On the last day 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.
- v1-5 Jesus prays for Himself
- v6-19 He prays for that immediage group of eleven disciples gathered around Him
- v20-26 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.
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.
We need strong reasons for strong choices. Let us read John 17:20-26 and let's see what Jesus prayed for you and me on that night before the cross.
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."
1. Jesus prays for the unity of the church
What could Christ have prayed for 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 of 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 tax collector who had sold out to Rome and Simon Peter the Zealot who had pledged to kill people like Matthew. No wonder Jesus prayed for that original eleven, "Lord make them to be one".
Do we have tensions in our meetings and in our ministries all because of our lack of unity? Do we have compassion for everyone and lose compassion for the ones who are in leadership? We have to let our relationships look beyond our selfish needs.
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 disciples.
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.
Do we ask God to give us the spirit of unity? No campaigns and activities will forge that. Can we be led by God's spirit to do that?
The pattern for the unity of disciples is unlike anything else on earth. It is nothing less than the unity of the Father and Son. 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.
2. 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 sight of united disciples will convince the world of the truth of Jesus' message and mission.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
We live in the world of disunity. We find disunity everywhere from our homes, our families, our work places, in local, state and national government, etc.
Only one single thing will compel the world to believe... a supernatural oneness in the family of God.
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.
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 who stay at home because on Monday morning they have heard Christians go to offices, colleges and factories and be terrible examples. They hear from slander their church, thgeir church events and the leadership of their church and these non-Christians have become cynical and have deafened their ears to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is litterally possible to commit spiritual murder outside the church in the world when we actually should be saving many souls. What do we do or talk during our fellowship after Sunday service?
We just worshipped on Sunday and we sound so cynical and unbelieving on Tuesday's. We have no faith in raising young people, work with the affluent or the professionals, we can't believe that a disciple can change and he or she can get married. We don't know if we can trust our family group leader, our zone leader, our young leaders to make their mistakes and learn how to handle situations. We want it all under our control.
Where does Jesus say be united? In the church and in the world be one, by what you say, and by what you do not say. If every disciples in this room 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. I have struggled with it so often".
Jesus prays that the present church on earth and the future church in heaven will see His glory. It is what we see when we look at God.
Christ has already revealed all the glory we can comprehend on earth below. Even now, when we get our eyes off of one another and comtemplate 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 even-increasing glory".
The more we look at Him, the more we will see forever. The more we see, the more we will become one forever. 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 evangelist, a program or one another.
To the extent we all look away to Jesus Christ, we will be drawn to one another.
As a challenge and encouragement let your commitment be a unifying factor and influence in
- The Kingdom of God
- In your family
- In your ministry