Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts on the Great Intercessory Prayer in John 17

I’m not sure why the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 is called The Intercessory Prayer.  He doesn’t seem to be interceding as I tend to think of intercession.  One dictionary says intercede means “to ask or plead in behalf of another, to interfere in order to bring about agreement,” but to me that has a connotation that two parties are at odds and the interceder is pleading for them to get back together.  Somehow I’ve had the idea that when Jesus intercedes for us, it only means He pleads for us to be forgiven of our sins.  However, I noticed that is not what happens in the Intercessory Prayer.  What really happens?

1.     Jesus reports on how He has used His life so far to glorify the Father, to manifest the Father, to give out the Father’s words, and to keep those the Father gave Him.
2.     Jesus asks to be glorified.
3.     Jesus asks that the Father keep His disciples from the evil.
4.     Jesus asks that the disciples have His joy fulfilled in themselves.
5.     Jesus asks that the disciples be sanctified through the word of truth.
6.     Jesus prays for all those who believe in Christ, that they be one as the Godhead is one and that they may be made perfect in one.
7.     Jesus prays that those given Him may be with Him where He is and behold His glory.

So Jesus isn’t really advocating for forgiveness of His disciples, which implies they have already achieved that.  He asks for His disciples to have joy, to be sanctified, to be one, to be made perfect, to be where He is.  It seems like these are gifts Jesus would want all of us to have once we achieve forgiveness and it is possible that they are part of what it means to be Christ-like.

Something I notice is odd about this chapter is that Jesus speaks of glorification and His glory and even giving glory to His disciples.  The language is very similar to that of the great Nephite prayer party in 3 Nephi 19 but while 3 Nephi 19 records the whiteness of Jesus and the whiteness of the disciples as they prayed and how they shone like Jesus, in John 17 there is no description of anything happening as He prayed.  (It may be that nothing happened, or it may be that there is no account of what happened preserved.) 

Here are some questions I had:
  • What are we to learn about Jesus based upon the inclusion of this prayer?
  • What are we to learn about prayer from reading this account?
  • What are we to do based on what we learn?

So I went looking for the answers.

What are we to learn about Jesus based on His prayer?
Jesus had glory with the Father before the world was (v5)
Jesus was sent from God (v3) into the world (v18)
He was not of the world (v14)
He has power over all flesh to give eternal life (v2)
Jesus knew the Father (v25)
Jesus manifested the name of the Father to those given Him (v6)
Jesus gave His disciples the words the Father gave Jesus (v8)
Jesus considered every disciple to be a gift Father gave Him. (v6)
He kept the disciples in the Father’s name (v12)
He sent His disciples into the world (v18) and prayed they would be kept from the evil (v15)
Jesus glorified the Father (v4)
Jesus sanctified Himself for His disciples’ sakes (v19) so they could be sanctified.
Jesus was one with the Father (v11)
He finished the work given him (v4)
He knew He was going to the Father (v11)

What are we to learn about prayer based on this prayer?
We can share principles that we know
We can report on our progress in life
We can report on the progress of those we have charge of
We can ask that others can have an improved relationship with God
We can acknowledge the ownership of God
We can speak about future events we anticipate
We can acknowledge the difficulties that others face
We can pray for things
We say what we are not praying for
We can speak about our motives for what we do and have done
We can pray for others to receive and enjoy what we have received and enjoy
We can pray for others to receive a testimony

What are we to do based on what we learn from Jesus’s prayer?
Learn to know God and Jesus Christ to receive eternal life (v3)
Receive the words from the Father, know surely that Christ came from the Father, believe that the Father sent Christ (v8)
Become one with the disciples of Christ (v11)
Keep from the evil while in the world (v15)
Become sanctified through the truth from the Father (v17)
Become one with the Godhead as a testimony to the world(v21)
Be made perfect in unity (v23) so the world knows that Christ was sent by the Father and the Father loves us just as He loved Christ.

What other principles are we to learn from Jesus’s prayer?
The Father’s words are truth that sanctify. (v17)  The assumption is that those words move us to act righteously, which will sanctify.
Jesus’ words bring joy to us while we’re in the world (v13) and not just any joy, but the same joy Jesus feels
Declaring the Father to others brings the love of the Father to us and brings others to Christ. (25)
The world hates those not of the world, and we should love those not of the world (v14)
Jesus wants us to be kept from the evil of the world and prays for that. (v15) This is also something we can pray for ourselves and others.
Jesus wants us who believe in Him to be one so that the world may know of Christ’s divinity and mission thereby. (v21)
Oneness in Christ brings perfection and indicates the Father’s love. (v23)
Jesus wants us to be with Him and see His glory. (v24)

Considering that a Jesus Seminar argued that John 17 was not authentic and was inserted later, 3 Nephi 19 shows us that the prayer is authentic and is just the kind of thing Jesus would do. 

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:19)

We may ask ourselves, in what sense did Christ have to sanctify Himself?  We believe that He was perfect and always made right choices, so we wonder why He had to sanctify Himself.  If He had to sanctify Himself, that implies that at some point He had not been sanctified yet, which seems unthinkable.

However, I realized that it is possible for a person to be innocent without being holy.  Innocent can mean devoid of guilt, but it can also mean devoid of righteousness too.  A person may be innocent before He makes a choice and afterward he or she may be either guilty or righteous, depending on what choice they made.  So it seems to me that Jesus’ process of sanctifying Himself consisted of making good choices consistently.  (Any other thoughts on this?)

Thoughts on Oneness

The New Testament Seminary Student Manual on John 17 had a case study that I felt clarified the issue of why Jesus wanted His disciples to achieve oneness or unity with Himself and the Father:

Imagine that you have moved to a new city. After several months you receive a letter from one of your closest friends. This person has new friends and is participating in inappropriate activities. List at least two ideas from the Savior’s prayer in John 17:11-17 that you could include in your own prayers for your friend. Explain how they could help your friend.

This question highlighted for me how much the Savior wanted His disciples to be kept safe from evil.  It also caused me to realize how Christ wanted His relationship with His disciples to not be adversely affected by separation. He didn’t want the disciples to grow apart from Him, but to be one with Him.  There is something extraordinary about this.  We all have had friends we’ve been separated from by moves and circumstances, whom, when we meet again, we want to be emotionally close to again and wish to pick up where we left off, but in the time apart we find change and growth occurs and the relationship is necessarily a little different.  And yet Christ prays for oneness, for His disciples to be one with Him, for all those who believe in Christ to be one with each other and one with Him and one with the Father.

It’s a good thing the Intercessory Prayer was written down.  It is so chock full of glorious possibilities and loving nuggets that I have to pore over it over and over again to even begin to feel like I am getting it.  I tried watching the church’s Bible video of the Intercessory Prayer and I cried like a baby after only two sentences had been prayed, but I also feel like most of it went over my head while listening.  Reading it over and over and then writing about it seems to help my comprehension more.

The thing that I think is neat is as Christ prayed for His disciples to be one, we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get to see this fulfilled.  We see the unity of the church in belief and love. 

Here’s a little experience with prayer we’ve had recently that I wanted to share:

            A few weeks ago Devon told me that his nonmember coworker Guy has been really worried about his wife. Guy's wife has cancer but has been in complete denial about it for years. She thinks that the doctors don't know what is really wrong with her and she persisted in trying to use herbs and natural remedies to heal.  She also stipulated that her doctors were not to tell Guy how much longer they estimated that she had yet to live. (Yeesh!)
            I've met Guy and his wife. I was in a pottery class with them something like 2 years ago, so this cancer thing has been going on for a loooong time.  Guy is a really cheerful and upbeat kind of person; his eyes are bright, his attitude is positive, he keeps himself busy at home on repair projects fixing up scooters and such. His wife seemed kind of down and quiet. I suppose she has a lot of pain to cope with.
            Anyway, as I said, Guy told Devon about being worried about his wife and not being able to know how long she had yet to live. At this point her cancer has metastasized, meaning it has spread further to other places. Devon told Guy that we would pray for him and his wife.  So we did pray for a few days. We prayed for Guy and his wife that they would have help in their difficult time. I think we didn’t quite know what to pray for, but we did ask for them to be blessed.
            Yesterday Devon told me that Guy had thanked him for his prayers. It seems that Guy's wife has suddenly decided that she would submit to go through chemotherapy treatments and the doctors have told Guy that with chemo, her life expectancy will increase from 3 months to 5 years.
            Wow! IT'S A MIRACLE!  After so many years of being in denial about having cancer at all, she has accepted that she has it. After so many years of refusing to be treated, she has decided to undergo treatment.  After refusing to let her husband know of her life expectancy, she has decided to allow it.
That is the power of prayer.  I don’t think that Heavenly Father forced her change.  Rather, I think He helped her to accept her condition and helped her to decide to accept medical intervention. 
This is been a helpful lesson to me.  It has shown me that if I struggle to accept some bit of truth that requires me to act with courage, I can ask for Heavenly Father’s help.  If I am fearful of taking action, I can ask for Heavenly Father’s help to do it. 


Unknown said...

Who actually wrote down the prayer? If his disciples could not help sleeping on their watch, how do we have this exact account without a single JST modification? Just curious....thanks.

Michaela Stephens said...

Hi Gina,
The answer to your question may be that the prayer wasn't actually offered in Gethsemane, but in the upper room before they went to Gethsemane.
John 17 has the intercessory prayer, and at the very beginning of John 18 it says they went to Gethsemane.