Dear radio friends,
The passage of Holy Scripture that we consider today is part of the beautiful prayer of our Lord Jesus when He offered to God His own life upon the cross for our sins. He prayed with His disciples in the Upper Room, moments before He went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, these words: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” We desire that the beauty and the truth of these words be pressed upon our hearts today by the Holy Spirit, that the very words of Jesus be our strong comfort as we face death.
Our Savior’s words (or prayer) answer the three questions that we would most normally ask when death comes into our lives and into our families. Those words answer the three most pressing questions that we have, with infinite compassion and tenderness. We would ask, “Where is our loved one—our husband, father, brother, sister in the Lord Jesus Christ? Where are they when they die?” And the Lord answers: “They are with Me, where I am.” Or, in the words of John 14:2, 3: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go…I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” The rough door of death has been made by Jesus Christ an entrance into heaven and glory for His own.
The second question that we would normally ask is: “Why did God take them from us?” And the Lord answers in His prayer: “Father, I will that they…be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me…before the foundation of the world.” Death does not happen when, so to speak, our number is up. Death does not come when at last fever or cancer or disease overwhelms the body. But death is the moment, for the believer, when Jesus says that we are ready to receive this full and glorious blessing—that we may be with Him, where He is—and we might see Him in His glory.
And the final question that we would ask as we face death is this: “What does the death of my loved one in the Lord Jesus say to me?” And the Lord’s words again answer our question. Let me paraphrase what the Lord prays in John 17:24 with the beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 1): “My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” What does the death of your loved one say to you? Be ye ready always, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour that ye think not. Remember, that for you also, child of God, Jesus prays: “Father, I will that they also…be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.”
First of all, we see in the Lord’s words that this is a beautiful prayer, our Savior’s prayer for us. Pause to think of that, if only for a moment. Over all of our life—every moment, hour, and day—is this prayer of Jesus before the throne of God: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” It is a remarkable and it is a precious thing that Jesus intercedes or prays for us without ceasing.
We read in the Scriptures that He ever liveth to make intercession for us. And here in John 17 Jesus stands but moments from the cross. The shadow of all of His sufferings and the clouds of wrath are descending upon Him. Yet where are His eyes? His eyes are upon us, His children. And He prays for us. There is no moment, then, in our existence in which we are not borne up in the arms of our Savior’s prayer. We think very often that we are alone. We say, “No one knows my soul in this trouble. I sink in depths where none can save. Deep waters o’er me roll.” But it is not so. Our Savior intercedes. We have an advocate, says John in I John 2, with the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And His prayer is effectual, that is, powerful. Jesus’ prayers are not a wish or whim. But they express the eternal will and desire of God. “I will,” says Jesus, “that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” And that prayer of Jesus must have its way. It must be done.
Verse 24 in John 17 is really the crowning point of the Savior’s prayer. It is what all of His other petitions in that chapter have been leading unto. He has prayed in verses 11 and 14, 15 that we might be kept while upon the earth from the evil one, the devil, and from all the seducing and enslaving evil of this present world. He has gone on to pray in verse 17 that God would sanctify us, make us holy, through the Word; for the Word, said Jesus, is the truth. Then in verse 20 He prays that we might be, as a church, active in missions and bold to spread the Word and gospel of God. Then, in verse 21, He has prayed that we, as the children of God on earth, might remain united in love. And now, in verse 24, He comes to the crescendo, to the highest point of His prayer, to the highest purposes of God for us: “That they may be with me where I am, to behold my glory.” The Savior has planted His foot in heaven. He prays that the Father’s will be completed and finished—that the final purpose of God in our salvation be brought to the fullness of glory.
Note His words. He prays, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” He does not say, “Where I soon shall be.” He was, at that very moment, in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. He was on the earth. He had not yet gone to the cross or broken down the grave in His resurrection. But He prays of the glory that the Father has given Him. He prays as though He were exalted in heaven. He prays in the certainty of the counsel of God. He prays to His heavenly Father for whom to will is to do.
In verse 4 of John 17, Jesus had prayed, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” At that point He had not actually suffered on the cross. He prays upon the foundation of God’s eternal, fixed, immutable, certain counsel. As the living God, God has purposed our salvation and its perfection. And upon that basis Jesus prays: “Father, let them be with Me where I am.”
Jesus prays here for those whom the Father had given Him. We read, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me.” And there is nothing so comforting as that, for His words speak of sovereign, particular grace. They speak of Father’s eternal, gracious, unconditional election unto salvation; something of which we are not ashamed, but which is all of our joy and hope. We are sinners. We are undeserving and can perform no act to catch the eye of God. Nor do we deserve salvation in any sense. We are worthy only of eternal damnation.
The Savior speaks of those who have been given to Him, that is, entrusted to the Son of God so that God’s Son was assigned by God’s eternal grace to assume the entire responsibility for these whom the Father had given to Him—to bear them and to take their place and to make an atonement for them for their sins upon the cross. He speaks of a gracious, eternal election, of a definite, particular, and personal atonement. We are saved not because we are good, not because we have earned or because we have conditioned God to come toward us. We are not saved because of anything in ourselves, but by grace alone, and grace without any mixture or any addition. Salvation is of grace. You do not earn salvation or glory. You do not deserve salvation or glory. Its source is deep, deep in the heart of God.
Why are we saved? Look upon the cross, the cross where His blood was given in the behalf of our sins. We are saved because He freely has loved us out of mere grace.
Now the Savior prays that the Father’s salvation be brought to its final completion, “that they may be with me where I am.” The Savior prays, saying, “I will lay down My life for them. I will purchase their full forgiveness and redemption. But I pray, heavenly Father, that this be brought to its completion when at last they may be taken from the earth and be with Me in glory.”
Does not love cherish fellowship? Does not a wife cherish the times that she may be with her husband? Does not a father want the fellowship of his child—a daughter or a son? The love of God even more so! The love of God is a holy bond, a cleaving, a deep yearning and compassion. Death, then, is not caused by sicknesses, Parkinson’s, cancer, fever, car crash, aneurisms. But the ultimate cause of the death of the believer is the love of Jesus for His own. Death does not rule. The risen Lord Jesus rules over our life. We are not ruled by chance, by tragic chance. Death does not take the child of God. Jesus does. Jesus comes at the appointed moment to receive us to Himself.
Let us, by grace, yield to this wonderful truth and find all of our solace and comfort in our Savior’s prayer. We so often find ourselves praying with respect to our loved one who is severely ill: “Father, I will that he (my loved one) be with me.” And you can understand. You can certainly understand that. Nevertheless, if death comes, then it is the love of God that has called our fellow believer, our husband, wife, or child, home to be with Him.
There are great issues that are involved in death. Death is the moment of Jesus’ power. Death is the moment of Jesus’ love, of receiving to Himself those He purchased in His blood. The blood of Christ in the covenant brings the elect into His bosom in death.
But, we would ask: “Why is it so important to be with Jesus that it far outweighs the pain and the sorrow and the crushing grief and the loneliness and the irreversible loss that we would experience in death?” What is there about being with Him that is so infinitely blessed that everything else is at that moment set aside, interrupted, and we must go to be with Him?
Well, if Jesus had only prayed, “Father, I will that they might be with Me,” then we would have an answer. And the answer would be enough, would it not? To be with Him, the Savior of our souls, the Shepherd of His sheep, the Master, the King of kings, whose love none can measure—to be with Him in perfection is reason enough. But Jesus adds, “That they may be with me,” yes, “that they may,” He says, “behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Our Lord Jesus considers that the vision of His glory in heaven far outweighs all earthly things. He is saying that one glimpse of His glory is worth it all. And remember that in His glory He is revealed as God’s perfect way, as the eternal way of life. We know that all of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Now Jesus tells you—not I, but your Lord and Savior tells you—that when you see Him in His glory, you will say: “It was all worth it. I’d undergo much more to see such glory.”
When you travel and you come upon a very beautiful scene and you take it in and you say, “Oh, I wish my son, I wish my daughter, I wish my loved one could see this.” But that will be perfectly so in glory. Hear the Savior’s prayer: “Father,…that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.” To see God’s glory in the face of Jesus is to be touched in the very core of our being. To see in Jesus the heart of God’s eternal grace, this overwhelms us. There are no words now to tell about this experience. The most awesome view of the creation, the most wonderful moment, the most soothing peace that we could ever have on earth are so inadequate to express this glory! What will it be like? We shall see Him, says the Bible, as He is. We shall see Him with our own eyes, face to face, in His glory. God’s glory is the outshining, or the radiating, the emitting of God Himself. It is the shimmering of His holiness, truth, love, righteousness, grace, mercy, wisdom, power, and majesty.
Jesus is not merely talking of the glory that is His as the eternal Son of God. That is true. When you see Jesus, you see the glory of the eternal God. And as God the Son, He is glorious. But Jesus is talking about His glory as the exalted Savior in our flesh. He is speaking of the glory of His human nature. He is speaking of His glory as the Lord of the church, the King eternal and immortal. He is speaking of the glory of the God of our salvation that awes and draws sinners. It is the glory of a perfect righteousness for a sinner. It is the glory of the majestic and matchless love and grace of God that has pardoned all my sins.
“Father,” says Jesus, “my people have seen Me in My great humiliation. They have seen Me as a worm and no man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, covered over with the sins of My church, marred and bloody with a crown of thorns upon My head. Father, righteous Father, I will that they see Me in the glory now given to Me as the exalted head of the church, as the Christ of full salvation. I will that they whom Thou hast given Me, who have traveled through the wilderness of sin and death upon the earth, I will that they see Me.”
And it is the glory to which we shall be transformed in His presence. We do not know what it is to die and enter into heaven. But this we know: that at death we not only see Jesus and our hearts shall be thrilled and awed in His peace, but we know that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
When we come to Jesus in glory, we certainly fall down before His majesty. We fall down, not in terror, but in warmth. And it will be just right with our souls. But then, do you know what will happen? We shall be changed. And His glory will shine in and through us. “Father,” said Jesus, “bring them here. Direct their steps. Rule their hearts. Sovereignly guide their minutes and seconds of earthly life. Send themtears and joy. But bring them at last, at the appointed moment, to see Me in My glory! Do this, for Thou hast loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
So it will happen. We shall see Him. And we shall be satisfied. His glory is ours. We belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. We are married to Him in the covenant of grace. We boldly say, “What is His is mine. And I am His forever.”
A man comes into your home to give you an estimate, perhaps, and sees your husband’s heirloom (let’s say it’s a clock). As a wife, you say to him, “That clock is mine.” But he says, “No, you just told me it was your husband’s.” And you say, “Yes, that’s what I said, It’s mine. What is his is mine.” By marriage, by covenant. So, what is Jesus’ right now is ours. By covenant blood, sealed in the cross. All that Jesus has is ours.
So His prayer is very confident. And we are confident. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We shall see Him in His glory!
So, how are you living? For what are you living? What are you pursuing? Where are you going? Life is Christ. Apart from Christ is death. How tightly do you hold the things of this life? How tightly do you hold to your loved one in Jesus Christ? May Jesus’ prayer comfort you. May it give you strength and beauty in your soul in the moment of crushing and almost unbearable grief. And let not a day pass without your thinking: “Jesus has prayed that soon, very soon, I might be home and see Him in His glory.”
Abide in Him, little children, and be ready when He shall call you to be with Him. Where you shall see His glory and you will be satisfied.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. And we would ask that the Holy Spirit may bathe our hearts with it and that we may walk in its light and in its comfort. In Jesus’ name, Amen.