“Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said: “Father, it’s time. Display the bright splendor of your Son so the Son in turn may show Your bright splendor. You put Him in charge of everything human so He might give real and eternal life to all in his charge. And this is the real and eternal life: That they know You, the One and only true God, And Jesus Christ, whom You sent. I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what You assigned me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me with Your very own splendor, the very splendor I had in Your presence before there was a world. I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; then You gave them to Me, and they have now done what You said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything You gave Me is firsthand from You, for the message You gave Me, I gave them; and they took it, and were convinced that I came from you. They believed that You sent Me.”” John 17:1-8 (MSG)
Have you ever been very sure of a plan? Have you ever watched that plan crumble before your eyes? The disciples’ plans for Jesus and His kingdom were about to disintegrate. I can imagine the interaction between Judas and Jesus confused the disciples. No doubt, brash Peter was still wondering why Jesus said he would betray Him. Perhaps Peter was wondering what he did wrong to make Jesus have such a low opinion of him. I’m sure Jesus’ modification of the Passover meal had the disciples questioning what they had done with the past three years of their lives. Maybe Jesus’ relatives were right and He was crazy.
The disciples are people just like you and me. When things turn out favorably, we think we have pleased God and He in turn, blessed us. When things go wrong, we search for someone or something to blame. We begin to question our choices and convictions. As far as the disciples were concerned, things were about to go terribly wrong.
Jesus spelled out what was about to happen to Him and to His band of friends. I taught school—I know the bewildered disciples nodded their collective heads as Jesus spoke of death and resurrection, of the many rooms in His Father’s house and the grief that would suddenly turn to joy. It’s the clueless nod of those who want to understand, but don’t.
Unable to Always Understand God’s Plan
You see, we know what was about to happen. We know about the cross and the resurrection. The disciples didn’t. Scripture doesn’t record the disciples thoughts or plans about Jesus’ ministry but I’m sure none of them fully understood what was about to happen. Even if one or some of them did grasp the fact that Jesus was about to die, none of them would have considered crucifixion as Jesus’ destiny. Even if Christ’s death was something they understood—the hours between watching the friend on whom all their hopes were hung tortured to death, and the morning when the tomb was found empty, were long.
Jesus Prayed to God
Jesus’ first request was for His glory to bring glory to the Father. The brutal humiliation of the cross was difficult to bear. Certainly, it was difficult for Jesus. He came to the earth as a human with a human body. A body like yours and mine. He felt thirst and fatigue. Jesus felt the blows of the fists, the stab of the thorns, and the point of the nails. Jesus experienced the separation from the Father, as He became the sacrifice for the world’s sin. Jesus experienced the public humiliation of hanging, naked and beaten on a cross. His death, the sacrifice to atone for the sin of humanity, is THE reason Jesus came to earth. His mission was about to be completed—His suffering would end in glory.
Maybe Jesus needed the reminder of the glory after the suffering. Maybe it was the disciples—the clueless disciples—who needed to understand the inglorious death on the cross was not a mistake or accident. Perhaps Jesus was preparing His friends through His prayer. The shameful death on the cross was Jesus’ path to glory and their way to the Father.
Jesus prayed. He prayed confident in God’s plan. Jesus knew the principle—suffering leads to glory. In modern times this principle has a slogan—no pain, no gain. Glory is never the starting point. Glory is the goal and suffering the path. Suffering for suffering sake is unattractive and pitiful. The notion that God causes suffering because He’s evil or disengaged is hogwash. Suffering is the spiritual exercise the believer engages in to strengthen his or her faith, to grow to spiritual maturity. James stated it this way:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)
Jesus begins His prayer impeccably. The cross was not a mistake. It was the showcase of God’s love for humanity. It would change the disciples’ perspective. It would change how they looked at their friend. The cross would change everything for the rest of time. As Jesus begins His prayer, He wanted to make sure He and His friends understood the suffering that was about to occur had a purpose—glorious purpose.
Father, thank You for Your love. Thank You for making a way for me to get to You. Jesus, thank You for your faithfulness to the Father’s plan. Help me be faithful in the face of suffering. Thank You for the cross.