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He Won't Let You Go

Dec 10, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 17:6-19

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

You’re Talked About

Have you ever experienced the post-interview silence? You finish an interview for a new job, and what always happens next? What is the necessary thing that happens immediately after an interview? People talk about you behind closed doors. It makes you a little uneasy, doesn’t it? I can remember, personally, finishing up the video call I had with your search committee, feeling the silence after we hang up the call. We talked, then we hung up. On my end, it was silence. Here in Amsterdam, presumably, it wasn’t silence. “Time to talk about Peder.”


We get talked about, folks—necessarily so. We talk about the waitress before we tip her. “She did well, let’s give her extra this time.” We talk about the mechanic, the pastor’s sermon, the parenting styles of various parents in our churches or communities. We could also think of this in terms of an authority’s responsibility to those placed under them. Parents must talk about their children. Pastors and elders must talk about people in the congregation. It’s actually their duty to speak about people in this way.


What’s the temptation in moments like this? You want to know what they’re saying. You want to have the assurance in knowing that they are speaking of you with love, with care, and they’re speaking highly of you in one sense or another. I can remember being a child one evening after a social gathering, driving home with my parents. I had begun to fall asleep, and my parents certainly thought I was asleep. Then, I heard them speak my name. They were talking about me, and I could listen in. It’s always tempting want to know how people think of and speak about us.


Folks, do you realize what our passage is, this morning? God the Son is praying to God the Father. God is praying to God. Ever wonder what God says to God? What’s his conversations like? What does he concern himself with? Well here, in our passage, God the Son (Jesus) is praying to God the father—and he’s praying audibly for all his disciples to hear. He wants his disciples to hear and listen in on this prayer. Why is that, folks? In a word, he’s letting us in on a secret. Jesus—even the eternal Son of God—prays for you in this passage. He’s praying for his disciples, for his people, and he wants us to know what those prayers sound like. He wants us to listen in on those conversations wherein the Savior and Lord and eternal Son of God is speaking to the Father about you and me, and he wants us to learn something. 


Folks, let that land hard on you this morning, as we get moving in this passage. God—as a Father to a child—concerns himself with his people (with you), and deeply so. If you were to listen in on a conversation between the persons of the Trinity speak about you (o, you little child of God), what do you think you’d hear? “He’s so foolish, that child, always making the wrong choice”, or “She’s the hard one, never listening to me.” Or perhaps “I just can’t wait for her to turn 18 and leave the home”. That’s not the kind of prayers we’re seeing, here. Believe me, Jesus could have easily gone there with his disciples—with his loud-mouthed and impulsive disciples, you know, like Peter. If you were to hear a conversation between the persons of the Trinity speak about Peter, or about you, what would you hear? Here’s your passage, folks, and it’s more than encouraging. 


We’ll learn three specific ways Jesus concerns himself with his disciples before the Father in this passage, as we peer into this prayer. 


He Identifies Us (verses 6–10)

Look with me at verse 6, where Jesus begins to pray expressly for his disciples. He says in verse 6, 


I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.


So, Jesus is making his first reference, there, to his people as he concerns himself with them—and he’s going to keep speaking of his people this way throughout this section of his prayer. He doesn’t just call them “my disciples”, or “Peter, James, John, and the crew”. He’s identifying them as a particular kind of people, with particular kinds of blessings. 


“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.


That’s who we’re talking about, here. He’s concerning himself with “the people whom you gave me out of the world”, and regarding them as such—as a gift from the father, even a people taken “out of the world”.


Folks, this is so revealing, in so many ways. This is the beginnings of what we might call a pilgrim’s mentality. Jesus is saying that his people, to whom he has manifested the Father’s name, are people who were of the world, but taken out of the world and given to Jesus. Later, he’ll say “I do not ask that you take them out of the world” (verse 15), and “they are not of the world” (verse 16). So, Jesus is referring to “the people” whom the Father gave to him out of the world, even though they remain in the world. They’re pilgrims taken out of their old home, moving to a new home, and Jesus is praying for them. 


And note—that’s who Jesus manifested the Father’s name to. I think we mess this up, often. I think we’ll often say that Jesus came and revealed his Father’s name—that is, his glory, his attributes, all that his name represents—to everyone in the world without exception. Certainly, there is a sense in which Jesus revealed God’s glory to the whole world. Jews and gentiles whom the Father did not give to Jesus saw God’s glory when they saw Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead. They saw the glory of the Father’s name as Jesus manifested it to them, but no doubt, they didn’t see it. Jesus was not manifesting the Father to them, and so they didn’t see the Father. Jesus is very clear in this verse, “I have manifested your name [the Father’s glory and grace] to the people whom you gave me out of the world.” That’s who Jesus revealed the Father to. The Father had a group of people he selected out of the world to give to the Son so the Son would reveal to them the Father. This is God’s sovereign and free election, and the Son’s limited atonement. We might even call it the Father’s election and the Son’s limited, or his particular revelation. The Son only revealed—or manifested—the Father’s name to those the Father particularly gave him. 


Now, to be clear, this does require us to differentiate between knowing the Father’s name, in a general sense, and knowing the Father’s name. There’s a difference between knowing (about) God, and knowing God. Pharoah knew the name of God—God made sure of that, didn’t he? He heard the Jews speak of the name Yahweh often. He heard Moses speak it. He saw the works of Yahweh when Pharaoh’s firstborn child was killed. 


But folks, even as Moses was manifesting the power of Yahweh’s name to Pharaoh through signs and wonders, the Pharaoh didn’t see or come to know Yahweh’s name. The name of Yahweh was not ultimately manifest—or made known—to Pharaoh. Why? “I will harden [Pharaoh’s] heart”. That’s why. Even though the name of Yahweh was revealed to Pharoah, the name of Yahweh wasn’t truly revealed to Pharoah. God left the Pharaoh in his depravity, in his sin, in rebellion against Yahweh.


Jesus says, here, even as he has performed miracles and revealed the Father’s name publicly over three years of ministry, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.” He really meant it. There are prophesies about it, you know. In Isaiah 52:6, God actually speaks of a day when “my people will know my name”—you know, Israelites will actually know the name of their God.


Do you know the name of the Father? It’s a big question, you know. Do you know him as the sovereign maker and judge, as “holy Father” (as Jesus refers to him in verse 11)? Do you know him as your Father, savior, protector, provider who works all things together for your good? If you do, by faith, Jesus revealed that name to you. If that means nothing to you—it’s just another religion—I dare say nothing has been revealed to you this morning. I fear for you.


Jesus is not manifesting, or revealing, the Father’s glory to just anyone. He’s manifesting the Father’s name to the people whom the father gave him from out of the world. They were in the world. The Father chose them from the world, he chose them out of the world and gave them to Jesus so that Jesus would manifest the Father’s name to them. 


We heard this in the Psalm which we read, Psalm 22. “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Those are the Messiah’s words, prophetically foretold in Psalm 22, a Psalm which Jesus quotes as referring to himself and his ministry. Why did he come? What was his mission? It was to tell of the Father’s name to the brothers. It was to manifest the Father’s name to the people whom the Father gave him out of the world.


It's a very beautiful thought, isn’t it, especially as we’re in the Christmas-themed month of December? We love to talk about Jesus manifesting God around Christmas time. That’s what he did when he became a human, and grew up without sin, and taught perfectly and performed miracles and died for our sins. He came and manifested the glory—the name—of God. 


I actually spoke with a minister in our denomination this week, having a sort of pastor’s version of small talk. What do pastors “small talk” about? Well, here’s one for you. “Ah, what are you preaching on these days?” That’s the go to small talk question for pastors. It never fails. So, I say, “we just started John 17”. You know what he said? “How fitting for December, that’s a wonderful Christmas passage”. 


Have you ever connected this chapter to Christmas before? We usually go to John 1. That’s a classic Christmas passage. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then a few verses later, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” The baby Jesus, as God became man, made known God’s glory to man. That’s the glory of the incarnation.


And yes, that’s all over John 17. That’s what we’re talking about this morning. Jesus has come to manifest the glory—the very name—of God. “I have manifested your name to the people”, verse 6. That’s a jam-packed statement, right there. Everything Jesus did—from baby Jesus and the incarnation to the miracles and the teaching and the cross—was all about manifesting the glory and love and power of God to the people. That’s Jesus’s mission. But we need to hear this. He didn’t manifest his glory to everyone, to the world without exception. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.” Only those whom the Father gave to the Son can truly celebrate Christmas. Only they can see the glory of the Father’s name through the Son who became flesh. He has manifested the Father to them. 


What effect might that have upon a person? If Jesus manifested the Father’s glory to you—if you truly understood the Christmas story—what effect would it have upon you?  I think that’s where Jesus is going in the rest of verse 6, there. Look at verse 6 to see what Jesus says next. 


Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.


So, Jesus is speaking about people who (1) originally belonged to the Father through his election of them, and who (2) the Father gave to the Son that the Son might manifest the Father’s name to them, and now (3) as the Son received them and manifested the Father’s name to them, (quote) “they have kept your word.” That’s where all this is going. These people after the Father’s election and the Son’s ministry to them, “have kept” the Father’s word. 


What’s that mean? In the most immediate sense, Jesus is speaking about his disciples in this prayer—he’s praying most immediately about them. Is he saying they keep God’s word—perhaps, his law—perfectly? Certainly not. That’s just not true. They’re full of sin and pride and selfishness, constantly bickering amongst one another about who is greater than the other. 


Jesus is saying that “they have kept your word”, namely “your word about who Jesus is—the Messiah and Savior of the world, who has come from the Father.” That’s how everyone I read understands this verse. The disciples, in other words, receive Jesus as the Messiah and Savior from the Father. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” That confession, right there, is keeping Jesus’s word about who he is and where he’s from. Nobody else in the crowds kept that word like these 11 disciples did. 


Hence, verse 7. Keep reading. “they have kept your word…”


7 Now [in keeping your word] they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 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.


See how Jesus is defining terms for us, here? He’s saying that the disciples received Jesus’s word that he’s from God, he’s the Messiah, he’s the way the truth and the life, and they have kept that word. Why did they keep it? Well, Jesus manifested the Father’s name to them. But of course, why did Jesus manifest his name to them? The father chose them and gave them to Jesus for that purpose. 


Now, this is where we might be tempted to ask—why did the Father choose them out of the world, and not others? Why them—those 11 disciples? Or by extension, why me, or you? Why does the Father choose anyone? That’s a conversation between the persons of God which we don’t get to listen in on. We don’t know—but one thing is clear in all of Scripture. Who the Father chooses to pull out of the world has nothing to do with us. It has nothing to do with our good works or our likeability, or our good looks, or nationalities, or gender, or our strengths or weaknesses. It’s all in his hands, folks, and we are called to simply preach the gospel and pray the Lord would call his people to himself. Jesus will call those whom the Father has given him. He’ll humble the proud like he did to Saul, and he’ll exalt the humble nobodies like he did for these of Galilean fisherman. He humbles the proud and exalts the humble, all to his glory. That’s how he works—other than that, we don’t know why he elects who he elects. We just know that he chose some, and that alone is a mystery of all mercies. No one deserves to be chosen by the Father and given to the Son. Nobody deserves that—this is sheer grace, and the more we can understand this the more we’ll be thankful and humble before God. 


So, that sums up verses 6–10 for us in this passage. We could read verses 9–10 again, but those verses really do mostly reiterate what we’ve already seen. 


So, analysis. What is Jesus ultimately doing in this prayer when he first brings up his disciples? He doesn’t immediately go into intercession, does he? We’ve just looked at 5 verses (verses 6–10), and we don’t see a single prayer request on their behalf. What is he doing? He identifies them. He identifies them before the Father. “Father, I’m praying for these, people—these people whom you chose and whom you gave to me. You better make good on your word, father. They were yours, and you gave them to me that I might manifested your name to them, and I’ve done that. I’m about to go to the cross for them. You better do your part now, Father!” 


How do you make an appeal on someone’s behalf, and really express the urgency of the appeal? One thing you can do is illustrate the importance, or the value, of a person. To say “children are hungry, go feed them” is one thing. To say “your child, whom you love and are responsible for, is hungry, go feed him”. That’s a totally different statement in a mother’s ears. Sure, a mother might have a bleeding heart for all children—but, her children? 


Yes, the Father loves the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”. That is true. The Father loves the world, and doesn’t want anyone to perish. However, for his purposes, he has chosen some out of the world to be saved, and he has especially loved those. “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours”, Jesus says in verse 9, there. 


Do you realize, brothers and sisters, that Jesus identifies you whom the Father has chosen, and he prays for you specifically? I don’t think that’s a wishy-washy Christian thing to say. As the Father identifies some from others, and gives them to the Son, so the Son identifies those and calls them for who they are. They are chosen, given to him that he would save them, and he prays for them. He identifies you—even in his prayers before the Father—and he prays for you. “Father, I am praying for Ben, for Alice, for William, for Mark, whom you have given me, for they are yours.” There’s an urgency and a certain resolve in that, folks.


Now, what does he pray? He identifies us before the Father. Then, you might say that in his prayers, he solidifies us and he sanctifies us. That’s where we’re going with the rest of this passage, this morning. Yes, he identifies us in his prayers, but as he identifies, us, he solidifies and sanctifies us in his prayers. He prays that we would be solidified—kept and persevered—in the faith, and that we would be sanctified.


He Solidifies Us (verses 11–15)

Keep reading in verse 11. 


11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. 


So, that sets up the occasion for this prayer. That’s the problem, the drama, if you will. Jesus is going away. He needs the Father to take care of his people while he’s gone. Keep reading—


Holy Father, keep them in your name…


That’s a wonderful prayer. Do you pray that for one another? “Holy Father, keep Angela or Marilyn in your name…”. Keep them, O Father. Keep our children in your name. It’s a great prayer. What exactly does it mean? It certainly has “protect”, or “persevere” in mind. “Don’t let go of this person. Hold their lives in your hands with everything you got, lest they fall into ruin.” We can’t hold onto God on our own. Isn’t that true? That’s what this prayer is implying. “The disciples won’t be able to hold onto you, Father. They’re fickle, weak sinners! It’s up to you, O Father, to keep them in your name!” It’s so true. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Remember what Jesus said about Peter? “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail”. That’s what he prays, folks. I imagine that prayer went much like this. “Father, Peter is one of yours! He was yours, you gave him to me, keep him in your name!” 


Now, one other question. What’s it mean to be “in” the Father’s name? “Keep them in your name”. It means to be kept in his promises, his grace, his blessings and life and forgiveness and fellowship. I think this is getting at the idea of unity which we’ll see in the next few verses. To be “in” the Father’s name is to be united with the Father, in a certain sense. To be adopted into his family, his blessings. He’s our father, we’re his children, and there’s a familial union or blessings involved with all that. It doesn’t need to be confusing or mystical. When you’re in fellowship with someone—especially with someone in your family—there’s a wonderful union, even in a shared name, that goes with that. We share a name—we’re Christians. We’re children of the Father, and we get the blessings of the Father. That’s what this is getting at, here. So, Jesus says this—


Holy Father, keep them in your name [in your blessings and glory] which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 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. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.


That’s an awesome prayer for protection, perseverance, union, even joy (verse 12). Jesus wants his disciples to be solidified, grounded, persevered, in the Father’s name and all that goes with his name. Even when the world hates them, they’ll remain solid, kept by the Father in the Father’s name, in the words of Jesus, with Jesus’s joy fulfilled in themselves. 


Have you ever thought of what it means to be kept in the Father’s name? It’s a wonderful thought to parse out, folks. Just think, I pronounce a benediction in the name of Jesus over you ever week. What do I say? 


“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.” That’s what Jesus is praying. “Keep them in your name, father.” Bless them, keep them, shine your face upon them, lift your countenance upon them, and so give them your grace and peace. For God to “keep you in his name”, he must be shining his face and countenance upon you. He must think highly of you—again, for no other reason than that he thinks highly of you. He chose you because he chose you, and he gave you to Jesus. Your chosen, your sins are forgiven at the cross. You have a new name as you’ve been adopted into the Father’s family through the Son. You get the family inheritance, the blessings, the protection, the peace. “Keep them in your name.” Pray for it, every day folks. Pray for one another, especially as you might hear of someone suffering. 


There’s an urgency to it, isn’t there? I feel it often when I pray for you guys, as I hear of what you might be going through. Jesus’s words are encouraging, but also hard. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” He leaves us to suffer for a time. We’re pilgrims. Loved ones die, and we ache. We get sick, miserably sick. We lose our jobs and fall into economic turmoil. When the curse pushes us, this is the sort of prayer request that comes so naturally and urgently, isn’t it? “O Lord, Father, keep them in your name. Give them the strength to trust, Encourage them, provide for them.” Jesus even prays “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” There’s the demonic forces working against us, too. There is so much working against us, folks, it’s a wonder that we don’t fall on our faces and despise God like Jobs wife did. He won’t let us go. God is praying for you—the Father is hearing the prayers as the Son is praying, and even the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23). 


So Jesus, with a sense of urgency, identifies us before the Father, and he solidifies us in the Father’s name. “Holy Father, keep them in your name.” That’s how God concerns himself with us, folks. 


He Sanctifies Us (verses 16–19)

Let’s finish this out with verses 16–19. Jesus prays that we wouldn’t just be solidified in the Father’s name, but that we’d be sanctified—wholly set apart from the world. Verse 16,


16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


Folks, this means nothing less than Jesus’s committing us, his people (and especially the 11 disciples) to holy use for the Father. It’s a marvel, folks, that God intends to not only identify us apart from the world, and solidify us in his name that we would persevere. He intends to sanctify us—to set us apart—to be used by him in his mission to the world. 


There’s a reason we’re pilgrims, you know. It’s not like Jesus said “I’ll leave them down there for awhile until I come back.” Jesus says, there in verse 18, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus set his people apart from the world, to go into the world with his truth and his blessings and his life, and finish the work he began. Remember what he said earlier in John? John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” That’s an amazing statement right there, folks. It’s an amazing privilege—and yes, an amazing responsibility. 


The Lord has left us as pilgrims in this world in order that he might through us continue proclaiming his truth and calling to himself the people the Father gave him. The mission continues. The truth continues. So, Jesus sets us apart. He sanctifies us in his truth. He certainly did for his disciples, as they were moved to write down the truth for us in Scriptures. Yet we who have those Scriptures continue the work—and if the Lord does not solidify and sanctify us, we’re done for. 


This prayer, folks, is proof that he does. He identifies us before the Father, with a fail-proof appeal to the Father’s election of us. He concerns himself with us, he prays for us, he’s committed to us. He solidifies us in his persevering grace, keeping us in the Father’s name and blessings. He sanctifies us in his truth. In fact, as verse 19 says, “for their sake I consecrate myself”. Do you know what he’s referring to, there? He’s referring to him consecrating himself for his mission—for his death on the cross so that we might be forgiven.  “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” 


He identifies, solidifies, and sanctifies us. Be encouraged and motivated. You’ve heard the word, now—you’ve heard how God speaks of you. Now go serve him, even as you’ve been sanctified by him.

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