The Lord’s Prayer for You (John 17)

Did you ever watch the 1960’s BBC crime drama Maigret?  Created by Georges Simenon, the pipe smoking Chief Inspector Jules Maigret is one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time. From Montmartre to the remote French countryside, in 12 episodes, shot in black and white, Maigret encounters the dark side of the human psyche. Yet, somehow he manages to maintain both compassion and a sense of humour as he explores the complex motives that lie behind every crime. The popular 1960’s series with Rupert Davies as Inspector Maigret, was adapted once again in 1992 with Michael Gambon in the lead role. More recently the drama was adapted a third time in 2016. What made the new series stand out from previous ones, however, was the choice of lead character. The role of Maigret was played by Rowan Atkinson. Rowan portrayed Maigret very well indeed, but I kept expecting him to turn to the camera, open his eyes wide and grin like Mr Bean. That is the challenge for an actor portraying a serious role when he is already associated with a very funny one. Rowan is in fact a very good hypocrite. 

“In its most literal form, the Greek word for hypocrisy, hypokrisis, simply means acting. Theatre productions in the time of Christ depended on the skill of the play’s hypocrites, or actors—the better the hypocrite, the more convincing the show. When Jesus accused religious leaders of hypocrisy, He was basically accusing them of being actors—playing a certain character, putting on an entire performance for the sake of the audience, while in their hearts they were someone completely different. Their piety was a performance, not a genuine action.”[1]

In our gospel reading today from John 17, Jesus prayed that we be authentic and not hypocrites. Jesus prayed this prayer on Maundy Thursday, either in the Upper Room or on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Warren Wiersbe says, 

“…it is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer recorded anywhere in Scripture. John 17 is certainly the “holy of holies” of the Gospel record, and we must approach this chapter in a spirit of humility and worship. To think that we are privileged to listen in as God the Son converses with His Father just as He is about to give His life as a ransom for sinners!”[2]

Tom Wright also observes that Jesus’ also prayed because he was going away. 

“He is entrusting the disciples to the father he has known and loved throughout his earthly life, the father who, he knows, will care for them every bit as much as he has done himself.”[3]

Warren Wiersbe provides a simple but helpful breakdown of the passage: Jesus prayed that we share his life (17:1-5); we know his name (17:6-12); we have his word (17:13-19); and we share his glory (17:20-26). Let us discover how Jesus prays for us, and how we can pray for others.  

That We Share His Life

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)

Jesus is praying for himself but it is not a selfish prayer. Jesus is praying that God the father be glorified – that is, magnified – through his death on the cross. This was ‘His hour’ – his purpose in coming to earth (John 2:4). Jesus’ death would bring life, eternal life to all who believe in him. John 17:3 is one of the first verses I ever memorised as a new believer. It helped me realise that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. It is not about rules and regulations but a person – Jesus. It is about “Knowing God”.

Jim Packer’s book of the same title, “Knowing God” has been so helpful in this regard, enriching my understanding of what it means to know God and be known by Him. When we receive Jesus Christ, we are born again.  Eternal life is not something that begins when we die. Eternal life begins when we come to know Jesus Christ. That is when we begin to share his life. Second Jesus prays

That We Know His Name

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” (John 17:6, 11-12)

Have you ever name dropped? Or maybe heard someone else do it? “My son is the manager” … “My father is the Chief Constable” … “My wife is the daughter of…” 
Why do we do it? We sometimes name drop because it elevates our status.  We want preferential treatment.  To get to the head of the queue. To gain admission. 
To open doors.  Would people treat you differently, if your surname happened to be Rothschild, or Churchill, or Windsor, or Sunak, or Trump?  Maybe not Trump…  

In the Old Testament, the Lord God was known by many names: Elohim – God is creator, powerful and mighty. Yahweh -The self-existent One. He has always existed and will always exist. Adonai- God is the Lord over all. He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.  El-Shaddai-Rohi– God Almighty, the mighty One.  El-Olam-The everlasting God. God is eternal.Yahweh-Jireh– The Lord will provide. He is also known as the Ancient of Days, the King of the universe, the Alpha and Omega. God’s names emphasize that he is holy, unapproachable, distant, awesome, terrifying, feared. 

But Jesus also taught that God—the great I AM—will become our Heavenly Father if we trust in His Son. 

The word Father appears 53 times in the Upper Room discourse from John 13–17. Father appears 122 times in the whole of John’s Gospel. In the Bible, “name” refers to “nature,” because names so often revealed something special about a person. 

Jesus has revealed God’s name and character, his very nature to us. The emphasis in these verses is on our safety. Thankfully, our safety depends on the nature of God, not our character or our conduct. Our security comes from being brought into His family and finding support and encouragement from our brother and sisters. 

By His Spirit now, Jesus protects us from the evil one by the authority and power of his name which we share in the Christian family. Being associated with Jesus is what gives us security. That is why we pray in Jesus name. That is why we meet to encourage one another in His presence. Jesus prays first, that we share his life, second, that we know His name. Jesus’ third request?

That We Have His Word

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”(John 17:14-17)

How do you feel when you discover you have been lied to?  By a politician, by a close relative, by someone you thought was a friend? It is painful isn’t it? Lying is a form of hypocrisy. Saying one thing, believing another. Lies destroy trust and break friendships. This is why we have seen a shift in public opinion over Brexit. We were lied to and it is becoming increasingly obvious. 

In these verses, Jesus again prays for the protection of believers. He acknowledges we will be hated and even persecuted because of Him. But Jesus says our protection is linked to God’s word. What does that mean?  In the Scriptures we have the truth – the very word of God. The Scriptures reveal God’s will for our lives, His values, His principles and priorities. The Scriptures are literally the Makers Instructions. That is why we should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. They are a light to our path. The scriptures are crystal clear on all things essential.  Because they reflect God’s nature, as we live by them, we become more and more like Him. Authentic.  With integrity – our thoughts, words and actions consistent. That is what sanctification means – to become holy like God. Jesus prays to God the Father to make this happen because our becoming holy is a work of God. 

As we live by the truth of God’s word, as we trust him to give us his best, we grow closer to God and we become more like Him. First, Jesus prays that we share his life. Second, that we know his name and be protected. Third, that we have His word and become holy. Finally, Jesus prays,

That We Share his Glory

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

We must pray for unity because it is so easily broken and so challenging to maintain. We pray because we have yet to attain the ‘complete unity’ Jesus promises we will experience in heaven. We pray because Jesus prayed that His family, the Church, may be one.  And notice why Jesus prays for unity. Because of the impact our unity, or disunity, has on those outside the Church. Our family and friends are watching. They are asking, is Christianity true? Does it work? Is Jesus real? Are these Christians any different? What difference does having Jesus in their lives make? How we treat others, humanly speaking, influences what people think about Jesus. The world cannot see God, but they can see you and me. And what they see in us is what they will believe about God.  If they see love and unity, they will be drawn to the God of love. But if they see hatred and division, they will rightly regard us as actors, as hypocrites – saying one thing and doing another.

Now perhaps we can begin to see why Jesus prayed for us. He was leaving the world and entrusting his message and his mission to us. So that in whatever role we serve God, we will be genuine, transparent, authentic, not hypocrites like Mr Bean.

[1] Jeremy Lallier: ‘True Christianity – Imperfect People Striving Toward Perfection’

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 367–372). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Tom Wright, For Everyone Bible Study Guides: John, SPCK, p. 110.