Did you watch the crime drama Maigret recently on TV? They were adapted from the novels by Georges Simenon and portrayed the French detective Jules Maigret. What made the new series stand out from previous ones, however, was the main character. The role of Mairget was played by Rowan Atkinson. I think Rowan portrayed Maigret very well indeed, but I kept expecting him to turn to the camera, open his eyes wide and grin like Mr Bean. That is the challenge for an actor portraying a serious role when he is associated with a very funny one. Rowan is in fact a very good hypocrite.
“In its most literal form, the Greek word for hypocrisy, hypokrisis, simply means acting. Theater productions in the time of Christ depended on the skill of the play’s hypocrites, or actors—the better the hypocrite, the more convincing the show. When Jesus accused religious leaders of hypocrisy, He was basically accusing them of being actors—playing a certain character, putting on an entire performance for the sake of the audience, while in their hearts they were someone completely different. Their piety was a performance, not a genuine action.”[i]
In our gospel reading this morning we will see how Jesus prayed that we be authentic and not hypocrites.
Jesus prayed this prayer on Maundy Thursday, either in the Upper Room or on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Warren Wiersbe says, “…it is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer recorded anywhere in Scripture. John 17 is certainly the “holy of holies” of the Gospel record, and we must approach this chapter in a spirit of humility and worship. To think that we are privileged to listen in as God the Son converses with His Father just as He is about to give His life as a ransom for sinners!”[ii]
Tom Wright observes that Jesus’ prayed because he was going away. “He is entrusting the disciples to the father he has known and loved throughout his earthly life, the father who, he knows, will care for them every bit as much as he has done himself.”[iii] There are three main parts to the Lord’s prayer: First, Jesus prayed to the Father for Himself and how His work on earth would soon be completed (John 17:1–5). Then Jesus prayed for His disciples, asking the Father to protect them and sanctify them (John 17:6–19). Finally Jesus prayed for you and me and the whole church, that we would be united in Him and one day share His glory (John 17:20–26).
Weirsbe says, “What an encouragement this prayer should have been to them! He prayed about their security, their joy, their unity, and their future glory! He also prayed it for us today, so that we would know all that He has done for us and given to us, and all that He will do for us when we get to heaven.” I want to draw out three specific requests Jesus prays for the disciples which we may also pray.
1. That we have protection because we know His name
“I have revealed youto those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe bythat name you gave me.” (John 17:6, 11-12)
Have you ever name dropped? Or maybe heard someone else do it? “My son is the manager” … “My father is the Chief Constable” … “My wife is the daughter of…” Why do we do it? We sometimes name drop because it elevates our status. We want preferential treatment.
To get to the head of the queue. To gain admission. To open doors. Would people treat you differently, if your surname happened to be Rothschild, or Churchill, or Windsor, or Corbyn, or Trump?
In the Old Testament, the Lord God was known by many names: Elohim– God is creator, powerful and mighty. Yahweh-The self-existent One. He has always existed and will always exist.Adonai- God is the Lord over all. He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. El-Shaddai-Rohi– God Almighty, the mighty One. El-Olam-The everlasting God. God is eternal.Yahweh-Jireh– The Lord will provide. He is also known as the Ancient of Days, the King of the universe, the Alpha and Omega. God’s names often emphasize that he is holy, unapproachable, distant, awesome, terrifying, feared. But Jesus also taught that God—the great I AM—will become our Heavenly Father if we trust in His Son.
The word Father is actually used 53 times in the Upper Room discourse from John 13–17. The word Father appears 122 times in the whole of John’s Gospel. In the Bible, “name” refers to “nature,” because names so often revealed something special about a person. Jesus has revealed God’s name and character, his very nature to us. The emphasis in these verses is on our safety. Thankfully, our safety depends on the nature of God, not our character or our conduct. Our security depends on being brought into His family and finding support and encouragement from our brother and sisters.
By His Spirit now, Jesus protects us from the evil one by the authority and power of his name which we share in the Christian family. Being associated with Jesus is what gives us security. That is why we pray in Jesus name. That is why we meet to encourage one another in His presence. Jesus prays that we have protection because we know His name.Jesus’ second request?
- That we become holy because we have His word
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:14-17)
How do you feel when you discover you have been lied to? By a politician, by a close relative, by someone you thought was a friend? It is painful isn’t it? Lying is a form of hypocrisy. Saying one thing, believing another. Lies destroy trust and break friendships. This is the reason I believe we have seen a shift in public opinion over Brexit.
In these verses, Jesus again prays for the protection of believers. He acknowledges they will be hated and even persecuted because of Him. But Jesus says our protection is linked to God’s word. What does that mean? In the Scriptures we have the truth – the very word of God. The Scriptures reveal God’s will for our lives, His values, His principles and priorities. The Scriptures are literally the Makers Instructions. That is why we should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. They are a light to our path. The scriptures are crystal clear on all things essential. Because they reflect God’s nature, as we live by them, we become more and more like Him. Authentic. With integrity – our thoughts, words and actions consistent. That is what sanctification means – to become holy like God. Jesus prays to God the Father to make this happen because our becoming holy is a work of God. As we live by the truth of God’s word, as we trust him to give us his best, we grow closer to God and we become more like Him. First, Jesus prays that we have protection because we know His name; Second, that we become holy because we have His word. The third petition of Jesus?
- That we be united because we are His witnesses
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Every year there is a week of prayer for Christian unity. We pray for unity because it is so easily broken and so challenging to maintain. We pray because we have yet to attain the ‘complete unity’ Jesus promises we will experience in heaven. We pray because Jesus prayed that His family, the Church, should be one. Because we are not, we need to pray for unity every week. But notice why Jesus prays for unity? Not just for the sake of it, but because of the impact our unity, or disunity, has on those outside the Church. Our family and friends are watching. They are asking, is Christianity true? Does it work? Is Jesus real? Are Christians any different? What impact does Jesus make? How we treat one another, humanly speaking, affects how other people regard Jesus. The world cannot see God, but they can see Christians; and what they see in us is what they will believe about God. If they see love and unity, they will be drawn to the God of love. But if they see hatred and division, they will rightly regard us as actors, hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another.
Now perhaps we can begin to see why Jesus prayed for us. He was leaving the world and entrusting his message and mission to his followers. So, Jesus prays for three things:
That we have protection because we know His name.
That we become holy because we have His word.
That we be united because we are His witnesses.
So that in whatever role we serve God, we will be genuine, transparent, authentic, not pretending, not acting out a role like Mr Bean.
[i] Jeremy Lallier: ‘True Christianity – Imperfect People Striving Toward Perfection’ https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/the-church/true-christianity/
[iii] Tom Wright, For Everyone Bible Study Guides: John, SPCK, p. 110.