Imagine that you are about to be arrested and put on trial for a capital crime. One that, if you are convicted of it, carries a death sentence. You know the arrest is coming, you are pretty sure that regardless of your guilt or innocence you’ll be found guilty, and understand that you’ll most likely be executed in less than twenty-four hours.
Just before all this happens, you have an opportunity to pray. What would you pray? How would you pray? If this was me, I know what would be coming out of my mouth! I know the volume at which it would be coming. And I know the tone of voice I’d be using. We’re probably not talking about a G-rated prayer right here.
When you hear this text from John 17, you have no idea that this is Jesus’ last prayer before he’s arrested and killed. The tone is calm, confident, rather relieved. He prays not to get out of this awful predicament (which is his prayer in the synoptic gospels), but he prays about his thankfulness for his relationship with the Father. He prays that the Father would be revealed and glorified. He prays for his disciples: their protection and their unity. There’s nothing in his prayer about, “Why me?” Or, “What did I do to deserve this?” Or, “I don’t understand this; I’m basically a good person.” Or, “If this is about that pack of fruit-flavored Lifesavers I stole from the Food King when I was six, I told you already I was sorry” (OK, maybe that one’s just me). But you know what I mean. Jesus’ prayer here is grateful, full of anticipation about the future, even positive. What’s up with that?
With the gospel of John, it’s helpful to take a step back and see the entire, broad landscape of the whole book before focusing in on the one little flower of a few verses. In John, the larger landscape is the cross. Everything points to it, everything in Christ’s life leads to it. The cross for John is the fulfillment, the completion, the fullest revealing of God. Which is what Jesus means by “glory,” God made known.
He uses that word, “glory,” six times in these eleven verses. He’s referring to God being revealed in love and power. That’s glory—God made known. “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” I revealed you to the world. Jesus spends his whole life, his whole ministry, doing exactly that—making God known, glorifying God. The miracles, the healings, the teachings, the parables, all of it; all revealing who God is and what God is about. Jesus obediently, lovingly, consistently revealing God and God’s love to us. To the end.
That’s what he came to do, to make God—God’s love—known. It hasn’t always been easy for him to do; it certainly hasn’t always made him popular. In fact, revealing God’s love for all is what is costing him his life, because the reality of God doesn’t always sit well with our perception of God. But Jesus, out of love for the Father, will see this through. He will continue to glorify God, make God known. He will complete his mission in this one, final, revealing act; an act that is the culmination of a lifetime of making God known. He will be crucified. On the cross he reveals most fully his complete love for the Father, and the Father’s complete love for the world.
This moment, as Jesus was praying his last prayer before his arrest, was a crucial time for him. A whole lifetime has been leading up to this moment. And it’s almost complete. He’s almost done. It is almost fulfilled. The fullness of God’s forgiveness and love is about to be made known so abundantly that it will be able to include the whole world. Not just his disciples, but everyone.
So, yes, Jesus faces his crucifixion confidently in John. It’s not just a painful death, but the end result of his life’s work: the complete revealing of God’s love and forgiveness for the world. It’s almost finished.
The advantage we have now is that we are people who’ve been swept up in that forgiveness of God. We are ones who’ve been caught in the fullness of that love revealed on the cross. We’ve been called to live that forgiveness, to live that love in the world. And when we are so hurt that it gets hard to love, when we feel so betrayed that it seems impossible to forgive, that’s when the purpose of our baptism into Christ becomes clear. We are joined together with Christ, and so we, in Christ, now reveal God to the world. Not because we try so hard to do it, but because as the Father is glorified in Christ, now Christ is glorified in us.
So when, on our own, we fail to love and we fail to forgive, Jesus gathers us to himself in love again. He gives to us God’s forgiveness again. He gives to us his assurance in the face of difficulty. He gives to us his love in the face of hate. He gives to us his strength in the face of weakness. We cannot trust our ability to reveal the grace and love of God in the world. But we can trust Jesus. We are his. That was his last prayer. And so now, in us, God is glorified.