Jesus's Prayer for the Church - John 17 (Sermon)

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Hi, I am pastor Rob, and it is a pleasure sharing with you God’s Word this morning. 


Every summer, we have weddings, graduations, new beginnings, and transitions. The emotions that accompany these life-changing events range from happy to sad, excited to overwhelmed. How do emotions and circumstances such as these impact prayer? Do they? This summer, if your child got married, finished school, or moved away, how does that impact prayer? What is your primary prayer request for your child? Is it their spiritual well-being? Or physical well-being? We hope and pray our children make wise decisions. We want them to flourish. We want the best for them. We want their happiness. Let us go back 2,000 years as the disciples graduated, and Jesus left and hear his heart and prayer for them? It is also his prayer for us, his church. 


Turn in your Bibles to John chapter 17. I have asked H.M. to read for us. As she comes up here, would you stand with me in honor of God’s Word if you are able? 


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, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.


“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. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 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. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 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. 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. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 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. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 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. 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. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 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.” (John 17)



Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, Thank you for all that you have done. Deliver us from evil, purify us with your truth. Your Word is truth. You are the truth. Make us one with you joined together as one local community of faith in that truth. Prepare us to through the teaching and application of your Word by your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name, AMEN. You may be seated. 


John 17 shows us how Jesus united truth and love. It describes unity in the church. Coupled with Ephesians, we see how unity works in practical ways. We hear what it means to be united in a relationship with God and how oneness is expressed in the church. Too often, people give up on each other and church and God. They have little loyalty to anyone except themselves. They walk away, and the evil one loves it. The Devil delights in free-range sin. God’s Word teaches us that Lucifer, the world system, and our sin don’t win in the end, Jesus does. Jesus said that he is building the church and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against it (John 16:18). This prayer in John 17 and its effect are what we will explore in the next five weeks. I pray we gain insight into Jesus’s heart, and it becomes our own.


John, the apostle, documented this prayer. He wrote around A.D. 90 with the purpose, “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). He wanted us to believe. He wanted that so bad; he used the word ninety-eight times in twenty-one chapters. The other three biographies of Jesus used the word ‘believe’ thirty-four times to put that in perspective. That being said, specifically, what did John want us to believe? What did he write in chapter 20? That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Why did John want that for us? He experienced the life-transforming power of Jesus. The Bible tells us he and his brother, James, were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, Zebedee. All three of them: Zebedee, James, and John, were fishermen and partners with Peter. One day, Jesus came by the sea of Galilee and called them to leave their fishing operation and follow him. James, John, and Peter did (Matthew 4:18–20). They became part of the ragtag band disciples. Their discipleship program lasted three years. During that time, John experienced transformation. He went from asking permission to call down fire on those who don’t receive their message (Luke 9:54) to one who spoke tenderly about the Father’s love for the world again and again and again. John was part of Jesus’s inner circle. He was there at the transfiguration, there at Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was taken into custody, and he was there at Jesus’s trial and crucifixion. He lived the longest of the disciples, dying in prison for his faith and writing this biography, three letters, and the last book of the Bible, Revelation. He heard Jesus’s prayer and recorded it for us because he wanted us to believe and have life in Jesus. 


Jesus’s prayer begins talking about time, the ‘hour.’ What was he talking about? Reading John, Jesus’s initial miracle was the first time he used this term. He said to his mother, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). Then, he made 150 gallons of wine out of wash water to celebrate his ministry at an all-town wedding. After that, Jesus came to Jerusalem multiple times. When he began preaching openly, leaders didn’t like what they heard. The Bible tells us they sought to arrest him but didn’t because the ‘hour’ had not yet come (7:30). Three years later, the ‘hour’ was at hand as Jesus paraded into Jerusalem in his triumphal entry (12:23). What was this ‘hour’? It was the time that Jesus was going to be killed. He knew it would happen. It was part of the plan. The religious leaders would frame him in a kangaroo court and sentence him to death. In likely less than 1,500 minutes from his prayer, Jesus would be exterminated. But in death, he accomplished what was necessary for his prayers to be answered. The curse of the Garden would finally be broken for all who truly believe in him. 


John 17 has three sections. Jesus’s prayer for himself (v. 1–4), Jesus’s prayer for his followers (v. 5–19), and Jesus’s prayer for us, his church (v. 20–26). What was he praying for his followers? He prayed for their protection, purification, unification, and transportation. 


If you are taking notes, here are his four requests. 

  • “Keep them from the evil one” (v. 15) - Protection from the evil one
  • “Sanctify them in your truth” (v. 17) - Purification from sin
  • “Make them one” (v. 21 ) - Unification with God and each other 
  • “Bring them to me” (v. 24) - Transportation to him forever

Jesus cared about the church. 


This passage gives us insight into his desires. Beyond these four requests, much of Jesus’s prayer is reporting back to God what he has done. Our prayers can take on a formality and habit that drain them of their power. Prayer isn’t a list of demands. Jesus illustrated how prayer can tell God what we have done and what he has done. Prayer can be quoting scripture back to God or claiming a promise or exalting his nature. Prayer can be praising, thanking, and listening. God wants a relationship and our hearts. Prayer isn’t education for God. It doesn’t communicate to God something he doesn’t know. Jesus didn’t have to pray this prayer out loud for God to do what he asked. He prayed out loud for another reason. What was that? I think he knew John would record it. He wanted John, the disciples, and us to know his heart. His heart was for us followers to have the Father’s protection, purification, unification, and transportation to be with him forever. 


Jesus was facing death, and he prayed. He was going on a dark journey with agony, loneliness, and suffering before him. What would you pray for, if you were in his shoes? He cared about others on the cusp of his suffering. He would pray about himself in the Garden, but here we hear his prayers for the church. I would be thinking about myself. This type of intercession puts words into our prayers and comfort in difficulties. God instructs us in the school of prayer in John 17. Yet, this passage is mainly about his heart. 


This brings me to my first point, and the first thing we see in Jesus’s prayer, 

  1. Protection from the evil one

Sometimes it feels like our souls are one step away from destruction. I am sure Jesus knew this reality, and his followers would sense the danger. They will fear and despair as Jesus is carted away and crucified. That is why I think he prayed verse 11, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” And verse 15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Jesus wanted God the Father to keep his people in him and away from Satan. As much as he wanted them to be with him, the reality was they wouldn’t be until they died or he came back. So, Jesus prayed for protection from evil. This was not a throw-away prayer or insignificant. The threat to fall away or be spiritually attacked was real. As we get older, we can count the number of people who are no longer walking with the Lord, and we know personally what the evil one can do in tempting and attacking. The danger is all around. The evil one is fierce. Yet, we can take comfort in Jesus being stronger. God is sovereign. A few chapters before John recorded Jesus’s words describing the strength of God’s power. Hear this, 


My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27–30)


Is that not amazing? The Prince of Darkness is no match for the Son of the Most High. God, the Ancient of Days, King of the Universe, will preserve his people. 


That raises the question, “How?” Some are not his people. What are we to make of this in language? How do we get into the in-crowd? Ephesians is our answer. Ephesians is a letter to the church in Ephesus. You may remember that Paul brought the good news about Jesus to this church in modern-day Turkey in Acts 18. He came there and helped clarify what the Bible said. They were confused. Later, Timothy became the pastor there. They struggled. The church had divisions, factions, immorality, heresy, and plain old sin. Some knew God’s Word and some didn’t. Some grew up with the Bible, and some didn’t. In chapter 2, Paul leveled with them. They all had the same starting point. Look at Ephesians chapter 2.  


And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3)


That was everyone’s starting point as well as ours. 


We can forget that and divide. In a room this size, we have different generations, ethnicities, genders, histories, personalities, and perspectives. So naturally, we connect with those like ourselves. Sin takes our normal tendencies and amplifies them to unhealthy levels. We quickly move towards clicks and insulated circles. The church breaks down and needs Jesus’s prayer for protection from evil, but that is not the only thing that can tear apart the church. 


That brings us to my second point and Jesus’s second request: 

  1. Protection from the evil one
  2. Purification from sin. 

Jesus prayed that through the Word, the Bible, God would purify his people. Look at verse 17 of chapter 17. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). What is that truth? Jesus called himself the ‘truth’ in John 14:6. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). What is that word? John begins his biography by saying that Jesus is the ‘Word.’ So, Jesus was requesting that God the Father protect his followers and purify them, or sanctify them by himself? Or, was Jesus asking God to purify his people through the Bible? I think yes to both questions. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, who sanctifies us through his blood. 


At the beginning of the service, we heard D. and H. affirm the truths that we hold dear and express their desire to become members of this local body formally. They sat through a class with Pastor Mike and myself where we discussed how Jesus alone purifies us and protects us through what we call the Gospel. We discussed some of the particular interpretations that our church holds as central. That foundation protects us from straying into dangerous theological waters and division. 


I love preaching with pastors Jeff, Mike, and Joe. Each week, we work together to talk through the Word, what it means, and how it applies to life in the 21st century. We base our beliefs on the Bible. The Bible says the Word is different from any other book ever written. We recognize that in passages of scripture like 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, which states, 


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)


Our website puts forward our affirmation of faith and what we believe about the Word:


“We believe the Bible is the word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” (


This belief turns our gaze away from the person delivering the message and the way we deliver our message to the Word of God itself. We fix our gaze on Jesus, our chief shepherd, not our elders or pastors. God is our leader. He is the one building the church through his Word. We can weather the good days and bad because of Jesus and his prayer for us. 


In verse 17, Jesus prayed that this Word would sanctify his followers. Sanctification is to make holy. How does God do that? How? Psalm 119:9–11 tells us that a young man can keep his way pure by hiding God’s Word in the heart. Paul, the apostle, challenged husbands to sanctify their wives with the Word. Yet, Jesus prayed to God to do this work?  How then does God’s sovereignty and our responsibility co-exist? If we memorize verses, will we be more holy? If we do bible studies as couples, will we be protected from evil? Those are good; they can help. God wants us to study the Bible and keep it in our hearts. It can protect us. At the same time, Jesus still felt it was necessary to pray for God to sanctify. Why? Because you can be a Bible Scholar and wander. You can know the scriptures like the Pharisees in the Bible and think they give you life and miss the way, the truth, and the life before their eyes. You can become proud of your Bible knowledge and ethical track record and forget that it is only through God’s grace we are saved. 


I think Jesus prayed this prayer because the threats of falling away, being attacked, impure, and divided were and are real for the church. The first two requests can thwart the third, unity. Churches are destroyed because leaders seek their glory instead of God’s. Churches are destroyed because jealousy divides friends that once were close. Churches are destroyed because laziness and pornography separate people from living in the community. Churches are destroyed because of fear, shame, and bitterness. We need the Word of God, the truth, Jesus, the Father, to sanctify us. How? 


Ultimately, this transformation happens by faith in Jesus’s work he was about to do on the cross. We can’t erase sin we have committed, but God can. We can’t change our natural bent toward evil, but God can. We can’t make ourselves alive spiritually. But God can. That is what God says in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 4 and following. 


But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4–10) 


That is the gospel. God has saved us from ourselves! The result is we can be one with God. It also accomplishes a unity we could not. That brings us to Jesus’s third prayer request, 

  1. Protection from the evil one 
  2. The purification from sin
  3. The unification with God and each other


Look at verses 20 and 21. 


I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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. (John 17:20–21)


Jesus prayed for unity in the church that is out of this world. God bridges our interpersonal differences: whether we mask or not, vaccinate or not, vote democrat, republican, or independent, homeschool or public school. The believer you sit next to you will enjoy heaven with you forever, and our petty disagreements will fade into the background. We can get started loving each other now and be united in Jesus today. In John 13, Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our love. They will know it is not because we are so alike or so likable. You have to be in a relationship with others to love like this. It is love that calls us into community and service. That is what Jesus wanted for the church: a gracious, loving community. 


Let me say this; this unity is not a full agreement on every single little thing. You can like the Bears, Packers, and Vikings. God wants unity in our diversity, not uniformity. That being said, we must keep the core truths and not waiver on those, but when it comes to the secondary matters, let us love and show grace in speaking to each other and listening to each other. The book of Galatians in the Bible teaches this, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Certainly, we are different in station, persons, and calling. Still, ontologically, basically, we are people of faith all made in God’s image and saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Truth unites us to God and each other and leads to Jesus’s final request in this prayer. 


Jesus prayed for God to bring his people where he is. 

  1. Protection from the evil one
  2. Purification from Sin 
  3. Unification with God and each other 
  4. Transportation to him forever. 

He wanted them to be not only united in Spirit but eventually in person. Look at verse 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. (John 17:24) 


Jesus wanted us with him to see him. The four requests for protection, purification, unification, and transportation are made possible because of the cross and substitutionary atonement. Jesus took our place. He was our substitute. Ephesians chapter 2, starting at verse 13, expands on this radical unity with God and each other. 


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13–22)


We are growing together, church, being built together, church, God is dwelling in us together, church. We don’t have an individualistic faith. We are a community. Suppose you are not part of a church community; plugin. Repent, believe, and embrace this reality of being part of a community. We need you. You need us. Don’t wait for the perfect church. God is perfecting us all. This unity is a reality for us now in part and in full for eternity. Jesus offers us love and joy unspeakable because of his work on the cross. 


So as we wrap up, 

  • Do you feel under attack? Note: Jesus prayed for spiritual safety. Why? He loves you. 
  • Do you feel impure? Note: Jesus prayed for purification. Why? He loves you. 
  • Do you feel alone, isolated, or at war among people who call themselves Christians? Note: Jesus prayed for the unity of the church and him? Why? He loves you. 
  • Do you feel unworthy? Note: Jesus wants to be with you forever? Why? He loves you. 

Church, this is good news made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection! Friends, God keeps us, changes us, binds us, and will bring us. Let us worship him and press into this community that Jesus gave his life for. It is the only institution in history he loved to death.


Let’s pray.

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