“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, 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. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, 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.”
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
John 17:20-23; Acts 2:42-47
Church, Jesus prayed for us. That may not sound surprising. “Of course Jesus prayed for us,” we might say. But we need to slow down for a minute. Hours away from the horrors of crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His closest friends and for those who would come to believe in Him through their word (John 17:20). In other words, Jesus prayed for us. John 17 opens this spectacular window into the fellowship of the Father and the Son. Not only do we find Jesus in prayer, but we find Him in prayer in one of the most stressful moments of His life. Is He asking to be rescued from the circumstances or delivered from the pain? No, He is praying for us. We should probably lean in and listen.
Notice the what of Jesus’ prayer for us. He prays that we “may all be one” as He and the Father are one. He prays for this astounding unity not once but three times. It’s the kind of unity in diversity and diversity in unity that doesn’t happen in this world. Left to ourselves, we tend to find division in diversity and unity in uniformity. And so we huddle up around certain connections that we share. In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s just nothing particularly amazing about it. We would expect people to come together if they grew up in the same place, looked the same, cheered for the same team, and voted for the same party. But Jesus prays that we—His people from every corner of the earth—would be one…perfectly one. With such an ambitious request, Jesus tips His hand. Such oneness would only be possible if we were united in and through Christ and not some other cause or connection. Only He has the power to bring such different people together. Our oneness would demonstrate the supremacy of Christ in a world that always exalts the secondary over the primary.
So why would Jesus pray this for us? We may already feel the why, but Jesus defines it. He wants us to be one “that the world may believe” that the Father sent Him. Again, this is so important to Jesus that He repeats the request. When the church is one as Jesus intended, the result is a community that the world cannot explain in its own terms. People need an explanation for why those people love one another and do life together like that…and the explanation is Jesus Christ. Our Lord prayed that our fellowship would reflect the fellowship of the Trinity so that the world would be irresistibly drawn into the fellowship, too. If we don’t care about being united as the body of Christ, it would seem that we have abandoned a significant part of Jesus’ strategy to reach the world.
In Acts 2 we see the Holy Spirit’s power at work in and through a church united in Christ. The church’s life together when they’re gathered in Jerusalem and scattered in their neighborhoods is so different that people take notice. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). In a season filled with social, political, and interpersonal tension, do we see a similar opportunity? We won’t all agree on how to respond to COVID-19 or racial injustice or another election. But can we agree on Jesus Christ being the Head of the church and the hope of the world? While the church is mostly scattered, what if we come together with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our neighborhoods? What if, in a world that whines, we are a church that shines? That’s where the Lord is leading us. How do we know? Because He prayed for us.