“He looked toward heaven and prayed.” That is how this chapter from which our lesson is taken starts. “He looked toward heaven and prayed.” Jesus prayed. Today, we get to drop into that prayer. We get to hear our Savior speak to his Father. We get to hear a conversation that his first disciples heard with their own ears. We come into this prayer of Jesus near its end, but it’s here at the end that Jesus’ prayer turned as his thoughts settled on what was to come. And with his final words he prayed, of all things, for us. His last thoughts, his final prayer was for us.
Verse 20. “I pray also”, Jesus said, “for those who will believe in me through their message.” As Jesus waited for his betrayer on Maundy Thursday, as he waited for his coming battle with sin and death, he looked into the heavens and prayed for us. We who had not yet been born. We who had not yet walked on this earth came into our Savior’s mind. He knew that “their message” the message of his disciples would some day reach our ears and we would believe. And so we were included on this night; we and every single believer with us were not left out of our Savior’s thoughts, of his prayers. So, what did Jesus for on our behalf? He prayed for our unity. He prayed for our glory.
Let’s talk unity. Here is a silly example, how unified are we on this? Socks with sandals. Good or bad? Fashionable or not? This has been a point of contention in my home. My wife and I disagree on the topic. I have no problem wearing socks and sandals. She thinks, and will freely tell me, that I look like a dope when I wear socks and sandals, especially in public and especially when I’m pushing my son in a stroller to the park near our house. Where do you stand on socks and sandals? Ultimately, in this room, this sanctuary, does it matter? Will it impact your faith? No. It might change people’s opinions of you, but Jesus’ prayer for unity isn’t meant to rob us of individuality, no, his call for unity was focused on what we believe concerning him and his Word.
If you scan this lesson you see Jesus desire for unity permeating throughout these verses, “That all of them may be one,” he says. And again, “That they may be one.” That they “Maybe brought to complete unity.” Three times Jesus express his desire for us and all believers to be united, to be one. And his example of unity was his own relationship with his Father. “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us.” Jesus prayed that we and all believers in this world have a relationship like that of the persons of the Trinity. One of mutual encouragement, total agreement, and perfect unity 24/7.
Impossible, right? But look closer at his prayer. Twice he prays that “all be one.” The thought there is that this “being one” is current and ongoing. Right now, currently, we with every other believer in this world are one. How can this be?
If I were to line up every believer in this world, including myself, and ask each who their Savior is, if they’re a believer what would they say? Jesus. Jesus is my Savior. Believers, true believers, in this way are one. Jesus’ prayer for us is that the oneness, that unity remains. We lose Jesus as our Savior, we lose our unity, not just with each other but with the Father. And that would place us outside of those gates of heaven described for us in our 2nd lesson from Revelation where we are with the dogs, the idolaters, on the path to hell.
This is why Jesus prayed. He wanted us to be united, not just with each other, but with him. Jesus long ago asked his Father to keep us not yet born in the faith. If you ever then wonder what God thinks of you, if you ever feel like a lonely forgotten sinner, here is your personal Savior, praying for your salvation, but more than that, here he was on his way to answer that prayer with his own life. So, that their message, the Word, that the disciples would write and spread, would one day reach your ears, and you would come to know him, you would be one with God.
And there was another reason Jesus prayed for our unity. We see it at the end of verse 22 and in verse 23, “so that they world may believe that you have sent me” and that they may know that “you…have loved them” “God so loved the world”, John recorded Jesus saying earlier in his Gospel. But how would the world know? Certainly, by us telling them, but here was another way. They would come to know and see God’s love for them by our visible unity as a body of believers.
This too seems impossible. Think of all the Christian sects, all the denominations, all the different Synods. We are not united. And in this sin-stained and sin-strained earth, we never will be. Now, some might argue that there is no reason why we cannot all be united. Why can’t Baptists and Lutherans work together? Why can’t we do mission work, church work with the other churches in our area? What’s the big deal? Jesus wants us to be unified; he is praying for it. Why are we denying his prayer by being stubborn and seclusive?
The answer lies in Jesus’ prayer. He wanted a unity that modeled the unity of him and his Father. This unity was to be built around him and his Word, “their message,” remember? The visibly unity of believers is to lead the world to acknowledge that Jesus came from God. It is the Word that brings people to faith. It is the Word that unites and unifies believers. Not just part of it all of it! Mess with the Word – omit or downplay parts of it, agree to disagree or to not mention one teaching or another – and the unity of faith with other believers is weakened. It becomes a sham. A theologian named William Hendriksen said this about such unity, “unity which has been gained by means of such sacrifice is not worthy of the name.” Every deviation in doctrine, life, and practice of the Word disrupts our oneness and actually hinders the prayer that Jesus prayed for us.
But inject the unity that Jesus prays for into this world, and what happens? It is noticed. I’ve shared this story with some of you, but once while running I ran into someone in their front yard, not literally, but we talked, and when I told her I was a Christian pastor who served at CTL, her comment was “Oh, that is that strict church, isn’t it?” Now, I disagree with the idea that we are strict, but if we being “strict” means we are a church body that holds on to God’s Word as it is, the very Word of God, then so be it! It was that unity of confession and compassion in the early NT church that caused it to flourish as Jesus was proclaimed.
Today, this unity draws people away from the world and all its ways. It draws them into godly, Christ-like love, humility, and patient hope. It draws them to speak everything God’s Word says about Jesus. It draws believers, like us, out and away as a unit, very visible to the world, which in turn plainly and loudly tells the world that there is love and forgiveness out there not just for us but also for them.
Here, at the end of Jesus’ prayer we see that love, it’s for us all! “Father,” he prayed, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” Jesus’ prayer is so simple: “I want you with me. I want you…to see me.” These are not the words of an unfair, unkind God. These are not the words an indifferent righteous judge. If you ever wonder what God thinks of you, here it is. He thought of you long before you had you first thought. And as he thought of you, his first desire wasn’t to punish and damn you; it was to save you, to give you glory.
Here in Jesus’ prayer he pointed ahead to each of us and said, “One day, I am going to want you.” It was that desire for you to be with him, that held him on a cross. It was that love that put him in a tomb, burst him forth, and swept him into heaven, where he now looks to bring you to the heavenly glory he has prepared for you. That I might be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Jesus ended his prayer not with a request, but with a promise to keep us in his glory. He prayed, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them.” Here we are, proof of Jesus’ prayer. Proof that he is still making his Father known to this very day. Proof that he loves us and is with us.
Jesus, he prayed for us to be united, one in faith, one in teaching, one in Him. He prayed for our glory. Now, as we see that we are those whom God has called, and into eternity, when we join him in glory forever. Never forget! Jesus looked up into heaven, and he prayed for us. Amen.