We live in a culture that is increasingly out of step with the gospel. This has never been a Christian nation, but for most of its history, its underlying value system was one that was congenial to the gospel. That has changed. And as a Christian, you are increasingly out of step with the culture in which you live. To live for Christ, you're going to have to live counter to culture.
We've always expected that of missionaries and prepared them to think that way, because they're going into an environment that doesn't hold the same values. They have to communicate the gospel . They have to keep their balance without being buffeted and knocked off the wire. That's increasingly what Christians have to do in our own culture. In order to do that we have to have a constant refreshment of our vision of who Jesus is.
Jesus prays the real Lord's Prayer.
I don't know a better passage to refresh our vision than John 17: 15. John 17 is an unusual passage of Scripture. It divides into three sections. In the first section, Jesus is praying for himself. In the second section, he prays for his disciples who are gathered in the Upper Room. This is before he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the third section, Jesus prays for those who would believe through the disciples' and me. If you're a Christian, you've heard their words. Whether through the Scriptures or passed down through church tradition, some communicated words to you, the gospel of Jesus Christ; and you believed. Jesus is, in this third section, praying for you. It's everything but your name listed there.
Why wouldn't we turn to that section? Why turn to the first section where Jesus is praying for himself? Because this is a profoundly important Scripture passage.
As we come to this passage, realize how seldom we listen in on Jesus' praying. Jesus prays all the time. Every time we see him in the Gospels it seems like he's on his knees. The disciples see him as a master . And so they turn to him and say, "Lord, teach us to pray." And he gives us the Lord's Prayer.
Jesus was a master . But you realize also how seldom we have a chance to listen in. Most of the time we just get glimpses. This is the only place in the Bible where we have a chance to listen to the second Person of the Godhead addressing the first person of the Godhead, the Father. That's why this passage should be so precious to us. In fact, we should know this passage as the Lord's Prayer.
That other one is not really the Lord's Prayer at all. It's the Disciples' Prayer. "Lord, teach us how to pray." "Okay, " Jesus says, "When you pray, here's how you should pray." And he gives them a model prayer. It's not a prayer that he would pray. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass"; that's for the disciples to pray.
In fact, this prayer passage is uniquely a Lord's Prayer, his prayer alone. Jesus says in this first section, "Father, I have done everything you sent me to do. I've completed the task. I've left nothing undone." Can you pray that? This is a prayer that only Jesus could pray. That other one is for us. That's the Disciples' Prayer; this is the Lord's Prayer.
In John 17 we listen as Jesus begins to pray. It's in the Upper Room. He's almost ready to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where he'll be taken into custody, put through mock trials, and crucified. He says, "Father, the time has come." What time? The time for this crucifixion. Five times in John's gospel you hear "his time had not yet come."
His mother says, "Why don't you reveal yourself?
He says, "Woman, my hour has not yet come."
His brothers say, "Look, just go up to Jerusalem. Let everybody know who you are."
"You don't understand. My time has not yet come."
When the crowds are going to try to kill him, they are prevented. Why? Because his hour has not yet come.
Here, for the first time, Jesus says, " Father, my time has come." The hour is here for the fulfillment of his purpose. In fact, he is so close to it that he can speak of it as an accomplished fact. "I've now accomplished everything you've sent me to do," he says to the Father. "The time has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you."
This is the only request he makes. He makes it twice. "Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you" (verse 1). He repeats it in verse 5: "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." One single, global, cosmic, huge request.
"Father, give me back the glory that I had with you before the world began." Contrast that for a minute with our prayers at times. We've got a laundry list of requests: "Father, here's who's been diagnosed with cancer. Please, be with them. And here's someone who's lost his job. Please, supply for them. And here's who's going into surgery, and would you give the physicians skill and wisdom, and so on." We have this long list of requests. That is not what you see here.
I don't want to suggest that that's inappropriate. That's not true. If you go back to that Disciples' prayer, what we call the Lord's Prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." Jesus cares about these specifics of life. But notice in that prayer you don't get to the "bread" part until you have first prayed, "Our Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." A global prayer for the kingdom. And all of our individual prayers are brought underneath the light of what God is doing in the world.
When Jesus makes his prayer request, he's almost ready to go the cross. And his request is "give me back the glory I had with you before the world began." He's praying for a reversal of what's often called the kenosis, the emptying that took place.
Philippians 2: 68, "Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross!"
It's a travel down. The whole trip is one coming down, leaving the glory he had in grasping and not holding onto taking upon himself the form of a servant. Looking like you and me, human. He even let the ones that he created murder humiliating, excruciating death on a cross. It's all down.
He released his glory; he didn't grasp it. Now he's asking the Father, "Father, would you give me back the glory that I had with you before the world began? Would you reverse this process and me as I was with you before I came into the world?"
At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, this coming down into the world. We sing the carol "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing": Hail the incarnate deity, veiled in flesh.
Here he's asking for a reversal of that veiling, not a reversal of the Incarnation.
Why is he able to make that request? Because he's done everything the Father sent him to do. That's why he says, "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 completing the work you gave me to do." He is saying, "This is what you sent me to do, and now I have done it. Now, Father, will you me? Will you me with the glory I had with you before the world began?"
That is his single request; and it is huge.
What does Jesus' request mean?
You may say, "I don't get it. Why is that so important? Why is that significant for Christians in this generation?" For this reason: Because the Father said yes. The Father granted his request. Jesus left nothing undone, so the Father was able to say yes to his request, and to return him to the glory he had with the Father.
Look again at Philippians 2, continuing at verses 911. What's that next word? Therefore. Because he 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Remember Jesus said, "Father, glorify yourself by me." The apostle Paul is recounting that the Father answered that prayer. The Father is glorified by the Son being , having completed everything he gave him to do. Jesus' prayer request was answered. The Father was able to say yes.
You may say, "I still don't get it. I see your point. It's clear what the Bible is teaching, but why is that significant to me?" For this reason: the only Jesus you know, the only Jesus you've talked to, the only Jesus you walk with, is the Jesus after this prayer, not the Jesus before this prayer.
How do you picture Jesus? What does he look like? For most of us, he probably looks a lot like the images from Sunday school, or the pictures hanging on the wall in which he had the long hair and beard. I read recently that the painting of Jesus in the history of art is the painting of Jesus with his hands clasped, looking up into the light and praying.
Most of us, when we think of Jesus, we have these images. They're the products of popular culture and artists' imaginations. We need to remind ourselves that's all they are.
The Four GMatthew, Mark, Luke, and J focused centrally on this person Jesus Christ. They're designed to tell us about him, to explain him to us, and there is not one description of what Jesus looked like in any of the four Gospels.
What did Jesus look like? Was he tall or was he short? Was he heavyset, thickset, or thin? Did he have dark skin or light skin?
We get glimpses. We know he wore a beard; they plucked out his beard at the crucifixion. We know he wore sandals. John says, "I'm not worthy to untie his sandals." We get these glimpses, but there's not a single place in those Gospels that describes Jesus' physical attributes. Do you begin to get the idea that maybe the Father did not want us to picture Jesus like that?
There is, however, a clear and powerful description of what Jesus looks like in Revelation. Here's how you ought to picture Jesus.
Revelation 1:10, 1218, written by John: "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 seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone 'like a son of man,' dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were 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 the right hand, he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, 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 behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
Remember that John, who wrote this, knew Jesus in his earthly walk, probably better that anyone else, at least during his time of ministry. John was his closest compatriot, traveling companion. And after the prayer and the Father's of the Son, John sees Jesus and falls at his feet like a dead man. Jesus has to touch him on the shoulder and say, "Don't be afraid." John is clearly struggling to find words to express the glorified, majestic Christ.
The only other glimpse in the New Testament of the glorified, risen Christ, the Jesus after the prayer, is on the road to Damascus. Jesus appears to Paul with a flash of light that blinds Paul. He's knocked down. Everybody else is stunned by it. They came face to face with Jesus. At times we may say, "I wish Jesus would appear hereI've got to make this decision. Why doesn't he appear and tell me what he wants me to do?"
That's a foolish thing to say. We're told that where there are two or three gathered together "there am I in the midst." If he were to make himself visible to us, we would be so overwhelmed by his glory and his power that we, like John, would fall at his feet like dead people. And he would have to touch us and say, "You don't have anything to fear from me. I'm your Lord; I'm your friend."
John MacArthur tells of a guy who went around California talking about how Jesus regularly appeared to him. One time he was telling John that Jesus had appeared to him that morning while he was shaving. John MacArthur asked, "What did you do?" He said, "I just kept on shaving." And John said, "Then that wasn't Jesus." John was right. You do not come face to face with the Jesus after this prayer, the risen, glorified, majestic, cosmic Christ, and keep on shaving.
I am not playing down the Jesus of the Gospels. That Jesus is for us. We're told "Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." We're supposed to look like him, think like him. Peter says Jesus left us an example that we are to walk in his footsteps. The Jesus of the Gospels is to be studied, learned from, emulated. We're to think like him, talk like him, behave like him, operate the way Jesus did.
The Jesus of the Gospels is for us. Please, don't hear me playing that down. But that's not the way Jesus is today. That's the Jesus before this prayer, and you and I serve the Jesus after this resurrected, glorified, majestic Christ.
A glimpse of the glorified Jesus will transform everything you do.
We live in an intimidating environment, in which we're increasingly out of step with the culture. But if you catch a glimpse of who Jesus Christ really is, it will transform everything.
It will transform your worship. You will never walk in here blithely again. You're coming into the presence of this majestic, glorified Christ.
It will transform your obedience. This is the Jesus who says, "If you love me, obey my commandments." If you see who Jesus is, the thought of disobeying him becomes unthinkable.
It will transform your confidence. You go out into the world and feel like those spies going out into the Promised Land. "There are giants in the land." You get watery at the knees. And you're going out like David against Goliath with just little stones in your hand. But your stone is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. If you don't see who it is you represent, as David did when he went out to Goliath, it's possible to be watery in the knees, really intimidated, feeling small and insignificant like grasshoppers. But if you see who it is, this Jesus whom you serve, the Jesus after this prayer, you will never be intimidated again.
I suspect that for most of us our Jesus is too small. We think too small. We don't really understand whom we serve. Remember, the only Jesus you have ever known, the only Jesus you've ever talked to, the Jesus you serve, is the Jesus after this majestic, cosmic Lord of heaven and king of earth.