I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Jesus' Greatest Prayer
I heard a story from Moody Bible Institutes' devotional guide called 'Today in the Word that goes like this:
"Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."
In their prayer lives these early converts were just like our Lord. For He often would pray to His Father during His earthly ministry. One example of this is Mark 1:35 which tells us:
"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."
However, perhaps the greatest example of talking with the Father by our Lord is found in John 17. This is sometimes called our Lord's High Priestly prayer for He prays for His disciples and for all of those who will come to faith in Him through their ministries.
Also, if truth be told, it should be this passage of Scripture that is referred to as the Lord's Prayer rather than the one found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. For Jesus' teaching in these other two chapters was an answer to one of His disciples who specifically asked Jesus how to pray.
Our Lord could have never prayed like He taught in these other chapters because it asks God the Father to forgive us our sins or trespasses. Jesus was the perfect, holy Son of God who never sinned. So the passages designated as the Lord's Prayer should actually be called the Disciples' Prayer.
The passage in John 17 records the longest prayer by Jesus recorded in all of the Gospels. And it is actually He talking very personally and passionately to His Father in Heaven on the night before His death on the cross of Calvary.
This chapter is a culmination of events, starting in chapter 13 where Jesus is preparing His disciples for what is shortly to come. He lets them know that His time on this earth is short and that He will no longer be physically with them for He is going back to His Father.
If we look at the first four verses of chapter 13 it gives us a preview of things to come. It tells us:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. . . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.
The very first thing that Jesus' did was to wash His disciples feet. In this Jesus modeled His love for His disciples. This is the very same love that was about to lead our Lord to the cross to die for their sins and make them worthy of being with Him one day in His kingdom.
The events of the next few chapters include the Lord's Supper and Jesus' parting instructions to His closest friends. He gives some directives concerning the coming Holy Spirit and on how to abide in Christ after He departs.
It is obvious that they don't quite get it yet. They don't know where He is going nor how they can get there themselves. In chapter 14, Jesus tells them not to be troubled for in His Father's house there are many rooms for them. He lets them know that He is the way to the Father (John 14:1-6).
He informs these disciples, His closest friends, that there will come a time when they will be scattered and they were going to leave Him alone. But he isn't alone, for the Father is with Him (16:32).
Chapter 16 ends with a word of encouragement from our Lord. He says:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (33).
It is after this that Jesus stops talking to His disciples and begins to pray to His Father who is in Heaven.
With these things in mind, let us look a little bit more closely at the actual prayer and see what we can learn from out Lord that we can use today in our lives as we live for Him.
The prayer can be broken down into 3 sections:
- Jesus' prayer for Himself (1-5)
- His prayer for His disciples (6-19)
- His prayer for All Christians (20-26)
Let's begin by looking at Jesus' prayer for Himself.
Jesus' Prays for Himself (1-6)
This section begins by telling us that Jesus lifted up His eyes toward Heaven and said that His hour had come. Throughout the Gospels He kept saying that His hour hadn't come. Now, it finally has. He came to earth for one purpose. And that was to die for sin. Now Jesus is about to be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified.
It is through this act that the Lord will receive all the glory due His name. He will be given that adoration, love and loyalty by all those whose sins He bore and who have trusted Him through faith. And Jesus' goal is to give that glory right back to God the Father.
God the Father gave the Son authority over all flesh to give them eternal life. It is interesting that Jesus sees this eternal life as more than some future in some far away time. His idea is that those who are believers have life now by knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. We know who we are, we know our purpose and we know our destiny because of an intimate knowledge of the God of the universe and His Son who died for us. No one else can truly say this except for believers in Christ.
Jesus goes on to say that He has glorified the Father while on this earth. He made Him known. And by seeing Jesus, men have seen the Father. They have witnessed the one true God. And now our Lord is ready to complete the mission by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.
We can see in the conclusion of this section ( i.e. verse 6) that Jesus is saying something that some claimed He never said. He is talking about His deity here. Christ wants to get the glory He had with God the Father that He possessed before the world began. God doesn't share His glory with anyone (Isaiah 42:8). So Jesus has to be God, just as the Father is God as well. And one day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
II. Jesus' Prayer for His Disciples (7-19)
Jesus next turns to pray for his 11 loyal disciples who have been with Him for His ministry for 3 years. Of course, Judas was going to betray Him and wasn't there by this time. These remaining men are about to go through a major life change. And Jesus will not be there to protect them as He had been.
The Son tells His Father that He has manifested His name to these men whom the Father had given Him out of the world. They have kept God's Word while He was with them and they have come to know that all that the Son has is from the Father. The disciples know now that Jesus is from the the Father who has sent Him from Heaven to earth.
Now He asks, since He can no longer be there, that the Father would keep them and protect these disciples whom he loves.
There are four areas that Jesus covers. The first is that God the Father keep them unified. This world is full of chaos, disunity and disloyalty. One of the things that show that we are sons and daughters of the living God is that we are unified in our love and devotion to one another just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always been unified throughout eternity.
In this world, with their leader gone, it would be easy for these 11 men, on their own, to lose the unity and cohesion that they have formed over the past 3 years. Jesus prays that they will remain one. (11).
The Lord also prays for their preservation in this world. Jesus made sure that they were preserved while He was on earth. According to verses 12 and 13 He preserved them so that not one of them perished. They all remained faithful to Him and to the Father except for Judas, whom Jesus called the son of perdition. However, it was prophesied in Scripture that he would do this, so Judas wasn't really amongst those saved in the first place.
Jesus knew that, in this wicked world alone, they would not make it. They needed God the Father and the Holy Spirit to keep them following the one true God. And so He prayed for this.
The Lord also knew that these men would need the protection that the Father could give them, not only from the world but from the evil one, Satan. Satan and the world hated Jesus and it will hate all those who follow Him as well.
The disciples aren't part of this world and stand opposed to it. So Satan and the whole world system that is under his rule will come at them with all that they have. Jesus didn't pray that they would be taken out of all of this but that the Father would protect them from the attacks of the evil one (15).
Finally, in this section, Jesus prays for His disciples' sanctification, or holiness (16-19). He wanted them to remain pure and be set apart by the Word of God and that they would be pleasing to God.
III. Jesus' Prayer for All Christians (20-26)
In the final section, found in verses 20-26 Jesus turns His attention to those who will follow Him and His message of salvation through the preaching that would be delivered by His first disciples. Jesus, in His last hours before His death on the cross was praying for us who are following Him today. We who never got to see Him in the flesh were on His mind centuries before we were ever born. And He began by praying for our unity, or harmony. Here is how He put it:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (20-21).
When the world sees us fighting and not getting along, it sees people that are no better than they are. And it will make them shun the gospel. However, if they see us getting along, despite our many differences, they will be attracted to us and to the Lord and His love for them (23).
In verse 24 the Lord prays for our home-going. He wants all of His followers to be in Heaven where He is in order that they might behold His glory which He had before the foundation of the world.
Jesus closes His talk with the Father by praying for our hearts. He asks that we might be filled with His love. In other words He desires that His people be characterized by a life of love one for the other. In other Scriptures God demands that His children have this kind of love. And our Lord said earlier in the book of John that all men will know that we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35).
As we wrap up our study of this important prayer by our Lord it is good to know that this intercession on behalf of His people didn't stop once He entered into Heaven. He is called our Great High Priest in the book of Hebrews. The writer of this book tells us:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 14:14-16).
And in I Timothy 2:5 the Apostle Paul tells us:
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;"
As our Lord was ending His earthly ministry, He was beginning His Heavenly one. And He will continue this until the end when every last believer is safely home with Him. What a marvelous thing to know that our salvation is not dependent upon us and our power from first to last. And His love for us is not dependent upon anything we can do or have done. Also, no matter what happens, we have someone in our corner praying for us and giving us the power to overcome whatever may come our way.
As we further look at Jesus' priestly prayer for His disciples we see that it demonstrates the kinds of things that our Lord focuses on and cares about for our lives. And they should be the things that we focus on as well.
His ultimate motive for all His ministry on earth and in Heaven is the glory of God the Father. And because of that glory and His love for us, He cares about our unity as fellow members of Christ's Body. He also wants us to be preserved until His coming for us again. And our Lord desires to see us protected from the evil one who wants to destroy us in the meantime.
Our Savior further cares that we remain pure and holy, set apart from this wicked generation in which we live. He wants us to have hearts of love that reach out to a lost society desperate to know what love really means.
Let us seek what Jesus seeks and feel what He feels so that our prayer lives, as well as the actions that follow, will cause a major impact on those to whom we direct our attention and time.
I thank God for our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is, even this day, praying that we will be with Him where He is, and that we will see Him in all of His glory that He had with the Father since before the world began. Jesus' prayers are always answered. And that means that one day we will get to behold that great glory when we see our Savior face to face. Oh, what a wonderful and glorious day that will be!
© 2021 Jeff Shirley