Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
April 29, 2001
This morning we come to the end of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17. This prayer has come at the conclusion of Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse in which He gives His final teachings to His disciples just prior to His arrest, trial and crucifixion. As we have already seen in the last two weeks, this
prayer reveals the relationship between the Father and the Son and the eternal purpose of mankind.
It is not often that we are forced to take a step back to see the big picture when we are doing Bible Study. Our tendency is to have our focus narrowed onto the particular lessons that might come from any given text. If we are not careful, we can become so myopic that we miss the point of the passage. Jesus’
prayer has very specific requests that we might concentrate on, but it also has broad themes and an insight into the workings of the triune Godhead that force us to come to grip with God’s larger plan.
Yes, Jesus prays for His glory in the first part of the prayer. We even see His longing to return to the glory that He had with the Father prior to the creation of the world (5). Jesus prays for His disciples for He will soon leave them in this evil world and He desires the Father to guard and keep them that they might be with Him in eternity. He asks that they be sanctified in truth so that they can carry out the mission for which they have been sent into the world. This morning as we study the last section of this prayer we will see Jesus’ prayer for the unity of those who have believed in Him after the disciples. He wants us to be unified. But in the midst of all of these particular requests is the grand theme of the love
between the Father and the Son which is extended to us who have been redeemed by Jesus. We are included in a central position in an eternal plan of the demonstration of love between the Father and the Son.
Turn to John 17:20-26. Here we find Jesus praying, “I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father,
[art] in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. 22 “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that
Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world. 25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known Thee, yet I have known Thee; and these have known that Thou didst send Me; 26 and I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith
Thou didst love Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus Prays for Us
The first thing that comes to our attention in verse 20 is that Jesus is praying for us with the indication that we are included in some of the elements that He had prayed on behalf of His disciples. Jesus does not make His requests to the Father on behalf of the disciples alone, but also for us who “believe in [Jesus] through their word.” The confidence that there would be those that would believe in the Christ through the testimony of His disciples is expressed here in using a present participle for something that was to happen in the future.
This in itself would have to have been quite a comfort to the disciples later when they remembered this prayer. They would be able to carry out the mission Jesus gave to them to bear witness of Him, and that witness would be effective in bringing people to also believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It would be through their word that these people would come to believe. It is through what they wrote down as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) that we came to believe in Jesus Christ.
That is still the same promise upon which we work today. We do not proclaim Jesus to others on the basis of our speaking ability or agility to win an argument. We do not bring people to Jesus based on our ability to market His kingdom program. It is based simply on repeating what we have received from the disciples of Jesus. The Father had given Jesus His Word which Jesus in turn gave to the disciples both Himself and later through the Holy Spirit, and the disciples in turn have passed that to us through what they have written down in the Bible. The power of the Bible is that it is the Word of God and not the religious philosophical musings of men. We are foolish to think that we can somehow improve it through marketing techniques and psychology. The tragedy of the efforts to improve the gospel through such things is that the message gets diluted and changed. Sometimes it is relatively minor and it only robs the person from experiencing a true walk of faith with Christ, for to the degree a person depends on man’s wisdom instead of God, is the degree to which they are not trusting God. Tragically, these efforts sometime change the gospel to the point where people say they believe in Jesus, but they have never turned from their sin to righteousness in Christ. They have been given a false hope for they remain condemned in their sin until they receive forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer here is a present comfort to us knowing that Jesus prayed for us long before we were even born. God has an eternal plan and time simply reveals it unfolding. Notice that in verse 24 believers are referred to as “they also, whom Thou hast given Me.” That is the same language that was used for the disciples back in verses 6 & 9. We are also a gift from the Father to the Son as were the disciples. We then, are also not of this world even as Jesus is not of this world (14). And being those not of this world, we can also conclude that we are to be sanctified in truth just as were the disciples.
The purpose of Jesus’ prayer for us is explained starting in verse 21.
United in One Another: Father, Son and Believers
Jesus wants us to be one even as the Father and the Son are unified that we might be in them. This is the same language that Jesus had used regarding the disciples back in verse 11. Jesus repeats this theme in regard to us who have followed the disciples in verses 21, 22, 23, & 26. When you see a theme repeated in a passage you can be sure that it is important. This theme of unity of the Father and the Son which then extends outward is repeated throughout this prayer. Unity that reflects the oneness of the Father and the Son is important to Jesus.
The Basis of Unity: The basis of unity with one another is the unity of the Father with the Son. It is out of our individual unity with our God that we can become unified with one another. There is no other way to have true unity. You may be able to achieve conformity through the exercise of power, but that is not the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.
For example, any military unit demands conformity in the ranks and severely disciplines anyone that steps outside the bounds of the rules of that conformity. Even in simple things this is true. Just ask anyone who has been in the military what would happen if they showed up for inspection in their fatigues when the uniform for the day was Class A dress. The Father does not coerce the Son into unity.
You can also achieve a coalition by concentrating on key points of agreement and ignoring the key points of disagreement. That is the effort of the ecumenical movement which calls for all churches that “call on the name of Jesus” to unite on that basis. But how can that be done when the “Jesus” some of these churches call on is not the Jesus described in the Bible. Supposed unity without doctrinal agreement is only a weak coalition. The Father and the Son are unified and that unity is strong because they do agree on doctrine.
The Essence of Unity. The essence of unity among believers must arise from and reflect the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. There is of course a unity they have in being together in the triune relationship of the Godhead, but we cannot understand the fullness of that unity for we cannot understand how three individual persons can also be one essence that is the eternal God. However, we can understand quite a bit of the unity between the Father and the Son because they are of the same mind, love and spirit and are intent on the same purpose. That is the same thing that the Apostle Paul calls us to in Phil. 2:2. It is not hard to see how this essence of unity would be produced within the church as we became individually unified with God according to Jesus’ prayer here.
If our minds are being renewed as stated in Romans 12:2 we will be transformed from what we were when living according to our sinful nature into new creatures who are living according to righteousness. We will see the world from God’s perspective and act accordingly. As each of us has our very thoughts taken captive to obedience to Christ as 2 Cor. 10:5 tells us we should, we will all share the same ideas and thoughts.
If each of us yields ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we are commanded to in Ephesians 5:16, (and let me remind you that the idea of being filled with the Spirit is to yield yourself to His control over your life), then we will all be directed in unity. That does not mean we will all do the same things, but as 1 Cor. 12 describes, the Spirit will use each of us with our different gifts, abilities and ministries in harmony with one another to make up a unified body of Christ. In order to submit to the Spirit we must be humble and humility brings about the harmony needed for unity.
As each of us pursues the same love of the Father and Jesus, then there can be true unity. Remember that Jesus defined the proof of this love for Him in John 14:21 as being obedient to Him. I think we can all understand that if every single one of us was truly obedient to Jesus in all things we would have a unity with one another. Our love for one another is not a fuzzy warm feeling of affection, though you may also have that for the ones you love, but it is a carrying out of Jesus’ command to love one another as He has loved us. We give of ourselves sacrificially for the best interest of the other person. That is exactly what Phil. 2:3,4 tells us we should be doing. It is this kind of love for one another that will prove us to be disciples of Jesus.
If these previous three are true, we have the same love, mind and spirit, then we will also have the same purpose for we will submit our selfish desires to the will of God. We will still be different in many ways with different gifts, abilities, ministries and even preferences, but we would have the same purpose of glorifying God in all things.
The Good Love Triangle
Most of us have heard about love triangles and associate them with something bad. Jesus presents a love triangle here that is good. The unity that exists between the Father and the Son and then extends to us flows out of this love triangle. It is spoken of throughout this section of the prayer.
The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father and Jesus prays that we may in Them (vs. 21). The glory which Jesus received from the Father He gives to us that we might be one as They are one (vs. 22). Jesus is in Us and He is in the Father that we might be perfected in unity and by that let the world know that the Father sent the Son and loves us even as He loves the Son (vs. 23). Jesus has made the Father’s name known to us so that the love the Father has for the Son might be also in us and He in us and from that comes request to have us with Him in heaven (vs. 24-26). Believers are a gift from the Father to the Son and then back from the Son to the Father.
This is a good and holy love triangle. The three points on it are the Father, the Son and believers. The love between each works both ways. The Father loves the Son who loves believers who then love the Father. At the same time, the Father loves believers who love His Son Who loves Him. It is an amazing truth to note that the love the Father has for the Son is the love which He also has for us. The end of verse 23 makes that clear – “and didst love them, them even as Thou didst love Me.” At the end of verse 26 this is the love that Jesus prays would be in us – “that the love wherewith Thou didst love Me may be in them.”
The Purpose of Unity
Now this love between the Father, Son and believers is not without purpose. It has a purpose that was forged in eternity past. I have already pointed out in past sermons and briefly today that the redeemed are a love gift from the Father to the Son and that Son then purchases their redemption through His sacrifice of Himself on the cross as our substitute. The Father then glorifies the Son for this with a name above every name and the Son returns the redeemed to the Father that they might glorify Him forever. But there is also a temporal purpose to all of this that is explained in this passage.
Witness to the World
The unity that we are to have with one another is to be a reflection of the unity of the Father and the Son. This in turn is to a witness to the world.
To Believe. Jesus prayed in verse 21 that “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, [art] in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.” The unity that exists between the Father, Son and believers would be a means that would bring some in the world to believe that Jesus was sent by God. They would come to faith that Jesus was the Christ.
True unity in the church is a marvelous witness of Jesus Christ. It is not that hard to get people from the same economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to work together in a group. They already share a similar heritage and values. But the church is made up of people from all sorts of different backgrounds who hold to different values. How do you get such a diverse group together and work in harmony with one another on a voluntary basis? That can only happen if they do share something in common with each other which is greater than the differences.
All the individuals who believe in Jesus can work in harmony with one another because each shares the belief that Jesus is who He claims to be and submit themselves to Him. Their common belief and commitment to follow Jesus is greater than their differences. That is why unity in the Church it is a testimony to the identity and nature of Jesus. The shared faith of the believers brings about a unity which is an encouragement to others to also believe that Jesus is from God.
To Know. In verse 23 Jesus says something very similar. I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me. Here Jesus states that this unity would bring some in the world to know that He was sent by God and that God loves those who believe in Him.
The word for “know” here is experiential knowledge, but even so there is a difference between believing something and knowing something. I may know something by experience and still not believe it is something I should be involved with. If I went to watch people bungee jump I would know by the experience of watching them that they did not die and even seemed to have enjoyed their experience. At the same time, I would still not believe that I should be involved in that activity.
In a similar way, the unity of believers can lead people in the world to the logical conclusion that Jesus was sent from God and that God loved His people, but they might still withhold their own trust in those facts for their own salvation. They might still hold to beliefs that keep that knowledge from making any practical difference in their own lives. Perhaps they believe in other gods and look to them as superior. Perhaps they simply don’t understand the full message of the gospel and how it could apply to them personally. Perhaps they do understand, but still insist on doing things their own way regardless. I have done enough counseling with people to know that they often go against what they even acknowledge to be true to still try and do things their own way. And as foolish as it sounds, they will sometimes even acknowledge that the consequences I warn them about will probably occur, but they are still going to pursue their own way.
Unity within the followers of Jesus Christ bears testimony that He is from the Father and that the Father also loves them regardless of whether others respond in faith themselves or just acknowledge those facts. As I already pointed out, the unity of believers in Jesus demonstrates that Jesus is from God because of our mutual submission to Him and placing all our differences as secondary to that. This unity also demonstrates the Father’s love for us, for in attesting that Jesus is from God, we are also attesting that God has loves us enough to send Him to redeem us. Jesus Christ is the proof of the Fathers love. Paul stated this clearly in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The unity of believers is, therefore, very important. How does that
unity come about and how can we maintain it?
Becoming Unified in the Church
As I have already pointed out, our unity as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is based upon our individual unity with the Father and the Son. I t is our mutual submission to Him that allows us to work in humility and harmony with one another. As our vertical relationship with God is aligned properly and we are following Him as we should, then we can easily become properly aligned in our horizontal relationships with other believers and work according to God’s commands with one another. We still have our differences, but all those become secondary to the unity we have in Jesus. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:4-6, we are of “one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” This unity causes us to also strive to be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in Spirit and intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2,3).
The unity we are to have starts with our individual unity with God and then extends to one another. We are to set aside our pride selfishness and be strive to be humble and considerate of others. We strive to have the same attitude that was in Jesus who submitted Himself to the Father’s will and left the glories of heaven to become a man and pay the price of our sin. He gave up Himself for us. We are to Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4).
In doing this we must be careful to understand that unity is not uniformity. We do not have to have the same tastes and opinions on all things to be unified. Our unity is not based in dressing alike, being involved in the same hobbies, sharing the same political opinions, or liking the same kind of music. Our unity is based in what Jesus states in John 17:25,26. Jesus Christ has revealed the Father to us and we have believed Him. His love is now in us. We are in Him and He in us. Our unity is not a forced uniformity, but an inward spiritual reality which produces an outward cooperation and harmony.
In order to maintain that unity we must make sure that we agree on the essentials and extend grace in the non-essentials. We must also understand the difference between what is essential and what is not. When there are disagreements, unity is maintained when all parties involved seek the Lord first and foremost. We must place His kingdom and righteousness above all personal desires and preferences. We then work through problems, including personality conflicts in order to bring praise to our Saviors name.
When people will not work through problems there are only two possibilities. It may be a demonstration that they are either not true followers of Christ, for as 1 John 2:19 states it, They went out from us, but they were not [really] of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but [they went out,] in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. The other possibility is that they are just demonstrating their great immaturity. They are living in selfishness and empty conceit instead of the humility of mind that was in Jesus and should be in His followers.
I mentioned this some weeks ago, but it bears repeating. Others will know that we are Christians by our true, sacrificial love for one another. If there is going to be a broken relationship in your life, make sure that it is never because of your own disobedience to Jesus or a lack of love on your part. Let it be based on either a lack of love on their part, or their rejection of Jesus Christ living in you.
Jesus prayed for us. Be sanctified in truth. Rejoice in the loving relationship you can have with the Father and the Son. Carry out the mission for which Jesus has put you here on this earth. In humility, be unified with fellow followers of Jesus Christ. Look forward to the day you will be with Jesus forever.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “unity” is used 2) Talk with your parents about how people in church can be unified. What can you do to help?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of John 17:20-26? Who is Jesus praying for and why? How would this have encouraged the disciples who heard Him praying? How does this comfort us? On what basis should we proclaim the gospel? What is the relationship between the Father, the Son and believers? How is unity different from conformity or a coalition? Why can’t there be unity with “all who call on the name of Jesus?” What is the essence of unity between believers? How is unity achieved in the Church? How do you match those characteristics? What is the “Good love triangle?” What is the relationship between the Father’s love for the Son and His love for us? What is the purpose of unity among believers? How does unity among believers help others to know and believe that Jesus was sent by the Father and are love by Him? What is the theological basis of unity in the Church? What is the practical basis of unity in the Church? How should Christians deal with the differences that exist between them? How do you deal with those differences? When a person will not work out a problem with a believer, what do they demonstrate about themselves
Jesus Prays for Us
The power of the Bible is that it is the Word of God and not the religious philosophical musings of men. We are foolish to think that we can somehow improve the gospel message.
United in One Another: Father, Son and Believers
The Basis of Unity
It is out of our individual unity with our God that we can become unified with one another.
The Essence of Unity
The essence of unity among believers must arise from and reflect the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.
The Good Love Triangle
The Purpose of Unity
Witness to the World
All the individuals who believe in Jesus can work in harmony with one another because each shares the belief that Jesus is who He claims to be and submit themselves to Him.
Becoming Unified in the Church
Our unity as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is based upon our individual unity with the Father and the Son. I t is our mutual submission to Him that allows us to work in humility and harmony with one another.
To maintain unity we must make sure that we agree on the essentials and extend grace in the non-essentials and we must understand the difference between what is essential and what is not.
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