Everyone has an opinion about Jesus
I met a man recently who, minutes into introducing ourselves to one another, went on at great length about all the things he believes Jesus is not: that Jesus is a prophet but not more than a prophet; that while only appeared to be crucified; and more. There was no shyness in expounding his faith to a complete stranger. We can respect such zeal.
But I also found it sad, because what he has been taught in the Muslim-majority nation where he grew up stunningly contradicts the clear Old and New Testament witness regarding who Jesus Christ is in his fulness.
Who really is Jesus?
The apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, for example, begins by lifting our sights to the fullness of who Jesus Christ is, writing…
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
All of those crucial revelations are completely out of his sight:
· That Jesus is the invisible God made visible;
· That Jesus has the position of supreme importance over creation;
· That Jesus is Co-Creator with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit of all things both on earth and in heaven;
· That all things have been created for Jesus;
· That Jesus is meant to have the supremacy, first place in everything;
· That in Jesus all the fullness of God dwells bodily;
· That through Jesus, God offers reconciliation, peace with God through his blood, shed on the cross.
All of these and more are utterly out of sight for that man because of what has been indoctrinated into him.
Following Jesus means not going the way of the crowd
To be a Christian in the place where that man was raised, then, would mean living counter to culture with regard to who Jesus is. And in fact, to live for Christ has always meant living counter to culture. There has never been a time when following the authentic Jesus has been popular or easy.
· For Christians in 1st-century Rome, living for Christ meant going counter to culture with regard to whether Christ is Lord or Caesar is Lord. In practical terms, there was the challenge of who gets your supreme loyalty?
· For Christians in 1st-century Corinth, the Vegas of that time, living for Christ meant going counter to culture with regard to sexuality, honoring God with your body.
· And certainly today in American society as well, to truly follow Christ means you will be increasingly out of step with some of the culture shifts that are taking place. To live for Christ, you’re going to have to live counter to culture. Duane Litfin, whose work I’m building on this week, points out that we’ve always expected this of missionaries. They have to live out and communicate the message of Jesus in places where Christianity is by far a minority faith. That’s increasingly what Christians have to do in our own setting as well. And in order to do that, you have to constantly refresh your vision of who Jesus truly is. That’s what I want to walk through with you this week.
What Jesus prayed reveals who he truly is
John chapter 17 has been called the great high priestly prayer of Jesus. This is by far the longest prayer of Jesus recorded for us in the NT. Jesus prayed all the time—morning, mealtimes, nighttime, and more. This prayer gives us more detail than any other prayer of Jesus found in the NT.
Samuel Gordon was a well-known Christian writer from the 19th and 20th centuries active in Christian ministry within the YMCA in its early days. In his book Quiet Talks On Prayer, Gordon notes…
“How much prayer meant to Jesus! It was not only his regular habit, but his resort in every emergency, however slight or serious. When perplexed he prayed. When hard pressed by work he prayed. When hungry for fellowship he found it in prayer. He chose his associates and received his messages upon his knees. If tempted, he prayed. If criticized, he prayed. If fatigued in body or wearied in spirit, he had recourse to his one unfailing habit of prayer. Prayer brought him unmeasured power at the beginning and kept the flow unbroken and undiminished. There was no emergency, no difficulty, no necessity, no temptation that would not yield to prayer.”
John chapter 17 clearly falls into three prayer requests.
John 17 at a glance
1. Jesus prays for himself (verses 1-5)
2. Jesus prays for his disciples who are with him at the Last Supper (verses 6-19)
3. Jesus prays for all who will ever believe in him (verses 20-26)
We’re going to focus on the first part of Jesus’ prayer—a prayer that he will be glorified.
John 17, the real Lord’s prayer
Jesus has been telling his disciples what to expect, what’s coming. That’s John chapter 16. And then, John recalls…
“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour 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 know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing 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…Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’”
John 17:1-5, 24
The emphasis is unmistakable: Jesus’ prayer is that God the Father would again give him the glory he had for all eternity before the incarnation. It’s a prayer for glory to return to Jesus, so that all who come to believe in him will receive the eternal life that only the glorified One can grant.
The setting is the Upper Room. Jesus has washed their feet and rebuked their arguing about which of them is the greatest. They have eaten the meal at which Jesus forever changing the imagery of bread and wine to that of his body and blood as he was about to become the Passover Lamb slain for us.
By this point in the evening, everything Jesus was sent to do, leading up to fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53, is work finished. Only the cross remains. Jesus is about to lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be betrayed with a kiss, taken into custody, rushed through a series of sham trials, and marched to the place of the Skull.
Jesus’ prayer opens with, “Father, the hour has come.” Five prior times in John’s gospel we hear that his time had not yet come. But now, finally, it has.
Restore my glory as before
The cross is so close that Jesus speaks of it as an accomplished fact. “I have finished the work you gave me to do,” he prays. “The hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.”
This is the only request Jesus makes for himself. The word ‘glory’ and its variations appear seven times in this brief prayer—seven in the Bible signifying fullness, perfection, completion. It’s all one single, laser-focused, global, eternal, massive request.
“Father, give me back the glory that I had with you before the world began.” It’s a prayer that reaches into eternity past, and extends ahead into eternity future, that the glory Jesus had would again be his, and forever.
Jesus is praying for a reversal of what theologians called the kenosis, the voluntary emptying or laying aside of his privileges as God that took place when the Word became flesh.
Philippians chapter two describes that emptying for us, saying that…
“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
It’s a massive, voluntary journey down, down, down, down—from glory to grit, from glory to the grime of how sin has wounded and damaged humanity. Paul goes on to wonder that this one who came from glory even let the ones that he created murder him by way of humiliating death on a cross.
Looking beyond the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, would you give me back the glory that I had with you before the world began? Would you restore what I gave up on behalf of these ones created in our image who have so fallen in sin?”
At Christmas we celebrate this coming down of Christ into the world. In the carol Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, for example, we sing:
Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
The hymn continues in amazement, “Mild, he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.”
In the first part of his high priestly prayer, Jesus asks for the veiling of his incarnation to be unveiled, that is, for his glory to be restored. Jesus is asking that once the cross is past, we will see him as he truly is, in the fullness of glory he has always had. That is his single request, and it is momentous.
What does Jesus’ request mean?
Maybe you wonder, ” Why is this so important?” Here’s why: Because the Father said yes. The Father granted Jesus’ request and returned to him to the glory he had always had for all eternity past.
Look again at Philippians 2, continuing at verses 9-11. Because Jesus completed his mission…
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul is recounting with wonder how God the Father answered Jesus’ prayer. And Jesus is indeed now glorified. The veiling that we see in the gospels is no more. If you saw Jesus today, you would be utterly, completely speechless.
The only Jesus you have ever talked to,
the only Jesus you have walked with,
is Jesus after this prayer was answered,
not Jesus as he was before this prayer was answered.
The only Jesus you have ever talked to, the only Jesus you have walked with in this life, is Jesus after this prayer was answered, not Jesus as he was before this prayer was answered. If that sounds like heresy, hang in there. See where this is headed.
How do you picture Jesus? For most people, he looks a lot like the classic paintings in churches and kids’ Sunday School rooms, serene and gentle. For most of us, these are the images that come to mind when we think of Jesus. They are all attempts to capture Jesus before this prayer was answered.
In all four gospels, there isn’t one description of what Jesus looked like. We get only fleeting glimpses of his appearance before this prayer was answered. We know he had a beard. We know he wore sandals. But there’s not a single place in the gospels that describes what Jesus looked like.
If you saw Jesus today…
There is, however, a jaw-dropping description of what Jesus looks like now that this prayer has been answered. It is found in the book of Revelation. This is how we ought to picture Jesus today. Look with me at the glory of Jesus revealed to John as described in Revelation chapter one. John writes…
“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw…someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”
Revelation 1 excerpt
Remember that John, who wrote this, knew Jesus better that anyone else. Yet after Jesus’ prayer to again receive his glory in its fullness makes John fall to his face like a dead man. Jesus has to reassure him, “Don’t be afraid.” John maxes out the limits of language to convey the glorified Jesus—Jesus as he is now and forever, and Jesus as he will appear when he returns in glory.
The only other glimpse in the New Testament of the glorified Jesus, Jesus after this prayer has been answered, is on the road to Damascus. Jesus appears with a flash of light that blinds Paul. Paul is knocked to the ground.
If Jesus as he is today, glorified, was to make himself visible to us, we would be so overwhelmed by his restored glory, that we, like John, would fall to the ground in absolute awe. We would desperately need him to touch us and reassure us that we need not fear because we already trust him as Savior and Lord.
There’s the true story from a pastor of a guy who went around California talking about how Jesus regularly appeared to him. One time he was telling this pastor that Jesus had appeared to him that morning while he was shaving. The pastor asked, “What did you do?” He said, “I just kept on shaving.” To which the pastor replied, “Then that wasn’t Jesus.”
He was right. No one who comes face to face with Jesus after this prayer was answered can possibly continue on as usual.
· Jesus is the invisible God made visible, and now again glorified;
· Jesus glorified is supreme over all creation;
· Jesus glorified is Co-Creator with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, Creator of all;
· All things have been created for the glorified Jesus;
· The glorified Jesus is meant to have supremacy, first place in everything;
· In Jesus glorified, all the fullness of God dwells bodily;
· And through Jesus in whom all glory dwells, God offers reconciliation to all who will believe.
So yes, in some ways we live in an intimidating environment, one in which authentic Christians are increasingly out of step with the culture at large. But if you catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his glory, that can transform everything. It can transform your confidence.
The only Jesus you have ever known, the only Jesus you have ever talked to, the Jesus you serve, the Jesus you are waiting for, is Jesus after this prayer was answered. He is Lord in all his glory, and in all his glory he is returning.
Let’s end where we began. That man who so confidently went on and on about all he believes Jesus is not is missing the most important thing of all—this prayer, and its answer. My prayer for him, and my prayer for you when your faith gets shaky, is that God will open your eyes to the fullness of Jesus in all his glory, now that this prayer has been answered. That’s my prayer. May it be so.