20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—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.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 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.” (John 17:20-16)
Why are there so many different churches? I bet you’ve wondered that. On your way to church today you passed Catholic churches, Episcopal churches, Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, non-denominational churches… Why are there so many churches? How about: Why are there two churches on the same block? Why don’t all the churches just get together? Wouldn’t it be nice if all Christians were united?
You know what Jesus says? Yes! He agrees! Today we get to read part of Jesus’ longest prayer. It was Maundy Thursday night—the night before he died. As he thought about his death, Jesus prayed to God the Father. First, he prayed for himself. Then he prayed for his disciples. Finally, Jesus added this, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” Who are those who believe in Jesus through the disciples’ message? Us! Of all the things Jesus could have been praying about on his last night, he prayed for us. What was Jesus’ prayer? “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
Jesus prayed that all the people who believe in him would be one. United! Later, the Bible tells us that there’s “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:5). Jesus wants his people to be united. He gives us the reason: “So that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus wants the unity among us Christians to serve as a powerful witness to the world about Jesus. Division drives people away from Jesus. You know what people say, “Church is all politics.” “You Christians can’t even agree among yourselves.” So what did Jesus pray for us? “That all of them may be one, Father.” Jesus wants us to be united.
In fact, listen to how united Jesus wants us to be: “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 themeven as you have loved me.” “That they may be one as we are one…” How united do you think God the Father and God the Son are? They are perfectly united in every way. That’s the unity that Jesus wants for the Christian Church. Not just outward unity. Not agreeing to disagree. Jesus wants us to be as perfectly united as he is united with God the Father. That’s a big prayer! That’s a lot of unity!
Is that what we see? All Christians united? No! We see division. We see separation. Do you know what really separates? It’s sin. Sin separates. Think of Adam and Eve. They were perfectly united with God and with each other. Then they sinned. What was the first thing they did? Hide. They hid from God. Why? Sin separates us from God! Every time someone in the Bible saw an angel, from Isaiah to Mary to the shepherds to the women on Easter, how did they react? Terrified. Sin separates. The Bible says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you…” (Isaiah 59:2). Sin separates. See the problem?
But sin doesn’t just separate us from God. Go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve hid. God found them, of course. He said, “Adam, what have you done?” What did Adam say? “It was the woman!” Sin didn’t just separate Adam from God. Whom else did it separate him from? Eve. His wife. Sin destroys our relationships with each other. Your sin. His sin. Her sin. Their sin. Sin separates. There can’t be real unity without first dealing with sin. We can put on the same football jerseys and paint our faces, but that doesn’t make us united. It’s not enough to get people together on the outside. Something needs to be done about the real problem—about sin!
So God did! When our sins separated us from God, he didn’t ignore them. He didn’t overlook them. God sent Jesus. Listen again to Jesus’ prayer: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” God the Father loves us as much as he loves Jesus. Isn’t that amazing? So God the Father sent Jesus to be our Savior from sin. And what exactly did Jesus come to do? The Bible says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Sin separates, so Jesus came to take our sin away. Jesus came to unite people—unite sinners—with God again.
It wasn’t easy. How much did it cost? What does it take to unite sinners with God? It took the body and blood of Jesus on the cross to take away the sin that separated us from God and give us God’s forgiveness. Jesus loved you and me to death to unite us to God. When you sin, your conscience tells you what should happen. You should hide! Sin separates. But when you sin, the Bible tells you what did happen. Jesus took your sins away. You are forgiven. You are saved!
Jesus loves you so much! Listen to his prayer for you: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” This is Jesus’ last wish. He wants you to be in heaven with him! When you were a kid, can you remember when friends asked their parents if you could come over to their house? Doesn’t that feel good? “Can Nathan come over and play?” What does that say about you? “I like Nathan. He’s my friend! I even want him at my house.” That’s Jesus’ prayer! Father, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” You’re that special!
The fancy word for all this is “fellowship.” Christian fellowship is the unity we have in Christ. It helps me to think of this as a cross. A cross starts with a vertical beam—up and down. Jesus connects us with God by faith in him. But a cross has another beam too—a horizontal one. When we’re connected to God, Jesus connects us to each other—to Christians who share the same faith. United with God. United with each other. Jesus unites us! “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Unity is a beautiful thing in our divided world!
So why are there so many different churches? Why don’t we all unite? Many are. There’s a big movement called the “ecumenical” movement. Have you heard of that? It’s based on the idea: “Let’s look past our differences and unite together!” In our small town in Minnesota, there was an ecumenical service every Thanksgiving. The Catholic priest started the service. The Episcopal minister read the lessons. The Presbyterian pastor preached the sermon. The Lutheran pastors said the prayers… Sound good? Our church didn’t participate. How do you think that made us look? Mean. Bad! “What’s wrong with you? You think you’re better than everybody else!”
That’s not true. We just love Jesus and his Word. This movement to get all Christians together regardless of what they believe skips over one word in our lesson. “That they may be brought to complete unity.” What kind of unity does Jesus want us to have? Complete unity. He wants us to be truly united in everything the Bible says. You heard God’s warning at the very end of the Bible: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life” (Revelation 22:18-19). There are so many different churches because there are so many different ways to add or subtract from God’s Word! That’s not okay. So we can’t all unite!
Here’s an example. There’s a well-known Presbyterian pastor named Tim Keller in New York City. He’s an excellent writer. I have learned a ton from reading his books and am thankful for his faith in Jesus. But in the latest book I’m reading, he has a chapter on why it doesn’t matter whether God made the world in 6 days. He says it’s okay if people don’t believe God created the world like that. What? That’s not what Jesus says! “You loved me before the creation of the world.” Tim Keller is a Christian. He believes in Jesus. But he also supports a dangerous false teaching. That’s not okay. We’re not united in what we believe about God and his Word.
That’s because true unity divides. If you’re a Packers fan, whom are you not a fan of? Everybody else! You can’t be on two different sides. True unity divides. Think of marriage. If a man truly loves one woman and unites with her, that separates him from other women, right? It better! True unity divides. The closer you grow to Jesus, the more you realize that you don’t want anything to do with anything that pulls you away from Jesus. Unity with other people and other churches who don’t teach the truth of God’s Word will always lead you away from God. Can you see that?
But that doesn’t mean you should live your life alone. Jesus wants you to be united. God wants you to seek out Christians who believe what God’s Word teaches. If you don’t have a church, God wants you to have one. To unite with people who share the same faith. But it can’t just be an outward thing. Unity with others only comes through unity with God. That’s why we ask new people to study God’s Word with us before joining our church. We want our unity to be real. Jesus does too. He’s praying for us! That we be united in believing what God’s Word says.
For those who are already members of our church, think about this: What can you do to cultivate unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ here? As I’ve visited our members, the most common comment I’ve heard has been, “I don’t feel like I know many people. I wish there was a way to get more connected with other people.” What a great desire! We want to grow closer to people who share our faith in Jesus! So what friendships can you cultivate? What ministry can you be a part of? What group can you join? Whom can you reach out to? I would almost guarantee that they are waiting for someone to reach out to them. Jesus wants us to be one.
He chose a really powerful way to show that. On this same night before he died, Jesus took bread and wine, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood. Given for you.” When you take the bread—Jesus’ body given for you—you can know: “I am never alone. I am united with Christ.” You take the cup—Jesus’ blood shed for you—and you see the people standing beside you and you can know: “I am never alone. I am united with God’s people.” When we take the Lord’s Supper together, God is saying to us, “I am one with you.” And we are saying to each other, “I am one with you.” United in Jesus. Just like Jesus prayed!