Monday, 19 March 2012 11:45

Jesus' High Priestly Prayer [5]

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Dear friends, the single focus of this message with God’s help is to show you more of the blessed Saviour and His heart of love for His people and the salvation of sinners. Jesus’ prayer of John 17, spoken out loud in the presence of His disciples even as they were on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, speaks unending volumes of His passionate mercy, and care, and affection for sinful people like you and me. Maybe some of you are wondering what more can be said about this passage of Scripture as this is now a fifth sermon based on this passage? But really, there is so much more that could be said for truly you find in John 17, as indeed with all Scripture, an inexhaustible word from God!

With this last message, we will consider three main points that each and altogether so highlight the precious love of God in and through Christ Jesus. First, let us notice three so called problem texts in this prayer, then we will study the Person addressed in this prayer, and last, notice the progression in this prayer. I didn’t want to miss dealing with any one of these points and I hope at the end of the sermon you will see why.

When speaking about problems in Jesus’ prayer, I don’t, of course, mean at all that Jesus had errors in His prayer. Jesus is perfect in all His ways, and was and is also perfect in all His prayers. But what I mean rather is that some expressions in His prayer are difficult for us to understand, and even may come across as problematic for us, confusing as to how to grasp the meaning rightly. If I should ask you if there are any such verses in John 17 that you find hard to understand and problematic even, I wonder which verses you might mention. I will mention three, and the purpose of analyzing each is to show you more the perfection and preciousness of Jesus the Saviour.

The first problem verse we will look at is vs. 12. There Jesus mentions, “Those that thou gavest me, I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” The problem that comes across with this verse is that it seems like on the one hand Jesus saved all whom the Father had given him except for Judas, and that Judas was not saved because this is what the Old Testament had said would happen. You could view it that way but then you would for sure be misunderstanding it and reading it incorrectly. Considering everything about Jesus and the whole Bible together, we can know most certainly vs. 12 is not saying, ‘Father, I saved all You gave Me to save except for one, Judas Iscariot.’ In other words, Jesus is not saying here, ‘I saved all with one exception. I did My work perfectly apart from the one failure.’ No, you sense too, I trust, that is not how the text is to be interpreted for that would still suggest some imperfection and shortcoming in Jesus’ work, and that CANNOT BE!

Rather, the correct way to interpret this verse is to realize Jesus means here: ‘Those Whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept, and out of them not one is lost. But there is one man who is lost, even Judas, the son of perdition; not one who was ever given to Me but one whom I declared long ago to be “a devil”, a man whose hardened heart fitted him for destruction.’ This understanding of the text also fits with John 18:9 where John comments on Jesus having lost none given to Him to save. The gospel message of salvation is that Jesus Christ is such a splendid, and gracious, and almighty, and faithful Saviour of sinners that all who come to Him find in Him everything necessary to save them completely and forever. Jesus is a Saviour true and sure for all who come to Him in faith and repentance, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will so come to Him, and will not be put to shame. The reality is, Judas, though one of the twelve, yet never truly belonged to the Lord. But rather, he was a son of perdition, a graceless man who chose the way of sin and evil rather than the way of grace and truth. In I John 2:19 the apostle John also mentions people who left the fold of Christ in his day, and he says of them, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

When Jesus says too that what happened to Judas was that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, you need to understand He is not saying that Judas was lost in order to fulfill Scripture but rather that the Scripture was fulfilled by the loss of Judas. The prophecy of Scripture did not cause Judas to be a betrayer and forever lost but the Scriptures were fulfilled in Judas being as he was. [The last phrase is not a purpose clause but a result clause.] In other words, dear friends, let vs. 12 have you and I see more the perfect quality of Christ, the Saviour of sinners, and let it cause you and me to honour His holy Word so true and ever sure. Verse 12 is meant to be Christ-exalting and Word-honouring, and given to draw you to the Saviour and His Word in sincerity and truth, and that more and more. Do you see this with me?

Let us notice here too the real reason for Judas’ fall, the solemn statement Jesus makes. Judas perished being a son of perishing ways, or one who would follow the way of sin and the world, and refused to really hear the gospel message. Though in the way of grace and privileged with many gospel favours, Judas kept refusing to hear the gospel and he continued to harden his heart against it in the way of sin and evil. He was a son of perdition not because he was too wicked to be saved but because he never would turn from his wickedness to be saved! He was sorry about sin generally but never sorry for his own sins specifically. He never came before God crying for mercy. Dear friends, are you listening always in this way too, a hearer but not a doer? Are you maybe following the pathway that leads to eternal destruction because time and again you will not really listen to godly gospel instruction? You keep choosing the way of sin and ungodliness instead. You won’t get serious with the things of God because so much else has your attention and the focus of your heart and life?

Oh, God forbid that it is so with you or that it continue so, unless you too want to live and die as a son or daughter of perdition. The fact is, we are all such by nature but none need stay such even a second longer. No, not with Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, come into this world to seek and to save the lost. But, you see, Judas rejected Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord too and so he lived and died as a son of perdition indeed. How awful! Don’t let the same be true of you! I tell you, vs. 12 of John 17 came from Jesus’ lips for your and my hearing that none of us today perish as a son or daughter of perdition. Does this seeming problem text lead you to Jesus in spirit and in truth?

That for sure all of us may flee to Christ Jesus to be our Saviour for sure and always, let me now point you to a second text that seems difficult or problematic too, namely, vs. 19. There Jesus prays, “And for their sakes” [speaking of His disciples and all His people] I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” What might be the problem raised with this verse? Well, the question is, did Jesus have to sanctify Himself? I mean, wasn’t He always perfect and sinless in all His ways? It is understandable, yes, that His people need to be sanctified, made more and more sinless by God’s Word and Spirit but Jesus was always without sin. So what does He mean when He prays, “And for their sakes, I sanctify myself”? Well, here we need to understand that the word “sanctify” doesn’t only mean to be made free from sin but essentially it means to be set apart for God and His will alone. And this latter specifically is the meaning of Jesus here when He says, “And for their sakes, I sanctify myself.” He means then with that, ‘I set myself apart to do thy will, O Father, to be the complete Saviour of sinners I have been called and commissioned to be. In all My time on earth and yes, even forevermore, I set Myself apart, I consecrate Myself, I give Myself to live the perfect life on sinners’ behalf and to pay the full punishment for sin for them. So I dedicate and sanctify Myself that all those who come to Me might be sanctified through the truth, the gospel truth as made known in Me, the Saviour.’

Thinking of this again you see, don’t you, this verse that might at first reading suggest something incomplete about Jesus rather just highlights the extent and extensiveness of JHis saving work on sinners’ behalf. It is something to think about how each step of the way of suffering Jesus sanctified Himself, consecrated Himself, to do all that was necessary to save totally lost guilty sinners. This explains all Jesus’ behaviour on the way to the cross and on the cross! Time and again, whatever happened, He gave Himself over to be the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. It is so moving to think how Jesus sanctified Himself, that is, set Himself apart to be the perfect once for all sin-offering on sinners’ behalf while here on earth. But it is so moving also to think how now still in heaven, seated at God’s right hand in splendid glory, He still ever consecrates Himself and gives Himself that His people might be sanctified by the truth. Consider it, even right now, at this very hour, Jesus in heaven is still dedicating and giving Himself as Prophet, Priest, and King for His people’s wellbeing, and He won’t rest till they are all with Him in perfect sanctification and glorification. Oh, what a Saviour of sinners Jesus is! What reasons to trust and obey Him, truly and always, just looking at these two so-called problem texts in John 17. They are meant to be such very precious texts for you and me, proclaiming the excellencies of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Who is altogether lovely!

What about the third so-called problem verse though, and here I’m thinking of vs. 21 and the other verses too which tell of Jesus’ prayer that all His people may be one. Jesus prays this in vs. 21 about all His people: “That they may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” In verses 11, 22, and 23 Jesus also prays about this, “that they may be one.” Now the problem here with these verses is, it seems like Jesus’ prayer here has not and is not, being answered for isn’t the church actually full of divisions and so much lack of unity? Up until the Reformation movement of the 16th century there was more or less one church but since then the church has become, humanly speaking, hopelessly fractured and divided. How are we to understand this prayer of Jesus then?

Well, rather than say that God’s people are hopelessly divided and Jesus’ prayer fails here therefore, we should see that is an incorrect conclusion considering that actually the unity Jesus prays for here is not so much church unity as spiritual unity. Jesus’ prayer is that they may be “one in us”, that is, in and through the Triune Saviour God and His blessed gospel for sinners. Let us be clear, Jesus is not talking about His people being the same in everything but being united in heart and mind in and through the gospel. As one commentator put it: “Those who make uniformity the chief subject of this part of Christ’s prayer entirely miss the mark….There may be uniformity without unity, as in many visible churches on earth now, and there may be unity without uniformity [as experienced between godly believers across denominational lines]”. The Lord prays here for spiritual unity among all His people, and isn’t it so that, in fact, all God’s true people are united in a spiritual bond of love, even in spite of differences of custom and tradition and even differences of beliefs and practices on certain nonessentials.

The gospel message unites true believers from across the world, from every tribe and tongue and nation. How much of a bond one can feel with another true Christian from another church in another land or from a neighboring church in the same city. While, indeed, we need to lament that there isn’t more evident and expressed unity between all Christians, at the same time we should marvel at the real unity that does exist with all God’s true people. J.C. Ryle states along this line: “The unity which our Lord prays about here is that true, substantial, internal heart unity, which undoubtedly exists among all members of Christ of every Church and denomination.” Surely this is a right way to understand Jesus’ prayer too, and it is the answer to Jesus’ prayer.

Yet while admitting that true spiritual unity does exist between all true believers, still Jesus’ repeated and passionate prayer for a show of real unity tells us how important this matter is and how much need for more and more demonstration of real unity. Too often sinful disunity can and does show its ugly head. Because of sin within and sin outside us, and Satan ever working to divide and break up the Christian body of Christ, is any Christian ever done on this side of heaven working in promotion of true spiritual unity and fighting off all that which could create disunity? No. This, therefore, is and remains the challenge for God’s true people today too, never to compromise with what is false and dishonoring to God but always to promote what is true and honoring to God in a spirit of humility and love. With that ongoing challenge, how encouraging and reassuring is Jesus’ prayer for unity as found in John 17.

And here again, let us marvel at the love of the Saviour that even as He was about to suffer and die, He prayed so much for the wellbeing of His disciples and all His people. Notice Jesus prays not only that they be united but that they be united in a fashion similar to the unity and fellowship within the Trinity! In other words, Jesus the Saviour wants the very best for His people. The gospel message is, what He prays for His people and gave His life for shall be accomplished in and with all His people in endless perfection one day. What a Saviour, Who is out to accomplish a unity among His people in the face of so much diversity and a bond of holy communion that so much shows forth the manifold grace of God! In hell there will be endless disunity and hateful constant division far worse even than in the Middle East presently, and other places all over this world. But in heaven there will be such delightful harmony and unity that gives so much peace and joy and fulfillment, that words cannot tell how blessed it will be! Surely won’t every true Christian care for that day, and as much as in him or her lies promote such unity along the way, even while yet in this life?

I must go on but before I leave this point about all these glorious truths from these three problem texts, may I just mention here the value of meditation and study also on the more difficult passages of Scripture? Don’t let problem texts keep you from the Word but let them get you into the Word, and you will be surprised what precious treasures of gospel truth you will find, especially also when you prayerfully search the Scriptures. Don’t these problem texts I have mentioned so far from John 17 make you see all the more how precious is this prayer of Jesus the Saviour in His Person and all His saving work?

But moving on now to our next main point, notice with me the Person Jesus addresses in this passionate high priestly prayer of His. He speaks to God as His Father. Jesus being God’s only begotten Son in a special way has God as His Father. But Jesus speaks in this prayer also as Saviour of sinners on behalf of His people, and so He comes to God calling Him Father. But what I would have you see especially is that in vs. 11 Jesus refers to God as His “Holy Father”; and then in vs. 25 as “righteous Father”. Only on this one occasion in the whole Bible is the Father so addressed as the Holy Father and righteous Father. And we need to see here how special this is really. Think about it. Jesus doesn’t pray here, ‘O gracious Father, O merciful Father” but “holy, righteous Father”.

What can we learn from this? Isn’t it so, that Jesus here, praying on behalf of His people for their complete and eternal salvation and about to give His life as once for all sacrifice for sin, may actually appeal to God’s righteousness and holiness to bless it all? Jesus knows so perfect and well-pleasing will be His saving work on sinners’ behalf that He may ask God His Father to act in all righteousness and holiness, yes, in condemnation of the unbelieving world but also in total acceptance of all who believe in Christ the Saviour and in complete answer to all His requests for all His people. Do you see it with me, Jesus praying here “O holy and righteous Father” is what opens the door for us once, and again and again, to go to God praying, “O gracious and merciful Father, bless us for Jesus’ sake.” In Jesus Christ the Saviour and His sin-offering on Calvary we see fulfilled what Psalm 85:10 declares: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” God in and through His Saviour Son is justly merciful and gracious to undeserving sinful people who trust in Him because Jesus Christ, in the sinner’s place, completely suffered all the righteous wrath of God against sin on His people’s behalf. The phrase, “O righteous Father” as this prayer concludes, is so powerful the more you think of it, and how it exalts the Saviour and His saving work for sinners!

At the same time, both phrases, “Holy Father” and “O righteous Father” surely bring out for all who will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ in this life, what just and eternal punishment will come your way. The Father is holy and righteous as well as gracious and merciful, meaning if you or anyone should scorn and despise God’s abundant mercy as revealed in Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again, then the only place reserved for you is hell where all the sons and daughters of perdition end up, along with the devil and all his demons. What a horrible eternal place that is and will be! How awful to be sent there by the righteous Father, especially also when Jesus the Saviour has gone there already on sinners’ behalf. Will you, dear friends, remain unrepentant and unbelieving with the prayer of John 17 in the Bible? Even just Jesus’ appeal to the holy and righteous Father, while so uplifting to God’s people, gives reason to awaken and convict all not yet saved. What is the phrase to you, uplifting or disturbing? Oh, that it may be awakening for saving and eternal good to all who hear this message.

Indeed, for consider yet our third main point bringing out more of the glorious suffering Saviour. We have looked at some of the problem texts in this prayer, and the Person addressed in this prayer. Notice still the progression in this prayer. Here I refer you not only to the progression of thought with Jesus praying for His people for their salvation, and sanctification and service in this world but the prayer goes beyond that and He prays for great blessings too for all His people in the world to come! Listen to vs. 24: “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world. What eternal, splendid, royal, breathtaking, unendingly magnificent glory that will be to behold and be sharers together in the glory of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God and Saviour of the world. Words never can tell how great that glory will be!

But to see the progression of thought in Jesus’ prayer, what I would have you especially notice is the verb tense in vs. 4 and vs.24. In vs. 4, and we have talked about this a few weeks back, Jesus speaks of His sacrifice still to take place as something that had already happened, so surely it would be that He would lay down His life and obtain plenteous redemption for His people, as many as believe. And now notice in vs. 24 Jesus speaks of future glory as something He was already in. Father, I will that they [my people] also…be with Me where I am.” Do you notice that “where I am”? Amazing really, the night before His crucifixion Jesus prays this prayer seeing the immediate future as past already and the eternal future of glory as present already. Still having to go to the cross, in prayer to the Father, Jesus is so sure of His saving work on behalf of sinners and He is so caught up with it in prayer with the Father that He thinks of His humiliation as over already, and His exaltation as present reality! Don’t you see too how this all so much reaffirms and confirms the absolute certainty of all that Jesus is and was out to do and accomplish in His saving work as Saviour of sinners?

Everything in and about this prayer of Jesus, including the problem texts we looked at, and the Person addressed in this prayer, and the progression within this prayer, all proclaim loud and clear, ‘What a Saviour of sinners Jesus Christ is’! Are you too drawn to Him through His Word and Spirit? Will these reflections on John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer, be of such true and eternal gain for you too, by God’s grace? Even so, “Bless Your Word, O Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ Name, we ask and pray, Amen.”

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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