The Prayer of Prayers
March 3, 2021 | My Jottings
Hello friends. If any of you are in Community Bible Study, you know that every class worldwide is studying the Gospel of John right now. I don’t know that I’ve ever read it like I have this year. I have needed the words of Jesus these past months, as so many other voices have filled my ears and mind with everything that has happened in our world.
This week, our class is in the 17th chapter of John, which covers Jesus’s high priestly prayer in the presence of His disciples just before He is arrested. It brought back memories of 15 years ago, when I was the Associate Teaching Director of our CBS class, and one of my times to study and present the lecture was when we were in John 17. I remember being so moved by Jesus’s focus on His Father, His disciples and on all future believers.
Today I searched my computer for the lecture and read through it, and was a little discouraged that my life hasn’t seemed to change much in these last 15 years. Eye-opening and humbling.
I am reprinting it here in its entirety (it’s loooong), and I’ll just mention that when I wrote it, I was picturing the dear women of our large class, in particular a very beloved and diminutive Betty Olson, who is in heaven now. It was a hard passage to write a lecture on, but here it is:
The Prayer of Prayers
…glory on His mind (verses 1-5)
Good morning. You may or may not have noticed than on occasion I like to begin by taking informal surveys. Last year I asked anyone who had ever dreamed of being beautiful to raise their hand, and I think every hand went up. A couple weeks ago I asked if anyone was interested in having a personal trainer, and about three quarters of you responded affirmatively. Earlier in the year I asked for a show of hands from those who had college degrees and many hands went up. Well, I have another survey I’m conducting this morning. How many of you have climbed Mt. Everest? No one? Laurel, I thought you said that you had climbed Mt. Everest? No? I can’t remember who it was – Betty, is it you?
As I studied John chapter 17 this week, I felt like I was encountering the Mt. Everest of prayers. If you’ve ever seen anything on Everest expeditions, you know they always set up a Base Camp on a lower slope. Well, in this chapter I barely even made it to Base Camp, and as I stood at the bottom of this towering prayer, I couldn’t see the summit, just cloud cover. But I’m believing in faith that there’s a majestic peak 29,035 feet above us. We’ve heard expressions like King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and we know these are pinnacle titles – phrases that mean there are no other kings or lords who are higher or more powerful than Jesus Christ. We know that the Holy of Holies means there is no holier place. What would be the Book of Books? The Bible. And the mountain of mountains? Everest.
Our title this morning is The Prayer of Prayers. The last supper was finished, most of His final words to His disciples had been said, and in a very short time Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified. Just as His last instructions to His disciples would be very important, Jesus’ last prayers were concentrated and weighty. As we look at the outline we’re going to see that as Jesus talked to His Father in front of His disciples He had glory on His mind, He had His friends on His heart, and He had you and me in His sight. There are deep theological concepts in John 17, so let’s turn there and ask the Lord to help us grasp what He has in store for us this morning. Our Heavenly Father, we praise you and thank you for your love. We ask you to come and teach us – send your Holy Spirit to quicken this passage to each woman here. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
I think one of the most stunning things about this whole passage is that Jesus prayed these words when He knew He was hours from being beaten and scourged beyond recognition, spat upon, reviled and screamed at, and nailed to a cross like a criminal. Not only did He know this was imminent, but He knew that the worst torture was that He was going to be heaped with every sin that ever was or ever would be committed – that He who was the spotless Lamb would soon be sin. And yet while this was only hours away, Jesus Christ had glory on His mind, His friends on His heart, and you and me in His sight.
Verse one: After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” He didn’t bow His head, fold His hands and close His eyes. The Jewish posture of prayer was to be open-eyed with head up. I think this was more than a posture, however. I think Jesus looked beyond the stars, outside of time and into another dimension, and locked eyes with the One who had sent Him out of love for us. I think He was able to look into the Heavenly realm and see the expression on His Father’s face. Would that expression have been tender, because He was so pleased with His Son? Would that expression have been sorrowful, since God knew that very soon He would have to turn His face away from His beloved Son when He bore the sins of the world? Was the Father’s expression joyful, since He knew that the cross would reconcile people to Himself?
So, speaking of the cross and the awesome work that was going to be accomplished there, Jesus continued, “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.”
We’ve talked about the word glory before, but we need to concentrate on it here if we’re going to understand this passage at all. The word in the Greek is doxa, and it’s very difficult to adequately define in English. It means splendor, radiance, shining brightness, magnificence. To glorify is to praise, to magnify and honor, to recognize the importance of another. Yet all of these definitions only dance around the fringes of what true glory is. Doxa also means tremendously weighty, heavy with importance. Another helpful definition is that glory is what makes God recognizable to us. It is the god-ness of God, if you will. And yet even this definition falls short of the enormity of what glory means.
So when Jesus asks God to glorify Him, He’s asking that God make Himself known and recognizable through Jesus’ death on the cross. That’s a strange way for God to want to make Himself known, we might think. But God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we’re listening carefully, when we behold the cross we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering our names and saying, “Do you see God? Do you recognize Him?” When we look at the cross we see all the attributes of God. We see the love of God and the holiness of God like nowhere else. At the cross we see God’s hatred of sin and His refusal to compromise with it. At the cross we see His love for us in the vast cost He paid for our redemption. When we look at the bloody cross of Christ, we see God’s glory because His attributes have been made visible and recognizable there. So the Holy Spirit stands at our side and says, “Do you see it now? Do you recognize how holy, how loving, how faithful, how generous, how magnificent your God is?”
So first in verse five Jesus prayed that God would display His character on the cross, that through Jesus’ obedience to the point of death, God would be glorified. Secondly, in the same verse we see another dimension to the word glory, when Jesus prayed, “and now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Before He came to earth Jesus possessed an inner and an outer glory in Heaven. He laid aside the outer glory while on earth. He cloaked His resplendent outer glory with the extremely limited mortal body of a man. But He still possessed His inner glory, which made the character of God visible to anyone who had eyes to see. Many refused to see, and picked up stones instead. Is it any surprise that Jesus expressed a yearning to return to the outer glory that He was adorned with in heaven?
I don’t think we can fully understand how limiting it must have been for Jesus, the second person of the Divine Godhead, to dwell in human form. Picture yourself choosing to leave behind your magnificently designed and highly functional human body and dwelling in the body of an earthworm for 33 years. Imagine how anxious you would be to once again have legs that could run, arms that could hug a loved one, a voice that could sing out in joy, and an environment a little prettier and more varied than just plain dirt, day in and day out. This analogy is exaggerated, but not in the way we might think. The disparity between the Son of God coming to live in the body of a man is much larger than if a human could become an earthworm. The glory He gave up to save you and me is something we can’t comprehend, something we don’t even have good words for. It’s for a return to this outer, dazzling glory, which is His natural state, that He prayed.
With the disciples listening and watching, Jesus turned His eyes to His Father and prayed, with glory on His mind. He knew that His reason for coming to earth was to bring glory to God, and it’s the reason we’re here, the reason we woke up drawing breath this morning. We were born to glorify God, to make Him recognizable to others by the way we live our lives.
…His friends on His heart (verses 6-19)
Jesus then spoke to His Father about the disciples, and in verses 6 – 19 we see a continuation of the deep spiritual concepts that run throughout The Prayer of Prayers. How do you pray for your best friends? I thought about this – I realized that when I pray for my friends I often ask for positive medical reports, relief from pain, strengthening for marriages, safe travel, wisdom for child-rearing, financial blessing, and yes, I also pray for God’s will for their lives. But when we look at what Jesus considered the few most important things to ask for His friends, we see that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t concerned about pain relief and finances and families. He proved that everywhere He went – He glorified His Father – or made His attributes recognizable – by healing the sick, teaching about money and encouraging and strengthening people. But in this prayer I think it’s safe to say that Jesus got down to the nitty-gritty and prayed for what He knew was most crucial. In verse 11 He prayed that the disciples would be protected by the power of God’s name, and He asked for this protection so that they would be as one as He and His Father are one. He knew that if He sent them out into the four corners of the earth still engaging in the shenanigans they had that very evening, the kingdom of God wouldn’t advance properly. Remember the shenanigans I’m talking about? Luke’s gospel includes the details about how that very evening in the Upper Room, a dispute broke out among the disciples about which of them was considered to be the greatest. They had just eaten the Passover meal with Jesus and He told them He was soon going to be betrayed, and what are the words that came to Jesus’ ears? “I’m greater!” “No, it’s me, don’t you remember He sat with me last week?” “No, no, you’re all wrong – I’m the greatest of the twelve of us!….”
Can we understand why Jesus prayed that His friends would have unity, that they would be one as He and His Father were one? One commentator said, “Jesus asked (that His disciples have a) unity of nature, not of conformity or of deeds.” He wasn’t asking that they all do the same thing, He was praying that their hearts would be unified toward one goal, that their lives would glorify God in every way possible. That’s our Central Idea today – Jesus was born, the disciples were born, and you and I were born to glorify God. We exist to make Him recognizable in April of 2006 to everyone God puts in our lives.
Sometimes we think it’s hard to know how to be in the center of God’s will – does He want me to take this job, does He want me to quit that activity, should I live in this house, and as we often do, we focus on rules and the external. But we can always know with certainty that His perfect will for us today, is that with whoever we come in contact with, with God’s empowerment, we are to glorify Him. We are to make His love and holiness, His generosity, kindness and patience, dazzlingly recognizable to those around us. Think about that the next time you enter a grocery store. God has a plan and a purpose for you when you get to that cashier, and it’s not just to pay for your food. You may be the only Bible she reads that day, or in her entire life so far. You exist that day, in that very place, to be a display of His splendor, as Isaiah 61:3 says. As I was writing these very words I sensed a question from the Holy Spirit, “Julie, do you make me recognizable to the telemarketers that call your home?” Arghh. I confess that I am usually abrupt with telemarketers and have been known to hang up on them when they try to keep me on the phone to listen to their spiels. Could God really want me to somehow make Him recognizable to a stranger I’ll never see and never talk to again? Hmmmm.
In verse 13 Jesus also made it clear that He wanted His disciples to have joy. Not just a little joy, but the full measure of His joy within them. The world hated them, and that hatred was about to intensify. They would need His joy to sustain them and keep them loving and focused on Heaven while they endured the hard years of their earthly futures.
Verse 15: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” He knew that if they listened to the Father of lies, they would be hamstrung and ineffective, and they had a mission of huge magnitude to accomplish. He didn’t ask that they be removed from a disagreeable or a dangerous environment. He asked that they be protected from the devil and his schemes instead.
And Jesus’s final main request for His closest friends was that they would be sanctified by the truth, in verse 17. Sanctification is one of those high-sounding theological terms that we might be tempted to think is not very relevant to us today. To be sanctified means to be set apart for God’s holy purposes, and Jesus said that this process happens “by the truth”. He then defines “the truth” as God’s Word.
Truth is not relative, contrary to what popular culture would have us believe. Even some churches are teaching that there is no such thing as absolute truth. We need to be sure our churches and our church leaders proclaim without apology that there is absolute truth, and that this, God’s Word, is that truth. If you have little ones in Sunday School, make certain that they’re being taught that Noah and the ark and the flood were real, that Daniel was in the lion’s den, that the Red Sea parted, and that this is God’s truth. If you realize that these accounts are being treated as mere stories or myths, may I be bold? It’s time to look for a new church. If you yourself struggle with the concept of absolute truth, you might want to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. If God didn’t want us to believe that there is absolute truth, that sin is absolutely wrong and that a horrible price absolutely had to be paid, then Jesus’ death on the cross was an absolute nothing. But something in each of our hearts tells us this morning that that is absolutely not true.
Another definition I found for the word sanctify is this: To separate from profane things and dedicate to God. To purify. How appropriate for the time we live in.
James Boice wrote, “It is by means of the Bible, then, by the Word of God, that we are to become increasingly separated unto God and grow in practical holiness.” And here’s another worthy quote from D.L. Moody, about being sanctified by the truth of God’s Word. He wrote this in the front of his Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” We can make that choice every single day.
As Jesus prayed huge, mountainous things for His dear friends, He asked for the things that were most important. He had plans for them! He had impossible tasks and appointments on their Day Planners. They had a world to turn upside down in Jesus’ name! They had eight books of the Bible to write! They had demons to cast out, people to heal, rulers to defy, visions to see, and martyr’s deaths to face with courage and joy. Think about this: it’s because Jesus got what He asked for concerning His disciples – protection, unity, tons of joy in their hearts, protection from the evil one, and sanctification by the truth, that you and I sit in this room today. It’s because the disciples were eventually united in heart and purpose and passion for Jesus Christ that our churches even exist, that we have our own Bibles, that Community Bible Study exists. We are here because of The Prayer of Prayers that our Savior prayed over 2000 years ago.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the light bulbs went on in the disciples’ minds. In Acts we read that tongues of fire rested on the heads of all who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but I think these were first century light bulbs. In cartoons, light bulbs go on over a character’s head when enlightenment comes, when they “get” something. I think the disciples’ light bulbs went on when they all finally realized, “Ohhh! We were born to glorify God! He created us to make Him and His Son Jesus renowned and recognizable in this world! Let’s get to it!” And it’s the same for you and me. We were born to glorify Him in our time and culture.
…you and me in His sight (verses 20-26)
I love verse 20. Now, I want you to use your imaginations. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s try to picture the scene. They were somewhere on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Some commentators think they were still in the Upper Room despite the last verse in John chapter 14. Most commentators think Jesus and His men had paused en route to the Garden at a private place. The setting isn’t as important as what’s being said and the One who is praying The Prayer of Prayers. Our Savior was a man of sorrows, yes, but He was no Eeyore. He was not a depressed, timid, weak, melancholy man. He was dynamic, He was full of joy, He loved lavishly, cared deeply, listened attentively, and wept with the deepest expressions of grief we can imagine.
I believe Jesus was so magnetic that it would have been difficult for people to know Him and then have to leave His presence. You would have just known that if you had to be apart from Him you were going to miss something. To be with Him was to have all the treasure of the universe. To be apart from Him was to be impoverished. I’ll say that again and put it in context for us. For you and me to be with Jesus, in His presence and to abide in Him, is to have all the treasure of the universe. It makes our Waverly wallpapers and our new SUVs and our 401Ks look like rotting garbage. Which of course they are, compared to Him. For you and me to be apart from Him is to be completely impoverished. Open our eyes to this, Lord Jesus. Move in our hearts here this morning Lord. So, imagine this dynamic man who was God incarnate, turning His heart from His dearest friends, the disciples, to you. And to me.
Verse 20, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” Are you envisioning this? Do you see Him with His eyes still looking toward heaven, His arms gesturing and His hands pleading? He wasn’t speaking in a monotone. He was passionately praying for us. He was looking to His Father, but He was looking across the centuries, with His eyes on you. And me. We’ve all read that He knows how many hairs are on our heads, but as Beth Moore said recently, do we know that He knows our fingerprints by heart? He knows every double helix in your DNA. Are we aware that when He prayed for us the night before His death, He knew what our every struggle with sin would be? That we would have petty arguments and harbor bitterness in our hearts? That we would be obsessed with ourselves and would need powerful intervention? What are you and I struggling with at this point in our lives? Will you picture with me, our powerful and compassionate, all-knowing Savior, with the disciples looking on, praying for us, with each one of us in His sight?
What did He ask the Father to bless us with? In verse 21 He asked that we, too, would be one, just as He and His Father are one, because when the world sees that kind of love and humility, it will sit up and take notice, and may even believe that Jesus was sent by God. A seventeenth century Puritan preacher named Thomas Manton said, Divisions in the church breed atheists in the world. The converse would be, unity in the church breeds believers in the world.
Verse 23: Jesus prayed that we would be in Him and He in us, and then once again repeated His desire for our unity. It isn’t that God didn’t hear Him the first time He asked for it; it’s that we need to see how many times He mentioned it. At the end of the verse He said again that the world needs to know that Jesus was sent from God and that God loves you and me even as He has loved His Son Jesus. In the Greek, the phrase “even as” means to the same degree as. When I read that I sat on my bed and had a hard time taking it in. God loves you and me to the same degree as He loves His one and only Son? That’s what the Word of God says. It’s extraordinary. It should change the way we live. There are no limits to His love. If you’re feeling insignificant today, ponder that phrase in verse 23.
In verse 24 Jesus prayed that we would be with Him where He is – and He wanted us to see His glory, both here on earth and in heaven. Why would He want that? In our little brains we might think that that’s an egotistical thing to pray for. But there’s nothing ego-driven about Christ – we should see that by now as we follow God’s humble servant to the cross where He laid down His life with us in His sight.
The glory we see on earth through His people is a veiled sort of glory. True Christians do make Him recognizable here – we were born to glorify Him. But when we see Him someday in all His unveiled glory, we’ll understand why He prayed for this. Don’t you know that if our human bodies could bear to look upon His glory here and He revealed Himself to us in that way, we’d lose our self-obsession and stop cherishing our sin in about two seconds? All previous struggles we’ve ever had getting our priorities straight would disappear.
A few years ago my husband Michael and I were home together and the phone rang. I was in the living room and he was in the kitchen and he answered the phone there. I could hear him talking with someone, and when he hung up and came into the living room with tears in his eyes I said, “Who was that?” “Ruth Graham”, he answered emotionally. “Billy’s wife?” I asked incredulously. He nodded and his tears spilled over as he told me why she had called. Most of you probably know that Ruth Bell Graham has been an invalid for years, but apparently she hasn’t let that stop her from impacting the kingdom for Christ. I’ve read that she studies her Bible and spends hours in prayer each day, and that her passion for Jesus hasn’t been diminished by her suffering. So on this day, Mrs. Billy Graham was volunteering for her son Franklin’s organization, and she called to thank us for giving to Samaritan’s Purse. Michael and I had sent a small donation a few weeks before. After she thanked Michael she asked him if there was anything she could lift to the Lord for our family, and Michael asked for prayer for one of our daughters. For the next couple of minutes, Michael bowed his head and tried to keep from sobbing while Ruth Graham powerfully prayed for our girl by name. I will never forget that blessing, that gift from God to my husband and me – how that encouraged us. I remember thinking as I did my housework, “Ruth Graham has our phone number!” And you better believe that I’ve told our daughter that Billy Graham’s wife has prayed for her. How much more grateful and confident should we be when we know our Lord has prayed, and prays for us by name.
I’ll be honest with you, when I read this intercessory prayer of Jesus over and over this week, I realized how little my own prayers resemble it. I spend time praying little foothill prayers and hardly any Mt. Everest kind of prayers. But I want to learn. What Jesus thinks is important, I want to think is important! If glory, unity, joy, protection from the enemy, and sanctification are what He wants for me, then that’s what I want for me. Do you agree? And I just want to make sure we understand that we still need to take everything to the Lord in prayer – even the smallest details. Even molehill prayers are good. This passage wasn’t meant to discourage us from our “normal” praying. I think it was meant to expand and lift our scope.
It’s as if, with John chapter 17, Jesus is gently taking our chins and saying, “Look up, child! Look up above the clouds. Don’t stay at Base Camp. There’s a mountain to climb, there’s a summit to reach. I’ll help you every step of the way. And wait until I show you the view…”
Dear Heavenly Father, your Word is so rich. We thank you for this passage and we ask you to continue to teach us your ways. Help us to serve you in unity, protect us from the enemy of our souls, and be the Lifter of our heads. Lord, teach us to pray, help us to bring glory to you, and give us your joy. In the towering name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
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Ohhhh! How this encouraged my sinking spirit today….It opened my eyes to the impact of Jesus prayer for us even today! …& to realize God loves us as much as His own son Jesus is something I needed to hear…even if it is difficult to believe/grasp. Thank you for posting this Julie…& always faithfully allowing our Heavenly Father to teach through you . XOO
So nice to see your comment here Linda. I was gone for a couple of days. Thank you for your kind words, your friendship and prayers over the years. xoxo