John 17

Some of you might wonder why we’re jumping to one of the final episodes of Jesus’ walk on this Earth.  I hope, by the end, you’ll understand how this prayer of Christ’s fully captures why Christ came into the world, where He came from, and the hope that He left us.

I was talking to James the other night about the movie Talladega Nights:  The Legend of Ricky Bobby.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t recommend seeing it.  It has little redeeming value.

In one of the scenes, Ricky is leading his family in grace and keeps addressing Christ as “Baby Jesus” during his prayer.  His good friend, Cal Naughton Jr., interrupts him and reminds him that Jesus was a grown man.  Ricky responds by stating that he likes the “Christmas Jesus” the best and likes to picture Jesus as a little baby.

Although the scene is blasphemous in many ways, it places a finger on how many people like to picture Jesus during the Christmas Season and why He is so popular this time of the year.  Baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is cute and cuddly.  He’s not the Savior, the King of Kings, the Lion of Judah.  He’s safe because He’s a small baby.

Although Presbyterians have not historically celebrated religious seasons, today would actually be the Feast of Epiphany.  It was, traditionally, the date that celebrates the Incarnation of Christ, which is another way of saying that the Son of God took on human flesh.  At one point in Church history, today would have been the day in the Church calendar that Christ’s birth was celebrated but Christmas was added as a distinct celebration.  I bring this up because I want to make sure we understand that what just passed was not a birthday celebration but a celebration of God becoming flesh for us.

I received an email from my brother on December 18th reminding us all that Jesus’ birthday was in one week.  I gently reminded him of a few things:

1.  It is very unlikely that Jesus was born in December.  Shepherds were not out on clear nights in December in Israel any more than you and I were outside under last night’s stars.

2.  Nobody knows the calendar day that Christ was born.  The date was chosen for celebration but not because it was Christ’s birthday.  There is a 1 in 365 chance that it is correct.

3.  Christmas is a historical celebration that Christ came into the world to save men who were dead in their sins and trespasses.  Jesus doesn’t need a birthday cake every year but we very much needed Him to come and save us.

I believe it is fitting, then, that we consider John 17 to hear Jesus’ prayer for His disciples on the night He was betrayed.  It reveals profound truths about the person and work of Christ as well as how much we need the Son of God.

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

I’m moved to worship at how caring a Shepherd Christ was for His disciples.  He had just finished the Lord’s Supper with them, had washed their feet, and told them He was going to depart from them.  Christ was going to the place of physical and spiritual torment and understood that His own could not follow Him where He must go alone for their sake.  He did not want them to be discouraged and so He not only promised that He would send the Spirit but here, in a most tender way, He prayed for them in their hearing.

We’re promised by God that, when we ask according to His will, our prayers will be answered.  Here, does anyone doubt that Jesus’ prayer was answered?  We need to treat each of these requests as truths that we can stand within.  They are not wishful thinking but requests to a Father by the Son of God.

Jesus begins by noting that the hour had come for the Son of God to be glorified and giving eternal life to all that the Father had given Him.  This is not a command to the disciples but a fact.  Christ gives eternal life because His obedient life and death on a Cross secured eternal life for His people.  Eternal life is knowing this Christ.  Eternal life is coming to a knowledge of the Son of God made flesh who died for sinners under the wrath and curse of God for their disobedience.  Eternal life is eternal because it is born from above and no one that the Father gives the Son is lost.  Christ had not left any work to be done for His own to be accomplished to secure this inheritance.  He states, clearly, that He accomplished all the work that He was given to do.

5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

We can spend years meditating on this verse.  We’ll be in glory ten thousand years contemplating the wonder of this Truth.  In the fullness of time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  During our responsive reading this morning we read from Philippians 2 where the Apostle exhorts us:  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

There is a heresy known as the kenosis theory that states that when the Son of God became flesh that He gave up some of His divine attributes.  That which is unchangeable changed.  We don’t have time to unpack all the theology around this and much is beyond human comprehension.  It is a wonderful Truth testified by the Scripture that the Person of Christ took on a human nature without ceasing to be God.  Christ is one Person with two natures.  He is fully God and fully Man without mixture or confusion.

But the Person of Christ did give something up.

The year 1991 seems like ancient history to the young people here but I remember, like it was yesterday, sitting in my Bachelor Officer Quarters watching the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.  During the first portion of the hearings, chaired by then Senator Joseph Biden, Justice Thomas was reserved and answered every question in a measured manner.

And then accusations by a subordinate, by the name of Anita Hill, surfaced.  Whether you believe her allegations were true or not, the hearings took on a tremendous intensity.  Justice Thomas, when he returned, was no longer measured and reserved.  His opening statement following these allegations was in part:

“I think that this today is a travesty. I think that it is disgusting. I think that this hearing should never occur in America. This is a case in which this sleaze, this dirt, was searched for by staffers of members of this committee, was then leaked to the media, and this committee and this body validated it and displayed it at prime time over our entire nation. How would any member on this committee, any person in this room, or any person in this country, would like sleaze said about him or her in this fashion? Or this dirt dredged up and this gossip and these lies displayed in this manner? How would any person like it?

The Supreme Court is not worth it. No job is worth it. I’m not here for that. I’m here for my name, my family, my life and my integrity. I think something is dreadfully wrong with this country when any person, any person in this free country would be subjected to this.”

Justice Thomas didn’t care about the appointment to the Supreme Court anymore.  Take away the job and he did not care but he did care about this:  They had taken his name.  They had stolen his integrity.

Men work their entire lives making a name for themselves.  They guard their reputation and their name to the point that some cultures used to permit gentlemen to duel to the death over an insult to one’s name.

But here’s the thing.

Nobody had to ask the Son of God to lay aside His Name when He came to this Earth.  He laid it aside willingly.

Do you realize how many times Christ’s name was sullied while He walked this Earth?  Do you realize how many times He could have called down the fire from Heaven that everyone deserved?

He gave up His name.  He was despised and rejected of men.  There was not even anything of His appearance that would commend Himself to men.  He was born in a poor household and a manger was His birthplace.

We’ve been studying the glory of God as a theme in the redemptive plan of God for His people and one of the things that strikes you is what that glory does to men throughout redemptive history.  Every time the glory of the Lord came near the Tabernacle or the Temple, everyone had to leave.  It was too much.  God reminds Moses that nobody can look upon the face of the Lord and live.

And yet, the most amazing thing we have in Christ.  We could not approach God’s holiness and so God placed a veil of human flesh around His glory and came very near to sinful men.  Such things are too wonderful for me.

When Christ walked into a room nobody could tell that God was right there.  An unclean woman with a discharge of blood for 15 years touches Christ and His power heals her.  Lepers cried out:  “Master, have mercy on us” and He would walk right up to them and make them clean.  A sinful woman crawled up to Christ’s feet and wept on them and the Son of God did not recoil but reached out and forgave sin.

You see, beloved, Christ had to give up His glory because we needed Him to.  We couldn’t approach God without Him making it safe to do so.  God forgive me that I sometimes come into the presence of God and do not realize what an amazing privilege it is that I can enter boldly into the presence of God because Christ came in flesh and through the veil of His flesh I have access into the courts of the most High.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Do you understand what a privilege it is to belong to Christ?  Do not listen when the world tells you that there are many paths that lead to the top of the mountain.  Have some loyalty to your Savior.  Have some respect for what He had to go through to secure redemption for you.  The Cross makes no sense if men only needed to be reminded of timeless moral Truths.

Christ’s disciples needed Christ’s prayers.  Peter had promised Christ that, even if everyone else should forsake Him, that He would stand with Him to the bitter end.  Christ rebuked Peter and told Him that Satan had requested Peter and that, if permitted, could handle Peter as easily as throwing up dust in the wind.  Peter would betray but, Jesus reminded Him, that Peter would turn back again.  Why?  Because Christ had prayed for Him and Christ’s prayers are answered.  Christ’s intercession was the reason that His disciples had received the Word when so many others had left Christ.  Christ would hang alone between heaven and earth and none would be with Him but His prayers ensured that His disciples would cling to that work and, by believing His Word, have everlasting life.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And 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. 13 But 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. 15 I 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. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

There is a common misperception by the world about those who claim what Scriptures teach about the preservation of God’s people.  It is sometimes called the perseverance of the Saints and some have the wrong notion that believers can somehow be proud that they can never lose their salvation.

But, you need to understand, the reason why the disciples would persevere was not something within their character.  If left to themselves, they would have all scattered.  If left to themselves, they would have remained enemies of God.  They would have hated God just as the Pharisees did.

What made the disciples remarkable was their Savior.  He kept them for His sake.  He had called and not lost a single one because nobody is strong enough to take from His hand.  He had even chosen Judas with the knowledge that He was not His own so that Judas could betray, of his own hateful will, the Son of God.

I don’t know what it is within the sinful human heart that hates the idea that God would glorify Himself by saving His own to the uttermost.  Even some that name Christ bristle at the idea that they’re privileged to have Christ intercede for them powerfully.  Where they ought to read these Words of Christ with joy that He saves His own to the uttermost, they want Him to simply leave men with the power to come and go as they desire.  There is nothing of the sheep tending themselves here but only the Shepherd powerfully interceding to secure His sheep.

Understanding that Christ calls us and keeps us close to His bosom ought to be the source of the greatest humility and comfort.  It ought to humble us for we realize that we are no more worthy of redemption than another.  It ought to comfort us to know that the Son of God, through Whom the universe was created, keeps us and promises that nothing can separate us from His Love.

Christ, after all, came not to gather seekers around Him.  Christ came to pursue men.  Christ came to seek and save the lost who were wandering in darkness.  Christ is the Seeker, we were the lost.  Christ calls us into His Kingdom through the power of His Word and we are comforted by the Truth that we have been made alive to be kept by Him and to glorify Him as He redeems a people to Himself.

Nothing breaks my heart more than witnessing how impoverished many in the Evangelical tradition are today.  They do not hear the Truth of the Gospel that ought to minister to them and remind them not only that Christ begins their salvation but is their salvation.  Many preachers operate according to something that is illegal in business called the “Bait and Switch”.  The bait and switch is where a salesman will lure you into a transaction with the promise of one price only to find out that the terms are switched once you commit to the offer.

Many Christians today have been told that once they believe upon Christ that they will be saved.  They embrace that Truth with joy and unload the burden of their sin to come to the Savior.  But then they are told that holiness is up to them.  They are no longer fed the Gospel but are given Sermons were they are reminded that they need to be sold out for Jesus and that they need to reform their lives.  Obedience, they are told, is the mark of a true Christian.

Indeed, obedience follows faith in Christ but that obedience comes from Christ.  It’s right here in the passage where Christ asks that the Father would sanctify the disciples.  It is not only the one time act of belief that Christ ensures but Christ is the power for the believer’s daily belief  and walk.

I’ve known men who believed the Gospel and then thought sanctification was up to them.  They are weighed down by their battle with Sin and losing daily and, before long, they’re crying out:  “How can a sinner like me be loved by a Holy God?”  Ministers of moralism can only point to the Law.  Be more serious.  Be more sold out.  Tell others about Jesus so they can enter your struggle.

Beloved, Christ is the indestructible life.  Christ is holiness and the fountainhead of salvation.  Be reminded again, Christian, that God saved you when you were His enemy.  Christ came to seek you out when you were walking in sin and darkness.  He has you in the palm of His hand and reminds you that none can take you out.  You will battle sin but Christ does not leave you.  He doesn’t simply come around when you’ve run out of the resources to battle sin by yourself.  His Gospel is the power every day.  His Gospel reminds you that you are His and that Sin has no power over you.  You will be sanctified in the Truth because Christ is your Life and He does not cast out His own.  Cling to Him.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 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. 24 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. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 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.”

Did you know that Christ prayed for you?  You are mentioned right here in the Scriptures.  Christ prayed not only for those present at the time of His prayer but prayed for those that would believe their report.  You are the object of Christ’s prayer.

Some of you might have noticed the vanity license plate on our Suburban.  It’s Hebrews 9.  I love that Chapter as it speaks so powerfully of the High Priesthood of Christ as He lives to make perfect intercession for His own.  It’s not as if Christ retreated to a faraway place to discover who might believe upon His name but He continually makes intercession for us.  He knows who believes upon Him because He prays for those that will believe.

Every event in your life has been the subject of His intercession.  That you heard the Gospel and responded to it:  thank Christ for His intercession.  That you are becoming sanctified:  thank Christ for His intercession.  That all things work together for your good:  thank Christ for His intercession.

One day, Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  You will walk up to the bar of His judgment and the Judge will ask by what right do you have to be acquitted of your sins, which are many.  But then, the Judge of all the Earth will come down from His seat and stand next to you as your Defense Attorney and say:  “This is one of my own.  I have paid the full penalty for His sin.  My righteousness is his possession.”

And as Leonard reminded us last week, a crown will be given to you and your Savior will say:  “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

And what will be able to do except weep for joy and say:  “Lord Jesus, it was all you.  You prayed for me.  You held me in the palm of your hand.  What good did I ever do that was not by Your gracious Hand?”  And we will lay our crown at Jesus’ feet because He gets all the glory.

But you also see in this prayer that this is not only about the world to come but about the unity that Christ’s Church will have in history.  Christ prays that we would love one another.  Christ prays that we would be united in the Truth.

You see, our salvation is personal but it is not to be thought of as merely personal.  Christ is saving a people that we are privileged to be around.  We not only ought to love one another but we will love one another because Christ has secured it.  The Apostle John reminds us that nobody can even say that He loves Christ if He does not love His brother because love of the Brethren has been secured in Christ.

But this Love is not a Love that has no content.  It is grounded in the Truth that we have been sanctified unto.  God has revealed His Truth in His Word and, as Ephesians 4 testified to us today in our meditation, Christ gave us Pastors and Teachers that we might be united in Truth.

Leonard will be starting a series next week on the Officers of Christ’s Church.  We live such individual and compartmented lives in modernity that we tend to think of Church as a gathering of people who share notions of Truth that have been arrived at independently.  Each of us, we reason, studied the Scriptures and came to fairly common views, and so we worship at a Church with people who share our view of Truth.

But Truth is not an object that gets shaped by the organ of the human mind.  Truth is not something that we arrive at by our own power or by our own sentiment.  Truth is what corresponds to reality the way God sees it and it has been revealed by His Word.  The Gospel comes to us outside of ourselves and announces our salvation and sanctification and then challenges us that our minds need to be renewed by God’s Word.  Leonard and our Session are not merely independent travelers with us on a journey to apprehend that Truth but have been commissioned by God to lead us into the unity of Truth.

In the end, Christ’s prayer is a reminder of the amazing nature of Grace.  It’s the kind of Truth that the prophets of old longed to understand.  This great Truth that the Messiah would be a man but also God.

If left to ourselves we would have willingly remained enemies of God and justly perished for our Sins.  But the Son of God came down to Earth to come near to sinful men and lived a life of perfect righteousness.  When men could no longer stand the holiness of God in their midst, they hung the Son of God between heaven and earth and He took the full weight of the wrath of God for Sin for those who believe upon the Son and look up to the place of Curse.  Because death could not hold Him, He rose again on the third day and ever lives so that we might have eternal life.

Believe upon Christ Jesus.  Know the Son Who Knows you by name.  If you hear His voice it is because He has long sought you and loves you with an everlasting love.  Believe upon Christ because He knows you by name and your faith is a result of His loving intercession.  Live in Him, not because you have the power within you, but because His life secures power over sin.  Love the Brethren because they are united with you in mystic sweet communion in the Son of God.  We are His body.  Be united in the Truth because Christ is Truth.

And because Christ has prayed for His Church, may we all look forward to the day when we are presented spotless and blameless as His Bride and enter the wedding feast of the Lamb.