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 reflections of the day, prayed that God would bless his parents as well as himself? Or do your prayers reflect the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, or the prayers people like Moses, David, and Daniel?
In John 17 we read the record of a significant prayer that Jesus prayed. It’s a prayer that tells us a great deal about him and his relationship with God, his concern for his disciples, and also his concern for all his people throughout time.
Today let me focus on the first part. In John 17:1 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 was going to die. Given the prayers of Moses, David and Daniel, as well as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, it is significant there is no confession of sin. He alone is without sin. This prayer is sometimes called the great high priestly prayer, but this it is not. The central task of a high priest’s work was to pray for the removal of sin – his own as well as that of God’s people. But the focus of Jesus’ prayer is glory or honor: “Glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you…”
Glory in the Bible usually is a reference to the outward manifestation of an inner, hidden reality. So in John 1:14, John speaks of beholding the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Here in John 17, Jesus is praying that he will remain faithful to the end in implementing God’s long hidden plan. It was a plan which, contrary to human wisdom, would reveal the glory of God in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
According to Dr. Ashley Null, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer grasped this profound truth: Null explains: ‘For Cranmer, the glory of God is to love the unworthy’. This, says Dr. Null, is ‘Cranmer’s central theological tenet…’ God’s glory is supremely revealed in the gift of salvation achieved through the one and only sufficient sacrifice made by Jesus when he died for our sin.
With the first words of his prayer, Jesus was reflecting on the certainty of his arrest, trial, and death. Judas had just gone into the night to do his dark work of betrayal. Jesus is now praying that he himself will remain faithful, as he had been throughout his life, persevering to the end.
Indeed, in John 17:5, 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.
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 (John 3:14-15). His final words, in John 19:28 and 30, point to the completion of this work when he called out, “It is finished”.
As he began his prayer (John 17:1), Jesus knew that his arrest, trial, and crucifixion would be painful beyond belief. We can barely begin to comprehend what it meant for him to bear our sin and for his eternal perfect relationship with God the Father to be at breaking point. In that hour he felt totally alone.
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 Jesus reveals that his central concern is the glory of God. As we can now benefit from the events that perfectly reveal the glory of God – the sacrifice of Christ and his resurrection – surely we too will want to glorify God in everything.
Jesus did not just pray for himself and the dark hours he faced. He prayed for his disciples, and he prayed for all his people – including you and me today.
In understanding what God in Christ has done for us, we will surely want to glorify God in our own lives by praying for people we know and by praying for ways to draw them to Jesus.
© John G. Mason