Jesus' Prayer for His Disciples
You may remember that last week’s lesson was based out of John 17:20-26. In those seven verses, we saw how Jesus prayed for His entire church, including every believer who has ever lived. He prayed for the Church as a body, that they might be unified. We discovered that an unbelieving world will see the truth of the gospel when they see the fellowship that is inside the church. But the verses we read last week were only the last part of Jesus’ prayer. Tonight we’re going to look at the second part of Jesus’ prayer, which is where He prayed for His twelve disciples. In one way the verses we are going to read tonight are only items of information, because Jesus did specifically pray the prayer for twelve men who have been dead for almost 2,000 years. But in reality, the prayer that Jesus prayed for these twelve men was meant just as much for you here tonight as it was for Peter, James, and John. So let’s read together how Jesus prayed for us. Our Scripture tonight is John 17:14-19
“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.”
Let us pray.
I want you to know that I struggled for a long time on how to present this passage. My initial plan was to tackle all of verses six through nineteen, but I felt that doing so would do no justice to this amazing prayer that Jesus prayed for His disciples. So instead of trying to explain and apply that whole section, we will instead focus in on the last part of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, where Christ explains the kind of relationship that His people will have with the outside world.
Let’s read verse fourteen once more. “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus here makes a very dramatic claim that the world will hate His disciples because they are radically different than the people of the world. I wonder if the disciples knew then just how serious Christ’s prayer was. Little did Peter know that one day he would be crucified upside down on a cross. Philip was preaching the gospel in a town called Hierapolis when the idol worshippers there killed him. Some ancient historians say he was crucified, while others say he was tied to a pillar and stoned. Matthew was nailed to the ground and beheaded in Ethiopia. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, was clubbed to death in modern-day Iran because the pagan priests were losing too much business because many people were becoming Christians. Historians can’t decide if Simon the Zealot was crucified in Great Britain, or if he survived in Great Britain and was later crucified in Syria. Either way, he was crucified for His preaching of the gospel. All said and done, eleven of the twelve apostles were murdered because of their faith in Christ. John was the only one that survived, and he died of old age while in prison.
Even today there are people being killed for their faith in many parts of the world. In North Korea, the government will kill anyone they discover is a Christian. In many Muslim countries it is dangerous to become a Christian because there is a high probability that one of the new believer’s relatives will try to kill him or her. In parts of northern India the Hindu National Party is still burning churches and mobbing church leaders. There are even areas of southern Mexico where local Indian tribes are persecuting the Christian minority.
While as tragic as all of this is, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with us here in Weatherford, Texas. How does the world hate Christians in a country where complete freedom of religion is promised in its constitution? Well, we definitely do not suffer persecution in the same way as many throughout history have. But there can be no doubt in our minds that the gospel we carry within us is considered an intolerant, radical position by a growing number of people in this country. It is okay to say that you believe in God. It is even okay to say that you believe in Jesus Christ. But as soon as you say that you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and that all other roads lead to eternal destruction, you are labeled as a fundamentalist. Rosie O’Donnell recently said that radical Christians are just as dangerous as radical Muslims. This is how most non-Christians view the Evangelical community. So Jesus knew exactly what He was talking about when He said that we would be hated by the world.
And yet, despite His promise of persecution, He also said in verse fifteen that He does not want us to be taken out of the world. Let’s reread verse fifteen. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Even though the world hates Christians, Jesus wants us here so that we can glorify the Father. But Jesus does not just throw us out to the wolves. No, He asks the Father to protect us from “the evil.” When the Greek says something like “the evil,” “the blessed,” or “the loved,” it is simply a shorter way of saying “the evil one,” “the blessed one,” or “the loved one.” So Christ is literally asking the Father to protect us from “the evil one.” We know this to be Satan, the archenemy of our souls. It’s true that we do suffer some degree of persecution while on planet earth, but imagine how much worse it would be if Satan had his way with Christ’s followers. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” The only thing stopping Satan from destroying us right this minute is the love of Christ, who prayed that God would keep us from the Evil One.
Beyond simply keeping us from Satan, Christ prayed that we would be moved closer and closer to God. Let’s read verse seventeen again. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” The word sanctify is one of my favorite words in the entire Bible. While it’s hard to hear the similarities in English, this word is very closely related to the word “holy.” In fact, sanctify basically means “to make something holy.” So Christ here is praying that God would make the disciples holy through His truth. Then Jesus says to God, “Thy word is truth.” Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that we are the ones that make ourselves better people. I mean, we know that it is God who saved us, but sometimes we have the mistaken notion that after conversion, it is we who do the hard work of making ourselves more like Christ. But Christ here asks that God would make us holy. How is it that God is going to make us holy? Through His word! God will miraculously work within you whenever you take the time to read your Bible, or whenever you hear someone preaching on the word of God. The picture that is conjured up in my mind is of Satan and God playing a game of tug-of-war, where you are the little ribbon in the middle that both of them are fighting over. Jesus’ prayer is that you will be moved farther and farther away from Satan, and closer and closer toward God, until God wins the final victory over your soul.
After Jesus prays that God will sanctify them, He prays in verse eighteen that God will send them out into the world. Verse eighteen reads, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” I believe that this verse ties together everything that we have read so far. We know that the world hates us, but Christ has not yet explained why it was that He wanted us to remain on earth instead of going to heaven right after we are saved. It is because we are going to be sent on a mission, just as He was sent on a mission. Our mission, like His, is to take the light of the gospel into a lost and dying world. It is no coincidence that Christ prays that we will be sent right after He prayed that God would make us holy. I hope you know tonight that you cannot effectively serve God while you are living with sin in your heart. I also hope you know that you, nor I, can be a beneficial part of this congregation when we are hiding sin in our hearts. Christ desires for us to go out into all the world, but first He desires for us to become more and more like God.
Jesus concludes His prayer for His disciples with verse nineteen. Listen closely as I read this verse once more. “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” I believe that in this verse Jesus uses a play on words to make His point. Jesus prays that He would be sanctified, so that we could be sanctified. But Jesus is already one hundred percent holy, so how can He possibly become sanctified? Jesus here is making a reference to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, animals that were deemed appropriate for the sin offering were first sanctified to God. Then the sacrifice would be made, and by faith in that sacrifice the sins of the people would be forgiven. Jesus here is praying that He would be the sacrifice that would be sanctified, so that men and women could be made holy by faith in Him. Praise God for the sacrifice that Christ made for us! Everything that Jesus prayed for His disciples was made possible only through His sacrifice for us. We could not be kept from the Evil One. We could not be made holy. And we could not be sent out on a mission by God Himself without first being saved through Christ’s holy sacrifice. As we conduct our business meeting tonight, my prayer is that we will keep one thing in the front of our minds. I pray that we will always keep in mind that everything we do, everything we are, and everything we will one day have is only made possible because of what Jesus Christ did for you and did for me on Mount Calvary.
Let us pray.
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