looked at in week one of this series.
Luke 22:31–32 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Notice that Jesus didn’t pray that Simon wouldn’t be sifted, but that his faith wouldn’t fail. Jesus clearly expected him to turn back, and he did. Jesus’ prayer for Peter was answered. Even though he denied Jesus, he turned back to Jesus. He lost a battle, but he won the war.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
You will be tempted. You are in a spiritual battle. But God will provide the strength so that you can resist and endure. This is what Jesus prays: not “take them out of the world,” but “keep them strong in the world.”
We are in the world, but not of it. We are different. Jesus prays,
John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
Sanctify them. Make them holy, different. And notice that we are sanctified by the truth. This is why I harp all the time about the daily Bible reading. Read the Word. Read the Word. Read the Word. I know I sound like a broken record, but Jesus is praying for you, that you will be sanctified by the truth—and God’s word is truth. As you read and obey God’s word, His truth will change you, make you different. Your values will change, your thinking will change, your behavior will change. You will become sanctified by the truth—made holy, different by God’s word.
So here’s our next prayer point. We are going to pray that God will keep us. Keep us from the evil one. Keep us holy—sanctified by His word. We’ll pray that for ourselves, but also for those around us, like Jesus did, for our brothers and sisters.
Why is this prayer so important? This goes back to the first prayer about the glory of God. If we are passionate that God will be glorified, that the world will see Him as He really is, then this prayer is important. Now, we are the ones who show the glory of God. If the devil can sideline us by apathy, or take us down and destroy us, the world won’t see God’s glory. If the world can seduce us, so we blend in—so we’re in the world, and of the world—we’ll be neutralized spiritually, and the world won’t see God’s glory. A lost world that desperately needs God’s love won’t get it from us. So let’s pray.
Prayer: Keep us from the evil one. Keep us holy. Send us and keep us.
Ushers: pass out communion here.
3. Jesus prays for us: “Unify them.” 20-26
John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that 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.
Jesus goes big in this prayer. He prayed for Himself, then the 11 in the room, and finally for all who will believe in Him through their message. That’s us. And not just us here in this room, but every Christian around the world and through the ages. All of us!
And what’s His prayer? “That all of them may be one.” He prays for our unity. Does this mean that we as Christians must all agree about everything? It would seem so, since Jesus prays that all of us would be one as He and the Father are one. And they agree–perfectly. They have perfect unity in every way. But while that is the ideal, the reality is that we’ll never agree about everything—and we never have. So what can this mean?
I think it means that we love each other in spite of our differences. Christians may see many things differently, but we can agree about Jesus and then love each other and serve each other anyway. Jesus must be the focal point; everything else is secondary. This is why the early Christians created the creeds: they wanted a clear, simply statement of faith that Christians everywhere could agree to. We unite around that. Are there things not included in the creeds? Lots! But we can differ about those things and still be Christians, united in Jesus.
I meet with lots of pastors from other churches, other denominations. I tell them all the same thing. If you’re for Jesus, we’re for you. Let’s work together. We’re on the same team. We’ve got the same coach, and we’re working for the same goals. We don’t have to agree about everything as long as we agree about Jesus.
- We are planning a prayer and worship service in the week before Easter that will bring together lots of different churches. All the pastors working on this want to simply pray together that God will be glorified and the gospel will be heard in all our churches for Easter. If you’re for Jesus, we’re for you.
- We’re having conversations with some other churches right now about Hispanic church plants. We’ve found a wonderful young Hispanic church planter that is doing incredible things. We’re Foursquare, and we’re teaming up with Open Bible churches to help this guy, and he’s from the Church of God Prophecy. None of us care about the labels. If you’re for Jesus, we’re for you.
- We met last year with the elders of one of the Russian Baptist churches here in town to talk about partnering in a church plant for second generation Slavs. Russian Baptist and American Foursquare—we didn’t care. If you’re for Jesus, we’re for you.
- Jerry Sittser and I meet each month with a group of 20 young church planters, to encourage and mentor them. They are Assembly of God, Episcopalian, Open Bible, Foursquare, Independent, Presbyterian, Quaker, Baptist, Vineyard, and Church of Christ. It’s a motley crew, and we love them all, because…If you’re for Jesus, we’re for you.
Friends, Jesus prayed that we would be one. Let’s answer His prayer. Let’s love each other and serve each other.
Why is it important? Jesus prayed this, “so that the world may believe that you sent me.” Oh my. Jesus seemed to think that our unity, our love for each other, would be what convinced a watching world that Jesus was really who He said He was. The ultimate proof of Jesus is our love for one another.
The early church seemed to understand this and loved each other deeply. It was reported by Tertullian in the second century that outsiders looked at Christians and were amazed by their love.
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. “See,” they say, “how they love one another,” for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. “See,” they say about us, “how they are ready even to die for one another,” for they themselves would sooner kill. The Apology of Tertullian, AD 197
The love of Christians for each other stood out then, and will stand out now. The world is waiting to see: is Jesus real? Are you ready to show them?
This is our final prayer point. We’re going to pray big. “Lord, make us one. Help us to love one another. Your whole church around the world, all of us…but start here with us.”
Prayer: Make us one.
Worship and Communion.