Let’s close in prayer

“Let’s close in prayer.” How many times have you heard that said, or said it yourself? It’s a typical and appropriate way to end a gathering of believers, in which we commit everything to God.

And in a way, it mirrors what Jesus did with his own disciples.

We’ve spent several posts digging into the Farewell Discourse near the end of the gospel of John. Jesus’ final words of encouragement and warning, as dire as they must have sounded, ended on a triumphant note: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NRSV). Knowing that he would soon be hanging on a cross, he then looked to heaven and began to pray.

We know from the gospels that Jesus had a habit of prayer, but we are seldom given the privilege of listening in. The so-called High Priestly prayer in John 17 is a stunning exception. Here, many of the themes of the Farewell Discourse and of the gospel of John itself come together in one magnificent whole.

We shouldn’t think of the prayer as uttered in a dejected monotone, as if Jesus were reluctantly resigned to his fate. He has just told the disciples that they should be encouraged because he has already overcome the world, and in the prayer itself, he speaks as if he has also completed all the work God has given him, despite the fact that he has not yet been crucified. Jesus’ words, therefore, probably have the tone of one who knows that he has completed a job well done, and therefore turns to pray for others who need God’s help.

John has no account of Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane as Mark and Matthew do. In fact, as we’ll see in an upcoming post, John’s narrative of the arrest in the garden gives us instead a Jesus who is large and definitely in charge. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been troubled by the knowledge of what’s to come. But that comes earlier in the story:

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. …Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 13:23, 27-28)

That prayer is now echoed as Jesus begins to pray in front of his disciples a final time: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (17:1). The heading for this section in the NIV is a little misleading: “Jesus prays to be glorified.” Well, yes…but in both John 13 and 17 the ultimate purpose is for the Father to be glorified through the Son.

Maybe that sounds like splitting hairs, given that Jesus is supposed to be one with the Father. Doesn’t glorifying one mean glorifying the other? Again, to some extent, yes — but by that logic, why would Jesus bother to pray in the first place? What we are given is the example of the human Jesus living in perfect obedience to the Father’s will, for the Father’s glory. The words of his prayer arise out of that relationship.

Jesus is about to demonstrate just how far that loving obedience goes. And for this part of the story, closing in prayer is absolutely the most appropriate thing to do.