I wonder what it would have been like to hear Jesus pray. We don’t have many of Jesus prayers recorded in the Bible. By far the longest of his prayers recorded is in John 17. It was part of a lengthy section of John that took place on the last night before Jesus was crucified. The evening began with Jesus meeting to partake of the Passover meal with the twelve and the amazing event of his laying aside his outer garments to take a towel and wrap it around his waist and fill a basin with water to wash the disciples feet. When Judas left to go and carry out his betrayal of Jesus, the Lord gave them the new commandment to love each other in the same way he loved us and declared that it was by such love that others would know we are really disciples of his. He both told of how the disciples would all forsake him and Peter would deny him but then reassured them not to be troubled that he was going to prepare a place for all those who would come to God through him. He promised the Holy Spirit to come and abide with them and us. He compared his relationship with his disciples to being like a vine and its branches and challenged us to bear much fruit for him. He explained that it was better for him to go away so the Holy Spirit could come and convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come.
Then, He prayed and the prayer fills John 17. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” That is the opening of this amazing prayer. All through the gospel of John we have heard Jesus say, “My hour has not yet come.” Now he declared the hour had come. His whole life had moved toward this time when he would take on him the sins of the world and obediently go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and make forgiveness possible for all people. He had fulfilled God’s plan and was ready to glorify the Father and the Father glorified him. He would then be raised from the dead and go back to share the glory with the Father that they had shared before the world ever began. He noted that eternal life was had by knowing the Father and the Son, Jesus.
He then began a lengthy segment of prayer for the apostles who were left. Judas had left to fulfill Satan’s mission of betraying Jesus. But Jesus prayed for the eleven. He prayed for their sanctification, their protection and deliverance. He prayed that God wouldn’t take them out of the world but would keep the world from getting into them. He prayed that they might have the full measure of Joy within them.
It is the next section of the prayer that I want to focus on particularly today. It begins in verse 20 of John 17. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU. MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is amazing to think of Jesus just a few hours before he would go to the cross to die for us, praying for us. His prayer for all of us who would believe in him was simple and powerful. He prayed that all who believed in him would be one just as He and the Father are one. What makes this so phenomenal is that even when the disciples were only eleven men it was difficult for them to get along with each other. But he prayed for all disciples through all the ages to come to be one. He wanted his followers to have unity. But why does it really matter whether or not the followers of Jesus are one? Notice his answer. It is so that the world may believe that You have sent me. The openness of the world to the gospel of Christ is tied to how well those who follow him can get along with each other.
How well has his prayer been answered? His followers have had a tough time with oneness. Even those who tend to agree on doctrinal matters still have difficulty getting along with each other. Sometimes our guilt for not being united with other disciples leads to us accusing others of being wrong on some doctrinal issue to justify our inability to get along with them. Rather than admit we just can’t get along with people we will accuse them of being off on some teaching. It would be refreshing sometimes to just have someone say that they knew the other place where they were before all taught the same thing we do, but I just couldn’t get along well with some of the people so I decided to go worship somewhere else instead of causing problems there.
Jesus would go on to pray that his disciples might come to be with him in heaven. But I want to think more about this oneness thing. Did he expect us to all agree with each other on every thing? Obviously not, since in Romans 14 he described differences that might be there between brethren but challenged us not to judge each other and to bear with the weak instead of breaking fellowship over our differences. When it comes to our loyalty to Christ it must be complete. We can’t go off following different people like the church at Corinth had done. Jesus is the one Lord and Savior of all people. So there must be fundamental teachings on which we will together stand and preach God’s message. But it doesn’t mean that everyone must see every thing in exactly the same way to be right with God. There can never be unity among the followers of Jesus as long as many are determined that they will not even consider another person as a brother or sister in Christ who doesn’t see everything the same way they do. Good, godly people don’t always see things the same way. But love and unity aren’t built on always agreeing. Consider the marriage relationship. We are to become one flesh before God. But if both husband and wife always agree on everything, someone has stopped thinking and given that right totally to the other person. At least part of the reason God said we are to “Submit to one another in the fear of God” is because we won’t always agree. But we can still love and support the other partner even when we think they are mistaken on some point.
One of the amazing things on this topic is that in Romans 14 where he talked about our not seeing everything the same way he said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. LET US THEREFORE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION.” (Romans 14:17-19)
If Jesus thought unity was so important that he prayed about it diligently on the night of his betrayal, shouldn’t we be praying for such unity also? If he worked to have such unity, shouldn’t we do the same? If he was willing to submit his will to the Father’s will even when it meant going to the cross for us, shouldn’t we be willing to submit to others on things we may not see the same way they do in order to have unity in the body? It is worth thinking about.