“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV)
We have been exhorted to pray for one another. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed for His disciples and for all of us who would subsequently come to know and believe in Him, through their message. This sublime prayer recorded in John 17, has come to be known as the ‘High Priestly Prayer of Jesus’. Even before He prayed – His prayer of anguish – for Himself at Gethsemane, we see Christ our great High Priest, standing before the Father’s throne, to intercede for all those who belong to Him.
Christ continues to perform the role of our Advocate and High Priest before the Father. His intercession is a source of great strength and security for us. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25 NIV). “Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us” (Romans 8:14 BSB). “Therefore, since we have such a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we profess” (Hebrews 4:14).
We, Christ’s own in this world also share in His ministry of intercession. The apostle Peter reminds us that we are a ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), so like our great High Priest, we ought to stand before the mercy seat of God to plead for our brothers and sisters. What better way to perform this noble task than to imitate Jesus Himself?
In this prayer for His disciples, Jesus first lays down the case for their special claim upon the Father’s care and protection – their deep union and identification with Himself. His words, which He speaks in their defence, are worth noting. Jesus reminds the Father that ‘they are Yours’; ‘You gave them to Me; they have ‘believed’ Me; they ‘know’ Me; and they ‘know that I came from You’; they ‘accepted Your word’; and they ‘obeyed Your word’. The prayer reveals Christ as our ‘merciful and faithful High Priest’ (Hebrews 2:17), One who is able to ‘sympathise with our weaknesses’ (Hebrews 4:15) and ‘makes peace with God’ for our sins (Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus does not speak a word about the disciples’ past failings or their unchristian behaviour – there is not a single word of criticism or condemnation. How encouraging for us to know that Jesus goes before the Father not to discuss our faults, but to argue our case. To accuse us is the job of our adversary, the ‘accuser of the brethren’; let us be careful never to follow Satan’s example and indulge in fault finding when we pray for our friends; rather let us imitate Christ in pleading for them, and upholding their cause.
Secondly, Jesus reveals how much He has invested in them. Their special role as ones who will represent Him in the world, and their circumstances as people ‘who are in the world, but not of it’ and therefore ‘ hated by the world’ – are laid out as the reasons why they are deserving of the Father’s tender mercy and care. The Father gave them to Him, and He sent them out into the world, where they must remain, separated for a while from their heavenly Bridegroom. On earth, Christ kept His disciples safe, but now in departing, He entrusts them to His Father’s care. The most beautiful words – “For them I sanctify [or consecrate] myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:19 NIV) show that no sacrifice was too great for Jesus on behalf of those He loves.
How can the Father turn His face away from a plea so fervent as this? This, indeed, is how Christ continues to plead for us, putting forth such strong arguments in our defence. Finally, He makes specific requests on their behalf, and His priorities are sevenfold; He asks that they might be,
- Kept by the power of the Father’s name
- United with one another
- Filled with the full measure of His joy
- Protected from the evil one
- Sanctified by His truth
- In His presence to see His glory
- Continually in the love of God.
These ought to be our priorities too, in praying for the church and for individual believers.
Father, we bring before You, our brothers and sisters,
- They were Yours.
- You gave them to Jesus,
- They have obeyed Your word.
- They know that everything that Jesus has comes from You, our Father.
- They have accepted the words You gave Jesus.
- They know in truth that Jesus came from You, the Father.
- They have believed that You sent Jesus.
We pray for them because-
- Jesus sanctified Himself on their behalf
- He gave them Your glory and He is glorified in them.
- While He was on the earth Jesus guarded His own, and none were lost.
- Jesus is no longer in the world for He has come to You.
- Jesus has sent them out into the world
- They are in the world and yet, they are not of this world.
- The world hates them, for Jesus gave them Your word.
Father, we ask You
- To keep and protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Jesus.
- That they may they be perfectly one, as You and Jesus are one, so the world may know that You sent Jesus.
- That they may have the joy of Jesus fulfilled in them.
- To keep them from the evil one, not that You take them out of the world.
- To sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
- That they may be with Jesus where He is, and see His glory.
- That they may continue in Your love.
We humbly ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son.