Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a four-part series of messages on the great prayer of Jesus in John 17, often called “The Real Lord’s Prayer. This week, Part 2: Jesus Prays for the Apostles (a).
Part 2: Jesus Prays for the Apostles (a)
We are spending 4 Sundays in the chapter of John 17, and we are looking at the Prayer of the Lord Jesus, what we might call “The Real Lord’s Prayer”.
I think I could make a good case saying that whatever you have experienced recently in terms of privileges or opportunities, treats or gifts, I think I could make a good case for saying that it is an even greater privilege for us to be here this morning eavesdropping on the Prayer of Jesus as he sits around the table with the 11 Apostles and prays for them and prays out loud for them and therefore enables us to know something of what his great priority is for the Apostles.
We too can easily read this Prayer too quickly and not be hugely impressed, but that says a lot more about us than it does about the Prayer. This is a gold-mine of a prayer, and we need to be like – I remember reading of Lang Hancock who flew across the vast wilderness of Western Australia and was persuaded that there was plenty of treasure under the dirt beyond what appeared to be ordinary was extraordinary, and here we are with John 17 and what seems to us to be ordinary is extraordinary.
So last week we saw Jesus pray for himself in verses 1-5 and we saw Jesus pray for himself, and he asked the Father to glorify Him, i.e. Jesus.
And we asked the question last week – Was this a selfish thing to pray? And I think we resolved the issue by the answer that Jesus prayed that God the Father would glorify him because if Jesus was glorified in the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension, it would be the means by which millions would be saved, and God would be greatly glorified himself. So the prayer that he would be glorified was for the glory of the Father as well and the salvation of God’s people.
Praying for the Apostles (The 11 Disciples)
Now we come today to the longer section which is verses 6-19, and we are going to look at it over 2 Sundays, this week and next week and he pray for the Eleven, what we would call the Apostles or the Eleven Disciples. You will see in verse 12; he says “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe…None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction”, referring of course to Judas who has gone off to his plot.
And Jesus, as I say, is obviously praying out loud, and Apostle John is enabled by the Spirit to record the Prayer for us, and we read that Jesus is leaving, and he is praying a particular thing for these 11 Apostles who he is leaving in the world.
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I want us this morning to see what he prays, to learn from what he prays, to improve our prayer life but also especially to see how privileged we are as his people, and I want to think about this under three headings this morning –
- Who he prays for
- What he prays for
- Why he prays this particular prayer
Who is Jesus Praying For?
First of all, Who he prays for.
Now I have already said he is praying for the Apostles but why does he pray for so few (verse 9)?
He says “I pray for them – I am not praying for the world”. Well, why not? Does not the Bible tell us even in John’s Gospel Chapter 3 verse 16 that “God so loved the world”? Why would Jesus pray for 11? It seems to be a very narrow focus of the prayer. Well, don’t miss the strategy of this particular prayer. He is praying that the Apostles (verse 11) will be one (verse 21) so that the world may believe. (And verse 23) “So that the world would know that God sent Jesus Christ. In another way the way to reach the world is through the unified church – the method for reaching a lost world is very largely a unified church.
And as I hope to show you in a minute, this doesn’t just mean the church that is happy together and arm in arm and singing songs and getting on well, all of which is wonderful, but it’s not what Jesus primarily means as we will see in a minute.
Now, first of all, I want to ask the question – Who is he praying for, how does he describe his people? (Verse 6) Incredibly privileged are the people of Christ because (verse 6) God gave them to him. I don’t know if you ever think of yourself as people who God the Father gave God the Son – but that’s what we read in John 17:6 and in other places that if you have gone to Christ, it’s because God the Father GAVE YOU to Christ, PROMPTED YOU to go to Christ, PUSHED YOU to go to Christ.
And from a human point of view, of course, this may have been a series of reasons. Why have the people in the pews this morning, the individuals who are listening, who have gone to Christ, why do they go to Christ? Well because God sent them to Christ. But humanly of course –
It may be that you met some Christians, and you were persuaded to read a book.
It may be that you met some Christians, and you thought I don’t understand, I don’t have joy, I don’t have clarity, I don’t have salvation, I’ll go to “Christianity Explored”. (We are hoping that some of you will on Tuesday night).
It may be that you were in a depression, and you were looking for comfort. At least one member of this morning congregation was converted because in great depression opened up the old Bible on the shelf and found that lovely verse in Acts “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”.
It may be that you were very conscious of your sin, and you knew that you needed a Saviour, and you went to him for mercy.
There are thousands of reasons why a person might go to Jesus but behind it all, it’s because the Father gives you to Jesus.
What Happens When you Go to Jesus?
Now, what happens when you go to Jesus (verse 6)? Jesus reveals God to you. When you go to Jesus suddenly through Jesus, you know who God is. All your ignorance and all your guess work and all your vague talk about God up there – G O D – almost means nothing today doesn’t it? G O D – everybody talks of G O D and yet you can have a complete invention in your brain but not if you’ve gone to Jesus. When you go to Jesus, you suddenly realise that God is your Father and everything that you need to know about God, Jesus reveals to us.
And so there is this tremendous double blessing that’s going on where the Father is prompting you to go to Jesus and when you get to Jesus he tells you about God the Father. Now we see this in John’s Gospel – I was trying to think of an illustration of this – I was trying to think who I could talk about at this moment – which friend of mine could I suddenly illustrate this principle from and I thought it’s all in John’s Gospel.
Nicodemus in chapter 3 – he’s an unyielding believer in God, he’s a very faithful Jewish man, and he goes to Jesus, and suddenly everything falls into place. Up until then, everything had been vague, and now it suddenly comes wonderfully bright.
Or you think of the next chapter in John – Chapter 4 – the Samaritan Woman who has a vague belief in God but when she goes to Jesus everything changes, and she leaves her water jar, and she runs back to the village, and she says “Come and meet this person”.
So, God, the Father sends us to Jesus, and Jesus opens our eyes to God the Father. That is the great description of the Apostles and actually of all believers – very privileged people.
But the other thing, of course, is that we are not just robots who God has worked on and pushed to his Son, we also freely respond, and the Apostles had responded if you look at verse 6 “they had obeyed the Word”.
The Apostles Are Those Who Had Obeyed Jesus
Some people get confused by this because the Apostles were such an ordinary bunch and such a failing bunch – how can Jesus say to them or say to the Father, these are people who obeyed the Word.
Well of course what Jesus means by this is that they obeyed the Gospel, they haven’t perfectly kept all the Word of God. They were sinners and they were failures, but they had obeyed the Gospel. And that is the mark of a real believer – they have obeyed the Gospel, they have believed Jesus.
Verse 8 “they have accepted the teaching” so the mark of real Christianity is that you suddenly have a humble view of the Bible. You find yourself not so much sitting over the Bible anymore with a pair of scissors cutting out this and cutting out this and saying ‘I like this, and I don’t like this’. The mark of the real believer is that you go under the Scriptures, and you say ‘that’s it’.
And then the other thing in verse 8 is that you get Jesus right. See what he says in verse 8 “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me”. They suddenly see that Jesus is unique, and he is the one who has been sent from heaven, and he is everything and all that talk about many roads to God and all religions are basically the same and how can we dare say that one is better than the other – all of that flies out the window when you come face to face with Jesus because it is as if you have suddenly seen the SUN and all the religions of the world are like little CANDLES.
And you can’t play the game that says they are all the same – they are not. So God is initiating, and people are responding – that’s the mark of the real believer.
I remember about a taxi driver once – he had a clergyman in the back seat of his car, and he was telling the distinguished Reverend that he was doing a ten time better job than the Reverend, and he said: “you know you preach – everybody falls asleep – I drive – everybody prays like crazy”. And it’s true; there are many of you here today – you are doing a better job of getting people praying than I am!
Karl Hines who was singing up the front this morning, flying his plane, he’s got a whole plane full of people praying!
Some of you doctors wheeling your patients in, people are praying crazily. And if you are a taxi driver you know the principle.
Now what I am saying is when God works on people as he does brilliantly, perfectly – they respond, they go to Jesus, they understand him, they accept his words, they believe in him, and Jesus shows them the Father. And the signs that you are a real believer are those:
- Receiving the Word
- Believing the Word
- Seeing that Jesus is unique
- Putting your trust in him
It’s not my job to separate sheep from goats – that belongs to Jesus, but I tell you I can often pretty well work out who is a goat because they just have no interest in Jesus – they’ve never really got it – they never really seen it – and I can often work out who a sheep is because they have suddenly got clear and keen about Jesus.
These Apostles are those sorts of men, and that’s who Jesus is praying for.
What is Jesus Praying For the Apostles?
Now the second thing this morning What does he ask for them? It’s a very important issue – what does he want for the Apostles? And the answer is that he wants two things, the first in verse 11 and 15 – I wonder if you can see what it is? It’s the little word protect or guards or the word is keep. Verses 11 and 15 he wants the Father to keep them.
And the second thing that he asks for (verse 17) is that the Father would sanctify them. Keep and sanctify. Sanctify means “Father dedicate them, consecrate them, devote them, ordain them, set them apart for their job. And these are two sides of the prayer – one is kept, and the other is sanctify.
Please make sure this doesn’t happen/please make sure this does happen. Please prevent this from happening/please guarantee this does happen. That’s the way Jesus is praying.
Now today I want us just to focus on the little word “keep” and my hope is my prayer is that this little four-letter word “keep” will become an important part of your prayers for your children, for your family and this local church – keep.
Next week we will concentrate more on what Jesus means when he says “may they be sanctified”. But even if we separate them over the two Sundays, they can’t be separated in reality because one is negative – this is the danger, and the other is positive – this is the priority.
So here is Jesus and he are about to leave the world, he is about to leave the 11 Apostles, and he knows that most of them are going to be martyred – I think out of the 11 probably only John died in his bed – the rest of them were martyred. He doesn’t pray that they will be kept from martyrdom. He knows that they are going to be in a very hostile world, nobody will understand them and nobody will appreciate them and he doesn’t pray that they will escape. He is not primarily interested in their happiness.
But we because we get soft, we drift into this as our top priority, we just want everybody to be comfortable – and that’s a big mistake.
Don Carson says in his little commentary “We spend time today praying for health and projects, decisions, family and even holidays not safe keeping”. He goes on to say “being materialists at heart we often discern only very dimly the spiritual struggle of which Jesus is so aware”.
Now we know we can pray about anything, feel free to pray about anything – about your children’s holidays, and we know that our children are not front line apostles, and we are not front line apostles, but it would be good, wouldn’t it if we could see beyond the kind of short-term superficial things and not just pray that our loved ones would be kept safe on the road, that they would go well at school, that they would make some friends, that they would stay healthy – all good things to pray.
But isn’t it more important, more important to see our loved ones kept so that they never actually make the world and the things of the world and the people of the world their idol?
Isn’t it more important that our loved ones are kept so that whatever the devil throws at them, they go through to eternal life? This prayer I think is reaching the real central issue of what’s important for believers and all people but whatever the world offers, God’s people would keep going right through to glory and whatever the devil organises they would be kept for eternal life. And that’s our most discerning prayer for loved ones, and it was good to have that prayed this morning as Perry led us in prayer, and we were praying for some of our Mission families, you may have noticed that whatever he was praying for, he finished up by asking specifically that their children would know and follow the Lord Jesus.
All their days – “Heavenly Father, keep them right to the end, don’t let them give up, just because their parents are having a tough time, don’t let the children, the second generation, give up because they watch their parents having a tough time and because they feel as though they have lost a lot by going to the Mission Field. Keep them, keep them believing, keep them growing in their convictions. This is a great thing to pray.
“Keep them” (verse 11) in your Name which means keep them committed to you because you are committed to them and “keep them” (verse 15) from the devil. It’s not a playground; it’s a battle ground. We need them to be kept eternally safe.
Now, why does Jesus pray like this? Because he knew better than anybody that you can be eternally secure and did he not say in John 10 “No one will pluck you out of my hand” so why does he turn around and say ‘I don’t want them to be plucked out of my hands’? And he says in chapter 5 verse 24 “you have eternal life, you have crossed from death to life” – why does he turn around and pray “don’t let them lose eternal life”?
Well because you just don’t put the promises against the prayers – you pray the promises. And here is this vital prayer for the eternal security of his Apostles and his prayer was answered.
Lloyd-Jones says “I do not know what you feel but to me, this is my final comfort and consolation in this world that my only hope of arriving in glory lies in the fact that the whole of my salvation is God’s work, God will complete the work that he started”.
So that’s who he prays for – people who have gone to Jesus, know the Father and have responded, accepted, believed.
And this is what he prays for – that they will be kept.
Why Does Jesus Pray This Prayer?
Now the third thing is Why did he pray this? Is he just praying that they will be personally safe? Does he want them just to be in a kind of a spiritual cocoon all the way through to glory? And you’ll see the answer is verse 11 – NO – he wants his people to be ONE. Keep them ONE; protect them so they’re ONE.
And I know what you are thinking as soon as you hear me say this – you are thinking that means HAPPY, TOGETHER, GETTING ON TOGETHER. And of course it’s wonderful to get on together – I think we do get on together – I think the Lord has been very good to us – Don’t tell me if I’ve got this wrong but I think we get on BUT
That’s not what Jesus is praying. He is not praying here that we’ll just all be arm in arm, and we’ll be dancing and happy and singing, although I don’t mind if we dance and sing – he’s not praying that.
He’s praying (verse 11) that we’ll have the oneness that the Father and the Son have. And that means that we’ll have the oneness of purpose, which we’ll think the same, want the same, do the same. That we’ll love the world the same way the Father and the Son do, that we’ll communicate the same message that the Father and the Son do.
And that’s why we need to learn from this prayer – it’s very important because these Apostles did stay in the truth and the love and the purpose right to the end even to death. We must ask the heavenly Father that he would keep us and all our loved ones ONE in him together with the same love and the same truth and the same purpose because friends (let me tell you) if you go to many of the Christian Bookshops around today or watch some of the DVD’s that are around, programs on Television, Web sites, I can tell you that the church has never been so confused about what it ought to be doing. You just get together all the different ideas that are being peddled very cleverly by the churches, and you’ll find that they are saying we should run that way – 20 different directions – and so much of what it plain and clear in the Scriptures has been forgotten and lost.
People are baptising their projects with loosely adjusted texts. And so how important (I’m not pretending that I am the fount of all wisdom and knowledge) but I’m just saying how important it is that we be ONE with the Father and the Son in what he loves, what he says and what he purposes.
So we need the Word to help us, and we need the love of God so that we don’t go in different directions. Can I say again as I often say – it’s not going to be easy to be loving towards one another, ONE in purpose, ONE in mind, ONE in heart? If you just drop in occasionally, it’s going to be very important for us that we think the same, love the same and do the same by meeting.
So “Father”, says Jesus “keep these 11 together for the needs of the world” because the needs of the world are greater than the needs of the Apostles. Would they lose their life? That’s not as serious as losing your soul. And the people who are outside of Christ are much worse off than people inside Christ.
The weakest person in the lifeboat of Christ is better off than the strongest man in the sea.
The person who does not know Christ is in the sunset of their life – it’s as bright as it’s ever going to get.
The person who belongs to Christ is in the sunrise – it’s as dark as it’s every going to get.
And to see a person move from sunset to the sunrise because of Christ is eternally significant -loving, truthful and purposeful. So we can bring all our needs to our Heavenly Father. There are lots of things that we are burdened with, feeling and struggling with but here is one absolute priority that we and all God’s people would be kept.
Now how would God answer this if we prayed it? Well, he might do something at a national level, take a country like Iran. I gather than Iran is in many ways poised and at a kind of a crossroad and is looking very much at Christianity whether it’s a good faith, is suspicious especially at strong versions of Islam and the very nation of Iran is almost poised to make a decision about whether it will be welcoming to the Christian faith. What a thing to pray for. Keep your people, keep them loving, keep them truthful, keep them purposeful to impact the world.
And at a personal level, what might God do if I pray for you that God will keep you and you pray for me that God will keep me?
Well, one of the things that might happen is that I might find a new disinterest in my idols. That would be great – and same for you. That I might be saved from many mistakes and many dangers and that I might be brought to a new conviction of the truth and a new love like God has and a new devotion to his purpose that leads me to be more useful, more devoted, less worldly, less selfish – pray that for me and I’ll try to remember to pray that for you. KEEP them says Jesus to the Father – KEEP THEM ONE.
Let’s pray – let’s bow our heads.
Lord Jesus, we lift up our prayer to you together this morning. We have read in the Scriptures that you prayed for the Apostles, and your prayer was wonderfully answered, and they were kept. They were kept from giving up, and they were kept ONE.
And we pray together for ourselves. We pray for this church. We are conscious that there are people in the church who may be at this point drawn into the values and priorities and the deceptions of the world. We are conscious there may be people who are resisting your Word at the present. Some may be so burdened by their doubts and their sadnesses that they are losing their faith.
Our Father, we pray that you would keep them. Please keep them from the fog and the drift and please keep them one in the truth and one in your love and one in your purpose.
We pray this for ourselves and our loved ones. May they be kept for you – and we ask this for their salvation, for the good of the world and your great Name – Amen.
- See the whole series, ‘ The ‘Real’ Lord’s Prayer — A Christian Growth Series .
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages.
- See more on the topic of Prayer.