Prayers of a Savior: Glorify Your Son
Topic: The Ways We Learn Scripture: John 17:1–17:5
We all know that people are different. We have different personalities, preferences, habits, and motivations. And I'm sure all of us would say that there's a kind of beauty in those differences. And one of the many ways people are different from one another is the way we learn. Some learn verbally. Some are visual learners. There are kinesthetic learners, who learn best with their bodies and hands. Some learn better in groups, and some learn better in solitude. There are lots of different ways we learn. For the most part, my sweet spot is listening and reading. Lectures and textbooks are my friends. While for some of you, those are far from helpful. But when I was trying to ace a class or internalize a collection of data or even trying to learn how to make the best pancakes, my go-to method is reading and repetition. But there are some things that I have to be shown. Whether by a person or a video, there are a couple of situations where an example and personal instruction were the only way I was going to get it. Tying a tie was one of those things. Another one was replacing the spool of trimmer line for my weed whacker. When I was on a mission’s trip several years back, we were installing a new floor at one of the homes, and you already know I'm not the handiest guy. Our worksite leader had to sit me down and show me, step by step, exactly what I had to do. The poor guy had no idea what he was getting into.
Regardless of how we learn, we can all agree that what is most important is that we learn something well. So well - to the point that we internalize and integrate what we're learning into our understanding and maybe daily practices.
Last week, during the prayer time, I told you that we would be starting a short series focused on prayer. Specifically, we're going to be in the chapter of John 17 and will be looking at the Prayers of a Savior. And, it's important to note that what we find in John 17 is different from other prayers we might be familiar with - like the Lord's Prayer, which we say together each week. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer Jesus taught us. It's sort of the lecture and note-taking equivalent to prayer. This, in John 17, is different. We're given a witness and glimpse of Jesus praying. This is us watching an artist create a work of art as opposed to us following a list of instructions. And we're going to break John 17 out into three parts. So let's look at the first one. We're in John 17:1-5.
* Read John 17:1-5 *
Alright, so first off, a little context. Jesus is praying this prayer right at the end. The next event that takes place is His arrest, which we know leads to His trial and then the cross. So, in the end, before everything turns unthinkably tragic, our Savior turns to His Father and prays. The first part of Jesus' prayer is most likely the part we can identify with most easily: Jesus is praying for Himself.
We have to remember that Jesus was and is both God and man. He possesses all the qualities of humanity (hunger, fatigue, emotion, etc.) and Jesus simultaneously is also God and so possesses all of the power and knowledge of the Almighty. We see glimpses of Christ's godhood in His miracles and teachings, and the uncanny way Jesus seems to know things about people, He wouldn't know. Being fully God, Jesus knows what is coming. He knows the soldiers are approaching. He knows what a mockery His trial will be. He knows how heavy the cross will be and what death will feel like. And so it makes all the sense in the world that Jesus would be reaching out to His Father on His behalf. And, as I said, this is something we are so familiar with.
We pray to God all the time on our own behalf. We pray about finances and doctor's appointments and strained friendships and every other fear, worry, or concern we have. And we should. We absolutely should. I don't fault Isaac or Levi when they reach out to me after they trip and fall, or during a thunderstorm when they are scared. We are born with a direction to turn to when things go wrong, and we have that reinforced in our earliest years. We know it as infants. We turn to our parents. When Christ opens His prayer by addressing God as His Father, and then shares His heavy heart, Jesus is doing one of the most human and relatable things we can witness.
Jesus shows us, in the first two sentences of His prayer, that intimacy is the highest priority and the most precious reality of prayer. Intimacy is more important than saying the right words, or what we do with our hands, or whether our eyes are closed. Intimacy with God is the beginning of prayer and it is that which gives prayer all of its power and meaning. And in reality, I believe that intimacy with our Heavenly Father is not something we have to learn. It is something that we forget and have to be reminded of. It is something in our very makeup and design. Christ reminds us what the foundation of any and every prayer should be: intimacy.
And within and out of that intimacy with His Father, Jesus asks to be glorified. Jesus begins his prayer with one request: Glorify Your Son. And what Jesus is asking for here is to be returned to His place at the Father's side. And we can't misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not asking God to remove the cross. Instead, Jesus prays with an unbelievable resolve to be glorified knowing that the way that will happen is through the cross. Jesus is praying for the very thing that has his heart so heavy. Jesus is praying not that the cross would be removed but that it would be effective in its power and purpose.
So if this first part of Jesus' pray is focused on Jesus praying for Himself, we might be wondering what's going on. Because for us, the logical and natural thing to pray for would be to have the cross just taken out of the story. CTRL+ALT+DELETE it right out. So why doesn't Jesus do that? And equally important: what can we learn from the answer to that question? Because the truth is: By hearing Jesus pray for Himself, we are being shown how to pray for ourselves.
The answer to why Jesus prays this way is laid out for us in the next few verses. Jesus is asking to be glorified through the cross because He knows that salvation and redemption come at a cost. Jesus knows, fully and ultimately, that through His sacrifice on the cross that eternal life will be given and made available to humanity. This is Christ's most important priority; it is the very heart of our Savior: That humanity might be given eternal life. His focus, even when praying for Himself, is fixed on others, on those that He fights for and loves. And Jesus knows that true - lasting eternal life - can only come through Him. He said it in John 14:6 – "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." If Jesus is so passionate about us receiving eternal life, then it is critical that we understand what it is and where it comes from. Leon Morris wrote a rich commentary on John's Gospel. He says this about the subject: "Here we have something of a definition of eternal life. Really to know God means more than knowing the way to life. It is life. To know God transforms us and introduces us to a different quality of living. Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God."
So, in His prayer – in verse 2, Jesus says that God has put Him in a position where He is able to give eternal life to others. Jesus then, perhaps knowing that we are witnesses to this private prayer, declares what eternal life truly is. It is knowing God. Knowing God through Jesus Christ. Our Savior, the Son of God, states it as clear as day for us what eternal life is. It is to know God. Leon Morris continues and says this in his work on John 17, and you might have seen this already because I put it on my Facebook page earlier in the week: "The only way to know God is through the revelation He has made, and He has revealed Himself in His Son. It is not possible to know God in any way that we choose. We must know Him in the one whom He has sent, namely Jesus Christ." Friends, we can't miss this or allow ourselves to become confused or distracted by voices with more volume or bluster. Eternal life is knowing God. The only way to know God is to know Jesus Christ. In the Savior, we are given the view and scope of the Almighty.
And that desire of Christ, for eternal life to be made available to people like us, is so important to Jesus that He makes it the centerpiece of the prayer that, in all rights, should be about Himself. And that brings us to what I believe is a critical truth concerning prayer. The most potent and reaching prayers that we pray for ourselves should always reach further than ourselves. There is nothing wrong with praying for ourselves. Not a single thing. Like a child reaching for a parent, we should lean into the intimacy we have with God and speak to Him concerning all the matters of our life.
But Jesus ups the ante here a good bit. His example for us of a personal prayer includes not only a request for Himself but a request for Himself that reaches beyond only Himself. In the case of what we're reading in John 17, it has the potential to reach to all of humanity. We're not Jesus but we are followers of Christ, and we can learn something powerful through the Prayers of a Savior. And the one thing we learn is that our prayers can and should reach beyond merely ourselves.
Let me give you a few examples: When I was discerning where God was calling my family and me, I tried to frame my prayers beyond my own desire. It would have been easy for me to pray that God sends me to a church like this or a church like that. But I prayed that God would call me to be a place 1) where I could be used for Him 2) where my family would find warmth and community and 3) to a community that would be blessed because of my presence. Now the truth is that God was working behind the scenes. When it was all said and done, I prayed that God would bring my family and me to Normal. But I tried to focus my prayer so it would bless others and not only meet my preferences.
When I was a youth worker and would talk with students who were wrestling with where to go to college, I would always tell each of them the same thing: Pray that God would send you to the place where you can grow in your faith and where you can be prepared to do the most good. About a week ago I was having lunch with a friend right down the street who was wrestling with what job he should pursue and whether or not to take an opportunity placed in front of him. Over sushi, I told him to pray that God would show him not only the best path but the one that creates the most opportunity for him to bless his community and that puts him and his future spouse in the best position to serve God and one another.
We can do this in every situation, not only concerning picking a school or making a career decision. Jesus uttered this prayer in the face of the cross. We can pray in, over, and about anything (cancer, job loss, death, uncertainty, broken relationships, terrifying decisions) and we can do with a voice and a vision that focuses beyond our circumstance. It's not bargaining or trying to cut a deal with God. It's an echo and practice of discipleship to ask that God might answer us so that His name be praised and so that we might bless others. Or, that we might receive a new opportunity for the good of our family or a particular group of people.
We learn a lot from hearing Jesus pray. We see the incredible importance of intimacy with God, and we learn that our prayers, even when they are for us, can have a far greater reach than we could ever imagine. We gain so much when we reflect on the Prayers of a Savior.