Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
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January 8, 2006

Jesus, the Prayer and Player (Part I)
John 17:20-23

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus declared His determination to build His Church. In these verses in John, He both prays and steps up to answer!

1. Jesus the Pray-er (20-21)
2. Jesus the Player (22-23)

In verses 20 to 23 Jesus is praying to His Father:

20"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, (that is, His disciples who are hearing Him pray) but for those also who believe in Me through their word;
21that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
22"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;
23I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and   loved them, even as You have loved Me.

I have a lot of childhood memories. One of them concerns my very first airplane ride. It was in the spring of 1960. We were relocating from Minneapolis to Spokane where my dad had taken work. My dad drove out ahead of us by himself and my mother was flying out with my two brothers and myself. I can remember getting on that great big airplane. It was not a jet; it had four props. My mother was about 27 years old and she had three little boys to fly with for several hours.

When we were airborne and I’m looking around, checking things out, never having been anywhere like this before.  I noticed a red button and asked my mother what it was. She said, “That button is if you don’t behave yourself, I push it and you get pulled right out of the airplane.” I was obviously well behaved because here I am.

I was reading the other day in the early chapters of Genesis. I am convinced we need to study the Scripture --all of it, but I am particularly sensitive to the Bible stories, to the narrative portions of the Bible. There is always a reason they are there. The Bible is carefully put together and it is all there for a reason. In reading through the Scriptures yearly, once again I get to Genesis 9, the flood and so forth. Genesis 11 is about the Tower of Babel. I ask myself, and I ask the Lord -- what is that there for? What is the point of the tower story in Genesis 11.

The Bible says the whole earth, at this point, used the same language and the same words. As I reflect on the passage, what this chapter depicts is mankind’s initial attempt at creating and maintaining unity. It is interesting what is happening here because in Genesis 11, the whole earth is the same language, same words. They journeyed east, they found the plain in the land of Shinar. That is in Iraq today. They built there a city and a tower. In later years it would become known as Babylon.

They built this city and they said to one another, (joint awareness and joint effort): “Let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” We are not talking now about the commonly used mud bricks that are dried in the sun and stacked to make common homes. Kiln-dried bricks are there for keeps. That was their intent. “And they used tar for mortar.” This is key -- “They said come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven.”

They are serious about this. “Let’s stay together. Let’s be one. Let’s be us. Let’s be God. Let’s ascend to the heights.” “And we will make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” God took a dim view of this forced unification-type project and He went down and fixed it to where they were scattered. “The Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.”

What is it there for? Whatever is the point? Why could we not move from the flood of Noah in Genesis 9 to a helpful genealogy in Genesis 10 and right on into Abraham in Genesis 12? Just skip 11 -- whatever does it do for us? I think chapter 11 is there to show man’s plan of creating unity and maintaining a monument to himself as opposed to God’s plan for doing something similar in Genesis 12.

What does God tell Abraham right off the block in Genesis 12? Do what I say, Abraham, and I will make you a great nation.  And through you, Abraham, all the nations of the world shall know My focused favor. The rest of the Bible is a commentary on Genesis 12:3, until the end when once again we come across a Babylon. It is a Babylon in direct opposition to the God of heaven. It is the Babylon that is destroyed by the second coming of Messiah. He establishes His own kingdom and the kings of the earth and merchants of the earth and the ecclesiastical leaders of the earth beat their breasts and moan “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.” That is what people, left to themselves, will seek to build; a permanent heavenly-directed, yet man-centered and God-excluded, even a God cursed monument.

So Jesus comes. It is interesting how in John 17, His concern, and it is pervasive throughout the prayer for His people, is that they may be one, that there may be unity created by God through His avenue, in His time, to His glory, in His way. The passage is about unity God’s way and Jesus is the key.

In this prayer, He is praying about His role in God’s big picture. Perhaps in fewer than 10 years, we will be in heaven. Jesus may well have returned by then. The streets of gold and the brilliance of His presence illuminating everything may be absolute reality for us. Then we will know unity in its truest and fullest expression. That is where it is going. We are on our way there now, if we have trusted Christ. That is His prayer.

We will draw in a few other Bible themes as we go. Jesus touched the world powerfully. John 17 depicts how He did it in His praying, in engaging the Father spiritually and identifying with His will. He also is the key “player” as well as the key “pray-er” in bringing about God’s heavenly agenda.

This little paragraph of four verses is somewhat easily divided into two separate issues. There are two verbs here that play major roles. The first is Jesus saying, “I am praying.” (Verses 20 and 21). Then in verse 20, He says, “And I have given My glory.” I change this around and say, “I stepped in. I am a player. I am in it, as well as I am praying about it.” That’s how I break it down.

Jesus the Prayer (20 - 21)


Jesus prays in these verses first of all evangelistically. Notice how He says in verse 20, I am not just asking on behalf of these who have believed but also for others who will believe through their word. Verse 21 says that the world may believe.  This is evangelism. He is drawing people to Himself. He wants people to trust Him by faith. He is praying evangelistically, a fact for which you and I should be utterly delighted. Why? Because that is us. He is praying that others will come to know Him through their words and they have come to us now. Praying that the people would come to Him out of the world. Folks, we all were saved, brought to Jesus from that world. It is ok to pray for the world.  The world is not the enemy. The world is the victim of the enemy.

This is good news. My name is in the Bible -- right here. We are among those who had not believed at that time and Jesus prays in advance that we would come from the world by faith. In this evangelistic regard, two truths are quite clear. First is His means were clear. He says here very plainly that these would come to believe through their words. This is very specific and very deliberately put. People come to faith through the words of Jesus as they reach out through His apostles, those eleven guys in His company there. They played a key role in transferring His truth and we have benefited by that.

Luke 24 -- the greatest Bible study of all time. Jesus is reunited with His disciples following His resurrection. They are still not getting it concerning how the Bible relates to Jesus the Messiah.

Luke 24:44
44Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

The Old Testament was all they had at this point and the Old Testament was divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Writings were characterized occasionally by the largest of their books -- the Psalms. So Jesus is speaking fully within the context of Jewish scripture when He tells them that everything that I spoke to you while I was still with you, all things which are written about Me in the three parts of the Bible, (the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms), must be fulfilled. It is non-negotiable.

45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,
47and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Apostles, you have the truth. You must proclaim it in My name. You are witnesses of these things. You guys are key. Did they realize they were key? They sure did.

In I John -- one of those eleven is exhorting believers in Ephesus with these words. Please note the absolute confidence with which they are written by the apostle:

1What was from the beginning, what we (the apostles) have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--  (Jesus - the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us).
2and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--

Manifested -- made perfectly obvious to us. He is talking about the arrival of Messiah and their time with Him.

What we have seen and heard, we proclaim to you also.

Why? So that you may share common ground with us -- unity.  And we know with whom we share it. We share it with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We know that, and we want you to share it with us. It is an invitation not only to evangelism but ultimately to unity.

His means was clear. The apostles would transfer the truth. Secondly is His object was clear as well. Notice what He says in verse 20.  Sometimes we read the Bible so quickly or perhaps we are so familiar with it that key expressions are lost on us. We go right over the top and this perhaps is one of those times. He says “for those also who believe in Me through their work.” Who believe in Me -- His object was clear. That little word “in” is most often translated in the New Testament “into.” “Into relationship with Me, in order that they may believe coming into Me.” This is very deliberate. This is very pointed. It is very specific and it is very limited. Jesus is saying once again in John 17 that which got Him into so much trouble in the gospel of John. That is, He claims to be the exclusive avenue to the Father of heaven. He is making that claim. He has made it all along.  He is making it again here. Did you get that? That is most amazing and this is why in our generation, apologists like Josh McDowell will look at something like this and say He was either lying or He was crazy, or He meant it and it is right. He claims to be the exclusive avenue to the Father.

He made it perhaps even more clearly in John 14:6 where He says:

6Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

That is pretty clear. Now in our tolerant society we say there has to be more than one way. Well, not according to Jesus. Not according to the One who was raised from the dead, the only one. So I am going to go with Jesus on this one. Did the apostles get it? Yes.

In Acts 4, in the face of educated opposition, scholars who pretty well knew the Bible and other books too, were being upbraided  by these fishermen from the hills of Galilee.

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people,
9if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well,
10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health.

They had done a healing. God had healed through them and the rulers were upset so they called the apostles in. The apostles said we did not do this, he was healed in the name of Jesus. By the way, you killed Him, but God raised Him. This man stands before you in good health.

Speaking of Jesus:

12"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

That’s it. It is only Jesus. Jesus was very clear. The apostles picked up on it; they were very clear. We need to be real clear too.


Jesus prayed purposefully. By that I mean, He is praying deliberately in verse 21 that they may all be one. That is the point. This is not a “God bless the missionaries” prayer. “God be with so and so. “ Sometimes we are pretty vague and ambiguous, maybe to get it over with. But Jesus is very pointed, very purposeful, when He says, “that they may be one.” I need to pause here for just a second. What does He mean? “That they may be one.” Even as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father that they also may be in us. We think this sounds kind of strange. What does this “oneness” mean?

Let me suggest what it does not mean. This is not some sort of ethereal weirdness where we are just going to go out and maybe sit in the great outdoors on a mountaintop or somewhere peaceful and “become one with all that is,” in some New Age sense. That is not what He is talking about.

I had a Hare Krishna girl tell me one time, “You need to say Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna over and over again and that way you become one with all that is.” This was almost 30 years ago. I said I am a Christian, I have trusted in Jesus. She said that’s OK. All you have to do is say “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over. The same thing will happen. This is not what is in view here. It is not a mystical, strange, pantheistic, monistic, oneness thing that is in view. Neither is it an artificial imposed uniformity, as though “Lord, make them all one.” That means everybody gets saved when they are eight, everybody wears the same clothes, cuts their hair the same, acts the same.

He is not talking here about sameness, or imposed uniformity. That is not what He has in view. He gives us some help when He talks about being in the Father and the Father being in Him and Him being in them. I believe He has at least three notions in mind here and I am going to share them with you.

First, I believe He means one in an organic sense. We might say an organic sense, a spiritual sense, a natural sense. In other words, as the triune godhead is understood to be, one in nature, three in person, He is talking here about being one in nature. What does He mean? We have to get theological for just a second. In I Corinthians 12:13, by one Spirit are we all placed into the body of Christ. The same Spirit, Paul says, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead is the spirit who also will give life to your mortal members. The key here to this oneness is the theological reality of the Holy Spirit of God. He is speaking now as we come to faith, and are indwelt by the same Spirit, who is God.

Do I understand all the implications of that? No. The idea is there. It is a natural thing. It is like being in the same body. If your cut your finger or smash it with a hammer your whole body knows about it. Is your finger your toe? No, but do they share the same nature? Yes, not to mention the same neurological network. They have that organic connection.

Secondly, He means oneness in purpose or oneness in goal. Jesus mentioned His relationship with the Father as being a relationship of the two of them in tandem, pulling in the same yoke, heading in the same direction, with the same purpose in view. “I and the Father are one. I always do that which pleases the Father. I always do the will of my Father in heaven and I want you, His people, to do the same thing.” He is talking about oneness there in purpose and oneness in goal, sharing the yoke with Him.

He means oneness organically, oneness in purpose, and thirdly, oneness in truth. We might even be so bold as to say, in doctrine. There are certain truths about the only true God that are absolutely not negotiable. They need to be understood by God’s people and embraced by God’s people if oneness is going to be a reality.

Remember what John said in I John. He was so very clear: “What we have known from the beginning, what we have seen and heard and our hands have handled, the Word of life.” It is made perfectly obvious to us and we are declaring Him to you so that we may share common ground. The rest of the book of I John will go on to talk about things we must believe about this One. Do we? The three-legged stool that to my mind, at least, best depicts the person of God is that He is holy, He is sovereign, and He is good.

Holy - that means He is one of a kind, there is one of Him. He is unique. He is exclusive. He is removed. He is in a class by Himself. He needs nothing. He is utterly independent as God. Never let it be said that God created people because He had a social need to fulfill. The Bible says all was well in the godhead for eons before time. If He has needs, He is not God. If He is dependent, He is not God. He stands utterly alone. That is what theologians call the transcendent side of God, the distant side. Is God a God afar off? In a sense, yes, because He has to be. He is that big. He has a lot of territory to cover. He is holy, He is pure, He is unaffected by anything outside of Himself.

He is sovereign. That means in His vastness and in His holiness He is the wise orchestrator of all that is. He is big enough to take responsibility for all events of human history, of the created order, from beginning to the end. He sovereignly orchestrates it all. He is holy and He is sovereign. Sovereign means big and wise. His sovereignty is not aimless. His sovereignty is tempered by His perfect wisdom.

He is good. Again, if He were only holy and only sovereign, He would still be God and there is nothing we could do about it. But He is good. That means His agenda toward the human race, if you will, toward His created order is a redemptive one. He is in the business of fixing what is broken and building a monument that will never end. We would call it the kingdom of God in its fullest and longest lasting expression. That is where He is going. Call it heaven. He is creating a world that will never end. He is redemptive. In order to be redemptive, He must be personal in His vastness, in His sovereignty, in His holiness. His redemptive side makes Him a personal God, meaning He is vitally interested in you and me. Indeed, the hairs on our heads are numbered and He knows the words before they leave our mouths. That is how personal He is. He is redemptive. He is personal. He is always good. He always does the right things. God need never apologize.

Psalm 139 discusses the personal side of God through the mouth of David. It is a beautiful Psalm.

He is holy. He is sovereign. He is good. Jesus is praying that God’s people will enter into that state of being with them. This is an evangelistic prayer and He is praying that people will be drawn to the only true God. I stop here and ask myself a question. When we consider the God of the Bible in His sovereignty and in His vastness and in His holiness and in His redemptive goodness, what other God would draw anybody? If we are dealing with a god of our own creation, if we are dealing with a pagan idol that is carved, are we supposed to bow to that and really from our hearts place our trust in something like that?

What about the god of the world? In an attempt to create some sort of superficial surface unity among all the professing Christians, God has been reduced to some sort of benign Santa Claus figure in the sky. He would engage history if He could. So some would say we must forgive Him because He would like to be forgiven. That is not the God of the Bible. Who would be joined to that God?

I cannot speak for anyone but myself -- I want a God who is self-sufficient. I want a God who has no needs. I want a God who is capable of planning and creating and sustaining the universe. I want a God who is not impressed by me. I want a God who is sovereign. I want to know when there is disaster, tragedy, pain and grief that He is there and He is in control and if I am angry, He will take responsibility for my blame. And He is fine. He is unmoved. And He is good. That is the God Jesus is praying to and that is the God Jesus is praying that others will be drawn to. A lesser god, a god who does not measure up to the standards of Scripture as the God of the Bible is depicted -- I just am not interested in. There is no hope there. There is no redemption there. There is only our idea of what God might be and that is not enough.

Jesus is praying purposefully. He wants oneness organically and in truth.


Finally, Jesus prays deliberately. Verse 21 says, “That the world may believe.” This is where it is going -- that the world may believe, that the world may be impressed with God. “That the world may believe that You sent Me.” That really there is a God in heaven and He really did take a personal interest in the fallenness of the world. He really did deploy His Son, the Messiah who truly walked the earth, truly raised up those who would follow Him, and then handed them the baton and promised to be with them.

Will the world believe that? Jesus is praying that, indeed, the world will believe.

Turn to the second chapter of Acts -- the day the Spirit of God showed up. All these people heard the praises of God in languages spoken by people who had never learned those languages. It had to be quite a day. Somebody had to offer an explanation for this strange phenomenon. The first reason suggested was that these guys had a little too much to drink. Peter said, “Not at this hour.” Peter stands up, beginning in verse 14, and says this is exactly what the Bible said was going to come. It is exactly what happened. Death could not hold Him, though you people killed Him. He is raised from the dead and, by the way, He will be back some day.

32"This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

Do you see what is going on here? Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is in part being answered in Acts 2. Here they come! The apostles had been faithful in sharing the Word. The Spirit of God has been moving. It is all adding up and the people are saying, “We are sorely lacking. Peter said you need to repent, you need to be baptized. You need to join us! There is going to be some unity coming here.

40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

The Spirit and the Word are doing their work and they are coming:

41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

It was done without bumper stickers and without major media blitzes. Three thousand was a lot then and it is a lot now.

42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;

Everybody was contributing to those that had need.

47praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

They had unity. Jesus was actively living among them and it was an attraction to the people and they came, all prompted by the Spirit of God. The Spirit shows up, an explanation is powerfully and truly presented. Conviction and conversion and fellowship follow. It is just the way it works in the economy of God.

So Jesus is praying. He is praying that the world might believe, Father, that You sent Me. The Father deploys the Son, deploys the Spirit, deploys the church to the world and believers are added. We talked over Christmas for about five Sundays about Isaiah 9:6-7. We talked about the government: “And of the increase of His kingdom and His government there shall be no end.” It is just growing here and around the world.

Jesus was very serious in the 16th chapter of Matthew when He said, “Upon the rock of My Messiahship, my Lordship, I will build My church and the gates of hell have not a ghost of a chance.” Jesus was praying clearly, purposely and specifically. Next week we will see how He steps in to be the answer to the prayer.

"Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®,
Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995
by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Jim Carlson 2006, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA