English service - October 16, 2022
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Finding God’s Faithfulness Through Our Fellowship
Grace and peace to you, everyone with us online and in person, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Bible reading we are focusing on today is part of what we could truly call “The Lord’s Prayer.” When we hear “The Lord’s Prayer,” we usually think of the one in Matthew 6:9-13. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” and so on (King James Version). But we might really more accurately call it “the Model Prayer” because the Bible introduces it as the prayer that Christ teaches His disciples to pray. For one thing, “Forgive us our debts” (v. 12) is not something Jesus needs to pray for Himself because He has never committed sin. He is teaching us to ask for forgiveness because we need to do that.
The prayer Jesus prays throughout John 17 is actually “the Lord’s prayer” in the sense that it is what Christ, the Lord, says to God, His Father, from His own heart. In verses 1-5, Jesus prays for Himself, and in 6-19 He asks God to help the disciples who are there with Him in that upper room, the night before He will go to the cross. Finally in verses 20-26, He brings before the Lord not only His current group of followers but also the people who will become His in the future as they hear His word and receive it. That means that He is praying for you, me, and all His people, every one of whom He knows and loves.
In our current message series, “God’s Unwitting Witnesses,” we have seen various ways and times that God fulfills prophecy. Some are very specific. In today’s story, Jesus makes a more general promise about the future in His prayer: “And I will continue to show you to them.” He will keep revealing God to His followers—present and future.
Literally, He says, “I will continue to show them your name.” By “name,” He doesn’t mean something like words on an official paper that show God’s identity. He means that He will show them who God really is. That includes His heart, His character, what He enjoys, what is important to Him, and more. But Jesus doesn’t end there. He continues by saying particularly why He is going to do this. “Then the love you have for me will be in them. I myself will be in them.” That is the purpose He sets out for making and keeping the promise He includes here in His prayer.
God wants us to be united with Him, with people who are in His Church, and with those who will be joined with Him. If you have ever looked closely at the coins that we use in the U.S. (at least for now in our increasingly cashless world), you may have noticed some Latin words. On a 10-cent piece, for example, it says, “E pluribus unum.” In English that is “from many, one.” The idea is that there are various states but one country, a variety of people with different backgrounds and ideas, but we have come together to form a common life. (Actually, with all the dis-unity we continue to see, I wonder if we won’t have to re-name the country “The Divided States of America.”)
There is something like “E pluribus unum” in the way the God of the Bible teaches His people to live. We are different and unique in some important and valuable senses. But He intends for us to be joined together in His love. He wants us to live not in isolation and separation but in community. The Bible calls that relationship “fellowship,” but here Jesus uses the words “be one” to describe the unity God wants for His people to have in our relationships with Him and each other.
To explore the message inside Jesus’ prayer for us, let’s try to find God’s answers to these five questions: (1) What is Christian unity? (2) How is it possible for us to live in real unity? (3) How does Christ create unity in the gospel stories? (4) How does He create unity today? (5) What are the effects of Christian unity?
First, what is Christian unity? Does being one mean having the same opinions
on all important questions? No, that is a characteristic of cults. Forced unity bakes dishonesty into the relationships between people inside and outside the group. What Jesus prays for us to have is unity, not uniformity.
I think it would be a mistake to understand Jesus as praying for us to have unity in the sense of one world organization we call the Christian church. We actually tried that for the first centuries of the life of the Church, and it didn’t go very well, to say the least.
Another misunderstanding we can easily hold is that God expects all His followers to have the same beliefs. If we were all sinless people, maybe we would, but we have never been in that condition even once. The fact is that, as Paul says (I Corinthians 13:12a), “Now we see only a dim likeness of things.” God is always right, and He teaches us truthfully, but none of us can claim to understand Him accurately all the time. We try to have ecumenical unity, but it often becomes clear that Christians disagree on some very important things. It is easy for ecumenism to slip into only the few things that we can agree on. Pretty soon we have only “lowest common denominator unity.” After we take out the parts we disagree on, there may not be much left. But God continues to hold higher hopes for us.
As someone has said, the devil doesn’t care which side of the horse you fall off, as long as you fall off. We can be “united” because we have thrown out our standards and have none. That is a shallow or fake unity that in the end has little or no meaning. Or we can fail to be united. In either case, we are not living as the people Christ prays here for us to be.
The unity Christ prays for is not that we will be one in every opinion or in personality. We are one in that we all are made in the image of God and so bear His likeness, no matter where we go or what life experiences we may have. We are one in nature and commitment, in that sense. We all have set aside the old self and are on the journey toward our new, best, Christlike self. In that respect, we all have a new heart. We are all headed in the same direction—toward God and heaven, His home. We are all committed to the process of becoming ready to live there for eternity. We have made it our highest prize to live before God, with Him, in His presence forever. We are different in words, manner, and expression, but we have the same central love—love from God, love of God. Our cultures are different, but we all belong to the same Lord, who rules over all cultures and deeply loves people of every one.
I think you can see that Christian unity includes (a) unity with God and (b) unity with people. 1 John 1:3 says, “We announce to you what we have seen and heard. We do it so you can share life together with us. And we share life with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Likewise, the writer of Ephesians 4:12b-13 describes God’s people using their various spiritual gifts to serve.
If they do, the body of Christ will be built up. That will continue until we all become one in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith. We will receive everything that Christ has for us.
In other words, as Jesus prays for you and me and all who have followed Him since that evening, His great desire for us is that we live in His love. Love is the answer. In Christian life, it all comes down to love. If we have that, we have hope to overcome anything. If we do not have that, we basically have nothing. Without love, our joy becomes nothing more than pleasures of the flesh—hedonism. If we take love out of holiness, we become self-righteous and not truly holy at all. If you have truth but love gets emptied out of it, there is nothing left but lifeless orthodoxy. If you start with a mission but lose the love in it, you can end up with conquest and do more damage than good. If you begin with unity but it has no love, it will lack freedom and in the end become tyranny. Our God is all about love.
Second, how is it possible for us to live in real unity? It is only possible if we begin with the unity that God Himself has. God exists as the Trinity, we understand the Bible to teach. Inside that relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the pure, perfect, deep love that is not only the model but also the power for our life in community, our fellowship. For example, Jesus teaches (John 14:9b), “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Then in John 17:11b, He prays for the remaining 11 disciples (v. 11b), “Keep them safe so they can be one, just as you and I are one.” Now, in today’s reading, He prays for His followers of throughout all ages, in verse 21a. He makes a request: “Father, I pray that all of them will be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. I want them also to be in us.” Continuing to verse 22, He says, “I have given them the glory you gave me. I did this so they would be one, just as we are one.” So Christ is not just praying that we would be “one.” No, far more: “one, just as we are one.”
Our unity starts with God’s unity—the unbreakable bond between the three persons of the Trinity. Based on this, we first are given the priceless gift of unity with God. We learn from I Corinthians 6:17, “But anyone who is joined to the Lord becomes one with him in spirit.” Unity among believers is possible because the Holy Spirit has
come into our hearts and made them His home. When that vertical link with God is firm and intact, our horizontal relationships with people then have a source of nourishment and protection that they never could otherwise. Ephesians 4:3 tells us, “The Holy Spirit makes you one in every way. So try your best to remain as one. Let peace keep you together.” Did you catch that? God does not tell us to “become as one” but “remain as one.” By His grace, He has already made us members of His family. Our call is to prize that relationship and learn to live in the strength it provides for us.
Third, how does Christ create unity in the gospel stories? Jesus makes the promise (prophecy) in John 17:26, “. . . I will continue to show you to them. Then the love you have for me will be in them. I myself will be in them.” How does He keep this promise? Of course, in everything He says and does because He is always motivated by love. But we see some specific examples as the story continues.
One is in the very next chapter. When Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane, after a time of prayer, Judas brings some officials sent by the religious leaders, along with armed soldiers, who arrest Jesus. Jesus does not run or resist but allows Himself to be taken. Yet He insists on one thing. He says to the people who have come for Him, “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” Then John stops the story to tell us (18:9), “This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken would come true. He had said, ‘I have not lost anyone God has given me’”(John 6:39).
Later in John 17:12, Christ prays:
While I was with them, I guarded them. I kept them safe through the name you gave me. None of them has been lost, except the one who was sentenced to be destroyed. It happened so that Scripture would come true.
Christ is showing His disciples what God is like—by keeping His group of followers together and safe, even in dangerous times. Their unity and security are at the top of His list of important things to remember, even now as He is being robbed of His own safety and security. This is God—self-giving, guided and empowered by self-sacrificing love. And in the process of showing them God’s heart, His character, His love, Jesus fulfills the prophecies He has made.
In Matthew’s version of Jesus’ arrest (26:52-56), Jesus says to those who have come for Him that His being persecuted in this way is fulfillment of prophecy. In this sense, He is showing them what God is like—loving enough to endure injustice for His people. He focuses on the cosmic, eternal meaning in what He is doing. John no doubt believes that, too, but what he stops his story to point out clearly to us, his readers, is the personal, here-and-now meaning. “Jesus saved us from being arrested along with Him.” John is saying something like that. He can never forget it. That’s how he knows deep in his soul that He is a part of Jesus’s community. Christ has made that unity with Him, God, and His followers clear in a way that only He could.
As the story continues, just after Jesus’ protecting His disciples from being arrested is the following (John 18:10-11).
Simon Peter had a sword and pulled it out. He struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shouldn't I drink the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
Here we see Jesus’ unshakable commitment to God and following His plan and direction each day of His life. Again He is showing His Father to the disciples by modeling faith—living in reliance on the God who is worthy of our trust. This is the heart of Christian fellowship.
Next Jesus shows His followers what God is like when He is taken before the Roman governor, Pilate. Here it will be decided whether Jesus will live or die. The leaders of Jesus’ nation want Him to be executed, but Pilate sees no reason for this (John 19:31-32).
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves. Judge him by your own law.”
“But we don't have the right to put anyone to death,” the Jews complained. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken about how he was going to die would come true.
Then John goes into more detail than we can here about exactly how the things that happen around Jesus’ death fulfill the promises of God in prophecy in the Bible. We can see this in the soldiers’ gambling for Jesus’ clothes, choosing not to break Jesus’ legs because they saw He was dead, and piercing His side with a sword (John 19:23-24,32-37). Jesus shows His disciples the Father by demonstrating to us how deep His love is—deep enough to die for us. Through His death, He also opens the way to life, to salvation (John 19:23-24). He continues to demonstrate what God the Father is like as He is brought back to life, returns to His disciples, and helps them receive the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, into their own hearts, minds, and bodies. In all these ways, He shows them the living, powerful, true God. This both keeps God’s promises made in the past and prepares them for their adventure-filled future serving with their living Lord.
Fourth, how does Christ create unity today? It is not basically different from the way He does in Bible times or any age. But we can note a few particular things. For one, when we actually begin learning to live in community, we are going to have trouble with each other. We will offend each other. Someone is going to say something that hurts us. Someone is going to forget to say something we need to hear when we are hurting and fail to be the kind of family we need. There is no way to be great at this from the start. We have to learn it, as we fail and succeed, with God’s help. As someone said, “Everyone is normal until you get to know them.” If you and I really get close to each other, I’m going to hurt your feelings at some point, and you are going to hurt mine. And I’m going to tend to think it’s your fault, not mine! So we have to have realistic expectations of how things are going to go between us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The only way for us to overcome the deep divisions between us as people is for us to become one in fuller and deeper ways with God, our Maker, Redeemer, and Father. As we move into closer and closer relationship with Him, we will grow closer to the people around us, who should be doing the same. For one thing, we will learn more and more to see them as God sees them. As we do this, we will become increasingly unable to hate them. We may of course disagree strongly, but our central and controlling attitude toward them will be wanting the best for them. Our thoughts and feelings about them will be marked by acceptance and support, what the Bible calls love. It is because that is how God views them. Even though He knows everything about them, and that means their real and many sins, He still sees them first, most, and always through the lenses of His grace and mercy. When He sees them, what He feels most is love. So if what characterizes our attitude toward them is resentment or rage, we are refusing to move closer to our God and become more like Him. And that is at the heart of our purpose for being in this world and living each day. That is not a small thing. God, help us to see each person we meet this week as you see him or her.
Another matter impacting our unity can be how our church grows. We continue to pray that through Open Door God will raise up new believers, new leaders, and new churches. As the COVID-19 situation improves, we have strong hopes of seeing more and more people come together to share in the love God has put in this place. But we do this knowing that larger numbers of people are not always a sign of healthy growth. In some cases, after a church reaches a certain size, it can become comfortable. People can find it easy to participate more as a spectators than active members, with no need to take responsibility for helping the group do the work God has placed before it.
If that happens, true community is lost. Without a sense of shared commitment to becoming more and more the brothers and sisters that He wants us to be, we will lose our way. So we need to be intentional about growing in numbers. We need to pray and encourage each other and organize so that each person is involved in meaningful personal relationships with brothers and sisters in our church family, regardless of how large we grow. Let’s make it our prayer that we continue to form, deepen, and maintain strong personal connections between all the people who enter this community of faith.
Fifth, and last, what are the effects of Christian unity? Jesus focuses on one in particular. In verse 21, after “Father, I pray that all of them will be one. . . ,” He continues, “Then the world will believe that you have sent me.” Again in verse 23b, He says that He brings people into community with Him so that He can send them out to others who need to know Him.
I want them to be brought together perfectly as one. This will let the world know that you sent me. It will also show the world that you have loved those you gave me, just as you have loved me.
Being in a Christian community doesn’t cut you off from the rest of the world. Jesus repeatedly says that He sends His people into the world. He wants us actively engaged with non-Christians, serving and working together with people everywhere and spreading His message as we do.
In other words, the unity Christ wants for us is not only for our benefit. It is for the people whom He wants to help through us as we carry on the work He has left in our hands.
“Then the world will believe. . . .” Christ is not going to the cross the next day full of fear or gloom. He’s not just vaguely hoping things will work out as He prays they will. He is confident—sure that God will use the cross and the resurrection to form the kind of community of faith that He envisions His disciples becoming. God will use them to save many, many people around the world. Through His disciples’ receiving and passing on His love and truth over the centuries, now well over 1,000,000,000 people globally call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
If you are a Christian, what convinced you that Christ was real, true, and worth committing yourself to following? What can convince the people here around us in Sapporo and beyond? We have to have true doctrine, and organizational strength is a real plus, but I argue that those alone are not nearly enough. What really draws people to God is the love we find in unity with Him and each other. That is what people most need and are hungry to find. When it is fake or not there in a reliable way, they generally will sense that pretty quickly. But when it is real and made available to them, people will find it very attractive. Through genuine love, the kind Jesus lived out every day with His disciples, God attracts people to Himself. So it just makes sense for Him to present it as the core of His practical teaching to us (I Corinthians 14:1a), “Follow the way of love.” Let’s ask the Lord now to make us people who actively and continually share His love with each other and spread it to the people around us, as well.
God, please help us to see Your glory. Please help us to live in your love. Through that, help many people around us to come to know that You have sent Your Son, Jesus into our world to save us. Help us to know that You are with us. Lord, make us one. Help us to live in the unity with You and all your people everywhere, which You so deeply desire for us. This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Fritz, J. (December 4, 2018). Jesus Prays for the Church. Who Is Jesus? Illuminate Community. Retrieved October 9, 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Yb7baZCqPsg
Guzik, D. (June 4, 2020). Prepared to Proclaim. Retrieved October 8, 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fiYJhDLTQc
Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Retrieved September 2, 2022 https://www.biblestudytools.com/commen taries/matthew-henry-complete/john/17.html