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A Prayer of Prayers Part 2

A Sermon for August 15, 2021

John 17:20-26

Veterans Memorial Chapel

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for August 15, 2021. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon. This is part II of a sermon we began July 25, on Jesus’ great prayer at the end of the Upper Room Discourse. This prayer is often referred to as “Christ’s High Priestly Prayer.”

We are continuing our study this morning of the prayer of Jesus Christ in John 17. In particular, I want to read John 17:20-26, for our meditation this morning. But I will also read 17:1 to remind us of the context. Then conclude with John 18:1, showing additional significance to the passage.

As a reminder, this prayer is the conclusion to the “Upper Room Discourse” (John 13-17). Jesus, on the night of His arrest, held Passover with His Disciples in the “Upper Room” of John Mark’s (Gospel writer) mother’s house in Jerusalem. He began a discourse with His disciples on how to live as disciples of Christ in the world when Christ is not physically present on the earth.

At the end of chapter 14, Christ and the Disciples left the upper room and headed off towards the garden of Gethsemane (see 14:31b). By chapter 17, they have arrived at the creek Kidron. Jesus offered a concluding prayer for His disciples, just before crossing the “valley” (NIV) or “wadi” (creek bed) into the garden (see 18:1), where Christ will again pray in private and then be arrested. Thus, this is His last public prayer of His earthly ministry.

There are two specific requests made to the Father for the disciples. We covered the first one last time I spoke. However, and as a reminder, note how Christ acknowledges how the Father had given Him the care and control of all who followed Him in His earthly life, just like a sheep owner gives a particular shepherd control over particular sheep of his larger flock. Now, in preparation for His return to Heaven, Christ is returning His sheep to the Father’s care. Elsewhere in this discourse, we see that the Father is going to send the Holy Spirit to do this caring work of the flock. So, this prayer fulfills the promise of 14:16 that Christ “will ask the Father, and He will send you another Helper.”

The First prayer request was for the protection of His sheep, while He is away in Heaven. We spoke of this request last time. This week we see a second request, mentioned first in verse 17:11, and amplified in 17:21 and following, “that all of them may be one . . . , just as We are one.”

As we mentioned last time, Christ broadens His prayer to include, not only His believers from His earthly ministry, but to all “who would believe in Me through their message” (17:20). If you have believed in Jesus, that He is the Christ of God, you too are among those whom Christ prayed in His last public prayer of His earthly ministry. Even in our separation from Christ, as He is now in heaven, and we on earth, He cared enough to pray for our protection, leave His Word for us to study (17:17) and asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. Regardless how dark it is right now, Christ is presently caring for us.

This second prayer request is that we who believe in Christ “may be one, just as You (the Father) are in Me (the Son) and I am in you” (17:21). Christ’s final request for His believers is that they may be one. Christ is praying for the unity of all believers of all time.

But what do we mean by “unity?” Many people have many ideas on that subject. I want to mention five “kinds” of unity in passing, before I show you the unity I believe the passage is teaching.

1) Some say unity is an “institutional or denominational unity.” Thus all who belong to my “group” are the real church of God, all others are not. I think you can see that this is not a unit which stretches over 2,000 years much less all people groups in all ages.

2) A second kind is “liturgical unity.” If you worship the way I do, have the same rites and rituals, and sing the same songs we sing, then you are united with us. Otherwise you are not. Again worship has changed over time. Good rituals have often become common place and meaningless. This does not seem to be the unity that Christ is referring to.

3) “Doctrinal Unity” is often touted as the correct unity which Christ is speaking of. While doctrine is an important component of unity, good and sincere believers often differ over even some important points of doctrine. I do not think Christ has endorsed one single theological system to the exclusion of many other honest systems. This too falls short of the unity Christ is praying for.

4) Some believe that “unanimity” is what is being spoken of. “Unanimity” literally means “to name or say your unity.” So when the Pastor or Elders of a church bring up an idea, all the church with one accord say “yes!” Thus anyone who asks a question about it, may find themselves branded as a servant of Satan bringing discord. Unanimity is often touted as unity, but it is rather a pseudo-unity.

5) A newer form of unity touted in the last generation or two is what I call “unity of feeling.” If we all sing or say the same thing in some location, and we feel corporately good about being with others who say or sing as we do, this becomes a “spirit of unity.” The problem here is that when the feeling or mood changes, then the unity dissipates with the change in mood. Feelings are important, but not the thing we need to hold up together when we don’t feel good.

If none of these are the unity that Christ is praying for, then what does He mean when He prays, “so that they may be one as We are one” (17:11). I think the answer is in the passage itself. The Father and the Son were One in purpose and message. The Father sent the Son into the world, so people could believe that Jesus (the man) was indeed Christ (the Messiah) of God. His death the very next day would seal, once and for all, redemption to all who believe, of all times from Adam to the end of time. Our unity is seen in our “belief” of this fact.

This is the same point I have repeatedly made throughout our study of this Gospel. Jesus came from God to provide salvation to all who would believe. That is the “unifying” theme of Church History. The world knows we are from God because we continue to trumpet the message that Jesus is the Christ! (17:21b-23) All who believe have heard this message from someone else who believed and told them the message, look again at 17:20, “I pray also for all those who will believe in me through their message.”

The two crucial questions are these. Have you believed this message and become one of Christ’s believers? And secondly are you trumpeting that message to the rest of the world? New believers join the ranks “through their (Christians) message.”

CH Jim Odell

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