The High Priestly Prayer (Part 1)
John 17: 1 – 26
Reading a prayer from a printed page is quite unlike overhearing someone praying aloud, and in this instant, it was within the Trinity, between the Son and His Father, in a dialogue that transcended the heaven-earth divide, tagged as the High Priestly Prayer. What our Lord had to say on the day of His crucifixion is enduringly important, and concerned Divine-human critical issues around relationships, truth, mission, holiness, and unity.
The sharpening of the Lord’s focus is understandable as it is His penultimate conversation with the Father (the last being on the cross); His physical journey as the Lord and Giver of eternal life was coming to an end. It is pertinent to note that God presciently knew this rag-tag group of disciples (even Judas): teaching, training, and protecting them during His incarnation. Of course, we know that their lives were far from perfect, but the essential identity formation had been achieved: knowing God’s name, believing and keeping His word (Jn 17:6-12). With just the issue of sin to be resolved, Jesus was at the cusp of returning to His Father (Jn 17:1-5).
It is also evident that His conversation with His Father was for our benefit, as one of His prime concerns was the holiness of His followers (Jn 17:19). The only approach where believers could be made holy was through Jesus’ death that very afternoon. The integrity of holiness in the relationship within the Godhead, revealed by the Lord (Jn 17:11), forms the unalterable basis for our relationship with Him. As followers of Jesus, we have been set apart to be wholly committed to Yahweh, by the Son’s sanctification on our behalf, and yet the work of being sanctified remains ongoing as long as we live (Jn 17:6-12).
The Biblical human encounter with Divine holiness has one consistent outcome – an overpowering sense of conviction, shame, foolishness, our own infinitesimalness, and a realisation that there is only one God, who remains the Master of our lives (Ex 3:1-6; Job 40:3-5; Is 6:1-7). This goes against the very grain of our self-righteous human intellect and natural capacity in attempting totally to control our circumstances, if not the world around us, usurping God’s holy authority (Is 40:21-31). Jesus’ prayer encapsulates the essence of what is representative within the family of a holy God. Those who are obedient to God’s Word are not overly anxious nor particularly critical of events and people, neither are they insecurely defensive as they know their position in life and are confident in Christ (Jn 17: 6-12). In fact, they are worshipful and joyful individuals, approachable, grateful and humble.
As a people belonging to God, we are ethnically holy (1 Pet 2:9-10), and every area of life is brought under His sovereignty as a new ‘society’ in Christ. The principle of reciprocity in Jesus’ sanctification for our sake, works both ways (God Himself does not need to be sanctified, but He took on our sins). Because of His example, He fully expects us to obediently embrace the sanctification process. That is the foundation of our growing confidence in God as we submit progressively to the work of His Holy Spirit. “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:13-16).