This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our study of the gospel of John by taking a look at John chapter 17. This was our last session in John before taking a break for the summer to do a question-and-answer series. With that in mind, though there’s certainly a lot of material in the chapter, I decided to go ahead and look at it all in one night. Christ’s prayer is certainly loaded, but I think there’s some benefit from seeing it as a whole rather than breaking it up over several studies. This meant a quicker overview than normal, but it was one that left us with a lot to ponder over the course of this week.
After spending several chapters talking to the disciples about his impending departure, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the task he’s leaving for them to do, Jesus ends his speech to the disciples and begins to pray for them. He turns his attention to the father and lifts up the disciples in prayer – but not just them. His prayer, as verse 20 shows, was for all those who would come to faith in him through the spreading of the gospel – from those who would hear the disciples’ testimony to us 2,000 years later. This presents us with the amazing reality that we we're on the mind of Christ – that he was praying for us. We discussed the fact that whatever Jesus prayed for us ought to be of paramount importance to us as well, since it clearly was to him. We ought to desire the same things he desired, and we ought to take great encouragement that the creator of heaven and earth cares for us on such a deep level.
However, Jesus begins his prayer by praying for himself. And what does he ask for himself? He asks that the Father would glorify him, since “the hour has come.” He is speaking here of the cross. Throughout our study of John’s Gospel, we’ve seen Jesus refer to his “hour,” or his “time,” and to the fact that it had not yet come. The references have always been to the purpose for which he came, the event that was of supreme importance in his plan. Now, he says, the hour has come. In a matter of hours he will be on the cross. Thus, he prays that the Father would glorify him – which the Father will do in his resurrection. Look also at the reason Christ prays for his glorification in verse 2 – “that the Son may glorify you.” Christ’s glorification in his death and resurrection ultimately was to bring glory to the Father. The cross was the supreme demonstration of the glory of God, both vindicating his justice and displaying his love. His justice was vindicated as sin was punished. The God who “will by no means clear the guilty,” (Numbers 14:18, Nahum 1:3) did not simply sweep sin under the rug and offer a cheap grace, but he poured out his wrath on Christ and was vindicated as the holy and righteous judge who cannot tolerate evil. Yet simultaneously his love was demonstrated because it was not me on the cross. Though I fully deserved his wrath, he took my place and poured his wrath out upon Christ – becoming both the just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). For no good reason to be found in me he showed me with his love and has called me his own, that I might know eternal life, of which I am undeserving. In verse 3 he pauses to declare what eternal life is – that we may know him. We will reap the benefits of Christ’s glorification as we spend an eternity soaking in his glory – the very thing we were created for and the very joy we are wired to experience.
In verse 6, the focus of Jesus’ prayer shifts to his followers, to us. He first prays that we would find our identity. Over and over he refers to us as belonging to the Father and given to him. He distinguishes in his prayer between the world at large and those whom the Father has given to him in his redemptive plan. We find our identity not in our name, our race, our social class, our nationality, our GPA, our job, or our talent level – we find it in Christ alone. Our identity, our purpose, should be wrapped up in the fact that a holy God has called us, hopelessly flawed though we are, to be his children. We should be saying with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) In verse 11, he again says that he will no longer be with his people physically, and he prays for our security. He says that he has perfectly kept his children while he has been on the earth, and commits them to the Father’s keeping as he goes to the cross. The great encouragement for us is that Christ has repeated declared that he and the Father are one in both essence and purpose. Thus, if Christ perfectly kept us, we can have full assurance that the Father will as well. Jesus is careful to say that he doesn’t ask we be taken out of the world, but that the Father guards and keeps us as we go about the work he has for us. Christ then prays for our holiness – that we would be set apart from the world around us just as he is “not of the world.” The word “sanctify” that he uses in verses 17 and 19 has the literal meaning of “set apart for a sacred purpose.” What a privilege (and responsibility) to know that we have been called for such a purpose. Finally, Christ prays for our glorification, that we would share in the reward which he is about to attain by his blood. Our ultimate hope and destiny is that we will spend eternity reaping the reward for the righteousness that we have through Christ. The creator of all joy has invited us into his presence to experience the joy of his glory forever. If that is our ultimate hope, then it should show in the way that we live our lives. I pray that all of us would have a bigger view of God and of the hope to which we’ve been called. However big your view of God is, the amazing thing is that it’s still too small. Seek his glory above all else this week.