A Righteous Reason NOT to Pray
by Jeremy Edmonson
SURPRISED BY THE WORD
More than likely, we have all been in the situation of reading a familiar passage of God's Word when something leaps off the page and takes us by surprise. Maybe observation after observation, and meditation after meditation, yielded a greater understanding. Maybe the Holy Spirit used a particular verse to soften an increasingly calloused heart. Or maybe it was a nagging question that could not be shaken. The last option was true of me, while reading John 17. This prayer, offered by our great High Priest, is full of insight into the depths of Jesus' care for His sheep, and His infinite relationship with the Father.
The flow of John 17 is fascinating. Jesus is clear concerning all that God has done, and is doing, regarding the glory of the Son. He asks intently that believers would experience fellowship with one another, and with the Father and the Son.
But anyone who reads this prayer must admit that verse 9 seems to strike against the grain of the rest of this chapter. It reads, "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours" (emphasis mine). If you are like me, when you came across this line, you thought, "What? How odd! I mean, wouldn't it be more productive to pray for the world? After all, they are the 'lost ones!'" Why would Jesus make such a statement? What does He mean by it?
We know that Jesus often prayed for the unsaved (c.f. Luke 23:34), but this moment in John 17 occurred before His time on the cross, and I believe the timing is significant as to why Jesus did not pray for the world. Let's consider what the Lord's brother says regarding the one who prays.
A FERVENT PRAYER
In Jas 5:16, the Lord's brother writes, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James continues by using Elijah as an example of this truth. After 3 1/2 years of drought in the land the prophet prayed, rain fell, and the earth once again yielded a crop (5:17-18). The focus here is on the effective nature of prayer when the one who offers it up is considered "just" (dikaios). By using an Old Testament example, James demonstrates that this particular truth is applicable for more than simply healing the sick (5:14), and surely stretches beyond the Church Age to stand as a truth concerning any who are righteous.
If we behold the Lord Jesus in all of His splendor and glory, we cannot help but list just and righteous among His many attributes. Who, when praying, would be considered a more righteous man than our Lord, the sinless Messiah? If there were ever a prayer that would "avail much," it would be the prayer of the Lord Jesus. So why didn't Jesus pray for the world at that moment?
Jesus was about to be unjustly subjected to a series of despicable events that would end in His death on the cross. While it "pleased the Lord to bruise Him," (Isa 53:10), the world would be the ones who delivered the Lord Jesus unto death (Matt 17:22; Mark 9:31). They would be the ones to condemn Him despite His innocence. The world would be the tool that would slaughter the Lamb of God. Being a righteous man, Jesus' prayers for the world would have "availed much." The wicked hearts of the world would have been softened due to the Holy High Priest interceding on their behalf. This would have left all of mankind under sin, without the hope that only Christ's death could provide.
Why did Jesus make the statement, "I do not pray for the world?" One word: love. Jesus loved the world enough to allow the hardened hearts of the unregenerate to continue in their rebellion, so as to deliver Him up to crucifixion (Acts 2:23). He understood that "tasting death for every man" (Heb 2:9) was necessary in order for the world to have the opportunity to be reconciled unto their Creator by faith in Christ (John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:18). Jesus loved us enough to forgo the means of avoiding death in order to die for us. Let us dwell on this demonstration of what is truly love!