The Fifty-Second in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Their evening together is now over. The hour has come. Jesus must leave the Upper Room, cross the Kidron Valley, and go to an olive grove on the Mount of Olives, where he will be arrested by members of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council). But in the moments before Jesus departs to accomplish his work of redemption, Jesus stops just long enough to pray: for himself, for his disciples, and for all those who will believe in him throughout the centuries yet to come after his ascension into heaven. Known as the “High-Priestly Prayer,” in the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, John reveals to us the heart of Jesus in the form of a prayer which Jesus offers to the Father in his final private moments with his disciples before together, they head out to Gethsemane. In this prayer (which is as much a “farewell” prayer as anything else) Jesus reveals much about the nature of his messianic mission, as well as the Father’s intention to save all those whom he has chosen, and whom he has given to the Son to redeem. This is the longest prayer of Jesus revealed anywhere in Scripture, and it comes at that critical moment between the end of his messianic mission, and the beginning of his Passion. In this prayer, we see that Jesus seeks nothing more than to bring glory to his Father, and in turn, to realize that glory he has known with the Father from all eternity.
One of the difficulties a preacher faces when preaching through John is that this Gospel contains lengthy discourses from Jesus which ideally should be covered in a single sermon to understand the overall flow of thought–so as not to miss the forest for the trees. Unfortunately, we do not have time to cover passages like John 17 in a single sermon without skipping over the Old Testament background, which is extensive, and which is necessary to fully understand what Jesus is saying and why. Furthermore, this passage is loaded with doctrinal significance and is just too rich in content and too important theologically to simply skim in a single sermon.
So, we will break up Jesus’ high priestly prayer into three sermons, each of which dealing with the particular focus of that section of the prayer. In John 17:1-5, Jesus prays to the Father that he (Jesus) will be glorified through his suffering and death which he is about to undergo, so as to bring the Father glory through his own obedience to the Fathers’ will. Then, we will devote a sermon to Jesus’ prayer for the disciples (vv. 6-19), before we conclude with that section of the prayer (vv. 20-26) in which Jesus prays for us–as Jesus puts it in verse 20, “those who will believe in me through . . . [the disciples’] word.” Once we complete the high priestly prayer, we will have completed the Upper Room Discourse, and we will then move into the final section of John’s Gospel (chapters 18-21) dealing with Jesus’ Passion.
John 17 is a truly remarkable passage because in it we witness the eternal word and Son of God pray to his Father on behalf of those for whom he is about suffer and die. There is much to learn about Jesus’ person and work as covenant mediator from studying the content of his prayers–especially this one. Jesus’ prayers are really one of the few hints we have of Jesus’ direct interaction with the Father, in the presence of whom and the Holy Spirit, Jesus has enjoyed an eternal bliss and fellowship. In the so-called “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17, Jesus seeks to bring glory to the Father and to himself, and he also prays that his disciples will be protected from the evil we will inevitably face in the world.
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