God’s Preservation of Jesus’ Disciples
Passage: John 17:6–17:12
Sermon from John 17:6-12 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on January 11, 2015
This is our second Sunday in this amazing prayer by Jesus. Last week was really foundational to all that we’ll cover in the rest of the chapter. We saw that Jesus came on a God-glorifying mission, rooted in a pre-temporal plan, to give sinners eternal life in the presence of an all-glorious Christ.
That’s the picture painted from Jesus’ prayer in verses 1-5. And what you’re going to see is that Jesus doesn’t leave that picture as he keeps praying. Rather, that initial prayer gets interwoven with several other themes. And one of those themes we’ll look at this morning is God’s preservation of his disciples.
Our Weakness and Need for God's Preservation
This theme is massively important for us to get as Christians, because—let’s face it—we are weak and feeble people. Our resolve to be more faithful in this discipline or that commitment often waivers. We grow tired. We get hurt and sometimes put out by the demands of love. Relationships become exhausting and we begin toying with the sinful avoidance of people. Our ability to think straight gets tangled with all kinds of false logic and self-justification. Our affections are at times won over by the world’s passions. We sing today and by Monday we’re ready to throw in the towel.
As Robert Robinson rightly observed in that old hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” we are “Prone to wander…Prone to leave the God I love.” We’re weak. Even on our best days, the Bible is quick to warn us: “let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). In other words, you’re not strong. You’re not capable of resisting idolatry on your own. You’re vulnerable to falling away.
And not only are we weak, but the world we live in is in rebellion to the Lord we follow. It’s filled with devilish assaults against our souls. Dark powers and principalities oppress us in relentless attempts to quench whatever flicker of faith remains when we’re down. The world throws temptations at us left and right to draw us away from Christ. And then, even the creation itself is broken and subject to all kinds of futility that discourage us and grieve us and wound us and cause us to doubt whether there’s hope, whether there’s an end to the tsunamis and the cancer and the planes falling from the sky and the unjust bloodshed and the terror. Jesus told us it would be this way: “lawlessness will increase and the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12).
How are you—weak and feeble Christian—how are you going to endure? How are you going to keep the faith when the next terrorist enters your building? What will keep you trusting when you lose your own Dad unexpectedly? How will you keep clinging to Jesus when your own sin and the brokenness of this world would seek to tear you away from him? How are you going to make it to the end and be saved (Matt 24:13)?
The answer to your perseverance as a Christian isn’t found in you. And it isn’t found ultimately in anything you can do for yourself. Rather, your perseverance rests wholly on God’s preservation of you. We see this reflected in the way Jesus prays for his disciples in verses 6-12. Let’s read them together.
6I 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. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For 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. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And 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. 12While 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.
There’s one main petition in verses 6-12, and we see it midway through verse 11: “Holy Father, keep them in your name.” That’s the main petition. Everything else around verse 11 is simply supporting Jesus’ request. So, what I want to do is show you what makes up the foundation of your preservation as Jesus’ disciples. And there are at least six stones in our text that make up this foundation.
1. The Son’s Complete Revelation of the Father
Our first stone is this: the Son’s complete revelation of the Father. Jesus speaks of this in verse 6 as the manifestation of the Father’s name: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
Now, God’s name in the Old Testament was bound up with who he is, what he’s like, why he acts the way he does. His name wasn’t a mere label like names tend to be in our culture. God’s name revealed who he is (e.g., Exod 3:14-15). For him to reveal his name to you, was for him to bring you into deeper intimacy with his personality. To know God’s name was to experience his character, to sense the very weight of his glorious reputation (e.g., Exod 9:16; Isa 48:9-10; Ezek 22:9, 14, 22; Mal 2:4).
In fact, at one point in Exodus 33:18, Moses cries out for God to show him his glory. And the Lord then responds, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The Lord.’ Note that: to see the Lord’s glory is to see his goodness made known in the proclamation of his name. And this, of course, plays out as God sets Moses in the cleft of the rock, passes by, and proclaims his name, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…but will not let the guilty go unpunished” (cf. Exod 34:6-7). In other words, for God to proclaim his name was for God to reveal himself—in the situation with Moses, the glory of all his goodness and holiness and justice.
So, when Jesus says, “I have manifested your name” to these disciples, he’s essentially saying that he has revealed God to them. Everything they’ve witnessed through his works and heard in his words reveals the Father completely; he brings them face-to-face with God’s glory (John 17:6, 8; cf. 1:18; 3:32; 12:49-50).
Now, the way this becomes foundational to Jesus’ petition—and our preservation—is like this: this revelation is part and parcel to Jesus’ mission of gathering a people out of the world for the Father. And he’s now telling the Father, “I’m not only done with my revealing work on earth; it’s so complete that these eleven now belong to you. They’ve come to know you through this revelation I give them.” Verse 7, “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 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.”
So, Jesus’ complete revelation of the Father is enough for them. It’s what binds people to the Father, when they embrace it (cf. 15:2-3). There’s nothing lacking in Jesus’ revelation of the Father’s name. When you approach God through the way he reveals himself in Jesus, you come to know the truth (1:14, 17; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17). And the truth about God’s name then serves your perseverance. It’s why Jesus doesn’t just pray, “Father, keep them,” but, “Father, keep them in your name.” That’s where they’ll find true safety and protection; that’s where they’ll know God. Jesus’ revelation is complete, sufficient, for a relationship with God.
2. The Father’s Ownership of the Disciples
A second stone to our preservation: the Father’s ownership of the disciples. Now, this comes out in a couple of ways. Verse 9 says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” You see, he hasn’t gotten to his main petition just yet; he’s still building up to it. And here he’s reinforcing what makes his prayer for these disciples so unique, so effectual: they belong to the Father. The Father has taken ownership of them. Not everyone in the world enjoys this privilege, but only those the Father owns.
Now, if verse 9 is all we had, we might be inclined to think that the Father’s ownership began only when the Father gave them to the Son within history. That is to say, he gave them to the Son only after the Son himself entered history, revealed the Father’s name, and the disciples came to faith. They believed. Verses 6-9 basically say just that. And such an idea is even supported by the way Jesus can speak of the Father giving him a people in chapter 6, when he “draws” people to the Son (6:37, 39, 44, 65).
But, our passage presses us to go even further than that, doesn’t it? Look more closely at verse 6: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me.” If Jesus is talking about the Father giving the disciples to the Son after he manifested God’s name to them—within history—in what sense can he also say, “Yours they were”? In some real sense, they belonged to the Father prior to God’s revelation in Christ.
That sense is picked up in verses 2 and 24—which we tackled last week. It’s picked up in chapter 10 when the Shepherd has other sheep he must bring to the Father and they must listen to his voice (10:16, 26, 29). It’s picked up in 11:52, when God already has children scattered abroad, and they need to be gathered. It’s picked up by Paul in Ephesians 1:4, when God chose people in Christ before the foundation of the world. It’s picked up by Peter when he calls the church “elect exiles…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:1-2).
In that sense—in the sense of divine election—God took ownership of them before history: “Yours they were.” In other words, we’re not chosen because we believe; we believe, because we’re chosen. Quite apart from anything in us, the Father chose us out of the world to belong to him. And Jesus is making this divine ownership part of the basis of his prayer for our preservation. He’s basically asking the Father to preserve the people he chose before history and brings to the Son within history. “They belong to you. This is your gracious plan from eternity. You set your affections on these people. Keep them faithful to me.” In other words, Jesus’ prayer is consistent with the Father’s purpose of election before history and the way that purpose is realized within history.
3. The Father and Son’s Unity in Mission
Third stone of our preservation: the Father and Son’s unity in mission. We just looked at the Father’s ownership of the disciples. Now, look at verse 10: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine.” There’s unity between Father and Son in their taking ownership of us. And this shouldn’t surprise us after seeing their unity come up so often in John’s Gospel. I mean part of the main thrust of John’s Gospel has been to reveal Jesus’ divinity through his unity with the Father in mission.
So, on the one hand, we get several places speaking to their intra-trinitarian unity, quite apart from us—“The Father loves the Son and gives all things into his hands” (3:35); “The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he is doing” (5:20); or verse 24 here: “because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” We get these little snippets of their intra-trinitarian unity.
But then all these comments about their intra-trinitarian unity get fleshed out in terms of mission for his people—“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (4:34); “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (6:37); “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14-15, 27, 29).
The same is getting fleshed out here. It’s unthinkable—in fact, it’s downright heretical—to think that God the Son would do anything other than what God the Father has purposed, or to think that God the Father would do anything less than what he’s given the Son to accomplish. That would be to put the persons of the Trinity completely at odds with one another. Rather, Jesus builds his prayer on this eternal, unceasing, unbreakable unity between Father and Son. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine.”
4. The Father’s Love to Glorify the Son
Let’s add another stone to our foundation: the Father’s love to glorify the Son. He says it here at the end of verse 10: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” Meaning, Jesus is already glorified in them, because they’re following him. He came to do the Father’s work—that of gathering his Father’s elect. And now these disciples are following him and fulfilling that purpose. In that sense, he’s glorified.
And this is what the Father wants. This is what he’s passionate about. This is the purpose he ordained for all history—to climax in the magnification of Jesus’ glory for all peoples. Just look at verse 24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
The Father’s eternal love for the Son issued forth in a plan to spread the enjoyment of his Son’s glory among a people. And if you recall from verses 1-5, that plan involved the Father’s glorification of the Son—displaying his Son’s glory on the cross and clothing his Son with glory at his ascension. So, now Jesus is weaving that grand purpose for the world into his prayer for the disciples. He’s basically saying, “Father, you keeping them will only serve to glorify me further. So, keep them loyal to me, because when they’re loyal, I’m glorified. And when I’m glorified, you are glorified” (cf. 5:22; 12:26; 17:1, 5, 22).
5. The Son’s Completion of the Father’s Mission
Now for our fifth stone: the Son’s completion of the Father’s mission. Jesus already alluded to this once in verse 4—“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” But now this completion comes out in the sense of his departure in verse 11—“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.” There’s a sense in which he’s reinforcing that his work is finished, the cross itself being in view.
When he says, “I’m coming to you,” he’s not just speaking about his ascension. His pathway to the Father has always included the cross first (cf. 12:32-33; 13:36; 16:16-33). “I am coming to you through the cross. My mission will be complete; and there’s nothing more they’ll need to achieve for their salvation. I’ll have done it all when I declare from the cross, ‘It is finished.’” In other words, the Father will keep them, not in light of what they’re going to do for Jesus; he will keep them in light of what Jesus will have finished for them.
In the cross, Jesus forgives every sin—past, present, and future—that would keep them from fellowship with the Father (John 1:29). In the cross, Jesus will bring reconciliation with God to those who believe (John 3:15-17). In the cross, Jesus will secure all the blessings of the new covenant for his people, including the fear of the Lord in our hearts that keeps us loyal to him (Jer 32:40; 33:31-33; Luke 22:20). In the cross, he also obtains every future grace we need to make it to glory (Eph 1:3-14; 1 Pet 1:19-20). So, Jesus now prays the Father to preserve them in light of his achievement. The Father’s preservation coincides with the Son’s propitiation. Jesus has done everything needed to get us to glory.
6. The Son’s Infallible Work for His Own
Last stone: the Son’s infallible work for his own. When I say his work is “infallible,” I mean that he’ll never fail us whatsoever in all he does. I think this is confirmed in verse 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.”
I hope you hear what he’s saying. Because if you don’t, then you’ll start wondering whether God is really able to preserve you when you look at the life of Judas: “What about Judas? He was a disciple. He followed you. Is this what we’re to make of God’s ability to keep his disciples?” And the point here is, No. The loss of Judas doesn’t reflect poorly on God’s ability to keep his own. The loss of Judas actually serves as further proof of God’s resolve to keep his own.
I say that because, everything with Judas happened just as it was determined beforehand in Scripture. And if you want to read more about that, you can go home and read 6:70-71 and 13:18-19—where Jesus tells the disciples what Judas is going to do even before he does it—and he even justifies it from Ps 41:9. And the whole point is to show God’s absolute sovereignty and that Jesus is in control of everything, as he lays down his life for all his Father’s own.
The point made here builds on those earlier truths of God’s sovereign plan and Jesus’ control of all history. Jesus didn’t lose any of the Father’s elect; Judas’ betrayal proved he wasn’t among the Father’s elect. And when Jesus brings this out in his prayer, he’s making the point that his mission is infallible. His mission never failed; it only fulfilled. Even in the betrayal of Judas, Jesus was working to save all his Father’s elect—in this case, the eleven disciples; but by the time we reach verse 20, it includes multitudes who will also believe the disciples’ testimony. He kept them for a different purpose (cf. 15:16). He kept them, so that they might serve and join the multitude of peoples enjoying Jesus’ glory forever, just like his Father planned.
And this, too, becomes all the more reason to pray the Father keep them. For the Father not to do so would not only set persons of the Godhead against one another, it would also mean Jesus failed to keep the Father’s will, or that God wasn’t able to fulfill the promises he made in Scripture. But that’s not how it turns out, especially with a trustworthy, omnipotent Father and Son united in the same mission to save us.
Summary & Application
All these things hold together as one, unshakable foundation for our preservation. These are the theological reasons why God guarantees the preservation of his children: the Son has revealed himself to them; the Father owns them; a trinity of persons unites to save them; the Father loves to glorify his Son through them; the Son leaves nothing undone to secure them; and the Son never makes mistakes when he redeems them. So, what might this mean for us?
Preservation Found Only in God through Christ Alone
First of all, it means our preservation unto life isn’t found in ourselves or in this world. It’s found in God through Christ alone. How many times are we tempted to start finding security in things we do with our own hands or things we plan with our minds? And when that thing doesn’t make us feel secure, we then switch to something else we can find in this world. Or how many times have we told ourselves, “If I just do this discipline and join this Bible study and start reading this book and start thinking like this,” then my faith will be secure. And the truth is that we’re never secure unless our only hope is in Jesus and not ourselves.
Or, let’s put it another way. How many times do we hear the kind of theology that says, “Jesus made a down payment at the cross for your salvation; now it’s up to you to keep the payments”? That’s heresy! And yet how often is it the way we’re tempted to live, trusting in our own works, our own perfections, our own intellect, our own abilities.
I’m not saying that our striving and praying and Scripture-reading and running and doing and loving and preaching are meaningless in our perseverance. The Bible is very clear that these things are necessary components of our perseverance. We will not see eternal life if we do not believe and fight and pray and love (Matt 26:41; John 3:16; 1 Tim 6:12; 1 John 3:17). But what I am saying is that all those things must be ultimately rooted in what God does to keep us. And that’s where our hope must continue to rest. That’s who we must continue to trust. That’s where we must continue to draw our strength (cf. Phil 2:12-13).
Preservation Rooted in a Praying Savior
Which actually leads me to another point: our preservation isn’t rooted in a perfect faith, but in a praying Savior. I can’t get over how Jesus prays for these disciples, when nearly the whole time we’ve been hearing how much they don’t understand (John 12:16; 13:7; 14:9), how much faith they lack (Matt 8:26), how prideful they really are (Mark 10:37-38; John 13:37-38), how feeble their commitment to Jesus will prove when he goes to the cross (John 16:32). Sure, every once in a while we get a little glimmer of hope (John 6:68). But for the most part, they’re “quite the bunch.”
And yet here we find Jesus praying—they have received his words; they have believed in him. What little revelation they do understand, they trust it—enough to separate them from the world and unite them to Christ. And by virtue of their connection with Jesus and all he is and does for them, he says, “Father, you keep them in your name.” That tells me something about our Savior. It’s not perfect faith that unites us to him, but simply faith. And when we’re united to him by faith, he prays to his Father in such an effectual way that keeps us to the end—despite our weaknesses and our indwelling sin and our often times foolish choices (cf. Luke 22:31-32).
I don’t know what kinds of days you’ve been having, but I can tell you that some of mine consist of times when all I can see is how much I’m failing my Savior, how much sin that still dwells in me that I haven’t seen before and am just now learning how to fight. And those days come with questions like, “How am I ever going to make it like this? If I can’t even see all the sin inside me, how can I make it? There’s a holiness, Hebrews 12:14 says, “without which no one will see the Lord.” How am I going to make it? How am I going to make it, if something happening in Paris this week stirs such fear in my soul—fear I thought I was over?”
How sweet these words are to keep me clinging to Christ. They tell me that I will make it not by my own power, but by my Savior’s prayers—as he calls on his Father to apply his finished work to my unfinished life. I can hold on to him, because he will never let go of me. His revelation, his election, his unity, his sovereign purpose, his infallible mission are all working for me, because he’s passionate to get glory from my life for his Son. And that’s enough.
Our Preservation Is For Community
Another thing I want to point out here: notice that our preservation isn’t divorced from community; our preservation is for community. Look at the purpose statement following Jesus’ petition in verse 11: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Our preservation by the Father isn’t something that happens in isolation but something that happens in community and for community.
The goal of our being kept in the Father’s name is that we unite. Being kept in God’s name serves our relationship to one another. We cannot divorce the two. And many of you would say Yes and Amen to that! But would anybody else be able to tell this about you outside of your Sunday morning? Some of us want God to preserve us without community, without uniting with his church. And that’s just functional heresy, and totally ignores God’s eternal purpose to unite his people. Perseverance is bigger than you.
Jesus isn’t glorified by Christians who persevere in isolation from each other, but by Christians who persevere in unity with each other. And this unity is to be observed within the local church. This is why the writer of Hebrews ties our perseverance to our regular assembling together: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25).
Moreover, I’m hoping that many of us will grow old together in the work of the Lord here. I’ve told people before: my family moved into this neighborhood for long-term pastoral labors at Redeemer. And unless God calls me overseas, I’m going to give myself up here in Fort Worth. But point being, I’m hoping to grow old with many of you. Do you see from Jesus’ prayer the sort of encouragements we can give one another as that takes place?
There’s so much hope here when cancer takes away our strength, or dementia or Alzheimer’s starts attacking our memory—things like this. There’s one story I read the other day from another pastor about his father who was a Christian man. The doctors found a tumor in his left lung that had sown four or five other cancerous lesions in his skull. He writes that overtime,
Calloused fingers that had turned raw lumber into furniture and shaped simple chords on the neck of a guitar now clinched into gristly knots. Sentences once spoken with an inescapable Ozarks twang disintegrated into unaccented grunts and finally into silent, liquid stares. Walking gave way to a wheelchair, and wheeling a chair gave way to lifting and turning, feeding and diapering.
On one of my family’s many long trips to care for my father, a small voice from the backseat broke an extended silence. “Daddy?” “Yes, Skylar?” [It’s his nine-year old daughter]…“What if Grandpa forgets about Jesus before he dies? Where will he go?”…Several seconds slipped by before I could speak past the lump that had lodged in my throat. “Skylar,” I finally said, “what matters most is not whether Grandpa remembers Jesus, but whether Jesus remembers him. God turned Grandpa’s heart to trust him many years ago, and Jesus will never forget him” (Montgomery, Proof, 121-122).
There’s great encouragement behind this prayer, brothers and sisters. Let us remember it as we grow old together, should the Lord will.
I think something else it certainly says regarding our community is this: if God has so purposed to keep his disciples, even at the cost of his own Son—and keep them into eternity—how much more should we be willing to devote ourselves to one another’s perseverance. Never once should a thought or attitude enter our minds like, “I’ve just had enough of her,” or, “I’m just tired of serving him,” or “It’s just a lot of work to keep encouraging them,” or, “Are they really dealing with that again?!” or, “These meetings are really emotionally draining.” If God has purposed to preserve all his own, then far be it from us to forsake any of his own. We must engage in keeping one another faithful to Jesus and preparing each other to celebrate what God is preserving us for, namely, eternal glory in the presence of his Son.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus