God Designed Transitions
You probably have an idea of the timeline of what is often called the holy week, the week before Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. We have His entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday when Jesus enters the city with great fanfare. During the first part of the week, Jesus spends time in and around the city teaching His followers about many different things. When we come to the Passover meal, the night before Jesus was crucified, Jesus meets specifically with the 12 disciples, not only celebrate Passover with them, but to talk about things that were upon His heart. Wouldn’t it have been neat to be a fly on the wall while Jesus met with His disciples? This was an evening of very specific instruction and John’s Gospel records some of it for us in John chapters 13-16.
Jesus begins the evening by washing His disciples’ feet as an example of the servant style of leadership He expected from them. Jesus talked about the betrayal that would happen in the wee hours of the next morning by Judas Iscariot. He also talked about Peter’s denial before the cock would crow at sunrise. Jesus tells them about the place He will be preparing for them in His Father’s house and promises the Holy Spirit will come to them as He will not leave them as orphans.
Jesus shares that He is the true vine and that God is the husbandman and anyone who abides in the vine will produce fruit. Jesus addresses how that the world hates Him and because of its hatred for Him, the world will hate His disciples. He reassures the them that the Holy Spirit will be with them even during those times that are difficult. Jesus prepares them for what was about to happen. He would be gone for a little while, referring to His death, but in a little while they would see Him, referring to His resurrection, but that eventually He would be going to the Father. Their sorrow over His death will be turned to joy in His resurrection. Jesus tells them to always remember that He has overcome the world!
Then we come to what should be one of our most treasured texts of Scripture, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17. In this prayer, Jesus prays from a heart of compassion and concern for those He came to save. He begins by praying for Himself in verses 1-6 as He considers the work the Father has sent Him to do. The work of salvation through His death on the cross. He prays for His disciples in verse 7-19 because He knows the difficulties they will face. He prays for God to protect the disciples from Satan. But as we come to verses 20-26, Jesus prays for the church. He prays for all those who will yet come to know Him as Lord and Savior and become a part of His Body, the Church.
Let’s read John 17:20-23. Jesus has just prayed for the twelve disciples and listen now to what Jesus prays as He prays for the church, for you and me.
"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.
I don’t know about you, but when I read Jesus’ prayer, I feel amazed and blessed. He is praying for all believers.
Prayer for Believers (v.20)
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.
This is personal, this is talking about all of us as believers. As Jesus is in a very personal prayer to the Father about Himself and His disciples, He continues praying for all who will believe in Him through the word of the disciples. That would be you and me because this is how every person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. We believe their account of the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. We know it to be true because they are the eyewitnesses to it. Jesus prays for us! He prays for those who have believed and will yet believe. We have always taken comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit prays, interceding for us according to Romans 8:26. But here, Jesus prays for us!
Often, we receive encouragement when we know people are praying for us as we go through the struggles of life. But to think that Jesus prayed this prayer for all believers down through the ages is huge. Jesus prays for you and me. He is praying for what we call the church. Every believer down through the ages are a part of the “called out ones,’ the church. His prayer is not a just a generic prayer of blessing either. This is a prayer from His heart. What is on the heart of our Lord? In a word, unity. His prayer is that we will follow His example of unity.
Example of Unity (v. 21a)
That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.
When we think of the unity of Jesus and God the Father, it is kind of mind boggling isn’t it? Jesus and God are One in unity and yet they are distinct in person. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around the tri-unity of the godhead, but Jesus and the Father are one. Not only that, but they are One along with the Holy Spirit, what we often call the trinity, or I prefer tri-unity.
This is not something new that Jesus came up with on His own. The word for God in the Old Testament is Elohim and it is a plural form in Hebrew. Yet at the same time, we are told in Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Jehovah or Yahweh, our God or Elohim, plural form of God, is one! So even in the Hebrew Old Testament we see the plurality of God and at the same time, His oneness. John tells us in John 1:3 that Jesus was a part of the creation of all things talked about in Genesis 1 when God spoke everything into existence. Jesus is, was, and will always be one with God. God is one, yet God is manifest in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus points to the unity between Him and the Father as the kind of unity He prays will take place between believers in the church. Now there is a sense in which this prayer is already being fulfilled. Every person who puts their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are in Christ. We are one with Christ from the moment of salvation. That is why Galatians 2:20 says this.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Thus, we are one with Christ, and thus we are one with each other in that sense. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are related as family through our faith in Him. We could call this positional or spiritual unity. This is the unity of common eternal life shared by all who believe the truth, and it results in the one body of Christ all sharing his life in Him.
But I believe that Jesus’ prayer goes even further. He prays that Christians, people who have believed in Jesus Christ, will be in unity in the same way as Jesus and God are in unity with each other. How is that? Same purpose, same goal, and same desires to glorify God and put Him on display in our lives. There should be a oneness seen in our love for the Lord, a oneness for glorifying Him, and a oneness in helping each other be all we can be in our relationship with Him. In fact, the last part of verse 21 indicates that the unity of believers has a transparency about it that puts Jesus on display and others come to believe in Him when they see that.
Transparency of Unity (v. 21b)
That they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
This is how I think about this. When a window glass is clean, you can see well what is on the other side. When it is dirty, you get an unclear or distorted view of what you are trying to look at. I believe that this is the same thing for you and me. We are the window through which the world looks to see Jesus. When they see disunity, anger, and chaos, in the lives of believers toward each other, they get a distorted or unclear picture of who Jesus is and what He has done in our lives. But when they see a people who are unified and striving to glorify Him, they see a clear picture of why God sent Jesus into the world in the first place.
Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t disagree on this point or that point here in life, but that there is a true unity that binds us together with the same purpose, the same goal, and the same desire, to put God on display. Why would anyone be drawn to Jesus when there is disunity among believers?
When the world sees a church that works together as one, they are seeing the unity of God the Father and His Son. You can go into any city council meeting, school board meeting, or just about any other kind of governing committee of people and find disunity and even at times a hostile environment. But when the world sees the Body of Christ, it should be something very different.
Often, the church gets distracted from the mission we have in this world. We become focused on personal preferences or selfish agendas rather that unity towards the goal. I have heard about church splits over peripheral issues like the color of carpet or the time the service begins or other things that have no consequence on the goal of the mission. When that happens, the rest of the world can no longer see the unity of Jesus because of the selfish ambitions of a carnal church.
But when there is unity in the Body of Christ, we not only give a transparent look at our unity in Christ and unity in the godhead, but we participate in the character and essence of who God is. Look at verse 22.
Participation in Unity (v. 22)
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.
When you see the word “glory” it refers to the essence and character of God. Jesus says that the glory that God the Father has given Him, He in turn has given to them who believe on His name. This is huge. This refers to the believer’s participation in essence and attributes of God through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as we live in unity with each other. When we are saved and begin living for Jesus, His character and essence begins to develop in our lives, and we become partakers of His very nature. This is what it means when we pray that we will become more and more like Christ each day of our lives. We participate in the character, the essence, and the glory of our Savior. Listen to how 2 Peter 1:3-4 says this.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
When the church lives in unity with God and each other, we are participating in His divine nature. Our lives become a transparent glass to the very nature of God because we are participants in His glory! We reflect or put on display the unity of God for all the world to see. When you examine the life of Jesus, you will find that His whole life revealed the glory of God. When we are one with Him and in unity with each other, we reflect God’s excellency in our lives. We participate in the essence and character of our God.
When this takes place in our lives, there is a perfection or completion of unity, according to Jesus. Look at verse 23.
Completion in Unity (v. 23)
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.
How does the world know that know that God sent Jesus into the world and that He loves the world? When there is a perfection of unity in the life of believers with God and each other. I really like the Greek word that scholars have translated as “perfectly” in English. It is the Greek word τελειόω (teleioo). It means to complete, bring to completion, or bring to an end. It is like a person drawing a circle on a page. It is not about the perfection of the circumference or the spherical look of the circle. It is whether the line of the circle has been completed and brought together to the circle. It is the idea of completion. It is something brought to completion as it was designed to be. That is the sense in which Jesus is using the word we translated “perfectly.” Jesus prays for a completion.
So, we are not talking about perfection in the way we understand perfection. Jesus is referring to the completion of something that He was sent to do through His work on the cross, and that is to bring complete unity with Jesus, the Father, and with each other. We are to be one in Jesus Christ.
When the world sees this, it is clear to them that this oneness, this unity is far beyond anything found in this world. It is a testimony to the world that God’s love for His Son and for sinners is more than anything we can imagine. God the Father and God the Son desire complete unity with you and me. This unity with God is only possible because of the what Jesus did in dying for sin upon the cross of Calvary. Sin separates us from God. No unity. But Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sin makes unity possible. And this unity is completed as we are unified as believers in Jesus.
As you may remember, my intention last week was to make this application to unity in our local assembly of the church we call the Longville Bible Chapel. But because of a burden to make clear what the organization of the church looks like, I didn’t have time to combine the two. But for those of you who were here last week, you are probably already thinking about how this applies to our future here in Longville.
Satan wants us divided. He would love to destroy the unity we have here. Did you notice how I said that? I believe we are a unified church just as Jesus prayed for. But Satan would love to use this transition time to destroy that unity.
1 Peter 5:8-9a
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.
We need to remember our unity in God, through our Savior Jesus Christ. We need to remember that we have the power of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We need to see the strength we have in unity with each other. Our enemy may try to defeat us, but we need to remember what 1 John 4:4 tells us.
1 John 4:4b
For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Like I said earlier, this doesn’t mean we won’t have differing ideas, different ways of looking at things, differences of opinion, but we need to be willing to listen to each other and adjust to what is best for the strength of the whole Body, not just our own preferences.
You know as well as I do, that the community is already watching what is taking place at the Chapel. They are certainly wondering how this transition will go and what will happen in the future. But the testimony of a transparent unity can actually draw people in to check out what is going on here. Transition is never easy in the Church, but with a unified spirit we can make our unity with Christ transparent to the world.