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When God Prays Big

Dec 3, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 17:1–5

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Windows into the Soul

“Eyes are a window into a person’s soul.” Ever heard that one? It’s often true. Just look into Mona Lisa’s eyes—everyone knows what she’s thinking (I’m speaking sarcastically). She’s the enigma in that. 


On a similar note, it is often said that prayer is a window into a person’s soul. If you really want to know a man—his desires, his fears, his purpose and goals in life, what he cares about most—listen to him pray. And by that, I mean “prayer” in the broadest sense of the term. Don’t just think “what is he praying or saying, that I might learn more about him?”, but even “to whom or to what is he praying?”. I think we often might hear someone speaking in a way—or posting online in a way—that is borderline prayerful when they are ranting or expressing their concerns or desires. “If I just get this out there—say it, put it on social media—maybe someone will hear me and something will change for the better”. 


Prayer is a deeply personal matter. It’s the language of desperation. It’s the language of our deepest hopes, and loves, and desires, and purposes and needs and praises. You can learn a lot about a person based on how they pray.


It’s one of the greatest blessings of being a parent. I love when my children ask to pray at the dinner table. As they’ve heard the way mom and dad pray, their prayers begin at an early age with parroting the sorts of prayers that dad prays. But it doesn’t take long, folks. It really doesn’t take long for them to figure it out, and to express themselves and their desires and concerns and requests and praises. My 5 year old will come up with some of the most beautiful, thoughtful, yet simple prayers. Prayers of thanksgiving for Jesus, thanksgiving for specific events of that day, genuinely concerned requests for baby sister’s sickness to go away. They bring things up that I wouldn’t think to pray for at times—good things to pray for—quite simply, because they’re expressing themselves to God from a 5 or 7 year old’s’ perspective. It’s beautiful. It’s often convicting. It’s always moving to a parent. 


Prayer is a window into a person’s soul, folks. 


What do we have in our passage this morning? We’re looking at Jesus’s prayer. We’re getting a window into his soul, his desires and purposes and cares. 


And this isn’t just an ordinary prayer at an ordinary time. His “hour has come” he says in verse 1. He’s about to go to the cross. This is something of a deathbed prayer—those prayers we always want to hear about in a person’s final moments. Those are revealing to who a person is, aren’t they? Here, we get a full chapter-length insight into what Jesus prays. This prayer is the longest of Jesus’s prayers that we have recorded, and it’s a massive window into his soul—his cares and desires and purposes and hopes. 


Over the next several weeks, as we study this prayer in John 17, we’re going to learn about Jesus. We’re going to learn what he cares most about, what he loves and hopes in and desires most. 


In fact, I’d venture to say this is a fitting advent passage, as we make our way into this month of December. Around advent, we often ask “why did Jesus come, and become a man?”. What love, or desire, or purpose motivated him? We’ll get it all, here in John 17, as we listen in on this prayer.


So, let’s listen in. In these first five verses, we’ll hear Jesus express to the Father, through prayer, several reasons why he came to the earth.


He Came and Prayed to Serve 

Look at verse 1. 


1   When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven…


Stop there for now. There are a few things in this passage we’d do well to notice. For one thing, this verse is no doubt a transition. “When Jesus had spoken these things” he then prayed. He shifted his focus from speaking to his disciples, to speaking to the Father. He’s concluding his farewell discourse which we’ve been studying over the last few months in chapters 13–16 with this prayer. This prayer is the conclusion, the summary, the capstone of the farewell discourse. Prayers are often employed in Scripture to summarize or further clarify what has been said or what has happened in Scripture. Whether they are prayerful songs of thanksgiving, interpreting the Exodus story, or they are prayers of repentance, interpreting and clarifying David’s sin against Bathsheba, prayers necessarily get to the heart of the matter. They necessarily summarize, or even elaborate on—what has already happened or said in Scripture.


So, the things which Jesus said to his disciples in the farewell discourse, in the last four chapters, will probably be repeated or elaborated on in one way or another in this prayer. This isn’t just a soulful prayer of Jesus, wherein we can get an insight into Jesus’s soul through this prayer. This is rich with meaning—theology—which no doubt complements what Jesus has said in the previous chapters. If you read through this prayer and think parts of it is confusing, it’s reasonable to look back at what Jesus has said in this farewell discourse and find further clarity. We’ll certainly be doing that in the coming weeks as we unpack this prayer. This prayer is meant to be not merely a window into Jesus’s soul, but further revelation and teaching from Jesus—and so it is. There is so much life-giving, gospel theology for us in this passage. Some even say that this prayer is the chapter that best summarizes all of Jesus’s teachings in John’s gospel. “What does John’s gospel teach?”, some would say “study the high priestly prayer in John 17, and you’ll get it all.”  


So yes, in verse 1, John really points out the sequence of events. “When Jesus had spoken these words..”, these words of farewell to his disciples, he then prayed to the Father. 


Of course, what does verse 1 actually say? We read that Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven”. I think that’s also telling of what I just said. Jesus “lifted his eyes to heaven”. Is that how we teach our children to pray? “Oh, no little one, bow your heads and close your eyes and fold your hands.” A snarky little child might say “Jesus didn’t close his eyes”. 


It’s significant that John tells us Jesus “lifted his eyes to heaven.” Jesus prayed the same way earlier in John, and I think we’re supposed to make the connection. Back in John 11:41, when Jesus was to raise Lazarus from the dead, we read “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you have sent me.” 


So, why did Jesus visibly lift his eyes to heaven, and pray loud enough for everyone to hear? He was teaching them, even as he was praying. “I don’t do all this on my own. I’m sent from the Father, I’m on a mission, I’m from God and come with his life-giving blessings!”. Jesus was unmistakably speaking and appealing to God the Father—not demons, not Baal, not any other spiritual being or “small-G” god. This wasn’t a trick. Jesus was speaking to God the Father, and insofar as God heard Jesus and answered his prayer requests, people would know that Jesus was from God the Father because he prayed from the Father.


A similar purpose in teaching was no doubt at work in our passage as well. “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven”, and he prayed to the Father with prayers that no doubt connected his teaching with the holy God who blesses the righteous and the truth, yet thwarts all plans of wicked liars. Jesus, at the end of his farewell discourse, does nothing less than to bring his teaching before the presence of God, and as we now know through Jesus’s resurrection that the Father did not despise Jesus’s teaching. This is truth from God, folks. Jesus, in lifting his eyes to heaven and praying for all his disciples to hear, wanted his disciples to know that his words and teachings pass as acceptable in the heavenly courtroom of God. He taught it, he prayed it, and God blessed it. 


It’s worth saying at this point that God accepts only the prayers of the righteous. Is that not true? He only accepts the prayers of the righteous—those who are not stained by sin, and those whose wills and desires are perfectly conformed to God’s wills and desires. There’s only one man who qualifies, in and of himself. That’s why we pray in his name—by faith, appealing to his righteousness and forgiveness which he offers us. Folks, marvel at the fact that Jesus just prayed. He didn’t pray in someone else’s name, appealing to some other righteousness. He just prayed and communed with the Father in and of himself, and he prayed big. He prayed aloud for all to hear, and he prayed big.


So from verse 1 there, when we think of the fact that Jesus prayed and that he prayed audibly after a long teaching for his disciples to hear them, we can generally say that Jesus came to serve. The reason Jesus is praying is not simply for his own benefit, or for the Father. He’s doing it for his disciples—both in what he’s praying (next week, we’ll see him expressly pray for his disciples) but also in the way he’s praying. He’s loving them with all he’s got to the end, folks. He’s the servant of all servants, come to earth to save his people. 


He Came and Prayed for Glory

Now, of course, what exactly did he pray? Continue in verse 1—


“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…”


That’s a big prayer, folks. Who would have the audacity to stand before God—the creator and sustainer of all things—and say without qualification, standing alone by yourself before God, “glorify me”. What does God say about his glory? Is there anything that God is more zealous for? To have God’s glory placed upon you in any sense of the term is an incredibly frightening thing. Israel couldn’t bear it. In a certain sense, God bestowed his glory upon Israel—he gave Israel his wisdom in the law, his forgiveness and grace in the sacrifices and promises,  his strength in battle against enemies, and so much more. The nations were supposed to look at Israel and say “what nation is so blessed, to have a god of such bounty and wisdom and glory?”. Could Israel bear it? Could they hold up to the standards of God’s glory, his law, his commandments? 


As Paul says, “all have fallen short of the glory of God”—we can’t measure up. We can retain God’s glory, insofar as he might bless us with it as he did with Israel. We choose to exchange the glory of God for the glory of this world every time, folks, if God doesn’t work his grace of faith and repentance into us. 


Jesus prays “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…”. The hour has come. This is why he came—he came that the Father would glorify him, and therein the Son would glorify the Father. 


We’re truly talking about God giving his glory, in the fullest sense, to the Son. Many point out that this passage is a claim to Jesus’s divinity. There are verses that talk about God not giving his glory to another. “My glory I will not give to another”, Isaiah 48:11. 


God won’t give his glory—his fame and praise and power—to another. His glory supremely belongs only to himself, to God. When the Bible speaks of Israel being God’s glory—as in “Israel, my glory”, God is speaking about his blessings upon Israel. He’s speaking about God blessing Israel with his glorious grace and peace and joy and strength—making Israel to be the most blessed nation in the world—so that God might be praised his his glory and blessings are seen in Israel. 


But Jesus, folks, seems to be asking a more forthright question—he’s asking for that glory which God does not give to another. He’s asking for God to glorify him so that he would receive the praise, the honor, the glory. That’s where the story is going, isn’t it? Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” That’s the sort of glory that’s only becoming of God! That’s where the New Testament goes with the prayer, by the time we reach Revelation.


Or, you could think of where this prayer is going. In verses 2 and 3, Jesus will be credited with giving God’s eternal life, as only God could. Then in verse 5, he’s seeking to enjoy the glory God had before the existence of this world (verse 5). That’s the glory Jesus is asking for. 


It's a big ask. It’s a big prayer, isn’t it? He is human, after all. Remember that. What’s this telling us about Jesus? “Prayers are a window into a man’s soul, into who a person is.” I might even add, especially answered prayers. If God answers this prayer, we’ll have good reason to know who Jesus is. He’s God in the flesh, and the Messiah himself. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” He’s asking for God’s glory, and he’s saying that insofar as he’ll be glorified, he’ll therein himself glorify the Father. When the Son is glorified, the Father will be glorified. It’s a mutual, shared glory within the persons of the Father and the Son, and it’s all working itself out in human history at this moment. It’s amazing. 


He Came and Prayed Because He Was Informed (by the Father’s Promise)

So, that’s verse 1. Jesus came to serve, and he came for glory—his own glory and the Father’s glory. Keep reading into verse 2. “The hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”


So, this wasn’t just a big prayer. It was an informed prayer. Somehow, he knew two incredibly important things which moved Jesus to ask the Father, “glorify me that I might glorify you”. He prayed that because he knew two things. First, (and I quote), “you have given him [me] authority over all flesh.” So, Jesus can ask for God’s all-encompassing glory because the Father promised him an all-encompassing authority. He has authority from the Father “over all flesh”. 


Hear this (I don’t care who you are): Jesus has authority over you. I say that to everyone in this room whether you believe in Jesus or not. This is a huge point to see in this passage. Jesus has authority from the Father “over all flesh”—not just his believers, but “over all flesh”. 


We need to stop speaking in terms of “have you made Jesus Lord over your life?”. Do you hear the problem in that question? “Have you made Jesus Lord over your life?”. That’s not how this works, folks. The Father made Jesus Lord over you. Jesus’s Lordship and authority is not a choice. The question is not “is he your Lord?”, but “have you accepted him as your lord? Have you accepted that reality which is true whether you like it or not?”. 


There are lots of realities that are true whether we want to accept them or not. A classic example is in the alcohol and drug community. “Look man, everyone except you knows you have a problem. Accept the reality, or you’ll never change.” That’s a classic example of this. We often refuse to acknowledge that anything has authority or control over us, especially when it’s an authority or control we don’t like. Jesus has authority over you, whether you like it or not, and you’ll either bend your knee now unto forgiveness, or you’ll bend your knee on judgment day when it’s too late.


And, here’s the jarring image that comes to mind. I think C.S. Lewis gives the right image in The Great Divorce when he gives a picture of hell. Hell will be filled with people who still refuse to accept Jesus as their Lord, even though it was Jesus who sovereignly put them in there. They’ll still refuse Jesus, and they’ll only hate him more and more as the fires of hell burn hotter and hotter. I have no reason to believe people in hell will be thinking, “I love Jesus, I wish I had accepted him when I had the chance!”. No, folks. They’ll still be rejecting him.


Jesus prays “You [the Father] have given him [Jesus] authority over all flesh”. That’s what the Bible says. Will you accept it or not?  Will you receive the fact that Jesus is your Lord, and he’s offering you life and blessing and forgiveness through his sacrifice and resurrection? Will you repent and believe upon him? If you don’t accept it, you’ll still have the Lord to answer to, and it won’t be pleasant. 


So Jesus, at his hour, asks to be glorified because he knows two things. One, he knows “you have given him authority over all flesh”. Then two (look again at verse 2), he asks to be glorified because the Father intends the Son “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” 


Isn’t that a strange distinction, Jesus is making? This isn’t universalism. Jesus has authority over all flesh (all people), and yet he has a certain group of people whom the Father has uniquely given to him, that he might grant them eternal life. In other words, there is “all flesh” whom Jesus has authority over whether they accept it or not. Then, there are “those whom the father has given” to Jesus, that Jesus might grant them eternal life. We must hold to the universal Lordship of Jesus, and yet the particular (or limited) salvation of Jesus because Jesus only saves those whom the Father has given him to save. That’s how Jesus talks, here, folks, and it all comes back to God for his glory. This all comes back to God’s glory, not ours. We’ll see that more clearly in verses 4 and 5 when we learn more about the Father’s and Son’s mutual glorifying of one another. 


For now, it’s simply worth pointing out that Jesus is praying big because he knows two big things. He’s praying big (“Father, glorify me”) because he know two big things—(1) because you’ve given him authority over all flesh, and (2) the Father intends the Son “to give eternal life” to those given to the Son. 


Jesus is praying big requests, because he knows God’s big purposes. That’s important for us to see, here. Jesus is not whimsically praying “father, glorify me”. He’s praying that because he and the father, from before the creation of the world, purposed all this to be. The Father had communicated all this to the Son, and the Son is reflecting all that back to the Father in prayer in the heat of the moment. 


This is, of course, a lesson on prayer. Pray big only insofar as you know God’s big providences. Prayer, folks, isn’t just asking God arbitrarily for big things. It’s a discipline of conforming our hearts and desires to God’s desires. The prayers of the righteous man availeth much because the righteous man knows what to pray for. He knows what God wants, and so he prays for it. 


Our catechism defines prayer this way. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” A huge part of prayer is offering up our desires to God—namely, for things agreeable to his will. That implies our desires know and desire what is agreeable to God’s will. “Father, you promise to provide shelter and food for my family. Make it so as I work heartily for you and my family.” “Father, you promise to give me peace and comfort and joy. Make it so.” “Father, you promise to forgive me and cleanse my conscience of guilt. Make it so.” “Father, you promise to make all things right, and render all accounts of injustice settled. Make it so, and send Jesus to settle accounts quickly.” The prayers that are conforming to God’s will as we find it in the Bible are vast, and they are good for you to pray. They’re good for your soul. 


Jesus, folks, could pray “glorify me that I may glorify you, because you have given me authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom you have given me.” Jesus could pray that because it was in conformity to God’s purposes for Jesus. He’s the only human in history who could pray such a prayer—and we can thank him that he did pray it. 


So, Jesus came to the world (1) to serve his disciples even in the way he prayed audibly, and he came to the world (2) for his and the Father’s glory. Then third, we might say he came to the world and he prayed this big prayer (3) because he knew God’s purposes and promises for him. He came because the Father intended to give him all authority, that he would save those entrusted to him. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”


He Came and Prayed That We Might Know God Forever

Now, the next question that Jesus wants us to know as he’s praying audibly for us to hear and learn from—“what is eternal life?” Isn’t that a question for the ages? “What will heaven be like? What will it be like to live forever?” That’s not just a question little kids ask their parents. That’s a question we all ponder at times. 


Do you realize that Jesus gives us an insight into eternity, here in this passage? In one verse, he gives us an insight into eternity—into eternal life. Here it is, verse 3—


3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.


Folks, that about sums it up. Eternity isn’t about “what will we do?”, but “who will we know and be with?”. That’s what’s important—and, I’ll say it’s generally what’s important in all matters of life. I think we’ve forgotten or moved away from understanding this as a culture. How many of you have heard someone say “Why get married young? Doesn’t a lifetime with one person sound boring? Where’s the thrill in that?” 


Folks, you only think that way if you value what you do and not who you know. You only ask that question if you measure “a time well spent” based on what you do rather than who you spend the time with. Isn’t that true? Our culture has become so fixated on adventure, and getting our bucket-list checked off, seeing new things, and climbing new mountains for the next Instagram or Facebook picture. It’s a sad, sad loss and it makes it very difficult for us to understand the glory of what Jesus is saying. It’s not about what you do, but who you’re with and know and are fellowshipping with. 


The reality, folks, is that a life spent with the right person will fly by like a streetlight in your rear-view mirror. One second you fall in love, the next second you’re getting married and having kids, and the next second you’re old and wondering where the years went. Oh, it goes by fast when you’re focusing on enjoying one another, building a life together. 


It’s far more true with God, folks. I can’t imagine time will even be on our minds, when we’re in the presence of God and enjoying his fellowship and glory and peace and joy. “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing God is eternal life. This isn’t speaking just of intellectual knowledge, but the sort of knowledge a loving husband has to a wife, or a mother to her children. “I know you, and when I know you, time escapes me. There’s peace and joy”. It’s unimaginably so with God, whose glory and life we were made for. 


Jesus died and rose again that we might have it, you know. That’s what this is all about. “Father, glorify me—raise me up from the dead after I make atonement for sins—that I might secure for those you’ve given me all forgiveness and life and fellowship with you.” All our sins are gone, we’re secured in his righteousness and life, and we have eternity to look forward to. 


So, Jesus came to the world, and he prayed this prayer (1) to serve his disciples in the way he prayed; he came and prayed (2) for his and the Father’s glory, and (3) because he knew God’s purposes and promises for him. Then here in verse 3, we might add that he came to give us eternal life. 


Now, verses 4 and 5 only elaborate on what we’ve already said. They elaborate on verse 1, when Jesus prays “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you”. In verse 4, we see how the Son glorified the Father. He obeyed the Father perfectly so that the Father might raise him from the dead and give him all authority. Then in verse 5, we see how the Father glorifies the Son in all this—he exalts Jesus not merely as the eternal Son of God, but even as the God-man, the victorious Messiah, to the glory which the Son enjoyed with the Father before the existence of the world. 


It all comes back to glory, folks. This quite literally a glorious prayer, spoken by a glorious savior, revealing glorious things about our Lord and Savior. Prayer, no doubt, is a window into a person’s soul—who they are, what they hope in, what they ultimately want and desire. This prayer is no exception. This prayer is the Jesus’s prayer, revealing him to be God who glorifies God so that you and I might have eternal life in him. Receive his Lordship and the eternal life he offers.


Let’s pray.

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