John 17:20-26

August 12, 2001


Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor

The Grantham Church

20 1 am praying not for these alone but for those who believe in me through their testimony, 21 so that they all may be one just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you. I am asking that they may live in us so that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory which you gave me, so that they may be one, just as we are one: 23 I in them, you in me, that they may grow completed in oneness, that the world may know that you sent me. You love them just as you loved me. 24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. I want them to behold my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the founding of the world. 25 Righteous (Just) Father, the world does not know you but I know you and these - they know that you sent me; 26 and I made known your name to them and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I may be there also. - John 17:20-26

It’s the stuff of fairy tales that someone finds a magic lamp, rubs it to shine it up and a magic genie appears who says, you have three wishes. In one of the old Bob Hope - Bing Crosby films, they are in the desert, discover a magic lamp, the genie appears, grants them three wishes, and they ask for a banquet of food and drink and it appears right there in the desert. Bob Hope says, “well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” And Bing Crosby has to use the third wish to make Hope human again.

I remember after seeing that film thinking, “gee, it would be a great thing to have three wishes,” and then wondering how I could keep from wasting them. It’s like the Messiah College professor who is given a choice between having wisdom or having wealth, and, being a professor, he asks for wisdom. The first words he says in his newly wise state are, “I should have asked for the money.” We never get it right with these magic lamps things. Which doesn’t stop us from dreaming about the possibility.

Let’s make the situation a spiritual one. Let’s say we could ask Jesus in prayer for three things that he would promise to grant provided they are consistent with God’s will. What would you ask for? Well in these verses in John 17 Jesus prays for three things for all believers. The startling, and unnerving, thing is that they are probably not the three things we would think of asking for. What would you ask for? To win people for Jesus? To have a powerful prayer life? To understand Greek and Hebrew without having to study - that last is a nice magic lamp touch!

Here are the three things Jesus prays for us: 1. That there would be a oneness among us. 2. That people in the world would believe because of what they see in us that God Almighty was the One who sent Jesus to earth. 3. That we would see Jesus in his glory like a kind of continuous Mount of Transfiguration experience.

Let’s mull over what Jesus says in these verses in John 17.

As an introduction to the verses, notice that in verse 20 Jesus is praying for those who will believe in him through the testimony of other believers. That means he is praying for us. I remember the prayer from my devotional guide one morning this Spring, “Thank you for every brother, sister, time and place that brings this good news into our hearts.” That supported what my experience has been, that there are many people who affirm the Gospel for us in our lives. Jesus prays for that to happen.

Many of us learn what grace means when out of the blue, in some totally unexpected manner, some person we know does something that brings us to consider the claims of Jesus on us. Sinclair Ferguson, a pastor in Glasgow, Scotland, has some nice lines in a recent book of his, A Heart for God. “To be a Christian is not a mindless experience, but involves knowledge and understanding. It means a personal relationship and personal acquaintance with the Lord. Behind what Jesus says in John’s Gospel lies the promise God gave centuries before in the prophecy of the new covenant: ‘I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord’.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

So what exactly are the three wishes Jesus prays for us?

1. Jesus prays that we may all be one, and then he adds a monument to mark what that oneness means: “just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you.” So we see right away in these words that this is not an administrative unity, the way for years the World Council of Churches thought of oneness, nor is it like the way the Roman Catholic church continues to think of oneness. They aren’t willing to be one with what they still call “the separated brethren.” The unity is a personal unity, a kind of spiritual genetics.

When Nancy and I first came here to the Brethren in Christ Church, we would meet these great saints of the church who would ask us, “now who are you related to?” Well, we weren’t related to any Brethren in Christ, except by this spiritual genetics. We were believers in Jesus Christ and it was on that ground you were willing to accept us. And, we, you! But over the years our lives have become interwoven. One of our sons, Jeffrey, had a close friend in the church, Chad Brubaker. They were the same age. When Chad died at the age of 8, his death was the direct cause of Jeffrey becoming a Christian since after the funeral service, he asked questions about death and being with Jesus that led to his willingness to ask Jesus to come into his heart. It is on those sorts of grounds that the oneness of the church works.

When we dedicate children in the church, we ask the members of the congregation a question that I wrote and added to our minister’s manual, “Do you promise, so long as this child is in your midst, to see to his/her Christian training, to promise to put no cause for stumbling in his/her way, and to always respect the fact that he/she is a child dedicated to the Lord?” It is when we keep to that promise and care for one another’s children that we are one.

But these kind of interpersonal relation things might happen in any group where the members have been together for a period of time. But there is something else that works for oneness among Christians, something that God does. Verse 23, “I in them, you in me, that they may grow completed in oneness.” (The New International Version has this as a prayer request, “May they be brought to complete unity.”) This process of becoming one happens over time and it is the form of the participle in verse 23 that hints at there being a time process: “that they may grow to completion.” The time frame is more than 30 years, probably. God began it, but there are ongoing implications for our lives. This is a personal relationship and like all personal relationships, it matures over time.

This past Wednesday I was in the chapel at Messiah Village before the funeral for Howard Wolgemuth. I hugged Judy, talked with Dale about where he was when he heard the news of his father’s death, sat down beside Chris and talked briefly. Something has gone on over the past thirty years that allows that to happen. It is something about personal relationships, but it comes as a result of Jesus being in us and the Father being in Jesus, so that we as believers are being changed in a certain direction. There is a momentum to that direction of change because Jesus prayed that we would be one. We don’t create this oneness. Jesus does. Our task is to maintain it. The first thing Jesus prays for us is that we may all be one.

2. Oneness among us connects directly to the second thing Jesus prays for us in verse 21, “I am asking that they may live in us so that the world may believe;” and specifically that the world may believe “that you sent me.” That’s important because if God in heaven sent Jesus his Son here on a mission, and the world doesn’t accept that Jesus came from God, then our living in connection with Jesus and the Father may help to authenticate Jesus’ mission as God’s Son. It does that because something happens in believers that can’t be fully explained in any naturalistic way.

Followers of Jesus have a mission. That mission is that we bear witness to Jesus Christ and to the Father. What does the world see? They see Christians loving one another. Love doesn’t happen a lot in the world. In the world people are abused, taken advantage of, neglected. One of the comments people make over and over to me when they visit this church is they sense that people here are interested in them and care about them. When those people become part of a small group Bible study, that caring continues, and people recognize it. We, by our life style and priorities, let the world, and other Christians, see what God can do. In some churches Christians are not always cared for nor caring.

There is something scary in the implications of this. Just as Jesus was God incarnate, so the church is a visible revelation of what God is like. That’s how Jesus’ argument goes here. The scary thing is that churches aren’t always something to admire when we look at the broad sweep of church history. What we are responsible for, though, is what goes on in this particular church. That’s where we can do something. Nancy still keeps in touch with girls, grown now, who were part of her Pioneer Girls group from 25 years ago. I used to play cars on the floor of my office with a young man who is now a college student. We trusted our children as they were growing up with the children of other church families because we knew and trusted the families. I like to tell the story of that day Kenneth Hoover was putting shingles on the roof of his house. He slipped off the roof and injured himself and the next day five men from the church were there to finish the shingling. These are the sorts of things others can see. We do these things because Jesus lives in us. That’s what Jesus is praying for in verse 21.

In prayer meeting we keep a little diary of prayer requests and answers to prayers. These kinds of things are some of the answers. They’re an answer to Jesus’ prayer for us. Now we are all at different places in our Christian lives. We’re not clones. The great thing about God is that he starts with us where we are - wherever that is! There are no Olympic trials that leave some people out if they haven’t come up to a certain level spiritually. The important thing is that next year we need to have grown more completed in oneness than we are this year. We need to grow. If you’re not growing spiritually, you aren’t helping the church’s witness.

Nancy and I bought a number of plants for our yard this spring. Among them were three little green tufts that we planted on the little hill near our pond. They might have been lovely little spots of green on the side of that mound beneath our umbrella pine, but they’re dead. They stopped growing. When people walk through our yard no one looking at those three brown tufts of deadness is going to say, “Hey, I want to buy some of those plants for my yard.” The world isn’t impressed by dead plants. But when we are growing, people will be saying, “what is that plant? I want something like that for my yard.”

The second thing Jesus prays for us is that the world would be persuaded to believe when they see how we love one another and how we are being changed over time. But it is only other Christians who will know the reason we are changing, that the Father and his Son, Jesus, are living in us.

3. There is a third thing that Jesus prays for us. This may be the hardest to understand and yet the grandest of all. Jesus prays in verse 24 that we might be with him and see him in all his glory.

Now we have already seen Jesus’ glory in some fashion. In verse 22 Jesus states, “I have given them the glory which you gave me.” What is that glory he gave us? It is the ability to see God in all his beauty. There was only one man in all the Old Testament who dared to ask to see God’s glory. That was Moses in Exodus 33:18. You have to admire the sheer gumption of Moses. And God replies to him, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord Yahweh, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” - and clearly at this point Moses needs both mercy and compassion, for God continues - “But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” It is a great privilege to see God’s glory and live rejoicing in it.

In the preface to his Gospel, 1:14, John maintains that we have seen Jesus’ glory: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In fact for most of the disciples’ time with Jesus they did not see his glory, but at the cross and in the resurrection they saw it and that’s where we see it.

My favorite picture of this glory is in 2 Corinthians 3. Paul reflects upon Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai and how Moses’ face shone when he came down and how Moses covered his face; and then Paul writes, “we, who with unveiled faces, all look as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another .” So when Jesus says that he has given us the glory the Father gave him, the effect on us happens over a period of time. In this life we don’t ever see all the implications of that. What we catch are glimpses of glory seen in some old saint of the Lord, as he/she is enraptured by being in the Lord’s presence and there is enough glory that shines through in this person that we see it.

There is a story told of such a man. His name was Praying Hyde, a 19th century British Christian, who went into his library to pray and because there were other things to do that day, he instructed his man servant to knock on his door in half an hour. Half an hour later the servant comes to the library but before knocking, he peers through the keyhole and he sees Hyde with such a look of rapture on his face that he decides not to disturb him. In another half hour, the servant comes and knocks on the door immediately to call Hyde. When Hyde opens the door, he says to him, “What, is the time passed already?” That is the sort of person in whom one might see something of the glory of the Lord. In the rest of us, any touch of glory is like a trace element.

So Jesus, knowing about this, prays that we would come to be with him and see him in all his glory. How is Jesus’ glory revealed in your daily life? Are you content with that?

One thing you got when you got me as a pastor is someone with a lot of spiritual growing to do. I think I have never given the impression that I am more spiritual than I know myself to be. But I have tried to grow in the Lord’s ways each year, so that when I have said, as I often have, “You ought to be someplace different spiritually next year than you are this year,” I have been speaking to myself as well as you.

Some day we shall all together be with the Lord in his presence seeing his glory. That we get there is because of the Lord’s grace, but along the way, we have helped one another, you and I, to be affirmed in our faith as we look for the day of the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.