John 17:1-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 1, 2014.

John’s gospel lingers in the upper room the day before his crucifixion by spending four chapters on Jesus’s farewell address to his disciples (John 13-16).  Jesus is acutely aware that his departure from this world is imminent (John 13:33), and he spends his last hours with the disciples giving them a final, vital set of instructions and words of encouragement.  Like many other faithful goodbyes, Jesus concludes this discourse with prayer.  The prayer can be divided into three sections.  In the first, Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5).  In the second, he prays for his disciples (17:6-19).  Lastly, he prays for all those who will believe in him through the disciples preaching (17:20-26).

In the first half of the prayer, Jesus’s attention is on the immediate effects of his pending death.  Jesus turns his eyes towards the heavens, a normal posture for prayer in that day, and acknowledges to the Father that “the hour has come” (17:1).  Jesus’s one petition for himself is that the Father would “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (17:1).  At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus is fully committed to laying his life down so that he might give eternal life to those God has given him.  Jesus understands that he will be glorified, paradoxically, by being put to shame on the cross.  He trusts that God will not abandon him to the grave but will “glorify [him] in [the Father’s] presence with the glory [Jesus] had with [the Father] before the world began” (17:5).

Just these first five verse are dense with theological and homiletical possibilities.  The word glorify or glory shows up five times.  Jesus’s desire for glory runs counter to the impulse of every worldly leader.  Unlike athletes who give a nod to the Father after a touchdown or an actress who thanks Jesus after receiving an Oscar, Jesus grasps that true glory is to be found not in personal achievement, but rather, in laying one’s life down for another.  Preachers and churches are often little better than athletes and actors in seeking personal glory and then attempting to sanctify that personal success with a tip of the hat to one’s Maker.  For those who claim to follow Jesus as Lord, the Savior’s example challenges our normal understanding of what it means to glorify God.

Also present in these verses is Jesus’s definition of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they [i.e. those the Father has given him] know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3).  Jesus understands that the very purpose of his coming is to bring eternal life to those the Father has given him.  While the preacher must deal with the issues that this verse brings up concerning whether or not salvation is offered to all people, such discussions should not cause the preacher or the congregation to lose focus on Jesus’s radical definition of eternal life.  Knowing God is not the way to life.  Knowing God as Father and Son is life.  Jesus’s definition of eternal life is a far cry from the definition of eternal life given by preachers more concerned with keeping people out of hell than with helping people to know God.

While Jesus prays for himself and eventually for all believers, the bulk of his prayer concerns the disciples.  While the Twelve dominate our imagination, it seems likely this prayer is for all those who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. Jesus understands these initial followers to be those that God has given him from the world. Jesus commends them for believing that everything he has said comes from the Father (17:7) and for believing “with certainty” that Jesus is from God (17:8).  Their faithfulness has brought glory to Jesus, which in turn, has glorified the Father (17:10).  That Jesus prays for the disciple and not the world does not indicate that Jesus does not care for the world (17:9).  Rather, it speaks to the deep love Jesus has for these initial believers and the genuine concern he has for their well-being after his departure.  His prayer for protection should primarily be understood as a prayer for their continued faithfulness and not a prayer for their physical safety.  Jesus has spent three years teaching them that faithfulness to God trumps any concern for personal safety, a lesson he will soon teach them by his own example.  Ultimately, Jesus prays that the Father will keep the disciples faithful because Jesus knows that faithfulness to God is the only way to true life and to true oneness with God and with one another.  If the disciples remain faithful to God they will be one as the Father and Son are one (17:11).

The tendency in many sermons is to rush past Jesus’s concern for the original disciples in our attempt to apply the Savior’s words to our own lives.  While these words certainly have application in the lives of modern-day believers, we should not miss Jesus’s genuine love for these original believers.  God’s love for us is not abstract.  God’s love is not generically applied to all people.  Jesus loved these men and women as we love our own families, intimately and emotionally.  You get the sense that as he prepares to depart, he is not quite ready to let them go into the world without him physically by their side.  He is like a parent sending his or her children into the world.  Even though mom or dad knows the hour has come, the sending remains incredibly difficult.  Jesus’s willingness to entrust those he loves most dearly to the providence of God serves as one more example of the way of the God.  True love cares for others and commissions them to the Father’s purposes.  Many sermons have been preached on not hoarding material possessions.  Perhaps this passage opens the door to preaching a sermon against the hoarding of those we love.

SandlinTaylor Sandlin
Pastor, Southland Baptist Church
San Angelo, Texas

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>