- Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer—longest prayer of Jesus, earlier part is for His immediate disciples, second part expands to all future disciples. Interceding—seeking God’s blessing. Reflect on the great comfort that Jesus prays for us. We need God’s prayer, because apart from Him we all go our own separate ways, and here Jesus is praying for our unity. We may tend to think of prayer as only directed from us to God, but here Jesus prays on our behalf. This affirms what is elsewhere said, that the Holy Spirit also intercedes or prays for us “in groans too deep for words to express” (Rom. 8:26). This section focuses on all future believers “who will believe in me through their word”.
- These people for whom Jesus’ prays, are not yet part of the church, but He prays for them to believe—showing God’s concern for the lost, and for those who have not yet come to faith in Him. So, like Christ, we too should have a heart for all those who do not yet know Christ. Avoid a contentment that does not care to help. Pray for them. Pray that God would open our lips. Speak the Gospel. Tell of Jesus’ love for them, apply it to the hurt, the guilt, the fear, or the doubt in their life. Extend love and Christian concern. Show how important faith in Christ is to you.
- Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. And people cannot hear unless someone is sent to preach the good news of Jesus to them. The Christian church will always be “missionary” in nature—mission meaning “sending.” God “sent” His Son, He sends the church, and He sends believers in His church, to bring people to faith in Him. Through the sending of missionaries and apostles, of believers who teach God’s Word, people are gathered in to have faith in Jesus.
- The Word is the powerful and effective tool of God, to create faith in Jesus. The content of that word of the apostles is the same as Jesus says in v. 17, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.” The content of God’s Word, the Truth, is rich and full with life for us. The content of the Word of God shows Jesus Christ to us, as God’s own Son—true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, buried, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The Word of God is rich with the life that believers in that Word are invited into. The content of God’s Word and the Truth that we’re called to believe, can’t be traded away or negotiated away—it’s part and parcel of the unity in Christ. Any idea of unity of the church that comes at the expense of negotiating away the doctrines or teachings of the Christian faith, is contrary to the unity that Jesus prays for in this chapter, and contrary to His prayer that we be made holy in the truth of His Word.
- However, it does impress on us the painful reality of the divisions that exist in the Christian church, that at least visibly, it appears greatly divided. And that division runs contrary to Jesus’ expressed will here in this passage. We should remember, though, that the unity Jesus speaks of is unity with those who are truly His own. There cannot be true unity with those who do not truly believe in Him, or who abandon His Word and His love. With hypocrites or false believers, there is division. But since the true unity of believers is meant for a testimony or witness to the fact that God the Father sent Jesus—disunity and division is like static interfering with the message. It’s like the sound of a banging gong drowning out the good or beautiful words you have to speak, when our message is drowned out by our lack of love. On the other hand, true Christian unity and harmony, both agreement in the Word of Christ and also in practicing Christian love—is a powerful witness and concrete expression to the world of God’s love through Jesus. It’s a powerful witness to Christ’s power to change our lives from sin and divisiveness to agreement and love. A witness to lives transformed by Jesus, and a common bond that forms between believers who might otherwise have nothing earthly in common.
- The goal of Jesus’ prayer is that those who believe might become one, just as the Father and Son are One. But where is that unity? As Christians we can affirm that there is a hidden or invisible unity of the church; meaning that Christ sees and knows all who are His own, throughout the world. And across nations and denominations, true believers are united by faith in Him. But this unity Jesus prays for must also be more than just the hidden unity of the church, because it is also to be visible to the world as a witness to them that God sent Jesus and that He loves us with the same love that He loves His Son.
- It can be deeply discouraging for us to see disunity among Christians—to see so many denominations and non-denominations divided about articles of faith and practice. And it may be tempting to think that we could just eliminate the divisions by reducing things to a lowest common denominator faith. Get rid of anything that we can’t agree on. But this approach has been tried many times, and it can only lead to disaster, and erosion of God’s Word. The teachings of Jesus are lost little by little, aiming for a pretended unity, while differences still remain, or study of God’s Word diminishes. So what then—throw our hands up in despair? Should we make no effort to seek a visible unity among Christians?
- It should be helpful for us to notice that the unity Jesus speaks of is a unity that He creates and gives. It’s not manufactured by human efforts, but God Himself gives it by His love, and by making us one with Christ. It is God’s gift and His creation, that we would be made perfectly one, as the Father and the Son are one. This unity begins and exists in Him. As we are the recipients of God’s own love—loved as His own dear Son Jesus Christ—it cannot but change us, and conform us more and more to His Son Jesus. It’s the love that forgives us our sins, the love that sent Jesus to the cross to atone for us, the love that shapes us into His loving children, who seek to love others with the same love that He has shown. So we progress toward that goal of perfect unity by His work and His guiding, having faith that it is God who is at work within us, both to will and work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
- And to be receptive vessels for His will and work, to be open to His creating of that perfect unity between us and all believers, we remain in Him. As Jesus taught at length in John 15, the way to remain in Him is to abide in His Word and in His love. And so our efforts for outward unity must also begin in His Word and His love. For these mark us as His true disciples, and it’s through them that He creates a genuine, substantial, and lasting unity built around His teachings and the love of God that flows back and forth from the Father to the Son and to us, and out to all the world. We can have such a great confidence that His love will never fail, as we have confidence that His love brought Jesus to the cross and back from the empty tomb. And we can have confidence that Jesus is praying for us and our faith and unity. In this faith and in this hope, God unites us, and brings others into union with Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Sermon on John 17:20-26, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "That they may be one"