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May 29, 2016

Prayer 203: The Glory of Unity

Prayer 203: The Glory of Unity

Passage: John 17:13-26

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Master Class: Prayer

Category: Prayer

Keywords: glory, persecution, prayer, rejection, unity, word


This message looks specifically at Jesus' prayer for us--people who have become Christ-followers as a result of the answer to Jesus' earlier prayer for his then-disciples. When it comes to praying, faith-filled expectations are a big part of our experience. That's why Jesus' prayer for us is SO important. He told us what to expect and why. And he showed us how to pray and for what.


The Glory of Unity

Prayer 203: John 17:13-26

Series: Praying with Jesus—May 29, 2016


INTRO:  Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations.  It was his 13th of 14 novels.  Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty; prison ships and chains, and fights to the death.  Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.

            But what I want to borrow for this morning is simply the title.  We’re in that annual “season” of “great expectations” when eager graduates move on in life to fulfill their dreams and stary-eyed lovers propose and pledge their lives to expected marital bliss. 

            In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret about the premarital counseling inventory that we use here at Mosaic that is used by tens of thousands of pastors around the world.  It has a whole section that is designed to measure the level of an engaged couple’s “Realistic Expectations” about future life together. 

            WHY is that even important?  What difference does it make whether or not one’s expectations of what marriage will be like are realistic or not? 

            Because the “great expectations” many couples have about marriage may not be “realistic expectations.”  And when unrealistic expectations collide with reality, there can be a whole lot of surprising and painful wreckage strewn all about. 

            That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have great expectations of marriage.  We should.  And as Sandy and I usually tell couples we counsel, that doesn’t mean marriage shouldn’t start with a few slightly unrealistic notions about each other and marriage.         

            But when a couple both say, for instance, that “Nothing my partner could do will ever make me question my love for them,” we usually have to run a few worst-case scenarios by them to get couples to see that life actually can grind down your feelings and sometimes your best intentions of love for someone. 

  • Watch someone destroy themselves and the people closest to them by addictions to alcohol or drugs or work or pornography and you will probably change your answer.
  • Live with someone who is continually verbally or physically abusive of you and your children and you will find “your love” changing towards them.
  • Wake up one day to find that your spouse has been a serial cheater on your marriage vows of purity and fidelity… and has no intention of changing…and “your love” for them will change.

Realism is not intended to rob us of joy or great expectations of the uncertain future.  It is designed to make the journey less disillusioning and therefore more genuinely joyfulKnowing what can destroy a marriage or a friendship or a walk with God shouldn’t make us avoid any of those relationships.  Rather it should lead us to enter in with a grasp of the truth that will actually lead to greater determination to avoid what can damage us and embrace what can develop us…even pain

Today, we’re 5 Sundays into a short series on learning to pray with Jesus. We’re in the latter part of Jesus’ longest recorded conversation/prayer with the Father about us.  It’s found in John 17.  We’ll be studying verses 13-26 today. 

But before we do, let me ask you a question that I would like you to think about a bit before we read this text.  What expectations do you have about JOY in your journey with Jesus in this life? 

  • Where does joy come from?
  • How can we get it?
  • Should we even expect it to be a significant part of our relationship with God in this life OR is joy something we should just not expect much of until heaven?

Now let’s pick it up in John 17:13—13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

            Jesus is speaking out this prayer verbally to the Father so that His followers, His disciples, would be able to have the greatest measure of joy possible in their lives.  So there must be a direct connection between what he is praying here and the joy he’s praying will be our experience in life as followers of Him.

            So, do you really see joy as one of Jesus frequent experiences?  Was Jesus really a joyful guy? 

Just a little earlier, on this same evening, in the same room, Jesus had said this to His disciples in John 15:11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  Clearly Jesus knew that joy was an important part of life…his life…and that he was, in fact, a man of joy. 

And as a person clearly and constantly full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus must have experienced more joy than anyone since joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Luke makes this comment about Jesus enjoying joy as a man full of the Holy Spirit:  Luke 10:21--At that time [upon seeing the 72 faithful disciples return after ministry] Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” 

Jesus is revealing a whole lot here about the joy He knows can fill our lives.  In fact, that is one of the primary reasons he is speaking out this prayer in front of his disciples.  He wants their lives…and ours…to be marked by as much joy as possible

So what in this prayer will lead us to His joy?

Vs. 14-- I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

Wait just a minute!  Since when does being “hatedlead to joy?  If Jesus were doing a sales pitch for being His follower here, you think He could have chosen a little more positive, convincing reason for joy! 

Obviously being loved by the world is NOT part of the fountain of joy in this life.  If it were, the history of Hollywood wouldn’t be littered with the corpses of famous people who overdosed on drugs or committed suicide.  But it is.  Jesus knew that…and told us that…2,000 years ago. 

According to our Lord, the TRUTH from God embraced…the WORD of God receivedis the fountain from which we can drink and experience joy.  Look back earlier in this prayer:

  • 6—“…they have obeyed your word.”
  • 8—“For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.”

1.) Joy in this journey comes from embracing and living God’s truth, His word. 

God is acutely aware that wherever we live our lives according to a lie, we die. It’s been that way since the Garden of Eden.  We can choose to believe that a lie is the truth, but it won’t lead to joy.  We can deny God’s truth all we want, but it will always lead to our own destruction and hurt. 

  • We can choose to love work or family or property or leisure ahead of God and think it will lead to joy. But God knows that only in “seek[ing] first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” will we really find joy life is meant to have.
  • We can choose to believe that laziness is our ticket to joy…or more time playing video games & watching movies…or living for the applause of people…or higher standard of living…or personal freedom…will give joy.

Problem is, all those gods lie to us.  They didn’t make us, so they don’t know our truest nature is to be in deep, engaging, all-consuming, truth-relationship with God. 

            This is precisely what knowing and believing the Word of God is all about.  It’s about knowing and embracing TRUTH!  Every day it’s a battle for truth in our minds and hearts.  Here’s how it can look in my average day.

  • The alarm goes off earlier than I would naturally wake up. And immediately there is a battle for truth:  Is a few more minutes in the sack what I need most to make for a great day or a few minutes alone with God?
  • I get in the truck to come to work and have to make some decisions. How can I best spend the next 15 minutes on the way to work:  listening to talk radio…or the news…or praise music…or no radio at all…best for the day God has set before me?    
  • I start thinking about how slowly our building acquisition is taking and I have a choice to make: is it really the building… and getting it when I think we should…that will bring me joy today OR will praying about it again and again and again, trusting God’s timing and his ability to push someone harder than I can bring joy and life to my soul? 

Our days and nights are filled with truth battles about ourselves, about the people around us, about God, about the days’ events…you name it.  And the more our lives conform to real truth…God’s truth…absolute truth that doesn’t change with changing cultural norms or opinion polls or peer pressure, the more joy-filled life becomes. 

But there is one very critical truth that is related to embracing God’s Truth, His Word.  It is…

2.) When we embrace the Word, we will have to let go of the world.

Vs. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

            Because the world system, the culture of every human society on earth, is built upon sin, when we live the truth of Christ out in a sin-dominated and determined world, we will be hated. 

            That doesn’t sound like very good news to me.  So why does Jesus sound so happy telling us about it? 

First, Jesus knows that if we’re expecting to be treated well in this culture, this time, this world for embracing a life of living God’s Word in a culture that has rejected God’s Word at virtually every turn, then we’re just setting ourselves up for disappointment. That is not what we should be expecting when we’re really living the Truth. 

What we should be expecting is to be treated just as Jesus was treated.  Some people we share this journey with will embrace Christ and the truth of this Word.  We’ll end up growing closer and closer to them…just like many of us have experienced sharing life with each other in the family of God. 

But since most of the people we will know in life have and will reject God and His truth, the proper expectation for a life that leads to joy is to expect that we will not only be shunned or laughed at or ridiculed; we will actually be hated by many. 

If living a life free of opposition or rejection because of Jesus were what brings joy, Jesus would have told us so.  But having lived in this world experiencing the love of the Father despite having to put up with the rejection of his own creatures, Jesus knew that joy won’t be found in approval or accolades from our culture.  Joy doesn’t even come from being removed from this God-rejecting world. 

Vs. 15—My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus knew that joy comes from knowing the truth and living it IN this world.  If taking us out of this world the moment we began to get pushback from the world was the best route to deep joy, God would do that every time one of his kids started feeling the heat for living truth. 

But God knows that there is a joy that comes withdare I say fromsuffering for Christ and the truth.  This is an experience we will only be able to experience in THIS life.  You and I aren’t going to face rejection or hatred in heaven because we hold to Christ and the truth.  It’s here and now that the world’s hatred of truth and God can bring joy to Christ-centered people…and God knows how much more joy will be ours in heaven some day because of it. 

Luke 6:22, 23-- Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Acts 13:49-52-- 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 16—Paul and Silas dragged into court, stripped, beaten and flogged and imprisoned in chains in Philippi…all for delivering a demon-possessed girl from her demons (which also robbed her pimps of their cash-cow).  (You could say they were hated by a few people!)

Here’s what that experience did to their faith.    

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 

If they had been moaning and complaining about how unfair or immoral or pagan Philippi was, do you suppose the rest of the prisoners would be listening?  Hardly!  That’s what people without Christ do when they are in prison…particularly for doing something good.  No, they were “praying and singing hymns to God!”  The joy of Jesus was bubbling over in their souls even as their sores were oozing and their bruises swelling. 

1 Thessalonians 1:6--You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

A Word-embracing life will lead to JOY in the midst of rejection by the world. 

Jesus kept praying—vs. 16-- 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

“Sanctify” means to “set apart for special use”.  The Word of God taking root in the soul of a person will “set us apart” from the world in ways that the world will hate. 

ILL:  I’ve got a meeting coming up at Spokane School District 81 offices that I’d like your prayer for.  It will be on curriculum standards for teaching our 29,000 children in the district about sex and sexuality.  From the President of the United States to the Washington State Superintendent of Instruction and the WA State Human Rights Commission, teaching “tolerance” and “non-discrimination” of diverse sexual identities and behaviors is what is being demanded…from Kindergarten up! 

Out of about 20 committee members, there are 3 or 4 of us who are Christ-followers.  I’m guessing we will be vilified, criticized and maligned because we love the truth of God about human sexuality and hate to see the youth of our city taught lies that lead to more sin, more suffering and more sadness

I think it’s always been that way for God’s people.  While I’m not looking forward to the battle, I’m looking forward to what God is going to do in my heart regarding joy when God’s word and truth is probably hated and rejected. 

APP:  Where is God asking you to hold onto God’s word in a way that will probably cost you rejection, maybe loss of a promotion, perhaps loss of public respect?  It’s time we joined the rest of the world’s Christians in discovering the JOY that God has for us in times of rejection. 

Now let’s go to the last part of this prayer, vss. 20-26.  Jesus was actually praying for you and me…and a few hundred million other Christ-followers throughout history…in this part of His prayer.  Much of it sounds a lot like what He already prayed for His own Apostles and disciples in the first two-thirds of the prayer.

            But this section has two very clear themesUnity & Glory.  Let’s take glory first.


Vs. 22-- 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.

There are a couple of very important questions that arise from this passage:

  1. Just what is the “glory” that Jesus gave to his disciples?
  2. Just how does the oneness Jesus prayed for become reality through that glory?

Let’s keep this simple.  “Glory” often feels like one of those sort of nebulous religious words.  So I suggest that we define God’s glory as “that which shows off the true nature of God in some visible form.” 

            So what “glory” did Jesus receive from the Father that he was able to give to US?  Whatever our answer, that glory must have a direct and positive impact upon making us “one” in the way Jesus is talking about oneness. 

            In John 1:14, having just told us that Jesus came to his own but that his own rejected him, John now tells us that, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

            Suffering rejection in this world while living out the grace and truth of God is precisely what reveals God…shows off his nature…in this sinful world. 

            And what was THE most God-showing, God-glorifying thing Jesus did while here on earth?  To suffer, be crucified and die for our sins.  That was the greatest demonstration in all human history of all we need to see of his greatness—of his love, his mercy, his justice, his humility, his forgiveness, his grace, his truth… everything He is. 

            And that is one reason why God calls us to suffer with Christ here on earth.  That is why He calls us to die daily so the world can see Christ.  That is the “glory of the Lord” that, when contemplated, will transform us—the glory of the suffering Savior.  Listen to how Paul states it in 2 Corinthians 4:6ff.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

It is NOT our great performances, our times of strength or some amazing church program or building that “reveals” the glory of God and creates God-given unity among the people of God.  It is the life of Jesus that dribbles out of us when we are pressed and broken and wounded and rejected as He was.  This is how Jesus could “give us” the “glory” that the Father gave Him!  And this is precisely the kind of glory…showing off of God… that would lead people to believe in Jesus.  This is the kind of glory that answer both those questions I posed about this passage:

  1. Just what is the “glory” that Jesus gave to his disciples? Answer:  The ability to show Christ off IN suffering and humility.
  2. Just how does the oneness Jesus prayed for become reality through that glory? Answer:  When we suffer with Christ in this life, we will never fail to love one another in deeply God-glorifying ways.

This brings us to the 2nd great theme at the close of this prayer:  UNITY among those who believe in Jesus.

There is a lot of confusion on this topic that I don’t have time to wipe away today.  But let’s be clear about what unity ISN’T when it comes to this prayer.

  • It isn’t all thinking the same thing about everything.
  • It isn’t all having the same theology about everything.
  • It isn’t all belonging to the same organization, denomination of even world-wide “church”.
  • It isn’t looking alike or dressing alike or even sharing the same culture.
  • It isn’t uniformity…or unanimity.

But what this unity is all about is Christ IN us—living in us, loving on us, making the Father known to us so that people who see or watch or know us at least catch glimpses of Jesus living through us.  The work of Christ in us is to love us into loving each other just as He loves us.  Talk about a miracle! 

Vs. 23-- 23 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.

Vs. 26-- 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Verse 23 is telling us that the very love the Father has for the Son Jesus Christ IS the same love that Jesus has for us!  There is no greater love in all the universe.  No matter how you and I are feeling any given day, Jesus IS loving us just as the Father loved Him.  Every person “in Christ” is THE most loved being in the universe…really! 

It’s not dependent upon how well I performed this week; it’s dependent on how well the Father loved the Son.

Our being loved is not in relation to how much sin I was able to avoid this week or how many good things I did for other people; it’s dependent on how well the Father loves the Son…and how completely the Son loves each of us. 

This is what unites us together—God’s love poured out on us in Christ—not theology or special closeness or worship styles or any other human similarities. 

This is why striving for some sort of “unity” without knowing personally and deeply Jesus Christ will never work.

This is why Christian unity is all about shared and lived-out love and life of Jesus Christ.  It’s never been going to some location called “church” on Sundays or keeping some set of religious rules. 

ILL:  As Harold so ably illustrated several years ago in a sermon by making a little sliding triangle with two balls on the bottom corners of the triangle, the closer we individually come into loving relationship with Christ (top of the triangle), the closer we will get to each other (unity). 

ILL: If you pull out any U.S. coin in your pocket, there is going to be a little Latin phrase on every single one.  Know what it is?  Sure.  E pluribus Unum.  What does that mean?  Out of many—one or From many—one.  That phrase was coined in 1776 and adopted as part of the nation’s Great Seal in 1782.  It was to represent the uniting of the 13 original colonies, each unique but drawn together in the Federal Government and Congress. 

            While the bickering and dirty politics of this union through the years is probably not a great image for the church to follow, the idea that we are truly joined together while still having our unique differences is a wonderful concept. 

            Oneness for the people of God is not in a set of doctrinal beliefs or hierarchical institutions.  It is in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord.  It is in a common faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  It is in a common submission to Him as given to us in the living & written Word of God.

            This is how a very diverse group of disciples—the 12 who Jesus chose—could experience unity: following Jesus Christ and experiencing His love dissolved a host of differences that would otherwise have destroyed them. 

  • Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector would never have worked together apart from the oneness they found in Jesus.
  • Nathanial, prejudiced against people from Nazareth, would not naturally have followed a teacher from Nazareth nor been part of a team of 12 that included others from Nazareth.
  • Just imagine how James and John, the “sons of thunder,” and eager-beaver Peter would have naturally butted heads with “doubting Thomas” who doubted every one of them even after spending 3 ½ years together!

But something amazing happens when the life of Jesus in us is combined with the pressure of the world against Christ.  I’ve seen it worldwide, whether with Christians in communist China or communist Russia.  I’ve seen it in India where Christians are hounded and hunted by both Muslims and Hindus.  Wherever you go in the world where true believers in Jesus are under intense persecution and pressure, secondary differences dissolve, common suffering unites, and the glory of God that Jesus manifested when He walked the earth shines brightly through His suffering church!

            Suffering in Jesus, no matter what the cause, has tremendous power to unite and display God’s greatness to a watching world.

  • Jesse’s cancer—effect on family and church.
  • Jeremy’s cancer and “Go Fund Me” campaign this week—over $6,500 raised!
  • Travis being fired from his job recently because he dared to speak of his faith in Jesus during breaks and it “made someone uncomfortable.”
  • Others of you have refused to engage in dishonest business practices and been fired because your faith, tried by fire, was more precious to you than your job, your paycheck or your position.

Here’s the beauty in trouble, suffering and persecution:  the more God’s people are under pressure, the more Christ’s life is visible and the more that will unite our hearts in Christ. 

APP:  Don’t let suffering isolate you; use it to draw you closer to the people of God. 

Don’t let pressure from the world for being a Christ-follower weaken you; use it to bind your life more than ever to the people of God who are enduring the same thing in this world. 

The worst of times for the church in this world are the best of times for the unity of God’s people and the glory of Christ in this world!