Before I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.
Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.
Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.
The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.
Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.
This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.
The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.
Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:
11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).
Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).
Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.
He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).
He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).
In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.
John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:
What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.
Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.
Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?
In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:
we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.
He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:
God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.
As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:
… there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.
He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.
That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.
I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.
Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.
That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.
In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.