As Jesus neared the end of His life He prayed. We’ve been looking at Jesus’ prayer for the past several weeks now and we’ve learned what He prayed for Himself as well as what He prayed for His disciples. This week we come to the end of John 17 and the end of Jesus’ prayer. In John 17:20-26, Jesus’ thoughts turned from His own life and the future of His disciples to those who would, as Jesus prayed, “believe in me through their message,” the future ministry of His immediate disciples.
Before we read Jesus’ prayer I’m curious what you think Jesus would be praying for you and me? Would He pray that we would have a good life, a life free from hardships and trouble? Would He pray that we would be successful? Would He pray that we would be so influential that we would change the culture in which we live? Would He pray that we would right all wrongs, eliminate all injustice, and establish righteousness as the American way? If you know nothing about Jesus’ prayer I think you will be surprised at Jesus’ prayer for you and me. Let’s read John 17:20-26 and then we’ll see what we can learn.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:20-26 NIVO)
I hope you noticed the repeated prayer of Jesus for you and me. None of the things I mentioned that Jesus could have possibly prayed for us were actually included in His prayer for us. What is included in His prayer is that we be one, that we be one as He and the Father are one, and that we “may be brought to complete unity…” Why? Why was our unity so important for Jesus? Why, on the night in which He was betrayed, with His arrest just around the corner, and the Cross a mere sunrise away did Jesus appeal to the Father for our unity? We can find the answer to this question by taking another look at Jesus’ prayer. First, let’s take a look at John 17:20-21.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NIVO)
Jesus prayed that we may be one so the world may believe that God sent Jesus. Could our unity, as followers of Jesus, be our greatest evangelism tool? If that is the case then why do we spend so much time teaching one another how to share our faith, how to win unbelievers to faith in Jesus, and so little time teaching and encouraging the Body of Christ to learn to live in unity? Let’s turn to verse 23.
23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23 NIVO)
Jesus prayed that we would be brought to “complete unity to let the world know” that God sent Jesus and that Jesus has loved us with the same love the Father has for the Son. The unity of His followers was so important to Jesus that He prayed about it over and over again while facing His own death. The question that I’ve been wrestling with this past week is, “What kind of unity did Jesus have in mind?” Another question I’ve wrestled with is, “How can our unity be such a convincing proof to an unbelieving world?” Before this week, before I spent time with Jesus’ prayer for us, I would have said what we need most, if we are going to be effective in sharing the Gospel with unbelievers, is a solid understanding of biblical truth. An understanding of the teachings of God’s Word is of great importance when we talk to people who have no understanding of the significance of Jesus: His life and teachings, His death on our behalf, and His resurrection which validates everything He taught. You and I both know that truth alone is not enough to convince unbelievers of the importance and saving power of Jesus for those who will believe. This isn’t some idea I have dreamed up or arrived at on my own. In John 13:34-35, just after Jesus had humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples, He used that act to teach them a powerful truth. Jesus said,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIVO)
An unbelieving world will never be convinced that we belong to Jesus if we are able to quote long passages of Scripture, but fight like cats and dogs among ourselves. An unbelieving world will never be convinced that we belong to Jesus because we post verses to Twitter and Facebook alongside of our rants about politics and other topics that are so explosive and divisive. An unbelieving world will never be convinced that we belong to Jesus if we carry our Bibles to Sunday school and church on Sunday morning, but act just like everyone else they know throughout the week. An unbelieving world will stop what they are doing and take notice when we love one another in the same way Jesus has loved us. An unbelieving world will stop and take notice when they see genuine love and unity being lived out in daily life by those who are so different from on another and yet one, truly one in Jesus.
One of the biggest problems that gets in the way of the unity of the followers of Jesus is our desire to determine the definition and design of our unity. Some determine that unity is based on uniformity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Scripture is filled with illustration after illustration of the diversity that is present among the followers of Jesus. This diversity was present even in the little group of Jesus’ disciples. Let me give you just one example. Matthew was a tax collector. He worked for the Romans in collecting taxes from his fellow Jews. Needless to say Matthew was seen as a sell-out by the Jews in his community. Another of Jesus’ disciples was Simon the Zealot. “Zealot” isn’t a nickname for Simon, but instead it describes the group he belonged to. Zealots were extremely pro-Israel. They were political revolutionaries who wanted nothing more than to free the Jews from the Romans. When the Jews rebelled against Rome in 66 A.D., the Zealots led the revolution. Zealots were known to assassinate tax collectors because of their affiliation with the Romans. Simon could have killed Matthew the Roman sympathizer if it had not been for one thing: Both men turned from their prior affiliation in order to follow Jesus. It was Jesus that enabled these political enemies to become brothers in Christ. It is here that we find the key to our unity.
God created all people. Jesus died so that people, not a specific subset of people, but people might be reconciled to the Father. One day, one glorious day, people from every walk of life, every tongue, every tribe, and every nation will gather around the throne and praise our God, and Jesus who sits upon the throne! We get a glimpse of this glorious picture in Revelation 5:9 where God gave John a preview of what will become reality for all of the followers of Jesus one great and glorious day. Read the Scripture with me.
9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9 NIVO)
Our unity is most evident, made crystal clear, when we are unified with people who are not like us. When people who are so different from one another from a cultural, political, ethnic, and economic standpoint are so bound together in a love that is stronger than family ties then the source of their love and unity becomes most apparent–the source is Jesus’ love for us, all of us.
This is a love and unity the world knows nothing about. The political and social movements of our society are increasingly being more and more narrowly defined. We recently saw a glaring example of this just a couple of months ago when women from across our nation came to Washington D.C. for the “Women’s March on Washington.” The list of speakers for the march was an “A list” of who’s who in our nation. Madonna, Ashley Judd, Hyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, Alicia Keys, and America Ferrera are just a few of the speakers who stood before the crowd to rally the women. What was billed as a show of the solidarity of women turned out to be something altogether different. Emma-Kate Symons, who writes for the New York Times, wrote about the gathering,
Just go to the official Facebook page of the march and associated events, read the online discussions, and there amid the enthusiasm and excitement you will witness the unfiltered and unedifying spectacle of women going at each other not because of the content of their character but because of the color of their skin, their gender, ethnicity, or religion. (Emma-Kate Symons, Agenda for Women’s March has been hijacked by organizers bent on highlighting women’s differences. New York Times, January 19, 2017.)
There was a big controversy leading up to the march when the organizers learned that pro-life women from across the country were planning on joining in on the march. The decision was made that pro-life women would not be allowed to march with the other women. Emma Green, who writes for The Atlantic, asked the question, “Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?” The answer that came back was, “No!”
What is presented to us as unity within political and social movements taking place today is fragmented and ever-changing because they are based on human ideologies. The unity of the Body of Christ is not based on an ideology, but on a Person and His name is Jesus. A.W. Tozer once said,
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)
Our unity, as well as our love for one another, is not something we have to create, it has already been established through what Jesus has done for us. Our unity has been established, but God calls us to “maintain” the unity of the family of faith. In Ephesians 4:3-6 we read,
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIVO)
I would think that you would agree with me that we’ve not done a good job at maintaining the unity provided for us through our bond in Jesus. We’ve squabbled and fussed, walked away and refused to reconcile over issues that should never divide us. We can disagree over topics and issues that are not central to who we are as followers of Jesus and still love one another with a deep abiding love. Churches have split over silliness like the kind of music to sing during morning worship or what the ministry staff should wear. Church fights have broken out over issues around the communion table; “Do we serve grape juice or wine?” “What kind of bread should we put on the communion table?” I actually heard about a Board meeting that grew tense over whether or not deviled eggs should be allowed at fellowship meals. Are you serious? If I would have been there I would have insisted that if they are served they would need to be put next to the angel food cake to balance things out! There are more serious conflicts about issues like the role of women in ministry, baptism, eternal security, and Jesus’ return, but if you and I disagree on these issues you are still my brother or sister in Christ.
George Whitefield and Charles Wesley were both committed men of God who lived in the 1700’s. The two men were friends, but they went back and forth over matters of theology. George Whitefield believed in the absolute Sovereignty of God, that God alone is responsible for our salvation. Charles Wesley agreed that God alone made our salvation possible, but ultimately salvation rested in our choice as to whether or not we would receive it. The two men argued and argued and refused to give an inch on their beliefs.
Someone once asked George Whitefield, “Do you think that when we get to heaven we will see Charles Wesley there?” “No,” said Whitefield, “I don’t think we will.” The man was so thrilled to hear George Whitefield’s answer. Then George spoke up, “I believe that Mr. Wesley will have a place so near the throne of God that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him.” Whitefield understood the words of Jesus. He knew that regardless of their disagreements on peripheral matters of theology, they were brothers in Christ and he loved Charles Wesley.
What makes us brothers and sisters, united by a love for one another that should never be broken, is not our unanimous agreement on this issue or that, but our having been saved and loved by the One who came to bring us together in worship and mission to a lost and broken world. Paul wrote to a fragmented and divided church in Corinth. In the opening of his letter to the brothers and sisters in Corinth he got right to the point. He wrote,
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NIVO)
The church in Corinth was majoring on the minors. Some liked Paul and others liked Peter. Some highlighted the gifts of the Spirit and others felt serving was more important. As they clung to their preferences and those who felt the same way they did, the church began to fracture, their unity began to crumble, and Paul reminded them of what was most important. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 with me.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NIVO)
Throughout Scripture we are reminded that there is diversity among the unity of the Body. Paul uses the illustration of the human body to remind of us how a diversity of function and design are to work together for the betterment of each one of us. Remember when Paul wrote,
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.” And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:21 NIVO)
I’ve been watching a series on Netflix called, “9 Months That Made You.” It’s been fascinating to learn about how the work begins soon after the sperm unites with the egg. Cells develop and specialize in miraculous ways. In week 7 of pregnancy the creation of 100,000 nerve cells in the baby’s brain takes place every minute. As the baby’s brain cells multiply they will branch out and connect, forming the primitive pathways for his or her central nervous system. By the time the baby is born he or she will have more than 10 million intertwined nerve cells. The same marvelous, miraculous story could be retold for the creation of the heart, lungs, liver, skin, skeletal system, and every other part of our bodies. Liver cells look almost nothing like nerve cells. Muscle cells are “gifted” in a totally different way than white blood cells. Each serves its purpose and functions according to its design, yet they all work together to make us who we are and to enable us to do what we do.
And so it is with the Body of Christ. God has designed you, He has given you gifts and abilities. He has equipped you with differing personalities, different physical and cognitive abilities, but He has done this for a purpose. The purpose is that we might use what He has given to us individually so that we might work together with the other members of the Body of Christ to bring glory, honor, and praise to God. As we work together, as we walk in love and unity, not uniformity or unanimity, but unity in our diversity the world will recognize there is something different about us and the difference is Jesus. He is the One who holds us together. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We forgive one another because He has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). We accept one another just as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7). We pray for one another because Jesus prays for us (Hebrews 7:25). We care, genuinely care for one another because Jesus cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We bear one another’s burdens because He bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19). We speak the truth to one another because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We serve one another because Jesus emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7).
Jesus is the glue that holds us together. We believe and we know that He is the long awaited Messiah who has come to rescue us from sin and eternal separation from God. He has rescued us from darkness and brought us into His marvelous light and it is not enough for us to know and experience His saving grace–we want all the world to know and experience His saving grace as well. His grace is life-giving. His grace is transforming. His grace was poured out at Pentecost to such a degree that it destroyed the barriers of gender, ethnicity, and social class. Paul, who described himself prior to coming to Jesus as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, and a persecutor of the church prayed daily and gave thanks that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile. After Paul came to know Jesus as Lord, Master, and Savior of his life wrote,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29 NIVO)
And if you belong to Jesus you are my brother, you are my sister. Oh my friend, Jesus has brought us together through His sacrificial death on the cross and how dare us allow anything to ever divide us. The world will continue to seek unity around all kinds of social and political causes, but they will eventually crumble because they are founded upon human ideologies and causes. Our cause is our King and His Kingdom and if you are here this morning and you’ve never surrendered your life to the King then I want to invite you to fall into His arms and grace and mercy this morning. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 27, 2017