“Father, the hour is come.” – John 17:1
What a terrible hour that was – the hour of suffering and death, of Gethsemane and Golgotha!
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Gethsemane. The last Passover had been celebrated – and the first Lord’s Supper, too. The last discourse of Jesus to His disciples, a message of comfort and exhortation and promise, had been uttered – John 14 – while they were still in the upper room – John 15 and 16 – while on the way to the garden of sorrows. Now they are nearing the gate; the tension mounts in the soul of the Lord Jesus; and He prays, – prays that most touching high priestly prayer, which may well be called the holy of holies in the temple of the Word of God.
“These words spake Jesus (John 14-16) and he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.”
Any mother knows what it means when at last it can and must be said: the hour is come. She knew all the time that this hour was inevitable. She knew approximately when to expect it too. From the beginning of her pregnancy she had dreaded that hour, and the tension had increased in the measure it drew nearer. But finally it must be said: the hour is come! The labors have begun; the delivery is at hand!
In some such way, only in an infinitely deeper and more terrible sense, these words of the Savior must be taken. He knew all the time that this hour was coming. In the measure it drew nearer He became more and more conscious of it too. How plain that is from all the gospels. The nearer the hour the more He talks about it. But now it must be said, “Father, the hour is come!” The hour of my deepest suffering – and death! The hour of labor and delivery! I am standing on its threshold. Another moment and the flames will beat about my body, all the waves and billows of affliction will begin to roll over my soul, all the fury of a wicked world, all the wrath of an eternal God!
That hour was the more terrible, of course, because of Him Who suffered, and through suffering was glorified. He was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only begotten Son, God Himself. He was the Son of God as Son of Man, the anointed of the Father, the Christ. Therefore, this hour was of such inestimable value for lost and damnworthy sinners. Therefore, too, it was so unutterably terrible. God in the flesh is speaking here to God Triune; God as man to God as God!
And we hear Him say, “The hour is come!”
That does not mean that His suffering began with this hour – it didn’t! The meaning is not, that He did not suffer all His life – He did! His humiliation began in the manger.
Now, however, THE hour is come. THE hour of all history. The hour such as the world had never known, and never again will know. The hour wherein all the forces of darkness would be released against the champion of the covenant of God, the visible representative of the invisible God in the world. The hour of the Savior’s deepest agony of body and soul, wherein all the wrath of an eternal God would burn down upon Him, an infinite Godhead would avenge Himself on sin, and an eternal hell would concentrate itself in a single hour. All the agonies of the damned on one individual! A whole eternity in one brief hour! Therefore, earth has never known such an hour – and hell itself will never know an hour like this!
That hour was necessary, too – as necessary as it was terrible.
For that prospective mother the hour, that of labor and delivery, is absolutely necessary. The child is there; it must be born. It cannot remain where it is – that would kill the mother. Of that babe she can be delivered, then to rejoice in the fruit of her sorrows, only in this way. From the moment of conception, the way points directly and inexorably to this hour. There is no escape, no detour.
Thus it was with Jesus. The church was there, it had to be born. While still in the manger, come to take our place, to pay our debt, to establish His kingdom, to do the will of the Father, to atone and reconcile and redeem, the way pointed straight and relentlessly to this hour. Once in Bethlehem, Calvary is inevitable. God’s covenant with men had to be realized, the church had to be born of Him, as it were.
The hour was necessary, first of all, from the viewpoint of God’s everlasting counsel. No, it was not that the enemy had become too strong. Jesus could have escaped, as He had done so often before. It was night, and they were alone. Had Jesus and His disciples gone anywhere but to Gethsemane, Judas and his mob would never have found them that night. However, God’s counsel had decreed it so, and when the time came, Jesus and His disciples, Annas and Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod and the soldiers, all hastened to realize the good pleasure of our sovereign God; that good pleasure, according to which God had chosen a people to be glorified in the way of sin and grace, designed a church to be redeemed and gathered by the blood and Spirit of the only begotten Son.
Consequently, that hour was necessary from the viewpoint of Christ Himself. He had been ordained from all eternity to be the head of this church in which He would be glorified and which with Him would glorify the Father. As their head, He had been eternally burdened with the responsibility of redeeming this church and given the mandate: lose none of them, but raise them up at the last day. This was possible only in the way of taking their place, bearing their punishment, dying their death. There was no other way than that which led directly to and through this hour.
Thus this hour was necessary, finally, for you and me. Lost we were in sin and misery, guilt and eternal death. There was nothing we could do to deliver ourselves. The only way was the way of the hour, Jesus’ hour, that of eternal suffering and death.
Therefore, this hour was so glorious, too.
For that prospective mother the hour of labor and delivery is a glorious hour because its end is life and birth. Her pains are not the agonies of death, but the pangs of birth. Her momentary anguish is not a matter of departure, but of arrival; of sorrow, but joy; of frustration, but anticipation. It’s the hour of birth, and that birth is itself part of the hour – its end and purpose.
The same is true of Jesus’ hour. It is so glorious because it is the hour of birth, redemption, deliverance, victory, resurrection and life. All these are part of the hour – its purpose and climax and glory. In connection with the miracle of Easter there is nothing but glory in the shame of Good Friday, nothing but light in the darkness of the cross.
How glorious was this hour for the Father! His righteous wrath was appeased, His justice was satisfied, His covenant realized, His kingdom established. That was the primary purpose of this hour. “Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify thee.” He is and must be all in all.
How glorious was this hour for Christ Himself! Under God all things are for His sake. True, in this hour He would suffer and die and be buried, be despised and rejected of men. However, in this hour He would also redeem His church and merit eternal life for all His own; He would rise again a Victor o’er the dark domain; He would ascend to heaven to be clothed with all power and majesty and to rule over all God’s wide dominion as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Father did glorify the Son, that the Son might glorify the Father. It was the hour of triumph and everlasting joy.
Therefore, too, what a glorious hour it was for all His own, for all who believe in that mighty Savior. In that hour is your salvation; nothing need be added. That salvation is yours in all its riches by faith in that Jesus; nothing more is necessary. One aged, dying Christian put it this way: “The Bible says, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” So simple, and yet so beautiful! Therein lay her hope and comfort. Yours too? By faith in that crucified Christ we may look back to this hour and say: there my debts were paid, my guilt was blotted out, my battle was fought, my victory was achieved. The night is past, it is now day. My sins are gone, I am justified with Christ and have peace with God.
Lay hold on that redemption! Put your trust in nothing else!
The way of the cross leads home!