By Simon ManchesterSunday 2 Oct 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
More than 100 years ago the great preacher Charles Spurgeon told a story once of a man who was walking through his field. And as he was walking through the fields he bumped into a travelling evangelist.
And the travelling evangelist said to him: “Will you be coming to the meetings in the tent?”
The man said: “No I won’t”.
The evangelist said: “Do you ever go to your local church?”
He said: “No I never do”.
The evangelist said: “Do you ever pray?”
He said: “No I never do”.
The evangelist said: “Do you ever plan to pray?”
He said: “No I’m never planning to pray”.
The evangelist said: “I wonder whether you’d be willing to promise me that you will never pray if I was to give you this shilling – $50.”
And the man said, “Well that’s easy, I’m never planning to pray – I’ll take the money”.
So he takes the money, and he goes home. Over the next few days, he begins to think about the deal that he has struck – that he has promised that he will never pray. He realises that he’ll not be able to pray if his children are in trouble, he’ll not be able to pray if he gets sick; he’ll not be able to pray if he is on his death bed. He becomes more stressed over the next days – he goes off his food, he cannot sleep; he becomes restless.
Eventually, his wife says to him: “What have you done, what’s happened?” He tells her the story. She begs him to go quickly to see the evangelist. He sneaks out in the evening and goes into the back of the tent and finds him preaching on the text – “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his soul?” What will it profit a man if he gains $50 and loses his prayer life? The man begs the evangelist to take back the deal which he gladly does.
The gift of praying, not just speaking, but being heard by the Almighty Heavenly Father is a priceless privilege. We forget, but it is a priceless privilege.
What we have been doing over these last few weeks is we have been looking at the Prayer which is recorded in John 17 where Jesus himself prays. I pointed out to you that it is unlikely Jesus ever prayed The Lord’s Prayer because it says ‘forgive us our sins’. He would never have needed to pray that but this is perhaps the real Lord’s Prayer.
And what we have seen so far is that Jesus begins by unusually praying for himself that God would glorify him in his death and his resurrection. And then he goes on to pray for the Apostles, the 11 sitting around the table of the Last Supper that God would keep them from a thousand spiritual dangers and that he would also sanctify or devote them or commit them to a life which is going to count. And we define that in John’s Gospel as being a life which helps other people to have eternal life because that’s what Jesus’ life was all about and his death.
And now we come today to the remarkable privilege of listening to what Jesus is going to pray for the believers down the track. And we often have people come and lead us in prayer on Sunday morning, and we are very privileged when we do so.
Like this morning, we get caught up in good prayers, and people say and articulate things that are a blessing to us. Can you imagine what it will be like to have the Lord Jesus step from the pew and walk to the front and pray for 30 seconds for the believers of the world?
We don’t need to guess because it’s recorded for us in John 17:20-26. And that’s what we are going to look at this morning – what does he ask?
He asks two things – firstly that God’s people in this world may be one – we will look at what that means. Secondly, he prays that God’s people would be in the next world in glory.
- In this world – that they would be one
- In the next world – that they would be in glory
I want to look at those two things with you. If you missed the last two Sundays, I’m sorry for you because I think that they were really important, and you may have been away (that’s understandable), but I just want to urge you to try and download – just push the buttons on your microwave and see what happens! Try and get something back!
Let’s think about these two points – Praying for Believers – he is praying for those (verse 20) who will believe in him because of the apostolic message. In other words, he is praying for everyone who becomes a Christian. Everybody who hears the message of Jesus and believes that he lived and died and rose again – Jesus is praying for those people – he’s praying for YOU who believe – he’s praying for ME.
His prayer goes all around the world and down through the Centuries as he prays that you will be one with the other believers and in glory with him and the other believers.
He prays that believers would be one
First of all, He prays that believers would be one. Now that is not a wishy-washy, dull and bland as you might think. I want to show you how profound it is. Remember that Jesus is praying for those whom God the Father has given him. God the Father has been working behind the scenes to cause people to go to Jesus. People here this morning, you went to Jesus for 100 reasons, but ultimately it’s because God pushed you to Jesus, prompted you to go to Jesus and we are gathered today because God is a gathering, a family gathering God. He organises everything behind the scenes.
I remember seeing a commercial once on television of a little boy, and it was an advertisement for Sports Shoes, soccer boots and the little boy was kicking a ball around the backyard on his own and looking very miserable.
In the next scene he is organising a candle-lit romantic dinner for his parents, and there he is with the cloth over his arm waiting on them and providing them with this lovely dinner. And it is a romantic dinner, and he’s obviously then ushering them off away from the table (probably to the bedroom).
In scene 3 of the advertisement, he’s walking down the corridor of the hospital holding his dad’s arm with the little pair of boots in his other hand heading to the Maternity Wing where his mother has just given birth to a little boy who is going to be able to play soccer with him in the back garden.
Now it’s a fantastic piece of organisation by this little boy! I’ll explain it all to you after if you’ve missed it!
And the Father organises everything to help people go and put their faith in Jesus and gather as his people. Well, let’s look at what Jesus prays (verse 20).
“My prayer is not for them (Apostles) alone. I also pray for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one.” The first thing about oneness that Jesus is praying for is that we will be one in the truth. I pray that they will be one because they believe in the Apostle’s message. Do you notice that? What is the first condition of being a real member of God’s family?
You believe the message of the Gospel. You don’t just turn up in a building and drink the same coffee. You hear the same Gospel about Jesus, living, dying and rising again, and you believe it, and that’s what makes you one with God and one with his people.
Christian unity is unity in the truth – it’s the Gospel that grips our minds and grips our hearts. The word of God becomes our conviction, and we are persuaded of the same message.
Now this Gospel message is what Jesus has been organising in the chapters 14-16. He cannot separate chapter 17 which we are looking at from 14-16. In 14-16 he says to the 11 around the table – I’m leaving, the Spirit is coming, the Spirit will help you to remember what I’ve said and done and to know what’s coming and to record it. And then everybody will be able to read it or hear it as it beams around the world. And that’s what is happening, and that’s how millions are going to hear and do hear the message and become one in the truth.
So, friends, there is nothing like an agreed set of heads or brains, an agreed set of hearts. That’s what unites us. And that’s why when you just attempt structural unity, organisational unity and dictatorship you don’t get unity because you don’t get the oneness of mind and heart. That’s why the ecumenical movement that you may have heard of which is the idea that all the churches should just come together and drop their differences is just impossible because the ecumenical movement is marked largely by dropping all the important doctrines that upset people and then finding that you’ve got almost nothing. The lowest common denominator is almost nothing.
I had to stop going over to the Ministers’ Fraternal of North Sydney because I found that I was sitting at a table with people who just didn’t believe. The blasphemy was so bad at the Ministers’ Fraternal. I decided to stop going. I’m not saying I am a good person; I’m just saying we didn’t agree on anything. And the ecumenical movement which attempts to bring everybody together with sort of tea and sandwiches is just not working because it has to be in the apostolic truth. That’s where unity must begin. We need to kneel down and say what do the Apostles say and teach – Because that’s going to be our conviction.
And of course, if you are in a church, or you are in a Bible Study group, and you’ve got people who bow down to the truth, they bring unity. If you’ve got people in the church or the Bible Study group who baulk at the truth or sit over the truth or pick and chose the truth, they bring division.
Incidentally in verse 22 Jesus says a very unusual thing – he says “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” and I think what he means by that is ‘I’ve given them the display or the splendour, I’ve given them the revelation of myself and my life and my death and my resurrection in order that they might believe’. So I think it’s a variation on this idea, this crucial idea of truth.
The second key to unity is that it’s relational (verse 21) “May they be one Father, as you and I are one – you in me – I in you”. Now he’s not praying that we will be like the Father, that is God, or like the Son, that is God – he is praying that we will have a relational unity just as the Son belongs to the Father and the Father belongs to the Son, so says Jesus, it’s possible for a believer to belong to Christ. In fact, he uses the illustration in John 15 of a branch in a vine. That’s a very organic unity. That’s what he is praying for.
So if you think, sadly, that being a Christian means that you have a book like a Bible, and you’ve got a building that you turn up to, and you’ve got some coffee that you drink and that there’s a Course that you go to, you could be missing the fact that Christianity is really organic, relational, belonging to Jesus, not just believing in him from a distance because we are branches in a vine when we become Christians.
Just as we would be sad to say that a married couple has a house and some chores and that’s what marriage is! But marriage is a unity of oneness which is pretty hard to define and Christianity is a oneness with Jesus which is hard to describe but as far as God is concerned, he looks at his people and he says ‘my Spirit lives in them’. And they are in Christ, and I by my Spirit am in them, and they are in my family, and it’s all interconnected and relational and organic – that’s oneness.
The third thing to say about this unity (verse 23) is that it is progressive. “May they be brought?” says Jesus “to complete unity”. The word in the original language is “Telos” from which we get our word “telescope” which means “I’m looking to the end – I’m looking to the goal – I’m looking to the fulfilment”.
And here is Jesus not just settling for basic unity but real progressive unity. That’s one of the great privileges of being part of this church. I look on you this morning, brothers and sisters, and I am one with you by the grace of God because of the Spirit of God and the truth of God, but we all have room for progress in unity in learning better, learning more or growing in our knowledge and understanding of the Lord Jesus. I’ve masses of things still to learn for you to teach me, and you have things to learn still to be taught. So we have unity in the Gospel, we have a unity of the Spirit but we are also are to make progress in the unity, and that’s what Jesus is praying for here.
It’s a very sad thing when a family have the same surname, but they are just not talking, relating, they are separated, and they are divided, and Jesus asks to increase the unity, and that will come as the word of God is received and the Spirit of God does his work but it will also come one day when we see Jesus face to face, and then we will be totally and perfectly one.
And believe it or not, we’ll all fall down on our knees before the Lord Jesus, and every piece of difference and every piece of disagreement will just absolutely be obliterated. It will be a non-issue, and we will be caught up in the perfection of the truth and the love of Christ.
So there are three keys to unity:
- The Word of God
- The Spirit of God
- The Grace of God
And you can see where this is all going because he says in verse 21 “that the world may believe’ and again in verse 23 “that the world might know”. Believe it or not, one of the great weapons in the hand of God for people coming to have eternal life is a bunch of believers, sinful, faulty, faltering, wayward, intermittent piety, doubtful, lapsing, drifting, repenting, obeying, trusting and all the above and that little group of believers who really do believe the Gospel and who really have the Holy Spirit are an instrument in God’s hand for good.
And Jesus, you see, is very interested in the world. The message has to go out, that is vital, the Spirit is going to bring conviction, that’s vital, but the church is an instrument for good in God’s hand.
And that work of God is going to help people, very profoundly, very simply to know that God sent Jesus and that God loves his people. Now, friends, you could go down to the Sunday school classes today, and you could say to some of the 3yrs
- “Did God send Jesus?” – Yes, he did
- “What’s one of the most wonderful things God has done?” – He sent Jesus
And you could also go down to the Sunday school class, and you could say:
- “Does God love us?” – Yes God loves us.
- What’s one of the most wonderful things about God? – He loves us.
It looks so basically doesn’t it? It looks like absolute Sunday school stuff, and yet that’s what Jesus is saying – we are waiting for people to know that God sent Jesus and that he loves them.
I was reading one of the radio broadcasts of Clive James on the subject of ‘Jesus’. Clive James decided to give a radio broadcast on the person of Jesus. Here are a few quotes from the broadcast:
He says I have faith that Jesus lives as an ideal. For me, he didn’t need to be crucified to prove his capacity for sacrifice. I first heard about him in Bible Class when I was very young, but I have become an unbeliever. And this is what I will tell my granddaughter when she asks me about Jesus. I will tell her that he was a champion of women. That he believed in her and that alone would be sufficient cause to bless the Christmas Season when his birth is celebrated.
There’s just something frustratingly absent there, isn’t there? He’s a brilliant man; he’s a very witty man and he’s a very thoughtful man. And he’s quite critical of Dawkins and Hitchens. He thinks that they protested too much. He thinks that much of their arguments are trite.
But here is Clive James and he has not seen that God sent Jesus – he has not grasped that God loves his people to send his Son to die for them. He’s not got it; the penny has not dropped. He’s in the dark. For all his intelligence, he hasn’t yet got the truth. He hasn’t yet got the Spirit of God, and he hasn’t yet perhaps seen a unified fellowship. And that’s why we need to take seriously what Jesus himself prays for – The spread of the Gospel, the work of the Spirit and the unity of the church. And by way of challenge listen to Don Carson!
Jesus prays that they may be brought to complete unity. The implication is that their unity, while real, is not perfect. Sad to tell so often Christians do not cherish deeply the things that unite them with other true believers. They cherish instead divisive things. Even where there is some point of conscious at stake, there is a danger that in defending what we hold to be a point of truth, we may endanger the integrity of the witness of loving unity. That’s why disagreements ideally are discussed with great love in the heart.
At the level of practice, at the level of attitude, at the level of love, at the level of growing grasp of true doctrine and all of these levels, the Christian church needs to be perfected in unity. For this, Jesus himself prays and one day he will see the prayer answered without qualification the expanding unity will yet become perfect unity. O what a great thing he prays for. And it’s not just a selfish thing. It’s a globally impactful thing. And it’s a great thing for us to pray.
That all believers might be in glory
The last thing this morning is that he prays That all believers might be in glory. Verse 24 “I want them Father to be where I am, I want them to see my glory”. You remember he prayed for this for himself back in verse 5 that he would be restored to the glory where he was before the foundation of the world, and now he prays for all believers that they will end up in glory at the end of the world.
Now I just want you to notice who prays this – it is the unique Son of God who prays this. He’s just about to be crucified, but he is thinking of you. He must have massive things on his mind and heart at the moment, but he is praying that you will arrive in glory.
And I wonder whether you realise that when you are in trouble, and temptation and battle and you feel that you are on your own and that nobody is particularly interested? And here is Jesus under the most unbelievable and unbearable burden stopping to pray that you will be in glory.
Notice how he can provide glory for believers because in chapter 14 verse 2 he says “I am going to prepare a place for you” – that’s how you will arrive in glory. It’s because he is going to prepare a place for you. How is he going to prepare a place for you? He’s going to prepare a place for you (listen carefully to this) by going to the cross. Because he goes out of the room and then out of the city and then on the cross out of the Father’s fellowship, you who believe can walk in at his expense.
Here is Jesus, you see, saying you should pay the price for your insurrection and your various evils, you should pay, but I will pay, I will go out to the cross and what you have done (the past, present and future) will be laid on me and I will pay. And when I’ve paid, you have a place in glory – it’s yours – it’s paid. And you can be secure.
Now when he talks about being in glory what is he saying? Well, it’s hard for us to get our heads around this but essentially what he is praying is that we will be with him because that is what makes glory – glory.
Heaven isn’t heaven without Jesus.
You know the Christless pub is pretty close to hell, isn’t it?
The Christless golf course is just a dreadful thought
But to be with Christ where everything is under control and everything is loving, and everything is peaceful, and everything is generous and wonderful, that’s glory. That’s what makes glory – glory – to be with Christ and to be with all Christ’s people.
Paul said to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4 – and they were a pretty wayward bunch like us – he said ‘the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us (that’s you and me) with Jesus and present us with you in his presence’. We couldn’t have it more clearly, could we? The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.
I hope this morning you won’t doubt because of your sin.
I hope you will believe because of his grace; his grace is greater than your sin.
I hope you will think of your future as going to be with him with all the ransomed saints meeting all the people who have looked to Christ and are now made perfect and enjoying fellowship with them and with him forever.
We don’t deserve it, but he has provided it for Jesus’ sake, and we will praise him, and we will live with him and for him with nothing to separate us.
So why will it happen?
Because he has prayed for it.
Because he has paid the price
Because he has given his promise – “I will take you to be with me.”
And I want you to just notice as we close in verse 24 he says “Father, I want this” – literally I will this. Now this is one of the most extraordinary things in John 17. We would never lift our head to God and say “I want to tell you what my will is because this is what’s going to happen – what I want”. That’s what Jesus says – “Father” he sometimes says “I am asking this, I am asking this” – here he says in 17:24 “I will do it and I will do it because you will it – we are one – we want people to get home”.
So there is this amazing prayer from Jesus based on his work on the cross, his promises and now this extraordinary prayer when he prayed for himself that he would be glorified – he was. When he prayed for the Apostles that they would be kept – they were kept. When he prays for the believers – they will arrive.
I’ve mentioned Martyn Lloyd-Jones many times in this series, partly because I’ve read his book on John 17. He preached 40 sermons on John 17. I’ve preached 4 – he preached 40! He preached 17 sermons on verse 17 – not all of them went anywhere near verse 17 I have to tell you, but he preached 17 sermons on verse 17.
When Martyn Lloyd-Jones was at the very end of his life, he was 81 years, in 1981 and friends and family were gathering around him and praying for him and having last times with him. Some of them, of course, were praying as they should that the Lord would make him strong or make him well. But Martyn Lloyd-Jones was 81 and at the end of his life and his work was done. He didn’t see himself as the future to the church and as he got weaker and fainter he looked forward more and more to the glory, and he wrote in a fairly shaky little hand a note to his wife and he said these words:
“Please don’t ask people to pray for miraculous healing – do not keep me from the glory”.
Let’s pray –
Our Father we thank you for these very rich and wonderful things. We thank you for the life, death and resurrection and prayer of the Lord Jesus. We thank you that in the great span of eternity he’s done a work which outweighs all the trouble and all the suffering, and we pray that you would give us a Bible perspective and a Bible hope.
We thank you, Father, for his prayer for the unity of the church in the truth, in the Spirit and making progress and we pray this for ourselves. May we be one in the Word, one by your Spirit and may we make progress.
We also thank you, Father, for the prayer of the Lord Jesus that we would one day be in glory seeing you face to face. We pray that this hope would fill our mind and heart. We ask that you would strengthen us to be people of great faith, great love and great hope and we ask that you would cause the truths, the light of this part of your Word, to transform many dark and difficult things in which we walk in this world and to help others also to see the light of Christ.
We ask these things in his Name – Amen.