This morning, I want to begin a 3-week series of lessons based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. We know from reading the gospels that Jesus prayed a lot, but the gospel writers hardly ever tell us what Jesus prayed or how he prayed. And even when we are told what Jesus prayed, it’s usually just a few words.
For example, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, we’re told that Jesus prayed, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42). When he was on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” “My God, My God, have you forsaken me?” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” But, here in John 17, we have an entire chapter that records Jesus’ prayer – 26 verses.
It’s presented to us as a prayer, but at times, it doesn’t sound very much like a prayer. What it sounds like is a sermon disguised as a prayer. I suspect that you parents have sometimes prayed a prayer like this. You sit down at the dinner table with your children, and they’re arguing and complaining. What do you pray? “Lord, our family needs your help to treat one another with love and respect!” And, when we do that, our words communicate not only a prayer to God, but also some instruction for our children.
Many of us can remember that old guy in worship whose prayers we timed, to see if he could set a new prayer-length record. And, in his prayer, he exhorted and corrected most of the congregation and the world at large. The worship order said it was a “prayer”, but what we got was a sermon disguised as a prayer.
And the prayer of Jesus here in John 17 is a bit like that. It’s addressed to God, and so it has the form of a prayer, but it looks and feels more like a sermon. Because while Jesus was praying, his disciples were listening. And Jesus made it very clear in this prayer what he wanted for his people.
There are some who refer to this prayer as “the high priestly prayer of Jesus” because Jesus is making intercession for himself and his people in this prayer, just like a high priest would do.
Before I read this prayer, I want to make mention of a couple of things. First of all, I want you to keep in mind that this prayer was prayed at the very end of Jesus’ life. This was the night of his betrayal, the night before his crucifixion.
In the previous chapters, John 14-16, Jesus gave his disciples a series of teachings that was meant to prepare his disciples for the difficult road ahead. Jesus was saying “farewell” to them. But more than that, he was offering his disciples encouragement and comfort, as he promised to send the Holy Spirit.
It was right after this that Jesus prayed the prayer in John 17. This prayer has three sections. In verses 1-5, we find Jesus praying for himself, which is the section we’re going to look at this morning. In verses 6-19, Jesus is praying for his disciples who were there with him. I plan for us to look at that section next week. And then, in verses 20-26, Jesus is praying for all those who would believe on him from that day onward, which includes us. I plan for us to look at that section in two weeks.
What I find so fascinating about this prayer is that it gives us a very intimate glimpse into the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. If you really want to know what is on a person’s mind and heart, then listen to their prayers. Because the prayers that we pray reveal what is in our mind and on our heart. For example, suppose you hear someone pray:
- Lord, I could use a better job, one that pays better and where I don’t have to deal with a boss who’s always on my back.
- God, please, please let this police officer give me a warning!
- Father, would you please help all of these sick people to feel better.
- God, please help me to be more patient with my family, help me to show your love through what I say and what I do.
The content of our prayers shows the desire of our hearts. To put it another way, you and I pray about those things that matter most to us. But this connection between praying and what’s in our hearts becomes even more revealing when suffering or hardship enters the picture. When life becomes difficult and the pressure is applied more and more in our lives, we begin to really see what’s most important to us. Praying in times of suffering shows what you really value.
That’s why Jesus’ prayer here in John 17 is so revealing. It comes at a critical time in Jesus’s life. He has just concluded his teaching ministry. He has given his final instructions to his disciples. If you turn over to the next chapter, John 18, you’ll see that the arrest, the trial, and the crucifixion of Jesus are just around the corner.
And Jesus knows what is coming. Everything in his ministry has been leading up to this moment. This is his mission. But the path in front of him is going to involve immense suffering as Jesus takes on the wrath of God on our behalf.
You know, sometimes we think that knowing the future would make things easier. I think it’s just the opposite. I think if we knew what the future holds, it would scare us to death. Jesus knew the suffering he was about to endure. He knew the trauma of what that would mean for the disciples. And so, this prayer reveals what is on the mind and heart of Jesus as he gets ready to suffer.
As we take a look at this prayer, we’re going to see not only what was important to Jesus, but we can also learn from his example what sorts of things we ought to be praying for when we’re suffering.
So, what does Jesus ask for in this prayer? We’re going to find that Jesus prayed for one thing for himself and then he prayed for two things for his disciples. And then, finally, Jesus prayed for one more thing for all of us. Let’s take a look now at what Jesus prayed for himself.
Beginning in verse 1, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:1-5)
The one request that Jesus made for himself was this — “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” This topic of glory is a theme that we find throughout John’s gospel. John uses the verb “glorify” 23 times, far more than any other New Testament writer. He uses the noun “glory” 18 more times. So, you get the sense that this idea of glory was very important as John tells us the story of Jesus.
Now, if you look in a dictionary, you will find that to glorify is to praise or honor something or someone to an extreme degree. If you like someone, you might compliment them or praise them, but glorifying takes that a step further. When something is glorified, it is praised to the highest degree possible.
But the word “glory” has an even deeper significance. Glory is a word that is directly connected to the essence of who God is and what makes him unique from everything else in this world.
For example, in Jesus’s very first miracle of turning water to wine, we read in John 2, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11). When Jesus performed this miracle (and later, all the other miracles), it “manifested his glory”. In other words, it showed us that Jesus was more than just a man. He did things that mere humans can’t do. It showed that he was the Son of God. And that’s why, when Jesus’ disciples saw these miracles that “manifested his glory”, they “believed on him.”
In the very beginning of his gospel, John wants us to understand that there was something special about Jesus. From the very beginning of time, “The Word (Jesus) was with God, and the Word was God…. 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.” (John 1:14).
John tells us that Jesus “dwelt among us”. That word “dwell” is an interesting word. It actually means “to set up a tent”. To Jewish minds, you couldn’t talk about setting up a tent without thinking about “the” tent, the tent or tabernacle we read about in the Old Testament. As the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, their place of worship was called “the tent of meeting.” It was a holy place, and the Jews looked upon it as a very significant place, a place where they could meet God.
When the tabernacle was first set up and was ready for worship, something beautiful happened: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34-35).
In later centuries, the Jews would refer to what happened on that day as the “shekinah.” The term “shekinah” referred to the glory of God as it was manifested to men. The “shekinah” was evidence that God dwells among his people. John tells us that when Jesus came to this earth, he was the “shekinah”. That glory that was manifested in the tabernacle was manifested in its fullness in the life of Jesus. And while the tabernacle represented the fact that God was dwelling among his people, when Jesus came to this earth, it truly was God dwelling among his people. Because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”
So, keeping all of this mind, let me suggest three things in Jesus’s prayer that I think we all need to incorporate in our prayers.
1. A Commitment to Glorify the Father
Jesus prayed, ““Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” This commitment to glorify God should be at the heart of all of our prayers. You may have heard it said that the chief purpose of man is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. And I think that’s exactly what the scriptures teach. Our greatest fulfillment in life is not found in grabbing all the gusto we can get. It’s found in living for the glory of God. Because that’s what we were made for.
In I Peter 4, Peter tells us how to use the gifts that God has given us, and he says in verse 11, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 4:11). God ought to be glorified in everything we do.
He ought to be glorified in our worship – everything we do in our worship service should be intended to bring glory to God. Whatever we do to serve God, whether it’s feeding the hungry or teaching Sunday School, or providing for those who are in need, it should all be done in a way that gives God the glory.
And God should be glorified even in our ordinary everyday activities. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we are committed to glorifying God, everything we do in life will be done for his glory.
So, how often are we praying for that? How often do we pray that God will receive the glory for whatever we do in life? We should constantly be focused on God’s glory. And realize that whatever you ask for in prayer should ultimately seek for God’s glory even though that glory may not come in the way you expect. When God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we expect him to, it is because his way brings much greater glory to him.
For example, the apostle Paul prayed three times for his thorn in his flesh to be removed. And if God had simply removed that thorn, God would have been glorified through Paul’s health. But God didn’t remove it. Instead, he left the thorn in Paul’s flesh and gave Paul the grace he needed to bear the suffering, so that God’s power would be manifested through Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We learn from this that sometimes our pain and suffering brings more glory to God.
God’s ways are always so much higher than our ways. He knows how to get greater glory for himself out of every situation! He knows how to get more glory for himself through pain than through deliverance. He even knows how to get more glory for himself through death rather than life.
Here in John 17, Jesus prayed that God would glorify Him. But how was God going to do that? Not by bringing about a glorious rescue (although Jesus told his apostles that he could pray for God to rescue him and his Father would send more than 12 legions of angels). But, no. Jesus prayed that God would glorify himself by sending him to the cross. How would that give God the glory? By showing the love of God in a way that had never ever been seen before. The awesome majesty of God’s love could only be shown at the cross because “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
So, let us all follow the example of Christ. Let us make the commitment to sincerely pray, “May God be glorified in my life and in my death; in my strengths as well as my weaknesses; in my blessings as well as my pains; in my joy and also in my sadness.” Make that your prayer, and see how it transforms your life!
So, we see first that the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 revealed his commitment to glorify the Father. A second thing we find here is…
2. A Commitment to Do God’s Work
Verse 4, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
Every prayer that Jesus prayed reflected this same commitment to do the will of his Father. In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Even when he agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his prayer was, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
And this ought to be true of our prayers as well. Or prayers should reflect a strong commitment not for our will to be done, but for God’s will to be done. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).
The accomplishment of God’s will must always be at the center of our prayers, just as it should be at the center of our lives. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
And if our prayers are not prayed with a submission to the will of God, they may not be answered at all. That’s what James wrote in James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” If our prayers are made for entirely selfish reasons, trying satisfy our own desires, God will not answer them. It only shows God that what you want is more important to you than what God wants.
So, I encourage you, the next time you pray, listen to yourself. Think about what you’re praying for, analyze your prayers, to see what sorts of things you’re asking God for and why you want them. You may discover that most of what we pray is not for the things we ought to be asking for.
When Solomon became the king of Israel the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5). It was like giving him a blank check – Solomon could ask for the anything at all, and God would give it to him. He could have asked the Lord to give him great riches or a long life, or victory over all of his enemies. But selfish requests like that would only have revealed that Solomon was really unfit to rule the kingdom of Israel.
What did Solomon ask God for? He asked God for wisdom to know how to rule the kingdom well, to rule in a way that would please God. Here was a king whose prayer was driven by a commitment to accomplish the work of God’s kingdom. And because of that, God gave him not only the wisdom that he asked for, but also all the other things he didn’t asked for. God was clearly pleased with Solomon’s prayer.
And God will surely be pleased with your prayer if it gives the highest priority to the work of his kingdom. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” God has a great work to accomplish in this world, and he wants to do it through you and through your prayers. Will you allow your prayers to be focused on accomplishing God’s work?
So, we’ve seen two things revealed in the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – His commitment to glorify the Father, and his commitment to do God’s work. The third thing we find is:
3. A Commitment to Enjoy Fellowship with the Father
This fellowship that Jesus had with the Father is demonstrated in a couple of different ways in this prayer. First, we see it in the way that Jesus addressed God as his Father. In verse 1, Jesus said, ‘Father, the hour is come’ and in verse 5, he said, “Father, glorify me.” In the rest of this prayer, Jesus addressed God as the Father another 4 times, making a total of 6 times in this prayer.
And while all of that sounds very normal to us, it was most unusual for the Jews at that time. They referred to God as their King, but no one dared to refer to God as “our Father” until Jesus came and taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly pictured God as a loving father who wants his children to come to him to ask him for what they need. Those of us who are parents can understand this. How do you feel when your little child comes to ask you for help to do things that he can’t do on his own?
As our Father, God wants his children to depend on him fully. He takes great delight in hearing our prayers and our cries for help. He wants us to come to him often with child-like faith, to express our full trust and confidence in Him.
Another indication of the intimate communion that Jesus had with the Father is found in verse 5. “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Before he came into this world, Jesus had been with the Father from all eternity. As God the Son, he was equal with the Father in power and glory. Then he laid aside his glory and came into this world to accomplish the Father’s work. And now, as that work was soon to be completed, Jesus was looking forward to returning back to heaven to be with the Father once again.
And that ought to be our greatest desire as well. God made us for himself and we can never be fully satisfied until we enjoy intimate communion with our heavenly Father. In fact, eternal life is all about enjoying that fellowship with God forever and ever. Jesus said in verse 3, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Some people think of eternal life as simply enjoying a better life somewhere “up there”. A life free from all the pains and inconveniences we now experience, and that the way to obtain eternal life is to know God. But if you read verse 3 carefully, you’ll see that knowing God is not a means to an end. Knowing God is actually the end itself. Verse 3 says, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is knowing God; it’s having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
This means that if you are a Christian, you have already started to enjoy eternal life with God. You have the opportunity every day to have fellowship with God through prayer and reading his Word. We ought to cherish every moment we can spend with your heavenly Father in our daily devotions, in our prayers and also in our corporate worship together with other Christians.
But if you don’t have any desire for any of those things, and you allow other stuff to crowd them out of your life, then you have missed the whole point of being a Christian. Christianity is not just about getting saved, attending church every Sunday and following a set of rules and regulations. It’s about experiencing God in a personal way every day of your life, and growing in your knowledge of Him. It’s about spending the rest of your life and then, beyond that, an eternity with the one who loves you more than anyone else ever can.
As Jesus approached the hour of his death, his thoughts were filled with anticipation of being back with the Father in heaven. His heart was set on enjoying the fellowship and the glory that he used to enjoy with the Father.
May we all learn to follow the example of Christ so that our prayers are characterized by a commitment to glorify God, a commitment to accomplish his work here on this earth, and a commitment to enjoy an intimate fellowship with Him.