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“As you, Father, 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.” – John 17:21
Make Them One
Farewells can be sacred: there is something holy about parting from people we love and entrusting them to God’s care during our time apart. Did you know this is how the word “goodbye” originated? It’s a contraction, shortened by long and casual use, of a parting blessing. “God be with ye,” over many years, became “goodbye.”
English speakers are not the only ones. The Spanish farewell adios and the French adieu both literally mean “to God,” and are shortened forms of a longer parting, “I commend you to God.”
Of course, the root meaning of a word and the sense we assign it can be two different things. Few people think of “goodbye” or “adios” as a blessing, so our use of it in those cases doesn’t amount to a prayer. Often, however, friends or family do part with a conscious wish for God’s blessing or with the assurance that “I’ll be praying for you.”
That is precisely what is happening in today’s text, on the deepest level imaginable. John’s gospel does not speak of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane, but rather inserts a lengthy farewell discourse between Jesus and the remaining disciples after Judas departed from what we have come to call “the last supper.” The first part of the discourse focuses on words of comfort and instruction (13:31-16:33) in which Jesus speaks to his disciples. The final part is a prayer (17:1-26), in which Jesus speaks to God, interceding for his followers. As such, it is commonly known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” and it serves as the theological climax of John’s gospel.
A prayer for unity(vv. 20-21)
We find comfort in knowing that friends and family are praying for us. How does it feel to know that Jesus also prayed for us? John 17 insists that Jesus prayed earnestly for believers like us who were not yet born and had not yet come to have faith.
As John portrays the scene, after a lengthy conversation with his remaining disciples, Jesus shifted his attention to prayer, knowing that the disciples would overhear his plea (as can we). Jesus began by praying for himself (vv. 1-5), interceded for those who were gathered around him that night (vv. 6-19), and concluded with a prayer for all believers who would come to know him (vv. 20-26).That is where we pick up today’s text. It is Jesus’ prayer for you and for me.
“I ask not only on behalf of these,” Jesus prayed, “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20). This does not limit Jesus’ request to the first generation of believers who would respond to the witness of the disciples, but to all future believers who would be drawn to the love of Jesus by the lives of his followers.
And what was Jesus’ request? “. . . that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (v. 21a). This does not suggest that we become part of the godhead, sharing a common essence with the Father and Son in the manner of the Trinity. Rather, Jesus asks that the community of faith reflect the unity of the divine: as God and Jesus are one with each other, so believers should share a common spirit and purpose, loving God and each other as Christ had loved them.
The unity Christ prayed for does not exist in our own strength, but in fellowship with God. Believers do not take on divinity, but we do have a relational connection to God: like branches on a vine, we abide in God and God abides in us (cf. 15:1-11). Jesus prayed that we might experience this mutual bond as God intended.
And what was God’s intention? That the oneness we share would lead us to live in such unity “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21b). This is how Jesus envisioned others coming to faith: not because we have preached in a crusade or passed out propositional tracts or frightened people with the prospect of hell, but because they see the love of God at work in us and toward them. There is no stronger witness than the godlike love we show to one another and toward the world – and there is no greater detriment to the gospel than one who claims Christ but breathes hostility.
A mission of unity(vv. 22-23)
Jesus’ prayer for unity in vv. 20-21 finds further elaboration in vv. 22-23. The substance of his prayer is the same as for those first followers in the upper room. He prayed that we might be one: one in Christ and one with each other.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them,” Jesus said, “so that they may be one, as we are one” (v. 22). What does that mean? What glory, given by God, could Jesus pass on to us? We typically think of “glory” in terms of fame and adulation, wide renown won through impressive achievements. The Greek word is doxa: when we sing the doxology, we offer words of praise to God’s glory.
The request harks back to the opening verses, when Jesus prayed that God would glorify him through the “hour” in which the incarnation reached its fulfillment (vv. 1-5). Gail O’Day argues that “glory,” in this context, points primarily to “the full revelation of God made known in Jesus,” as “God’s glory marks the beginning and the end of the incarnation (1:14; 13:31-32; 17:1, 25), and v. 22 makes clear that it will also mark the life of the faith community” (from “John,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 9 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995], 795: see “The Hardest Question” online for further ideas).
In other words, the astonished awe that people might feel toward Jesus as a result his selfless incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension could likewise be directed to believers who truly live in unity with God and demonstrate the same self-sacrificing love toward others.
Thus, the glory of Christ comes through unity with Christ and the Father: “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The oneness we have with God in Christ is reflected in a way that communicates God’s love to the world and draws others to Christ.
A future in unity(vv. 24-26)
As Jesus’ prayer draws to a close, he looks beyond the earthly mission of believers to the eschatological hope of a future in which the faithful live without the distractions of the world, in the full presence of God.
Showing intimacy, Jesus twice addresses God as “Father.” Previously, he had employed the language of asking, but now he shifts to saying what he wants:
“Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24).
This request recalls not only the early part of the prayer, in which Jesus spoke of “the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (v. 5), but also the Prologue of John’s gospel, which speaks of Christ as the pre-existent Word. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that the Word came into the world through the love of God, and the world’s “first full taste of that love comes in Jesus’ hour” (O’Day, 796).
Jesus’ closing address to God as “Righteous Father” points to God’s rightful judgment that had deemed the world unrighteous and in need of salvation. Through Jesus, the disciples had learned to comprehend what is truly right.
The final two verses not only conclude the prayer, but as C. K. Barrett has noted, “they summarize, and were no doubt intended to summarize, the substance of the gospel” (The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. [Westminster John Knox Press, 1978], 514). The unrighteous world did not know the Father, but God sent Jesus – who does know the Father – so that all might come to know God through his incarnation in all of its fullness: birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.
As Jesus had manifested knowledge of God throughout his incarnation, he would continue to make God known (v. 26), presumably through the ministry of the Paraclete, described in 16:13 as “the Spirit of truth” who would guide and teach believers what they need to know about God.
How comforting it is to hear Jesus praying for the day when we will be with him and witness his ultimate glory. Until that day, Jesus pledged to continue making the love of God known. We cannot always see Jesus. We cannot always feel him, but we can know, as we make our way through this life, that we are not alone. Only Jesus could say goodbye and yet remain present.
There may be days when we don’t sense the presence of Jesus walking beside us, but we can be sure that he is never too far away to hear our prayer. We may not see as much of the path ahead as we would like, but there is always enough light for another step, and always the assurance that at the end of the path we will see Jesus no longer in mystery, but in glory. We may sometimes feel alone on this earthly pilgrimage, but we can believe that Jesus is still at work as he promised, revealing the love of God to us and working through us to show the love of God to others. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for May 8, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: John 17:20-26
There is an entire industry devoted to planners. You can have them custom made with pictures and known dates. There are religious, work, and sports related planners. Planners have become so prevalent because our lives are busier now than they have ever been. It is not only that every day of the week has something scheduled, but every hour now seems to have something schedule as well. With all of this coming and going, when does a family have time to be one? When is everyone in the house at the same time? My challenge to you would be to find that time, whether it is at 7:30 in the morning or 9:00 at night, to sit down and be together. There doesn’t have to be anything structured except for sharing about your day. This shared time will seem to be sacred if you practice it, but don’t put it in your planner.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Amazing Video about Unity” from SilentNightDreams via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: John 17:20-26