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Series: Receiving life by believing in God’s Son (a Gospel of John study)

Sermon Text:  John 17:20-26                                                     

Key Word: Unity (*The accounts in chapters 14-17 are only found in John)   We’ve been studying this beautiful 26 verse prayer in John 17 all month, and if you’ve missed a lesson or want to relisten, the audio and notes are on our website. So far, we’ve discovered how Jesus prayed for Himself and for His first disciples. He prayed for their protection, joy, and unity because, as we’ve been learning, the church on earth isn’t like the church in heaven. We may want churches to be safe, problem-free utopias, but Christ’s first church had a culture where everyone, even a “Judas type”, was offered plenty of time to “come and see” without being pressured into full agreement. Of course, this adds tension and risk to church life, but where else can people in this polarized world find such an amazing opportunity? To embrace our challenging mission, we must explore today’s…

BIG IDEA: Jesus prayed the unity of His future church.  

Question #1: Is church unity realistic? Verses 20-21 begin with Jesus saying, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one." Some think the church Jesus founded has been so diluted and divided that it’s no longer relevant, but I can easily name 60+ local pastors/churches of various denominations, who routinely pray for one another and work together (examples). We don’t agree on every detail or “do church” the same, but we share 2 key non-negotiables: 1) The only path to salvation is grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son; and 2) Our faith is relevant, not because churches are perfect, but because Christianity is true. In verses 9-19 Jesus referred to God’s Word as truth which sanctifies (purifies) us. This makes truth essential for transformation and unity--it’s like a map back to God in a world of ungodly ideas. Some say truth is no longer knowable, but in a recent 4 part series on justice and race cultural guru Tim Keller suggested that, “We are all united by the truth of Scripture, but our doctrine of sin teaches that we come to Scripture with self-justifying hearts and many other emotional and cultural blinders, and so we often miss things the Bible is saying to us. Experience can change this.” John 17 shows us truthful words were the basis of an ongoing conversation that kept human Jesus aligned with God’s ways when life went sideways. When people are born again by the Word of God, we’re invited into this holy conversation and family dynamic where love compels a willingness to re-think, deny selfish desires, and let truth reform our character and direction, making church unity realistic! Let’s go to…

Question #2: Why is church unity so important to Jesus? The answer is in verses 21-24, "… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you’ve given me I’ve given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Twice, He referred to church unity as “evangelistic” (i.e., it helps people believe in God). Why did He say this? Because in a polarized world of ideas, it’s stunning to see people agree on and unite around anything! Now, I don’t mean we all memorize the same answers, rather we have divine tools (like mercy, grace, and forgiveness) that enable lively, interesting, and challenging conversations among diverse people. We believe in absolute, uncompromising truth AND unending love that is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way, and keeps showing up no matter what (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)? We embrace the mission of Ephesians 4:1-3 to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Churches that pursue truth at the expense of love and unity, have lost sight of the pattern Jesus established. Finally, this leads to…

Question #3: How does unity in Christ help fix what’s wrong? In the final verses of this prayer, Jesus gives voice to a tension Christians constantly feel--the desire to be with Jesus in heaven’s glory, and the need to make God’s name and love famous on earth. Verses 24 and 26 express this tension, "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you’ve given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world…I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you’ve loved me may be in them, and I in them." I’ll express this tension another way…how do we find the will to make God’s name and love famous in a world of ongoing injustice? That comes from seeing what Jesus saw in verse 25, "O righteous Father, even though the world doesn’t know you, I know you, and these know you’ve sent me." Jesus was encouraged that the wheels of justice had been set in motion, not because the world suddenly turned to God but because a few people were starting to know His Father and believe He had been sent by God to bring about justice in the most unexpected and unjust thing to have ever happened--God’s sinless Son willingly bore our guilt and shame on the cross.  

Let’s pray: Father, it excites me to hear Jesus praying for us to be with Him in Heaven, how you set the plan of salvation in motion before the foundation of the world, and how we can experience a taste of ETERNAL life in this PRESENT life through glimpses of remarkable love and unity. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t sent to establish a perfect church or government or else He’d have healed everyone and everything. Instead, you sent your Son to model how we can compassionately embody your Words (truth) in ways that highlight your patient plan to establish eternal righteousness through His life, death, and resurrection. As we rightly seek to end injustice, help us remember the justice we long for appeared to us in merciful love and to follow in the footsteps of the one you sent to do the job. Amen.