Through the New Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – John 17:1-26 – That the world may know...

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John 17 records Jesus’ wonderful prayer for his disciples. This perhaps has the better right to be called the Lord’s Prayer. The model prayer recorded in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 was a prayer for disciples to pray; this is the Lord’s own prayer for himself and his disciples.

The prayer falls broadly into three parts. In the first part, verses 1-5, Jesus prays for himself. He is on the eve of his crucifixion and prays that just as he has brought glory to the Father by obedience to all that the Father gave him to do, so now the Father will glorify him. Jesus looks beyond the cross with its agony and shame to his resurrection and return to the Father.

But even in the middle of this section, Jesus’ focus is also upon his disciples. Jesus thanks the Father for giving him authority over all the world, an authority that he will use to give eternal life to all who come to him. He continues, “And this is eternal life: that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (17:3). God is glorified, his purposes are fulfilled, as people come to know him through the Lord Jesus Christ and live under his rule. It is for this that we were made. Jesus brings glory to the Father in restoring creation to it’s designed purpose.

Secondly, Jesus prays for his disciples – for the eleven who were with him (17:6-19). He is about to return to the Father and will no longer be with them in the same way as he has been. He prays that they will be protected from the evil one. He has spoken to them the words given to him from the Father. He prays that they will now be sanctified by this word of truth – set apart by it for holy purpose. He prays that it might animate their lives and make them single-minded in continuing his mission to the world (see v.18) – that they might now speak the words that he has given them.

Lastly, he prays for all who will believe through their testimony – he prays for us (17:20-26). Jesus prays that all who come to believe in him may be one so that the world may believe that he was sent by the Father. The one flock will bear witness to the one Shepherd.

The unity of Jesus’ disciples is a reflection of the unity between Jesus and his Father. Jesus and the Father are one in heart and mind and purpose for they have a shared life; they live in each other. Jesus prays that his followers may live in close communion with him. As with the picture of the vine and the branches (John 15), his disciples are to live in him and he in them. In this way, they participate in the very life of God (see 17:22-23). And by participating in the life of God, they/we participate in the purpose of God.

It is as the life of Jesus, and love of God seen in Jesus, shapes the life of his followers (17:26) that they become visibly different from the world in which they live. They become one people in the sense that they stand out from the world around them, recognisable by the world (see 13.35). Their lives become a witness to the world concerning the person, mission and glory of Jesus.

This prayer is often referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. Ascended to the right hand of the Father he continues to intercede for his people, praying that they will be faithful to his mission and that through their shared life and witness all the world might come to know him.

Lord Jesus, forgive us that we, your people, are so often divided and preoccupied with fighting among ourselves. Help us to have a shared vision of your purposes for this world. You gave your life for the mending of this world; help us to give ourselves to its healing as we proclaim that you are Lord. May the world come to know you.

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Peter Misselbrook