E Pluribus Unum: John 17:20-22 (Sermon)
Hello, church. It is great to be with you. We fell back today with daylight savings. This was our most highly attended Sunday school for some reason.
Does anyone have a dollar? One dollar. I don’t need five, ten, or twenty, just a one-dollar bill. Anyone? Could you please pull it out for me? Thanks. Look at it. What is on the back of that bill? Can you describe it? Have you ever noticed the details? What do you see? It has a picture of an eagle. What is in his mouth? A banner. What does that banner say? It says something in Latin. E Pluribus Unum. Here is a picture of it for those who don’t have a dollar. Do you know what that means? Out of many, one. In 1776 John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, in committee, proposed E Pluribus Unum to be our national motto (https://www.greatseal.com/mottoes/unum.html, https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/political-science-and-government/us-government/e-pluribus-unum). It has thirteen letters paralleling the original thirteen colonies. This motto captures our country’s identity. According to the census bureau, 328 million people live in the United States of America. Half of them are men, and half are women. Bureau also notes that 58% are White, 19% are Hispanic and Latino, and 13% are African American. At the same time, 10% are the other recognized races (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States). We have people from all walks of life, perspectives, ages, and religions united in America. How do we hold this great union together? How do we live up to our national motto? On April 12th, 1861—less than a hundred years after our nation's founding—our land was torn asunder by civil war. The United States of America barely survived. Today, our country is divided once again, not over a single political, moral, or geographic issue. We are at odds with those sitting next to us, neighbors, family, co-workers, and classmates, over many problems. How do we as a church in this context unite in an age of memes, pejorative rants, and rampant incendiary social media posts that pit one position as obviously correct and the other as diabolically evil, insane, or brain-dead? Friends, there are truths we must fight for, but most of the hot-button issues are not them. We are not going to agree 100% of the time on all matters. And if the issues are important, how we communicate is critical. How can we stay united as a Christian church in a day where we can endlessly search online for a virtual community that fits our current tastes and tickles our modern sensitivities? Church, Jesus knew the challenge we would face. He knew these days would come. In fact, he prayed for us, for Converge, for you, and me over this very issue. He prayed that the Father would protect the church from evil, purify the church from sin, unite the church together, and eventually bring the church to him to see him in all his glory. We have been teaching about this prayer from 2,000 years ago the last few weeks and what that means for us today.
Text (John 17:20–22)
If you have your Bibles open with me to John chapter 17, verse 20. Let’s read part of Jesus’s prayer for the church and begin to answer the question: “What does unity mean?” Jesus prayed,
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. (John 17:20–22)
Let’s pray. Dear God, we need you. I need you. Help us to understand your Word. Your words are life and light. May they guide us and direct us. May they encourage us and comfort us. May they challenge us and equip us. We need your help to make sense of this book in Jesus’s great name. AMEN.
Refresh of Where we have been
Jesus was about to be betrayed by Judas. The turncoat sold him out for thirty pieces of silver. He handed over Jesus to his enemies; they would take him to court, frame him, beat him, and kill him. Jesus knew danger was in front of him. John, the author, and disciple documented this upper room prayer before he was taken custody. Praying, Jesus asked the Father to protect his followers. Hard times were coming for him and the church. He asked the Father to purify his disciples, unite them, and bring them to him in heaven. Last week, Pastor Mike shared with us part of the prayer summarizing, “Speaking truth in love is required in maintaining oneness in the church.” If we want to be united in this divided age, we need to speak the truth in love. Jesus cared about what we say, what we believe, how we love, and our unity. He cared about harmony in the Body of Christ.
This morning, we are exploring what Jesus meant by verses 20 through 22 and connecting it to Ephesians again. We will see unity in the diversity of the Trinity models our unity as a church. Let me say that again for those taking notes. We will see unity in the diversity of the Trinity models our unity as a church. You see, in John 17 and Ephesians, Jesus’s unity with God and differences mirrors our community of faith.
WHOM DID HE PRAY FOR?
Let me show you what I mean. Who was Jesus praying for in John chapter 17? [Himself.] Yes. And who else? [His disciples.] Yes. What about in verse 20? It is a different crowd. Look at verse 20, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). Jesus prayed about those who would believe in him through his disciples. Who were they? They were people like Augustine, Wycliff, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Bach, Newton, Moody, Florence Nightingale, Fanny Crosby, Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton, and Rosa Parks. Let’s not leave off the person who shared Christ with you and me. Jesus prayed for our ancestors of the faith and us as well. He prayed for us. That is Amazing!
What did he pray? “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” (John 17:20).
He prayed for their oneness. He wanted the church to be one. Why? Because they needed it. Why? They are better together than they are apart.
Pastor Mike, the other week, mentioned that National Geographic documentaries often show lions in their hunt. Lions will isolate their prey from the herd. They will find the weak link and exploit it. They will get that feeble wandering antelope or lame zebra and take advantage of the moment. In the same way, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, just ready to rip someone to shreds. The temptation we face in our culture is to step away from church when things get tough. When we don’t like a decision, when we are hurt, or when there is conflict, we fade away into the distance. Just take a break, vacation, one week off, then two, then three. We sleep in, catch up on projects, bond with our family. And before we know it, we are alone, floundering; God seems far, we have strayed, and are in grave danger. Jesus wants the Father to protect the church from evil. He knows the church is not perfect, and danger is not far off. He wants the Father to purify it, to conform it to his likeness. He wants the church to look like him. He prays, as we read, for the Father to unite the church and make it one. We are stronger together. What does that oneness mean? How are we to be united in a season of division?
UNITY OF THE DIVINITY
Let’s keep reading. Jesus prayed, “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” (John 17:20). Jesus prayed they would be one as he and the Father are in each other. What is that? I think it relates to what he said in the next verse. Jesus prayed, “That they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). Jesus being in the Father and the Father being in Son relates to oneness. How are Jesus and the Father one with each other? What was Jesus getting at?
ONENESS IN JOHN
This week I went through John and explored what he documented on the subject of unity between Jesus and the Father. We see their oneness in three ways. Their essence, their assignments, and their likeness. We learn they both existed before time (1:1). Both described themselves as the great “I Am” (8:58, 18:5, 6), Yahweh. Jesus flat out said he was equal to God (5:18). The Jewish leadership was furious at this claim. Why? Because they believed that God was one and not two or three in one. Jesus was teaching that he was one in essence with God. Hearing this, the Pharisees’, Sadducees’, and scribes’ sought to arrest and execute him for blasphemy. They couldn’t let this message get out. They had to silence him and shut him up.
ONENESS: IN WORK
On top of that, we learn that Jesus and the Father were one in their work (5:17, 19). They both create. They both judge (1:3; 5:23; 8:16). They both give life, and they both raise the dead. They have the same essence and some of the same assignments.
ONENESS: IN REFLECTION
In addition, we learn that whoever honors Jesus honors the Father (5:24). He who knows Jesus knows the Father (8:19), and he who believes in Jesus believes the Father (12:44). He who sees Jesus sees the Father (12:45). So there is an unmistakable sense that they mirror each other. They have a likeness with each other. Thus, when Jesus talks about oneness between him and the Father, it is essence, likeness, and assignment.
Oneness in Ephesians
In Ephesians, we read about Jesus and the Father’s likeness as well. For example, the letter begins and ends with a blessing from both Jesus and the Father. They offer peace, grace, and love (1:2; 6:23). These joint gifts flow from them. In chapter 5, verse 5, they have a united claim on the heavenly kingdom. It is their kingdom. They possess it.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY - JOHN
Does that mean the Father and the Son are just different names for the same person? Is there no distinction between the two? Is their oneness like the consistency of oatmeal, water, or simply semantics? Is there no personality, individuality, and separation between them? If that was so, what would that mean when Jesus wants us to be one as a church like them? That might mean God wants unity to dissolve diversity. It may indicate that God desires the disappearance of preferences, creativity, and particularity. I don’t think that is the case. Why do I say that? I say that because John and Ephesians both demonstrate that Jesus and the Father are one; while simultaneously separate. It is a paradox and mystery that we can explore some more. Reading our Bibles, we see unity in the diversity of Trinity. It is different from blanket conformity. The implication for the church is that oneness allows us to value each other’s differences while pursuing the same mission. We are one church, made up of different parts as there is one God and one Lord.
TEXTUAL DIVERSITY AND UNITY IN JOHN
We see this diversity in John and Ephesians. In John, the Father and the Son have different roles, work, and geography. The Father is a father. The Son is a son. The Father sends the Son. The Son is sent. The Father teaches the Son, and the Son passes it on to his followers. Jesus died and rose. The Father did not. Jesus prayed to the Father, not vice versa. Obviously, they are not one in the same time and space. They are separate in roles, work, and geography while being one. Yet, there is unity in their diversity.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY - EPHESIANS
In Ephesians, we read they have different roles, work, and geography too. It is through Jesus’s blood that we have redemption (1:7). It is through Jesus’s blood that we are brought near to the Father (2:13). It is not the Father’s blood. In chapter 1, verse 22, Paul wrote that God the Father “Put all things under his [Jesus’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” God is the giver and above the Son. In a type of hierarchy, the Son is over the church. It is not the other way around. The church is not over the Son, nor the Son over the Father. Add to that, Paul wrote, that through Jesus we all have access in one Spirit to the Father (2:18)—Jesus knew this and called himself the gate or way to the Father (John 10:9; 14:6)—It is not the other way around. Paul noted that we as a church are part of the household of God with Jesus as the cornerstone (2:20). The church is the body of Jesus (4:12), with him as the head (5:23), not the Father’s body or the Father as the cornerstone. Therefore, we see in Ephesians like John the Son and the Father have diversity in their roles, work, and geography. They are one and separate simultaneously. There is unity in their diversity of the Trinity.
All that said, Ephesians 4:4 states,
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3–6)
We see that oneness is fundamental. Paul boiled down the truth for the Ephesians to believe. They had a unified beliefs structure that brought them together. I don’t think we fully understand God. Why do I say that? Because we are too often demanding people be and think just like us on matters of secondary importance. We demand uniformity and do violence against diversity by making fun of people, calling names, thinking better of ourselves than others, judging and manipulating, and getting upset with God’s people when they don’t see things the way we see them. I am guilty of this, especially about being upset with people not agreeing with me on matters of secondary importance.
We are to be one as Jesus is one with the Father. That means we should value differences like gifts, roles, interests, and parts in the Body. This is an in-house call to unity. For example, you might like Pastor Mike’s preaching or Sunday school better than mine. That is okay. But it is not something to divide over. You might like hymns better than choruses, that is okay, but that is not something to divide over. You might not like a personality, but that is not something to divide over. You might even be sinned against at church, but that is something to work through, not just give up and throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty.
Why is unity so essential? Why does Jesus pray this prayer? Let’s keep reading. Jesus prayed,
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. (John 17:20–21)
Jesus wanted them united that they would be in him and the Father. If we don’t value church unity, we jeopardize our unity with God. Paul wrote a lot about being ‘in Christ.’ You could read through Ephesians and draw more implications. He used the preposition 120 times. Not all those times he talked about being united with Jesus. But it was a central theme for him. Just look at chapter 1, verses 3 and 4, for example.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3–4)
Being ‘in’ meant you have every spiritual blessing in Christ. Every spiritual blessing. So, if a person is not in Christ, he doesn’t have every spiritual blessing. If a person is not in Christ, he isn’t chosen before the foundation of the world. If you keep reading, if a person is not in Christ, he is not forgiven or saved. Instead, he is alienated from God (Ephesians 2:12) and spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). That is where we all started and came from. Union with each other and God is a marker of salvation. That is why we must strive to be united as Jesus, and the Father were united. And that is not easy today or in Paul’s day.
Ephesus was a town of Jews and non-Jews. The church comprised men, women, children, adults, wealthy, and impoverished, and various ethnicities. Paul said that ‘in Christ,’ the dividing wall of hostility between all those groups has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14). He didn’t mean gender disappeared. One’s biology didn’t suddenly change with an encounter with the Holy Spirit. But, he was getting at that which would typically divide people, shouldn’t in the church because Jesus united them in him like he was united to the Father. Jesus and the Father were one in mission and vision. They shared convictions. In the church, we are united in Jesus. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord with new citizenship in heaven. All that to say, if we are not in Christ, something is dramatically wrong, church. If we are not ‘in Christ, ’ our salvation and faith community’s survival are at stake. But that is not the only reason we must pursue unity in our diversity. Let’s go back to John 17 as we walk through the text.
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. (John 17:20–21)
When it comes to unity in the church, our neighbor’s very salvation is at stake. We will talk more about this in the coming weeks. All that being said, verse 21 means disunity calls into question what we really live for and hope in, as well as threatens gospel advancement in New Buffalo and beyond. Therefore, the unity of our God matters.
TRUTH AND LOVE
Jesus said that the world would know we are Christians by what? Our love (John 13:34–35). When we can’t love someone different than us in church, our witness is in peril. I know people who have different views about masks, vaccinations, and politics that go to our church. I know for some, it is hard to be in fellowship with those who disagree. I get that. But when we do worship together, pray together, sing together, and serve together, it shows the tremendous power of God to break down walls. We need to love each other. The world is watching.
My wife and I are vastly different, and we have learned that even our weaknesses are blessings. They help us grow. They stretch us. We are better together than apart. In the same way, extroverts and introverts, men and women, youth and adults, and you name the differences to strengthen our community.
Let us be respectful, charitable, loving, and patient with each other. We won’t all agree about everything all the time. You and I have differences. Let us not lose our missional voice to speak the truth of the Gospel because we prioritize individuality over unity. Let us seek to know God as he is known that we may make him known together.
What is our mission? It is in the bulletin. Open it up. Look at the left-hand column. What does it say?
“We are glad you could join us! We will praise God in song and prayer, then listen to His Word. Our church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ by spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.”
We are here at Converge to be discipled and make disciples. The local church is the only institution on the planet in history that Jesus called his bride and gave this mission. So, brothers and sisters, let us keep doing what God has called us to do that we may know God and make him known.
Perhaps, you are hearing this talk about joint mission and being ‘in Christ,’ and you recognize you are not. You are not connected like that to Jesus or on this mission. You fear you are not forgiven or saved. Yet, you want that. Excellent. Jesus died to give purpose, forgiveness, and salvation. We celebrate his death and resurrection once a month in communion. Let me invite you to turn from your sins right now and tell God in your heart you need him to save you. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). Then, when we take communion, you can take it with us as a statement of faith, union with God and us. He forgives all who ask.
Maybe you are not there and have questions and objections. Consider this: we are not afraid of those questions. We don’t judge you for that. We are glad you are here. Trust us and help us understand where you are coming from. That helps us know where we are coming from. Talk to us. Let someone know what you are going through. We would love to hear more. I would, pastor Mike would, and Jeff would.
Believer, friend, what would God have you do to pursue unity and oneness like God’s oneness? Do you understand him rightly? Do you need to love those who are different from you in practical ways? Do you value people's differences, or do they upset you? What would the Holy Spirit call you to do or think this week in response to the scriptures? [Take a moment for this]. Write that down your thoughts. Take a moment this week to share that with a person. Then, take a step of action.
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