"My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory." – John 17:9-10 NLT
Think about it. If Jesus were to pray for you, what would He say? What would He ask the Father for on your behalf? Just imagine what it would be like to have the Son of God lift you up in prayer. Actually, you don't have to imagine it, because His prayer for you is recorded in John 17. It's often referred to as His High Priestly Prayer. What's fascinating about this particular prayer is that it appears that Jesus prayed it right in front of the disciples. On so many other occasions, we see Jesus getting away by Himself for extended times alone with God in prayer. But in this case, right in the middle of a discussion with the disciples, He stops, looked up into heaven and prayed this prayer. They would have heard every word of it. And the vast majority of it contains requests from Jesus to the Father on their behalf. But Jesus made it clear that this prayer was not just for the disciples. "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message" (John 17:20 NLT). That includes you and me.
Now, what does He pray? What kinds of requests does He make to God on our behalf? This ought to get our attention. What we discover here should give us a very solid understanding about what Jesus regarded as important for as lives as His followers as we live on this planet. He made it clear that He was leaving, but His followers were staying. He was leaving them behind, fully knowing that they no longer belonged to the world in which they were staying. As His followers they would be aliens living in a strange land. They would be outsiders and outcasts in this world because of their faith in Him. Jesus made it clear that His prayer was for His followers only. He was not praying for the world, but for believers, both present and future. "My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory" (John 17:9-10 NLT). And while this prayer is packed with all kinds of significant truths regarding the Church, a few things jump out.
First, Jesus prays for our protection. He asks God to protect us by the power of His name (Verse 11). The name of God is synonymous with the very character of God. His name represented who He was. It reflected His glory, greatness, love, mercy, power, faithfulness, steadfastness, holiness, grace, righteousness, and justice. To ask the Father to protect us by His name was to guarantee the outcome. God is faithful and true. He cannot do anything that would contradict His character or bring shame to His name. But why does Jesus ask the Father to protect us? What is He asking the Father to protect us from? "…so that they will be united as we are" (John 17:11 NLT). This theme of unity and oneness runs throughout His prayer. He is asking God to protect us so that we might remain unified in the midst of a world that was going to try and destroy or unity. If you study the letters of the New Testament, one of the central themes had to do with division within the Body of Christ. The early Church was a composite organism made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. There were Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor – all gathered together into this new thing called the Body of Christ. As a result, there were tensions, disagreements, disputes, and the constant possibility of the unity of the Body being destroyed. The Church was new. There was no common doctrine, no New Testament yet, little in the way of qualified leadership, and the constant pressure from the outside world. So Paul and the other authors of the epistles that would eventually make up the majority of our New Testament, wrote to instruct these new believers and to warn them about the danger of division.
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. – 1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT
Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! –Romans 16:17 NET
Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NET
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT
Jesus went on to pray that the unity of believers would reflect the unity that He and His Father shared. This miracle on unity among so many people of diversity would reveal that it was all the work of God. When we live as one, He gets glory. Jesus prayed, "May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me" (John 17:23 NLT). Our unity is proof of Christ's deity and of God's love for us.
But Jesus was not done. He went on to pray that God would keep us safe from the evil one (John 17:15). Satan hates us and wants to do everything in his power to destroy our unity. He loves to cause divisions within the Body of Christ. That's why the early Church put such a high priority on removing all those who threatened unity and tried to stir up division. Disunity in the Body is one of the greatest turn-offs to the lost.
Jesus also asked that the Father would make us holy. The word He used has to do with sanctifying us or setting us apart. But He is specific in His request. He says, "Set them apartin the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17 NLT). Remember, there was no New Testament at this time. The truth Jesus seems to be referring to is the reality about who He is and why He had come. He had revealed the truth of His identity to the disciples and they had believed that truth. So Jesus asks the Father to set them apart in that truth. Let that be their identifier and distinctive. Our holiness or otherness in this world must be based on the truth of Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Jesus asked God to protect you so you could live in unity. He asked God to keep you safe from Satan. He asked His Father to make you holy, to set you apart and make you distinctive based on the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done. Obviously, if Jesus asked these things of the Father on your behalf, they must have been important to Him. So how important are they to you? How much weight do you put on unity within the Body of Christ or with other believers? Do you strive for it and do everything in His power to avoid division? How about the enemy? Do you recognize his reality and understand his unbridled passion to destroy you? What about your holiness or set-apartness? How important is it to you? Is what makes your life distinctive and different your belief in who Jesus is and what He has done for you? These things were important enough for Jesus to pray on our behalf. So they should be important enough for us to make them a high priority in our own lives, and to pray them on behalf of one another.
Father, may these requests be what we pray daily for ourselves and for one another. We desperately need Spirit-empowered unity so that the world might sit up and take notice. We need protection from the enemy, because he is alive and active all around us, trying to destroy us an individuals and as a community. Finally, we need to live distinctive, set-apart lives that reflect our uniqueness based on our belief in who You are and what You have done for us. Amen.