John 17:6-12, 05/10/20, Remsen Bible Fellowship
Does Jesus love everyone? Does God display kindness to all people? Obviously this is true in some sense. God gives everyone the same sunshine and the same rain. We know from John 3:16 that God so loved the world, the broad sweep of sinful humanity, that he gave his only Son to die. And in Mark 10:21 we read that Jesus loved, he had compassion for, the rich young man-despite the fact that this young man was going to walk away from Jesus. I think it’s fair to say there is a clear sense in which Jesus loves everyone, and that he and the Father are united in this love.
But does he love everyone in the same way? Perhaps you’ve heard that we’re all equal in God’s eyes. We’re certainly all equally guilty before him-but are we all equally treasured? Here in John 17:6-12, as Jesus’ prayer shifts from his request that the Father restore his eternal glory and begins to focus on the requests he has regarding his people, we are going to hear some surprising things. Like this: Jesus isn’t praying for everyone. Jesus has a particular love for a particular group of people.
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
As we examine our passage this morning, we will do so under the heading of four questions. The first one is this: For whom is Jesus praying?
For Whom is Jesus Praying? v9
Jesus tells us in verse 9 that he is praying for his disciples, I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
This sounds rather exclusive, doesn’t it? Jesus is not praying for the world, the broad fullness of humanity. That’s not to say that Jesus never did pray for those who weren’t his followers. Perhaps you remember Luke 23:34 where Jesus prays, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Again, we should note that Jesus has come as an expression of the love which the Father has for this entire world of sinners, and indeed he has come to be the Savior of the world (John 12:47). Yet we know that those actually saved by him constitute a group which is quite distinct from the world.
And this distinction is not arbitrary, it’s one of a deep difference in identity. The world belongs to God in the sense that he rules and reigns over all as the absolute sovereign. But for Jesus’ disciples, his followers, God loves them and rules over them as a gracious Father. A king, yes. But a king who has brought these former rebels into his family. These disciples for whom Jesus prays in this section are obviously the 11 who have remained with him, and it probably expands out to include the small number of others who had stayed true (think, the women at the foot of the cross, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea).
Yet it is worth looking verses 6-10 to see what Jesus says of these people, because we will find that the same things are true for all of those who follow him today. So our next question, the one where we’ll spend the bulk of our time this morning, is this: Who are the Followers of Jesus?
Who are the Followers of Jesus? V6-10
What we have in verses 6-10 are descriptions which encompass both the Divine perspective on how the disciples came to follow Jesus, as well as an explanation of the human process by which they came to follow him. These are woven together in the text, but for the purpose of clarity, we’ll look at each separately, beginning with the Divine Perspective.
The Divine Work
What is the Divine Work behind someone becoming a follower of Jesus? I think we can see four distinct steps.
The first is that they are known and possessed by God. We see this first in v6, Yours they were. Then v9 tells us, for they are yours. And then in v10 we read, All mine are yours. What does it mean to be God’s? I noted at the outset that all of the world belongs to God, and thus in some sense all human beings belong to him. And yet, there is a through line in Scripture of God choosing a people for himself from out of the world. This can make people incredibly uncomfortable, and maybe that’s you this morning. It sounds unfair that God would choose some people and not others to be his own. But this thinking generally stems from a view of human beings which is far too high. Does God choose anyone because they deserve it? Absolutely not. No human being this side of the fall deserves anything more than eternity in hell, apart from the presence of God and his blessings. We, each and every one of us, have turned aside. Think about this past week. How many times have you lost your temper? How many times have you bent the truth? When have you accused someone falsely? When have you gossipped? The Psalmist puts it this way: we have become useless. None of us deserves God, indeed, our desires are against God. And yet, God in his mercy chooses not to demolish the entire race. In the time of the flood, God chose Noah. In the days following Babel, God chose Abraham. This continues into the church age, with God setting apart those who are his. He lays claim to certain persons in a manner which differentiates them- not because they are intrinsically better or worthy, but simply because it pleased him to make them his own.
They are given to the Son. The Father takes all those who are his, and delivers them over, as it were, to his Son as a gift. Twice we find this in v6, the people whom you gave me out of the world, and, and you gave them to me. V9 mentions those whom you have given me, and in v11 Jesus is making requests for them...which you have given me. Jesus came into the world, and as we will see momentarily, he did so in a manner which revealed the Father. And yet, despite his revealing intent and purpose, many found his teaching and claims a tough pill to swallow. Thus we find people saying in John 6:60, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And instead of begging for forgiveness and issuing clarifying comments, Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Is God preventing them from coming? No, they don’t want to. They hear Jesus and think he’s too confusing, too demanding, or just not worth their time. The only way this is overcome is if God the Father grants eyes to see. The only way out of darkness is for the Father to give you to the Son.
The Son makes himself known to those whom the Father has given him. The word became flesh, and dwelt among us. We see in v6 that Jesus has manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Jesus has come to reveal the character, the nature, and the presence of God by his coming. And he does so in such a way that those whom the Father has chosen cling to the Son. John 6:37, All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. Jesus reveals himself, and in doing so reveals the Father, and all those who cling to Christ are gladly received by him and kept safe by him. He’ll never cast them out.
The Human Side
This can all seem depressing, can’t it? If God is at work behind the scenes, electing, determining, granting, etc, then don’t we just live in a deterministic world where our choices don’t matter? Nothing could be further from the truth. Beware of anyone who wants to boil complex problems down to simple answers for you, like the relationship between God’s control and our responsibility. Scripture teaches both that God is in control of all things, working all things according to the counsel of his will, and that we are responsible for the choices we make. We are responsible to respond rightly to Jesus. So what does that look like?
We have to hear his words. Notice the emphasis on word or words in this passage. V6, they have kept your word; v8, I have given them your words. Word in the singular is most likely referring to Jesus’ whole body of teaching, while words in the plural points toward individual words and phrases. But isn’t it instructive that even with Jesus walking with these men, doing miracles, signs as John calls them, the place Jesus still points is toward his words? He doesn’t say, they have kept my miracles. Or, they’ve stashed away tokens of my works (like some dried fish they’d save up for a rainy day). Jesus revealed himself to them by these things, but his focus here is on words. And brothers and sisters, the way we come to know Jesus in our day is no different: it is by his word. We must encounter Jesus through the word of God. The word is primary-it is primary in our worship, it is primary in our growth as disciples and followers of Jesus. The word reveals Christ, the word is where we come face to face with the living God, the word is where God’s own voice can be heard. This is why there is no such thing as evangelism without words. This is why there is no such thing as a Bible-less, doctrine-less, word-less Christianity. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. So we must hear his words.
We must come to know. We have to come to a point where we have not only heard these words, but we must be convinced that they are in fact true. Hearing about Jesus and considering it to be nonsense isn’t going to do me any good. There must be real form and content to what we’re taught, and Jesus points a few things out: the disciples now know that Jesus claims in places like John 6:33ff are true. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall not thirst.” Do you agree with what Jesus is saying and implying? That you are separated from God on your own, that you ought to feel spiritual hunger and thirst: and that he is the only way for those cravings to be met? He is the only mediator between God and man. Do you agree both that you need a mediator and see that Jesus is the one you need? The disciples heard and they received.
But they didn’t just receive. They believed. They banked their lives on Jesus. They have believed that you sent me, he says in v8. In v6 Jesus had said, they have kept your word. This is similar to what Jesus had pressed on the disciples in John 15:7, Abide in me, and my words abide in you. Hold onto the words, keep them, obey them, trust these words and submit your life to them, because they are the very words of God.
Have you heard, received, and believed the words of Jesus? Have you trusted in him to be your Savior, the one who took the payment for your sins so that you can be right with God? Then you are one of those whom God has given to the Son. Which means you have great cause for joy, because Jesus means to be glorified in your life. V10, All mine are yours, and your are mine, and I am glorified in them. He is glorified in saving people like us. He is glorified as we speak of him. And he is glorified as we continue walking with him throughout our lives here on this earth. Which brings us to our third question: what does Jesus want for his followers?
What Does Jesus Want for His Followers? V11-12a
Jesus prays in the first half of verse 11, And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Jesus is about to make a petition to the Father, and part of why it is necessary is that he is returning to the Father’s side. This has been a major theme of chapters 14-16, and is part of what Jesus prayed for in our text last week as he requests that the Father restore the Son’s divine glory. Yet it does seem curious how he phrases it. I am no longer in the world. Jesus is speaking as if it is complete and he were gone. But this serves to press home the urgency of his request, which we find in the second half of verse 11, Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. This is a pressing request, because, as the opening sentence of verse 12 indicates, While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.
What does it mean that Jesus has kept the disciples? We might think of keeping as in keeping safe from harm, but that would seem odd given how many of these men die violent deaths. Instead, we should think of being kept in this way: Jesus has been given the Father’s name, and the disciples have been kept in that name in that they have continued with him. To continue with Jesus is to keep walking with him, following him, placing your trust and your confidence in him alone. That might have seemed pretty easy when he was walking right down the street alongside you. But now they are going to be without their Rabbi, without their Teacher, without their Lord. How will they go on? Remember the multiple times when Jesus has mentioned that he was leaving: how did they react? Disappointed, sorrowful. Their joy was sapped. And yet it needn’t be this way.
John 10:27-30 reads thus,
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Those possessed by Jesus -the disciples- are given to him by the Father, who continues to guard and keep them. He did so while Jesus walked the earth by the presence of Jesus-now Jesus is asking him to continue this keeping work. How does the Father keep, guard, those who are in his hand this side of Christ’s ascension? By the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:14). If you have been given the gift of the Spirit, this is your down payment that Jesus really has brought you into his family, and that the Father will bring you safely home.
Why is Jesus asking this? That they may be one, even as we are one. Jesus’ specific prayer for unity occurs a few verses later, so I won’t belabor the point this week, but I do want us to pause. We might think the primary reason for us to be kept is so that we can spend our eternity with him, right? Which is a good goal, and is connected to what Jesus prays down in verse 24. But the reason Jesus gives in this verse is that he wants them to be one. Where does true church unity come from? Does it come from a particular organizational structure, or tolerance for every kind of belief or lifestyle? Jesus would seem to indicate that the only way for his people to be unified is by a unified commitment to Christ as revealed in Scripture. Are you committed to this Jesus? Not the Jesus of your imagination, or the one whom we want to craft in our own image, but the one who is revealed in Scripture? He is the eternal Son, creator and ruler, who steps down into creation to redeem out of this world a bride for himself, a people: the people whom God has given him.
This would be a great place to conclude, but we need to address the thorny question which this text raises: How safe are Jesus’ followers?
How Safe Are Jesus’ Followers? V12b
I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the Son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. How sure is salvation? If Judas can be lost, can we? What is going on here? No one can snatch us from the Father’s hand, but what if we can jump out in a moment of weakness?
What we have in Judas is a warning, let there be no doubt. But it is not a warning that should cause us to question the power of the Savior. Remember what we read in Hebrews 6 about those who have tasted the heavenly gift or shared in the Spirit and then walked away. While there are disagreements among Christians as to the correct interpretation of that passage, I think the clearest way to make sense of it is with an example like Judas: these aren’t genuine believers, but they are those who have had substantial Spirit proximity. They’ve spent a lot of time around God’s people, they’ve seen the Spirit at work, and yet instead of this being the sort of winsome truth that holds them fast to Christ, at some point they become disillusioned or jaded or simply rebellious, and they walk away.
But what we must understand is that this isn’t a case of Jesus losing his grip on some sheep. These never were sheep. 1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
When those who never were God’s people walk away, it shouldn’t confuse us. But we should heed the warning. God’s protection of us isn’t some magical reality disconnected from our actions. The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
You act. You obey. You keep on trusting Jesus. Because you’re the awesomesauce, because you’re a super-Christian? No, because God is at work in you. He enables and empowers. He gives you both the want to and the can do. We obey, we stay. And at the same time, it’s all dependent upon him.
This might seem hard for you to reconcile. And at some level there is certainly mystery at play. But I don’t think it’s quite as confusing as we make it. The simple reality is that we all are responsible before God to trust him, obey him, and receive the gift of life offered through Christ. And by nature, we all reject that offer. God righteously condemns such rebellion. And yet in his mercy he chooses to pull some out, to send the Son to create, redeem, and form a people. He does this without doing any injustice to those whom he allows to continue in their own way. They have what they desire. Judas was not forced to betray Jesus, he was led away by his own desires as James would later write. But again, God was working through his decisions, even his wicked and sinful decisions.
Jesus chose Judas in full knowledge that Judas would betray him, we see that all the way back in 6:70. Judas did what he did because he wanted to. But he also did it that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Psalm 41:9, Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and God had planned this. Not in violation of Judas’ choices, by perfectly working through them.
Which brings us back to those who genuinely are his sheep. He’s got you. If your hope is in the Christ revealed in this book, you are safe. You are also responsible. Responsible to abide, to keep trusting, to follow him to the end. Jesus is praying that for you, and his prayers will be answered. You are kept safe. Let me close by reading Hebrews 6:19-20, We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
The Son of God himself is our anchor. He keeps us safe. Put your hope in him.