The Glory of Christ and Knowing God – John 17:1-3

The Glory of Christ and Knowing God

Nick Esch, 7/15/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

An old Scottish preacher once noted, “The best sermon that was ever preached was followed by the best prayer ever offered up…” He was speaking of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17… John Knox, the Scottish reformer, would have his on his deathbed read John 17 aloud to him again and again. He said it was, “the place where [he] first [casted his] anchor…” In other words, this chapter stirred his heart to greater affection for Christ, and it gave him great assurance… This majestic prayer of Christ is packed full of gospel truths that have encouraged the heart of believers throughout church history… I’ve been looking forward to getting to this chapter since I started preaching through John. So with that in mind, we’re going to take our time going through it, and look deeply at each verse… Today we’re just going to look at the first three verses. So let’s look at John 17:1-3…

John 17:1-3

Our passage begins with John telling us that, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven,” and then He prayed to the Father… The words that John is referring to are the words that make up Jesus’ farewell discourse. There Jesus sought to equip and encourage His disciples, preparing them for the suffering that was coming for Him and for them… He was preparing them for life after the cross…

At this point in the Gospel according to John Jesus’ crucifixion is just about to happen… In the beginning of the very next chapter Jesus will be arrested, and then the cross will soon follow… But here in John 17, knowing what is coming in John 18, Jesus pours out His heart in prayer to the Father; and we get to marvel at this glorious prayer… John 17 is a transitional chapter, because it marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry before the cross, and the beginning of His intercessory ministry for His people, but there are glorious truths in this amazing prayer… So let’s dive in…

We’re told that Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven—which was a customary posture for prayer in that time and culture—and He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” Notice first the term Father… It’s easy for us to breeze over this because we’re so used to it; but it was scandalous for Jesus to speak of God as His Father… And as we saw a few weeks ago, it is utterly amazing that in Christ we too get to call God Father… But, what I want you to pick up on here is the personal nature with which Jesus refers to God… He is a Father; not just some force or something… He is a person: the first person of the Trinity… And Jesus knows Him personally and deeply…

Here Jesus tells Him, “the hour has come…” Over and over again in John the hour refers to the hour of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross… It’s God’s appointed hour for Jesus to die for the sins of God’s chosen people… And as a side note here, let me point out that though this hour has been appointed by God, Jesus doesn’t use that as an excuse not to pray, but to pray… God’s sovereignty is an incentive for prayer, not a deterrent… Some people ask, “Why pray if God’s sovereign?” My question is, “Why pray if He isn’t?” Our only hope of answered prayer is the sovereignty of God… And Jesus, knowing that, goes to the Father in prayer, knowing full well that the God appointed hour of the cross had indeed come… God’s sovereignty should never lead to apathy, but to action: including desperate, yet bold prayer…

Now, in light of this, look at Jesus’ petition to the Father… He asks the Father to glorify Him… And this is a prayer that only He could pray: if you or I ask the Father to glorify us it’s blasphemy. I mean God Himself has told us in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name;my glory I give to no other,nor my praise to carved idols.” Yet here Jesus boldly asks the Father to glorify Him… But notice He doesn’t just say, “glorify me…” He says, “glorify your Son…” As in the only Son of God… The Son who was in the beginning with God and who is in fact God… Jesus, God the Son, God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity… When Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him He emphasizes His position as God the Son, and in so doing makes a direct claim to be God… And that’s why this isn’t blasphemy… Because Jesus is God: He’s the infinitely glorious God of the universe who will not give His glory to another… Our God is three and yet one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—all three infinitely glorious…

But, even though Jesus is God, and rightly deserves to be glorified in and of Himself, notice why He asks the Father to glorify Him… He says, “glorify your Son that (that is, so that… This is a purpose clause.) (glorify your Son so that) the Son may glorify you…” And this combined with how Jesus refers to Himself, along with the appointed hour that Jesus has just mentioned tells us what He means by being glorified… The idea here is for Jesus to be enabled to boldly go to the cross, to take the ridicule, the beatings, and the sins of man upon Himself, and then to drink down the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs, and to die in our place… He’s asking the Father to help Him to die well; but not just to die well, but to defeat death, and sin, and Satan, and to satisfy God’s wrath, and to get up from the grave victoriously on the third day… He’s asking the Father to help Him accomplish His grand plan of redemption…

In Ephesians 1, and really throughout Scripture, God’s Word talks about His purpose, which he set forth in Christ before the foundation of the world, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth… This is the grand plan of redemption that Jesus is referring to here…This is the way He’s talking about glorifying the Father: through His being glorified in this great plan… The work of Jesus in redemption is designed to magnify the glory of the Father… When Jesus goes to the cross it is there that the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, and the justice of God, among other things are on full display… So Jesus asks the Father to help Him in the accomplishment of this plan… It’s like what He prays in the garden in the Gospel according to Matthew. He says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)… But here He’s just saying, empower me to boldly do your will—to go to the cross… The idea behind the word glorify is to be clothed in splendor… And that’s the request here: for Jesus to be clothed in the splendor of God’s glorious plan of redemption… The Son is glorified in His perfect life, sacrificial crucifixion, death defeating resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at God’s right hand; and so too is the Father… When Jesus is made much of that likewise glorifies the Father. So Jesus is saying, “Let’s make it happen.”

Again, if anyone else asked God to glorify them it would be sin… But because Jesus is God in the flesh it’s ok… And honestly, if anyone else asked God to make much of them the way Jesus does here, we wouldn’t even like that person… I mean could you imagine hearing someone pray at the dinner table, “God would you just show the world how awesome I really am? Glorify me oh God…” We’d think they were narcissistic, and a little crazy… But that’s not the case here. Because if God is infinitely good and glorious it’s only right for Him to be concerned with His glory… And also, we can see here that if God was not concerned with His glory Jesus would’ve never went to the cross. It was first and foremost glory that drove Jesus to the cross… God’s concern for His glory is what made salvation possible…

Now look at verse 2. Here Jesus gives the Father the grounds for His petition in verse one. He says, “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” When Jesus says, “since” here it’s like He’s saying, “just as…” So Jesus is asking the Father to glorify Him, just as He has given Him authority… In other words, the Father has already magnified the glory of Christ, or clothed Him in splendor, in one sense, because He has already given Him supreme authority… And that’s what Jesus means by having authority over all flesh… He has supreme authority over all of creation, as we can see throughout the Gospel as He exercises it over the winds and rains, as He turns water into wine, feeds the 5,000, heals the sick, casts out demons, and even brings the dead to life… That so, He especially has authority over all humanity, or all flesh… As John told us in 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Or as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Jesus is the Lord of creation, and therefore the Lord of all… He has supreme authority over His creation, especially all flesh—all of mankind…

We often only think of Christians under the Lordship of Christ, but He has authority over all, whether we realize it or not… This is what Paul is getting at in Colossians 1:17, when he says, “And he (Jesus) is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In other words, Jesus is ruling and reigning over the universe in such a way that everything would fall apart if not for His Lordship… His divine authority holds everything together… If not for His sovereign grace we could not take our next breath… If not for His sovereign grace everything we are and everything we know would fall to pieces… Everyone, be they a believer or unbeliever is under the authority of King Jesus… This may not be fully realized yet, but one day (as we read earlier) every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11)…

And the idea that we read about earlier in Philippians 2 is the same idea being communicated next in John 17:2… Jesus has authority over all, but He has special authority, “to give eternal life to all whom [the Father has] given him…” In Philippians 2 we’re told that God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, because He, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8)… And that’s what He’s in the process of doing in our text; and because He is God in the flesh He never fails at anything… So the cross is as good as done… He has come down from heaven, taken on flesh, lived the perfect-sinless life that we all should be living, and now He is going to the cross… And why is He going to the cross? Well, remember what Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus is given over by the Father to this world to live and die in our place, to perish for His people on the cross so that they wouldn’t, but would instead have eternal life…

So Jesus is granted authority over all, not just to rule and reign as Lord, but to be a gracious Savior who gives eternal life… But notice here that Jesus actually speaks of three things given: He’s given authority, He gives eternal life, and He gives it to those the Father has given Him… Some of this giving is yet to happen, while some of it has happened in eternity past… Once again, our text is referring back to God’s grand plan of redemption; as 2 Timothy 1:9 says, His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began… In other words, before the world began God chose a people to give to Christ, to be redeemed by His blood, and in due time to be drawn to Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit for the gift of eternal life…

This is the same type of thing Jesus has already said in John 6… There He says, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (65)… But, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (37)… And this is all made possible through the person and work of Jesus Christ, through His great work of redemption… The Father elects His people, Jesus lives, dies, and rises again to purchase their salvation, and then the Holy Spirit causes them to be born again and draws them to Christ thereby applying their salvation… As Jesus said in John 3:5, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

So what Jesus is referring to here is God’s sovereign choice. No doubt, we are called to repent of our sin, believe in the gospel, and follow Christ, and we will be held liable for whether we do or not… But, ultimately salvation is all of grace… Because we would never want to repent, believe, and follow Christ if God did not first do a work in us… In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ [shines] in our hearts [and gives us] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6)… And when we see Jesus rightly, when we see His light—His glory, by faith, we forsake our sin and run to Him… And friends, if you’re here today and you have yet to do that, I’m pleading with you to do so now; repent and believe the gospel… Run to Christ… If you’re wondering whether or not you are one of those who have been chosen by the Father and given to Christ, the simple way to find out is to ask yourself whether you are willing to repent, believe, and follow Jesus… If you will call on Him He will have you; but if you will call on Him it’s only because of His grace that you will…

Now, if we’re honest, our immediate reaction to all of this is to say that this isn’t fair… This is the reaction Paul anticipates in Romans 9 when he speaks of election. There he says, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:14-16)… Paul knows that we assume fair would be salvation that depends on human will and exertion… Where we would have to earn our way into heaven… But we can’t… As Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And as we noted earlier, God is infinitely glorious… So every sin that we commit is an infinite offense against the glorious God of the universe… That means if you were going to do some good works to make up for your sin somehow, for every sin you would have to do an infinite amount of good works… Which isn’t possible… And it doesn’t work that way anyway… Our sins don’t demand an infinite amount of good works, but an infinite punishment… But, because Jesus is the infinitely glorious Son of God, every sin God’s people have ever or would ever commit has been paid for at the cross… The infinitely glorious Son of God paid the infinite debt we owe for our sin… He had God’s righteous wrath poured out upon Himself in the place of sinners like you and me, so that all who would turn from their sin and trust in Him would be saved…

Now you may be thinking, “Ah… But doesn’t that make things fair? That whoever has faith, whoever trusts in Him can be saved? I mean, then it’s not necessarily works that save, but faith… and everyone gets a fair chance…” Well, remember the words of Jesus from John 6 that we looked at earlier… He said, “no one can come to [Him] unless it is granted him by the Father” (65)… And really, we could say that no one would come to Him unless it is granted him by the Father… You see, God’s Word tells us that we were blind to the glory of Christ in our sin, and that by nature we are dead in our sins… As Paul says in Romans 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” We can’t even place our faith in Christ without God’s help… According to God’s Word faith is actually a gift from God… As Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” Salvation is all of grace… It’s by God’s sovereign choice… The only fair thing would be to put every sinner in hell… But praise God, He doesn’t simply do what’s fair, but He gives grace!

People often misunderstand this doctrine, and think that God is keeping people out of heaven… But really this is telling us that God is keeping people out of hell… As professor Mark Webb has said, “Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams…” And besides, we need to understand what heaven is… Heaven is where God is; but, heaven for the Christian is where we will be with God forever… Actually it’s the new heaven and new earth where we will spend all eternity with God… But what makes heaven heaven is being with God for all eternity, specifically being with God the Son… And though everyone in their right mind would say that they don’t want to go to hell, how many people can truly say they really want to go to heaven? If heaven is being with Jesus and enjoying Him forever, most people want nothing to do with heaven… That so, God is not keeping anyone out that truly wants to be there… But we must remember that Heaven is about being in fellowship with God forever… And this is what Jesus gets at next.

In John 17:3 Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Here Jesus defines eternal life for us… You see, according to the Bible both believers and unbelievers will have some sort of eternal life. Unbelievers will live forever in hell where they will eternally endure God’s wrath, while believers will live forever with Christ in eternal joy… So merely living forever is not the great reward of Christianity; the great reward of Christianity is having true eternal life, which is knowing the true God and Jesus whom He has sent…

Remember what we saw at the beginning of our passage, when Jesus refers to God in a personal nature as Father… He is a Father; and Jesus knows Him personally and deeply… And now He’s saying that true eternal life, the eternal life that Jesus gives His people, is knowing God personally and deeply as well… By know here, Jesus means experiential knowledge; He’s speaking of being in fellowship with God… And there’s two very important factors to this that I want to point out before I go any further in explaining what it means to know God. First, as we’ve seen, God is the divine initiator of our salvation: He chose us before the foundation of the world, made a plan to save us, sent Jesus to execute that plan, and sends the Spirit to apply and actuate that plan in our lives… So our knowing God begins with His foreknowledge of us… Paul points this out to the Galatians, telling them, “you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (4:9)… And that always comes first… God knew us before the foundation of the world, and because of His knowing us we are enabled to know Him.

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer addresses this, saying, “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is not on me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.” Or as John Piper has said, “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God. What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know him but that he took note of us and made us his own.” His grace precedes us, and therefore His knowing us precedes our knowing Him… But God, in His grace, gives sinners like you and me eternal life, and enables us to know Him forever… No wonder God says in Jeremiah 9:24, “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me…”

The second thing I want you to see is that knowing God is only possible in and through Jesus Christ. He says that eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent… As J. C. Ryle points out in his commentary, “God known without Christ, is a Being whom we can only fear, and dare not approach…” The way that Jesus is speaking of us knowing God here is in a loving, affection, communal manner… It’s being in fellowship with Him… It’s being in right relationship with Him… It’s knowing Him as Father, and not merely as Judge… And as Jesus has told us elsewhere, “[He is] the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6).

Jesus here, refers to God as the only true God… The idea is that He is the only genuine God… He alone is holy and righteous and good in every way… And as we have seen, we are sinners… And therefore we are infinitely guilty before God, and rightly deserving of His wrath… But in and through Christ all of that changes… On the cross Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our guilt, and now by grace, through faith, in Christ we are made right with God… Broken sinners like you and me can now boldly approach the throne of grace and call out to God as Father, just as Jesus does here… But we cannot know the Father without knowing Jesus. We must know both… And we cannot know Jesus without the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit… But for those whom the Father has given to the Son, Jesus gives us eternal life, which is knowing the One true and Triune God…

Eternal life for the Christian is unending life in the knowledge of God. And as John 3:16 says, everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life now… It begins now and will be perfected in the future when we see Jesus face to face in glory… To know God rightly, starting here and now, is to trust Him, to love Him, to enjoy Him and delight in Him… Again, in his book Knowing God, Packer says that Knowing God here and now consists of: “1) listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself;2)noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it;3)accepting his invitations, and doing what he commands; [and] 4) recognizing, and rejoicing in, the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.” In knowing God we have been brought into fellowship with God… And now that we know Him we enjoy Him… To know Jesus is to know that He is altogether lovely… He is perfect in every way and therefore infinitely loveable and enjoyable… To truly know Him is to treasure Him above all else…

I’m reminded of a prayer that the missionary Jim Elliot wrote in his journal before he was martyred… He wrote, “Lord, make my way prosperous, not that I achieve high station, but that my life may be an exhibit to the value of knowing God.” Some might argue that the Lord did not answer this prayer, because the first time he made contact with the people he was trying to reach with the gospel they killed him… But, his own wife would argue quite differently… When news of Jim’s death (along with his fellow missionaries) got out, the world viewed it as a terrible tragedy, but Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot said that the world had missed what Jim said in one of his famous quotes… He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” You see, Jim believed the words of Philippians 1:21, that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” With Paul in Philippians 3:8, he was willing to, “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [his] Lord. For his sake [he] suffered the loss of all things and [counted] them as rubbish, in order that [he] may gain Christ.” And indeed he did… He gave that which he could not keep, even his very life, to gain that which he can not lose: namely, Jesus Himself… His prayer was truly answered, because his life and his death exhibited the value of knowing God… Knowing God meant more to Jim than keeping his life… And he knew well that Jesus had done everything necessary to give him eternal life, which is knowing God forever…

Conclusion

This morning we’ve looked at three short verses at the beginning of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer; and what we find here are amazing truths and amazing promises… The Father has made a grand plan of redemption in order to magnify the glory of Christ… And that plan ensures our salvation… God’s passion for His glory led Him to make a way of salvation… But God doesn’t just make salvation possible, He makes it happen… Salvation is all of grace, from beginning to end… And the result of that salvation is eternal life… And Jesus tells us that eternal life is knowing Him… Eternal life is being in fellowship with Him and enjoying Him forever… God looked at us in eternity past and set His affection on us in such a way that He decided to do everything necessary to bring us into right relationship with Him forever… That’s what salvation is all about… Knowing Him and treasuring Him… And it starts here and now… Jesus gives His people eternal life that we would magnify His glory… It ties back to Jesus’ first petition in this prayer: that He would be glorified… We glorify Him by delighting in Him and treasuring Him above all else… That’s what happens when we know Him… So, do you know Him? Do you want to be with Jesus forever… Do you live like it?…