My devotional on the "symbols of John" is finally done. It will be some time before it comes out, but I've enjoyed walking through most of John in the process.
John 17 is Christ’s, “high priestly prayer,” in which he intercedes not only for his disciples but for those like us who would later come to believe in him. He prays especially for the unity of the church to come.
In his prayer for us, Jesus does not pray that the Father would take believers out of the world. On the one hand, taking us out of the world would be more enjoyable for us. In the world, we will be hated. In the world, we face opposition from the evil one. But Jesus does not pray that God whisk us away. And how could we continue to spread the good news to those who have not believed if we are not here? Instead, Jesus prays for our protection from the evil one. He does not pray for our protection from those who hate us. We may very well face persecution, hardship, and suffering. Even then we are a witness to those who hate us.
We are in the world but we are not “of” the world. The world does not follow God. The world continues to do wrong. The world does not love one another. None of these descriptions should be true of us. Jesus asks the Father to “sanctify” us through the truth of the word. Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:14). To sanctify is to “make holy,” to set apart as belonging to God. It requires purification of the item and then a recognition that it is no longer common. It is special because it is God’s. So within a world sullied by evil and hatred, we are love and righteousness. We do not live the same as those around us.
Jesus prays for the unity of those who would later believe on him, like us. This prayer would have been particularly meaningful to John’s audience, for their community had undergone a split of some kind (cf. 1 John 2:19). His community knew all too well that there were other Christian folds out there, other sheep following Jesus who were not part of their community (cf. John 10:16). Jesus prays that they be one in spirit. The church today has of course failed miserably at this task. It is not so much that we disagree as that we fight among ourselves and are fractious in our spirit. One group splits from another and so on. May we see instead a movement of coming together.
Father, make your church one in spirit even when we disagree with each other about what we should think or do in this world.
“One hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God