Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth
Simon Manchester presents a four-part series of messages on the great prayer of Jesus in John 17, often called “The Real Lord’s Prayer. This week, Part 1: Jesus Prays for Himself.
Part 1: “Jesus Prays for Himself”
We are going to follow the last five chapters of John’s Gospel, and we are going, to begin with, the great prayer of Jesus in John 17 which is often called “The Real Lord’s Prayer”. And it is a mighty chapter.
When John Knox, the Scottish Reformer was dying, he apparently said to his wife these words: “Read where I cast my first anchor”. In other words “would you please read where I found harbour in Christ” and she read to him from John 17 and especially verse 3 – “This is eternal life to know God and Jesus Christ”.
So there is nothing better for us to do than to look at the subject of praying as modelled for us by Jesus. Everything, as you know, flows from a healthy prayer life.
Those of you whose prayer life is being worked at and who are enjoying the grace of God and the throne of grace and are finding or making time to talk to Him; you know that good things flow from that.
And almost everything struggles or decays from an unhealthy prayer life. And I am not wanting to lay a burden on you and say that you ought to be producing a long and clever and successful prayer life, but you do want your prayer life to be real and honest and helpful, and John chapter 17 has some information to strengthen our prayer life.
So you’ll see in chapter 17 verse 1 that Jesus looked upward to God the Father. They have just had the Last Supper; he’s been teaching them about the coming of the Spirit and many other things besides. And it says in chapter 17 verse 1 that “he looked upward toward God the Father, and he spoke to him”. He turned his head up, and he spoke.
Now whether you turn your head up to pray or whether you bow your head to pray, I imagine is a secondary issue, but the important thing is that you say things that are real and meaningful.
So why did Jesus speak to God? Well because God had put an agreement in place and you can read this in the Scriptures that those who belong to him can speak to him and ask him to intervene and to act. And God does in line with his wisdom. And that’s what prayer is – it is words spoken to God by those who belong to him, who have put their faith in Jesus and are therefore God’s children and we can speak to him, and we can ask him to hear us and to act. And if we are on the right track in what we ask, he does.
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
And because Jesus’ requests in John 17 were perfect,
We discover that his prayer for himself that he would be glorified was answered
And his prayer for the Apostles that they would be kept and preserved was answered
And his prayer for believers all down history that they would be united in the truth and one day arrive in glory will be answered.
So John 17 breaks into 3 Parts:
- Prayer for Self (verses 1-5)
- Prayer for the Apostles (verses 6-19)
- Prayer for all Believers (verses 20-26)
“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’.”
I want us to know this morning five quick and reasonably surprising things which are inside these five verses.
The first is – do you notice that God’s sovereignty, God’s total control encourages prayer. It never occurs to Jesus to say ‘no need to pray, the Father is in charge’! As he thinks about the Father’s sovereignty, it never occurs to him to say ‘will I pray? Waste of time – it’s all under control’. He never thinks like that. He’s totally aware of the Father’s control, and he’s totally aware that the Father is concerned, and he wants to talk to him. He is the Father in heaven in charge of time – well verse 1 says “the hour has come”.
Our translation says “the time has come” it is literally “the hour”. The hour for Jesus to die and to rise has come. And because the hour has come and God is sovereign, every single person involved in the whole plan of God will suddenly step forward and get into action. The enemies who have been plotting, they will do their bit exactly as God plans. The Politicians who are making their decisions, they’ll make their decisions exactly as God intends and Judas who is looking forward to getting 30 pieces of silver for the betrayal of Jesus will step forward, and he’ll do exactly what God has orchestrated. And the reason this is happening is that God is sovereign over the hour or the minute or the second.
And those of you who have been Christians for more than weeks, you will know that God is sovereign over seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and things happen again and again which are just not explicable except the sovereignty of God.
I remember reading of a missionary lady who received in the mail a hot water bottle which was critical to the saving of a life of a baby and it came exactly the moment that it was needed and then she realised that the sending took place perhaps months before. And again and again and again God’s sovereignty is seen or known over time.
Does the Father rule over global salvation? Well, look at verses 3 & 4. Jesus was sent to do his work, and he will give eternal life to all God’s people, and God will carry them through to glory. So whatever the opposition nothing is going to stop the process. God is in charge before the world; he’s in charge during the world, and he’s in charge after the world – he is sovereign.
And this information increases Jesus’ desire to pray. He says to himself if I may say this reverently – there isn’t an area outside the Father’s control, there isn’t an area outside the Father’s concern – I will speak to him. And he models for us in his earthly life disciplined, privileged, ongoing thoughtful prayer.
Did he need to pray? I mean he is equal with God isn’t he in his being. But we see him on earth praying again and again and again, and he teaches us that speaking to God is the most practical and the most faithful thing that we can build into our day. And therefore please on this first point, do not think that God’s sovereignty makes him immovable as if the whole plan has been locked and prayer is useless. No the sovereignty of God means that he is unbeatably good to talk to because he is in charge of all the details and he is in charge of all the seconds.
Secondly – moderate surprise. God’s appointed difficulties encourage prayer as well. God’s appointed difficulties encourage prayer as well. You’d expect that great difficulties would lead a person to doubt and give up on God and say ‘well he’s not for me so there’s no point in talking to him’ and that, of course, is a move that comes over us very easily, and sadly many people have given up because of great difficulties or not getting their prayers answered but generally God uses difficulties to push us into greater dependency and therefore into prayer.
I’m sure you’ve heard me mention this before – it’s a fairly quaint and probably Victorian story of a little boy who is sailing his boat on a pond. It’s attached to a string and the string breaks, and the little boat drifts further and further away from the pond. The little boy bursts into tears and a man comes along and adds to the little boy’s distress by throwing rocks at the boat.
But of course, the man is throwing rocks that land on the other side of the boat and rock by rock, they gently bring the little boat into the shore.
And that is the way God, again and again, uses difficulties which may seem distressing but they are designed to bring us into real fellowship and real prayer and then when we are in that prayerfulness and dependency we are in the sanest, safest position we can be in.
So there is no greater example I think as we see here in John 17 of Jesus’ total dependence on his heavenly Father because his enemies are everywhere, his disciples are babies confused, pretty useless and so he lifts up his voice to his heavenly Father and he finds in his heavenly Father all the love and all the power and all the promises that he needs because a believer with a heavenly Father is like a majority – he is enough.
People are an extra blessing, but one of the sadness is that we so easily go horizontally for our help and not vertically. So I hope everybody listening to this morning can say that Jesus is My Saviour because I have put my confidence in him and therefore God is my Father.
I hope you’ll not despise the difficulties that you are going through at the moment because they are not random, accidental or careless events. They may well be appointments by God to increase your dependency on him where you will be, as I say, at your safest and sanest.
And I hope that you will see in Jesus here where there was nobody with him at all except the Father – there was nobody else that he could count on. It’s quite a blessed position in a way, isn’t it? Where you get to the point of saying ‘well I don’t have anybody I can talk to about this, there’s nobody who can help this situation. I’ve tried everybody, and now I am coming to you’.
Jesus comes to his heavenly Father and soon his Father will abandon him because in his death he is abandoned by everybody including the Father. And that’s a reminder to you that your difficulties are never going to separate you because he was separated from you. But in fact, your difficulties are going to bless your fellowship with the Father.
The third surprise – is that Jesus does not ask to escape the dark hour. “Father the hour has come” (verse 1) “and glorify your Son”. He does not pray “Father the hour has come, get me out of the hour”. Now of course when he got to the Garden of Gethsemane in a few minutes or hours where he is heading, he does pray such a prayer. He says “Father if it is possible, save me” but that is not going back on John 17 because this is his first prayer – “help me to glorify you in the dark hour”.
And then his second prayer is “if there is a way out of the dark hour, please get me out of the dark hour” but both of them are a submission to God – they are both trust in God, and both of them honour God.
The word “hour” our translation has “time” – the word “hour” in the original has been repeated through John’s Gospel, again and again, in fact, it comes seven times and four times there is the little phrase “the hour has not yet come”. Remember when Jesus was at the Wedding of Canaan and his mother said to him “would you like to do something about the fact that there is no wine”? And Jesus said, “my hour has not yet come”. In other words, you mustn’t pressure me to do things which are not part of God’s plan yet. And four times we get this little phrase “the hour has not yet come” but then three times we get the little phrase “the hour has come”.
Once in chapter 12, once in chapter 13 and once here in chapter 17. What is the hour?
Well the hour is the time to be glorified and this being glorified has got a very deep and terrible aspect to it because:
- He is going to be glorified in the crucifixion and
- He is also going to be glorified in the resurrection and
- He is also going to be glorified in the ascension and
- He is also going to be glorified by taking his seat on the throne.
But you’ll notice that his hour is going to achieve (verse 2) something very, very great. The hour that he goes through, which is qualitative dreadful is going to achieve eternal life for believers which are qualitatively wonderful. And eternal life if you don’t know what that means – it certainly does not mean endless of the present.
I think there must be many people who quite naively and foolishly think that heaven must be boring because this world can get boring. And when I sing that song “I Long to be where the praises are endless” or something like that and knowing what some of our praises are like, I recall and think I don’t long to be there. You know if I have to go and sing for eternity with the people who sing around me, I don’t want to be there!!
But following the logic, when you get to glory, boredom is removed by definition. So whatever is happening in glory, you can be sure that boredom is not going to be part of it. And here you see we discover that eternal life is a qualitative relationship with God, with Jesus which begins in this world by faith, goes through the grave, ends in sight in perfection. So there’s the definition of eternal life if you don’t know what eternal life is – it is to know God and to know Jesus.
Now everybody in this building knows their names; the question is – do you know them personally? And you know what it is like to be in conversation with somebody who is referring to somebody, and you can interject and say “I happen to know that person”. You’ve moved from knowing about them to knowing them personally. Every real Christian knows God personally and knows Jesus personally.
I’m not talking about feelings, I’m not talking about success, I am talking about the fact that you are a person, he is a person, and there comes the point where you know that he has said to you “I will” and you say to him “I will” and you have a relationship called eternal life which will never break. And again I want to say to you if you’ve never done Christianity Explored, come to learn how to have, receive and enjoy that relationship. But the definition of eternal life which is going to come at the cost of Jesus’ dark hour is that we would know God. And he didn’t ask to escape the hour because he wanted to provide eternal life.
Fourthly – mini surprise. Jesus asked to be glorified without being selfish. He asked to be glorified without being selfish. Did you notice our first reading Isaiah 42:8 where God, Jehovah, says “I will not share my glory with another”? And Jesus says “give me glory”.
Who talks like that? It sounds incredible doesn’t it that Jesus would say “glorify me” but he’s not selfish. This prayer of Jesus for himself has this one partition which is that he would be glorified at the cross and then finally in heaven. But that’s his only request, and it’s not selfish, and it’s not selfish because if God glorifies Jesus, that is if he displays his greatness through the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, God himself would be glorified.
So what Jesus is praying here is he is saying something like this – if I could say this reverently – he is saying “Father the crucifixion that I am about to embark on is going to be very degrading, it’s not going to be impressive, it’s going to be very humiliating, it’s going to be quite disgusting. People who see it will be repelled but what I am praying is that the message and the meaning of the crucifixion would so impact people that you would be glorified so that when a person understands what is taking place at the crucifixion, they would say:
God must be just –
Sin is being punished –
He must be holy –
He hates sin –
He must be loving –
He’s given his Son –
He must be wise –
He’s doing what nobody in the world can do –
He must be powerful –
He’s saving millions of people –
Glory to God
And through the crucifixion the Father is glorified. So it’s not selfish – he wants the Father to be glorified.
And it’s also not a selfish prayer because the link between verse 1 and verse 2 as we have seen is so important that he is going to endure the hour so that people would have eternal life. So he wants people to be saved.
Now we would never dream of praying that God would glorify us, but he is asking that the Father would be glorified, people would be saved by his glorification at the cross, resurrection and ascension.
What do we learn from this? I think we learn that there is an unbreakable link between the sufferings of Jesus and people getting God right. You just can’t understand God without understanding the cross. That’s why the cross is the symbol of Christianity. The cross is the door that you walk through into the family. If you don’t understand the cross and what Jesus did totally, solely, perfectly you’ll never come into fellowship with God.
And that’s why all talk among the religions about doing better and pushing harder and trying more is all going to utterly fail unless somebody explains what Jesus did on the cross paying everything, offering everything so that we might receive everything and then we are entering into fellowship with God and into fellowship with Jesus.
That’s why of course nobody can understand God without the cross, and anybody who wants to avoid God will steer away from Jesus, and that’s what we see as our Seasons roll around, and Easter comes around. And we suddenly discover that there is a not so subtle shift away from the unbelievable message that Christ died to forgive our sins and the unbelievable message that he rose again to open the door into eternal life.
Why would a sane society swap that for something so trivial? Because you see underneath is a dislike of the whole idea that we are sinful, and we need to be saved so let’s avoid it. And then when we get to Christmas we are being told that we are so sinful and needy that the Son of God had to come down into the world, live perfectly, die in our place and rise again in order that we might have any hope of eternity and a very proud world says ‘well we don’t like that at all so we are going to steer right away and we are going to end up with somebody new to take his place or offer something absolutely trivial for those who have performed well. Nothing could be weirder than that. But you see the point, here is Jesus asking to be glorified through the cross.
The final surprise – is that Jesus would be glorified in the depths of the cross and the heights of heaven. I presume that is what he is asking in these five verses that he wants to be glorified.
Verse 1 – in the hour of his death – and verse 5 – in heaven itself. And so he is saying – would you please cause the cross to be glorious and would you please restore me to where I was with you before the world. Isn’t that an extraordinary thing to say? Can you imagine being in the Prayer Meeting on Wednesday night and you are just in a little group of 5 or 6 and people are praying around you, and you are grateful to be there, and they are praying helpfully or may be unhelpfully and then suddenly somebody says in their little prayer group – “Heavenly Father, please restore me to the glory which I had with you before the foundation of the world”.
Do you not sit up and take notice of that moment? Hasn’t the prayer moved into a whole new category? I mean to say in the Prayer Meeting, please take us to glory – that’s OK but to say ‘please take us to glory where I was before the foundation of the world’ – that is a claim that no sane sinner can make. Only Jesus can and he is declaring simply and categorically that he is the foundation of the world. And he wants to be with the Father after the foundation of the world has disappeared.
The same idea comes up at the end of John 17 in verse 24 where he prays again for himself that he will be in glory and that he prays that the believers will be in glory. Just as he had promised them “In my Father’s house are many rooms and I will take you to be with me” – so now he prays I want to be there and I want them to be there so he turns promises into prayer and in the end, friends, that is really what prayer is. It’s turning the promises of God into prayer.
So there are the simple lessons I trust from these five verses:
- That the sovereignty of God should encourage us to pray – He is the best person to talk to
- That some of the trials we are going through are not a mistake, they are designed to make us dependant and prayerful
- That Jesus himself does not ask to escape the depths but that he might glorify God in the midst
- That Jesus’ glory is going to bring glory to God and also is going to bring good to believers
- That the glory for Jesus is at Calvary but it is also in heaven.
Now friends, as I close I just want to say this – we pray about what’s important to us so you come around to my study window in the mornings and listen to me pray and you’ll work out what is important to me, and if I were to sneak around to your study or your kneeling by your bed, I’d discover what’s important to you.
Prayer is a very great revealer of what’s important to us. And I think we ought to learn from John 17 that what is categorically important is the glory of Jesus and that his work on the cross is important because he has told us and he has modelled it, and if in your life Jesus is not that important and the work on the cross is not that important, you just haven’t got it. But if you have, you have.
And let’s in our prayers trust a sovereign Father, let’s not avoid him, let’s lift up our prayers in the light of his promises because our prayer life cannot be valued. It is beyond value. So let’s pray together.
Our heavenly Father, we thank you for creating a throne of grace where your people can come and bring to you their requests and their thanks, and we do that together this morning.
We thank you for making it possible through the Lord Jesus to belong to you as your children and to speak to you and to have the huge privilege of seeing you listen and in your wisdom intervene. We pray that you would help us to wisely draw near to you and not to drift away. We pray that you would help us not only to want to pray but also in our praying.
And we thank you too our heavenly Father that the Lord Jesus has gone into the very depths so that we might go to the very heights. We pray that the privilege of this would translate into the way we think and the way we live and the way we pray.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
- See the whole series, ‘ The ‘Real’ Lord’s Prayer — A Christian Growth Series .
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages.
- See more on the topic of Prayer.