John 17:20-26 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“One in Christ”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 2, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson, the concluding words of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer:
20I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, 21so that all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that these also may be in us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me. 22And I have given to them the glory which you have given to me, so that they may be one just as we are one; 23I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and that I loved them just as you loved me. 24Father, who has given to me, I desire that where I am, that these may be with me, so that they may see my glory which you have given to me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you and these know that you sent me. 26And I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.
What does it mean for believers in Jesus to “be one”? What does it mean for Christians to “be one just as [the Father and the Son] are one”? The answer has to do with love.
The bulk of John’s Gospel which tells the account of Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room on the night when He was betrayed is made up of Jesus’ farewell discourse. This concludes with what is called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in chapter 17. Going back to John 13:34-35, where Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” and continuing to the end of John 17, our Gospel lesson, I made a discovery. In Jesus’ farewell discourse and concluding prayer, we find the verb “love” used 22 times. In four and a smidgen chapters, that’s pretty significant.
About half of the time, the action word “love” is used to reference the Father’s love for or Jesus’ love for His disciples. The love of God predominates the text, and that makes sense because “love is from God” (1 Jn. 4:7 ESV). God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is Himself love (1 John 4:8 ESV). It is one of His divine attributes, the qualities that not only describe God but are who God is. God is love; God is holy; God is just; God is righteous; God is merciful; and so on. So, it is Biblically consistent that Jesus’ farewell message to His followers in the Upper Room would be centered on the love of the Father who sent the Son into the world to save the whole world from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Secondary to the love of God, the result of His love gifted to us in and through faith in Jesus, is our love for God and for one another. Beginning with Jesus’ new commandment in John 13 through the end of chapter 17, the verb “love” is used of the disciples’ love for God and Christ about a quarter of the time and of the disciples’ love for one another about a quarter of the time. So, the love of the Father demonstrated in the life of His incarnate Son Jesus predominates with the result of that love seen in the lives of Jesus’ disciples as they love God and one another.
The unity of believers in Jesus is therefore a unity rooted and grounded in God’s love for us in His Son, Jesus. Take away the love of God for His human creation and His people of faith in Jesus, there will be no unity. Colossians 3:14, “Over all these, put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Love is what fastens together all the other virtues that a believer is given by faith in Jesus and so love leads to “perfection,” or as Jesus says, using the same word in John 17:23, love enables believers to be “completely” one. And the love which makes that happen is the love of the Father for the Son.
Jesus is called by God the Father “my beloved Son” at both His baptism in the Jordan River and on the Mount of Transfiguration. And it is this beloved Son that the Father gave to the world that He also loved in order to be our Savior. You see, it is our love that failed, not God’s. Our love for God was destroyed in the Fall into sin. The unity of God and His human creatures was shattered in Garden of Eden. Now humanity does not have true fear, love, and trust in God. Nor does humanity have love for others. We only possess a selfish love, indeed, a love of self. Even as Christians, do we not continually see our self-love raise its ugliness in the way to talk and act even with our fellow believers? Each time we speak or act toward one another in ways that are crass, in tones that hurt, in ways that makes another feel like they are not important, we not only fail to love our sister or brother in Christ, but we fail to love God Himself. Our lack of love, then, hurts and harms the unity of love that the Lord has given to His Church. For our love for both God and each other fails.
God’s love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” God is love. His Son Jesus is love, who loved us sinners so much that He willingly became man so that He could bear our burdens, live with our guilt, take upon Himself our infirmities, and endure death and hell in our place as our perfect substitute. Jesus said in John 15, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (Jn. 15:9-10 ESV). Jesus kept the Commandments perfectly for you and me. For our sin in failing to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, for our sin of not loving our neighbor as God commanded, Jesus died for us on the cross. That’s God’s love for you. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13 ESV).
Christ’s love was demonstrated to us with His perfect life and sacrificial death. On the cross, Jesus bore our sins and paid for them in full by taking our punishment of death and hell upon Himself. Out of the Father’s love and mercy, you are not declared “not guilty” of sin. All of your failures to love God and love others stands forgiven by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. It is the forgiving love of Christ that reconciles us to God the Father. It is in Christ, with faith and trust in Christ, that we are privileged to call God “our Father” and to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, by means of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, you are able to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You are able to love your neighbor as yourself. And you are able to love one another in the body of Christ.
We sometimes call this new life of love “sanctification.” We’ve been made holy because the holiness of Jesus has been credited to us. Now, by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, through means of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, we are united in love because we are once again rooted and grounded in the love of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The very God who is love and who loves us with an everlasting love, gives us His love that we may love Him and one another. What can the world recognize about believers in Jesus? The “spiritual” unity of faith as we are united in the one mystical body of Christ that is the holy, Christian Church, the communion of saints? No, that is invisible to the eyes of people. What they can see is the love that believers have for each other in the Church because it is a sign that points to God’s love in Jesus Christ. What did Jesus say? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Our unity in Christ as believers in rooted and firmly grounded upon God’s love for us in Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Savior. It is in Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone, that we have the forgiveness of sins and the new life of love toward God and toward other people. But it is also in Christ that we are united in love with each other as Christians. His love is the foundation of our love that we demonstrate in words and deeds to each other in this congregation of saints. From the Father’s love for the Son comes the Son’s love for His disciples and our love for one another.
As we live in Christ by the power of the Spirit, pray that the love of Jesus that we reflect to each other here and then go out from this place to share with the world might send a message that will enable us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ love to others. By our love, they will know we belong to Christ and enjoy His love and blessing. Through the Gospel, may they hear of the Savior’s love, come to saving faith in Him and the Father, and so join us so that we can surround them with Jesus’ love as we are one in Christ. Amen.