John 17:1-26 Christ prays for himself, his disciples, and for the world…
Chapters 14 – 17 are known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’ in John’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples have just finished a meal in the upper room – it was to be their last supper together before Christ would be arrested and crucified. He spends time talking with them about critical things… he is going away to the Father, but sending the Holy Spirit in his stead; he gives them the gift of peace and commands them to love one another; he teaches them the important allegory of the Vine and the branches – their belonging to God and to one another, and the means of their work in discipleship, extending Christ’s ministry to the world. His time with them ends with a prayer – the longest prayer of any in the gospels. And what does Christ pray for?
If you knew your life was to end, your work was ending, how would you pray? You might expect just the opposite – this man who was to give his life for the world would pray first for the world, right? No. He first prays for himself.
When you board an airplane, you hardly notice the safety notifications given anymore, but the flight attendants always say: ‘In the event of a loss of air pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.’
What does Christ do? Christ secures his mask, his breath, his flow of oxygen with God, before assisting the children of God. As he breathes in God’s spirit, he prays that everyone would recognize God in him… that people would know God’s glory through all that his life has been, has meant, has done. In this shortest part of a very long prayer, Christ tells us who he is, what he has done, and why he has done it. He was God’s Idea… sent from God and returning to God; the peerless, matchless Son of God sent to give eternal life – the deep and intimate knowing of God – to humankind, for the glory of God. And now Christ’s work is done. ‘Father, glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify You.’ Christ always points to God when speaking of himself. Who does Christ pray for next? Those closest to him. The twelve, who have traveled and travailed, laughed and feared, journeyed and rested, knitted themselves together, and even one who has now been drawn away. The twelve who have been so certain, and yet doubted. The twelve, who have seen miracles, heard parables, understood so much, and yet known so little. The twelve, who have touched God. Can you imagine rubbing shoulders with God? Playing ball, or a game of catch with God? Going fishing,
swimming, sailing? They knew God-in-Christ that well! They wanted to protect him from children, and discovered that kids were the kingdom of heaven. They saw only hunger on a hillside, until Christ showed them how far you could stretch a sack lunch. God had given him Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Simon, Thaddeus, and Judas. What would become of them? What would become of their ministry? What would become of his life – God’s life – in them? Christ’s prayer? That these disciples who would remain after Christ had left them, would continue to be one, protected by the power of God’s name. ‘I have delivered your word to them Lord, and the world hates them, because they are strangers in the world, as I am. I pray thee, not to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. Consecrate them – set them apart – by thy truth. Your word is truth. (God’s word here is not holy scripture… this is God’s voice in each one of them.) As you’ve sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake, I now set myself apart, that they may be set apart by the truth.” Christ never asks his followers to do something he himself would not do. Christ could have ended his prayer there… a prayer for himself and for his followers. But that was not enough. That was never enough for him. Is it enough for you? Do you only want your life to matter, or do you have a sense of purpose beyond this earthly life? Does your life expand beyond your close friends and family? Does it move beyond the reflection you find in the mirror? The photos on your mantel?
God-on-earth mattered a whole lot to Christ. It mattered that every day his right-now life brought glory to his Father. It mattered that who he was, looked, sounded, seemed like God. That when people got to know Christ, they could say, ‘I have a sense of who his Father is.’ If you take time to look at the Memorial Banner in Fellowship Hall today, you’ll see a picture of my Mom and Dad. By looking at their picture, you’re probably going to say, “Wow – she looks a lot like her Dad. But by spending time with me, you’d really get to know my Mom. She was goofy, like I am. And a worrier like me. My sister is just the opposite… she looks like my Mom, but her personality is much more like my Dad – cool as a cucumber.
This kind of stuff mattered a whole lot to Christ. It wasn’t enough for you to just glance at him, passing by. Christ wanted you and me – still wants you and me – to hang out with him. To spend time with him. To really get to know him. Remember the three guys on the road to Emmaus?
His disciples – his followers – mattered to Christ. Those he had loved, taught, invested his life and love in, empowered to teach others, given the gift of healing and miracles, wonder, and Light to - would carry forward his legacy of love. His followers would die for their belief in God – just as Christ would. Out of 12 disciples, eight would be martyred for their refusal to deny Christ. Did they mess up sometimes? Were they
perfect “Christians”? No. Peter denied Christ, even before the crucifixion. But these disciples, these followers, were set apart – consecrated – as those who chose to believe and follow God – regardless of the cost. The same was said of a small group of British folk in the 1650’s, who were known to ‘quake’ in the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.
Through the disciples’ consecration, the message of love, life and light moved forward… past Christ’s crucifixion and death, past his resurrection and into life. Through the life, ministry, teaching, words, and sacrifice of generations of disciples, God’s glory moves forward to us – to you and me, just as Christ had asked for, in the final portion of his prayer. Now, Christ prays for us! Please join me in reading it together: From John 17, beginning with verse 20 to the end of the chapter. You’ll find it on page ______ in your pew Bibles.
‘I ask not only on behalf of these [disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
Christ prayed for us! For all who would hear his story. For all who having heard, would… believe. Christ prayed that we would believe what we heard, would experience or know the oneness of God-in-Christ and Christ-in-us. Do you hear what you just read? Christ asked God that we would know that God loves you and me, just the way God loved his Son. “I in them, and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
That your life has been honorable. That your life has been meaningful. That your life has had purpose, beyond itself. That your life has been invested in… love. Regardless of how others see you, encounter you, understand you. That the motive for your life has been to fulfill that-of-God within you that extends beyond you to others. I wonder what people will say of you, of me, long after we are gone? To God be the glory. Amen
John 17:1-26 Christ prays for himself, his disciples, and for the world…