What would you do if you were told you had only less than 24 hours to live? (Yup, we’re going there). There are many things you may choose to do in your final moments of life.
You might enjoy one final, delicious, shared meal with loved ones.
You might share memories, stories, and encouragements with your friends.
And yes, you would most certainly weep, mourn, or even pray.
What we see in the culminating moments of Christ’s life is a God who was staring death right in the face yet paused to do all 3 of these things.
Jesus intentionally ate, drank, and communed in a delicious Hebrew Passover meal.
Jesus shared wisdom and consolation with His students and best friends.
And Jesus wept, sweated blood, and prayed fervently for His disciples.
When we pick up the prayer of Jesus in John 17 we see the words of a Man who spent the final moments of His life selflessly loving the other. This prayer echoes truly who this Jesus was to the world He lived in — kind, humble, steadfast, and loving.
Jesus begins His prayer by acknowledging the steadfast faith of His disciples. While we often view the disciples as aloof teenagers, Jesus viewed them as empowered, faithful powerhouses whom God would use to radically change the world forever.
Jesus asks God to protect them from the powers of evil, sanctify them, and bestow on them the fullness of joy that comes from God. Finally, at the tail end of His prayer, Jesus prays for His disciples (and the disciples that would come after them):
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:20-23.
Jesus prayed a similar phrase earlier in His prayer but lines later He seems to expound upon the point. So with some of His final words prayed to the Father before His arrest, Jesus chooses to pray for something very specific: that believers in Jesus “may be one.”
Why would this be the central thesis of Jesus’ prayer? Why is “being one” so important? Why would Jesus choose to spend His precious breath on asking for unity?
We see in Colossians 1:16-17 that it is Jesus who holds together the entirety of the cosmos. The union of Jesus with the Father is something that is repeated over and over again in His ministry. Furthermore, the union between Christ and His Spirit is what empowers us, the Church, to be one with the Trinity and with the world around us.
Jesus knew that unity with the Father was essential to His empowerment on earth.
Jesus knew that unity with the Spirit would enable His disciples to continue His work (and greater works) after He left them.
Jesus knew that the unity of the disciples would prove to the world that Christ truly is the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus knew that unity is what would truly transform the world.
The question is this: how do we live out that unity today in the Church? Before the world could ever be transformed, the Church has to be transformed first.
We are sad to say, we haven’t always been the best at this whole unity thing. (We will spare you the details of the Church’s 2,000-year history of discord, dissension, and division. We cannot deny that unspeakable things have been done in the name of Christ our Lord. For these things, all we can do is cry out to God for mercy and ask for His guidance to lead us in a better way.)
In light of these divisions, it can be easy for us to lose hope that we could ever possibly fulfill the prayer of Christ we find in John 17. We must remember that, as humans, we are flawed and will continually make mistakes.
It is not in our human nature to care for others more than ourselves. But the hidden beauty of this reality? We have a new nature!
In Christ, we are empowered to live a different way, the very Way of Jesus. It is in this new and living way that we can encourage each other, honor others, think of others before ourselves, give generously, act justly, love mercy, walk humbly, serve selflessly, and model the lifestyle and love of Jesus.
If we don’t understand how Jesus loves us, we can’t love others.
If we don’t understand how Jesus sacrifices for us, we can’t sacrifice for others.
If we are not first unified with the God who is unified with us, we cannot be unified with others.
It is from this starting place that the Church will be empowered to pursue unity with one another. It is the reality that, when we find ourselves in eternity with our God, every nation, tribe, and tongue will be professing His praises.
Every dividing wall will be shattered in eternity.
Every denomination and religious dividing line will fall away.
Every ounce of bias, discrimination, and racism will cease.
Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
However, this promise of unity “someday” is not an excuse to neglect that unity “today.” We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, love the outcast, serve the poor, and be unified in one body and one Spirit. We will never be perfect at this. Yet, even as we fail in pursuing perfect unity, we even find grace in these failures.
Think of it this way: has Christ ever prayed a prayer that has not been answered? Has He ever asked something of the Father and not received it? So when Jesus prays “I pray that they may be one as You and I are one,” there is an expectation that this righteous prayer will be answered and fulfilled!
So, how does this unity play out in the life of the church? Lucky for us, we have a wonderful guide for how our unity should play out on the earth: the Bible! Here are just important methods we can employ to work toward unity and transform the Church (and the world) in the process.
Reconciliation can be defined as the restoration of a relationship. The Bible talks often about the importance of reconciliation between those we call our brothers and sisters in Christ. Before we can talk about reconciliation though, we need to understand the importance of forgiveness.
Paul summed up this one pretty simply in Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We cannot take the forgiveness of Jesus lightly; He went to the ends of the earth to forgive us and reconcile us to Himself. How could we not forgive others who have wronged us?
Without the act of forgiveness, true reconciliation is impossible. You cannot restore a relationship with someone you harbor bitterness and resentment toward. That is why God could not be in a full, right relationship with us unless He shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.
The call is simple: forgive others and be reconciled to others. When we choose to lay aside our bitterness and need for payback toward others, we can restore relationships well with those who have hurt us. When we choose to do these things, we show the world the God of forgiveness and reconciliation. We show them that they too can be restored to God.
In the Kingdom of God, there are no outcasts. There isn’t a single person on earth who doesn’t have an available seat at the table; they need only to accept the invitation from God. But what can happen in our fickle humanity is a system that does not foster belonging but breeds exclusion.
In James 2, the apostle touches on the big issue of showing personal favoritism in the church. In a nutshell, he says we’re sinning if we show particular preference to a rich man over a poor man. Ouch James.
But the point here stretches farther than even just economic status. If we find ourselves showing favoritism to certain types of people based on their status, race, or ability, we will find ourselves in a dangerous place.
Instead of playing favorites, we should be fostering a culture of belonging in our churches. People should feel at home when they enter our church corridors. They shouldn’t feel like sinful black sheep among the holy.
How do we do this practically? We treat others how we have been treated by Jesus. Jesus cares for us, listens to us, invites us to ask questions, and never forsakes us in our time of need.
This is how belonging is cultivated in the church body. When we make belonging a part of our DNA, we say to the world: you belong in the family of God. He is your Father, you are our brother or sister. You are loved here.
1 Corinthians 12 has a beautiful analogy within it of what the Church should look like: a body. Just as with the human body, each member of the Body of Christ has a specific function. Without this person operating in that function, things will slowly begin to fall apart.
For example, you may not think something like an ear infection would be a big deal. But slowly over time, your entire body will begin to suffer the effects. You could not only get a pretty rough headache, but your body’s balance would suffer and you could even lose your hearing entirely.
Paul highlights this notion in the passage when he says in verse 26 “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” If the Body of Christ neglects to work together well, we will not be very effective in our work. Civil war yields no winners because someone in the body is still left bloody and bruised.
To work together well, we must have an understanding of two things: 1. we are one in Christ, and 2. we each have a necessary function in the body.
Ephesians 2:13-14 sums this first point up beautifully: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Gentiles & Jews] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” In Christ, we have a new humanity. There is no more room for divisions for we are to be one in Him, just as He prayed in John 17.
To the second point, we must see that every single person who professes Jesus Christ has a specific purpose and calling in the body of Christ. This doesn’t mean everyone should be a pastor or preacher, but each person does indeed have a vital role to play in the Kingdom. Part of working together as the Body is understanding our role and not trying to play a role that isn’t ours!
If we begin to grasp the oneness Christ has established for the Church and the part we have to play in that one body, we profess to the world: you have a purpose on this earth. You have a family you can belong to where you are wanted, needed, and loved.
Unity is truly one of the most transformative characteristics of a thriving Church. Jesus knew that it would be unity (in the Church!) is precisely the thing that would captivate the world.
If we want to see our churches thrive, we must pursue forgiveness and reconciliation, foster a culture of belonging, and work together well as a collective Body of Christ. We truly believe that if we do these things, the light of the Church will only burn brighter and brighter. And this is the light on the hill which will draw those out of their darkness into the marvelous light of Jesus.
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