Jesus Prays for Us
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
During this time, when about 120 believers[d] were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them. 16 “Brothers,” he said, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. 17 Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.”
21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.
John 17:6-19 (NLT) – the middle section of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer”
6 “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, 8 for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me. (= Saving Faith)
9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
John’s Gospel is a bit different from the other 3 (often called the Synoptics, because they look at the story from a roughly similar perspective). One commentator, William Temple (Archbishop of York and then Canterbury, died 1944), says that if the synoptic gospels give us a photograph of Jesus, John paints us a portrait, with more of John’s interpretation of Jesus’ life.
In the Keswick Convention April newsletter this year, one of the Speakers writes about John’s gospel:
“John’s Gospel is just a Cracker! John opens up for us, as nobody else, the overflowing love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that flows out into mission. It is just a wonderful gospel.”
In chapter 17, John records Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. How could he have known this? There is no reason why John shouldn’t have overheard Jesus’ prayer. (Until very recently everybody prayed aloud.) And while writing this Gospel, the writer was actively guided by the Holy Spirit. It is an amazing part of the Gospel.
Jesus prays first for himself, that he will be a worthy sacrifice, and will bring glory to God the father; then he prays for his disciples, our part of the prayer today; and finally, Jesus prays for those who would believe in the future (that includes us), that we would be united in their love for God and each other.
So, what does Jesus pray for his disciples (and that includes us, because we follow Him too)?
Three points – “Believing in Jesus”, “Believers’ Protection”, and “Becoming Holy”.
(verse 8) Jesus in his prayer, which is more like a conversation with his Father, reflects on their (and our) belief in him –
“for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.”
And their belief came from “the message” brought by Jesus from God his Father. This “divine truth” given to the disciples by Jesus has been accepted, believed, by all those who follow him. By believing that Jesus came from God, and was sent by God, his followers become “the people of God”. Jesus knows that his words will be remembered by his followers, because in the previous chapter he says:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Jn 16:13)
Our son Tom, when I was talking about this sermon last weekend, said “that’s all about the Holy Spirit”, and of course he’s right. Last Sunday we explored the truths about the Holy Spirit, the “bag of peas”, and one “p” is that he “Prompts our memories of Jesus”.
One way of describing Christians is “Believers” – and here is why. It’s not that believing somehow earns us a place in God’s family, but rather that unless we believe that Jesus came from God, is God the Father’s only Son, and was sent by God, we cannot begin our relationship with him, starting with saying sorry for our rebellion, and thanks for that amazing love which led Him to the cross for us. This is what we mean by “saving faith”. As tiny as a mustard seed, Jesus said, but enough to gain us entry to heaven.
Jesus talks about “knowing you (God)” – notice there are two sorts of “knowing” a person: knowing facts about them (e.g. Cliff Richard), and knowing them (as a person), I certainly don’t know Cliff Richard, but I do know my wife!
In verse 3 Jesus prays:
“that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
How well do you know Jesus?
What does Jesus ask his Father to do for these, his followers? (verse 10-11). As he prepares to “depart from the world”, Jesus prays for their protection, particularly protection from disunity, so that they will be “united, just as we are”.
“Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”
This unity of the Father and the Son is based on love, as the whole of John’s gospel shows (remember Jn 3:16), and Jesus prays that love will characterise his followers and his Church. John 3:16, a verse we always recall during our Communion service, says that
In this same section of the Gospel, the so-called “Upper Room discourse” (chapters 13-17), Jesus says,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn 15:12-14)
That couldn’t be clearer, could it? “Love one another as I have loved you”.
As Jesus prays for protection (verse 11), he will be kept safe from the evil one (Satan, the accuser).
I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.”
Jesus says in this prayer that his followers were filled with joy, from the things he had told them. Satan, the accuser, works by seeking to destroy that joy by lying about God.
Jesus includes in his prayer the evil seen in Judas Iscariot (v.12), who chose to follow Satan, not God. Evil is all around us – just look at the news! (There’s a Christian publication called the “Good News Paper” which is full of Good News, including an article saying that Mark Zuckeberg had renounced atheism and was looking at the church.)
We can’t avoid evil in this world, but we can avoid it driving our lives, we can resist it, as James said in his letter (4:7)
“resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
(verses 17-19) Jesus prays for these followers (and us) that we may become holy (“holy” means “set apart”).God will do this by means of his Word, by being taught by his word, which is truth.
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.”
Jesus goes on in verse 19 to tell his Father how he understands that the disciples can be made holy – by Jesus’ self-sacrifice (on the cross).
“And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” Another translation is “I dedicate myself for their sakes, that they too may be dedicated through the truth”.
As holy people, we are to reflect Jesus’ love What a witness that could be!
In the third section of the prayer, verses 20-26, Jesus prays “for those who will believe in me through their word.”
We are believers (in Jesus’ divinity, and in his cross and resurrection), in need of protection (from disunity, and from losing our joy), who are becoming holy, by day by day growing more like Jesus.
I’m reading an exciting new book by Tom Wright (former Bishop of Durham), his “Paul a Biography”, in which he puts the Good News of Jesus the Messiah into its 1st century context, as a total revision of Jewish history and theology, which is God’s plan for the world. I’m sure it will feature in future sermons! For today, suffice to say that the opening verses of Jesus’ prayer sum up this amazing plan, and with these I close:
(Verses 1-3) After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
And here is your homework! Go back home and spend a while re-reading this whole 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, and just appreciate how much the Lord Jesus loves you as an individual, and us a part of the universal church.