How Jesus Will Keep You in 2019
We’re looking at John 17 this morning, in what is known as Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. It’s Jesus’s final recorded prayer on behalf of his people prior to his crucifixion and death. We’ll break it into three parts: (1) What is Jesus Praying For? (2) Who Is Jesus Praying For, and (3) How Is Jesus Expecting His Prayer to be Answered . Let’s pray and ask for the Lord’s help.
I want you to picture a group of young army men hunkered down in a field. They’re nervous — eyes-wide open, hearts are beating out of their chests. They are crawling carefully, slowly, because they are deep behind enemy lines.
They’re the remnant of what had been a much larger group. But by this time, much of their squad has already fled from the battle, overwhelmed with fear and disillusioned with the mission. Only these eleven remain.
Why do they remain? Because they trust their commander. His presence, alongside them, provides security, his wisdom brings them hope, and the words he had spoken to them so many times before was now quieting their souls: “Do not worry, I will keep you when the bullets fly.”
This imagery is my attempt to capture the essence of what it may have felt like for the disciples to have followed Jesus throughout the course of his three-year ministry in Galilee and Judea.Despite the danger all around them (demon possessed men, outraged religious leaders, the insecurity of not knowing where they would lay their head at night) these disciples could not, would not, leave their leader, Jesus, for as one of them, Peter, had said, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life. and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69)
But that sense of security, the feeling of comfort within the battle, was about to be tested.
John 17 is located at the tail-end of Jesus’ three-year ministry. And Jesus, having completed every task the Father had given him up to that point, lifts his voice in prayer, saying, 17:1, “Father, the hour has come.” There’s one final task Jesus has yet to complete: He has to suffer his own death at the hands of the very ones he came to save. Knowing he was about to die and would be going to the Father, and knowing his disciples would not die at that time, but remain in the world, Jesus prays, now skipping down to verse eleven of chapter 17, “I am no longer in the world...but they are in the world…”
Come back to the imagery of the young army men crawling through the field deep behind enemy lines. Now, imagine that one of them, is so shaken with fear, he resolves to look up. The fear had finally gotten to him, everything in him is screaming “retreat, retreat” yet, he knows that if he could just look up and catch a glimpse of his commander — the steel in his eyes, the love in his heart, the strength in his arms, the power in his presence — He would have the courage to press on. So, he looks up —— and he sees his commander staring right back at him, only this time there’s a look of concern on his face. And the commander whisper two solemn words, “I’m leaving.”
How vulnerable would you feel?
Jesus, our commander, our protector, prays: “I am no longer in the world... but they are in the world…”
How vulnerable do we feel?
In addition to vulnerable, we might also rise in anger. What! You said “I will keep you when the bullets fly…” Well, the bullets are flying, where are you?
You might shake your head in disbelief- How could I have been so foolish? Why did I ever believe him? Why did I ever trust him?
Perhaps you’d puff-up in pride and determination– Good riddance. Who needs him? I can do this on my own!
Perhaps you’d tear the emblems off your sleeves and turn your camouflage inside out. Cut your hair, change your name, and learn the language of the enemy. Not a double-agent, but a single-minded, full-fledged, card-carrying apostate.
Vulnerable, angry, prideful, rebellious — are these the words that describe us when we feel far from Jesus?
Like when Jesus says he will never leave us nor forsake us, and then spiritual droughts come and we feel so far from him we consider whether the love we had for him was ever real in the first place. Or when Jesus says he’ll keep us, and then doubts / questions come flooding into our mind and we wonder if Jesus actually is who he says he is. And when Jesus says he’ll satisfy us, and yet day-after-day we feel lonely and hopeless, questioning if we should look to another because this whole Jesus thing just isn’t doing it for us.
We know these feelings, we know these seasons of struggle, we’ve likely all experienced them to some degree. Some of us are in the very depths of them right now. These times are real, and they are dangerous, and they are exactly the reason Jesus is praying.
In light of the context for John 17, let’s answer three questions.
Q1: What Does Jesus Pray For
17:11, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, (here is the prayer) keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” He goes on, saying, “While I was with them I kept them in your name, I have guarded them in your name and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction (referencing Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus).
Keep them? Guard them? How?
I don’t know about you, but when I encounter the struggle of living in a broken world, whether it’s in the midst of the heart-crushing experience of losing a love one, or the earth-shattering prognosis of disease, or the heavy, hazy darkness of ongoing depression/hopelessness, two solutions come to mind:
Solution 1: Jesus will rescue me out of this struggle. The pain will go away, the disease will be healed, the family member will return, the heart will start beating once more.
Or Solution 2: Jesus won’t rescue me, and I’ll have to rescue myself out of the struggle (2x)
In either option, the end result is rescue out of the struggle, the only consideration is who’s going to do it: Jesus, or myself.
Solution number 1: Jesus will rescue us out of the struggle:
This doesn't last long long as week look through John 17. As Jesus’s prayer continues, we see:
Verse 14: “the world has hated them because they are not of the world”
Verse 15: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.”
So, they are going to stay in a land where they are hated. Jesus is not asking that we be taken out of the world, out of the struggle.
Now, sometimes, Jesus does cause a specific struggle to cease. He heals a hurt, closes a wound, fills a gap, provides an answer, sometimes — and we take a deep breath, wipe away our tears, and rejoice. But even still, with the specific struggle taken care of, the everyday pains of living in a broken world have yet to come to a halt for us. We still live here, hounded by sin in our own hearts (pride, anger, lust), wounded by the sin in the hearts of others (harsh words, selfishness, unfaithfulness) and damaged by the affects of sin in our broken world (sickness, injury, natural disaster). And Jesus says, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.”
For many of us, as our personal struggles and pains persist, seeing that Jesus has yet to take them away, we fall into option 2: We rescue ourselves out of the struggle.
We might say “Jesus, I won’t wait any longer. I’m going to take things into my own hands. When the depression comes I’m going to reach for a drink or for a drug - anything to numb the pain. When loneliness hits I’m going to pull out the phone - social media, online shopping, pornography, anything to mute my loneliness. When fears flood in (terrorism, governmental shutdowns, death) I’m going to ignore it and pretend like nothing is happening. Or, I’m going to close up inside and go into preservation mode – no more going outside, lock the doors, close the blinds, safety at all costs even if it means hurting others.
It’s safe to assume these acts of becoming our own savior, self-preservation, and ditching our trust in Jesus, is not the kind of response Jesus has in mind for us when he prays to the Father, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world.’ So, what does Jesus have in mind?
Thus far we’ve considered two options, both involving being taken out of worldly struggles, but What about a third option? We are not taken out of worldly struggles, but kept, by Jesus, while remaining in them.
And this is what Jesus prays for, 17:11: “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.”
But this then begs a question:
(Question 2) Who Does Jesus Pray For?
See we struggle with this because Jesus says I’ve kept them, I’ve guarded them, not one of them has been lost. But…
What about our classmates, our friends, our family members, maybe even our spouse, who we use to go to church with, who we prayed with, who we even read the Bible with, and now they want nothing to do with God? Has Jesus kept them?
And we don’t know what God has in store for those people. We pray that they would come back, that they would savor Jesus, that they would come to have real, genuine love for Jesus. But from out vantage point, at least right now, it seems they show no signs of coming to Him.
So it’s vital we find out who Jesus is praying for, because if it’s these people in our lives who, right now, couldn’t care less for him, If this is who Jesus is praying for, then, at least for now, it looks like his prayer has failed.
And if it has failed for them, then I think, well, what about me? What about me in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now? Why would my story be different from theirs? Why should I hold on, be kept, when others weren’t?
But as we see throughout John chapters 14-17, it is clear as day: Jesus says what he says here, does what he does here, not for all people, generally, as a whole, but for the sake of a specific group of people, his people, those he knows by name, those he predestined from all eternity to live with him, those he will, most definitely, keep.
15:3 “you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you”
15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
15:15 “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known (spoken) to you.”
16:1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”
16:4 “I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.”
17:2, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
Yes, Jesus has authority over all flesh. Yet, there is a specific group, a remnant, and these are the one’s his promise is for, and his promise will not fail!
Who are these people? Am I one of them? What is their defining characteristic? Is it those who are beautiful, talented, or intelligent? Those who are of a certain culture, language, or lineage? Those who are useful or productive?
Continuing on in the prayer:
17:6 “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.”
17:8 “I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them (in the words) and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
Who are God’s people? Who are the kept ones?
Answer: Those who keep His word.
And this is all over John’s gospel:
8:31 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Contrast 8:43 “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”
8:51 “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Contrast 12:47-48 “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them...The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word”
And the contingent promise: 15:7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
God’s people don’t hate God’s word, they don’t ignore God’s word, they don't pick and choose which parts of God’s Word to follow, they don’t push his word off to the side thinking, “I’ll get to it when I have time.” They keep it, they love it, and they immerse themselves in it.
One question here: How do you know if you are one of God’s people? Do you love the word? Do you see it as life? Do you rely on it for everything?
I’m not saying you are always overjoyed in reading God’s word, it may, at times, feel tiresome / boring, you may have questions/concerns, you may get side-tracked with other activities, you may need reminders or accountability to read it…but despite all the bumps in the road, at the end of the day, if you look to God’s Word and say, “Yes, that is what I stand on, that is what I’m banking on for life — these are the characteristics of a child of God.”
So, what is Jesus praying? That his people be kept.
Who is Jesus praying for? His specific people, those who love and keep his word
And this brings us to our third and final question:
(Question 3) How Does Jesus Expect His Prayer to be Answered
Starting again in John 17:15,
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (Here it is) Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Jesus could have asked anything, anything of the Father, and the Father would have answered him. And what does he ask? Father, sanctify them in the truth.
Sanctification essentially means the process of being conformed / changed into the image of Christ (growing to think, speak, behave, look, increasingly, more and more like Jesus)
Sanctification happens precisely in the way Jesus prays for it to happen, namely, John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.”
We are sanctified, and thus kept, as we tether ourselves to God’s Word, immerse ourselves in it, and pray that God would help us to love and understand it.
in 2019, we don’t know what will come our way:
Will it be injury, disease, death?
Will we lose our health, our job, our spouse, our kids, our home?
Will relationships grow tense, money grow scarce, and our outlook grow dim?
Will our government fail us, our enemies attack us, and our national and personal safety grow questionable?
We don’t know, 2019 might be full of delight, it may be full of pain, or it may be a mix of the two, we don’t know.
But, we do know how we, God’s people, will be kept, by Jesus, in 2019: We will be kept by being sanctified in the word of God.
If we lose our job and our money is short in 2019: We will grow to be like Jesus as we cling to Psalm 37:16-17, “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.”
If our government fails and terrorism runs wild in 2019: We will trust in Jesus as we hold onto Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
If depression sets in and it feels like hope is nowhere to be found 2019: We will rely on Jesus as we maintain Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
If we hear that vile whisper in our ear “God will not keep you, he will forsake you, he will withhold from you in 2019.” We will be kept by Jesus, as we read John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Yes, we will be kept by Jesus in 2019 as we immerse ourselves in his Word.
Let’s close by taking a look at one final section of Jesus’ prayer. 17:19 “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” When Jesus says “I consecrate myself” consecrate, here, connotes a setting aside for God’s use. It’s Atonement language, like on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest would consecrate himself (set himself aside) for the great task of offering the sacrifice animal as a payment for the sins of the people.
Jesus, our great high priest, is saying here that he is about to consecrate himself, leave his disciples, his people. Why? He is going to leave them, not in order to save his life, but to offer it as a sacrifice on behalf of his people. Jesus, our commander, leaves his soldiers behind as he walks ahead to his very death.
And best of all, having done so, Jesus has now conquered death, he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is, right now, interceding for us, loving us, keeping us. And because of all this, his word is true: “Do not worry, I have died for you, and given my word to you, and I have done all this in order that I might keep you when the bullets fly.”