Concentric Circles of God's Grace

Dear Church Family,

In our sermon series in the Gospel according to John, we have recently been examining Jesus’ final instructions to His Disciples in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion (John 13-17). This portion of John’s Gospel is often described as the farewell discourse, Jesus’ last words of instruction to His Disciples before He departs. This coming Sunday, we come to the final chapter – John 17. This chapter is often referred to as the high-priestly prayer of Jesus because it is His intercession on behalf of those who belong to Him.

Over the course of our next three sermons, we will consider the three main parts of Jesus’ prayer, according to the following outline:

John 17:1-5 – Jesus’ Prayer for Himself
John 17:6-19 – Jesus’ Prayer for His Disciples
John 17:20-26 – Jesus’ Prayer for His Church

According to this outline, it is helpful to think of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer as concentric circles of God’s grace. That is to say, Jesus begins by praying to the Father for His own glory; He bases His request upon the merits of His own obedience and the work that He accomplished in His earthly ministry, culminating in the cross. Then, with Himself at the center, Jesus begins to move out from Himself to pray for His Disciples – those who followed Him in His earthly ministry; He prays for their protection, joy, and sanctification. Continuing to move outward from Himself, through His Disciples, Jesus concludes by praying for His Church – “for those also who believe in Me through their [the Disciples’] word” (John 17:20); He prays for our unity and perseverance.

We might compare Jesus’ high-priestly prayer to a stone thrown into a pond, and how the ripples flow out from that stone. Jesus prays that He Himself would be glorified in order that His Disciples, and then those who believe through their word, would receive the blessings of eternal life. Christ earns these blessings for us, and then prays for these same blessings to radiate out through the preaching of His Disciples to all those who come to believe in Him.

What’s interesting is that the pattern of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer is almost identical to the pattern of promises which God made to Abram (later called Abraham) when He first called him (Genesis 12:1-3). I’ve written about the call of Abram before, but very simply, God’s call of Abram can also be seen to contain concentric circles of God’s grace:

Genesis 12:1 – God promises to give land to Abram
Genesis 12:2 – God promises to make Abram into a great nation
Genesis 12:3 – God promises to bless all of the families of the earth through Abram

Beginning with the promise to give Abram land, the promise of God radiates out from Abram to include the nation of Israel, and ultimately all the families of the earth. These promises from the opening verses of Genesis 12 act as an outline for God’s redemptive work. The Lord begins with Abram. Then, He blesses Abram by making him into a great nation – the nation of Israel. Through this line of Israel, God would bring forth a redeemer who would bless all the families of the earth: Jesus Christ would call His own from both Jew and Gentile, making them into one people, the Church.

The similarity of the call of Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) and Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (John 17:1-26) shows us that the bestowal of God’s grace in the old and new covenants is the same; however, there is a difference. The difference is not that God has two ways of salvation, one through the promise to Abraham and the other through Jesus Christ. Rather, the difference is this: the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ and those who believe in Him from all the families of the earth (Galatians 3:16-29).

We’ll speak more on this in our upcoming sermons, but I thought that this might be a helpful introduction to Jesus’ high-priestly prayer.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch