This morning, after a great breakfast supplied by Chick-Fil-A (who knew such quality fast food could be had this far north?) Edward Lobb delivered a session on “Preaching God’s Glory” and he spoke from John 17, a chapter in which Jesus tells us in what language and terms He has been praying for us. The question before us is this: what is Jesus actually requesting from the Father in this chapter, this passage that comes the day before His death? If we can see what Jesus is asking for, we can look around and see how these prayers are being answered today.
There are five requests He brings to the Father. The first is for Himself–glorify me. Does it not seem odd that Jesus, characterized by His humility, requests that He be glorified? But glory is the Son’s prerogative; glory is His real and eternal nature. For Him to return to glory is to return to His home and to His natural state. Verse one opens up the Lord’s motive–that the Father may be glorified. Christ’s own glory is not His ultimate request but His further goal is that the Father should be glorified. In verses two and three this further glory is revealed in historical action which led to eternal life. The Father gives the Son authority, the Son gives eternal life to the third gift–those that the Father has given to the Son. The gist of this verse is that the Father has given people to the Son and, for their benefit, has given authority to the Son so He can give eternal life to the people. Jesus derives His authority from the Father and God has given us as a gift to the Son. Food for thought: are we the kind of gift the Son would be pleased to receive? When the Father gives us to Jesus, He is giving us people He loves as much as His Son. We are struggling people beset with weakness and evil, but we have been given as precious gifts, deeply loved by God. The other gift we are given is eternal life and this is defined in verse three.
In verse four Jesus declares that He has glorified God through accomplishing all the works He did through His life. We can assume that this verse also points forward to the cross for at this point Jesus was already deeply committed to what was going to happen the very next day.
The second request is that the Father may keep these people (verse 11). This request is derived from the fact that Jesus is about to leave the earth. He tells the Father that He can no longer keep them by His own presence and guardianship. Jesus’ guardianship has been entirely effective and now He asks the Father to guard them. Is the Father as trustworthy as the Son in keeping and preserving the people? Of course He is and of course He will answer His Son’s prayer! But how do we understand the position of those who seem to be believers but who quickly fall away? The Greek verb for “keep” is the same verse he has used back in verse six where He says “they have kept your word.” Those who are to be kept are those who themselves keep. Those whom the Father keeps are the ones who keep the Father’s Word. This points out that human responsibility and divine sovereignty work hand-in-hand. The evidence here that God is keeping His people is that they are keeping His Word. The consequences of this, as we see in verses seven and eight, is that the people know that everything that Jesus has and does is from God.
One small point of interest that was mentioned but which did not receive much attention: We see that Jesus prays for us with a view to the malignant power of Satan. Should we not also pray with this same view in mind? We tend to pray about everything more than we pray to be protected from the evil one.
The third request is that the Father may sanctify them (verse 17). Time did not allow Lobb to discuss this one any further.
The fourth request is that the Father may make them one (verses 20-23). This fourth request is for the unity of Christians but when you scrutinize you can see that there is a further goal: that the world may believe that you have sent me. This oneness, though important in itself, is the means to the further end of allowing people to see that the world may make the connection that Jesus had come from God. We can sum up the thrust of these verses by saying “Jesus prays that Christians be united to the the world may be persuaded.” Jesus does not pray directly for the world but shows that He is, indeed, concerned for it. A point of challenge: as a pastor what view of the world to you seek to cultivate? Jesus longs for the world, desiring that they may come to believe in Him. The Christian has a dual relationship with the world. At the one level we are not to love it, it’s values and godlessness. But at another level we need to love it deeply because of its desperate need for the good news of the Savior.
In this passage Jesus teaches that the unity of Christians is modeled on the unity of the Father and Son. He often relies on the preposition “in.” This seems an odd way of talking–we do not use the word “in” to describe our friendships. We do not speak of friendships so close that we are in one another. Yet Jesus and His Father are in one another. There is something about this relationship that is so close that this description is the best and truest way of describing it. How do Christians then find unity? Not by being in one another but by being in the Father and the Son. We do not develop unity by looking at each other, but by looking together to God. Real joy and friendship and unity comes from serving the Lord together with our eyes on Him.
The fifth request is that they may “be with me where I am” (verse 24). With time running out (actually, with time having already run out), Lobb was able to give only a few moments to this verse. Pastors are sinful men, morally pockmarked. Yet Jesus craves our eternal company. Let’s revell in this because it is the truth of our eternal destiny. It has been a long journey from Genesis 3:24 to John 17:24, from the moment men were driven out of Eden to the moment where Jesus desires our company. He looks at us, the scum of the earth, and wants to share His eternal and glorious home with us. And what shall we see? We shall see His glory and shall see Him as He is.
Will the Father grant this final request? Of course He will. Jesus is not asking for something that Father will be reluctant to give. We will come to see on that day that this last request was the greatest of them all.