Our prayers say a great deal about us. Are your prayers like that of AA Milne’s, Christopher Robin who, in the midst of his child-like bedtime prayers, prayed that God would bless his parents as well as himself? Or do your prayers reflect the shape of the honest and humble yet bold petitionary prayers of people such as Moses, David and Daniel or the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples?

In John chapter 17 we read Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his arrest. It’s a prayer that tells us a great deal about him and his relationship with God the Father, his concern for his disciples, as well his concern for all his people throughout time. Over three Wednesdays I’ll be touching on these three themes.

Today let me focus on verses 1 and 5. In verse 1 we read: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, … “

Jesus knew that within hours he would be arrested, convicted by human authorities, and put to death. Given the confessional prayers of Moses, David and Daniel, as well as the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, it is significant that he makes no confession of sin. Of all humanity, he alone is without sin.

His prayer is sometimes called ‘the great high priestly prayer’, but strictly speaking it isn’t. The central task of a high priest’s work was to offer sacrifices and to pray for God to forgive his own sin as well as the sins of God’s people. But the focus of Jesus’ prayer is that God will glorify him: “Glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you…” (17:1).

The verb to glorify typically means ‘to honor’ – as we find in John chapter 5, verse 23. There Jesus speaks of God’s plan that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.

But in the opening line of his prayer in John chapter 17, Jesus reveals the depths of God’s previously hidden pre-cosmic plan.

The opening lines of John’s Gospel read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And in verse 14 we learn that the Word took on human form and came amongst us as one of us. John testifies: We beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).

Now, in chapter 17, Jesus prays that God will glorify him, so that he will remain faithful to the bitter end in the implementation of his Father’s long hidden plan, so that he in turn may glorify the Father (17:1). God’s plan is extraordinary, in contrast to that of any human wisdom. God’s glory would be revealed through the events of Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation.

And some sixteen centuries later Archbishop Thomas Cranmer came to understand – as Dr. Ashley Null has observed – that ‘the glory of God is his love of the unworthy’.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed that God the Father would honor him, so that he would honor the Father through his sacrificial death for the sins of the world.

We feel the impact of what Jesus is saying and what was about to happen. Judas had gone into the night to do his dark work of betrayal. Jesus was certain of his pending arrest, trial and death. “Glorify the Son,” he prays, “so that the Son may glorify you”.

In verse 5, Jesus continues: “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed”. Jesus is self-consciously divine, but he is also human and therefore vulnerable. He was praying that God would restore the glory he, Jesus, had set aside when he took on human form.

One great work remained – his work of bearing the sin of the whole world, when he would be lifted up on the cross as he had predicted earlier in his ministry (John 3:14-15). Furthermore, his final words, “It is finished”, recorded in John chapter 19, verses 28 and 30, express his sense that his work on earth was complete.

As he began his prayer, Jesus knew that with his arrest, trial and crucifixion, he would have to endure an injustice such as the world had never seen, and that the physical torture he would have to bear would be horrific. Significantly, the Gospel record is silent on the physical pain. Rather the focus is on the spiritual pain he would endure in taking on himself our sin and guilt before the holy God. In that hour he would feel totally alone. His eternal, perfect and loving relationship with God the Father would be at breaking point.

Jesus knew that the only way he could remain faithful, passing through the deepest shadows of the valley of death and so glorifying God, would be in God’s strength. He would be treading the path of suffering in the midst of the extremes of human hostility and supernatural opposition.

Yet throughout this first part of his prayer he reveals that his central concern is the glory of God.

This surely gives us pause. As beneficiaries of the events that reveal the true glory of God, surely we too will want to thank the Lord from the bottom of our heart and, in turn, want to glorify God in our every thought, word and act.

Jesus did not just pray for himself and the dark hours he faced. He prayed that God would be glorified through his death, resurrection and exaltation. He further prayed that God would restore him to the glory he had put aside when he came amongst us in person.

Prayer. Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

You may want to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason