John Chapter Seventeen unveils, in a unique and most personal way, the “deep, deep love of Jesus.” But in John 17:20-26, we come to see that love for you personally. Today I believe that those reading these words may be given the faith to trust—that He is there in your marriages, that He is there in your parenting, that He is there in your days in school . . . and for some of you simply that He is just there. Open your Bibles and read with me from the Old Testament, in Psalm 112:4, then Isaiah 42:16, before turning to our text in John 17:20-26.
“Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.” Psalm 112:14 (ESV)
“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 (ESV)
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 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. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 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” (John 17:20-27 (ESV).
Is clarity necessary for faith? Is perfect understanding a sign of one’s stronger belief in God? The brilliant ethicist, Reverend Professor John Kavanagh, S.J., went to work for three months in the “house of the dying” in Calcutta seeking for answers on how to spend the rest of his life. Mother Theresa was still alive then, carrying the crippled, pouring oil onto the wounds that would never heal, and giving dignity to a people who are called outcasts. John Kavanaugh, on his first day there, went to Mother Theresa. “And what can I do for you?” She asked. Kavanaugh requested prayer from the Albanian nun. The saintly Mother Theresa replied, “What do you want me to pray for?” The scholar replied, “Pray that I have clarity.” Mother Theresa countered quickly and with resolution, “No, I will not pray for that.” With confused surprise to this abrupt answer by this tiny “holy woman,” John Kavanaugh asserted, “Why not?” And Mother Theresa told him, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” Kavanagh complained that she seemed to have clarity and understanding in abundance. And he wanted it, too! She laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So, I will pray that you trust God.”
So, too, I do not ask if you have a full understanding. I ask, “Do you have trust?” Do you trust in Christ and in His Word and His promises to you? I bring this matter before you because it is now time to move beyond trying to understand the unfathomable depths of meaning of John 17 to the most important place. Do you trust this Savior who prays for you? Understanding must yield to trust. And trust is another thing all together.
Today I want to show you that Jesus’ prayer is that you will, indeed, trust in Him. I do not use the word, “believe” though that is the word we use in John 17:20. He prays for those who will believe. But I use the word trust. In the Greek New Testament, there is one word used whether our English puts it “believe” or “trust.” We have, I think, abused the word believe. We live in a culture where to believe in Jesus has possibly become something different than the New Testament usage of the word. There to believe is to be aware of your powerlessness and helplessness in the face of your sinful condition and the fallen condition of the world. And it is, as the late theologian Richard Niebuhr puts it, not only to acknowledge the historical person of Jesus but His “authority” over all your life. It is to transfer your trust from anything or anyone else to Jesus Christ alone.
My concern in this article is to help you see how you come to do that. And taking into consideration that there are probably thousands of reasons that could keep you from receiving His authority over all your life, I want you to see John 17 and verses 20-26. For in these verses, something amazing is at work, and it is this: Jesus has already taken the first step towards you. And I make my main proposition as clear as I am able: You can trust in Jesus for Jesus has prayed for you to trust in Him. He did this in three remarkable ways in this passage.
- Jesus prayed for you before you were born. This is what is meant in this passage when we read that Jesus says, I pray not only for these but for those who will believe through their testimony. In other words, Jesus was praying for people who had not been born yet! And so, too, did this God say to young Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This likewise accords with Paul in his letter to Ephesians: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love,” (Ephesians 1:4). And, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5).
After this prayer, and after looking over a city that would reject Him, and riding into a city on the back of a donkey, hearing cries of Hosanna which would become cries of Crucify Him! Jesus counted it all worth it. He counted it all worth it because He loved His little ones. He loves you. And you can trust our Lord, no matter your pain, no matter the pain you see in the world because He first loved you. He loved you before you were born. Now in this passage, we see that Jesus not only prayed for you before you were born but another thing:
- Jesus prayed for you before He died for you. This prayer happens prior to the Crucifixion. And to know this is important. It is important that you know that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and that your Savior called out your name to His Father in his life. And therefore, His death is for you. He prayed for you, trusted in one day possessing you and therefore He died for you. He did not die and then beg you to believe. He chose you, He prayed for you and then He died for you. Your salvation is not dependent upon your choice of God but His choice of you.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).
“. . . no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:65).
Now, these are amazing words with mysterious meaning. But rather than theorizing about the mystery let’s see the practical power of this truth. That Jesus prayed for you before He ever died for you means the end of despair for you who are struggling to find faith; for you who are longing to trust. For you who have been abandoned by family, hurt by friends, brutalized by the rat race, or deeply moved by a world of suffering and pain, this Jesus is already on your side. He does not require that you get those questions answered and then come to you. He comes to you amid the pain and loves you. You come then when you know that love. That is what I want to emphasize to you most today: the love of Jesus that would love you and pray for you and value you above His own prerogatives for divinity; above His own sinless life. He was willing to be handed over to evil men, to be ridiculed, to be abandoned by God on the stinking and smoldering land fill called Calvary so that He might save those He loves.
To know this and experience this prayer of Jesus for you, will not only set you free who are longing to trust Jesus, but will bring happiness to sad hearts of disciples who have forgotten the wonder of His love for you. Brennan Manning in his book, Ruthless Trust, tells of a time when he was speaking in 1999 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He had addressed faculty and students about the grace of God in Christ, focusing on the love of Jesus. The next day a distinguished faculty member came to him. She talked to him and told him this:
“At one point in my life, I had a faith so strong that it shaped the very fiber of each day. I was conscious of God’s presence even in stressful situations. The fire of Christ burned inside me. Slowly, . . . and almost imperceptibly . . . she told how that fire had gone out. She told how academia and life and stuff just crowded out trusting in Jesus. After a moment she continue, “After you spoke on the love of God last night, I cried for an hour. My life is so empty . . . I’m like Mary Magdalene in the garden crying, ‘Where has my Beloved gone? I miss God so much that sometimes I feel frantic. I long for the relationship I used to have?”
Do you feel like Mary Magdalene, “Where has my Beloved gone?” The truth is He is alive. And He died and rose again not to beg you to accept Him. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. And before He died for you He even prayed for you. You can then trust Him or trust Him again. Your Beloved is here. Now all of this in John 17 comes down to this: Jesus not only prayed for you before you were born, and before He died for you, but something more:
- Jesus prayed for you though, today, some of you do not want to pray to Him. You see you have yet to come to realize what Jesus Christ already plans for you. What I must make clear to you from this passage is that your unbelief or your lack of trust does not intimidate God, nor will the Father deny Jesus’ prayer for you to trust in Him because now you are in sin, or you are confused, or you have troubles of the soul. No, my beloved, God is like Michelangelo who saw David in rocks when others only saw boulders. This whole magnificent chapter is about the step that God has taken to you before you ever took a step at all. He chose you, He loved you, He prayed for you, He died for you and He believed in you. The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar stated: “We need only to know who and what we really are to break into spontaneous praise and thanksgiving.” This is not man-centered narcissism; it is God-induced wonder at a love like no other. David has this wonder of how God loved him. David, in his sin and his shame and his failures, could yet exclaim:
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .” (Psalm 139:14a).
Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it:
“I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!” (Psalm 139:14).
Now let us be clear. The answer to the prayer of Jesus for your holiness is not up to your intellectual prowess, or good breeding. No. He trusted in His oath and covenant and blood. He trusted in the design of His Heavenly Father who chose you in love. He knew His mission on earth and on the cross, would be successful because the Spirit would regenerate your dead spiritual heart and cause you to pant after Him. Again, this trust is way beyond anything you could imagine. It is rooted in the divine love of God for Himself and thus for His creation. That is the force of this great chapter. But when you know that He trusts in you, He loves you; it does something. It transforms you. Jesus’ trust that you will be His transcends your circumstances which seek to resist or oppose that love.
The Devil in the Book of Job is saying to God, “Sure, old Job is a fine specimen of a godly man now, but just let him lose everything! Then the truth will come out! He is only as good as the blessings. When they go, He will go.” But God trusted in His own plan for Job and could thus trust that nothing would separate Job from God. Not even heartache. And amidst all the Hell that Satan could send, at the end of all the shallow theology of his so-called friends who told him that “you are in this fix because of your sin” Job shouted out the trust that was born out of God’s Word to Him:
“Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! Oh, that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in* my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:23-27).
I often illustrate what I see in Scripture from my own life because I know that best! I can never forget my Aunt Eva, who raised me, telling me, “Son, just because you are a Protestant, don’t you ever think bad of Roman Catholics.” Now I will tell you why she said that. She told me that when my daddy was sinking low in alcoholism, and the darkness of that sin and disease had taken his career, his future and his hope, there were Catholic priests who would not stop believing in Jesus’ prayer to be realized in my daddy. They were there when others left him. They believed that God could and would do something in my Daddy’s life. And my father was a blessed believer waiting to burst forth from a decaying drunk. To this day, I am thankful to a Roman Catholic order of priests who love alcoholics and will not give up on them, when others do. I take exception to their view of justification, or the way we are saved. But I do not take issue with anyone’s faith that says, “Jesus’ power to transform a human soul is greater than humanity’s power to destroy it.”
My friends, Jesus will not give up on you. He has prayed for you. He did not give up on Saul of Tarsus in his sin, though even when Saul became the Apostle Paul, even Christians couldn’t believe he was the real deal. Jesus never gave up on him. He saw what he would be because He prayed for Him. And I don’t care if today you are too far gone in the minds of some. You are not too far gone for Jesus if He has prayed for you. The sin of your alcohol may have destroyed your liver and your relationships, but Jesus prayed for you! He trusts in you when no one else does! Your infidelity may have destroyed your marriage, but God led you to this article to read that Jesus has prayed for you and He will build a life out of the ruins of your sin or someone’s sin against you! He believes in His power to save and His certainty to draw you to Himself more than you do and more than others do because He loves you and He chose you in love! You are a child that has a self-image of a loser, of a troublemaker and you may have lost, and your pain and your sin and the devil himself may have trapped you, and you are a troublemaker. But Jesus sees a saint being born again out of a sinner. And you will come to Him. For Jesus prayed for you.
So, if you are fearful of trusting or perhaps feel unable to trust, this is your day. Because to listen to Jesus praying for you tells you that He has taken the first step to you because He loves you. He prayed that you would hear and believe before you were born, before He even died for you, and yes before you even trusted in Him. And so, no matter what you are facing, you can trust in Him. Yet how do you respond if you are gripped by fear or trapped in sin? Or addicted? Or lost in your pain? I read these words this week from Brennan Manning’s wonderful book, Ruthless Trust: “To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in the darkness.”
I will tell you about a doxology in the darkness, not a Psalm of praise, but a whispered song of trust. There is a pastor who lives and ministers in Seattle, Washington. I read of an encounter this pastor had one Sunday with a high-profile couple in his church who were sitting with their Down’s syndrome baby. He sensed that they were uncomfortable with the baby in worship and seemed to just try to get to the door as quickly as possible. He saw them there and asked them if they would wait for him to finish greeting the people and then meet with him in his office. They were confused and even uncomfortable, but they waited and met him in his office. There he asked if he could hold the baby. He took the child into his arms and began to sob. He looked into their eyes and asked them, “Do have any idea of the gift God has given you in this child?” The parents were confused and even hurt. But the pastor went on, as he held the baby close: “Two years ago, my three-year-old daughter, Sylvia, died with Down’s syndrome. We have four other children, so we know the blessing that kids can be. Yet the most precious gift we’ve ever received in our entire lives has been Sylvia. In her uninhibited expression of affection, she revealed to us the face of God as no other human being ever has. Treasure this child, for he will lead you into the heart of God.”
From that day forward, I read that the parents began to brag about their little one.
Why do I tell you that story? Because I believe it illustrates how God brings us to trust Him. He does it not by our expectations for the Messiah we think we want. But from the far reaches of doubt and despair that leads us to the Savior we need. We best believe not from our positions of strength, but out of weakness. We even cradle our weaknesses—the broken dreams, the unexpected illness, the abandonment, the failure—because in our weakness we see the heart of God. In our weakness in sin, we see a Savior who prayed for us, died for us and rose again for us. And it is in His life, His prayer for us, His trusting heart for us, that we come to know that we can trust Him or trust Him again.
So, whatever you think is keeping you from Jesus is likely the thing that He is using to bring you to Him. You see this is possible, because of the deep, deep love of Jesus.
For so we read in John 17. He prayed for you. Will you now trust in Him that today His prayer is answered once and for all in your life?
 Preached by Dr. Mike Milton at Trinity Chapel (ARPC) in Charlotte, NC on August 20, 2017. Theme: Is it possible to sing amid the shattered dreams of life? John 17, the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus, reveals a promise and brings His presence giving sustaining power—even overcoming power—to those enduring the darkness of affliction.
 Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust : The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000).
 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 1st ed. ([San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).
 Ibid, 18.
 Ibid., 27.
 See Job 1.7-11.
 From my personal files, the names will remain anonymous.
Dr. Michael A. Milton (PhD, University of Wales) is the Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries. The retired fourth presidency and chancellor of the RTS System, Dr. Milton founded and shepherded 3 churches (KS, GA, and NC), and was the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Mike Milton is a US Army Chaplain (Colonel) retired, and remains President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. Dr. Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Mike puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God Starts God Completes.”