The Doctrine of Salvation | John 17:1-5
Brian Hedges | October 31, 2021
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to John 17.
While you’re turning there, let me adapt an illustration I learned from Peter Scazzero, who’s a pastor in New York City. He talks about how Manhattan consists almost entirely of base granite, a very hard and strong type of rock, and of course there are these 75-storey, 100-storey skyscrapers all through Manhattan. Have you ever wondered how those skyscrapers stay standing when they’re built on rock? The answer is these foundational piles, steel or concrete columns that are driven deep into the ground and form the foundation, the base, of these skyscrapers. Some of these pilings are driven 25 storeys underground! It’s this strong foundation that holds up the skyscrapers.
I think it’s a helpful illustration for the kind of deep theological foundations that undergird the Christian life, that undergird Christian truth and doctrine. Now, most of the time I think ordinary Christians such as we are are concerned with the practicalities of the Christian faith. “How can I be a better Christian? How can I love my family? How can I weather the storms of life? How can I be really sure that I’m saved?” I mean, these are the kinds of things we’re concerned about. “How can I glorify God in my work, my vocation in the world?” These are all good things to consider, but sometimes we forget that underneath all of those questions there are some deep foundational truths that are revealed in Scripture, and they are there to give us stability and to help us in our Christian life.
This morning I want us to consider some of those pilings that lie deep in the foundation of Christian doctrine, and we’re going to do that by looking at the first five verses of John 17, which is the prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples following his teaching in the upper room discourse. We’ve been looking for a number of weeks now at Jesus’s ministry and his teaching in the upper room. He washes his disciples’ feet in John 13, he teaches his disciples in John 14-16; and now we begin a new chapter, John 17, and here Jesus unveils his heart for his disciples and his heart for the glory of God, his heart about the work that he is about to do at the cross, and he does it in a prayer.
It’s really an amazing prayer, and you may not realize this, but it is the longest prayer recorded in the New Testament, and it’s certainly the longest prayer from Jesus. Now, many times in the New Testament Jesus prays. There are lots of places where the Gospels tell us that he went away; he would pray an entire night, he would go and withdraw, retreat, and pray. But rarely do we get the substance of his prayer, and every other time except for this it’s only a few sentences. But here we have an entire chapter devoted to this prayer of Jesus for his disciples. Since the Reformation this has been known as the high priestly prayer of Jesus, because the idea is that, just as the high priest on the Day of Atonement would consecrate himself and then would pray and intercede for the people of Israel, so Jesus here is consecrating himself to the Father, and he is praying for his people before he makes this final great sacrifice, this atoning sacrifice on the cross.
This is a beautiful passage, it is a passage with so much depth that I can scarcely do justice to it in this message. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached 13 sermons on just the first five verses of John 17. I’m only going to preach one sermon on it, but I’m going to try to pack a lot in this morning, and I hope it will be a benefit to you and will help you see the deep foundations of our comfort in the Christian life, these theological foundations that are revealed in Jesus’ prayer. So let’s read the text, John 17:1-5, and then we’ll dig in together.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.’”
This is God’s word.
I want you to see four things this morning about our salvation: the goal of salvation, the plan of salvation, the gift of salvation, and the work of salvation.
I think as Jesus is praying here, the very substance of his words is showing us what is comprised in God’s saving work. Now, Jesus doesn’t use the word “salvation” here, but he does use the word “eternal life,” which is one of the key terms in the Gospel of John denoting our salvation. So I want you to see these four things.
1. The Goal of Salvation
First of all, the goal, and you see this in verses 1 and 5. The key words here are “glory” and “glorify.” Jesus when he begins his prayer says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Then verse 5, “Now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
These verses really bring together two themes in the Gospel of John: Jesus’s hour that had come and the glory of God. In the Gospel of John over and over again we read things like this: something did not take place because Jesus’ hour had not yet come. You can see this in John 2, you can see it in John 12—there are multiple places where the hour had not yet come, or a reference to the hour.
But now the hour has come. In fact, in John 12 is really the turning point. It’s kind of the hinge in the Gospel of John. It’s right after Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so he’s coming upon this last week of his life, which will culminate in the cross. In John 12 he prays again, and you see these two things come together when he says, “‘Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’”
So the “hour” is the hour for which he was born, it is the hour for which he came into the world, it is the hour of his exaltation through the cross. In going to the cross and in dying for the sins of the world Jesus is exalted, and this is the reason he came into the world; this is his hour. The ultimate purpose for this saving work of Jesus in this final hour of his life, the ultimate purpose for it is to glorify God.
Now, this is a radical concept, and it’s one that every one of us needs to grasp, because most of us, if we were to ask the question, “Why did Jesus die for our sins?” our first answer would be a true answer, but not the ultimate answer. Our first answer would be, “Because he loved us.” That’s true. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” That’s true. Jesus died for you because he loves you, and that’s a glorious and wonderful truth.
But it’s not the ultimate answer. The thing uppermost in Jesus’s mind when he begins his prayer is actually the glory of God. That’s the first thing in his mind. He’s praying that God the Father would be glorified and that God the Father would glorify Him, Jesus, the Son, through this work that he is coming to do.
I am suggesting to you that grasping this concept becomes one of the deep pilings, the deep foundations that will support our lives, when we understand that ultimately God’s saving plan is not about you, it’s not about me, it’s actually about him. Did you realize this—you actually are not the center of the universe! Right? Has it ever occurred to you that the vast majority of the people who have lived have not been you? Right? I mean, when we actually just stop and think about it, we tend to live as if the world revolved around us, as if we are the sun and everything else orbits around us. But in Scripture it’s actually the reverse. The bright, blazing sun at the center of the Christian galaxy, the solar system of Christian truth, is actually the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s when we grasp this that our salvation is ultimately for the glory of God. That becomes a tremendous foundation that will support us in our lives.
Listen, everyone knows that people who live for a cause greater than themselves are ultimately better people, happier people, more fulfilled, more satisfied. Any psychologist will tell you that. We all know that a narcissist is actually a pretty miserable person, people who are self-centered are actually not great citizens, they’re not great family members—they’re basically miserable people. You know why? Because you were made for something bigger! You were made to worship God. So, at the center of reality is the glory of God, and this is the purpose for which we were saved.
Today, by the way, is Reformation Day. October 31, 1517, 504 years ago, was the day that Martin Luther nailed those 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, and right at the heart of the Reformation was this obsession with the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. We have to get that in our hearts.
David VanDrunen, in a wonderful book on this, says, “The biblical religion recaptured by the Reformation is not ultimately about ourselves, but about God. Our focus easily becomes self-centered, even when we ask the same important questions that occupied the Reformers. ‘Where can I find God’s authoritative revelation? How can I escape the wrath of God? What must I do to be saved?’ The other four solas provide necessary and life-changing answers to such questions, but Soli Deo Gloria puts them in proper perspective. The highest purpose of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, made known in Scripture, is not our beatitude [that is, our happiness], wonderful as that is; the highest purpose is God’s own glory.”
I’m saying that if you grasp that, it actually will become a foundation in your life that will support you and strengthen you in ways that perhaps you’ve not yet understood. The glory of God; that’s the ultimately purpose of salvation. This is the goal.
2. The Plan of Salvation
So then, what is the plan of salvation? You see this in verse 2. Jesus is praying, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The key word here is “given.”
This is alerting us to the fact that there was a plan in place. Jesus refers to the glory he had before the world existed. There was a plan in place. There was glory before the world existed and there was a plan, a plan of redemption. Jesus then alludes to this plan with this key word “given.” There are actually two things that the Father gave to the Son. Look at the two gifts the Father gives to the Son.
(1) First of all, “Since you have given him authority over all flesh.” So the first gift is the gift of authority. This refers to the exaltation of Christ, it refers to Christ’s kingship, and the authority that God the Father gives to him.
This is prophesied in the psalms, Psalm 2:7-8. “I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’ Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” Now this has taken place.
It’s similar to the language of Philippians 2, where Jesus, having become “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” is now highly exalted by God and given the name that is above every name, that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is also the foundation of the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and in earth is given to me,” Jesus says. “Therefore go and make disciples.”
Jesus has authority. You know what this means? It means he’s the King, he is the Lord, and is the Lord of all flesh, he has authority over all flesh, that is, over all humanity. God has given him authority. That’s part of his plan, to exalt Jesus Christ as the second Adam, the head of a new creation, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Lord of creation.
(2) But notice the second gift, and this is the one that’s going to trip your mental circuit-breakers this morning. Jesus says, “. . . since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
Jesus says that God has given him authority and that God has given him people. “. . . to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” What does he mean by that? Who are these people? I think if you just keep reading this prayer it becomes pretty clear, because Jesus uses this language over and over again, as he does elsewhere in the Gospel of John. The language that describes the people whom he will save in terms of the gift that the Father gives to the Son. Look at verse 6.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” These people are people given out of the world. This is different than “all flesh”; this is a subset of people, right? This isn’t all people, it is a subgroup, it’s a group of people given out of the world.
Verse 9: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” These are people who belong to God. “Yours they were; you gave them to me; they are yours.”
Verse 11: “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” These that the Father has given, Jesus prays that they would be kept and that they would be united as one.
Then verse 12a: “While I was with them I kept them in your name which you have given me.”
Who are these people that Jesus is praying for, these people whom the Father has given to the Son, that the Son has kept, and that now Jesus prays that the Father will keep? The answer is, in the immediate context, his disciples, and in the broader context all who believe. Every believer. In fact, in John 17:20 Jesus extends his prayer beyond the disciples to those who will believe in him through their word.
What Jesus is doing here is he is praying for his church, he is praying for believers, he is praying for those whom the Father has given to him. You see the same language in John 6:37-40. Let me read this, and then I’ll draw out the radical implication here.
John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me. . .” Note that: all that the Father gives will come. “. . . and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven not do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who went me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
All of these places are alerting us to this amazing truth that God had a plan in sending Jesus, and the plan was to save a people for himself. These people are defined in two ways: as those whom the Father has given to the Son and as those who come to him and who believe.
You want to know who God’s people are? It’s those who believe. Here’s the radical implication: the radical implication of this is that the reason we believe is because of God’s grace. Because God has given us to Christ, we therefore come to Christ. “All that the Father has given me will come to me.” That’s what Jesus says, okay? I’m not trying to impose my theology on the text here, I’m trying to do exposition and show you in the text that Jesus says, “I am praying for those that you have given me, and all that you have given me will come.” There’s a plan in place here, that Jesus here is executing the Father’s plan to save the ones that the Father entrusted into his care and into his keeping.
What this means is that if you this morning are a believer and you have come to Christ, the reason you have come to Christ is because you are already given to Christ by the Father.
This is offensive, I think, to modern American libertarian individualistic people such as we are, because it places the decisive choice of salvation not in our choice but in God’s choice. Certainly we have to believe, and we are called to believe, and this morning the call of the gospel for every one of us is to believe. But if you believe and you trace back your faith in Jesus Christ to its roots—if you trace it back, you will see that in God’s providence there was something that brought you to where you are today.
Listen to how Spurgeon put it. “I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit and did not see the grace of God. I remember sitting one day in the house of God and hearing a sermon as dry as possible and as worthless as all such sermons are, when a thought struck my mind: How came I to be converted? I prayed, thought I. Then I thought, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? Why, I did read them. And what led me to that? And then in a moment I saw that God was at the bottom of all and that he was the author of faith, and then the whole doctrine opened up to me, from which I have not departed.”
I know there’s mystery here, and I know that I’m not answering every question or scratching every itch that this theological conversation brings up, but here’s what I want you to get this morning: if you are a Christian this morning, you owe it to grace. Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone; and Sola Gratia, salvation is by grace alone.
This is a tremendous foundation in the Christian life, and here’s one of the ways it will help you. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his 13 sermons on these first five verses of John 17, has one chapter that the title immediately captured my interest. The whole title of the sermon was “An Antidote to Introspection”, and he talked about the problem of introspection and subjectivity and constantly looking inward, and how we’re so self-focused and obsessed with ourselves, and even as Christians, sometimes we just get so self-focused—you can get so focused on trying to see what’s going on in your heart and your spiritual experience and evidences of God’s work in your life, and are you good enough, and are you changed enough, and are you transformed enough, and are you sanctified enough? Listen, I believe in sanctification and all that stuff, but listen, at the end of the day, your salvation rests on grace! The antidote to introspection is to quit looking inside yourself for something and to look outside of yourself to the grace of God that saves us, not for anything in us but for God’s good pleasure and glory.
Salvation is for God’s glory; that’s the goal. There’s a plan in place, and this plan is all of grace, God’s gift of people to his Son.
3. The Gift of Salvation
Then here’s the gift of salvation itself in verses 2-3: eternal life. “You have given him authority over all flesh . . .” To do what? “ . . . to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Eternal life in John’s Gospel is the way in which salvation is usually designated. It is everlasting life, so it’s eternal in duration; it’s life beyond the grave; it’s being resurrected in the last day, as John 6 tells us; but it is also a quality of life. It is knowing God through his Son, Jesus Christ. This is one of the purposes for which God sent his Son into the world (John 3:16), and it’s one of the purposes for which the Gospel of John was written. John 20:31, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
One of the things that this passage is showing us is that eternal life is understood in terms of this personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Those who are saved are those who have eternal life through knowing God and through knowing the Son. It underlines for us the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation. It is through Christ that we are saved, and it’s through Christ alone. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” the apostle said in Acts 4:12.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus says in John 14:6. Jesus is not one avenue to God out of many; he is the way to God! If you want eternal life, it’s only going to be found in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ.
Let me read a story to you that some of you maybe have heard before, but I think it’s been a few years since I’ve used this. The story is told by Robert Morgan of a very wealthy man who with his devoted son shared a passion for art collecting. They traveled around the world together, adding only the finest paintings to their collection. Included among them were works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet. The old man was a widower, but his son filled up the void in his life, and this was their common bond.
Tragically, war erupted, and the young man enlisted and was sent overseas. Day after day the old father prayed, held his breath, waited for news. One autumn day near Thanksgiving the dreaded telegram came, bordered in black. The young man had died bravely in combat, trying to evacuate those caught under fire. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming holidays with anguish and sorrow.
On Christmas morning, a knock sounded at the door. The father opened it to find a soldier there carrying a small package. As they talked, the soldier said, “Your son and I became very close, and he told me about your joint art collection. I myself am an artist, and I want to give you this.” The man took the package, and his feeble hands unwrapped it, and there was a portrait of his son, in striking detail. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was the most precious work of art the man had ever seen. As he gazed at it, he wept, and as the young soldier left the lonely pushed aside thousands of dollars’ worth of art, and hung the portrait of his son in the prize spot over the fireplace.
As the months past, the old man received letter after letter telling him of his son’s bravery and selflessness, and of how many lives he had saved, how many more he had touched. With each passing day the portrait over the great fireplace became more precious, and he told his friends that it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man grew ill and passed away. The art world was full of anticipation, wanting to get its hands on this man’s fabulous collection. A day was set to auction it all off, and according to the old man’s instructions the first painting was one that was not on anyone’s list. No museum was looking for this painting; it was the painting of the man’s son.
When the auctioneer asked for an opening bid, the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding at one hundred dollars?” he asked. The moment stretched on awkwardly. Finally someone in the back of the room said, “Let’s go on to the next piece.”
“No,” the auctioneer replied. “We have to sell this one first.”
Finally a neighbor of the man spoke up. “Will you take 50 dollars for the painting? That’s all I have, but I knew the boy, I liked him; I’d like to have it.”
“Fifty dollars! We have 50 dollars,” shouted the auctioneer. “Will anyone go higher?” No one did. “Going once, going twice, gone.” The gavel fell.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, thankful now that they could proceed with the real auction and get their hands on the masterpieces. But imagine their shock when the auctioneer suddenly declared that the proceedings were over. A loud clamor arose; stunned disbelief.
“What do you mean, it’s over?” the people shouted. “What about all the masterpieces?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will, whoever takes the son gets all.”
"This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” It’s in Christ that we get salvation. This is the gift of eternal life, but it’s found in his Son. Do you know him this morning?
4. The Work of Salvation
That’s the gift. We’ve seen the goal (it was God’s glory), the plan, and the gift; finally, the work in verse 4. “I glorified you on earth,” Jesus says, “having finished [or accomplished] the work that you gave me to do.”
That work, of course, includes all of Jesus’s earthly ministry up to this point; his obedience, his submission to the Father, and so on. But it also, I think, includes the work he’s about to complete as he prospectively looks to the cross, he’s set his face like a flint for Jerusalem, he’s going to the cross, absolutely committed to the will of the Father. This will be complete, so he speaks of it as completed, and it anticipates John 19:30. Jesus, hanging on the cross, receives the sour wine and says, Tetelestai, "It is finished!” And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
One of the core values of Redeemer Church, hanging on that banner right over there, is the gospel: trusting Jesus and his finished work with all our hearts. What do we mean by that? We mean that there is nothing that you can add to the saving, atoning work of Jesus Christ. We mean that there is no work left to be done, that God’s justice is satisfied, that God’s glory is vindicated, that God’s will has been done, that God’s law has been fulfilled, and that Christ has done everything that was necessary. He has fully accomplished the work. It’s finished.
This also becomes a deep foundation in our lives, when we understand and we grasp the finished work of Christ and we quit trying to save ourselves and instead trust in what God has done through his Son to save us.
Listen, to try to complete what is already finished is like a child taking crayons and trying to finish off a Rembrandt masterpiece. It’s like going to Niagara Falls and thinking you can add to the fullness by throwing your Thermos of water into those falls. You can’t add anything to the finished work of Jesus Christ; quit trying.
“Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing;
All was done long, long ago.
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing;
Doing ends in death.
“Cast your deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in him, in him alone,
The work is finished! Solus Christus, in Christ alone. Let’s pray.
Gracious God, we thank you this morning for these amazing truths from your word of what your Son has done to save us. It’s all by your grace, it is all for your glory, and it’s all through Jesus Christ alone. Therefore we trust in him and we look to him at this moment.
I pray that as we come to the Lord’s table this morning that we would come with hearts set on Jesus, with our faith in him, not looking to ourselves, not trusting in what we’ve done, but trusting in what you, our Lord, have done. So would you draw near to us in worship and in real communion as we approach the table this morning? We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.