A special prayer
Prayer takes many forms. Sometimes it’s a silent private utterance, sometimes a quiet audible prayer amongst close fellow believers and sometimes it’s a public prayer as part of communal worship. As Jesus made his way down into the Kidron valley towards Gethsemane, arrest, trial and crucifixion he prayed. It was a prayer said aloud in the company of the disciples.
Jesus would spend some time in private prayer as he prepared for the agony of the cross, but for now he seemed to want the disciples to hear what he prayed. We have the privilege of listening in!
- A prayer for self
Jesus’ prayer comes in three distinct sections: he prays for himself, the disciples and finally future believers. He begins by stating that ‘the hour has come.’ It certainly had. The circumstances to this prayer could hardly be more dramatic. Judas had already engaged with the Jewish authorities to betray Jesus: there was an inevitability about the situation. All of the days of preaching and teaching and revelation for the Jews to enable them to recognise the Messiah were now in the past, decisions were now set, and hearts were hardened: the Jewish authorities were ready to kill the anointed one. In these circumstances, it almost seems odd that Jesus would pray ‘glorify your son that your Son may glorify you.’ He had set aside his glory when he became a man. The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Philippians: ‘he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by being obedient to death – even death on a cross.’ Indeed Jesus had humbled himself: he had just washed the feet of the disciples! However, he was God in the flesh and there would, of necessity, come a time when he would take on his full identity in a glorified way. Note that he prays that he will be glorified in order that the Father may be glorified! Satan wanted God’s glory for himself, but note that Jesus, who rightfully must be glorified, uses his glory to glorify the Father. Paul uses Jesus’ example to encourage the Philippians to adopt a similar attitude, he says ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ That is revolutionary given the flow of thinking in our day!
Jesus states that he was given authority over all people ‘that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.’ This statement brings to mind the reason given for Jesus’ entrance to the world: ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). In what sense did Jesus mean ‘all those you have given me?’ Jesus did not find the Jews to be completely indifferent to his message, there were many faithful Jews who had retained a proper faith in God and were ready to accept the Messiah when they met him. You will doubtless recall Anna and Simeon who were looking for the coming Messiah. Similarly, the disciples needed little or no persuasion to follow Jesus; they were men who already had faith in God. It seems that it was these existing faithful people to whom Jesus referred, they were transitioned by the Father to receive eternal life from Jesus.
What exactly is eternal life? It seems to be the reversal of the effect of the sin of Adam that separates us from God. Jesus defines eternal life in his prayer: ‘now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ We are somewhat mistaken when we equate eternal life with life that never ends. It seems that whoever you are, you will have a life that will continue beyond the grave. The question is about what that life will be. It was revealed to John that there will be a day of reckoning and the fate of those who are not found in the book of life is ‘the lake of fire.’ (Revelation 20). In contrast, true eternal life is not only forever it is to know God the Father and Jesus Christ. This use of the word ‘know’ does not mean knowing about God and Jesus; it is about knowing them personally in the here and now. Eternal life is a present possession.
Jesus was about to complete his work on earth, he thus prayed, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ Jesus was about to return to his Father he would be glorified. Shortly after this he would return to the Father and you may recall that after he ascended to heaven Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin. As the Jewish leaders prepared to respond to Stephen’s address with murder, Stephen saw the ‘glory of God’ with Jesus standing at the right hand of God. There will come a day when heaven will open up and the king of kings will return in glory to rule the nations ‘with and iron scepter (Revelation 19).’ Jesus’ glory will be fully revealed for all to see.
- A prayer for the disciples
It is entirely natural that having prayed for himself, Jesus would now pray for the disciples. He prays first by identifying the disciples as ‘those you gave me out of the world,’ and those who ‘have obeyed your word.’ The disciples had completely accepted who Jesus was, they had accepted his teaching and they believed that Jesus had been sent from the Father. The disciples’ view of Jesus was shaped by their understanding of the Old Testament scriptures: they were looking for the coming Messiah and they had found him! What had been difficult for the disciples to understand was the apparent failure of the Messiah to take up his seat on David’s throne. This remained difficult for them to comprehend, but since they had fully accepted Jesus as the Messiah they could rest in this certainty and allow Jesus to work things out according to his word. Indeed Jesus had more to teach the disciples as he ‘spoke about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1).
In his prayer, Jesus indicated that whilst he was about to leave this world the disciples would remain! They would be on their own and they would need help! There is a spiritual war going on and it’s centred on this planet. Satan in his attempts to glorify himself has taken the role of Adam in ruling this planet. The disciples would remain in this dangerous world with an enemy intent on opposing God’s plans. Jesus prayed that they would be protected ‘by the power of your name.’ The original Greek could be translated ‘keep them in your name.’ The idea seems to be that the disciples would be protected by remaining in God’s name and by being loyal to God’s name. Which name is this? It’s the name given to Jesus. But what is that name? It seems that this is about the identity of Jesus as revealed to the disciples in Jesus’ character. The disciples would know protection if they remained true to what had been revealed to them in Jesus. The outcome of this would be that they would be one. We hear much about the need for Christian unity. There is pressure on church denominations to unite to show a face of unity to the world rather than division. It seems that Jesus is saying here that unity is not something to be forced artificially on the church, but rather it is associated with loyalty to the name of God and to the revelation in Jesus. If there is lack of unity in the church, we must look at ourselves individually and ask if we are remaining true to his name.
Jesus now states that since the disciples have received Jesus word (or his teaching) the response of the world is one of hatred. Jesus is referring to Satan’s domain when he talks of the world. The disciples are now associated with another kingdom and they will be hated for this. This is the environment in which we live too. In many ways, our recent history in the UK has respected Christianity and much of our culture is based on Christian thinking. This is changing rapidly. The Christian consensus is diminishing quickly to be replaced by a rampant and intolerant atheism. This change exposes us to the reality of a world that is hostile to the truth and to Jesus. The question now is, how will we react to this hostility? Jesus’ prayer for the disciples is that they will not be removed from the world, but rather that they will be protected. Protection is good, but it is not enough. The disciples could only live successfully in the world by being sanctified by the he truth. What does that mean? To be sanctified is to be set apart – in the context this seems to mean being separate from the thinking and destructive influence of the world, this may be accomplished by ‘the truth.’ The truth is God’s word. Many churches and many Christians today seem to be more than happy to focus on an ‘experience of God’ rather than truth and others prefer to take refuge in church tradition. We simply must focus on the truth of God’s word if we are to know protection from the evil one, everything else is of secondary importance.
- Prayer for all believers
Jesus has just prayed for the disciples (and we’ve included ourselves in part of that prayer!). Now he prays for future believers: ‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.’ That’s us! Jesus’ prayed is for unity. As mentioned above there is a constant call for church unity. This seems to be at least partly motivated by church politics than anything else. The big church organisations seem to be willing to do anything to maintain unity. No doubt much (but probably not all!) of this desire is well meaning and aims to follow through on Jesus’ prayer, but what is real unity? It seems to me that unity that is gained from ignoring the truth is not unity at all Note that Jesus provides a model for unity: ‘just as you are in me and I am in you.’ Churches seek unity through compromise. Jesus indicated unity can only come through through truth. We can know true unity if we are completely aligned with Jesus. This is the sort of unity that will make the world notice. Anything less is of no value.