*This blog is based on a recent sermon I gave in Burundi, centered on John 17. I encourage you to read the chapter slowly before reading this blog.
John 17 is a unique chapter. It is the only time we get to listen in on an intimate conversation between Jesus and God the Father. The only other prayers we hear from Jesus are what we call the Lord’s prayer, the template He gave us that everyone can follow, and a brief excerpt of His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. This time, it is a specific, personal prayer, centered on the unity of love. He repeatedly references His unity with the Father, being one, the unity between Himself and His people, He in us and us in Him, and the unity between believers, following the very example set by the Trinity: May they be one as we are one.
The Unity of God: The Perfect Example of Perfect Love
Jesus describes the love and glory of the united Trinity being present before the foundation of the world (vs. 5 and 24). That means that glory is in no way dependent on our praise or the beauty and majesty of creation. Indeed, God’s glory is evident in God’s very nature of being relational. God is not just described as loving, He defined as love: perfect, untainted, glorious love. And that glorious love did not remain contained in the heavens. Jesus stated that He glorified the Father here on earth. He brought that perfect love to be displayed to all humanity.
Being perfectly united in love, being “one,” was described as sharing all things: “Everything I have is Yours, and everything You have is Mine” (v. 10). He emphasizes sharing the Word and sharing the work. Multiple times Jesus referenced the words given by the Father and being passed on to His disciples (vs. 7-8, 14, 17). Jesus is the go-between, the one who brought the word of truth, the word of love into the world. In fact, from the first verses of the Gospel of John we see that Jesus Himself was the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1). We only have access to that Word, that truth and love, because Christ brought it to us.
Passing on God’s word was a key component to God’s ordained work on earth. Jesus said that glory came with the completion of the work the Father had given Him to do (v. 4). He had revealed truth, both for the exposure of sin and the promise of salvation. He had also discipled the workers, those selected and given to Him by the Father. He loved, guarded, and equipped them to be sent, just as He had been sent by the Father. The passing on of the word and the calling of workers bring us to the parallel between Christ’s unity of the Father, and our unity with Christ.
Unity with Jesus
Partway through His prayer Jesus notes that this is not only His specific prayer for His disciples, it extends to “all who believe in Me” (v. 22). That means us! He wants us to know Him; in fact, eternal life itself is defined as knowing Him and knowing the Father (v. 3). This kind of “knowing” isn’t just head knowledge, but a deeper knowledge that comes from intimacy, just like the intimacy between the Father and the Son. He describes this intimacy as us living IN Him, and He living IN us (v. 21). Rather than just knowing about Him, we grow toward knowing:
- His name—His very identity of being both fully God and fully human (vs. 6, 12, 26)
- His truth and so the keeping of His word (vs. 6-8, 14)
- His holiness, being separated from the world (vs. 14-16) and sanctified (vs. 17-19)
- His calling, being sent into the world (vs. 18, 21, 23)
- His joy, as it is made complete in us (v. 13)
- His glory (vs. 10, 22, 24), which is found in
- His love (vs. 23, 26)
So how do we discover this intimacy with Christ?
Imagine the most wealthy, powerful person on earth comes to your village and knocks on your door. He tells you he wants to be part of your life, and wants you to be part of his life. Most of us would be shocked, then excited! What an honor that he would even notice someone so insignificant on a global scale. Consider that the very Creator of the universe is indeed knocking on your heart’s door, stating His desire to participate in every aspect of your life and inviting you to be part of all He is doing. He wants you to know His love.
Getting to know someone, growing in intimacy, happens when taking time together, having meaningful conversations, and making memories together. Similarly, spending time with Jesus, in His Word, in His Presence, in both joyful and painful times, is how we develop that relationship. How do we spend time with Jesus?
Reading the Word of God:
Sometimes we read the Bible as a biography, learning more about God and all that He has done. It can also be more like a letter, discovering what He says—His principles and truths, and how it relates to us. But if we slow down, embracing the invitation to meditate on His Word, to open our hearts and minds, we can listen, asking Jesus to show us what He wants us to know from His word in the here and now. This process can blend with the conversations we call prayer.
Good communication is essential to any relationship, which includes both speaking and listening. Our prayers should not be just telling God what we want from Him, what we think He should do for us. Prayer is a place to pour out our emotions, our questions, our struggles (as modeled in many of the Psalms). It is also a place to listen for His response, after asking for His guidance, or asking for His will to be clear. Put most simply, we can ask what He wants us to know, being ready to receive the truth we need the most. Prayer is being in His presence, experiencing His peace and joy, and responding in appreciation for what He has done and what He is doing.
If we are in Christ and He is in us (v. 21), He is present all the time! Yet we may forget to seek Him, both in times of joy and sorrow. Intimacy comes from sharing life, both the small details and the big events. Actively seeking Him allows us to experience His presence, to be more aware of His hand at work, and there to gain glimpses of His glory.
Seeking Him in times of sorrow allows us to experience His loving comfort and reassuring truths. Times of trial are when we learn to depend on Him, especially when we discover that our own strength has run out. We can’t do it alone. The more we practice seeking Him, the more easily we become aware of His presence, and discover that we can experience His peace and joy regardless of our circumstances. This is how His joy is made complete in us, how we are more aware of His hand at work, and there how we catch glimpses of His glory.
Participating in His Kingdom: When we accept Christ as Savior, giving Him lordship over our lives, that is stepping into His kingdom. We won’t know the fullness of that kingdom until we get to heaven, but already we can see His love and His glory here on earth.*** Indeed, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world (vs.15-6), present to reflect God’s love and truth, but distinct from the worldly principles and priorities.
Until we get to heaven we are on a road, with the kingdom of God on one end and the kingdom of this world on the other. We’re either moving toward Christ or toward worldly things like wealth, comfort, power, and all the temptations of selfish desires. When looking toward Jesus we receive His love, His healing, His sanctification as we draw nearer to Him. It is always a choice; we can’t go both directions; we can’t serve two masters.
When walking toward the kingdom of God we have two foundational commandments to keep us on track. The first is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what we are doing when finding intimacy with Christ. The second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This love comes most easily as an overflow of the love we receive from God. That love is a testimony, particularly when displayed in the oneness between believers, bringing us to our final discovery of unity.
Unity in Christ
In His prayer to the Father, Jesus asks FOUR times that we, His followers, might be one. The first two times it is in comparison to the unity of the Trinity, “that they may be one as We are one” (vs. 11, 21). Here we return to that perfect model of unity. Like the Father and the Son, we show love to one another by sharing all that we have. We share the words, the truth found in Scripture. We share the work, the common purpose of serving God, and testifying His truth to the world.
Jesus then prays “that they may be one in Us” (v. 21). The unity we find in Christ is well described by Paul as being part of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). Anyone who is connected to Christ, the Head, is also connected to each other. When we look at the complexity of the body, we see the unique nature of every part, the distinct role of each one, and the value of each part.
For the whole body to be healthy, each part must be cared for. Whenever one part of the body is hurt, the rest feels it. If I stub my little toe, as insignificant as it may seem, the whole leg retracts, the mouth lets out a yelp, the eyes might release tears. We cannot compartmentalize every member of the Body. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, all displays of love. Love is crucial for all to thrive.
Finally, Jesus prays for our unity, “so the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me” (v. 23). As we walk together on this journey toward heaven, those around us will witness our interactions, our relationships. When turning to face Christ, we can more easily reflect His love, becoming a powerful testimony. Relationships centered on Christ are a sharp contrast to the self-centered, worldly motivations. Reflecting Christ’s love means living out humility and sacrifice instead of self-promotion. It means offering grace and forgiveness, balanced with truth and accountability. It is visible in the vulnerability of sharing both joy and sorrow, and the practicality of carrying each other’s burdens.
Following these guidelines, these invitations to love God and love one another, have both immediate and eternal outcomes. Paul states that three things will always remain: faith, hope, and love. “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
How are you showing love to God this week? How are you investing in your relationship with Christ?
How can we as the Body of Christ find unity in Him? Where do we use love to overcome our differences?
May you fix your eyes on the love of Jesus, drawing nearer to Him and reflecting His love to those around you.
***An excerpt from the actual sermon in a rural church in Burundi 😊