Last week I said that I was preaching my first…and perhaps last…expository sermon. As anyone who has listened to me know, I am more of a topical speaker…although one who attempts to make sure it is Scripture that is speaking about the subject, not me.
As fate would have it, however, this sermon will be expository too. Winslow asked me to preach on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13…and I need a bit more time before I do that…but I figured it would be good to instead discuss one of my favorite prayers in the Bible…as recorded in John chapter 17.
Now…that’s a fairly long prayer…so we won’t be dissecting it quite verse-by-verse…but I will be attempted to "expound" on some major points it contains.
So here is Alan’s expository sermon #2…although I am not longer convinced future ones are unlikely…some scriptures beg for special focus. 🙂
The Night Before
Although I was in the Navy for a few years…I did not face combat…I never even handled a weapon.
Even so I can imagine a little how it must feel the night before a major battle. For instance, visualize being with the rest of your platoon the night before D-day. What would you be doing? What you would be talking about?
There is a saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole…so…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
What would you be praying for?
Now…let’s go one step further…assume you are in the first wave…the soldiers who are guaranteed not to make it through the battle alive. The ones whose feet are the first to touch the sand as the bullets and mortars surround you…
What are you doing the night before? Writing one last letter home to let your wife or girlfriend know how much you lover her? ("Billy, Don’t Be a Hero" comes to mind.) Do you play cards to keep your mind off the inevitable? Something else?
What do you talk about? Do you share your most closely guarded personal secrets because in less than 24 hours it isn’t going to matter? Do you reveal your fears or try to be strong for your friends? Do you speak about all those things you would have done if only your life wasn’t going to be cut short? What words escape your mouth the night before the bell tolls for you?
What do you pray about? Do you ask God for strength? For success? For a miracle that delivers you?
A few weeks back Rick gave a talk entitled "Wing and a Prayer." I’ve got a couple versions of a World War II song that includes the words "Look below there’s a field over there; with a full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord; comin’ in on a wing and a prayer."1 I have another classic that starts off with "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" (three times) followed by "and we’ll all stay free" and later has the line "Praise the Lord, we’re all between perdition and the deep blue sea."2
The night before you storm the beaches at Normandy…are you planning to come in "on a wing and a prayer"…do you expect to be "between and perdition and the deep blue sea"?
(As a quick aside, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" also had the classic line, "Praise the Lord and swing into position, can’t afford to be a politician." Clearly in the 40’s they had as high an opinion of politicians as we do. :-))
Jesus’ "Night Before"
How about Jesus’ "night before"?
Although, strangely enough, John does not record the Lord’s Supper ordinance itself (at least not with the specificity and impact as Matthew, Mark, and Luke)…he really does give a flavor of what Jesus was doing the night before His "D-day"…when He would enter the battle that would include His arrest, a kangaroo court, tortuous abuse at the hands of Jews and Romans, six hours on the cross, and…most of all…sure death. Guaranteed.
Even more sure than that of the ones who first stepped on the beaches at Normandy.
Starting with John chapter 13…when it comes to Jesus’ "night before"…
We get to see what He did — for instance, He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-20).
We get to see what He talked about — for instance, we can hear Phillip densely state, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us" and hear our Savior respond, "Have I been with you so long, and you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" (John 14:8-9).
We get to hear what He prayed about — chapter 17…the subject of this sermon…is that prayer.
Although I’ll be quoting from some other versions too as we read through the prayer, I thought it was telling that the Bible I use most, the English Standard Version, gives this chapter the section title, "The High Priestly Prayer." They are right in understanding this is no ordinary prayer…this petition is after our Lord has spent three years preparing His disciples…and is the last one He will say with them as a free man. As has been clear from chapter 13 on, it shows both His commitment to the Father and to the friends…students…followers…that Father has given Him.
In order to fit this prayer into a single sermon we are going to move through it pretty quickly…so please put your seat belts on and keep your arms inside the car…
"I have glorified you" and "this is eternal life"
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. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (John 17:1-5)
Two things especially stand out for me with the beginning of Jesus’ prayer. First, that He glorified the Father.
What does it mean that he glorified the Father? The Mac thesaurus…for the "they gather to glorify God" use…gives the following words as options: "praise, extol, exalt, worship, revere, reverence, venerate, pay homage to, honor, adore, thank, give thanks to; formal laud; archaic magnify."
As which one is most fitting…perhaps the Phillips translation of the New Testament makes the best choice…although with funny British spelling of the key word 🙂
I have brought you honour upon earth, I have completed the task which you gave me to do. Now, Father, honour me in your own presence with the glory that I knew with you before the world was made.3
Wouldn’t you agree that Jesus’ representation of the Father while on earth…from His humble arrival to his ignoble death…honored God?
I don’t know about everyone else…but the word "honor" is much easier for me to grasp than "glorify"…the latter causes my brain to imagine all the magnificence of the heavenly courts…yet we know for a fact that Jesus glorified…honored…the Father without any divine pyrotechnics. Yes, He did miracles…but, as Isaiah predicted, "he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2b)…and many who saw His miracles screamed for His crucifixion (miracles get attention, they don’t "convert"). No, Jesus honored the Father by acting like the Father…a Father we can all love, respect, and admire…
And we know that we have the same opportunity to honor God by also representing Him well while we are still breathing this planet’s air.
The second thing that jumps out at me…being a normal self-centered/self-concerned human…is the secret "fountain of youth" it reveals. Eternal life is knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ who he sent.
We Christians…especially the theologians amongst us…can really complicate salvation…yet Jesus’ prayer shows it is a simple as knowing God. Remember Paul and Silas’ answer to the Philippian jailor’s emphatic question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"? (Acts 16:30)
Was the response, "First let’s visit Amazon.com, get you a good systematic theology, and then have you go before the elders to make sure you have your doctrines correct"?
No…it was "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31)
Now…I’m not saying it is easy…it goes against our fallen sinful nature to follow God…but salvation itself is simple…to truly know God is to trust God…to have faith in God. Then He can heal you.
But a bit more to follow on this point as we continue through Jesus’ prayer…
"I have shown you" and "keep them safe"
For the next 7 verses I’ll read from the New International Reader’s Version. Yes, it’s written for grade school kids, but I like how it translates parts of it in smaller sentences…smaller…more easily digested…pieces:
6 "I have shown you to the disciples you gave me out of the world. They were yours. You gave them to me. And they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 I gave them the words you gave me. And they accepted them. They knew for certain that I came from you. They believed that you sent me.
9 "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world. I am praying for those you have given me, because they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. Glory has come to me because of my disciples.
11 "I will not remain in the world any longer. But they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe by the power of your name. It is the name you gave me. Keep them safe so they can be one, just as you and I are one.
12 "While I was with them, I guarded them. I kept them safe through the name you gave me. None of them has been lost, except the one who was sentenced to be destroyed. It happened so that Scripture would come true (John 17:6-12).
There is a lot in those two verses, but again we’ll just focus on two points.
First, notice how in verse 6 it says Jesus showed the Father to the disciples. The English Standard Version follows the King James Version in using the more majestic word, "manifested," instead of "shown"…but that’s what it means. Jesus showed the Father to His disciples…and to us!
And verse 8 ends noting that "They believed that you sent me." In accepting Jesus the disciples were accepting the Father…in believing in Jesus we are believing in the Father.
Trusting Jesus is trusting the Father…and we can trust the Father because He is just as Jesus has "shown" Him.
The second point from verses 6 through 12 I’d like you to take away today is how Jesus asked that the Father keep his disciples safe…and that He spent more time praying for them in chapter 17 than he did praying for Himself—even though He was going to face something far more terrifying than they ever would.
But that selfless concern was showing…manifesting…the Father as much as any miracle did…
Please also note that He said that He guarded them and lost none except Judas…and at that point Judas wasn’t dead physically…only spiritually. So, His this prayer wasn’t really for our physical safety…it was for our spiritual…our eternal…safety.
The only safety that really matters…
"Do not belong to the world" and "be truly dedicated to [God]"
For verses 13 through 18 we’ll turn to the Good News Bible:
13 And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness. 14 I gave them your message, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but I do ask you to keep them safe from the Evil One. 16 Just as I do not belong to the world, they do not belong to the world. 17 Dedicate them to yourself by means of the truth; your word is truth. 18I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. 19 And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you (John 17:13-19)
In these 7 verses you can see Jesus’ continued prayer for spiritual protection for His disciples. We also learn how even though we cannot escape earth this side of eternity, we "do not belong to the world." The fact that Jesus says he is not asking the Father to take us out of the world reminds me of Paul’s words when he tell us to avoid immoral members of the church:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
We are stuck on this planet until death or the Second Coming…and like Jesus we should associate with the world…just being very careful that we are drawing them us to our Prince instead of allowing them to draw us to theirs. As Petra sings in "Not of This World":
We are pilgrims in a strange land
We are so far from our homeland
We are strangers
We are aliens
We are not of this world
We are envoys
We must tarry
With this message
We must carry
Petra’s verses fit well with the second point I’d like you to take from this section of Jesus’ prayer. I chose to read from the Good New Translation because instead of saying (like the English Standard Version), "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth" it chooses a much more understandable translation of, "And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you" (John 17:19).
Isn’t "dedicated" a lot easier to understand than "sanctified" or "consecrate"? Perhaps we can simplify it even more by just noting that we are "set apart" as…to use Petra’s term…as envoys with a message we must carry.
"To become one heart and mind" and "for those who will believe"
We’ll tackle the rest of chapter 17 all at once. I was going to go ahead and just return to the English Standard Version…but instead I’ve decided to go totally radical and use a version that you should never, ever, ever, ever use for Bible study…because at best it’s a paraphrase. However, I think "The Message" stays true to the final 7 verses of chapter 17:
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this one-ness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them (John 17:20-26)
Am I the only one who gets confused when the Bible talks about becoming "one"…especially when it’s like the English Standard Version’s verse 21’s "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…"?
I am supposed to be one with you like the Son is with the Father? My head could quickly go "Pop!" if I start thinking about the Trinity…which is a great portion of how the Father and Son are one, isn’t it?
Although I really do dislike how The Message is often used…Eugene Peterson does make "one" a lot clearer doesn’t he? That Jesus’ "goal is for all of [us] to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us."
And as we think about us being one…some other words from Jesus recorded by John seem apropos:
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:31-35)
We cannot be one if we do not love "one" another…and we will not glorify…will not honor…God…if people do not see our love for one another. By this they will know we are His disciples.
"For those who will believe"
And the second point I’d lake you to take away for our final set of verses is the same point I’d like you to remember most from this sermon…
In the The Message verse 20 reads:
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
In Phillips it is:
I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message
In the New International Reader’s Version:
I do not pray only for them. I pray also for those who will believe in me because of their message.
In the King James Version:
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word
You may have noticed that during my sermon I used "us" and "Jesus’ disciples" interchangeably. That’s because no matter what version you look at…if it is translated correctly one thing is clear:
This prayer was for us too!
We believed in Jesus because of the Apostle’s witness…the Apostle’s message….the Apostle’s word…
- We are to honor the Father just as Jesus did
- We have eternal life
- We are being kept safe by the Father (per Jesus’ request)
- We do not belong to this world
- We are dedicated to…set apart for…God
- We are to be one with each other and with God
If Jesus were to walk through those doors right now…up to this podium…take my microphone…and pray for you…
Wouldn’t you ask for a copy of His prayer…and play it over-and-over in you iPod, your CD player, your cassette deck, your 8-track tape player…
Okay…maybe not your 8-track tape player 🙂
But wouldn’t you play his prayer for you over-and-over-and-over-and-over? Wouldn’t you cherish it?
When do you plan on reading John chapter 17 again?
1"Comin’ In On a Wing and a Prayer" by the Golden Gate Quartet from "The War Years" (Disc 2) and Wally and the Boys from "Australian Wartime Radio – A Brown Slouch Hat Broadcasts: 1939-1945."
2"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" by Kay Kyser & His Orchestra with Glee Club from "The War Years" (Disc 1).
3http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CP04John2.htm (accessed January 22, 2011)