Tuesday, 21 February 2012 13:43

Jesus' High Priestly Prayer [1]

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Dear friends, we want to begin a short study of a most precious prayer of the Lord Jesus that is given to us in John 17. The gospels brings out that Jesus was so much a man of prayer and in John 17 we have His longest recorded prayer. Here we are given some real insight into His heart and His burden and His care in His prayer life. This prayer was offered up to God the Father the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. Most likely Jesus spoke this prayer at some quiet spot outside the walls of Jerusalem just before heading into the Garden of Gethsemane. We may conclude that because John 14:31 suggests Jesus and the disciples leaving the upper room where they just had celebrated the Passover and the first Lord’s Supper, and John 18:1 tells us Jesus had not yet entered the Garden of Gethsemane, that therefore this prayer of John 17 came between those two points. Before He went into the garden, Jesus took time to pray and He prayed this prayer of John 17.

Jesus’ way to the cross was bathed in prayer to God the Father. Can you imagine Him now somewhere outside the walls of Jerusalem, perhaps in a place where some vines were hanging as is suggested by John 15. Jesus is with His eleven disciples, and He had been teaching and preaching the gospel message and the matters of the kingdom of God to them. It was night-time, and dark out, and now, before He heads into the Garden of Gethsemane where He also knew He would be arrested even that night, Jesus stops awhile and prays this prayer, called often His high priestly prayer and known also as the real Lord’s prayer. The prayer, ‘Our Father Who art in heaven’, is more the disciple’s prayer that Jesus taught us to pray but John 17 is more His own prayer, reflecting so much also what lived, and lives, in His own heart. I tremble really to study this holy wholehearted prayer of Jesus the Saviour with you, lest I somehow distort and mistreat these holy words from Jesus’ own mouth and heart. At the same time, is it not good for us to concentrate on this as we think of Jesus, the suffering and dying Savior, who gave His life on sinners’ behalf? What better way to reflect on the meaning of His perfect salvation work than by studying this holy prayer together. The Bible says in Hebrews 7:25 that Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, to the ‘nth degree’ in other words, all them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them. Well, John 17 shows us something of how Jesus intercedes for His people, even for as many as come to Him.

It is worth mentioning here what Matthew Henry says about this prayer of Jesus. He comments how it is, for one thing, a prayer after the sermon. You should make sure you get this. Jesus spoke about God and from God to His disciples, teaching them. He then turned to speak to God on behalf of His disciples for them! What an example this is also for every preacher. Those we preach to, we must pray for. The word preached should be prayed over, for it is God who gives the increase. Matthew Henry goes on to say, this prayer of Jesus was a prayer after the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, again bringing out we are dependent on God for fruitful lasting results also from participation in the two sacraments of baptism and Lord’s Supper. With Matthew Henry, we may say this prayer was a family prayer in which Jesus prays for all His people. Here too we have a farewell prayer and an example of how good it is to part with one another with prayer. This prayer too serves as an example of how to look to God and call upon Him in time of need and crisis as Jesus also was about to experience. This prayer of John 17, as it were, shows us the heart of the Saviour Himself. If anything should move us to be melted in humble confession and true faith and hearty devotion to God the Saviour, it is this earnest intercessory prayer of Jesus just before He laid down His life for His sheep.

Oh, will you seriously and reverently and prayerfully consider with me this holy prayer of Jesus the Saviour? Let me just give a brief outline of this prayer yet, and then we will look at the prayer itself. While division also of this part of God’s Word cannot be definite, most do agree that there are three main parts to this prayer. In verses 1-5 Jesus prays for Himself mainly as the Saviour of His people, and then in verses 6-19 He prays especially for His disciples, after which in the remaining verses 20-26 He prays for His entire church of all ages, the sum total of all the elect. It is rather striking how the shortest part of the prayer is in regards to Himself and the greater part of the prayer is for others. Can we not learn from this too? Are your and my prayers also much on behalf of others in intercession for them or are we finished praying when bringing our own needs to God? We have to say even the part for Himself that Jesus prays is more for God the Father’s blessing upon Him that He, Jesus, might be all that He should be as the promised Saviour of sinners. Let us look now at the text, focusing especially on the first part of Jesus’ prayer.

Let me read the first four verses of the prayer. These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee; As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”

The first words of John 17 connect this prayer to all that Jesus had just spoken in chapters 14-16. Those chapters, you may know, are full of words of gospel and encouraging comfort for the disciples of the Lord Jesus. How little of it they really understood at that time. This brings out more even the preciousness of this prayer where Jesus as the Great high priest asks so much for His disciples and all His own. We are told Jesus, having finished His preaching and teaching, lifted up His eyes to heaven. In a physical way, in other words, He expressed the gospel truth that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father in heaven, as we read in James 1:17. Jesus here acknowledges His dependence upon God the Father for blessing also on all that He was about and that He was to accomplish on sinners’ behalf. The Bible doesn’t teach one specific posture in prayer to God but it does teach that when we pray to God truly, it will surely be reflected in our humble respectful manner before Him. Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven, as if to say, even before praying, “O God above, I look to Thee in all my needs for body and soul.” Is this kind of posture and physical expression of humble dependence on God also common in your and my life? When has the Lord last seen you lift up your eyes to heaven in humble dependence upon Him? When have you last been on your knees before Him, praying for yourself and others in spirit and in truth? Oh, behold Jesus, as One like us in all things, sin excepted, fervent in humble prayer to God, and won’t you too be convicted and challenged and encouraged in connection with your own prayer life or lack thereof? Yes, especially considering too when Jesus now takes time to pray?

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come.” What do these words tell us? What is meant with, “the hour is come”? Can you think what He meant? “The hour is come” refers to that time of times when Jesus would lay down His life on sinners’ behalf. The hour that all history before had foretold would come and that all history since revolves upon, that hour Jesus was now about to meet head on, face to face, the hour coming to Golgotha. Jesus came to this world, sent by the Father for one specific purpose, namely, to suffer and die on sinners’ behalf the eternal punishment for sin that we all deserve, left to ourselves. Jesus came to bear the curse of sin and endure the eternal punishment for sin in the place of sinners. He came to crush Satan’s head and to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus came to purchase and obtain just and abundant forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness for all His people through the shedding of His holy blood on their behalf with His once for all perfect sacrifice in the place of sinners. He came to be the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. He came to live the perfect life on sinners’ behalf and then to offer up a perfectly righteous and God-pleasing offering for sin in the sinner’s place. Jesus came to swallow up hell and to open up heaven for sinners like you and me through His Person and work. And now all that Jesus had come to do, it would climax in His crucifixion on the cross of Calvary when He would be nailed on that cursed tree and left hanging there, and the pit of hell itself would be opened to Him, as it were, with no-one to help Him. And knowing that was about to happen, even the very next day, Jesus now prays, “Father, the hour is come.” Jesus’ whole life and ministry on earth was in view of the hour of or time of His crucifixion, His once for all righteous sacrifice on sinners’ behalf. In John 7:30 we read that “they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.” Jesus knew He had come to lay down His life for the salvation of sinners, paying the punishment for sin on their behalf while at the same time offering up to God the perfect sinless life He lived. Why? So that sinners might truly and completely be saved from sin in and through Him, Christ and His saving work, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ the Saviour. Now that hour was come, that time God Himself had ordained when Jesus would give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus knew what was awaiting Him within the next 24 hours, and He prays, lifting up His eyes to heaven, “Father, the hour is come.

How it should move us that Jesus would pray in the face of the greatest agony He was about to endure. He might have run away from it all if He only thought of Himself. But He could not and would not for His own Name’s sake and His infinite love and care for undeserving sinners like you and me. Jesus faced His God-given responsibilities in prayer to God and shouldn’t you and I do the same? Maybe sometimes you too just want to run away from everything but is that ever the right thing to do? Should we not rather call on God for His help and mercy and deliverance in time of need and in the face of all our responsibilities which may overwhelm us?

Notice here too yet that Jesus calls on God, naming Him Father. Jesus was God’s only begotten beloved Son and He knew God as His Father in a very intimate way. Six times God is referred to as Father in this whole prayer chapter and in the book of John itself that term appears more than 100 times. (I believe it’s 122 to be exact.) Oh, to know God as your Father in heaven as Jesus knows God as Father. The Bible teaches us, and the gospel message is, that believing in Jesus as Saviour and Lord we may be delivered from the devil, who is our father as a result of the fall into sin, and be received of God as Father, our Father, and adopted into His family, and given the gracious liberty also to call on God saying ‘Abba, Father’. When Jesus arose from the dead He told Mary to tell the disciples, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” [John 20:17! John 1:12 proclaims that as many as received Him, Christ Jesus, to them gave He power, or the right, to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name.

When you come into crisis of any kind, do you too know the prayer, ‘Father, the hour is come’? The hour Jesus referred to was the approaching hour of His death. When you face the hour of death, when you will breathe your last and then stand before God and go one of two places into an endless eternity, will you be able to pray and say, ‘Father, the hour is come’? If you live now in a way that you can’t say in death’s hour, ‘Father, the hour is come’, looking to Him to help you, save you, and deliver you also through death, then how hopelessly miserable and doomed you really are, even now. None of us knows the hour of our death. It could be sooner or later but don’t you see the urgency of the present so to live looking to Jesus, that in this life and at life’s end you too can and may pray with confidence, ‘Father, the hour is come’?

How many, also in our times today, sadly and tragically, all too often refuse to think about the hour of death that will surely come to us all. The hour, be not mistaken, can be a split second when you least expect it. How is it some of you just refuse to take seriously the gospel call to be reconciled to God and live in true conversion before Him? If you refuse to die to sin and self now while it is yet the time of grace, you will die eternally in your sins and suffer in body and soul under God’s just and eternal wrath in hell forever. I pray you, whoever has ears to hear, don’t live now a moment longer in a way that you can’t say and pray when death comes, ‘Father, the hour is come’. Jesus prayed the evening before His crucifixion, ‘Father, the hour is come’, that for all who believe on Him in spirit and in truth, death’s hour should not be something horrendous leading to eternal shame and pain beyond words. No, but rather may it be something tremendous, leading to eternal gain and glory beyond words through Jesus’ saving work on sinners’ behalf. Jesus’ hour came, and your and my hour is approaching. Will you be ready for it? Know this for certain, you can’t run from it, even if you should try with all your might. When you breathe your last, will it be with the prayer and care, ‘Father, my time is up now, the hour is come, receive me at last I pray, for Jesus’ sake alone’? Will anyone here go on just not caring about this one-time all-time message of the gospel of Jesus Christ which brings salvation in life, in death, and for eternity, the only gospel for sinners?

Notice further, Jesus says, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” What did Jesus mean here when He prays “glorify thy Son”? Did He not mean with this, ‘Father in heaven, grant me now strength and blessing from above to accomplish all that has been given me to do for the complete salvation of sinners.

And, Father in heaven, crown My saving work, won’t You, showing Your full approval and complete satisfaction in raising Me from the dead the third day and bringing Me back to heaven with My ascension, and placing Me at Your right hand on the throne in heaven above’? Yes, surely that all was included in Jesus’ prayer. And isn’t it something for us to realize so many centuries later, God the Father surely did glorify His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus the Saviour, as a human being and Mediator between God and man, was enabled by His divine nature and Godhead to accomplish all that was necessary unto the complete and perfect salvation of sinners. And you know too that the Father in heaven has given Christ His Son a Name and a place and a position above all, where Jesus the Saviour is truly Lord of lords and King of kings. And now all authority and power in heaven and earth is in His hands, the hands of the exalted Saviour, seated at God’s right hand. His is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Here is a prayer from Jesus the Saviour that has been surely and splendidly answered, and is still being answered, giving all the more reason to trust and obey Christ the Saviour for real and for always. If God the Father would not answer Jesus’ prayer, there would be no reason to believe on Him and follow after Him. But since God the Father did openly and richly answer Jesus’ prayer to glorify Him, there is every reason to repent of sin and believe on Him and serve Him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength all through life and certainly from this day forward. Is that also your response to Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior? Is He your Saviour and Lord? Shouldn’t this personal prayer of Jesus lead you in the way of real and ongoing repentance before God our Saviour?

Notice what else proves Jesus Christ so reliable and precious. Jesus requests that He be glorified by the Father for this reason, that He might glorify Him. Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. That is Jesus’ prayer and care. He seeks for God the Father’s help and blessing only with this in view, that God His Father may be glorified above all and in all and that everyone may realize His Word is forever sure and His promises forever right and true. Here we should make note of the beautiful harmony and concentration within the Trinity. Paul tells us in Colossians 1 that it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in His Son, Jesus Christ; John tells us the Son’s concentration was that all glory and honour come to the Father; and we learn also in John’s gospel the Holy Spirit’s focus is to take of the things of Christ and to show Him and His treasures to us that we might truly see our sins and sinfulness and be drawn to God the Father in true praise to Him in and through Christ Jesus, the Saviour of sinners. How awesome and humbling too it should be for us to think that the Triune God will be glorified through the salvation of sinners like us. God has linked His glory to sinners’ salvation. God is glorified, His Name exalted, when sinners come to Him in and through Christ Jesus pleading His salvation once, and again and again, as made known to us in the crucified and risen Saviour as proclaimed in the Holy Bible. Let no one here stay away from the Saviour, thinking God would not save such a one as you. The truth is, God delights in mercy and the whole Trinity is so pleased and praised with any and every poor and needy one who calls on Jesus to save them. Behold Jesus not out for His own glory but out for His Father’s glory.

The mark of a true servant in God’s house and of every true child of God is that then you live dependent on God seeking in all things to bring honour and glory to God above all. This was Jesus’ passion. What about for His followers? Isn’t it the passion of all God’s people, and there’s sorrow when they fail in truly living for God and His glory? Oh, of Jesus alone it can be said that He perfectly lived for the glory of God His Father in all His earthly life. Of us, fallen sinners by nature, certainly before conversion we never live to God’s glory at all, and after conversion, isn’t it true how often, even in our most God-glorifying activities, we still can look for and hope for and even work for a slice of self-glory somehow, in some way. From Jesus the Saviour here we learn not only the way of salvation for us but also the example of how we should live being saved by Him. How we need to pray after the pattern of Christ here that God would glorify the Saviour in us so that truly we will glorify God Triune in all our life. Is this also an earnest daily petition you make before God? Do you seek His glory? Isn’t there so much room for growth in living to the glory of God even for the holiest and most godly child of God on this side of heaven? But this also makes the prayer of John 17 so special for God’s people, for in this prayer is exactly what Jesus makes request for, as we shall see more in the weeks to come. He prays that His people be led onward and forward in the way of true Christian joy, holiness and truth, mission and unity, and love and glory. This high priestly prayer of Jesus should so encourage and stir up, as many as believe in Christ truly, to more and more live for His praise and honour together with the Father and the Spirit.

So far we have just covered vs. 1. Let me go a little further and end this message just stating what Jesus says about Himself in vs. 2. Jesus tells us there something tremendous about the Saviour that the Father has given Him As thou hast given him power over all flesh that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him”, Jesus says. The Father has given to Jesus the Saviour power or authority over all flesh, that is, over all humanity in its imperfection and sin. This is a most inviting statement. Jesus is the One Who has all authority over all sinful mankind, and He is given this authority that He might save all those whom the Father has given to Him from eternity. Tell Jesus about your personal salvation needs and those of others whom you know of and care about, especially also among your loved ones. Yes, tell Jesus, Who carries the key to eternal salvation and Who will save all whom the Father has given Him and Who has promised in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.”

The truth is, none who call upon Christ shall be put to shame while all who stay away, for whatever reasons, will only always be ashamed and have reason to be ashamed. Listen, all who come to Jesus can and will find out that He gives eternal life, He gives salvation, even for as many as come to Him, whatever troubles and struggles anyone may have with the fact of God’s sovereign election

And Jesus knew, as He says in vs. 3, “…this is eternal life”, that is, fullness of life here and hereafter for us sinful people by nature, namely, to know God. To know Him means to trust Him by acquaintance, by calling upon Him. It is in and through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, that God is revealed to us as the almighty and merciful gracious Saviour God of sinners He truly is. Oh, to know Him as your Saviour and Lord, nothing can compare to that, nothing at all ever! Do you know Him, dear friends? Does He know that you know Him in the sense that you call on Him to be your Savior too? John 17. I encourage you to read it for yourself in the coming week. Be amazed at the triune God as revealed in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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