John 17, 20-26
TITLE: JESUS PRAYS FOR OUR UNITY
SCRIPTURE: John 17:20-26
The billboard shows a little girl sitting on her daddy’s shoulders waving an American flag … and the caption says ... WHAT MAKES US GREAT … “Unity, pass it on!”
Since 9/11 - “United We Stand” has been the theme – we want to project a united country.
Jesus also spoke about a unity far beyond patriotism.
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 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.
READ John 17:20-26
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, what He prayed for them, He then prayed for all believers.
We need to note here that Jesus asked God to give us unity as 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 center, 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.
J. Gordon Melton is a Methodist minister with an unusual hobby. His hobby is denomination hunting. He literally scours the country trying to count the number of major denominations in the United States. 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 many different denominations calling themselves Methodist: Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Free Methodist, Southern Methodist United Methodist, 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.
There is a danger here. We can reverse all that is to be accomplished by this "oneness."
Would you strike down the cross of Calvary? OR roll the stone back that covered up the empty tomb of Jesus? Would you say to the Holy Spirit of Pentecost "go back to the Father, leave the world?" You or I would never say this.
But according to the words of Jesus, if we do not reflect the unity that he desires we 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 you and I must act now to see that the church is one.
Where do we do it? . . . Inside the church and outside the church. In the church, we 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 . . . or they give Satan an opportunity to bring division.
IT’S LIKE A BOX OF CRAYONS – the crayons are different in color … different in size … different in use … but they all go back into the box together.
As Christians, we may be like different colors … different experiences, different worship styles, different approaches, etc. Some are newer and older colors … spiritually more experienced than others … some are new in the faith. The paper wrapper is peeling off of some crayons: like some believers show the evidence of suffering and pain and others are young in the faith with all the paper still in tact.
Yet, with all the differences … all of the crayons fit right back into the box. Any observer can see that they are all together and unified in their task of being crayons.
If the crayons refused to take their differences and get them back in the box together with the other crayons … well you can see my analogy, can’t you?
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. It is literally possible to commit spiritual murder outside the church in the world when we who ought to be one … but 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.
That glory is the outward, visible expression of love between the Father and the Son. The last part of verse 24 states: "the glory You have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." We will spend eternity meditating on the love between the Father and Son!
Why not start now? Our churches will never be fully united by looking at the pastor, a program, or one another. Likewise, our association 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.
As a symbol of your commitment to be a unifying factor and influence in …
· The Kingdom of God
· Your Church
· And your association
I want to ask you to take that crayon you received when you came in and come place it in this open, empty crayon box here at the alter.
Blest Be the Tie That Binds (BH #387; CH #433; LBW #370; LW #295; PH #438; TNCH #393; UMH #557; VU #602)
The Church's One Foundation (BH #350; CH #272; CO #489; GC #661; JS #455; LBW #369; LW #289; PH #442; TH #525; TNCH #386; UMH #545; VU #331, 332)