John 17, from April 11, 2013

Jesus’ Prayer of Intercession

Read 17:20-26

These are the words that Jesus prays about us – you and me! There is something special to me about reading the words in verse 20 – almost like Jesus was thinking about me personally when he spoke these words. This just feels personal. So I want to focus this morning on these words, since Jesus prays them for us here today.

There is something else significant about verse 20: it shows Jesus’ divine foreknowledge. Jesus knew his mission would succeed. He knew that he would die and be raised again. He knew that he would send his Spirit. He knew the apostles would preach. He knew people would be converted, and the church would be formed. He knew that all of us here today have come to know Christ as a result of the apostles’ witness. He knew with absolute certainty that what he has prayed for up to this point would happen.

What is it that Jesus prays so personally for us? He prays for unity. He prays that all would be one, just as he is one with the Father. Now, it is important to note what this unity is NOT. Jesus is not praying for institutional unity. What do I mean by that? Jesus is not praying that the church today would be one single, worldwide, ecumenical church. He is not saying that churches should all put aside their doctrinal differences to be one big happy church. No, I think that Jesus would be perfectly ok with the fact that there are many different Bible believing denominations. In fact, I think that God might just be delighted that there are so many different ways to worship him in all kinds of different Bible believing churches around the world.

What Jesus does pray for in this chapter is a unity of love, a unity of obedience to God and His Word, and a united commitment to His will. We do not have to be uniform to be unified. But we do need to be loving, respectful, encouraging, prayerful, etc to those who are in God’s family with us.

All believers belong to one body of Christ. We are part of one family – the family of God. We are to be spiritually united, and this unity is to show in the way we live. It is supposed to be the same kind of unity that Jesus has with his Father. And as a unified body, we are to be unified with God. This means that everything that we do, we do through the Father and to please the Father, just as Jesus did. The result of this kind of unity should be that the world will see and believe.

This unity is intended to be observable.

Who are we, as believers, to be unified with? Those we get along well with? Those we attend church with? Those who believe the same things we do?

It is so easy and so tempting to get caught up in theological ideas and beliefs. And this is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is important and necessary that we study the Bible and ascertain what we believe that it is teaching. Theology – what we believe the Bible is teaching and how to put it into practice – helps to shape the individual churches. Doctrine is important. It is what makes us distinct. But the distinct is just part of what defines the Trinity. In spite of their distinct nature and roles, they are completely one, completely unified. And we are to be that way too. So this unity is to transcend local church, the church body in the church building we belong to. It is to transcend denomination. It is to transcend city and country. The only determining factor is believing in who God is, what He has done for us, and why we need Him. We are to be one with all believers, even the ones who think differently, worship differently, believe differently. We are to love one another sacrificially, joyfully. We are to work together to tell the truth of the gospel and to show the love of Christ.

Why is unity so important? “That the world may believe that you have sent me.” As the church genuinely loves one another with the kind of love and unity that reflects the love and unity Jesus and the Father have for one another, people will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. “This kind of unity will be so compelling, so un-worldly, that their witness as to who Jesus is becomes explainable only if Jesus truly is the revealer whom the Father has sent.

And then through this unity, the world get sense that God’s love for his people is deep, intimate, lasting and unique. Though the world may not be able to identify it as such, they should be able to sense that God loves his people the way that he loves his Son.

If the church has this kind of unity, the world should be sitting up and taking notice. The world should be responding. It seems to me that the world will respond in one of two ways – either they will be offended and despise us the way they despise Jesus, or they will be drawn to us and want to know more. For those who are drawn to Jesus, what a beautiful thing they should be observing, this kind of unity of love and belief among God’s people.

So is this what they are seeing? I think we know that the answer is all too often “no”. This fact is sad…but perhaps it is not all together too surprising. The church is made up of a bunch of sinners saved by grace. If only all of the sin went away when we believed, and we were able to love each other without failing. If only we could respect our differences of opinions while still honoring and supporting one another. If only…

I think there might be a reason that Jesus prays to the Father asking for this kind of unity, rather than teaching it in the previous chapters, as he gave his final instructions to his disciples before his arrest, death, and resurrection. Unity isn’t something we can just force if it isn’t there. It’s beyond just me. Unity means everyone working together. So just one or two of us trying really hard to make it happen isn’t enough. Think of a marriage where the spouses have grown far apart. Over the span of many years, countless hurtful things have been said and scars cut deep. Being a team is the furthest thing from either of their minds. Then suppose that one of them is ready to change, ready to reconcile. One is ready to be close to the other again. That one person is not enough to heal the marriage, is it? Both partners have to move together to bridge the separation and hurt. If that is true for just two people in a marriage, how much more is that true when we are talking about millions of people who exist together in the universal church.

Does the body of Christ lack unity? Certainly. What can we do about it? We can do what Jesus does. We can pray. We must start there. And then we can take steps to bring about unity in just our small little circle of influence, and keep praying that this unity will grow and grow.

And we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus wants the same thing for us. I believe that Jesus is still praying this same prayer for us today. God will answer our prayers for unity. Jesus promised that whatever we ask for in his name will be given. Now, we have to remember that it might not look like what we expect it to or want it to. But if we pray, unity will be increased. Also, let’s not forget to check the motives of our prayers. Why do we ask for unity? Jesus says that our motives should be the same as his. The reason that we should want unity among the body of Christ is so that all glory will be given to God. This is not about me, it’s not about my local church, it’s not about the universal church. It is all about bringing glory to God.

And then there is the amazing promise that this unity will finally be perfectly realized. Verse 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

One day we will be with Jesus in heaven. When we are there, we will finally see His glory in its fullness. And once we do, our unity will be complete. For we will fully understand that only he is worthy and we will never again think of ourselves. Sin will have no place, and only right thinking and complete love will exist. The unity that Jesus prays we will have – we will know that kind of blissful unity for eternity!

So this morning, I want to close by asking a bunch of questions of self-reflection, because I want us to be challenged by this prayer that Jesus prays.

1. What are you praying for? Jesus prays for our unity. Are you praying for unity? Are you praying for other churches? Are you praying for those churches that are struggling? Churches might be struggling because of persecution, or because of low numbers of attendees or low finances. They might be struggling to believe the truth of the Bible. They might be struggling with sin. There are so many things. Are you praying for others? Are you praying for unity in your own church? Are you praying for unity with the believers that you come into contact with? Are you praying that you will forgive and be forgiven? Are you praying that you will be loving and compassionate? Are you praying that your fellow believers in your local church would be on the guard against sin and unbelief? Are you praying that the church would be seeking solely to glorify God?

2. What are you striving for? Are you working to be one with those in the Body of Christ? Are you seeking to form deep relationships within your church? Are you looking for ways to care for others? Are you praying for them? Are you forgiving and asking for forgiveness? Do you gossip about those in the church? Are you engaging regularly in studying together, praying together, learning together, sharing with one another? Do you feel like you are part of a team – “Team God?” Do you focus more on the differences in churches unlike yours, or do you focus on what you have in common – believe in and love for the One True God? Are you partnering in any way with the Body of Christ outside of your own local church? How are you furthering unity?

3. For what (or whose) purpose? Is it for God’s glory? All that Jesus did, every move that Jesus made, his every thought and motive, was to bring glory to God. Are you keeping this perspective? Are you more concerned for your glory? For your church’s glory? Or for God’s glory?

What an amazing thing the body of Christ is! What potential we have, as we continue to pray for unity. In fact, let’s do just that right now. At our tables, let’s take a few minutes to pray like Jesus did. You can pray about maybe something specific that has hit home with you this morning, or just pray more generally for unity in the Body.

Mary L

I am a wife, a mom of three, and a Bible study teacher. But most importantly, I am a child of God. I am so thankful for the opportunity to glorify God by teaching His Word to women at my church. When I get a moment of spare time, I like to spend it reading, running, playing outdoors, or taking a long soak in the tub. I am passionate about travel, about my kiddos, about learning, and about my Savior.

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