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Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (John 17)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Neglecting the important

People often neglect things that we know are important to be doing. We know we should be doing them, but we just don’t make the time to do them.

Changing the batteries

We know that we’re supposed to change the batteries in the smoke alarms every year. We are encouraged to do it every year at the end of day light savings. But for some of us it isn’t until one of them starts beeping at us that we decided to do anything and even then, we put off. We keep putting off what we know we should be doing neglecting that which is important.

Car maintenance

We know that we should be regularly doing things to ensure that our car is safe to drive. I looked up my car manual and it has a heading in it called, “things that you must do”. The words “must do” highlights their importance and under that heading are things like checking and topping up fluids. According to the manual I’m meant to be doing that every time I refuel. I’m meant to check the engine oil, the coolant, the brake fluid, and the tyres. These are the things that I’m meant to be doing every time I put fuel in my car. Then there are the things I’m meant to be doing monthly: checking the power steering fluid and the pipes and hoses. Do you know how often I do those checks?

Hardly ever and I don’t think I would be the only one! I usually only do them when something seems to be going wrong. I might decide to check the pressure in the tyres when a tyre is looking a little flat or check the fluids when I’ve run out of water in my windscreen wipers. I definitely don’t do them every time I refuel or even once a month. But I’ll do them as soon as something seems to be going wrong. When something goes wrong, I’m all over it. Suddenly what the book tells me to do seems very important to be doing but when things seem to be going OK they are easily ignored or forgotten.


I think many of us treat prayer in this way. When everything seems to be going OK, we easily forget how it is important to be praying. We might tell ourselves that we ought to be praying, but we don’t make the time for it in our day AND sometimes we aren’t even sure of what we ought to be praying for when we do.

Last month I was reminded again of the importance of prayer when we looked at how the Lord Jesus spent time in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. This wasn’t just a one-off thing that Jesus did because the cross was looming large. The cross was looming large, and it was important that he prayed to prepare for what was ahead, but prayer really had been something he did throughout his ministry.

I remember coming away on that day thinking I need to be more faithful in prayer and that it would be good to talk more about prayer and why it’s so important and looking at the important things that we should be praying for as God’s people. So today I am going to kick off a short 3-week series looking at prayer. We are going to look firstly at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17 and then next Sunday Hefin Jones is going to look at the prayer the Lord taught his disciples from Matthew 6 and finally Matt will be looking at Paul’s prayer for others from the letter to the Ephesians.

The Lord’s prayer for his disciples

In chapter 17 of the gospel of John we have the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. Jesus knew that the time had come for his departure and had been preparing his disciples for it. Having said all that, he needed to say to them, he then prayed with them this prayer.

It’s a prayer that can be divided into three parts. Firstly, in verses 1 to 5 the Lord prayed for himself and the completion of work that the Father had given him to do. He prayed that he might finish the work that the Father had given him to do and that he might be glorified so that the Father might be glorified, and eternal life given to those the Father had given him. Secondly, he prayed for his disciples who he was about to leave behind (v 6-19) then extending out the prayer to include not them but all those who would believe their message (20-26). Today we don’t have time to look at the whole prayer in detail. What we are going to do is focus on just three important things that the Lord Jesus prayed for his disciples living in this world.

1) Protection

The first thing that Jesus prayed for with respect to his disciples was for their protection.

John 17:11-12

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled[1].

He was leaving them

Jesus was no longer going to be physically present with his disciples – those who the Father had given him who had believed his message and obeyed the word (v6-8). He was about to leave them and go to his Father. In this prayer he committed the disciples into the hands of his Father asking the Father to protect and keep them.

But what was the danger that they were in and what was he asking the Father to do?

Let’s look again at verse 12. The real danger for the disciples was that without Jesus around that they might fall away and be lost. Jesus said that while he was with them that he had lost none of them except that one who was doomed to destruction as the Scripture had foretold, the one he knew would betray him. The NIV in verse 12 talks about Jesus having “kept them safe by the name you gave me”. The ESV I think does a better job translating this verse. It reads…

John 17:12 (ESV)

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.

Kept in your name

Jesus is talking about keeping them in the name of God. Earlier the Lord had said in verse 6 he that he had revealed the Father’s name to those whom the Father had given him out of the world.  The NIV just says “I have revealed you” but what Jesus said was that he made known the Father’s name to those that the Father had given him out of the world. When he prays for the Father to protect them in verses 11 what Jesus asked for could literally be translated, “Holy Father keep them in your name”. I quite like the ESV translation or even the alternative reading that the NIV has in the margin, “Holy Father keep them faithful to your name”. Jesus is asking the Father to keep them true or faithful as those who belong to God and not to this world.

That’s why we pray. We are not praying to get ahead in this world or to succeed in this world or to prosper or to make good in this world or to make a name for ourselves, but we are to pray that Father will watch over us and others to protect us so that we might remain faithful in this world bearing his name, as those who belong to him. That’s something we need God’s help to do.

Protected from the evil one

The world doesn’t make this easy for us. Jesus said that they had come out of the world and that they were to remain in the world, but the world hated them for they were not of the world (v14)[2]. But not only did they have the hatred and opposition of the world to deal with they also had the evil one to contend with (v15). The Lord Jesus prays…

John 17:15

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

We need God’s help to remain faithful in this world that we live in and we should be asking God to protect us from the evil one. As we will see next week when we look at the Lord’s prayer this was something that Jesus taught his disciples to be praying for. He taught them to pray. “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13).

We need God’s help to stand firm, to remain faithful and it’s something that we ought to be praying for each day. As one commentator wrote, “The fact that we fall so often is due to the fact that we try to meet life in our own strength, and we forget to seek the help and to remember the presence of our protecting God.”[3]

2) Sanctification

The second thing that Jesus prayed for was for their sanctification.

John 17:17-19

17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Set apart for God

The word to sanctify was often used in the OT for those things and people that had been set apart for God’s service in the Temple. When the NT refers to believers being sanctified the idea is that they have been set apart for the Lord and his service. This is not just a matter of doing a job for God but a fundamental change in who we are now that we belong to him. If our God is holy, then we will seek to please him and be like him and be holy like he is holy.

Jesus said that he had sanctified himself, so that his disciples also might be truly sanctified. He had set himself apart to do the will of his Father and go to the cross so that his disciples might be set apart for God and his service. We must always remember that God has chosen and set us aside to serve him.

Sanctified by the truth

Jesus went on to explain that it is by the truth that we are sanctified. It is by believing the truth, the word of God, that we are saved and set apart for God. But to grow in holiness and to be holy like God is holy we need to conform our lives to the truth and live in a manner worthy of it. This doesn’t happen without God working in us through his Spirit and his Word. So, Jesus prays for his Father to sanctify them by the truth.

Sent into the world

It’s those that are sanctified, set apart for God that Jesus has sent into the world. Having been set apart for God, God doesn’t take us out of the world but sends us into it to serve him. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father into the world, Jesus said that he was sending his disciples. Jesus had been sent into the world to save it (see John 3:17) and his disciples were to carry on that mission by being his witnesses. While these words in the first instance applied to the Twelve the mission continues for those who would become his disciples through their witness (see 1 Cor. 10:31—11:1). We are sent into the world to bear witness to the one who saved us so that as many as possible might be saved.

We don’t remain here in this world to just get ahead of others or to become more financially secure or to live a comfortable life or to find the perfect job or to be successful in our career or just to have a peaceful and happy life. What the Father had sent Jesus into the world to do, Jesus was now sending his disciples into the world to do – to be his witnesses calling people out of the world to belong to the Father. We need to be praying that our lives might be set apart for God and that we might be living out the truth together as those who belong to God.

3) Unity

This leads us to the final thing that I want to highlight from Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed not only for the first disciples (the eleven) but for all those who would believe their message that we might be one just he and the Father are one. He prayed for unity.

John 17:20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 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.

This unity is not something that we don’t manufacture for ourselves, but it comes by being united to the Son and to the Father. It’s a relational thing that comes from belonging to the Son and the Father and hence one another. But in this world, we ought to be living out what it means to belong to one another and be one with one another. We are to love one another because we have come to share in the love of Christ that see us included in the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus prayed that we might live out this unity and be brought to complete unity so that the world may believe that the Father had sent the Son.

John 17:23

Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

As the body of Christ, we are called to reflect what God is like, the unity and love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Spirit that we now share in as believers. This unity we share in because of the presence of the Spirit that make us one with the Father and the Son and one with each other. This lived out unity is to be witness to the world around us. It is be displayed in observable ways, in the way that we gather together and love and care for one another. In this way it is a powerful witness to the gospel of Christ.

The important things to be praying for

As I mentioned at the start this is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. It was his last prayer that he would pray with his disciples before he left them. As one commentator put it, “The great and sacred interest of this passage is that it tells us of the things for which Jesus prayed for his disciples.”[4] In it we see what is important to Jesus and what we should be praying for.


We should be asking the Lord to protect us  keep us so that we might remain faithful to his name  – that we might faithfully bear his name in this world and not be led astray by the evil one and his schemes.


We should be praying for our sanctification, that as those who belong to God, we will be set apart his service in this world. We are to be praying that we will grow more and more like him – that we will be holy as he is holy. We need to be asking him to work in us so that live out the truth and share it with others in this world.


Lastly, we are to be praying for unity, that we might be one in the same way that the Father and the Son are one. We should be praying that we might live together in this world expressing the unity that is ours in Christ so that the church might bear witness and be a beautiful garland to the message of the gospel that it holds out in this world.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture references are taken from the New International Version. (2011). (Jn 17:11–12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] See also John 15:19

[3] Barclay, “The Gospel of John” Volume 2 The Daily Study Bible.

[4] William Barclay, “The gospel of John Volume 2” The Daily Study Bible.