On the last night before Jesus went to the cross, He began to do what He now does eternally. A few hours before His arrest, Jesus prayed/interceded for His own disciples.
John 17 is a prayer of three sections.
· verses 1-5 Jesus prays for Himself.
· verses 6-19 He prays for that immediate group of eleven disciples gathered around Him.
· verses 20-26, He prays for all believers yet to come.
Beyond His death, Jesus expected a dynamic and growing church that would last throughout the ages.
· When Jesus looked at the face of Peter in that circle of eleven, He saw behind Peter the whole of Pentecost and thousands more behind them.
· When He looked at the face of John, He saw the church of Ephesus and all the churches of Asia Minor.
· And when He saw the gap where Judas Iscariot had been, surely he thought of the face of Paul and all of the churches of Europe.
· And crossing generations and oceans, right down to this very day, He said I pray for every one of them who will believe through the Word of that original eleven.
Jesus prayed just one thing. He prayed for believers unity, so that the unity of Christians would make such an impact that the world would believe He had sent Jesus the Son. Look with me at this passage in John 17:20-26, and let’s see what Jesus prayed for you and me on that night before the cross.
I. JESUS PRAYS FOR THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
What could Christ have prayed for in the final moments before His arrest? He might have prayed for His own strength, that the eleven would support Him that they would not flee from Him and His teachings. Instead, His prayer was dominated by a single great thought — the unity of the disciples. Jesus knew that the church could never make the impact on the world that He wished it to make unless spiritually the world saw in that church a oneness, a unity. The churches of our world have never taken these words of Jesus with the seriousness they deserve. Notice first of all in verse 11, that Jesus prayed for the unity of that original disciple group. This was no easy task in itself, and Jesus knew it!
In that original group there were incredible tensions. Tensions created by James and John when not long before that they had asked for the seat at the right and left hand of Jesus in heaven which caused an outrage of jealousy among the other disciples. Earlier on this same evening, the disciples were fuming with rage because there had been an argument among them as to who was the greatest.
In fact, in that little group there were all kinds of tensions. There was Matthew the Publican who had sold out to Rome and Simon Peter the Zealot who had pledged to kill people like Matthew the Publican. No wonder Jesus prayed for that original eleven, “Lord, make them to be one.”
That wasn’t all though. He moved beyond the eleven and prayed for the generations to come. In verse 21, He then prayed for all believers. We need to note here that when Jesus asked God to give us unity; it was a request. That means that unity is given and not achieved. It is indeed received, or Jesus wouldn’t have urged the disciples to “be one.” Rather, He looked to the Father and said grant to them the gift of unity. The unity of God’s people can never be fabricated by man … it must be generated by the Spirit of God. It can never be organized by the church it must be vitalized by the Spirit of God.
The pattern for the unity of believers is unlike anything else on earth. It is nothing less than the unity of the Father and Son. It is not merely a unity of organization, purpose, feeling, or affection. Just as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, we are to be so related in the church.
Christians are drawn to one another because they are drawn to a common centre, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus prayed that “they would be in us.” For that is the source of the power of that unity.
It’s as if every one of us in the church were a piece of crystal in a beautiful chandelier that God is making. And up at the top of that chandelier are Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three lights in one shining love one toward the other. And every one of us catches a little fragment of that light, and every one of us reflects it and breaks it up, reflecting it to one another, until the world looks at us, it sees shimmering there the unexplainable fact of the unity and love of God in His church. That’s the intention of Jesus Christ for His church.
A Minister researched how many church groupings there were, as of a few years ago he had counted over 1,200 denominations in this country.
Some of them are very interesting.
1. One of them is “The Church of the Kennedy Worshippers.” It is a church which actually believes that it can pray to the late President John F. Kennedy, and can be cured both of congenital defects as well as of terminal diseases.
2. Then there’s “The Church of the Ministry of Universal Wisdom.” They look for flying saucers to come.
3. And then there’s “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” It’s obviously a more contemporary church.
But of more interest to us is the fact that in that list of over 1,200 denominations he found more than 70 different denominations calling themselves Baptist: Seventh-Day Baptist, Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptist, General Baptist, Regular Baptist, strict Baptist, Southern Baptist, Grace Baptist and the list goes on and on. Is that really the kind of unity mentioned in the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ?
II. JESUS PRAYS FOR THE IMPACT OF A UNIFIED CHURCH
The impact of a unified church is that the world believes God the Father sent Christ the Son “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Only the obvious, visible unity of believers will convince the world of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Only the sight of united disciples will convince the world of the truth of Jesus’ message and mission. John 13:35 says: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We live in world of disunity. We find disunity everywhere from our homes, our families, our work places, in local, state and national government, etc. Some believe if we could just get a united theology we would compel the world to believe. But united theology was never promised to compel the world to believe. Human eloquence will not compel the world to believe, the size of our churches will never compel the world to believe. No denominational program, or slogan or goal will compel the world to believe. Only one single thing will compel the world to believe . . . a supernatural oneness in the family of God.
A truly unified community of people is a supernatural fact that must have a supernatural cause. The world is so disunited that a perfectly unified church compels the world to confess that God is at work among us. On the other hand, a disunited church reverses all the work of Christ and renders our witness to Him powerless and without effect.
But according to the words of Jesus, if we do not reflect the unity that he desires we might just as well strike down the cross, roll back the stone, and send the Spirit back to the Father, for the world cannot believe the Father sent the Son unless we demonstrate it in spiritual oneness. But wherever this occurs it makes an incredible impact.
Only the unleashed power of Jesus Christ can impact our world in this way. When do we take this gift of unity seriously in our own congregation? Just because it’s a gift doesn’t mean we’re to be passive. When should we act on it? It’s always God’s Now. This isn’t a secondary issue it’s a primary issue, it’s the last thing Jesus prayed about before His arrest. So it means that I must act now to see that the church is one.
Where do I do it? . . . Inside the church and outside the church. In the church, I must act as a unifying personality, seeking common ground, seeking to be a unifier. The blunt truth about any church is that there may be dozens of opinions at any one time about the dozens of things that the church is trying to do. But every believer must make a decision to be a unifier in the midst of God’s people
The need for this kind of unity is not only needed “in” the church but also “outside” the church. Do you realize that every Sunday, all over our area, there are people at home because on Monday morning they have heard Christians go to offices, plants and factories and criticize their church and other believers, and it has made them cynical and has deafened their ears to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We go out and instead of presenting the church as one . . . we criticize the church, its programs and its leadership.
Jesus says where? In the church and in the world be one, by what you say, and by what you do not say. If every believer would guard their lips to say “What I say will be unifying rather than dividing.” And when I hear that which is not unifying, I will not only not participate, but I’ll refute it.
III. JESUS PRAYS FOR THE GLORY OF A UNIFIED CHURCH
Jesus prays that the present church on earth and the future church in heaven will see His glory. “Glory” is the visible manifestation of all the divine attributes. It is what we see when we look at God. Christ has already revealed all the glory we can comprehend on earth below. In verse 22 Jesus says, “I have given them the glory that you gave me.” We see in the divine manhood of Jesus Christ all the glory that our eyes are capable of seeing below. Verse 22 continues saying that the purpose of showing us His glory was that “they may be one.” Even now, when we get our eyes off of one another and contemplate the revealed glory of God in Christ, we are one. That glory transforms us even now. Paul told the church in Corinth: “We…are being transformed into His likeness with an ever-increasing glory.”
Christ will fully reveal all of His glory in heaven: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory’ (:24a). There is more to come. We will be perfectly one when we perfectly see his glory. The final object of believers’ thought will be on the exalted Jesus Christ. The more we look at Him, the more we will see forever. The more we see, the more we will become one forever.
Why not start now? Our churches will never be fully united by looking at the minister, a program, or one another. Likewise, our denomination will never be fully united by looking at any leader or program as the answer to unity. To the extent we all look away to Jesus Christ, we will be drawn to one another.