What Does Jesus Want?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 17:1-5

In this message, we listen to Jesus’ praying for his disciples and for us.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the “WWJD” craze of recent years, you know, the little phrase represented by those four letters that appear on bracelets and bumper stickers and lots of other things: “What Would Jesus Do?” they ask. Well, let me ask you an equally important question by rearranging those same four letters: WDJW, “What Does Jesus Want?”

One answer to that question is found in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John. This chapter contains the text of a prayer that Jesus offered in the upper room on the night of his betrayal, the last night of his earthly life. It would be difficult to imagine a more solemn and significant occasion than that one. Jesus has invested three years of his life in the lives of a small band of disciples. He knows he is about to leave them. He has just been giving them some final instructions to carry on his life and ministry after he’s gone, all this rich teaching is packed into chapters 14, 15 and 16 of John’s Gospel. And now at the end just before they leave the Upper Room to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays to his Father in heaven on behalf of his followers. Given the time and the place and the circumstances, it’s hard not to conclude that the things Jesus prays for here in John 17 must be just about the most important things on earth, the things that he wants for his followers more than anything else.

“Glorify Your Son”

This prayer, which fills the whole chapter, is often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer, because it consists mostly of Jesus’ intercession for his friends and disciples. In the Lord’s Prayer near the beginning of his ministry Jesus shows us how to pray for ourselves; in the high priestly prayer here at the end, he shows us how he prays for us. But first Jesus begins by asking something for himself.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given to him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

John 17:1-5

Here is Jesus facing his final hour. What lies ahead of him is betrayal and arrest, then hideous torture and an unimaginably horrible and painful death. And he knows it all. He knows exactly what is coming. John begins his account of the Upper Room by saying that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1). So it’s entirely understandable that Jesus would want to pray for himself, given the ordeal he is facing. But what a strange way he goes about it. Jesus doesn’t ask for strength to face the test, he doesn’t ask for grace to overcome the enemy, he certainly doesn’t ask for mercy or forgiveness for himself, as if he had any sin or guilt on his conscience. In other words, Jesus does not pray at all the way you or I would if we knew we were facing our own death.

Instead, Jesus asks God for just one thing for himself. He asks that the Father glorify him now. This is not a self-seeking request. In the first place, he is only asking for that which has always been his by right. Jesus prays for the glory to be restored that belonged to him from all eternity as the pre-existing Son of God: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (v. 5). This was the glory Jesus had voluntarily laid aside in taking on our human nature and emptying himself to become obedient unto death (Phil. 2:5-11) even death on a cross (as the apostle wrote), but now this glory is about to be restored to him.

Moreover, Jesus wants his glorification to serve the Father’s greater glory: “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v. 1), he prays. In praying that God would be glorified in and through himself Jesus is asking that the ultimate purpose of the universe be fulfilled. All of us exist for one primary reason: to glorify God. But more than that, we must remember as well the specific act that Jesus has in mind when he speaks of being “glorified.” What he is really talking about is the cross. John’s witness to Jesus’ words and deeds in the fourth Gospel shows us most clearly the paradox of the whole gospel message: that the way up is down, that the path of suffering is the road to glory, that the throne by which King Jesus ascends to his rightful place is a Roman cross. This is what Jesus had said a few days earlier.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, Glorify your name! . . . But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

John 12:23ff

Yes, Jesus would be lifted up, but he would be lifted up the way Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness on a tree so that all could come to life through him. The glory for which Jesus prays consists of his fulfilling the Father’s will to redeem sinners through his own sacrifice. His “exaltation” will begin when he is raised on a cross.

“I Am Praying for Them”

Now Jesus’ prayer shifts to his friends and his followers. He begins to pray specifically for “those,” he says, “whom you gave me out of the world” (v. 6).

The heart of Christ’s prayer for his disciples is expressed in a series of petitions, of which I want to focus on two. The first is a prayer for protection: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name,” prays Jesus. The reason this prayer is necessary has just been stated; Jesus’ friends need to be protected or kept by the power of God because, he says, “they are still in the world.”

Jesus’ high priestly prayer is the place where the familiar formula that sums up both our danger and dilemma as Christians is expressed: we are “in the world but not of it.” Jesus continues to pray, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (vv. 15-16). In the world but not of it. The world that Jesus prays for protection from means human society as it is in revolt against God.

Vanity Fair – that was John Bunyan’s great image for the world in his Pilgrim’s Progress. And Vanity Fair is a place where all the commerce is traffic in trifles, all the merchandise is a vain and empty show, all the treasures are worthless baubles. The world is a dangerous place for pilgrims. And yet the Lord does not want us to leave the world, but rather to be protected in it from contamination by its values and habits. The world is the place where we are to be salt and light; it’s the place we are supposed to live and serve and work and witness. But the key thing, as the great preacher Charles Spurgeon remarked long ago, is to make sure that the Christian is in the world without the world being in the Christian. A ship needs to go into the sea, but if the sea should go into the ship, it’s in big trouble!

So the first thing Jesus prays for is that we be kept from evil while living and serving in the world. And the second thing that he prays for especially for his disciples is for their unity—”that they may be one,” he asks the Father, “as we are one” (v. 11). Toward the end of this great high priestly prayer Jesus expands on his request so that it covers not only his original disciples, but also everyone who would come to believe through their testimony: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

One of the last encyclicals of the late Pope John Paul II was entitled, Ut Unim Sint: “That they all may be one.” The unity of the church is not high enough on most of our agendas. But it was the last thing our Lord prayed for in this last and greatest of his prayers. If we do not pray for—and work for—this unity as well, then it is an indication that we simply do not share the mind of Christ. And notice the reason Christ gives for wanting us all to be one—”so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21). You know, nothing on earth serves as a more effective witness to the truth of the gospel than the life of an international community of diverse individuals who are all united in love for each other because of their love for Jesus Christ. If we really prayed as Jesus prayed, and really lived as Jesus lived, the world really would believe.