Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Desire of Jesus (John 17:24)

One of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture is found in Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” On the surface, perhaps it appears to be something like a blank check, promising us that God will give us whatever it is that we want in life. That is not what the passage means, however. More important than the object of our desires is the object of our delight. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” the Psalmist says. When the Lord Himself is our delight, our desires will be shaped by Him so that what we greatly long for is what He greatly desires to give us. Our desire becomes transformed by His desire when we delight in Him. So, instead of coming to God with a long list of our desires, we need to bring before Him a long list of our delights, and confess them before Him and repent of any delight we hold more closely than the delight of knowing Him. Our prayer should be that God would so shape our lives that He alone becomes the object our delight. As we delight in Him, His desire for us will become our desire, and He has promised to gratify the heartfelt desire of the one who delights in Him.

So, what is it that the Lord desires for us, and promises to grant to us when we delight in Him?  Here, as the lengthy prayer of Jesus found in John 17 draws to a close, the Lord states His desire plainly. Verse 24 contains the final petition of this prayer, and it begins, “Father, I desire.” The word “desire” is translated in other versions as “will” or “want” in various English versions of the Bible. In some passages, it is translated with the word “wish,” but the word “desire” seems fitting here in this context. The Lord Jesus does not make wishes, but He prays to His Father with confidence about what He desires. And the overarching desire of His heart, the desire which has prompted all else that He has prayed, and the desire that compels Him as He journeys toward the cross, is, “that they also whom You have give Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory.” He desires that His people, the people for whom He will lay down His life in death and take it up again in resurrection to save, to be present with Him and to behold the fullness of His glory.

So, as we look at His desire, which He presents before the Father here, I pray that these glorious truths will stir within us a deeper sense of delight in Him, and thereby transform our own desires to reflect His desire.

I. Jesus desires for His people to be with Him

It is a humbling thing to realize that God does not need us. He did not create humanity because He was lonely or because He needed something or someone to love. He lacked nothing that we complete. He created human beings simply because He wanted to. When He created man, He did not simply turn man loose in the world to go it alone. He created us to know Him and to live in relationship with Him. In the Garden of Eden, before the entrance of sin, God and man conversed as naturally as any man ever did with a friend. But with the entrance of sin, there came a rupture in man’s fellowship with God. The amazing thing about that rupture, however, is that it was man who withdrew from that fellowship, not God. Genesis 3 records it: “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Aware of the guilt and shame of his sin, Adam had no desire to be in God’s presence. But God, the ever-loving and ever-faithful One, still desired for Adam to be in His presence. He came seeking Adam when Adam was intent on hiding from God. God called out, “Where are you?” It wasn’t because He didn’t know, or couldn’t find Him. He asked in order to solicit a response and a confession from Adam. Having received it, the Lord made a covering of skins for Adam and Eve, the result of a sacrificial substitute who died to cover their sins. In addition to a covering, the Lord also gave them a promise. The skins of the sacrificial animal was a foreshadowing of what God would do in the fullness of time for the entire human race. A Redeemer, the Seed of woman, was coming to destroy the works of the serpent by His own suffering. 

As Galatians 4 says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” Jesus Christ is the promised and long-awaited Redeemer who was coming to reconcile the wayward, sinful human race to God. When man was hiding in the darkness of sin, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. He didn’t have to do it, but He desired to do it. The truth of the matter is that God really wants us to be with Him, so much so that He came to be with us. Isaiah promised the coming of One born to a virgin who would be called “Immanuel,” God with us. He came to be with us to make a way for us to be with Him forever. And here in this prayer, Jesus says that this is His desire: “that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am.” It is a humbling thing: He doesn’t need us, but He wants us. He wants us more than we want Him, and He wants us to be with Him more than we want it ourselves. 

He desires for His people to be with Him because He loves us. He says that we who belong to Him by faith are His Father’s gift to Him. Because He loves the Father, He cherishes the gift that the Father has given Him. And because the Father loves the Son, He has given Him a people who will believe in Him and belong to Him by faith, and who will delight in Him for eternity. Jesus says, “I desire that they will be with Me where I am.”

When He says, “Where I am,” He is not referring to where He was at that very moment. In fact, His disciples were with Him where He was as He prayed this prayer. And, He is praying for others who aren’t even born yet, but who will believe on the basis of the Gospel that these disciples would proclaim. So the “where” of this prayer is somewhere else. Throughout the prayer, He has said that He is returning to His Father, that is, He is going back to heaven. On the following day, He will die upon the cross, and following His resurrection, He will ascend to glory. And His prayer is that those who belong to Him by faith will join Him in heaven. He desires to enjoy eternity in the company of all who call upon His name. Just a short time before this, He had said to them, “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (14:2-3). Whether it is through the door of death, or if we should remain alive until He returns, we have this promise that He will have the desire of His heart fulfilled. He has prepared us a place, and will come and receive us that we might be with Him forever.

There is a sense in which His desire for us to be with Him relates to us even here and now. Because Jesus desires for us to be with Him in heaven forever, He would surely delight for us to spend time with Him even now. Every time we open our Bibles to hear Him speak to us, and every time we converse with Him in prayer and exalt Him in worship, we are enjoying a foretaste of His desire to be with us. It delights Him for us to be with Him, and the more it delights us to be with Him, the more we will long for heaven as our ultimate home. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”[1] We may not recognize it as such, but every desire we have that nothing in this world will satisfy is a nagging reminder that our ultimate joy and satisfaction can only be found in heaven – not because of the people we will see again, or the beauty of the place, but because there we will be with Christ forever. Our lives and this world are hard-wired to provide us with dissatisfaction until we make Him our delight and desire. And when we delight ourselves in Him and desire Him above all else, our desire has come to mirror His own. He desires for His people to be with Him.

II. Jesus desires for His people to behold His glory

Like many of you, I love to travel. When you love to travel, it’s hard to not sound like a travel agent or a salesperson of some kind as you tell others about your journeys. You want them to share somehow vicariously in your experiences: to see what you saw, to taste what you tasted, to feel what you felt. And there is nothing quite so disheartening to a travel junkie as when the stories of their adventures are met with a yawning disinterest. It is hard to stir up excitement in someone else simply by telling them what you experienced. They have to experience it for themselves. I can tell you all about my visit to the Grand Canyon and show you pictures of it, but your jaw will only drop when you stand on the rim and behold it for yourself.

No matter how many frequent flyer miles you have racked up in your lifetime, no one ever traveled the distance that Jesus Christ did. You may have circumnavigated the globe numerous times, but Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth. As He prays this prayer, He is on the verge of His return voyage. While upon the earth, Jesus has taught His disciples about His Father, His heavenly homeland, and Himself. And they have seen glimpses of His true nature – not entirely unlike seeing snapshots from someone else’s travels. In the miracles that He performed, they saw His glory – but it was a glory that was veiled in flesh. In spite of the clarity of His words and the wonder of His works, they had not seen the unveiled splendor of His true and glorious nature. The same is true for us. We have seen glimpses and glimmers of glory, but we are looking, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “through a glass darkly.” A day is coming for those who believe upon Christ to see the full radiance of His glory, “then face to face.” And that is the day for which Jesus longs. He desires for us to behold His glory. He prays that His disciples, including those of us who have come to know Him by faith, would be with Him where He is, “so that they may see My glory which You have given Me.”

In that day, we will see the fullness of Jesus’ divine glory – the glory of God Himself in the person of Jesus. It is the glory that was His for eternity past, prior to the days of His flesh. It is the glory that Jesus prayed in verse 5 that the Father would restore to Him, and which will be His for eternity future. That will be the central focus of every eye in heaven – the unmediated, unveiled, and unobstructed glory of God in Christ. If you look at the book of Revelation, where John was given an unparalleled vision of heaven, you will notice that in all of his vivid descriptions of its majestic beauty, the central focus is always on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Chapter 4, when he has the first glimpse of it, he says first and foremost that he saw “a throne, and one sat on the throne.” Everything else he mentioned in that initial vision is described in terms of its orientation to that throne. And in the midst of it all stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, and all of heaven erupted in worship of this Lamb, crying out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (5:12). Near the end of the book, John writes of heaven that it has “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23). He writes, “They will see His face” (22:4). That is what makes heaven heaven. It is not merely that we will be reunited with loved ones who have preceded us in death, or surrounded by the beauty of golden streets and jeweled walls. It is that we will be with Jesus and we will see Him, in all of His glory, face to face.

This has been the desire of every human heart since Adam and Eve were banished from Eden – to see God face to face. That desire is not always recognized, but it is there in every one of us. It is what prompts us to seek and enjoy beauty. It is what comes through in those moments of joy when we behold the wonders of creation. We see the artistry, and we want to see the Artist. The Psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psa 73:25). Job cried out from the depths of his suffering, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another” (Job 19:25-27). But the amazing thing is that, not only is this the desire of our hearts, it is the desire of the Lord Jesus as well. He wants us to see His glory.

He says that His glory was given to Him by the Father, “for You loved Me before the foundation the world.” His glory is a manifestation of the unique relationship that the Father and the Son have within the unity of the Triune Godhead. His glory marks Him out as the divine Son of God, who has existed with God and as God from before all time. God’s love is often demonstrated in Scripture by His gifts. As John 3:16 says so familiarly, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” But in His love for the Son, He has also given Him gifts. Two are mentioned here in this prayer: He has given His Son glory – a glory that He has vowed to not share with another (Isa 42:8), but which He gladly shares with the Son, because He is fully God with the Father and the Spirit. And He has given His Son a people – as Jesus says so affectionately in this verse, “they whom You have given Me” – a people to behold His glory and to exult in it forever.

He desires for us to be with Him in heaven and to behold the fullness of His glory. It will not be because He has acquired more glory in heaven than He already had, but that we will be better able to see it. That is because we will share in that glory. As if seeing it were not enough, we will participate in it, for unless we did, we would not be able to see it. The writer of our Gospel will say in His first epistle, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). And John says that the confidence we have in this hope has an effect on us here and now. He says, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn 3:3). Jesus promised a blessing to those who are pure in heart, that they will “see God” (Matt 5:8). And if we really desire to see God, we will persevere, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as He shapes us into the purity of Christlikeness. As we pursue and persevere in holiness, our vision of the glory of Christ will grow ever more in focus through all the days of our lives, until the day comes when we see Him face to face and share in His glory because we will be made like Him, fully and finally. David said in Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”

This prayer of Jesus is also a promise. It is a promise for all who come to know Him in life as the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sin of the world – the sacrificial substitute who took our sins and their penalty upon Himself as He died on the cross in our place, and who defeated sin and death on our behalf in His resurrection. If you have never come to know Him in this way, this promise is not for you. The implicit promise for those who do not know Him as Lord and Savior is the opposite – they will not be where He is, and they will not behold His glory. But for those who belong to Him, who have been given to Him by the Father and have come to know Him through repentance and faith, we have the assurance we will be with Him and we will behold His glory. And this is what He desires for us. Knowing that this is His desire for us causes us to delight all the more in Him. And the promise of God is that those who delight in Him will receive the desires of their hearts. His desire becomes our desire, to be with Him and to behold His glory. And that unquenchable desire grows increasingly until the day when it is gratified in full and we enter heaven to be with Him and to behold Him with new eyes forevermore.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 130.

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