The Lord’s Prayer for His People – Pt. 3 (John 17:20-26)
By Andrew E. Courtis
There are many times in our walk as Christians where we have failed and dishonoured the Lord’s name. But the very fact that you confessed your sin to the Lord and are here today with the desire to serve Him is testimony that the Lord is working in your life. Among the many ways the Lord works in your life is the intercessory prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has and continues to pray on your behalf. Because of His great love for His people He is praying that your faith may not fail. We would always fail and we would not be here if it were not for His prayers. Take Peter as an example. Jesus said to him,
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Peter responded to this warning with overconfidence in himself by declaring,
“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:33-34)
John 17 records for us a prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ the evening just before His betrayal and arrest. As Jesus is leaving His disciples He is preparing them to go and be His witnesses. This prayer reveals that there will be success in the task of sharing the Gospel. How do we know? Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (17:20). The very fact that there will be “those who will believe” reveals that the message of Jesus Christ will spread. Jesus meant every word when He said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).
In this final section of our Lord’s Prayer for His people, the focus zooms in on those who will believe the gospel after the apostles. This includes those of us today that trust in Christ.
Sermon Summary: In this message we would consider two requests made by the Lord Jesus Christ for His people throughout the ages.
1. A REQUEST FOR HARMONY (John 17:21-23)
The first request in this passage is for the harmony and unity of the people of God. Jesus asked,
“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (17:21-23).
How can God’s people, who are so diverse, be one? A group of people with different backgrounds, temperaments, age groups, appearances, interests and struggles will be unified. This really is an amazing thing when you think about it. In order for us to understand the meaning and significance of this request, I would like to ask three questions.
Firstly, What is Christian Unity? Christian unity is not something that Christians can create. When Jesus prayed for unity He is not giving His church marching orders to create a single denomination. Nor is this a call to uniformity. Some groups over the years have attempted to create unity by groups of people having the same haircuts, same clothes and same interests. This kind of manufactured and forced “unity” has nothing to do with what Jesus is talking about here.
Sadly, in the name of Christian unity many churches have abandoned biblical doctrine and come together under the guise of unity. The problem with this is that it is impossible to have genuine Christian unity outside of the confines of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you abandon the Gospel then you cannot share in unity with biblical Christianity.
We are not commanded to create or force Christian unity. Instead, it is something that we are to enjoy and participate in. If you are a genuine Christian, you are forgiven of all your sins, you have the Holy Spirit living within you and you are a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. This is the unity that all true Christians enjoy. You cannot create that; you can only receive it and enjoy it. This is a Spiritual unity produced by God’s grace through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul shows what this spiritual unity looks like,
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:4-6)
As the people of God share in common spiritual life, this spiritual unity will then reveal itself in common spiritual practices. What are those practices? Things like a common mission, a common affection and a common commitment. Jesus prayed that His people would be one.
Second question, What Threatens Christian Unity? Nothing in this world can take away from the Christian the Spiritual unity they enjoy with other believers in Christ. However, there are many things that can threaten the spiritual practices of spiritual unity. Things like false teaching and sinful behaviour can tear churches apart and Christian unity, and we must guard against such things.
Finally, What Strengthens Christian Unity? As we guard against false teaching and personal sin, we are to pursue those things that strengthen and maintain unity. The Apostle Paul wrote,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3)
The purpose of this unity is so that the world may know who Christ is (17:21). Jesus continued to pray,
“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (17:22-23).
When we think about glory, there is a glory that Jesus Christ does not share with us. However, there is a kind of glory that He does share with us. This is the glory that comes by Christ being in us.
2. A REQUEST FOR HEAVEN (John 17:24-26)
The second request Jesus makes in this prayer is for His people to be with Him in glory. Jesus longs for His people to be with Him in the glory of Heaven. Now there are many places in the world that we would love to go. But the problem often is that we are not invited or welcome to attend. The astonishing thing in this request is that the majestic Lord Jesus Christ longs for all of His people to be in glory with Him. This request and longing provides us with the guarantee that all the people of God have a home in Heaven. Here is His request,
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24)
Because Heaven is the eternal home of every believer, we ought to think about Heaven often. There are many things about Heaven that could rightly captivate our thoughts like its appearance and splendour. But here are three things that we ought long for when it comes to Heaven: (1) it is the place where we will no longer sin, (2) it is the place where the people of God are, but most importantly, (3) it is the place where Christ is. When we are there we will see His glory and be with Him forever.
What happens when a believer dies? It is the clear teaching of Scripture that the moment this takes place their soul is instantly with the Lord in Heaven (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). That is to say, when a believer dies they are home in Heaven with their Saviour Jesus Christ. Our entrance into Heaven will either take place when we die, or if we are alive at the time of our Lord’s return. Either way, the hope of Heaven is real for God’s people and Jesus prayed that you would be there.
Jesus now concludes the prayer by saying,
“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:25-26).
These closing words and the entire prayer reveal a number of things. Firstly, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for His people. He does this because He loves us. You are a gift given to Him from the Father and this means you are precious in His sight. Secondly, no matter what happens in our life as the people of God – struggle with sin or hardships – know that you have One who is aware of your weaknesses and is ever ready to listen to your pleas. He died so that you may live. Thirdly, He is longing for you to be with Him in the glory of Heaven and this was come about one day.