THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING PRAYED FOR
Third in a series by Dr. Rick Perrin on Jesus’ Prayer for You from John 17:6-13
“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours.” John 17:9
You may have seen Ron Howard’s movie. Some of you will remember personally April 13, 1970, when Apollo 13, on NASA’s third mission to land on the moon, suffered a crippling explosion 205,000 miles from Earth. The three astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Sweigert had blasted off from Cape Kennedy three days earlier. America had hardly noticed. Space spectaculars had become routine. But when people awoke the next morning all of that changed. These three men were doomed, condemned to float a space grave forever—unless somehow, Houston control and the astronauts on the space craft could figure out a way to return to the friendly speck of blue that was home. Americans stayed glued to their TV sets as the drama unfolded. The astronauts jammed into the lunar module and powered down every non-essential piece of equipment to conserve electricity for the re-entry attempt. And they had to plot every move, every tiny adjustment in course, with far less computer power than you have in your cell phone.
But here is another part of the story. People began to pray. Individuals, families at mealtimes, congregations in the nation’s churches—all kept up a relentless intercession for the three men so far from home. The prayer movement spread across the world. Christians in every country raised their eyes toward heaven and prayed. People who had not prayed in years humbly begged God to help the men drifting in space. The spacecraft did its gravity sling around the moon and hurtled back the way it had come, but their trajectory, if not adjusted, would send them 45,000 miles past the earth. They calculated a burn, fired the engines, and held their breaths. Close but not quite. Another burn, and then another. And still one more, and they were on track. Water to cool the electronics would give them three hours to spare. Carbon dioxide might asphyxiate them, but Houston engineers improvised a way to clean the air. Temperatures in the LM hovered in the mid-thirties. And people continued to pray, non stop, around the clock. And on April 17 Apollo 13 splashed down in the South Pacific near Samoa. People have forgotten about the prayers. It was teamwork, they say. It was training. It was the resilient human spirit. But those astronauts were privileged men--because God’s people thought to ask the Father to help them.
This morning I want you to understand what you mean to Jesus. We talk about Christ going to the cross to pay for sin. That tells us a lot, especially when we realize how sinful we are, and what it cost him to save us. But today I want us to “feel” it as we turn to John 17:9-13 and listen to Jesus’ prayer for his church. We’ll examine the passage in three parts. 1. The Privilege of being prayed For, 2. The Particulars of Jesus’ Prayer, and 3. The Protection We Receive because Jesus Prayed.
1. The Privilege of Being Prayed For. The first thing I want you to notice in verse 9 is that this is an exclusive prayer. Jesus says, “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours.” The people Jesus is referring to, the ones he’s praying for, he has defined in the preceding verses. They are those whom the Father has given him, according to verse two. They are the ones he has given eternal life. They are the ones according to verse 3 who know the true God and who know him, the second person of the Trinity. They are those who in verse 6 have received God’s word and have kept it. In other words, the ones Jesus is praying for are those who trust in him for forgiveness and salvation from sin. These are those we call Christians, those who follow Jesus.
We live in a time when because of the prevailing cultural influences, many people will find Jesus’ statement disturbing. The emphasis our neighbors place on diversity and tolerance leads them to believe that everyone ought to be treated equally. Whatever you believe is OK. Whatever religion you follow is simply a different path to the same God. And so when Jesus says he is praying for those who believe in him, and not for the other people of the world, somehow a lot of people feel, there is something not quite commendable about this. To make it even worse, notice the way Jesus qualifies who these people are for whom he is praying. They are those, he says in verse 9, whom the Father has given him. They are those who belong to the Father. This implies, doesn’t it, that there is somehow an act of God that intruded into our lives. Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16) In Ephesians 1:4 the apostle says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” I don’t want this idea of God’s choosing people to disturb you. You and I don’t know whom God has chosen. We can only know that God has chosen us, we who are gathered here, we who now believe in him. And our reaction ought to be, oh, what an incredible act of mercy God has shown to me! Who am I that God would make me his, considering who I am and what my background is!
It’s an absolutely amazing privilege! Think about privilege. There is one small story from the Civil War that has caused me to shake my head with incredulity. General Ulysses S. Grant took his twelve-year-old son, Fred, with him on several of his military campaigns. There’s no record of what Fred’s mother had to say. Fred rode on his horse next to his dad as the army moved along. I suppose it was a way for father and son to spend time together, but Fred had a lot of time on his own, and of course every man in the army then had to keep an eye on him. No one else was treated like that, but Fred was because he was the general’s son. While one battle was raging Fred rode alone right up to the front lines. Bullets whizzed around him. A Confederate sharpshooter lined Fred up in his sights and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Fred in the leg. Fred overreacted a bit. He cried out, “I’m killed!” A lieutenant near him said, “Can you wiggle your toes?” Fred tried and his toes moved. “You’ll live,” the lieutenant said, and escorted Fred to a field hospital where the surgeons patched him up. No one knows what Fred’s dad said to him afterwards. There was no other twelve-year-old kid who could go where he wanted and do what he wished in the Union army. Fred was uniquely privileged because of who his father was. Jesus prays for us in John 17 because of who our Father is. He does not pray for people in the world. Jesus’ prayers are our great privilege.
Let’s take this a step farther. In verse 9 Jesus says the Father has given him his people. Then in verse 10 Jesus reveals the essential harmony between the persons of the Trinity. “All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Our granddaughters phoned me a day or so ago and during the conversation a fight broke out. Four-year-old Ashley asked me about her twenty-one month old sister, “Why won’t Lauren share?” I thought to myself, Maybe because you’ve taught her well! But the Father and the Son share. And you and I are the ones they share. The Father gave us to Christ, and Christ gives us back to the Father.
And then Jesus says at the end of verse 10, “And I have been glorified in them.” Have you ever had someone make you look good? Did you watch Michael Phelps’ mother at the Olympic games in Beijing? Every time he competed she was there in the stands with the cameras focused on him. She was there cheering him on, stroke by stroke. When Michael won his seventh gold medal by one one-hundredth of a second his mom froze as she waited for the verdict. She had invested her life in him. And when they announced Phelps as the winner, she collapsed. She was delirious with joy and pride. This is what Jesus is saying about us. We are his. We have received his word. We have believed in him. He was about to give his life for us. And as a result we live for him and we are going to be with him for all eternity. And so he rejoices in the glory that you and I bring him. So what do you expect him to do? He prays for us. It is an absolutely exclusive privilege born out of his love and affection for us, his people.
2. The Particulars of Jesus’ Prayer. Now let’s see three things Jesus prays for us. First, Jesus prays that God would keep us in his name. In verse 11 he says, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me.” One interpretation of this request could be that God might keep us by his authority. God is God. He gives the orders. Whatever he says goes. Jesus is the Lord of all the earth. He was going back to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. If he gives a command it must be instantly obeyed. So if he declares that we are his, then we’re going to be his. It doesn’t matter what we do in our lives, we will always and forever enjoy the special privilege of being God’s person. We’ve all encountered spoiled rich kids who play on the family’s name to get them out of any trouble they find themselves in. “Do you know who my father is?” they may snarl at the arresting police officer. Ask the teachers in school. If they try to hold a student to a particular standard of discipline or academic accomplishment, the parent comes storming in and says, “My child wouldn’t do anything bad. It’s your fault. You didn’t handle the situation correctly.” There are a lot of people who lay claim to being Christians who seem to think that no matter how they live or how sinful their lives may be they will always go to heaven when they die. I can’t tell you how many times the elders or I have experienced church members who respond to our appeals to change their sinful behavior, by utterly refusing or ignoring us. This is not what Christ means in this petition.
Notice the name by which Jesus addresses God in verse 11. He calls him, “Holy Father.” I remember years ago a pastor who knew how to offer especially holy-sounding prayers in church worship services. He would lift up his arms and intone, “O great God, immortal and invisible, glorious and powerful, righteous and almighty.” And he would go on, eloquent phrases rolling off his tongue. People were really impressed. By contrast, Jesus speaks to God in a very simple manner: “Holy Father.” God may be all of those religious-sounding things. But he is our father, and that implies a kind of intimacy that we may have with him. And he is holy. And so we must be holy as well. Jesus says that the Father has given him the same name as God. He is not the Father. He is the Son. But he is perfectly holy. And it is only because he has made us holy through his payment for our sins that we dare to approach God. You and I must be in harmony with God when we pray, so the unrepentant sinner has no access to God. We can only come broken and humble before him. Jesus is praying here that God will keep us in holiness. Is there sin in your life? Turn from it today and seek the forgiveness of God. Even if you have come many times asking for his forgiveness. Holiness in our lives and the desire for it, is the evidence that God is keeping us as his own, just as Jesus prayed.
And then comes the second petition, also in verse 11. Jesus prays, “That they may be one, even as we are.” We’ve already commented on the perfect unity and harmony between the Father and the Son. It doesn’t seem like the Father has answered this prayer very well, does it? Christians keep having problems getting along. We bicker and fight with each other. We irritate each other. We break into separated churches and competing congregations. What’s wrong with us? It’s our sin, isn’t it? It just keeps popping out. So we must continually pray that God will touch our hearts and help us to love each other. Whenever unworthy attitudes start to multiply like cancer cells snaking through our bodies, we need to come sorrowfully and seek God’s healing. If Jesus prayed for unity among his people, then we ought to pray for it too.
There’s a third petition and we find it in verse 13. Jesus says, “That they may have joy made full in themselves.” Do you have joy? Or have sorrow and the struggles of life overwhelmed you? Late in the afternoon on May 16, 1863, during the Civil War battle of Champion Hill near Vicksburg, artillery batteries dueled in a long engagement. The 83rd Ohio Infantry occupied the abandoned Coker house. In the living room stood a piano. A shell had passed right through the walls of the house and torn off the corner of the piano, but the notes still worked. Sgt. David Snow sat down and began to play. His fingers flew across the keys. While war raged outside and muskets rattled and guns roared and shells whistled through the air and smoke filled the room, music drifted across the battlefield. The Christian can find joy even in the midst of battle as he contemplates the great love our Savior Jesus feels for his people. Jesus prayed these things for you.
3. The Protection We Receive Because Jesus Prayed. In verse 11 Jesus says to the Father, “I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You.” Jesus was leaving his disciples. As he prayed he could see the future suffering these men would endure because of him. All but one would die a martyr’s death. They would be hated and hunted, scorned and rejected. So Jesus prayed for them. And he knows how often you and I feel alone and long for the touch of the Savior’s hand, the comfort of his embrace. Years ago my sister accidentally locked her young son in the car with the keys still in the ignition. She was frantic. The temperature was warm and she feared for her baby’s life. He sat in his car seat and smiled at her, unaware of his danger. These were the days before cell phones, so with tears streaming down her cheeks Beth ran into a store to find a phone and call her husband. Mark broke every speed limit getting to his wife and son. He ran to the car with key in hand and then he stopped. “Beth,” he said, “the back window id rolled down!” When we are alone, cut off from Christ because he is no longer in this world, the back window is always down. We’re not trapped, no matter what we feel. Because Jesus prayed.
Then, second, in verse 12 Jesus prays, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me.” How did he do that? There was his presence, of course. They could always turn to him, sit and talk with him. They were not under pressure, he was. And he taught them God’s word. When they needed to be corrected, he did it. And he prayed for them. Even on that last night when Peter boastfully declared that he would always stand with Christ, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith might not fail. ” (Luke 22:31-32) Yes, he had kept them faithfully. And he does that for us. But we may not be passive in this. We have just formed a Pastoral Care Ministry Team to encourage our people in their faith and help them in times of difficulty. We’ll be there for you in times of crisis—when you’re in the hospital, when death comes, a family disaster. But day to day encouragement for most of us who are able will depend on you and me being part of a Sunday morning Life Group or a small group or a ministry team. We must be where Christ is able to keep us by participating in the life of the body.
The third reference to Christ’s protection is also found in verse 12. Jesus says, “I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition.” That was Judas. Jesus guards his people. Do you recall the story where Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee while he went up on the mountain to pray? They were alone out on the water when a storm blew up and these fishermen thought their boat was going to capsize. They were terrified. But the picture we have is of Jesus, high up in a vantage point were he could observe them on the Sea. While the winds blew the waves into towering mountains he calmly watched over them and prayed for them, and then when it was time he went to them, walking on the water. Christ watches over us. He guards us in the storms. Notice at the end of verse 12 Jesus says, “That the Scripture might be fulfilled.” God’s plan is never upended. His promises hold.
On the day I was born my mother and dad began to pray for me. Every day of my life they held me up before God, praying for me through the times of distress, praying for God to protect me where they could not, praying that he would lead me to faith in Jesus, praying for me to overcome the temptations, praying for the one I would marry. Day after day. And God answered every prayer. And finally they grew to old and sick and feeble to pray, and it was my turn to pray for them. And Barb and I pray for our sons and their wives and their children. What a great privilege it is to be prayed for. Do you pray faithfully for your husband or your wife? Do you pray for your children? Do you pray for Christ’s church, and for those who have yet to come to Christ? Jesus prayed for you, and the echo of that prayer still carries through the years. It still covers you. And it will be answered by our Holy Father.
Preached by Dr. Rick Perrin on August 24 2008 at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, 5637 Bush River Road, Columbia SC 29212 and Northwest YMCA on Kennerly Road Tel. 803-772-1000 www.DiscoverCornerstone.com Copyright 2008