Aaaand on your right, folks, you’ll see the gorgeous sunset skyline of Jerusalem, along with the wildly famous Western Wall. Travelers come from all over the world to pray near these stones, speaking or writing requests to leave in the cracks. John 17 is a prayer straight from the lips of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We have the privilege to creep close and listen in during our Lord’s final hours as He pours out His heart before the Father. This, friends, is sacred ground indeed.
Scripture writing: I loved copying verses 20-23 from The Message:
I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in Me because of them and their witness about Me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that You, in fact, sent Me. The same glory You gave Me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and You in Me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent Me and loved them in the same way You’ve loved Me.
Christ kept the long game in view, praying down through the corridors of time for Peter and James and John, but also for you and me—and for our great-great-great-great-grandchildren—in the same breath. Holding this kind of perspective on mature unity that spans nations and generations will usher us into a grander story than we ever thought possible.
Studying: Verse 21 in The Gospel Transformation Study Bible carries a note that
Jesus prays for the unity, not the uniformity, of His believers. God is praised, and the world takes notice, when Christians demonstrate a Spirit-given unity—a unity we must be eager to maintain. Our fallen instincts encourage us to build our identity on what distinguishes us even from other believers, but Jesus exposes the self-centeredness of such a mindset. Our union with Christ brings a unity in Christ that transcends all secondary disagreements.
In a society that urges us to maximize our uniqueness and individuality, conforming (together) to the image of the Son is countercultural. Tim Keller goes so far as to say, “Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.” No other ideology, political platform, cause, nationality, career, or common interest could bind together a group of people with so many differences. Allowing ourselves to be swallowed up in Christ is the most beautiful light to a dark and weary world.
Another observation worth mentioning is from Elisabeth Elliot’s book Joyful Surrender. She writes pertaining to verse 4:
[Jesus] was able to make that amazing claim, ‘I have finished the work You gave Me to do.’ This was not the same as saying He had finished everything He could possibly think of to do or that He had done everything others had asked. He made no claim to have done what He wanted to do. The claim was that He had done what had been given. This is an important clue for us. The work of God is appointed. What was given to the Son to do was the will of the Father. What is given to us to do is also His will. There is always enough time to do the will of God. For that we can never say, “I don’t have time.” When we find ourselves frantic and frustrated, harried and harassed and “hassled,” it is a sign that we are running on our own schedule, not on God’s.
Oof. Between my family’s chaotic fall schedule and catching up on tasks that have sat on the back burner for much too long, I needed Elisabeth’s reality check.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry sets the scene of verse 1 (in which Jesus launches His prayer by announcing, “Father, the hour has come”) with these words:
The hour of the Redeemer’s death, which was also the hour of the Redeemer’s birth, was the most signal and remarkable hour, and, without doubt, the most critical, that ever was since the clock of time was first set a going … Now is the hour when this grand affair is come to a crisis; after many a skirmish the decisive battle between heaven and hell is now to be fought, and that great cause in which God’s honour and man’s happiness are together embarked must now be either won or lost for ever. The two champions David and Goliath, Michael and the dragon, are now entering the lists; the trumpet sounds for an engagement that will be irretrievably fatal either to the one or to the other.
It’s difficult to read such narration without imagining an epic soundtrack swelling in the background. But he’s right; the weight of redemptive history hung on the events of this “hour.”
In verses 15-16, Jesus prays, “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.” D.A. Carson notes that
The followers of Jesus are permitted neither the luxury of compromise with a world that is intrinsically evil and under the devil’s power, nor the safety of disengagement.
100% in the world, 0% of the world. There’s an inherent tension here I find myself simultaneously embracing and resisting. On the one hand, this in-not-of life is hard—impossible without the Spirit of God at work within. But on the other hand, it develops a courageous creativity that ease could never birth.
Sermons: Perhaps my favorite Driscoll quote came from “Pray for Yourself:”
Anyone who doesn’t have prayer requests for their own life isn’t paying attention.
(Excuse me while I update my regular list which leans heavily in the “praying for others” direction.) This statement proved a convicting invitation to my soul.
John MacArthur locks in on 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”), drawing out the wonder of it:
Jesus does not say, “I am willing to accept these people into heaven because You’ve cleaned them up;” He longs for us. It is not difficult to understand that we would desire to be with Him. It is staggering to think that He desires to be with us.
And let me just add that the better I get to know myself, the more staggering it becomes. What kind of Savior is this? Only the gospel offers a place where we can be fully known and fully loved in the exact same moment.
Journaling: As I worked through verses 20-26, the Spirit focused my heart on these words: “that [all believers] may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me.”
According to this passage, when it comes to winning the lost, it’s just as crucial for me to open my life to unity as it is to open my mouth with the truth.
Confession time: the fears of rejection and abandonment have done a number on me. As a result, I’ve become an expert in practicing the protective mechanism of keeping others at arm’s length. In case you’re unaware, arm’s length is not super conducive for building unity. The longer I considered the implications of my personal safety bubble in the context of mission, though, the more keenly I felt a call to move toward community. God is undoubtedly at work, waging war on the brokenness that still marks me as a daughter of Eve, and He will have His prize.
Meditation: Jesus asks in John 17:17 that the Father would sanctify believers in the truth. While mulling over this verse, it dawned on me that
The process of being sanctified in truth is not pretty or easy, worthy of Instagram and polite coffee shop conversation. It’s messy and ugly and hard, smeared with blood. But the result? That’s beautiful.
Like a house in shambles, we desperately need to be changed. Maybe you find as much comfort in remembering that Jesus sees the finished product as I do. While all we can fathom is the murky in-between of where we are now, He gazes with passion at who He’s turning us into: the stunning ‘after’ picture. Make no mistake—every ounce of discomfort will be worth it in the end.
With the high priestly prayer now behind us, we steel ourselves for what’s coming. Gaze upon this beautiful city one more time, friends. It’s the setting in which the best and worst event in human history is about to unfold.
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder has thickened up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 17 here.