Monday, August 03, 2015

That They May Be One (John 17:20-23)


In Exodus 28:29, we read that Aaron, the high priest, was required to come before God wearing the special breastplate which had been crafted for his use, inscribed with “the names of the sons of Israel … over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.” We have a high priest who is greater than Aaron. Our High Priest is the Lord Jesus Himself. In John 17, we have a prayer that we refer to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. Here we find Him interceding for His disciples – not only for the eleven original faithful disciples but, as verse 20 says, “for those also who believe in Me through their word.” God the Son, our High Priest, comes before God the Father, bearing the names of those whom He has redeemed upon His heart to intercede for us before the eternal throne of grace.[1]

For several weeks we have considered what He prays for during this prayer. We come now to a petition that is so close to His heart that He prays not once, nor even twice, but three times in this chapter. This petition is repeated in verses 11, 21, and 22. As Rainsford writes, “He was willing to ask the best things for them, and He merited that they should obtain any blessing He might be pleased to demand for them of His Father. Yet He doth not ask for worldly riches, nor long life, nor great influence; … He doth not ask that they should be exempt from trial, and difficulties, and temptations, and disappointments.”[2] So what does He ask for so repeatedly in this magnificent prayer? He prays that they “may be one.” His great longing and desire to see His followers, His church, stand together in unity.

As we look at these few verses today, we will examine three components of this prayer for unity in the church. He prays about the pattern of our unity, the basis of our unity, and the result of our unity. It is fitting, and entirely in the sovereign providence of God, that we take up this text on a Communion Sunday, for when we come to the Lord’s Table and take the bread and the cup, we are celebrating our union with Christ and with one another. We drink one cup and eat one bread as a testimony to being one body under the headship of one Lord. But even as we celebrate this truth, we also recognize that our unity is often flawed and imperfect, coming short of what the Lord Jesus has prayed for us to experience and manifest. So, in the Word set before us today, let us also be prayerful that we might “be perfected in unity” as Jesus prays in verse 23. Let us follow the pattern, stand on the basis, and see the results of this unity for which our High Priest has prayed for us.

I. The pattern of our unity.

When instructions were given in the Law for the building of the Tabernacle, the Lord said that it must be constructed “according to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Ex 25:9). Had God simply told His people to build for Him a sanctuary where He would dwell among them and meet with them, it could have taken any shape imaginable. But He did not leave the design up to the imaginations of men; He gave them a precise pattern of what this place was to look like. In a similar way, when Jesus says that His prayer for His people is that they may be one, there are many ways that we could interpret and imagine this sort of unity. But, as with the Tabernacle, Jesus provides us with a pattern for our unity. It is not to look as we envision or imagine it, but as He has designed it and prayed for it to be.

The pattern for our unity in the church is the unity that is found in God Himself. Jesus prays in verse 21, “that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You.” Again in verses 22-23, He prays, “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 the unity for which Jesus prays is one that is patterned after the unity of God Himself – our Triune God who is One God, existing eternally, indivisibly, and concurrently as three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God acts in the world, it is an act of all three Persons of the Godhead. Jesus says that the Father is in Him, and He is in the Father, and in John 10 He says that He and the Father are One. In John 5, as Jesus was fielding accusations that He had violated the Sabbath by healing a lame man, He attested that He does the work of the Father, and that the Father has given Him the work that He is to do. He claimed “to have the same authority, purpose, power, honor, will, and nature as the Father.”[3] Again, in John 14:10, Jesus says that this unity is so thorough, that His words and deeds are actually those of the Father. The Father, and the Son, and the Spirit have unique roles and responsibilities in creation, redemption, providence, consummation and judgment, but each One operates in perfect harmony with the other, acting as the One God who He is. No Person of the Trinity is more or less important than the other, and none of the roles or works of Father, Son or Spirit is any less significant than any other. But as Father, Son, and Spirit work in unified harmony in the world, God’s work is done as only He can do it.

There is, of course, a sense in which we – finite and fallen human beings – can never attain to the kind of unity that exists within the perfect self of the Triune God. But Jesus is praying that even our imperfect unity will be perfected (v23) according to the pattern of God Himself. This means that we come to see one another in terms of our identity in Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in verse 21, “that they also may be in Us,” and in verse 23, “I in them.” We need to view one another as equals before God because of our position in Christ. Just as there are distinctions and diversity among the Persons of the Trinity, so there will be distinctions and diversity among us. But this diversity ensures that where one lacks gifts, another has them; where one is weak, another is strong. We are not called to a uniformity in which we are all cookie-cutter clones of one another, but a unity in which we are all uniquely being shaped into the likeness of Christ in ways that complement one another. We will have different roles and different responsibilities, but when we work together in a unified way, we will advance the work of God together in the world.

Nowhere is this kind of unity more thoroughly described than in the second chapter of Philippians. There Paul says,

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,  make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Php 2:1-4)

As we consider one another in this way, we will see the beauty of unity that can only arise in right relationship with God, and which reflects the pattern of His own unity.

II. The basis of our unity.

Unity is important, but it is not ultimate. If all we had was Jesus praying that His followers might be one, we might be tempted to think unity was ultimate. But, in all of His prayers for unity, He mentions the foundation of this unity. It is never unity for unity’s sake, or unity around the issue of unity. This has been the flaw of many ecumenical movements in the history of Christianity. Surely, it is admirable to seek to unite Christians as one body in the world, and much of the division we see among denominations and movements in Christianity break God’s heart. But in so many of the attempts to unite the global Church of Jesus Christ over the centuries, the strategy has been to remove all that divides us from the discussion in order to unite us around nothing more than unity. A unified church is like a towering skyscraper for Christ in the world. But like all skyscrapers, it has to be built on a firm foundation. Unity itself is no foundation. There are divisions in the church, and there always will be. Some of those divisions are over issues that really matter. To remove them from the table in the name of unity is to build on shifting sand. Christ has given us a rock-solid foundation on which to build a unified church. Like the solid and stable structure of a three-legged stool, our unity is here described in terms of a three-fold basis on which it rests. Think of them like the legs of a stool.

First, a church can only be unified as it rests upon the common confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says that this prayer is for “those … who believe in Me.” Simply put, there is no unity to be found where there is not this common faith in Christ. Where there is this common faith, there can be unity that transcends every other aspect of life: ethnicity, generation, gender, socioeconomics, education, and so on. This is why the church in our day must be mobilized as a testifying force in a fragmented world. For 50 years, Immanuel has been a pioneer as a church for all people, and the larger Christian community has still not caught up with where Immanuel was a half-century ago. People come in here and wonder how it is that young and old, rich and poor, and people of all ethnicities, can be united in the fellowship of a single church. The answer is simple: the Gospel of Jesus Christ has torn down all the barriers that might threaten to divide us. If we are one body, it is only because we are one body in Him. It is also the case that many of the divisions between Christian movements, churches, and denominations, and within many churches, the root cause is that there are some involved who have not been genuinely born again by faith in Jesus. Satan wreaks havoc on a church and a Christian movement by planting unregenerate unbelievers in the midst of it, and where that is the case, there is always a threat to unity. For a church to be unified, there must be a common confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

The second leg that we find to this basis of unity is the Word of God. Jesus said that He is praying for those “who believe in Him through their word.” Who are the “they” of “their word”? They are His apostles, the ones whom He chose to complete the written revelation of the Word of God that we have in the New Testament. He gave the Word to them (v8), and He will give the Spirit to them, that they might be able to write the inspired revelation of God’s Word for us (14:26 ;16:12-14). Our unity in the church must have a common foundation of confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. We cannot stand together under the Lordship of Christ if we are not in agreement about who He is, what He has said, what He has done, and what He has called us to do in the world. Those things, and much more, are disclosed to us in the Scriptures. As Carson writes, our unity is “a unity predicated on adherence to the revelation of the Father mediated to the first disciples through His Son, the revelation they accepted (vv6, 8), and then passed on” to us.[4] Where there is disunity in the church, there is an obvious malfunction in our understanding, our confidence, or our conviction in God’s truth. To be unified, we must stand together on that firm foundation that is laid for our faith in His excellent Word.

The third leg of this unity that Jesus mentions in His prayer is that of His own glory. In verse 22, Jesus says, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one.” So unity somehow grows out of the glory of Christ. Glory speaks of God’s nature, or in this sense, Christ’s nature – His character and person. He is the radiance of the Father’s glory, as Hebrews says. As God’s glory was present, at work, and on display in Christ in the world, so now His glory is manifested in the lives of His people. Christ, in calling us to know and serve Him, has given us His glory. But just as Jesus’ glory was ultimately displayed in His self-sacrifice, so the glory of God will be seen most clearly in the lives of His people as we lay ourselves down in sacrificial service to one another and to the world. God promised through Jeremiah that He would gather a people together for Himself, and give them “one heart and one way,” or as another translation has it, “singleness of heart and action” (Jer 32:39, NASB, NIV). As we become increasingly aware that we are the people through which God seeks to make His glory and the glory of His Son known in the world, we will unite together and labor together toward this aim. Let us ask ourselves, how would our lives look different if we lived in such a way to make the glory of God-in-Christ known through our service to Him and our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church? How would our church look different if our singular aim was making the glory of God-in-Christ manifest in this community and to the ends of the earth? Where other aims and other pursuits enter into a church, division ensues because everyone has their own idea of what our priorities and activities ought to be. But where we can agree together that, whatever we do, whatever we desire, and whatever we decide, our singular aim is to make the glory of God-in-Christ known, there is a great unity that will arise in our fellowship that will be unmistakably evident to all.

So, our unity is to be a unity that rests upon this three-legged stool, as it were: a basis consisting of a common confession that Christ is Savior and Lord; a common conviction that His Word is truth; and a common commitment to pursue and demonstrate His glory in and through our lives individually and together as the church.

This brings us to the final element of Jesus prayer for the unity of His people …

III. The results of our unity. 

Why should we, as a church, pursue unity? Why should we take threats against it seriously? Why should we be concerned if it is lacking? First we should say that unity is not an end unto itself. Remember, it is important, but it is not ultimate. We do not pursue it apart from the three-fold basis we have just outlined. But we also do not pursue it apart from a passionate desire to see the results that Jesus prayed would come from our unity. The aim is not to have unity for unity’s sake, but unity for the sake of our global mission.

In verse 21, Jesus prayed that His followers “may all be one … so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” For reasons we will only understand in heaven, Jesus Christ has chosen to anchor the world’s perception of His claims on the unity of His church. That is mind-boggling. How will the world become convinced that He is who He says He is – the One who was sent by the Father to redeem the world? The church will prove it, not through argumentation, but through a demonstration of unity.

He goes further in verse 23, praying that His people “may be one … so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” The claim of the Christian church is that we who follow Jesus have been adopted into the family of God as sons and daughters through our faith in Him. We claim that we are the special objects of God’s love, unequaled by any affection other than the love of the Father for the Son. We tell the world that they can experience God’s love in this way too, if they will come to call upon Christ to save them. But Jesus says here that if we are not unified, the world will never believe our testimony. An absence of unity in the church will undermine, not only our witness, but the integrity of His own claims in the world.

We all know people, I imagine, who once professed to be followers of Christ and were active in their churches, but who today have drifted away from Christ and His Church. Surely among those we know, there are many who would say that the reason they turned their backs on the Lord and the church is because of the turmoil that they witnessed and experienced in the church. We also know people who have never professed Christ who, when we witness to them, are quick to throw in our faces the failures and follies of some church they have known about. Friends, we have to come to grips with the fact that when the world judges Christ and the church on the basis of our failures, it is because Jesus Himself has given them the right to do so. He said that the world’s belief in Him, and the world’s belief in our claim to be God’s specially loved people would be based on the unity that they see in us.

Because we are God’s sons and daughters that have been adopted into His family, brothers and sisters to one another, we have to take the bond of family unity seriously. Because we believe that Jesus is mighty save, that salvation is His free gift, and that heaven and hell are real places where real people go for a real eternity, we must take unity seriously. A short time ago, we adopted a “conflict resolution policy” here at Immanuel, and several people asked why it was necessary. They asked if we were trying to force people to comply with things they didn’t agree with, or demand uniformity or silence. No friends, there is a time for disagreements, room for diversity of opinions, and freedom to agree to disagree. But the policy was put into place so that we can address, confront, and protect the unity of the church in a way that honors Christ and protects the witness of this church for Christ in the community and the world. But that policy can only do so much. It comes down to a daily determination on the part of each of us that we will humble ourselves and elevate our brothers and sisters and serve them, that we will unite with one another on the basis of God’s word, faith in Christ, and a commitment to pursue His glory, that the world will believe and know who Christ is and who we are as His people.

Do you know what will impress the world about the church? It will not be our size, our prosperity, or our sense of self-importance. It will be, according to the prayer and promise of Jesus, the unity that the world sees among the members of His Church who stand together by faith in Him, upon His word, committed to serving one another and the world for His glory.

In the second century, Tertullian wrote a defense of the Christian faith to a culture that despised the church. He said,

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. … 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.

What impressed the world in that day is what will impress the world in our day. Let the world look upon the church and see unity, and say of us as was said of the church centuries ago: “See how they love one another.”






[1] Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays for His Own (Chicago: Moody, 1950), 372.
[2] Ibid., 372.
[3] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12-31 (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 290.
[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 568. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Joyful Words in a Dangerous World (John 17:13-20)


One of the most popular movies in America right now is called “Inside Out,” and after just a few weeks, it is already the number three grossing movie that Disney-Pixar has ever released. The movie is about an eleven year old girl named Riley – no, actually, it is about the emotions within her: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Joy is the dominant character, always wanting to be in charge and push the other emotions to the side. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that by the end of the movie, Joy has learned that she needs her fellow emotions to be complete and whole. What fascinated me most about this movie was how close it comes to presenting a biblical, Christian, perspective on emotional well-being. The Christian life is not all about running around being happy all the time. If you can genuinely do that, congratulations, but if you can’t, that’s okay. Life’s about more than that. The Christian life is about growing in joy, and joy is something that God Himself must impart to us, that can exist within us in spite of our circumstances, and that needs to exist alongside of other emotions and states of mind.

How would you define “Joy”? C. S. Lewis was captivated by the notion of “Joy,” using it to describe many aspects of the Christian life and the spiritual hunger of all humanity. It shows up in almost every one of his books, and ironically, he even married a woman named “Joy.” But, even Lewis had a hard time defining joy. Last year, a previously unseen, handwritten letter from Lewis to a Mrs. Ellis was found tucked into a second-hand copy of his book The Problem of Pain. In the letter, Lewis writes, “Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony. … It jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. … [O]ne second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”[1]

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5. That means that we cannot manufacture it by our own natural resources or will power. It is imparted to us, and through us, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In 1 Peter 1:8, the Apostle speaks of rejoicing with joy inexpressible and full of glory. John Piper says that, with this phrase, “[Peter] is not describing a decision; he is describing an explosion. You can decide to brush your teeth … but you cannot … decide to rejoice. You can decide to do things that may bring you joy — drive to the country, visit a friend, read a psalm — but whether joy actually happens is not in your own power.”[2] And joy cannot be shattered by contrary experiences or emotions. It is deeper, more enduring, and more ultimately satisfying. That is why the Bible can speak of rejoicing in suffering (Rom 5:3), in affliction (1 Thes 1:6), and in poverty (2 Cor 8:2). Because joy is rooted in our inseparable relationship with Jesus Christ, it transcends the hardships of the world.

This is the point of the passage we have just read. The seventeenth chapter of John is one long prayer – we call it “the High Priestly Prayer” – of Jesus. We’ve given attention to it for several weeks and will for several more weeks. In the portion we are considering today, you will note that Jesus acknowledges His imminent departure from the world. He says to the Father in v13, “now I come to You.” Surely His departure means suffering the cruel death of the cross, but also the joy of returning to His heavenly home and the eternal glory and fellowship with the Father that were His from eternity past. But His disciples will remain behind in the world. For them, His departure could mean nothing but unchecked and unrestrained sorrow. All they have known of this new life they have enjoyed for 3 years will come crashing down in a very short time, bringing them into a potential death-spiral of despair.

This is why Jesus prays for them, and prays for them in such a specific way. He prays, “These things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” But it is always helpful to remember that He is not praying only for that first generation of disciples, but for all of us who have come to follow Him by faith. In verse 20, He prays, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.” That’s you and me, and every other Christian who has ever lived or ever will. He is praying that we all may have the fullness of His joy within ourselves. Notice that the joy He wishes us to have is His own – the very joy that characterized His life; that divine joy that the Holy Spirit imparts to and through us. He prays that we will have this, not in part, but in fullness. He desires that our lives would be characterized by complete and total joy, even when our circumstances are not happy, desirable, or pleasant. Jesus said that He speaks these things “in the world.” In the world, there is much suffering and hardship. Jesus Himself had endured it, and was on the precipice of the worst that anyone has ever experienced or ever will. He knows His disciples will experience it as well. But in the midst of it, we can have joy – His joy, made full, in ourselves, in this world (of all places).

Jesus says He speaks “these things” for this reason – that we might have this kind of joy. So what are the “things” He speaks that enable to us to experience the fullness of His joy in ourselves in the world? There are at least three here that I want to draw your attention to in the time we have today.

I. God’s Word gives us joy in a world that hates us. (v14)

When I first started traveling overseas, I would grow very homesick. On those first few trips to Africa, there was virtually no way to communicate with folks from home. Nowadays, we are a bit spoiled. We have wifi and cell phone signals almost everywhere in the world, and we can email, text, twitter, facebook, facetime, and skype so that we never have to be entirely severed from our comfort zone. And yet, as Christians living in a fallen world, we are never in our true comfort zone. We are, as it were, in enemy-occupied territory. It is as though we are secret agents in a foreign land, and our very presence there is despised and dangerous.

Jesus said that the world hates His disciples. The “world” refers to the general mass of humanity which is marching along in its unregenerate and sinful state in unflinching rebellion against God. As a Christian, you represent everything the world hates, and so you yourself become a target of that hatred. In America, we have been immune to this for a long time, because traditionally it was socially advantageous to be at least friendly toward, if not openly aligned with, Christians in the broader culture. But that day is gone and a new day is upon us. If you want to know how Christians are viewed by “the world,” just read the opinion pieces that circulate daily about issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. We are viewed as intolerant, hate-filled bigots. And in a world that champions tolerance so ardently, we may be surprised to find out how intolerant the world is toward people who do not hold to its moral values.

Hatred. It is a strong word, but it is not an exaggeration. True Bible-believing Christians of consistent conviction and action have always been shunned by the broader culture, even when the broader culture was nominally Christian itself. The world hates the Christian because, Jesus says, the Christian is “not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus came into the world from another realm. This world was not His home; heaven was. But though we were of the world, having been born into it and lived as a part of it for some part of our lives, we were chosen from out of the world, as Jesus said several times in the preceding verses and paragraphs. This world which was once our home is no more. Our citizenship has been transferred to heaven and we live in this world now as alien residents. We do not share this world’s values, priorities or passions, and for that reason, the world hates us.

It can be a lonely place, living in this world as aliens and strangers. But Jesus says that He has given us the Word of God so that we might have joy. When I was in Nepal, I could read the Greensboro News and Record every day online, and communicate with my family online, and feel connected to home, though I was on the opposite side of the world. In a similar way, Jesus has given us God’s Word so that we may stay connected to our true homeland and have His joy in the midst of a world that hates us. Every day, we can read the Word and communicate with God through it. His promises remind us that we are not alone, though we are surrounded by a culture that hates us and the God in whom we trust. He reminds us that He is present with us and in us. Though we are hated in the world, His word reminds us that we are loved at home in heaven, and when this world has done its dead-level worst to us, we are welcomed there. We find unshakeable joy in the midst of a hate-filled world as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God which Jesus has imparted to us. We must not dare to neglect the Word, for we do so to our own peril and to the forfeiture of our own joy.

II. God’s Protection gives us joy in a world dominated by evil. (v15)

Many of you know that my aim in life as a young man was not be a preacher. From my childhood, I dreamed of being an Air Force pilot, and had it not been for God’s intervention in my life, that is probably what I would be doing today. During those years, I went to every air show I could go to in order to see the jets that I dreamt of flying on display. I recall vividly a demonstration that I saw at numerous air shows involving a modified C-130 cargo plane that had the ability to extract a downed pilot from enemy territory without landing. On one pass, the plane would drop a crate via parachute, which the downed pilot would open once it hit the ground. Inside the crate was an apparatus that had a large balloon on end, and an elaborate harnessing system on the other. He would strap himself to the line and deploy the balloon, and the plane would make another pass to grasp the balloon, yanking the downed pilot from the ground and reeling him into the cargo door on the rear of the plane. The entire process took about ten minutes. I never ceased to marvel at that. As an aspiring pilot, I never wanted to experience being downed behind enemy lines, but I was glad to know that there was a way to be extracted if it ever happened.

I’m sure that, as Christians, there have been times when we wished that we could be similarly extracted from this hostile world. Truly, the world is enemy occupied territory, under the domain of the chief of evil, Satan. Under the sovereign rulership of God, Satan is allowed authority here on the world for a season – a season that began at the fall of man into sin in the Garden of Eden, and will end at the return of Christ at the end of the age. The world is a battlefield for Satan and his demonic and human forces to wage war against God and the people of His kingdom. And as we endure life on this battlefield, seeing sin and suffering abound, and experiencing the brunt of it in our own persons on a regular basis, it is only natural to wish that we could be delivered from it. In Scripture we find Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all praying that God would not delay in removing them from the world, even by way of death (Num 11:15; 1 Ki 19:4; Jon 4:3, 8). We may have prayed that way ourselves. We need not be surprised to find that the answer to our prayer is the same as the answer to theirs. In each case, the answer seems to be a resounding, “No!”

For God to answer our prayer to be removed from the world would be for Him to deny the prayer of His only begotten Son, who prayed in verse 15 that the Father would not “take them out of the world.” Though this world is not our home, and it is enemy occupied territory which Satan has filled with evil, Jesus Christ desires that we remain in it, at least until our work here is finished. This would be utterly depressing and disheartening if it were not for the fact that He has prayed for something better than evacuation for us. He has prayed for our protection. In verse 15, He prays, “Keep them from the evil one.”

Every time I have ever traveled overseas, the one question I receive most often before I go is this: “Is it safe where you are going?” I don’t think I have ever been to a country that wasn’t on some kind of watch list of the State Department. So, I suppose the answer is, “No, it isn’t safe.” But, friends, if the last few years have taught us anything in America, it is that safety is a myth. You do not have to travel overseas to be unsafe. Satan is as active in the United States as he is anywhere else in the world. Jesus did not promise safety to His followers, He promised and prayed for our protection. If the world in which we live were safe, we would not need protection. Not only did He pray for us to be kept from the evil one, He taught us to pray for it ourselves. In the model prayer, we are instructed to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We need constant protection from the evil of the enemy with which he ravages this fallen world.

So, there is joy to be had, though the enemy is powerful. We are kept, protected, by the power of one who is even greater. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). And though the world is unsafe, we are protected, and therefore we can have joy, come what may in this world.

III. God’s Mission gives us joy in a world that needs Him. (vv16-19)

We have this sort of notion that life is all about enjoying ease and leisure, and work is what interferes with that aim. This is not the case. Work was given to Adam to do before the fall. Frustration in work, and the laziness and lethargy it produces, is a product of the fall – fruit of our sinfulness. We were made to be active and at work in the world. To work with the abilities and talents God has given us provides a sense of satisfaction. But the greatest and most abiding joy is to labor toward the purpose for which God redeemed us. He saved us to put us on mission, carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ Himself to the ends of the earth, until Christ returns or calls us home in death. This is why we are left in this unsafe world, but protected by the Father’s power. To be taken out of the world might mean relief and ease for us, but it would mean destruction for the world. The world perishes apart from the witness of the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jesus has left us in this world for this purpose.

He reminds us again in verse 16 that we are not of the world, even as He is not of the world. But though the world is not our home, it is our base of operations for Him. And in order to be effective in our mission, we must be prepared. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them.” To sanctify something is to set it apart from the rest, and in the Bible it has the sense of consecrating something or someone for a holy purpose. Jesus prays that the Father would do just this, consecrate His followers for a holy purpose. He sanctifies us as His indwelling Spirit shapes us to reflect the fullness of the image of Christ. But the tool that the Spirit uses for this sanctifying work is the Word that Jesus has imparted to us. Remember that in v14 He said, “I have given them Your word.” Here in v17 He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” As we ingest the Word of God, the Spirit of God uses it to transform us for the Father’s good purpose in our lives. And His good purpose is that we would become participants in the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

“Sanctify them,” Jesus prayed, for “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” We have been sent by Jesus in a way that reflects His own sending from the Father. Jesus was sent into the world to seek and save the lost, by laying down His life to redeem humanity from sin. He was born to die, and to die for the sins of the human race. Having done that, and conquered death by His resurrection, salvation is available to all who call upon His name. But as Romans 10 says, “How will they call on Him in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will the preach unless they are sent?” We have been sent by Jesus Himself so that we can proclaim the good news of His salvation in the hearing of the whole world – a world that hates us, a world that is under the reign of the enemy, but a world that desperately needs to hear and call upon the name of the Lord. Jesus sent us as He Himself was sent by the Father. We are not sent to accomplish redemption, as He was. Only He could accomplish that through His sacrificial death. But we are sent to make that redemption known by pointing others to Him. Like His own mission, ours may not always be safe or pleasant, but there is joy to be found in the doing of the work for which we ourselves were ransomed from sin. Ours is not a purposeless existence. We have a divine mission and a holy calling to make Christ known among all nations. As we engage in that mission, we will find a deep and abiding sense of joy that cannot be shaken by this world or anything in it.

Jesus said in v19, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” In sanctifying Himself, Jesus was consecrating Himself fully to the Father’s mission. He was accepting the charge to live, to die, and to rise again for the redemption of humanity. If it were not for His self-sacrifice in laying down His life on the cross for our sins, we could have no joy. We would be separated from Him forever because of our sins. But because He has sanctified Himself, He has made it possible for us to know God through Him, to be reconciled to God, and to be cleansed, transformed, and used by God to extend His rescue mission into all the world. There is joy in knowing Him and making Him known. It is the abiding and satisfying joy of doing what we were created, redeemed, and empowered by God to do. Though the world may not celebrate our labor for the Lord, their own eternal destiny depends on the faithful carrying out of our mission.

Next to Jesus, I suppose the world has never seen a more joy filled man than the Apostle Paul. Paul comprehended and experienced the joy of the Lord to such an extent that he could sing praises to the Lord from the confines of a dingy jail cell and turn every perilous circumstance – from imprisonment, to earthquake, to shipwreck – into an opportunity to testify of the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus. I don’t know that any follower of Christ ever suffered for the Lord to the extent that Paul did, and I don’t know that any were ever more effective for Christ than he was. And as we follow Christ in this world, we can expect no better or different reception than Paul did. In Acts 17, after preaching the gospel of the risen Jesus, the Bible says that some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this,” and yet others “joined him and believed.” For the joy of seeing those who will join and believe, we must endure the sneering and the questioning of others. God’s word provides us with joy in the midst of the world’s hatred. His protection safeguards us in an unsafe world controlled by the enemy, that nothing could ever steal our joy. And His mission gives us the joy of satisfaction in knowing that we are doing what He has made us, saved us, and called us to do.








[1] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/09/unseen-cs-lewis-letter-defines-joy-surprised-by-joy. Accessed July 24, 2015
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-fruit-of-hope-joy. Accessed July 24, 2015.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Keep Them (John 17:9-12)


The great 20th Century preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse once told the story of a woman named Elizabeth who was a servant in the home of Martin Luther. One day, she had decided she had had all that she could endure of her role in Luther’s home, and left without any notice. Some time later, when she became terribly ill, she did not know who to turn to, so she called upon Luther to come visit her. Coming in to her side, Luther asked, “Well, Elizabeth, what is the matter?” Elizabeth replied, “I have given away my soul to Satan.” Luther responded compassionately, “Elizabeth, listen to me. Suppose, while you lived in my house, you had sold and transferred all my children to a stranger. Would the sale and transfer have been lawful and binding?” Elizabeth answered quickly, “Oh no, for I had no right to do that.” Luther said, “Very well, you had still less right to give your soul to the archenemy; it no more belongs to you than my children do. It is the exclusive property of the Lord Jesus Christ; He made it, and when lost, He redeemed it; it is His.”[1]

Like Elizabeth, I suppose every Christian has wondered at times if we have done something which severed us from our relationship with Christ. And like Elizabeth, we need to be reminded at such times that it is impossible for one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ to ever be separated from Him. For that assurance, we must turn to the Word of God, which reminds us often that it is impossible for a genuinely born-again believer in Christ to ever return to a state of spiritual lostness. As Barnhouse says, “Anyone who believes that one who has truly been born of God can get out of relationship with God and be finally lost is blind to great sections of truth in the Word of God. They look at some experiences in life instead of at the Word of God; they judge the Word by what they see in life, rather than judging life by what they see in the Word.”[2]

Christians have used various expressions for what we believe about the security and assurance we have in our relationship with Christ. It has been called “eternal security,” “the perseverance of the saints,” or “the preservation of the saints.” Baptists have often used the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” Our confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message (2000), expresses the truth more fully:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.[3]

As we turn to the Word of God to find the assurance of these promises, one of the clearest passages we can find is the one we have just read. John 17, often called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, contains the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Bible. Several weeks ago, we looked at the first five verses and saw how Jesus prayed for Himself to be glorified. Last Sunday, we looked at verses 6-9 and saw that Jesus prays this prayer for His disciples and not for the world. And here in these verses, we see that, among the thing He prays for His disciples, He prays for those who belong to God through Him will be kept by God.

Jesus is praying this prayer on the eve of His crucifixion. Knowing that His departure is imminent, He says in verse 11, “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You.” The fulfillment of His purposes and the advancement of His kingdom in the world has been transferred over into the hands of His disciples and those, like ourselves, who would come to faith in Him through their message. Throughout the Gospels, we have seen how feeble, how fickle, and how frail these men were, and as we examine our own lives, we find that we are very much like them. Jesus knew that, left to themselves, His disciples would only make a mess of the mission with which He had entrusted them. And so He did not leave them to themselves, but prayed that they may be kept by the God to whom they belonged by their faith in Him.

Marcus Rainsford writes,

They had need of being kept. … [A]ll their own wisdom collectively and individually could not keep them for one moment; all their own watchfulness, all their gathered experience during the many months and years of their fellowship with Christ, could not keep them in one single difficulty; all their resolutions could not keep them for one hour; all their gifts—and many of them had great gifts—could not keep them in one solitary temptation; all their privileges, all their zeal, all their love, and the frequent warnings with which they had been warned, and the example daily before them utterly failed, and must fail, to keep them in one single difficulty or for one single moment.[4]

They had to be kept. And we have to be kept. And we are kept by Him to whom we ultimately and eternally belong. It is what Jesus prayed for us, and it is what the Father is glad to do in response to the prayer of His Son. I want to draw attention here to three elements of this portion of Jesus’ prayer, that we might draw encouragement and assurance from these words.

I. We belong to God for the glory of Christ (vv9-10)

In verse 6, which we looked at last week, Jesus says of His followers that they were the Father’s, and the Father gave them to the Son. Here in verse 9, Jesus says that His disciples were given to Him by the Father, and they still belong to the Father. By giving to the Son those whom He had sovereignly chosen out of the world as His own, the Father secured them for Himself in an eternal covenant bond. We belonged to Him in eternity past, He gave us to Christ, and we belong to Him for eternity future. Jesus said, “All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” This is one of the clearest claims of deity that Christ ever made. All of us could, and should, say that all we have belongs to God. That is a proper declaration of Christian stewardship. But no sane man, who is merely a man, can say, “All that belongs to God the Father rightly belongs to Me.” For Jesus to say this, He must be more than a man, or else a complete madman. As C. S. Lewis rightly said, if Jesus’ claims are not true, they are the claims “of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men.”[5] In saying that we belong to the Father, and to Himself, Jesus was ultimately saying that we who believe in Him belong forever to God.

If that were not enough, He says, “and I have been glorified in them.” We belong to God for the glory of Christ. It is nearly unfathomable to consider that Jesus, who is infinitely glorious in Himself, actually uses the likes of us to bring glory to Himself in the world. These original disciples were not extraordinary men, nor are any of us. Like them, our faith is often weak, our obedience is often imperfect, and our failures are known all to well to ourselves and those around us. But, Jesus is not ashamed to call us His own and, moreover, is actually able to bring glory to Himself through us. Our lives are on display for the world to see as trophies of His grace and glory.

Notice that He does not say He is glorified by us. Rather, He is glorified in us. It is not what we do for Him that brings Him that brings Him glory, but rather what He has done in us. It is not what we display of our own nature that glorifies Him, but what He displays of Himself in us. In our weakness, Christ is glorified for His matchless power. In our faithlessness, Christ is glorified for His infinite faithfulness. In our failures, He is glorified for His gracious mercy. As He bears with us in longsuffering patience, He is glorified by His enduring goodness. As Rainsford so wondrously stated,

Angelic might cannot display Christ's strength so much as our weakness does; the riches of heaven cannot display Christ's fullness so much as our poverty does; the holiness of archangels cannot speak His praise so much as the covering of our unrighteousness does; the anthems of the seraphim cannot utter His glory as shall the praises of His redeemed; and not all the worship of heaven's hosts can render to Him so grateful an offering, or crown Him with so rich a crown, as the love of His pardoned people.[6]

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” Having been bought with the price of Christ’s blood, you belong to Him, and belong to God forever through Him, and He can and will bring glory to the name of Jesus through you – through your successes and failures, your strengths and weaknesses, your victories and defeats. You are His for His glory. This should be of great encouragement to us, especially in those frequent moments of failure. Failure does not mean that we have been severed from Christ. It means that we have the opportunity to come to Him and repentance and ask Him to redeem the failure and turn it into something glorious for Himself. Would that we would all give Him our success and failures alike to bring glory to Himself, because we belong to Him for this purpose. He is committed to us, to ever be glorified in us. We ought to be encouraged by that, and commit ourselves therefore to bring glory to Him through every experience, good or bad, that we endure in life.

II. We are kept by God for the purpose of unity (v11)

Have you ever had a hard time getting along with someone? I’m sure we all have. It is part of life. Because we are all corrupted by sin, our thoughts, words, and actions are often at odds with each other. I have often said that people are like porcupines. If you get close enough to them, you are going to get pricked. We see it in our dysfunctional families, in our politically divided nation, and, sadly, even in churches. It is impossible to gather a group of people together and have identical opinions and preferences on everything, but hard enough to find agreement on even a few important things. And yet, Christ’s burning desire for His church is that it be united. Later in this prayer, He will pray that the church united would prove to the world His power to save. So a divided church is counterproductive to the spread of the Gospel in the world. And yet it happens so often, does it not?

Now, in His omnipotent power, Jesus could speak a word and obliterate all differences in His church immediately. He could eliminate our unique personalities, opinions and preferences, and program us like robotic machinery to conduct ourselves in a state of uniformity. But Jesus does not seek uniformity in His church; He seeks unity. He desires for His church to be filled with a diversity of people who are unified under the banner of His Gospel. We need differences among us: different gifts, different strengths, different abilities, different styles, different methods, and so on. But we need those differences to complement one another, not compete with one another, that where one is weak, another is strong; where one is poor, another is rich; where one lacks ability, another has it. And thus, we would have unity in the church that conveys to the world the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.

Left to ourselves, however, we would never be able to manufacture this kind of unity. In verse 11, Jesus says, “I am no longer in the world, and yet they themselves are in the world.” And this world is no place for the unity He desires and prays for to arise organically. Because we are in the world, we are still subject to that inherent sinfulness in each of us that strives to be right, that seeks the first place, that craves power. Our opinions, preferences, and tastes are corrupted by our inherent sinfulness so that we bicker and grumble with each other over our differences. Also, in the world, we are subject to all the attacks and temptations of the devil and his forces, and the world’s ways which are always at odds with God’s. Thus, for the kind of unity that Jesus desires and deserves to arise within the church, He prays for His people to be kept by the Father. “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” The unity is a result of being kept in the Father’s name.

As we examined before, the name of which Jesus speaks, the name which He said in verse 6 that He had come to manifest to us, represents God’s nature and character in its fullness. We can only be united with one another as we are transformed by God’s grace to reflect His own nature. This is something that only God can do by His power. Left to ourselves, we would not manifest any of God’s nature within ourselves, we would not remain faithful to Him, and we would not be united with one another. But Jesus has not left us to ourselves. He has left us to the power and grace of His Father by praying that we would be kept in His name. As each of us undergoes this gracious transformation, the nature of God comes to bear within and through us. We begin to love each other with His love, we begin to show one another the grace and forgiveness that He has shown us, and treat one another with the patience He has lavished upon us. Our priorities are shaped by His priorities, and we are able to move beyond differences over secondary matters in order to be united on the primary ones.

The unity that Jesus prays over us is the same unity that has been eternally enjoyed between the Father and the Son. Though co-equal, co-eternal, and of the same divine nature, the Father and the Son have different personalities, different responsibilities, and different roles in the singular plan of the united Godhead. The Son is not threatened by the Father, and the Father does not consider the Son a rival. There is a mutual cooperation between the distinct persons of the Trinity that leads to the fulfillment of His purposes. So, Jesus prays that we would be united in the same way. The uniqueness of our individual personalities, our gifts, and our responsibilities come together in harmony to advance the purpose of God in the world through His church. Simply put, as Christians living in this fallen world, we need each other far more than we need to be right, to get our way, or be in charge. We simply cannot exist as Christians in the world apart from the support of our fellow believers in the body of Christ.

I imagine all of us know someone who is a “church dropout,” who says that the reason that they no longer participate in the life of any church is because of the infighting that they experienced or observed. This is certainly an indictment on the church. There is really no excuse for a church which is being kept in the Father’s name to experience this kind of disunity. Ironically, however, the person who has removed themselves from the fellowship of the church for these reasons is also unwittingly indicting themselves. In Scripture, there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger Christian.” In fact, the only so-called Christians in Scripture who are not faithfully involved in a local church are those who have been kicked out because of their unrepentant sin or false teaching. In other words, they were removed because their testimony as a follower of Christ was suspect. In First John, the author of this Gospel also writes that one of the evidences of our faith in Christ is a love for the brethren (1 Jn 3:14). When one turns his or her back on the body of believers and walks away, there is good reason to question the genuineness of their faith.

Unity in the church flows out of our being kept by the Father. An evidence of our security in Christ is our endurance in faithfulness to God’s church and love for the brethren. When we demonstrate unity in the body of Christ, we are demonstrating that the Father is keeping us, shaping us by His very own nature, to make us a unique and united people in the midst of corrupt and dark world. We are unable to have this kind of unity on our own or in our own strength and power. Left to ourselves, we wouldn’t even want it! But we’ve been left to the Father’s power to keep us, and thereby to unite us with one another under Christ our Lord.

III. We are kept by God so we shall never perish (v12)

When our children are young, we take them by the hand as we walk across busy streets and crowded parking lots. We know that, given a moment’s distraction, they can dart off in a dangerous direction, and so we safeguard them by keeping us close. We reach out for them and we say, “Hold my hand.” We know, even if they do not, that it is not their holding of our hands that keeps them safe, but our holding of theirs. Neither their grip nor their resolve is strong enough to keep them hanging on, but the grip of the stronger mommy and daddy, and the resolve of parental love, is what keeps them safe and secure. And it is the same for the child of God. If it were up to us to keep ourselves holding onto Him, we could never do it. Thankfully, His grip is strong and sure, and we are secure in His grasp so that we shall never perish.

Here in this prayer, Jesus commits His followers to the safekeeping of His Father, pleading that He would keep them. He says, “While I was with them, I was keeping them.” He is the One Who pursued them, Who sought them and called them to follow Him, Who taught them and trained them, and Who would ultimately lay down His own life for them. And on the eve of that fateful day, He says to the Father, “I am no longer in the world, and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You.” He is leaving them. Who will keep them? The Father will keep them, that none should perish.

Jesus says that while He was in the world, He was keeping them. He says, “I guarded them, and not one of them perished.” In John 6:39-40, He had said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” That is a promise that all whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him and believe upon Him, and He will be faithful to keep us in the grip of His grace throughout our lives, even to death, and beyond, for He will raise us up in a glorious resurrection like His own. If you want evidence of your security in Christ, look not to your own ability to be faithful to Him, but to His faithfulness to His promise and His prayer to never let any of His own perish.

But someone may wonder, “Are there any exceptions to this?” After all, what about Judas Iscariot? No need to wonder, for Jesus Himself brings up the subject of Judas Iscariot. There have been two common errors people have made about Judas. One is to assume that, on the basis of “once saved always saved,” that Judas Iscariot only had a momentary lapse of faith and is ultimately and eternally saved. The other is to assume that, on the basis of the example of Judas, that none of us are eternally secure. Jesus corrects both errors here. Make no mistake about it, Judas died a lost man, and on the words of Jesus we can be assured that he will perish eternally in hell. Jesus said, “Not one perished but the son of perdition.” That word “perdition” means “destruction,” and is often used to describe the horrors of an eternal hell. In fact, in the book of Revelation, this is said to be the fate of the Antichrist, who is called “the beast” in Revelation, and who is called “the son of perdition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Judas’ fate is the same as his. Jesus is clear that he perished. But Jesus is also clear that Judas is a unique case. Not one perished but this one, and he did so “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” In John 13, Jesus applied to Judas the words of Psalm 41:9, which says, “Even my close friend in whom I had trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Judas was unique, and was set apart by God from eternity past to fulfill the role of the betrayer, albeit not against his own will. He was a willing party in the betrayal of the Lord Jesus, and stands judged under his own culpability for his sin. It wasn’t that Jesus had him, and then lost him. No, in the case of Judas, Jesus never had him. Not once in all the Scriptures did Judas ever call Jesus Lord, and never in his life had he turned to Him in saving faith.

If there is a lesson for us in the person of Judas Iscariot, it is not that a truly born again Christian can lose his or her salvation and perish eternally. Judas was never a truly born again Christian. But herein is the lesson of Judas for us. It is possible to be closely identified with Christ and his followers, to be active in the Lord’s service, and even to hold positions of great responsibility among the Lord’s people and yet not be saved. Remember that Judas was the Lord’s treasurer! We are not saved by coming to church, by singing hymns, or giving our offerings, or by serving in important roles of the church. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And if we have never turned to Him in repentance and faith and called upon Him as Lord and Savior, then we are not saved, and we have no assurance at all. But if we have, then we know that is a result of being given by the Father to Jesus, who safeguards His own to the very end, and commits us to the faithful keeping of the Father, and He will never allow His own to perish. In the words of Hebrews 7:25, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him.”

In a world of hostility, a world filled with the temptations and snares of our enemy the devil, even a Christian may wonder if he or she has done something, or not done something, which has resulted in being cut off from the Lord Jesus. I have heard it said that the devil wants every lost person to think they are saved and every saved person to think they are lost. I believe that is true. But when fears and doubts assail us, when we fail the Lord, and find ourselves in defeat, God has given us promises in His word to assure us. Second Corinthians 13:5 says that we should examine ourselves to see if indeed we are in the faith. And how do we examine ourselves? We do it through the lens of God’s Word. And when we do, if we have believed upon Christ as Lord and Savior and committed our lives to Him, then we will discover that we belong to Him for His glory, He keeps us so that we might be united together with other believers, and because He keeps us, we can never perish. He holds us in His hand, and He has promised to raise us up glorified on the last day. Then we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted Him until that day” (1 Tim 1:12).




[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1967), 102.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Baptist Faith and Message (2000), Article V. “God’s Purpose of Grace”; http://www.sbc.net/ bfm2000 /bfm2000.asp. Accessed July 9, 2015.
[4] Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays for His Own (Chicago: Moody, 1950), 205-206.
[5] C. S. Lewis, “What are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”; God in the Dock (in The Collected Works of C. S. Lewis; New York: Inspirational Press, 1996), 406.
[6] Rainsford, 166. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

The Lord's Prayer List (John 17:6-9)

Audio 

In Matthew 10, when Jesus sent out His disciples on a mission, He said to them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (10:16). Now, you do not have to be a zoologist to know what this means. The odds are not in our favor in the world. There are no “attack sheep.” Wolves devour sheep. Why couldn’t He have said, “I send you out as bunnies in the midst of other bunnies”? Throughout Scripture, God’s people are likened to sheep, gentle and peaceable creatures, following the loving leadership of the Good Shepherd. The unbelieving world around us, fallen and corrupted by sin, is never portrayed in friendly images. This is hostile territory, and the hostility is often aimed directly at those of us who are the people of the Lord’s pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psa 95:7). Throughout history, Christian people have typically lived as sheep in the midst of ravenous wolves. Christians in America, however, have only recently begun to see the wolves’ fangs. We are experiencing the reality of being sheep in the midst of wolves, and it is discomforting and discouraging. So, what comfort and what courage can be found for us as live as Christ’s sheep in this world of wolves? We can take comfort and courage from this reality set forth in our text today: that the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved you all the way to death on His cross and into glory through His resurrection, and who is sovereign over every minute detail of history, has prayed for you.

I have entitled this message, “The Lord’s Prayer List” for the sake of brevity. I do need to make one qualifier about that before we get into it though. It is one thing to have a prayer list; it is another to pray for someone. Putting someone on a prayer list is of precious little help to them if we are not actively praying for them. So, I do not mean to imply simply that the Lord Jesus has a list of names before Him, but more importantly that He has prayed, and continues to pray, for those individuals.

In verse 9 of our text, Jesus says, “I ask on their behalf.” So, who are these for whom Jesus prays? Before we consider who is included, we discover quickly who is excluded. The next words Jesus says in verse 9 are: “I do not ask on behalf of the world.” Who is “the world” for whom Jesus is not praying? The word “world” in John’s Gospel and indeed in many portions of the New Testament refers not to the physical planet on which we live, nor to the entirety of the human race. It refers to the overwhelming mass of human society in active rebellion to Almighty God. “The world” in this sense refers to those who are described in Ephesians 2 as “dead in trespasses and sin,” who “walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air,” that is, the devil. They live according to “the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” and are “by nature children of wrath.”

The world, as the term is used here, refers to what we see championed and celebrated all around us, and increasingly so in these days. It is the world described in Romans 1 as those who suppress the truth of God in their unrighteousness, who are given over by God to the lusts of their hearts and their degrading passions, and their depraved minds. These are those whom Paul says there do not acknowledge God, and “do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful,” who not only do these things, “but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” If you want to read something that is more relevant than the daily newspaper, I suggest reading Romans 1 with an eye on our contemporary culture. These are not the ones for whom Jesus is praying.

Now, this does not mean that He never has or never does pray for the world. It simply means that He is not praying for them here, in this text, in this prayer, in these words which were spoken at this critical hour. Remember the scene. The Last Supper is behind them, and Gethsemane is before them. Soon Judas will come with the arresting mob to apprehend Jesus, which will set off the final events leading up to the cross. In less than 24 hours from when Jesus speaks these words, He will be in the tomb. His disciples will be scattered, hunkered down, cowering in fear. But, knowing that His followers were in the world as sheep in the midst of wolves, Jesus prayed for them. And you and I are included in that prayer. Later, in verse 20, Jesus will say, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.” Every genuinely born-again Christian who has ever lived or ever will can find themselves represented in these words, for we have come to faith in Christ through the word that was first preached by His Apostles. If you are a follower of Christ today, then you are on the Lord’s prayer list, and He has prayed for you.

Let’s look at our text and see how Jesus describes those for whom He prays, ourselves included.

I. He prays for the recipients of His divine revelation.

Former President Ronald Reagan has become known in some circles as “The Great Communicator.” Some years ago, former Senator Fred Thompson wrote an opinion piece in the New York Daily News explaining why Reagan earned this moniker. Thompson said that Reagan’s “reputation as The Great Communicator boils down to three basic traits: he was simple; he was clear; he was sincere.”[1] For the same traits, and infinitely more, we could find overwhelming agreement with the assertion that the Greatest Communicator in all of history was Jesus Christ. The funny thing about communication, however, is that it requires two parties. There is the sender – the one who is communicating; and the receiver – the one to whom the message is being communicated. Often times, in the memorable words of Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” Like in football when a pass is incomplete, sometimes the quarterback misses the intended receiver, and other times the intended receiver misses the ball. When Jesus is speaking, the problem is never on the quarterback’s end. His message is delivered with perfection. But the intended receivers often fail to grasp the message. Jesus is not here praying for those who missed the ball. He is praying for those who received the divine revelation He communicated.

In verses 6 and 8, Jesus speaks of the content of His communication. He says to the Father in verse 6, “I have manifested Your name.” From ancient times, the Hebrew people understood that to speak of “God’s name” was to speak of “God’s nature.” When Moses stood before the burning bush receiving His commission from God, he asked the Lord what to do in the event that his fellow Israelites wanted to know who this God is who has spoken to Moses, and what His name is. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Thus you shall say … , ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:13-15). His name is the revelation of all that He is in all of His glorious attributes. He is Who He is. The Psalmist said, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God” (Psa 20:7). Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runs into it, and is safe.” The promise for God’s people in heaven is that “they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). So, throughout Scripture, God made Himself known to His people by many names, each one emphasizing some aspect of His character. Jesus says that He came to manifest the name of God in the world. For Jesus to manifest the name of His Father was to make the Father known in the fullness of His nature and character. Because of what Christ has communicated in His person, His words, and His works, we can truly know what the real nature of God is like.

In verse 8 He says, “The words which You gave Me I have given to them.” So He came not only to communicate God’s nature, but also God’s Word – His truth, His will, His plan for humanity and the world. Earlier in John 12:49-50, Jesus said, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” In other words, all of Jesus’ words are God’s words—not some of them; not the ones you like most; not just the ones that accord with your personal tastes and preferences; but all of them. When Jesus speaks, God Himself is speaking. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the eternally divine Word of God that was made flesh to dwell among us (Jn 1:1, 14). As the writer of Hebrews put it so well, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature …” (Heb 1:1-3). God has spoken to us fully and finally in Jesus. Jesus reveals the Father’s name to us – His true nature and character – because He is the exact representation of His nature. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. And if you want to know what God has said, listen to Jesus.

Now notice here how Jesus explains how this revelation was received. Of course, as we survey the Gospels (and indeed all of history), we will discover that by and large this revelation which Jesus communicated was not received. But there were some who did receive it, and through them, many others have as well, including those of us here today who are followers of Jesus. Jesus says in verse 8, “the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them.”

What does it mean to “receive” this divine revelation? Jesus explains how it all works here in the surrounding context. He imparted the revelation, and the disciples received it as they came to understand it. In verse 8, He says that they “truly understood that I came forth from You.” They understood that this was central to all of Jesus’ claims, and if true, this meant that He spoke with the unprecedented and unparalleled authority of all of heaven and earth. And not only did they understand it, Jesus said that they believed it. In verse 8 He says, “and they believed that You sent Me.” They had their momentary lapses of faith as well all do, and plenty of moments where their density of understanding was apparent, but here was a group of people who had unreservedly committed themselves by faith to following Jesus as the one who came from the Father and revealed the Father to them.

Having understood and believed the divine revelation that Jesus communicated to them, He says that they have come to know. In verse 7, He says, “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You.” Their faith was growing into a rock-solid confidence that Jesus was Who He claimed to be, and was carrying out the Father’s mission for which He had been sent into the world – a mission that would culminate over the weekend ahead as He died for sin and conquered death by His resurrection. There is this notion in the minds of many people that there is a difference between “faith” and “certainty.” Well, surely in some contexts, we can say that we “believe” something that we do not know for “certain,” but friends when we are talking about issues of life and death, and heaven and hell, we better not be talking about blind faith. Around the world over the last 2,000 years, the decision to follow Jesus has often been followed by suffering and even death for the sake of His name. Moreover, if we are wrong about Jesus, then what becomes of us in this world is the least of our concerns, because there will literally be an eternal hell to pay for the error. So, when we talk about believing in Jesus, there better be a pretty strong dose of certainty involved in that. Certainty is usually a work in progress, as Jesus indicates it was here for the disciples. They “have come to know,” He says. But faith always moves in the direction of knowledge. John Calvin wrote, “Nothing can be known aright of God but by faith,” and “in faith there is such certainty that it is justly called knowledge.”[2]

But it does not end with knowledge. Sadly for too many who profess to be Christians, it does end there, but it shouldn’t. Jesus said that they didn’t just understand, and believe, and know, but they kept the Word. The Greek word that is used here in verse 6, when Jesus says, “they have kept Your word,” has a broad range of meaning. It can refer to guarding or protecting something, as it does in verse 11 of this same Chapter. But in contexts related to God’s Word, it has the sense of obeying. It is translated throughout the New Testament with English words like “heed” and “observe.” It means to do more than hear and believe, but to act on what you have heard and believed. This is why James admonishes us to prove ourselves to be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers (Jas 1:22). This is how we know we have received the Word: it moves beyond hearing, through understanding and believing, to knowing, and to obeying. It has been said that belief produces behavior, but it is also true that behavior proves belief. When we act in obedience to the Lord’s word, we demonstrate that we have received it, understood it, believed it, and know it.

Friends, there is a glorious reality at work here in the prayer of Jesus that, if we are not careful, we can miss easily. These men who were with Jesus when He prayed, His apostles, repeatedly did not understand, did not believe, did not know, and did not obey. The same is true for all of us. So, why does Jesus speak of us in His prayer to the Father in this way? The answer is anchored in the glorious realities of what Jesus came into the world to do for us. He came to be our intercessory High Priest – to represent us before the Father. And when we come to faith in Him, the Bible says that we are “justified,” that is, we are counted righteous before God. So, my friends, what a wondrous truth this is for us rest in, that no matter how fickle, how feeble, how fragile or frail we are in our understanding, our belief, our knowledge, or our obedience, when the Lord Jesus presents us before the Father, He presents as those who have received the word and kept it, understanding, believing, knowing, and obeying it. He is able to do this because He has granted to us His own merits in exchange for our sin. We are not presented before the throne of God covered in our own faults and failures, but in the perfection of Jesus Christ. He prays for us here in this passage this way because He prays for us perpetually before the throne of grace in these very terms. As Hebrews 7:25 says, “He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” 

So, Jesus’ divine revelation to humanity begins with Him communicating a message about the name of the Father and the Word of God, and comes full circle to completion as those who receive it then understand it, believe it, know it, and obey it. And when He prays for us, He prays for us as the recipients of His divine revelation.

II. He prays for the objects of His sovereign grace.

Some people walk around as though they think themselves to be God’s gift to the world. Such a mentality misses the mark two ways. First, it overvalues one’s self, for there is only one individual who could rightly be called “God’s gift to the world”: the Lord Jesus, of whom it is written, that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. But secondly, and ironically, it also undervalues one’s self. How does it do that? If you are a follower of Jesus, the fact is that God loves you too much to give you to the world. He loves you so much that He has removed you from the world and given you to Jesus. Verses 6 and 9 explain this in terms of God’s sovereign grace.

In verse 6, Jesus says that He is praying for those whom the Father has given Him out of the world. “They were Yours,” Jesus says, “and You gave them to Me.” In verse 9, He says, “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.” The objects of His sovereign grace belonged to the Father from the beginning of time, and were given to Jesus, and still belong to the Father. Before you or I had been born, and before we had ever done anything right or wrong, good or bad, God had chosen some from among the world to give to His Son, that they might be belong to God forever. Many Christians (and many non-Christians, for that matter) misunderstand this doctrine of election, or predestination, as it is often called. The Bible uses both terms, so it is no problem to use either of them. But problems arise as we define and apply these terms. Some believe that God just capriciously and haphazardly chose some to save and some to damn. This is not what Scripture teaches. What Scripture teaches is that we are all sinners deserving eternal wrath and separation from God. God does not choose who to condemn, because all have earned condemnation because of sin. And sin so radically corrupts us that none of us would choose to turn from it and come to God on His terms. Therefore, because God both desires and deserves the unending praise of all nations, He has sovereignly chosen, by His grace, to redeem and rescue some from the world, that they might be His forever. From before the foundation of the world, they were chosen, not on the basis of anything that did or didn’t do, but simply because of God’s sovereign grace.

Some will say this is unfair. Perhaps it is, but if it is, it is gloriously unfair, because the only people who do not get what they deserve in the end are those who are among God’s elect. For sinners to be condemned is fair. Even those in hell will realize the fairness of the judgment. But, for some who deserve such condemnation to be ransomed by God’s sovereign saving grace is gloriously unfair. Rather than prompting us to be proud and boastful that we were chosen by God, it should humble us. We did nothing to earn or deserve it, and we never would have chosen it for ourselves. We were the objects of infinite mercy and pity. Left to our own choosing, we would have chosen to remain part of the world, and dug in our heels in rebellion to God. But thank God, we were not left to our own choosing, but to His.

Rightly understood, the doctrine of election should not only humble us, but also encourage and assure us. As we go through life, even as Christians, we will falter in our faith and obedience. We may wonder if we have been severed from Christ because of such lapses. This reality that from eternity past we belonged to God, and have been given to Christ, assures us that our relationship with Him is not based on our doing but His, and His by sovereign grace. Sadly, many Christians do not rightly understand this, and therefore, they question the doctrine of election, or else their own salvation, because they wonder how they can ever know whether or not they are elect. There is no reason to wonder or fear. Our response to God’s saving grace is the evidence of our election. How do we know if we belong to Him and have been give to Christ out of the world? The answer to that question is another question: How have we received the divine revelation that Christ imparts? If we have understood, believed, come to know, and obey Him and His Word, then this is the evidence of our election. Because of the sinful corruption of our hearts, if we had not been set apart by God for Himself, we would have never responded in this way.

And so, when Jesus prays for His own, He prays for those who belong to Him, and belong to the Father through Him, because they have been eternally set apart from the world and given to Him for this purpose. As Carson writes, “However wide is the love of God (3:16), however salvific the stance Jesus toward the world (12:47), there is a peculiar relationship of love, intimacy, disclosure, obedience, faith, dependence, joy, peace, eschatological blessing, and fruitfulness that binds the disciples together and with the Godhead.”[3] And it is in the context of that relationship that Jesus prays for His own. They belong to Him, because they were given to Him by the Father, that they might be forever united with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for eternity. When Jesus prays for you, He prays for you as the objects of His sovereign grace.

He does not pray for the world in this way; only His own who are the recipients of His divine revelation and the objects of His sovereign grace. If you belong to Christ by faith, then He has prayed for you and ever lives to intercede for you before His Father on these terms. But if you do not belong to Him, then you are excluded from this prayer. You belong to this world – a world that is under condemnation because of unbelief and rebellion (Jn 3:18). Jesus cannot pray the prayer that He is praying here for the world. Again, quoting from Carson,

The world can be prayed for only to the end that some who now belong to it might abandon it and join with others who have been chosen out of the world. … To pray for the world, the created moral order in active rebellion against God, would be blasphemous; there is no hope for the world. There is hope only for some who now constitute the world but who will cease to be the world and will join those of whom Jesus says, “for they are yours (v9).[4]

Moments before Jesus prayed this prayer, He said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Peter is no different from any other Christian. Just as he desired to do with Peter, so Satan also seeks to devour and destroy you in this fallen world. He has aligned all of the forces of this fallen world in a war against God and His representative people. We are truly sheep in the midst of wolves. What hope does a sheep have when surrounded by wolves? Only this: that the Good Shepherd has prayed for us, and that He perpetually presents us before His Father as those who have received His divine revelation and who are the objects of His sovereign grace. This Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, says to us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).



[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/made-ronald-reagan-great-communicator-u-s-senator-fred-thompson-reflects-article-1.133489. Accessed June 30, 2015.
[2] Cited in Robert Mounce,  “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10;Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 601.
[3] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentaries: Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1991), 560.
[4] Ibid., 561.