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Sometimes one person’s life has a great and lasting impact for good. This is certainly true of the man who made an extraordinary impact on his immediate world in the three short years of his public life. The effects of Jesus’ life didn’t cease when he was put to death. In fact, the reverse occurred, for some two millennia later, the impact of his words and actions, his death and resurrection, continue to grow throughout the world.
The closing chapters of the Gospel of John focus on Jesus’ words to his followers at the ‘Last Supper’. We might think that his ‘story’ is coming to an end. But while we learn that Jesus was going away, we find this would mean the beginning of the next stage in God’s great plan.
Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest (John chapter 17) opens another window on this. ‘Father,’ Jesus prayed, ‘the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’ (17:1). His death was now a certainty: Judas had gone out into the night to betray him.
And now as Jesus reckoned with the darkness of this evil, he was facing the greatest test of all – to remain faithful to God the Father when he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary bearing in himself the sin of the whole world.
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI understood, as Ashley Null has observed, that ‘the glory of God is God’s love for the unworthy’.
Jesus not only prayed for himself. The greater part of his prayer was for his close followers and for all his people throughout the ages.
Prayer for the disciples: ‘Father, … I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).
The disciples were to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Their ministry was essential for the future. If they failed, if they denied the truth that Jesus is God’s king sent to rescue the world from its narcissism, Christianity would die at its birth.
So Jesus prayed that God would keep them and protect them as one in the Father’s name (17:11f); that God would keep them from the evil one and make them holy in the truth he had revealed (17:15, 17).
Prayer for all who believe: ‘Father, … I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’) word’ (17:20).
The heart of the disciples’ mission would be the ministry of God’s Word. From Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. And over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Jesus Christ as Lord through this word ministry.
‘I ask’, Jesus prayed, ‘… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...’ (John 17: 21a).
Unity. Jesus prayed that the unity of profound love and fellowship he enjoyed with God the Father, would be true of the relationship between God and all his people, and that they in turn, would be united in their love and fellowship with one another – ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.
So that the world may know. In our fallen state all of us are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has so loved the world that he is committed to drawing people from everywhere to the Son he gave … so that all who believe in him would be saved (John 3:16).
Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Denominations are humanly devised structures. Yes, bringing like-minded churches together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency. However, Jesus is praying for a more fundamental union of hearts and minds that flows from a united and personal faith in him.
Doctrine, grounded in God’s written, self-revelation is essential for real and authentic relationships. Without truth, relationships have no meaning or substance. So, Jesus prayed for the unity of all who share this common confession of faith: Jesus Christ is the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:4).
Jesus’ prayer is breathtaking and profound. It tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering and death – to glorify God and to serve a fallen humanity. It speaks of the significant word ministry of the disciples. If they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s love and the forgiveness he holds out to us in Jesus Christ.
The prayer also tells us about us – that we can enjoy a personal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, because of our united faith, we are to live in unity with one another as God’s people – a unity God uses to testify to others the depths of his love.
From the time of Pentecost, the word ministry of the disciples, whom Jesus appointed as his apostles, has been and continues to be the key in bringing people from all races and nations to faith and unity in Christ.
Furthermore, the ministry of God’s Word draws us ever deeper into a personal relationship with God, equipping us with an ever better understanding of how he wants us to live for his glory and our eternal good.
In Jesus, we have the man from heaven who has impacted the world, not through a political or economic system, nor at the end of a gun, but through his self-sacrificial love that draws us into a personal relationship with the one, true God, who is Lord of all.
Let me ask, when you wake-up in the morning, have you considered praying, ‘Good morning God the Father; Good morning Lord Jesus; Good morning God the Holy Spirit’? And, if you do, have you shared this with others?
A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You may want to listen to the song, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
© John G. Mason