Unity Driven By Love – John 17:20-23

Unity Driven By Love

Nick Esch, 8/19/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

John 17:20-23

Jesus is just a few hours away from the cross, and in preparation He has been praying to the Father. He began His prayer by praying for His glory, and then for His apostles, and now He shifts to praying for all believers throughout all time. Starting in verse 20 He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” So here, Jesus ties all that He has prayed for His apostles to all of His disciples throughout all time. Now, there’s a sense in which certain aspects of this prayer would only be fulfilled in the apostles; for instance, when He speaks of others coming to believe in Him through “their word,” in part He means the apostolic word of the New Testament… And this is because, the New Testament, written, by and large, by apostles, is a part of God’s gospel word…

Now, you might not typically think of the whole of the New Testament as God’s gospel Word… Most likely what comes to your mind is the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); but, after the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is essentially an unpacking and an applying of the Gospels… So when Jesus speaks of those who will believe in Him through the apostolic word, He’s still referring to the gospel; after all, it’s the gospel that we are called to believe in… Jesus Himself said in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” And all of the New Testament is dealing with this gospel; but really, the whole of God’s Word is: Old and New Testament… As pastor Dave Harvey has said, “The gospel is the heart of the Bible. Everything in Scripture is either preparation for the gospel, presentation of the gospel, or participation in the gospel.” So this applies first to the apostles, because Jesus is referring to their word laid out in the New Testament, but it likewise applies to all Christians as we share this gospel with others…

But, notice, Jesus says in our text that He’s praying for those who will believe in Him, through this gospel Word, not just believe in the gospel Word… Well, let’s think about that for a second. The gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus: who He is, what He’s done, why it matters, and how we should respond. So He’s praying for all who do believe in Him and all who will believe in Him through the Word that is about Him… And again, the whole of God’s Word is about Him in one way or another… So, by His grace, we come to believe in Him by encountering Him through His Word… The gospel tells us who He is and what He’s done and what He will do… There’s a real sense in which Jesus is the gospel… After all, the word gospel just means good news, and Jesus is the greatest news of the Christian gospel…

John Piper, in his book God Is the Gospel, says that God, or Jesus is the gospel because, “the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God’s love is the enjoyment of God’s beauty (seen primarily in Christ). ‘One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple’ (Ps. 27:4). The best and final gift is that we gain Christ. ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I main gain Christ’ (Phil. 3:8). This is the all-encompassing gift of God’s love through the gospel—to see and savor the glory of Christ forever” (11). Therefore, if we really believe the gospel, we are believing in Jesus…

So, Jesus says that He isn’t praying for, “these only,” or for the apostles only, but for all who will believe in Him through their gospel word… Jesus has already said in His prayer that He is not praying for the world, but for His own people; and here He makes a clear distinction between the world and His people: His people are those who believe, or those who will believe the gospel: those who believe in Jesus… To believe, in the way that Jesus is using it here, means to put one’s faith in, or to trust in such a way that actions based on that trust will follow… In other words, we aren’t just to believe, but to repent and believe, as Jesus said in Mark 1:15… It’s a belief that transforms our actions… And why wouldn’t it? After all, we are believing that in the gospel we receive the all-encompassing gift of God’s love: which again, is to see and to savor the glory of Christ forever… The good news isn’t just that we are saved from our sin and the wrath due our sin, but that we are saved from eternal separation from Jesus, and now we will be with Jesus forever… Remember what Jesus said eternal life is. In John 17:3, speaking to the Father, He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…” Knowing, enjoying, and being with our God forever… That’s what eternal life is all about… And this is what we come to see and savor as we believe in the gospel… That Jesus is better than our sin, this world, or even our very lives… And so we turn from our sin and we cling to Christ… Because we want Him… We want to be with Him and enjoy Him forever…

In one of the classes I’m taking this semester, someone asked in a class discussion why faith is necessary for salvation… And I responded, first and foremost because it magnifies the glory of Christ… As our hearts proclaim, “Take the world, but give me Jesus…” we display Jesus’ worth and value to the world around us… And as we embrace Jesus this way, He takes us in, and covers us in His righteousness… This is the great condition of salvation… Election is unconditional, but justification is not… We must believe… So, do you? Do you really believe the gospel: that though we were created to glorify God, instead we have rebelled against Him, and are thus deserving of His eternal wrath. But God in His grace sent Jesus—the Son of God—to come and live the life that we should be living, and then take the punishment that we deserve upon Himself: having God’s wrath poured out upon Himself in our place on our cross, and then dying our death. And after dying, getting up from the grave in victory on the third day, conquering sin, Satan, and death, and satisfying God’s wrath for all who will truly believe in Him… Do you believe in this gospel? Do you truly treasure Christ? If not, repent and believe right now… As the old hymn says, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy; weak and wounded, sick and sore… Jesus ready, stands to save you; full of pity, love and power…” Forsake all, and run to Jesus… He is mighty to save and He is supremely better than everything… That’s what true faith displays, and true faith saves; so I beg you, if you haven’t already, believe in Jesus… And if you already believe, marvel again at the gospel, and remember that Jesus is the great gift of the gospel… Jesus is what the gospel is all about…

Now, from here in verse 21 Jesus says that He’s praying for all who’ll believe, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So, Jesus goes from belief to unity… And these go together, because it’s what we believe, or better, who we believe in that unifies us as Christians. All Christians have the gospel in common… That means that every Christian believes that the most important thing in their life is knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, living for Jesus, and living with Jesus for all eternity… Every Christian, no matter if they are from Texas or Tanzania, has this great commonality: that we are sinners saved by grace, trusting in Christ alone, who is our greatest treasure… We love Him, we live for Him, and we long to live with Him forever… It’s often said that blood is thicker than water, but according to the Bible, baptismal water is thicker than blood, because we have a greater bond with our fellow Christians than we do with or own family that doesn’t know Jesus… We have more in common with a Christian in Iran then we do with an unbeliever who lives next door to us…

Church, do you see what this means? Your identity is not found in what you do, where you live, where you’re from, what political party you line up with, or anything else of this world… Your identity is in Christ… Therefore, your greatest bond should be with those who have this same identity… Have you ever struck up a conversation with a complete stranger, and then as you were talking you both realized that you were both Christians, and then it’s like you couldn’t stop talking? It’s almost like you knew each other forever… Why?… Because you both know Jesus… And in knowing that you both love and trust Jesus, you know so much about each other… You know that the most important things in this life you share in common… You are unified in the gospel…

Jesus compares this unity to the unity that He and the Father have… Now we can’t fully understand the mystical unity of the Trinity; but we do know that they are perfectly with one another, and for one another, eternally living for the common purpose of the glory of God… I can’t explain to you what Jesus means when He says that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him, but, if you look down to verse 23, when Jesus says, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,” I can explain that to an extent. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” When Paul speaks of Christ in him he means the Spirit; and this is true of every true believer… Christ is in us… And He dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. By faith we are in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, Christ is in us…  That’s what Jesus is getting at here…

And so this too is what unites all true Christians. As Paul says in Ephesians, this is a blood bought, Spirit given unity. We don’t make it, but we are called to maintain it. So Paul urges us to, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [He says, for] There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:3-6)… These gospel truths unite all Christians… All Christians have been purchased by the blood of Jesus, which has been applied by the Spirit, who has taken up residence in our life, and leads us to live our lives for the glory of God…

Notice in verse 22 that Jesus says to the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” The idea of glory here is the manifestation of God’s nature and character… That’s ultimately what Jesus made known as He took on flesh and lived in this world. As Hebrew 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” But, there’s also an aspect of glory that was given to Jesus after the cross. As we read in Philippians 2:8-9, Jesus, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…” In our passage Jesus speaks as if the cross has already happened, because it is as good as done; it’s just a few hours away. But, because of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the Father highly exalts Him—He glorifies Him… And in John 17:22, Jesus says He gives this glory to His people that they may be one… By give He seems to mean to reveal… Jesus has displayed the glory of the gospel for us to see… And as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, it is as we behold the glory of the Lord, that we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another—that we are sanctified and enabled to live for His glory all the more…

What we see here is that Christians are united in our belief in the gospel, and therefore in our status as sinners saved by grace, and in our greatest love: Jesus Himself, and in our mission to live for the glory of God: seeking to magnify the glory of Christ through a holy life of obedience to God’s Word… As Christians we give ourselves to knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, living for Jesus, and helping others do the same… And this unites us together with all of our brothers and sisters… But practically speaking, if we are to live out this unity, we have to unite with a specific group of Christians… This blessed unity is hard to see when we are spread out throughout the world; but when Christians join together under the banner of the gospel, united in the mission of the gospel, then something amazing is displayed to the world… Which is what Jesus says…

In verse 21, Jesus says He’s praying for this unity among Christians, “so that the world may believe that [the Father has] sent [Him].” In verse 23, He emphasizes this again, saying to the Father, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” There is a missional purpose here… We are to be united with fellow Christians in such a way that the world will know that the Father sent Jesus, and that He loves us as He loves Jesus…

Essentially what Jesus is praying for here, is the local church: that Christians would unite together in the local church in such a way that they would display to the world around them the truth of the gospel and the truthfulness of the gospel… The idea behind knowing the truth that the Father sent Jesus, is knowing why He sent Jesus… So, our lives together should display to the world not only that Jesus was sent, by why He was sent… And do you remember why Jesus was sent?… In 1 John 4:9 we’re told, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” For eternal life… Or those great words of Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)… For salvation… So, our lives of unity: unity in belief, unity in love, unity in mission, show the world that there is something to the gospel we believe—that there’s something to this Jesus stuff… It’s like what Jesus said earlier in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The type of love that we are to have for one another, the type of unity that we are to have is a supernatural unity; Jesus says that we are to be one even as He and the Father—and really, He and the Father, and the Spirit—are one… He prays that we would become perfectly, or completely one… This is a unity that is not of this world… This is something that can only be accomplished by the transforming power of the gospel… This is a gift of grace… As we grow in our amazement of the grace that we have received in Christ, we become all the more gracious, and the fruit of the spirit truly blossoms in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)… And as our lives are more and more marked by that fruit we are all the more unified with one another and loving toward one another… And as the world witnesses our holy lives of sacrificial love, united in Christ, they will take notice, and will begin to wonder if the gospel is true… Now they may not believe the gospel just yet, but they will not doubt that we do…

Last week we looked at John 17:17, where Jesus asked the Father to sanctify us in the truth; and then He specified and said God’s Word is truth… So the whole of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation is absolute truth, and it lays out the gospel truth that we are to believe in, and that truth sanctifies us… And we saw that the word sanctify means both to set apart, and to sacrifice… So Jesus prayed for us to be set apart for God, living holy lives for His glory, and for us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, dying to ourselves daily, and living to magnify the glory of Christ by sacrificially loving people like Christ has loved us; being willing to give our lives—if need be—for the glory of Christ and the good of people… And this goes directly with this prayer for unity; for when we are unified in truth, in a local church, living lives of sacrificial love for one another, we make absolutely no sense to this world… The world doesn’t have a category for Christian love; the world doesn’t have a category for Christian unity… It is supernatural; it’s otherworldly… And so, when the world sees it, they take notice…

With that said, I wonder, are you giving your life to this kind of love, to this kind of unity? Just as faith magnifies the glory of Christ—as we say take the world but give me Jesus—so too does Christian love and Christian unity magnify the glory of Christ as we unite together with a greater bond than anything this world has ever known, even though we are sinners from all walks of life and all around the world, of many different ages… We have unity among great diversity… Our common bond is not surface level, but at the very core of our identity… It is who we are in Christ, and Christ Himself that is our common bond…

This is a blood bought reality; this is a prayer hat has been answered in and through the cross and through the Holy Spirit… But, we often hinder the visibility of this answered prayer when we don’t give our lives to living out this unity… So, I ask again, are you giving your life to this? As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” And one of the ways you are to do that is to glorify God in the body, by living in unity with God’s people in a local church… So, be that here or elsewhere, if you are a Christian, you are to give your life to magnifying the glory Christ in the local church: through sacrificial love and service, through corporate worship, through mission, and the like… We are to link arms together and make much of Jesus… For the local church is God’s Plan A for bringing people out of the world and into the family of God… God blesses us to be a blessing… He saves us to live on mission to the world… And one of the greatest ways we reach the world is actually through ordinary faithful church life, marked by unified love and service… Holy lives, marked by sacrificial love, joined together in the local church draw people to Christ… And then we are to share the same gospel word that we believe with them… And then they, by God’s grace, repent and believe, and join up with us, and the cycle continues…This is God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B… God uses the church to get the gospel to the nations, and God uses the gospel-unity of the church to draw the nations to Jesus. This is our mission, and it’s a mission worth giving our lives to…

Now I want to close by drawing your attention to the last thing Jesus says in our passage, which I believe is the fuel behind everything else we’ve seen thus far… Again, Jesus says He’s praying all of this, “so that the world may know that [the Father] sent [Him] and [that the Father loved us] even as [He] loved [Jesus]” (23). The love of the Father is what is driving all of this… Jesus wants the world to know this love… To see that we have been loved by the Father, and Lord willing, to come into this love themselves… But notice what Jesus says about this love; He says that the Father loves us just as He loves Jesus… I can’t even begin to get my mind around that… This is an infinitely, majestic, glorious love… It’s a perfect love…

I’ve talked with Christians from time to time who struggle with depression, and they often say things like, “I know God loves me, but I don’t think He likes me…” But, do you see what Jesus just said?… God loves you just as He loves Jesus! Do you think the Father doesn’t love and like Jesus? Of course He does… He says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)… He’s pleased with Jesus; He loves Him so much He delights in Him… And church, here God’s Word is saying the same thing about us… If you are in Christ, you are God’s beloved child in whom He is well pleased… He delights in you… He loves you with a love that is beyond your comprehension… As we read earlier, He chose you before the foundation of the world; “In love he predestined [you] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5)… And then He displayed that love to you… “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)… And He didn’t stop there… Because we were in our sins we were blind to this; we were dead in our sins… But that didn’t stop God. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)… A gift He gives because He loves you… He loves you! He delights in you! He chose you, He sent Jesus to die for you, He made you alive and saved you, and you will live forever with Him, because He loves you…

Church He loves us!!! All in spite of us! He doesn’t love us because of how amazing we are, for we are merely sinners, but He loves us because of how amazing He is! And how amazing it is that He loves us!!! It is this great love that has been lavished on us in the gospel, and it’s this love that brings us together—that unifies us… This love is behind every aspect of the Christian life… And it is amazing love!!!

Conclusion

When this reality gets a hold of us, we then live in ways that display to the world that the gospel is truth… “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)… And we love with all that we have, because the Father loves us like Jesus, and Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us… He poured Himself out in love, and now we do the same for His glory and the good of His people. We fight sin, pursue holiness, and live in supernatural unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, on a mission to make much of Jesus and to reach the world… The love of God so transforms our life that the world cannot help but take notice… So, has this love gotten a hold of you yet? Do you live in utter amazement that God loves you? As Jesus said, it’s the truth—gospel truth—that sanctifies us; so if we find that we aren’t walking in obedience, the problem isn’t merely with our behavior, but with our mind and our heart… We need to look again at how deep the Father’s love for us is, and then let that compel us to pour out our lives for the fame of Christ… So be amazed church: God loves you! And then, in view of that, give your life to the love, unity, and mission of the local church; for that is how we are called to respond to this great love…