FROM JESUS’ PRAYER TO OUR PRAYERS
First in a series by Dr. Rick Perrin on Jesus’ Prayer for You from John 16:25-17:1
“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf.” John 16:26
When someone prays for you it is a very special thing. I was talking with our son, Tim, last week and he said, “Lauren Prayed for you—we think.” And then he went on to explain. Lauren is our second granddaughter. She’s twenty-one months old and just learning to talk. Tim said, “We were praying together for you after dinner when Lauren started saying things we couldn’t understand. Then we heard her say, ‘Poppa.’ And then she said, ‘Amen.’ So I guess you’ve been prayed for!”
I don’t think Lauren’s prayer quite stacks up with Jesus’ prayer for us which is recorded in John 17. For the next several weeks I want to look at this prayer with you. It is tender, and full of the concern the Savior feels for his church. It’s the final prayer he offers for his followers before he goes to the garden where he will be arrested and sent to the cross. Jesus’ prayer teaches us much about himself and about what we need—based on the things he asks the Father to do for us. Today we’re going to examine the introduction to Jesus’ prayer. Please turn to John 16, to the passage beginning with verse 25 where we observe as Jesus does three things. 1. Jesus tells us what we don’t know about God, 2. Jesus opens the door of prayer that was closed, and 3. Jesus undermines our overconfidence.
1. Jesus tells us what we don’t know about God. Let’s begin with verse 25. Jesus says to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language.” The disciples with Jesus in the upper room sensed the coming doom. They were surrounded by enemies who sought Jesus’ life. The upper room was itself a secret location, so they had one ear tuned to the door downstairs, listening for any pounding that would announce a raid by the authorities. Judas had departed shortly after Jesus had announced that one of them would betray him, and at least a couple of them understood that Judas was the traitor. And Jesus had walked them through the last Supper. Breaking the bread, he said, “This is my body which is given for you.” And taking a cup of wine, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.” Those are the foreboding words of violent death. John 13-16 records what Jesus told them that night. In chapter 14, verses 1-3, he confronted their fears and sorrow. “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
What did these words mean? The disciples weren’t sure. Look at John 16:17-18. “Some of His disciples therefore said to one another, ‘What is this thing that He is telling us? “A little while and you will not behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me”; and, “…I go to the Father”?’ And so they wee saying, ‘What is this that He says, “A little while”? ‘We do not know what He is talking about.’” Why was Jesus speaking in what he called figurative language? Why didn’t he just come out and tell the disciples what he meant?
Here’s the answer. Remember how in the garden, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his little sword and attacked to defend Jesus. Remember how surprised the disciples were by Jesus’ resurrection. He had told them pretty plainly what was going to happen—on more than one occasion. Why were they caught off guard? It’s because we learn slowly. We think we understand things when we really don’t at all. We who have been pastors for several years often joke about the fellows who are recent seminary graduates. We say it takes them about three years to get over seminary, because they’ve graduated thinking they know everything there is to know. There is a bit of arrogance among the young. I was like that, and I suspect you were too. One must gain a little experience before you realize how little you actually know.
Jesus had to deal with that among his disciples. In John 14:8 Philip said to him, “Show us the Father.” Jesus must have rolled his eyes to heaven. Then he said patiently for the umpteenth time, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (v 9) In other words, God is so far beyond our ability to comprehend him, so far beyond our human categories, that he sent the Son to reveal himself to us in terms that make sense to us. We would never be able to know God if God did not reveal himself in the person of Jesus the God-man. One renowned theologian said, “When God speaks to us he lisps.” In other words, God talks baby talk to us. You know how babies learn. Our son Chris put Jonathan on the phone Friday evening, just before the first preseason football game against the Eagles started. “Listen to this,” he told us: “Jonathan, say, ‘Go Steelers!’” And sure enough we heard the kid say clear as a bell, “Go Steelers!” Or what passed for it. That’s what Jesus was doing with his disciples. Not the Steelers part. The way of talking. We learn slowly, so Jesus was giving them what they needed to learn in teaspoon-sized bites.
Look again at verse 25. Jesus goes on, “An hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” That day of plain speech came after his resurrection. So much more was clear to them then. The rest of the New Testament reflects that plain talk about God. So, here’s the application for you and me. Don’t despise the teaching which comes from others who are longer in the faith than you are, or who have studied more than you have, who know more than you do. Learn from them. Of course, there are always the faddish Bible study teachers or popular preachers who sound so sure of themselves. They may be able to teach us something about God that we don’t know. But one of the blessings about being in a Presbyterian denomination like the Presbyterian Church in America or a church like Cornerstone is that we set a very high standard for the men we ordain as pastors and teachers of the word. They know and understand the truth. They’ve been thoroughly examined by the Presbytery to make certain of it. A fellowship like ours gives you a degree of protection against those who don’t know as much as they think they do, if you take advantage of that protection. And the protection is sound Biblical teaching. So set yourself to learn and grow in the knowledge of God. Jesus tells us what we don’t know about God.
2. Jesus opens the door of prayer that was closed. Now Jesus begins in verse 26 to talk with his disciples about prayer. “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf.” This is a second thing that would happen after his resurrection. Up to this point the apostles had been counting on Jesus to do their praying for them. After all, he knew God better than they did, didn’t he? The Roman Catholic Church still perpetuates this mentality in their practice of prayer to the saints. The saints are supposed to be individuals who lived exemplary and holy lives. When they died the passed into heaven and because of their holiness they are thought to have special influence with God. So poor, ignorant Catholics pray to the saints to induce them to intercede with God on their behalf. The best one to get to speak for you of course, is Mary, the mother of Jesus. I remember as a child listening to the radio broadcast of the mass from Hoy Rosary Catholic Church which was just down the street from us. I can still say the rosary because I heard the petition repeated so many times by the congregation. Catholics pray to Mary because what man can say no to his mother if she asks him to do something? A bit of that idea persists among other Christians as well. I’ve had people ask me to pray for them because they figure I’m closer to God than they are, and my prayers will carry more weight than theirs do. It doesn’t work that way.
Look carefully at what Jesus says in verse 26, particularly art the words “In that day.” Most Christians think that Jesus prays to God for us. That’s better than prayers by a saint or by the pastor. We’ve got Jesus himself to intercede for us! But the Bible doesn’t teach that, and it’s exactly opposite of what Jesus says in John 16. In Hebrews 7:25 it says Jesus “makes intercession” for those he saves. In Romans 8:34 it says he “intercedes for us.” These verses refer to his payment for sin, not to his prayers on our behalf. The closest the Bible comes to intercession in prayer is in Romans 8:27 where the apostle says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, but this is a reference to the Spirit guiding us in our prayers. Jesus died in our place on the cross. He saved us. Then when he ascended into heaven he presented his death as full payment for the sins of his people and opened the way for us to come to God. That is something we can’t do for ourselves.
So now, in regard to prayer, he says in verse 26, after I’ve made payment for your sins on the cross, and after that payment has been accepted by the Father, I’m not going to intercede with him by praying for you. Why not? Because once he has reconciled us to God, he doesn’t need to. Verse 27: “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” In other words, when we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, when we receive him as our savior, when we trust that he has done everything necessary to secure our acceptance by the Father, then we find not an angry God but a loving Father who is sympathetic to our prayers.
The other evening Barb and I sat down to watch the movie, One Night With the King. It’s the story of Esther that a Christian filmmaker released in the theaters a number of months ago. It’s a terrible movie. The acting is bad. The screenplay is stilted and contrived. Nice try, but no bananas. We didn’t even make it past the first twenty-five minutes. But you remember Esther. She’s the queen of Xerxes the Persian ruler. The Jews are threatened with genocide, and only Esther can get to the king and stop the mass murder. But she tells her uncle Mordechi, “There’s a law that no one, not even the queen may approach the king in his throne room, unless he’s invited. If a person barges in and the king doesn’t lower his scepter, that person will be put to death.” But Esther knows she has to risk death or all her people will die. So she goes to the king. And here’s the good part: the king loves Esther and he lowers his scepter and spares her and grants her request. If you have received Jesus as your savior, God loves you. You may enter his throne room, and he’ll listen to you and grant your request. That’s what Jesus is saying. Look at verses 23-24. Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.”
Dear friends, this is great news. You don’t need anybody to intercede for you with God. If you are a Christian, God loves you, and because he loves you he will hear your prayer and he will answer it. “But wait a minute!” you say. “What if God says no to my request? I’ve prayed sometimes and God doesn’t do what I ask” Well, that’s true. Sometimes God does say no. God never quits being God. You and I are the child. He’s the Father. Consider your own experience as a parent. Your child comes to you and he says, “Hey Mom, can I have some candy?” If you’re a good parent you know that candy is not always what’s good for a child. Sometimes you say, “No, not till after supper.” We were having a family birthday party last month, and everybody had gathered for dinner. Ashley was celebrating her fourth birthday on the day after my birthday. We have a little alliance, Ashley and I. She was sitting next to me as we passed the food, and I asked her, “Ash, do you want any dip to go with your chips?” “Sure!” she said. Her mother’s eyes grew wide, but she knew grandfathers have a special dispensation. She said, “Maybe just a little until after you eat your sandwich.” But sometimes—like birthdays--you say, “Have all the cake you want!” You can’t make God give you what you want. You can’t pressure him. You can’t make him change his mind by whining. He’s God. He knows what’s best. But when he says yes, oh what joy we have! What do you want God to do most for you? Is it to heal your marriage? Is it to save your child? Is it to heal you from sickness? Is it to make you like Jesus? Then ask. And don’t quit praying too soon. The answer may be decades in coming. Or it may be tomorrow. But he hears and he answers, because Jesus opens the door of prayer that was closed.
3. Jesus undermines our overconfidence. Jesus says in verse 28 he came from the Father; he came into the world; he’s leaving the world; he’s going back to the Father. Look at verse 29. “His disciples said, ‘Lo, now you are speaking plainly, and are not using a figure of speech.” The disciples are saying, “Now we get it!” Did they? Not as much as they thought. In verse 30 they said, “Now we know that You know all things….By this we believe that You came from God.” They’re saying, “Now we believe in you! Our faith is informed! It’s solid. We’re confident. We’re ready to go out and serve you!” I can’t help but think of the quip that Winston Churchill made about Sir Stafford Cripps who was one of Churchill’s critics, but who was in his war cabinet. Churchill said, “There but for the grace of God, goes God.” Oh, but the disciples were full of themselves.
Jesus responded in verse 31. “Do you now believe?” And then he said in verse 32, “Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone.” He’s saying, “Fellows, there’s big trouble coming down on you, and you’re not as tough as you think you are.” When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, the disciples ran. Peter denied him. They huddled, afraid and shivering, while Jesus died, and waited for the police to arrest them also. And even when Jesus appeared after his resurrection, Thomas wouldn’t believe it. Oh, yeah, we believe alright. The disciples were like we are. Trouble comes into our lives and how do we react? We get discouraged. We lose our faith. We grow angry. We determine to do things ourselves—and God be hanged.
Here’s the antidote. In verse 33 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” Dear friends, Jesus warns us not to be overconfident. When things grow hard, trust in Christ. And if you falter and fail, always come back to him. And so Jesus prays for his church, for you and me, because he knows we’re facing trouble in this world and he wants us to trust him. In chapter 17, verse 1 we read, “These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up his eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”
Let me say a word about Jesus’ posture in prayer. Many years ago I had a fellow in my church who probably felt I was not spiritual enough, and he decided to help me. He suggested that he and I meet early once a week for prayer. Those of you who know me know that I don’t do too well early in the morning. For example, I don’t do sunrise services at Easter. I rarely meet people for breakfast. I’m just too miserable. But I was just new enough in that church that I didn’t want to offend anybody, so I agreed. This fellow insisted that we kneel to pray. It was the only way, he said. That made me doubly miserable. I told him kneeling made my knees hurt. The next week he brought a pillow and I kneeled on that. The third week we did not meet for prayer. I got the flu every morning after that for the next year, and it cleared up by about 9:00. For those of you who believe that kneeling is the only way to pray, allow me to point out that Jesus was reclining on a couch. John’s head was leaning on Jesus’ chest. If Jesus looked down he could see the top of John’s head that hadn’t been washed for several days. He didn’t close his eyes. He kept them open and looked toward heaven. Posture in prayer is not the issue. It’s where your prayers are pointed.
The first thing Jesus prays for in this prayer is, “Father, glorify me so I can glorify you.” We’ll talk more about this next week, but let me ask you, was that prayer answered? Was Christ glorified? Did Christ glorify the Father? Yes! On the day he rose it was obvious! Then you and I can be confident that the rest of Jesus’ prayer was and will be answered as well. And so will our prayers! Jesus prayed for us, then, so we would pray and pray with confidence. Prayer is an act of reliance on God, not on ourselves. We pray best when we realize how helpless we truly are. Jesus prayed for us precisely because we tend not to pray nearly enough. Let’s begin to change that.
Preached by Dr. Rick Perrin on August 10 2008 at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, 5637 Bush River Road, Columbia SC 29212 and Northwest YMCA on Kennerly Road Tel. 803-772-1000 www.DiscoverCornerstone.com Copyright 2008