Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
Text: John 17:20-26
26 February 2017
A few weeks ago we touched on Jesus’s prayer and I told you then that we would revisit it at the end of John’s Gospel. So here we are.
Our sermon text for today is John 17:1-3, 20-26. If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The word of God reads:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…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, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have 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 that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (ESV)
The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God!) May God add his blessings to the reading, the hearing, and the preaching of his word. All the church says: Amen!
+ PRAYER FOR UNION (NOT UNITY) – 17:20-23
The first thing to note is that Jesus prays for us – that he is our mediator and intercessor.
The night before he was arrested and crucified –- with the weight of the world bearing down on his back –- you and I were on his heart and mind and in his prayers.
What a comfort to know that Jesus was praying for us and that he is still praying for us–for you and for me!
His prayer is for all believers. But who are the believers?
According to Jesus a true believer is someone who actually trusts in Jesus – and who actively trusts in Jesus.
Let’s try to keep that in mind as we work through the text.
I do not ask for these [eleven disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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 that the world may believe that you have sent me. …that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
As you know, most people read this and think Jesus’ prayer is about unity –- a horizontal and human unity between every denomination under the sun.
That’s how I had read it for most of my life.
But Jesus did not pray for the unity of all denominations. He prayed for the oneness of all believers. He prayed that we might be one with the apostles, one with each other, and one with the triune God.
In other words, he prayed for all believers and their union and communion with God and all his people.
He prayed for our horizontal union with each other, and for our vertical union with the Father and Son.
He prayed for our horizontal communion with other believers, and for our vertical communion with the triune God.
Listen again to his requests:
that they may all be one Father as you are in me, and I am in you
that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me,
that they may become perfectly one
Jesus prayed for our union—not for our unity.
What’s the difference?
Unity is organizational, institutional, clinical, and external.
Union is organic, relational, personal, and internal.
Historically, Christians have worked for all kinds of unity with a genuine desire and effort to answer Jesus’ prayer.
We have worked for doctrinal unity, creedal unity, ecclesial unity, sacramental unity, missional unity, liturgical unity, social unity, and political unity.
So we have tested and tried all these approaches to unity (and more), yet everywhere we look we see disunity and division. Why?
All of them are based on our desires and efforts rather than on God’s grace and glory. None of our approaches to unity alone by themselves can reach the height, depth, or width necessary to establish unity—and all of them together fail to establish a context or framework for unity—much less for oneness.
I know we mean well, but our feeble attempts at unity always fail because we seek “unity” on our own terms rather than union on God’s terms.
And the fact that we seek unity instead of union shows that we misunderstand Jesus’ prayer request. Notice:
Jesus did not ask us to generate unity.
Jesus did not ask us to fabricate unity.
Jesus did not ask us to negotiate unity.
Jesus prayed and asked the Father to grant us union with each other and with the triune God.
Jesus asked the Father to give all who believe in him a deeply spiritual, relational, covenantal, and mystical oneness that is centered in Christ, and rooted, and grounded in the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Jesus prayed for a three-in-one union and one-in-three communion–a deeply trinitarian oneness based on eternal love–the same oneness enjoyed by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The prayer Jesus offered for all believers can only be answered by God the Father and Holy Spirit. Not by you, me, us.
Can we who believe in Jesus Christ through the word of the apostles ever enjoy union and communion with God and one another?
That is, Can *all* those who believe in Jesus Christ through the word of the apostles really and truly experience union and communion with the triune God and with one another?
The Answer is “Yes!”
How? By the grace of God and for the glory of Christ alone.
On the surface we are all so different and distinct and divided. Union and communion seems improbable, if not impossible. But looks can be deceiving.
Deeper down–below the surface and beyond cosmetic appearances—all who truly believe in Christ, believe in Christ through the apostles’ word. And all those who truly believe in Christ are one in Christ–in spirit and truth.
Externally we appear to suffer division, but internally we actually share union and communion with Christ.
So there is an apparent contradiction between the outside and inside—the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
So let me ask again: Can all believers be one with each other and one with the triune God?
Our experience tells us one thing, but God’s word tells us another thing. Which one tells us the truth? Which one do we believe?
Let me say it again: Jesus did not pray for our external/carnal unity; rather he prayed for our internal/spiritual union with each other and with the triune God.
Unity depends on man’s desire and effort—that’s why we always fail to achieve it.
Union depends on God’s grace and glory—that’s why God never fails to achieve it.
+ PRAYER FOR COMMUNION (NOT COMMUNITY) – 17:24-26
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Throughout the Upper Room discourse Jesus encourages us to ask the Father for whatever we desire. He models that kind of prayer for us here.
“Father, I desire/want all whom you have given me (union) [via election and predestination] before the foundation of the world to be with me where I am (communion),
Why? So that we can see the glory that the Father gave him before the foundation of the world—just because the Father loved his Son.
“Father, I desire/want you to love all those you have given me the way you love me; I want your love to be in them, and I want to be in them (communion).
Why? So that we can experience the same love with which the Father loved Jesus.
In other words, Jesus wants the Father to grant us a common-experience of friendship and fellowship with the Son. He was not asking the Father to form a social community around him. He was asking the father to create a spiritual communion with him and for him.
Father, will you let all those who believe into me come with us?
Father, will you make sure they experience our union and communion?
Father, will you grant them union and communion with each other and with us?
Jesus wants us to experience all the cool things and places that he experiences with the Father. Like the glory which the father bestowed upon him–eternal glory manifested in infinite love.
Deeper still, he wants us to experience the deep-dwelling love of the Father. He wants the Father to make sure that you know that he loves you the way he loves Jesus? How cool is that?!
So what do you think: Will the Father grant his Son’s wish? Will the Father give Jesus what he asked for?
The answer is – Yes! He has granted it, is granting it, and will continue to grant it.
Echoes of Jesus’s Prayer in John 17:20-26 —
Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Church catholic. Fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; Give us grace to seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: just as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever lives to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen (Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity)