Jesus Christ’s Own Prayer by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.
It is customary for us to refer to the prayer which we find recorded in the Sermon on the Mount and in Luke 11 as the Lord’s Prayer; but in reality, of course, that was the prayer which he gave as a kind of model to his disciples and to others, whereas here we have what can truly be called our Lord’s own prayer, for here we find him praying his own personal prayer to the Father. The circumstances in which he came to do so are familiar to all of us. `These words spake Jesus’, are a reference to the great and mighty discourse which is recorded in chapters 14, 15 and 16 of this gospel. Then, having spoken those words about the Holy Spirit who is to be given to the believers, about what he could do in them, and all the results of his coming, our Lord lifted up his eyes to heaven and began to pray.
A quaint preacher in the seventeenth century said what is, I believe, the eternal truth about this prayer: `It is the greatest prayer that was ever offered on earth and it followed the greatest sermon that was ever preached on earth’. In a sense nothing can be added to that. Here you have this sermon in those three chapters, then, immediately at the close of the sermon, our Lord offers up this prayer. It is one of the richest and most sublime statements to be found anywhere, even in the Scriptures themselves. And there is a sense in which one preaches it with fear and trembling, lest one may in any way detract from its greatness and from its value. There have been those in the past who have felt that here we are dealing with something which is so sacred, because it is the very opening into our Lord’s own heart, that the only right thing to do with this prayer is to read it. There was a great man living in Germany in the seventeenth century called Stein (the leader in many ways of the great Pietist Movement which was practised by the Moravian Brethren and others) who said he dared not preach on John 17, and there have been many others who have agreed with him.
Yet it seems to me that that is a mistake, for I would argue that our Lord would never have uttered this prayer audibly unless he had intended that we should hear it and that we should be able to study it and, above all, that we should be able to grasp its teaching. He did not merely pray to God, he prayed audibly to God, and the disciples heard him. Thus the prayer was preserved, and it seems to me that in this we have a wonderful illustration of the kindness of our Lord in allowing his disciples to hear this prayer and in arranging that it should be recorded in this way.
And, of course, as you look through the history of the church you will find that this prayer has been used of the Spirit in a very exceptional way to sustain people and to support them as they face difficulties in life, and especially when their time has come to die. The most notable example, perhaps, is that of John Knox, that great leader in the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, and mighty man of God. It is said that during the last days of his life, realizing that he was about to die, he asked his wife to read John 17 to him, and it was actually as she was reading this wonderful chapter that he passed from time to eternity. This is in no way surprising when you come to realize the wealth that there is here for us.
I am calling attention to it now because I am more and more convinced that half our troubles are due to the fact that we fail to realize what exactly is offered in the Scriptures. All our anxieties and troubles, all our uncertainties and hesitations, and so much of our unhappiness in our spiritual lives, is to be traced simply to the fact that we do not realize what is provided for us. The apostle Peter, in his second epistle, does not hesitate to say that `all things that pertain to life and godliness’ are given to us (2 Peter 1:3). And the claim that is made constantly in these New Testament epistles is that there is no conceivable condition which we can ever know, there is no state of the soul which we can ever enter on, that has not already been prepared for. There is teaching concerning it, and God’s people are meant to be people who are always rejoicing in the Lord. We are meant to know the fullness and the triumph, we are meant to experience a glory even here on earth.
But the question that arises is this: why are we not all, therefore, glorying and rejoicing in this great salvation? Why is it that so often we are apologetic and give the impression of being defeated? Why are we often so fearful of the world and of the future, concerned about God’s cause and about the church? Why do we frequently, in this morbid concern, resort frantically to things that are often unworthy? Now I suggest that the explanation of all these things is our failure to realize what is provided for us, our failure, if you prefer it, to realize our position in Christ, and to enter into our heritage. We are, of course, entirely without excuse because, as I have been reminding you, it is all here for us. If we had nothing but John 17 we would surely have more than enough to sustain us, because here our Lord has given us an insight into our whole position, and into everything that is of importance and of value to us while we are in this world of time. We can do nothing better, therefore, than to look at this prayer, and to consider what he has to say.
Here is the position. He was about to leave the disciples, he knew how troubled they were, because they had already shown it, and he had started his sermon by saying, `Let not your heart be troubled.’ They were troubled because he had just been telling them that he was about to go from them, and that had come as a shattering piece of information. Here they were, they had been following him for three years, they had listened to his teaching, they had observed his miracles, they had come to rely upon him, and he had given them certain powers. If there was a problem or difficulty they turned to him at once and put their questions; he was always ready to answer, and he was very patient. And now, after these wonderful three years and after all this intimacy and rich fellowship, he tells them that he is about to leave them. They are utterly crestfallen and dumbfounded, and he, looking at them, can see it. He reads their minds and understands their spirits, and so he begins by saying, `Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ Then he proceeds to unfold for them this wonderful doctrine, this, to them, amazing idea that it was expedient for them that he should go away, that they were going to be in a better, not a worse, position as a result of his going, because he was going to prepare a place for them. Not only that, he was going to send them another Comforter who would be in them and he would come and dwell in them by the Holy Spirit—that extraordinary doctrine of the indwelling Christ, of the abiding of the Father and the Son in the very life of the believer. And he goes on to work out and explain that blessed and wonderful doctrine.
But he does not stop at that. He now prays for them, in order that they may know that when he has left them here on earth, when he has gone to be with the Father, he is still going to go on praying for them. He says in verse 11, ‘And now, I am no more in the world, but these are in the world and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me . . .’ He not only tells them in doctrine and teaching, he wants them here to see that he is committing them to the Father, so that they may know that they are never left to themselves, but that in all circumstances and conditions he will still be looking after them. He will be their great Intercessor, indeed the Father himself is concerned about them. That is his object and purpose in praying this prayer audibly, that they may come to know, while he is still with them, the concern that he has about them, and will continue to have even though he is going to be out of their sight.
That is the essence of this prayer and what I want to do now is to take a general view of the prayer. Later I hope to consider it more in detail, and to expound and unfold its rich, its glorious and priceless teaching. Let me ask some questions before we go any further. How often have you read this chapter? What has been the value of this chapter to you hitherto? How often have you explored its riches? How often have you turned to it in distress? Do you understand John Knox’s feeling when he wanted it to be read to him? It does seem to me that many of us are guilty of putting this great prayer as it were on one side in a kind of mock humility. Our greatest danger—indeed I feel it is my greatest danger—is to read the Scriptures too generally instead of looking into them, listening to every phrase, taking hold of every utterance, asking questions concerning every statement. Every one of these statements has a profound and rich meaning if we but take the trouble to look for them.
Let us, then, begin to do that together. Let us take a general view of this prayer, and discover some of the obvious lessons which are here on the very surface. The first thing which I think we must learn is how to pray. It is, after all, a model prayer, not in the sense that the so called Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, but in the sense that this is the way in which our Lord himself prayed, and it is an example, or an illustration in practice. We can always be quite certain that the right way to pray is the way in which he prayed. His whole life, in a sense, was a life of prayer. Though he was the Son of God, he spent so much of his time praying, and this is his way of praying.
Now we all need instruction on this matter. We sometimes think that prayer is simple, but it is not. The great saints of all the centuries are agreed in saying that one of the most difficult things of all is to learn how to pray. If any Christian has been feeling cast down because he or she has found prayer difficult, they must not be discouraged, because it is the common experience of the saints. The person I am worried about is the one who has no difficulty about prayer, there is certainly something wrong about him. Prayer is the highest achievement of the saint. It does not just mean `saying a prayer’—incidentally, what a horrible phrase that is—people talk about `saying a prayer’, but that is a very different thing from praying. It is a comparatively easy thing to say or read a prayer, but the main thing is to pray, and here we find our Lord praying.
You will see that there is a great logical sequence in the various petitions; our Lord does not merely utter a number of petitions at random, there is a definite arrangement, there is a very precise order, so that we have to realize that in prayer we must exercise a certain amount of discipline. The first thing always in prayer is to recollect ourselves—the act of recollection—a pausing to meditate and consider what exactly we are about to do. We begin to realize the Person whom we are going to address, and that leads to a certain inevitable consequence which will emerge as we analyse this great prayer.
John 17, therefore, is a wonderful illustration of the way in which we should pray. But at the same time it at once leads us into an understanding of who this person is who begins to pray. There is no chapter, perhaps, which gives us a greater insight into the person of our blessed Lord himself than this very prayer which we are considering together. He addresses his Father: `Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee’; he talks about the glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world. We are at once reminded that we are in the presence of no mere man, we are in the presence of the Son of God—the God-Man—the One who shared the glory of the Father before the foundation of the world, from all eternity, and as we go on with our consideration of this prayer we shall be led into some of the richest and profoundest doctrines concerning the person and the work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Now I have often emphasized the point that there is nothing which is so marvellous about Scripture as the way in which it varies its presentation of the truth. There is a great objective, dogmatic pronouncement of the truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but sometimes you will find that doctrine most perfectly taught in illustration and in practice, in the things which he says about himself, or in the things which he assumes, and as we consider this prayer we come face to face with this rich doctrine concerning this blessed person. Oh, if we could but lay a firm hold upon it and realize again that the Son of God came down into this world of time—we are facing here the whole mystery and glory of the incarnation, of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the Son of God. But the astounding thing is that this person who is praying to the Father, was equal to the Father. He assumed human nature, he came in the flesh, he lived as man in the likeness of sinful flesh, and here he is himself praying. Indeed, we read elsewhere of him crying out, with strong crying and tears, unto his Father. It is a marvellous, wonderful thing to contemplate, that God has come down in the flesh in order to rescue and redeem us, and opens his heart here to show us his wonderful concern for us, and his amazing love with respect to us; and as we go on we shall enter into this rich doctrine concerning his person.
And in a very specific manner we find here, in his approach, the whole reason why he came into the world. He tells us that he had a certain task laid upon him, he came to do it, and, still more glorious, he has done it. But as we listen to him praying, we have, if we have never seen it before, an insight into his reason for doing it—we begin to see the plan of salvation. Now here again is something which we modern Christians have ceased to remember, and what a loss it is to us. Our fathers, in the great days of evangelism, used to speak about the `plan of salvation’, `the scheme of salvation’. We hear very little about that today. We are so subjective, we are so interested in particular benefits, far too infrequently do we stand back and view the whole grand sweep of the plan of salvation. But you find it all here, you will find it as he speaks of that glory in eternity before the foundation of the world. You will see him leading us on step by step and then going back into that glory. You cannot listen to this prayer, or read it, without starting in glory and without ending in glory, and without, in the meantime, having come right down to the very depths of the degradation and shame of the cross and then to the rising again. It is all here: the great plan with regard to us; this great purpose of God with respect to certain people whom he has given to his Son as the special object of salvation, and all that is to be done for them in order to bring them to that ultimate consummation.
I know nothing which is more encouraging and more exhilarating than that. There is no greater ground of security in this world of time than to feel that you are a part of the grand plan and purpose of God. None of these things are accidental, none of them are fortuitous. It does not matter what may happen in the future, nothing can disturb this plan. My friend, if you are a Christian, do you know that you were the object of God’s interest and concern before the foundation of the world? All these things have been worked out in eternity, before time, so we must always remember that nothing can happen in time which will make the slightest difference. That is the argument which we find so constantly in the Scriptures. We must never be tired of quoting those great words: `For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor
depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). And if you have ever been in any doubt about that, read this prayer and see the security as he outlines it here.
And then we come on to look at what he has done for us. `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,’ he says, and as we go on from that we see that he has done certain things for us which none other could ever do for us and which we can never do for ourselves. He has been telling his disciples about it in the earlier chapters, and here he sums it up. What he has done for us is that he has satisfied the law and all its demands. It is amazing to me how people can look at and preach about Christ, his life and death and never mention the law. But unless the law of God is satisfied, there is no salvation. The law is opposed to us; it stands there and demands a perfect, absolute obedience and it threatens us with death if we fail in any one respect. If Christ has not fulfilled the law, we are yet in our sins, we are undone, we are damned and we are lost; but he has finished the work, the books have been cleared, the law has been satisfied, there is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Do you know that?Are you rejoicing in it? Are you ready to take your stand with Toplady and say:
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do,
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
What a wonderful thing it is that here, just before he actually goes to the cross, he anticipates it all. He knows what he is going to do, and there is no uncertainty about it. He says, `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ It is already done, it is complete. We preach, therefore, a completed salvation. There is nothing left for us to do but to receive it; there is nothing that we must add to it; there is no good work or any merit that we must provide: it is all in Christ and in Christ alone. And we have a wonderful view of that as we go through this prayer.
The next thing, therefore, is a realization of some of the things that are possible for us even in this world and life. I would remind you again that because of this blessed doctrine we should be rejoicing. All the fruits of the Spirit should be manifest in our lives—a joy and peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith, all these things should be present possessions. The Christian man, according to this doctrine, is not hoping to be saved, he is not constantly dwelling in mysteries, sometimes better, sometimes worse; no, he is a man who rejoices in Christ Jesus—listen to Paul: `Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4). But are we rejoicing? Do we realize the possibility of rejoicing? If we only grasp what this prayer is saying, and understand this teaching, we shall be able to smile in the face of the world and in the face of hell. He means us to be rejoicing, to know this fullness that God has provided for us in him, and, I say, shame on us, Christian brothers and sisters, unless we are partaking of it, participating in it, and rejoicing in it altogether!
Here, in his prayer, the Lord allows us to see something of this wonderful possibility, and then, as I have already hinted, he shows us the source of security and strength in this world. Can you imagine anything that is more comforting than this, that the Lord Jesus Christ has prayed for you: `Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word’? Do you realize that when he was praying this prayer the Lord Jesus Christ was praying for you? Now, if we are Christians, we all like to have people praying for us. There are many people in the Christian life today because somebody prayed for them, a saintly father or mother, perhaps, who prayed throughout the years of disappointment, and went on praying. And God heard the prayer and they have become Christians. Is there anything that gives greater consolation than to know that people are praying for you? I know of nothing that is a greater encouragement to me, in my work and in my ministry, than to know that people are praying for me. They are going to God who is the source of all power and asking him to fill me with power.
So, then, if you believe in the prayer of a saintly person, how much more should you believe in the prayer of the Son of God for you. Here he lets us know that he prayed for us and he goes on praying for us, and, most wonderful of all, what he does is to put us into the hands of God. He says: `Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept . . . and now come I to thee’ (verses 11-13). `Father,’ he says in effect, `I hand them back to you, you keep them.’ If only we could somehow take hold of this wonderful truth, that the Lord Jesus Christ, himself, has put us into the safe keeping of God and that we are therefore in God’s safe keeping! Our Lord was never tired of expounding this doctrine. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, what he keeps on saying, in effect, is, `Foolish people, if only you realized that God is your Father, if only you realized his concern for you, if only you took to heart the lesson of the birds and the flowers! Look at his concern for them—how much greater is his concern about you, oh you of little faith.’ And here, in his last prayer, he hands us over to the Father’s care and says, `Father, keep them.’ Oh, it is a wonderfully consoling and comforting thought, to know that God the Father is looking upon us, and caring for us, and keeping us at this present time.
And finally we are going to learn from this prayer what is our relationship to this world, and our business in it. We have not only been saved for our own sakes, we have been saved in order that we may pass on this good news to others. `As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them’—he was leaving them in the world with a message, he was sending them to do something, as God had sent him before.
So there we have hurriedly looked at some of the things that stand out on the very surface of this prayer. You will find there are certain natural divisions: from verses 1-5 our Lord prays mostly for himself and about himself; then from verses 6-19 he prays for the disciples in particular, those who are around and about him; and from verses 20-26 he prays for the church universal at all times and in all places. There is the logical division to which I have just referred. He starts with adoration and worship, his prayer for himself, then prays for the disciples and then for those who are going to believe through the demonstration of the disciples. In other words, it is a great prayer that covers the whole of the Christian era and the entire course of the Christian church. Therefore, as we study it, we must observe it very carefully, and especially the way our Lord approaches his Father.
There are certain things about which we should always be certain, things about which Christ was certain. First: `Father,’ he says. He is not in doubt about him. He addresses God as Father six times—he knows the relationship, he was one with the Father from all eternity. God is his Father in the sense that he is the Father in the blessed Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. God is also his Father in the sense that Jesus has now become man and so is looking to God as his Father. Again, God is now his Father because he, the Son, is the representative of the many brethren whom he has come to save and for whom he has come to die. As he is the first born of many, many brethren, so God is his Father in that sense, in the relationship of the children to God their heavenly Father.
But notice that he not only addresses him as `Father’. In verse 11 he addresses him as `Holy Father’. How vital it is to remember that—that God is holy. He is our Father who is in heaven, so his name must be hallowed. We must always approach him with reverence and godly fear for our God is a consuming fire. Though our Lord was one with the Father, though nothing had ever come between them, though he never needed to ask for forgiveness of his own sins because he had never sinned, he still addressed God as Holy Father. How often do we forget that even our blessed Lord addressed him as Holy Father?
Lastly, he addresses him as `righteous Father’—‘O righteous Father,’ he says in verse 25, `the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.’ This is a wonderful thought and when he says this, he is referring to the character of God, to the faithfulness of God. In other words, our Lord is saying, in effect, `I know that what you have promised, you will perform. You have made certain promises to me concerning these people for whom I have done this work, and I know that you will never fail in any one respect with regard to all those promises. You are a righteous Father.’
If we remember nothing else from this study, God grant that we should learn just that, that when we pray in Jesus Christ’s name, we are praying to our Father. Yes, he is the great, almighty, eternal God, but he has become our Father in Christ. He is a Holy Father, nothing unworthy must be mentioned in his presence; we must not present unworthy desires, nor selfish thoughts before our Holy Father. But, thank God, he is a righteous Father, faithful and just, and if we truly confess he forgives us all our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. As you come before him, conscious of your sins and maybe doubtful and hesitant, remember this, he is righteous, he has promised forgiveness in Christ. Remember his righteousness and remember that every promise that he has ever given, he will most certainly and most surely fulfil.
Oh, how we should thank God that our Lord offered this prayer audibly, and how we should thank God that it has been recorded! Let us look into these things. Let us meditate upon them. I know of no wealthier place than this. Let us enter into it. Let us receive of these riches, that we may realize that while we live in this world of time there are certain things that are absolutes surrounding and encompassing us, and that we are in the hands of One who has said, `I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Hebrew 13:5). (11-24)