Our Gospel reading for this morning comes from Jesus’ priestly prayer which He prayed the night before His death on the Cross. He addressed His Father in heaven asking that the disciples might remain faithful to the world which He had given them, that they might remain faithful to the Father, and that they might remain together as a group, or fellowship of believers.
In the 5th century A.D., St. Clement, the Bishop of Alexandria, said that in this prayer, Jesus was acting like a high priest for His people. It is for this reason that this prayer is named the Great Priestly Prayer of Christ, because Jesus was praying on behalf of the disciples to His Father in heaven the same way a priest in the Old Testament would offer intercession on behalf of the nation of Israel and in the way our priests today offer their prayers on behalf of the people of God in the Church. So, this is not a lesson or sermon that Jesus is giving; it is not a time for the Apostles to be interrupting to ask questions as they had done so many times before, but a time to listen and learn.
This is one of the few times when Jesus, in prayer, purposely made His prayer to be heard by those around Him, namely His Apostles. Most of the time when He prayed, Jesus prayed privately, going off by Himself. But this time, Our Lord intended His prayer to be heard by others. Later, on this same evening, Jesus will pray again in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, He will invite only three of the Apostles to ‘remain with Me and watch.’ But here, during the Last Supper, they are all present to hear the only prayer of Jesus recorded in such detail in all the Gospels. And through the inspired record that St. John has left us, so are we.
In the Old Testament, there were three holy offices instituted by God: Prophets, Priests and Kings. No one assumed these offices on their own. Only those called by God and properly appointed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit entered into these offices. Although Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of all three of these offices, it is the office of Priest that occupies our attention here.
The work of the priest was to mediate for man to God. Priests carried out their work at the Temple where they would take the sacrifices that the people would bring and present them to God on behalf of the people. There were “thank offerings” and “memorial offerings” that were given. But mostly, there were “sin offerings” that were made. The priest was called a “servant of God” who would take the animal from the one making the offering in atonement for their sins, present it to the Lord, and sacrifice it. This was the work of the Old Testament priests.
In addition to the priests of the Temple there was also a High Priest. The High Priest did not mediate for a man or woman and their family before God. Rather, He mediated for the whole nation of Israel collectively. The High Priest would carry out one very special offering to the Lord. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, no one entered the Temple except the High Priest. He alone would take one animal, a lamb, into the Temple on behalf of the whole nation and sacrifice it at the altar. And then, the High Priest would take the blood of that lamb behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies, and pour it right onto the Ark of the Covenant, where God Himself was located. And in this way, the High Priest would atone for the sins of the whole nation by one sacrifice, “once for all.”
So, it should not be too hard for us to see why Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest. He is the great Mediator between man and God. He offers one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world to God, a sacrifice far more significant than any of the sacrifices ever made by any of the High Priests of Israel. Jesus offers Himself, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the “Paschal Lamb,” the Passover Lamb.
Now, in the Upper Room, just before He gives His Body over to be sacrificed and His blood to be shed, Jesus prays. Here we see our Great High Priest interceding for His disciples, and for all who will believe through their word. Christ prays for us too. We heard this Great Priestly Prayer of Christ in its entirety during the Passion Service on Holy and Good Friday. It is the most profound and beautiful prayer ever uttered. I encourage you all to go home today and read this prayer again. If you have a family, gather them together and read the prayer, which you can find in the Gospel of St. John, before your meal today. You will find it in seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, verses 1-26.
In the prayer, Jesus prays first for Himself: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all You have given Him.”
Several times throughout the Gospels, we heard that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. The first episode in John’s Gospel takes place at the wedding in Cana. Jesus’ mother tells Him to do something about the lack of wine. Jesus replied, “My hour has not yet come.” When the religious leaders try to seize Jesus and even stone Him, they were not able to because “His time had not yet come.”
Now Jesus says, ‘The hour has come.” The great hour to which the eternal clock had been set was the hour when the Son of God would be crucified on the cross. And Jesus prays to the Father that He would be a worthy High Priest. “Father, the hour has come, glorify Your Son.”
To “glorify” means to give honor and dignity and respect that can be seen by others. To “glorify” is more of a public action, not a mere private one. Jesus is asking to be glorified so that His glory may be seen by others. And in seeing His glory, they will worship Him. And in worshipping Him, they will worship the One who sent Him.
So as the disciples listen to Jesus’ prayer and hear Him pray, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You,” what do you think they were thinking? That the time had finally arrived for Jesus to do what they had hoped all along He would do? That the hour had come for Him to break the teeth of those who caused Him so much trouble? That the hour had come for Him to finally organize a revolution to overthrow the government and clean up the corruption in the Temple? Or that the hour had come for Him to call down a legion of angels from heaven to fight for Him and establish His earthly Kingdom? Probably they were thinking all of these things. It is not secret that many of the Apostles and disciples were looking for Jesus to free them from the tyrannical yoke of Roman rule. But that is not why Jesus came into the world. Oh, He did come to free the people from bondage, but from the bondage of sin, from the bondage of their own egos, pride and sinfulness.
And how do we think of glory and being glorified? Do we not think of glory and our own glorification in terms of power, success, and prosperity? When we pray, how many of us say to the effect, “Glorify me, Father, with good looks and successful career and a fancy car and a lot of money so that others will show me the honor, dignity and respect that I deserve. And I will glorify You by being humble and meek about it all and saying that it all came from You.” This is the way we pray that God would glorify us, is it not? We are not interested in or concerned with glorifying God but only glorifying ourselves and acquiring as much glory for ourselves as we possibly can.
But Jesus is about to be arrested, bound and falsely accused and in this, God will glorify Him. He will be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3) and in this, God will glorify Him. Crucified, died and buried, and in this, God the Father will glorify His Son.
God’s ways are not our ways are they? His thoughts are not our thoughts either. We pray that God would profit a man so that he gains the whole world. But God says, “What will profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:26). But what if that same man were to lose everything: goods, fame, honor, spouse and home, and wind up in a homeless shelter, and through this, he comes to repentance and faith and dies and goes to heaven? Then he is glorified and God is glorified in him and all of heaven rejoices. But who prays for this? How many of us pray for enlightenment, for repentance, for a change of heart, for a change in the way we think and act?
God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus is glorified in His terrible suffering and death. This is what the Father sent the Son into the world to do. His perfect and willing obedience to do the Father’s will glorifies the Father. “I glorified you on earth having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed.”
We know how the story turns out. Jesus suffered and died and God raised Him from the dead and, in this, the Son is glorified. Seated at the right hand of the Father, and given 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” (Phillipians 2:9), Jesus has been glorified. You see, my dear children, glory comes from suffering, struggle and tribulation. Our lives are transformed by suffering and difficulties. That is not to say that we should go out and look for difficulties and problems. But when they do come our way, we should meet them and accept them with great grace, dignity and faith. If our faith is strong and firm, we shall be able to drink the bitter cup of suffering and adversity with same courage Our Lord did on Good Friday.
We cannot help but notice however that in all of this, Jesus is no further ahead than He had always been. This is not a glory that is bestowed on the Son that He did not previously have. This is the glory that He had with the Father before the world existed. Jesus set aside the glory that was rightfully His for a time. Now, the hour has come for His glory to be resumed. So, there was a bigger purpose behind all of this.
Clearly, the Father sent the Son into the world to suffer and die, and the Son came into the world and accomplished the Father’s will not for the sake of His own glory or for the Father’s glory. He did this for our sake, so that we may see His glory and worship Him.
Jesus prays for us. “I have made known Your name to the people whom You gave me out of the world. Yours they were and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they know everything that You have given Me is from You. For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You have sent Me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. All mine are Yours and Yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”
The Father and the Son are in such perfect unity that the Father gives His Word to the Son so that the Son may speak His Word to men and by His Word, bring them to the knowledge of God. And the Son speaks the Father’s Word to all whom the Father has given Him, and they hear the Word and receive it, and the Son gives to those who were at one time estranged and dead in their sins, back to the Father, alive and as the children of God.
So, what is this that Jesus prays for His disciples and for you and me who believe through their word? This is nothing less than eternal life. “That you know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” This is the prayer that our Great High Priest prays for you and for me.
That our attention is being directed to these holy words the week before Pentecost is significant and poignant. Having heard His prayer, we anticipate with joy the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father, Who reminds us of Jesus, Who gives us the knowledge of the only true God, which is love and eternal life.
What shall we say to this? What else can we say but “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.