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  • « Growth Update | Main | Grace Fuels Ethics »

    Images of the Savior (45 – His High-Priestly Prayer)

    These things Jesus spoke, and lifting up his eyes unto heaven, he said, “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son in order that the Son might glorify you, even as you gave to him authority over all flesh, in order that all which you have given to him, he might give to them eternal life; and this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. – John 17:1-3

    Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest, having offered a sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people, would bring the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy Place, and place it upon the horns of the altar of incense, the smoke of which would ascend before God; and then, he would pass through the veil into the Holy of holies, bringing the blood of the sacrifice to the mercy seat, and thus atoning for the sins of the people (See Leviticus 16). In this circumstance, we see that the sacrifice was not considered effective until it had been joined with the intercession of the High Priest: the smoke from the blood which the priest placed upon the altar of incense rose up before God as a symbol of his prayers in behalf of the people, on the basis of the sacrifice that he had made for them; and only then did God accept his offering. But in the continual observance of this Day of Atonement, year after year, together with the ongoing presence of the veil, we see that no sacrifice and no high-priestly prayer had yet been finally sufficient to atone for the people's sins, and bring them into God's presence. There still remained the need both for a perfect sacrifice and a perfect High Priest, who could join his effective intercession with his sufficient offering, and thus tear down the veil which barred men from entering God's presence forevermore. As we look to our account today, let us rejoice in Jesus our High Priest, who joined his effective pleas with his perfect blood, and so rendered our salvation doubly secure!

    So what is it that Jesus prays for us, in this monumental, high-priestly prayer? In the first five verses, we have a brief distillation of the true intention for the events which would soon follow: Jesus' death was designed to be an event in which Jesus, the Son, could bring glory to the Father, and the Father could likewise bring glory to the Son. And the way in which this glorification would take place would be by Jesus' giving to the people whom the Father had given to him “true life” – which is just another way of saying, “intimate knowledge of and fellowship with the Father”. Back in the garden, this fellowship is what man was created for; and until man has regained the purpose for which he was created, his life is just a state of animate death. True life, and eternal life, is nothing but a restoration of that original purpose of knowing God – and this is what Jesus' death would accomplish.

    But how would this work, which would accomplish so much for those men whom God had chosen, bring glory to God (the Father and the Son) at the same time as it brought life to men? First, we have to recognize that it did not add glory to God, as if he were only somewhat glorious before, and he became more glorious after – no, Jesus prays that God would glorify him with the glory that he already had before the world was created. What it means, then, is not that God's glory would be added to, but that the glory which he already has would be displayed. Now, it starts to become clear how the purpose of redemption with respect to God is connected to the purpose of redemption with respect to man: man's life, his eternal joy, his everything good consists of knowing God; and God's glorification consists of his being known for who he is, as the already infinitely glorious God. In redemption, man is given the joy of knowing God in his glory, and God is glorified in man's joyful recognition of who he is. What a beautiful relationship!

    Next, in verses six through nineteen, after laying out the basic intent of his prayer, Jesus begins to give the reasons for why he is praying in this way, and for these specific persons – and the fundamental reason goes back to the Father's will, together with the effects that it has produced. The Father, by his own immutable will alone, has chosen a certain group of people, out of a world which was evil without exception – and he gave these to the Son, so that he might bring them back to him. Now, what has this will accomplished? First, as the Son is One with the Father, and always in perfect agreement with him, the will of the Father has been brought to concrete reality through the effectual working of the Son; God had planned to redeem a wayward people to himself, but it was Jesus who actually redeemed them, and brought them back to a true knowledge of God: or, in his own words, he “revealed” the Father's name to them. Within the Trinity there is always perfect unity – and so the Father's will inevitably finds its concrete expression in the Son's activity.

    But the effects of the Father's will do not stop with the Son's ministry; for flowing down, from the Father through the Son, is the effect of this sovereign will on the people he has chosen. The Father selected a people, Jesus revealed the Father to them, and now they know that everything which Christ has done comes from the Father. The words of God were in the Father's heart and revealed through the Son's ministry on earth; and now, they are received and held fast by the people which God has chosen. We could sum this wonderful reality up by saying that everything good, in this life and the next, is from the Father and comes down through the Son, because of his work of redemption which he was about to accomplish on the cross. And this work is so powerful that it cannot fail to secure eternal life, which is nothing other than the true knowledge of God, for everyone for whom it was intended.

    How sweetly this assurance must have fallen upon the disciples' ears, as they looked at the world around them! They were not like the world anymore, but like Jesus; and so the world hated them just as it hated him. But just as Jesus overcame the world, not by leaving it prematurely, but by finishing his course, even to the bitter end of crucifixion by a mocking world, so the disciples would overcome, not by being plucked out of the world, but by God's grace to protect them from the Evil One who rages against them and turns his children, the unbelieving world, to the hatred and persecution of all who would be like Jesus.

    But mere preservation is not enough; for Jesus goes on to ask that the Father would sanctify his disciples for their great commission – and once again, it is in imitation of himself that this request would be fulfilled. The work of redemption begins with the Father's plan, who sent Jesus into the world to accomplish redemption; but even though the Son fully accomplished redemption, the plan is not yet complete; for just as the Father sent the Son into the world, so the Son has sent us into the world. The Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption, and the Son has sent us to give the news of that redemption. The Father sent the Son to suffer for redemption to be accomplished; the Son has sent us to suffer so that the effects of redemption might be spread (see Colossians 1:24). In all these ways, we, as believers, mirror the activity of Christ – what an amazing and undeserved opportunity has been given to us by divine grace! To suffer for the gospel is, as the early Christian believers found out, a most precious gift (see Acts 5:41)! But we must not forget the way in which we are sanctified as the Son was sanctified; it is only through the Word of God. Oh, let us be people of the Word! If we would be like Christ, let us be people of the Word! It is through the Word of God that the Spirit of God changes us into the glorious image of Christ Jesus our Savior.

    Up until verse twenty, Jesus had not mentioned us in his prayer, but only the eleven disciples with him; but in fact he had us in mind too, and now he makes this truth explicit, so that we might derive deep personal comfort from Jesus' pleas just as the disciples did before us. How amazing it is to think that, when we were still children of wrath, and subjects of a hostile world, Jesus was already interceding for our final salvation! He already knew us by name, and he knew that, according to the Father's will, we would soon be snatched from darkness and death, and brought into the marvelous light of Jesus our Savior! But how was the precious calling to come to fruition? Our conversion occurred when we, still a part of the wicked world, were confronted with a picture of the Triune God, in the lives of the Christians who loved each other as the Persons of the Trinity love each other; it was then, as the truth of the gospel took concrete expression in the lives of the believers, that we were awakened by the Spirit to the glory of the Godhead, and so brought to Christ. The gospel would never have spread throughout the world if it had been a mere propositional message, with no power to change lives. And so the situation remains today – what a sobering truth! If we as believers do not reflect the love and unity of the Trinity in our love for each other, then how will the world see who Jesus is, and believe that the Father has sent him? God, give us love and unity with our fellow-believers!

    So we ask, because this is certainly a gift of God. God's love and inter-Triune unity is the essence of his glory, and a love and unity reflective of God's is nothing less than the gift of God's very glory, given to us! As astonishing as this doctrine is, we read it clearly in verse twenty-two. Above all, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us seek a Christ-like love for each other, and a unity representative of the inter-Triune unity of God. The purpose of redemption is to display the true nature of the triune God – and we have been given the astonishing privilege of showing the divine nature to the unbelieving world. But how will we do this, if we are divided among ourselves? Is Christ divided? Is there no love between the Father, Son, and Spirit? We have been given the very glory of God, God's Spirit has breathed into us his love and is forming within us the image of Christ; let us seek to show the world who we are in him! Let us display the love and unity with which we have been blessed. Man's eternal happiness and God's eternal glorification will in this way come to fruition in the world. In this way, Jesus will gather the full fruits of his already-finished work. Father, join the word of the gospel which we proclaim in the world to the power of the gospel which we display in our lives! Bring your scattered children to glory, as they glimpse your glory in the Spirit who dwells within us!

    The final segment of Jesus' prayer (verses 24-26) is far too deep and rich to do justice to in a final paragraph; but we will proceed as the Spirit enables. In these verses, Jesus sums everything up with a request that is the very essence and soul of the gospel and Christianity, what we were saved for – no what constitutes salvation itself, and eternal life: and that is, that we, who have believed in him, might be brought to be with him, and to see his glory. There is no joy, no life, no good thing at all, apart from seeing the glory of Christ. People who speak of salvation and think only of escape from hell, and nothing of the wonder of seeing Christ's glory, are self-deluded, and know nothing of salvation at all. Heaven will be a place for those who delight in seeing Christ. In fact, true salvation is nothing more than seeing Christ in all his glory. And what is this glory? It is far too deep and broad and wide to begin to express in a mere sentence, but if we would begin to understand, we must think of the diverse and excellent characteristics which are to be found, in their greatest expression, in Christ alone. To be great, bold, powerful, filled with righteous wrath against sin, divine and exalted – this is glory indeed, and Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, our great God and King. But this is only the half of his glory. It is also glorious to be meek and lowly, gentle and compassionate, willing to be numbered among sinners and always ready to save the blackest soul which is helpless and distraught – and no one under heaven has been filled with such glory as Christ, the suffering Servant of God. How great is the glory of Christ, and how well suited to draw from our lips fervent praise and worship for all eternity! If he were not divinely great and majestic, we would soon be bored with the sight of him, for God has placed eternity in our hearts, so that only infinite greatness can thrill us forever (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But if he were not meek and gentle, we would rather run to hell than stand before his righteous might, weak and sinful as we are. O stammering tongue! How can a mere lisping man give voice to the slightest glimpse of the manifold glory of Christ, the Lion and the Lamb? I cannot, but for all eternity I will try, for he is all my life and salvation.

    Save us, O God! Show us the glory of Christ!

    Posted by Nathan on November 9, 2007 05:08 PM

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