(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)
A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone. When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.
“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church. It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”
“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.
“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.
(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)
Why is that joke funny? Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?
- Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)
He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.” We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer. There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God). There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God. As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.
An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.” An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality. This news is too good to keep to ourselves. Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.
In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.” Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.
- Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)
The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.” When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity! We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.
I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own. If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God? God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.
This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed. This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.
In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.” The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other. This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.
In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways. First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.” The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift. Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.” The unity God gives is COMPLETE. God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.
The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things. One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father. Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world. One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity. How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?
- Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)
“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment. Go back to John 14:1-4. What did Jesus promise His disciples? He promised a heavenly home with lots of room! That should create confidence.
Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven. Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.
We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory. We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit. (See Matthew 7:21-23.)
“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.” In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.
“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth. Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.
“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.
“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.
- Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)
The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must. Why don’t worldly folk know the Father? There are at least four reasons:
One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.
Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”
Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.
Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God. They are not innocent or ignorant victims. The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.
Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD. In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.
“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.
“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.” Jesus keeps this promise through you and me. He makes God known through us!
LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world. We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words. The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.
Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.
The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer. The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.
Those facts ought to be instructive to us. Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.
Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed. First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him. He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us. He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.
He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord. While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.
Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?” Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love. These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith. We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.