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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Our Abba who is in Heaven
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1                                                                                           

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – John 17:1-26; Romans 8:12-17

Ps 68:2,3,12

Sermon – Lord’s Day 46

Hy 39:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ our Lord, sometimes there’s pressure on us to be unique. You shouldn’t be too ordinary, but different—have something special and notable about you. Yet when it comes to the style of our Christian life, we don’t strive to be unique but to be imitators, imitators of Jesus. This is what Peter writes in his first letter, “Christ left you an example, for you to follow in his steps (2:21).

As imitators of Christ we must consider this example: our Lord was a man of prayer. While on earth, Jesus was devoted to communing with God. Already as a child, there’s a sense that He was often praying, for Luke tells us that the young Jesus “grew in favour with God” (2:52). Already then, Jesus knew the importance of being in God’s presence. Think of what He said to Joseph and Mary when they found him in the temple, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49).

We see the same pattern of prayer later in Christ’s life. Before his baptism, Jesus prays. Before He calls the twelve disciples, Jesus spends the night seeking God’s face. Before his arrest in the Garden, Jesus agonizes in prayer. And not just before special occasions or in tumultuous times, but constantly Jesus talked with God. Luke says in 5:16 that “Jesus often withdrew to solitary places and prayed.” This was his custom, his delight: to spend time with the Father.

Jesus prayed. And his example is before us this afternoon. “Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples once said. Jesus showed how it’s done, with the Lord’s Prayer. But He also showed us how it’s done, by his life. For the Son of God was a man of prayer, a child who always relied on his heavenly Father. I preach to you God’s Word from Lord’s Day 46,

Jesus gives us the privilege of praying to the heavenly Father:

  1. a prayer of holy reverence
  2. a prayer of true closeness
  3. a prayer of great expectation


1) a prayer of holy reverence: When we page through the four gospels, we don’t find many of the prayers that our Lord offered. There is the Lord’s prayer, of course. There’s also his brief prayer which He sent up from Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). But aside from these, there’s not much. Until we get to John 17, were we find the longest recorded prayer of Jesus, 26 verses long.

First, it’s good to see when and where this prayer was offered. The scene is Jerusalem, in the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated Passover with the disciples. To recap: they had already eaten the meal; Jesus had already instituted the Lord’s Supper; and Judas Iscariot had just left to set in motion the last steps of his betrayal.

Jesus has been speaking with his disciples for a while, throughout chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16. He comforted them about his pending departure. He affirmed the promise of the Holy Spirit. He compared himself and his people to the vine and branches. He warned about coming days of persecution, and assured the disciples that He’d be with them until the very end.

Then, as a fitting way to wrap up, Jesus prays. For what would any of this be without prayer? His words haven’t been easy to accept; they’ve even been upsetting for the disciples. But Jesus knows the power of prayer. He’d experienced it many times. So now He’ll pray again.

The prayer of John 17 is sometimes called the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. It’s “high priestly,” because this is largely a prayer of intercession. Back in the Old Testament, the priests would come before God at the temple and ask for his grace for the people.

Perhaps your Bible has some helpful headings which give a basic structure to this prayer. Here Jesus prays for his disciples, and He also prays for all believers. But don’t overlook that first section where Jesus prays for himself. Here we get to listen in on a deeply personal prayer, sent from our Saviour to his God, at a time of mounting fear and anguish. The cross was looming large now, so Jesus prays.

And this prayer is distinctly a prayer offered to the Father. In fact, it’s a prayer in the same pattern which Jesus taught in Matthew 6, which is addressed to the “our Father who is in heaven.” For John tells us that “Jesus… lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come’” (v 1).

Let’s look closely at two aspects of this first verse. First, “Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven.” Often we bow our heads when we pray, or let our heads rest on the pillow. Perhaps we do this in reverence, or maybe because it’s more comfortable and we’re already thinking about sleep. But in the Bible, it was customary to lift up your eyes and gaze toward heaven. Think of the words from Psalm 123, “I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven” (v 1).

Why lift up our eyes? Because we’re not looking to some ordinary god, a god who drifts around the earth like the people and heroes we’ve come to trust. We’re looking to God Almighty, the one enthroned in the heavens, who rides on the clouds as his chariot. That’s where our help comes from! From him we can expect every good thing, even in the hour of need.

Then the second element to note in verse 1, how Jesus begins with this direct and personal address, “Father…” This is where his prayer is going—to the Father.

Now, before we get further, perhaps there’s a question on your mind. Isn’t all this rather unnecessary? Why is Jesus praying, anyway? For He is God himself, one with the Father, yet speaking with the Father. Isn’t this kind of like sending an email or text message to yourself? You know it’s coming, and I guess you even know how you’re going to reply. So what’s the point of Jesus praying to the Father?

We might quickly answer that Jesus is also a man and that He had to live in dependence on God. Which is true, but it doesn’t say everything. For the amazing thing is that even as the Son of God, Jesus wanted communion with his Father. This is one of the Trinity’s deep mysteries, the mystery that the Son depends on the Father—just as the Father does the Spirit, and vice versa. The persons of the Trinity are bound together in a perfect and eternal love.

Yes, Christ remained God. Though He had emptied himself, He lacked in no way. As Jesus said when He was in the garden, He had thousands of angels at his command—in other words, there was no shortage of assistance. All the same, Jesus turns to his Father for help. Jesus doesn’t want to do anything without his Father’s presence, so He reverently seeks him.

This reverence shines throughout John 17. For instance, in verse 11 Jesus address God as “Holy Father…” To the holy God, his Father, Jesus prays, beseeching the one set apart in his majesty and perfection. And then in verse 25, He pleads again, “Righteous Father…” Jesus prays to the one who does no wrong, to the Father who never breaks his Word, but who is faithful always. Jesus knows who He’s talking to, and He’s humbled before him.

His humility is likewise clear in verse 1, “Father… glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Jesus prays that the Father will accomplish through him his glorious plan and purpose. Notice how in this prayer, Jesus isn’t obsessing over himself and his own needs. This is what we do so often; from hour to hour, even when praying, we’re busy with ourselves. Revisiting our goals, recounting our fears, assessing our feelings—praying, yes, but praying with eyes always drawn toward the state of our heart and our present condition. How many hours of the day are we thinking about ourselves!

But Jesus looks up to his holy Father, his righteous Father, and prays to glorify him in all things. The Son submits himself to the Father, and He acknowledges God’s authority and perfect wisdom.

And this is how Jesus continues his God-centered prayer: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God” (v 3). Even as He prays for himself, He’s thinking of us: “I want them to know you.” Jesus’ mission was to bring true knowledge—He came so that we would know the God who made us, to re-introduce us to the Father.

It’s because of Christ that we can offer this same kind of prayer to God, our holy and righteous Father. In chapter 1 of his Gospel, John told us this amazing truth: “To all who received [Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (vv 12-13, NIV). Yes, through Christ, “God has become our Father!” (Q&A 120)

Of course, we know that our sonship is different from Christ’s. He is the eternal, natural Son of God, while we are adopted, enemies and strangers brought into his household from outside. Even so, this prayer in John 17 is more than a private prayer from God the Son to the Father. Rather, Christ is giving a prayer to imitate and pray ourselves.

For this is exactly what He taught us to pray, “Father—my Father in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to look up, to lift up your eyes, so you stop focusing on earthly cares and anxieties. Look up in prayer, away from your frustrating human weaknesses. Look up from underneath the burden of your guilt and regret. Lift up your eyes to heaven, and call on God. Delight to speak his name, and speak it in faith: “Father.” As our Lord Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).

Become like little children, and look to the Father. His throne is in heaven, his footstool is the earth. Yet his glory doesn’t make us cower in fear, nor does his majesty intimidate us into silence. For we know who we’re talking to. Through Christ, He is our holy Father, our righteous Father. He is willing to listen, and present to help.

That’s how the Son could pray so regularly, so sincerely, so boldly: He knew that his Father was there. And that’s how we can pray. We don’t have to wait until we feel better about ourselves before we pray. We don’t have to wait until we’re at home, seated at the kitchen table. When we pray, our Father is there—He is only one trusting word away.


2) a prayer of true closeness: In the crisis of his approaching death, Jesus turned to his Father. He had nowhere else to go—He needed nowhere else to go. As He prays in John 17, we get a sense of his closeness with God the Father. Consider verse 10: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine.” Jesus wasn’t on earth as a free spirit, doing his own thing. In everything, He was on the same page as the Father. Whatever Jesus did, He did for God. We also hear it when Jesus prays for his followers: “Holy Father, keep through your name those whom you have given me, that they may be one as we are” (v 11).

Listen to that last phrase again: “So that they may be one as we are.” From eternity and throughout his life on earth, Jesus enjoyed an intimate connection to God, a loving unity with him. Compare it to how a child walks alongside his father. Sometimes you see a small child unable to keep up with his dad, who is striding ahead with his long legs. The child races, little legs pumping, until he’s right beside dad again. For this is where he belongs: with his father. This wasn’t only when Jesus prayed, but He always lived in a closeness to the Father, for truly, they were one.

So it can be for us. For Jesus tells us an amazing truth: “You can call God your Father, too! As I have always lived and prayed in oneness with the Father, so you may pray.” It’s astonishing, but the Son of God tells us: “You can have the same kind of close relationship with God that I have—you can be one with him, like I am.” Jesus tells us, “In solitary places, in joyful worship, in troubled times, and in every circumstance, whenever you draw near to God, you may call on him as Father, even as I have always done!”

I think we easily forget about being connected to God. We go through our day, busy with many things—and we know the Father is there—but there might be little fellowship between us. Do we speak to him? Do we thank him? Do we ask for his help and listen to his Word? People speak about “absent fathers” today—dads who really aren’t available for their kids. Our heavenly Father is never absent, but as his people, we often are: unavailable, disconnected, “absent children.”

Beloved, how is this for you? Do you live in unity and closeness with the Father through the Son? Do you seek communion with him, so that his words become the words on your lips, and his power becomes the power behind you? Do you strive to walk beside him always?

The rich comfort in prayer’s address is made even richer when we think about the kind of Father we have, the kind of Father whom Jesus sought in prayer. Jesus loved his Father. He trusted his Father. He knew that his Father wouldn’t turn away his child. It was shortly after these words in John 17, when Jesus was suffering in the Garden, that He became desperate in his longing for help. And then, Mark tells us that Jesus cried out to God, “Abba, Father” (14:36).

You might know that “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father.” It was a word often used by young children, like a child today might call to their parents, “Daddy” or “Mommy.” Parents are often proud to relate how these words were the first things spoken by their kids, for who is more important in their life than “Mom” or “Dad?”

Yet that the old word “Abba” is more than just “baby-talk.” In Bible times, even adults would use it. Students in the synagogue would address their teachers as “Abba,” and adult children would still use it when speaking with their elderly parents.

There is a strong sense of respect in that term, “Abba.” Yet there’s no mistaking the warm intimacy, the loving closeness that goes with it. In full submission to God, yet in full confidence, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father. I trust in your unfailing love. I revere you in your holiness. I want to do your will.”

When we’re blessed with God’s Spirit, we’re allowed to call on God in the same way. Paul writes, “You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:15). For God is our Father! He knows us, and we’re getting to know him. We may pray, “Abba, Father, I trust in your steadfast love. I revere you in your holiness. Father, more than anything, I want to do your will.” He is near, and He is gracious. So live in that closeness. Grow and nurture that bond.

Brothers and sisters, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1). Because of Christ, God opens his arms wide, and He receives us as his own. And now whenever we speak with him, we have great expectations.


3) a prayer of great expectation: If there’s one more thing that marks Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, it is anticipation. As He lays out his requests to his Father, Jesus fully expects a reply, one that lacks in no way. He prays in boldness, “And now, Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (v 5).

Remember, He’s about to die the most agonizing death. He’s about to go to the deepest, darkest place. But Jesus is so sure of the Father’s purpose. He prays that God will glorify him, He knows that God will glorify him—once the cross is done, and three days are past.

And as Jesus prepares to leave his followers, He entrusts them to his Father. His disciples are going to be on their own, but the Father will keep them safe: “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one” (v 15). And God will keep them, and us.

For God is a Father—He is a living and a breathing Father. To fill out that image a little, our Father has ears to hear us when we call in our trouble. Our Father has eyes to see us when we need help. Our Father has hands to guide us in our confusion, to provide for us each day, even to discipline us as we need to learn and become more holy. Yes, our Father in heaven has a mouth to speak words of comfort to our heart.

So when we pray “Our Father,” the Catechism says we can do this in great expectation. We expect that we’ll receive from “his almighty power all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 121). This is something children learn so quickly: they learn who provides. If you’re a child and you’re hungry, you know to wander into the kitchen when Mom is there, and she’ll probably give you something, even if it’s just a piece of fruit. If you’re a child, and you’re scared when crossing the street, you know to grab hold of Dad’s strong hand. Children know who’s going to take care of them.

In the same knowledge we come before God. If we pray according to God’s Word, we can always ask. For our God is a Father, not just in name, but in truth and reality. He always has time for us. He will always take care of us. He will always seek our good.

“Our Abba who is in heaven…” In his perfect prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask the Father for all things needful: Turn to your heavenly Father for your daily bread. Turn to your Father for the forgiveness of your childish ways. Turn to your Father for strength to fight the devil.

We can pray to God as Father, because that’s what Jesus did. Throughout his life, Jesus prayed to God and received his answer. His Father granted wisdom; his Father granted strength; his Father granted grace. Even in his last night of torment, as Jesus prayed for help, his Father sent an angel in order to help Jesus endure.

But then finally, as the Son hung on the cross dying, the Father took his presence away. Darkness descended, and Jesus was alone. We know how He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). In that hour, the Father’s face was turned away. His ears were shut, and his mighty hand withdrawn. At the end, the prayers of the Son were ignored. Jesus again lifted his eyes to the heavens, lifted them in expectation, but finally had to bow his head—for no answer came, not until it was finished.

The prayers of Christ went unanswered, so yours might always be heard. He was shut out, that you might be welcomed in. He was forsaken, that you might always be accepted. So pray in faith, knowing the Father will never despise your words. Pray, knowing He won’t withhold anything truly good, truly needed. Pray, being a good imitator of Christ Jesus. Understand what power our prayers to the Father can have—power, in Jesus’ Name. May we know this power, and may we use the power. Just like our Lord taught us to pray.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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