Together: We are the Church

Together: We are the Church

The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed – Part 1

John 17:1-5

Slavery is what happens when a person is controlled by another, forced to work against their will, and treated like property.  While slavery has been outlawed by just about every nation on planet earth, 45.8 million people are in some form of slavery today.  What this number means is that, more than any other time in history (even more than the entire African slave trade), exists men, women, and children who live a hellish nightmare where freedom is only a dream, and equality is a privilege outside of their reality.  Here are some basic facts that I found regarding slavery around the world (although this is just a sampling):

  • UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children are sold into slavery each year into the agricultural, domestic, and sex industries of wealthier neighboring countries of Africa’s West Coast.
  • 90 thousand Dinkas in Southern Sudan are owned by North African Arabs, and are sold for as little as $15 dollars per human being!  Physical mutilation is practiced upon these slaves to both prevent escape and to enforce the owner’s ideologies upon his “property.”  When Arab nomads kidnapped Kon, a young 13-year-old boy, he saw several Dinka men hobbling around because their owner cut their Achilles tendon since they refused to become Muslims.  When threatened to have the same done to him, Kon converted to Islam.
  • Between 200,000 and 300,000 children are held captive in locked rooms and forced to weave on looms for food.  These children are known as “carpet slaves” in India.
  • Millions of children are sold to feed the billion-dollar sex trade industry.  They are sold in exchange for food, housing, drugs, and other commodities.  On a typical day in one brothel in India, the average girl may be exploited 10-40 times a night for as low as 20 Rupees per encounter, which is about 50 cents for every horrific experience. 

Even with the 13th Amendment, the United States is the largest market for sex slavery in the entire world.  The State Department estimates that somewhere between 14,500 and 17,500 women, girls, and boys are trafficked into the United States as sex slaves. 

Slavery is not the only problem.  There is another human rights problem in our world, and it is that of the unborn who are treated as disposable property.  Over 700,000 babies were aborted in the US in 2018, while nearly 23,000,000 babies were aborted this year alone.  Since 1980, over 1 billion babies have been aborted worldwide, because they were deemed property instead of people.

The reason that slavery and abortion exist today is simple: There is an enemy who hates the fact that we are the only creature in the universe that bears the image of the God he hates.  That enemy is the devil, and Jesus said of him: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  We human beings have a propensity towards perverting what God has called good, and because of our sinful nature, some of the fruit of our sinful nature is slavery and death. 

We have a history of slavery and death, because of our own spiritual slavery and death – a spiritual slavery and death from which Jesus came to liberate us.  He saved us from the bondage of sin through his life, death, and resurrection.  Although legislation is necessary in a world full people with lawless hearts, legislation and government are not enough to change the culture of the heart. 

When Jesus prayed in John 17, He prayed for us and He prayed that we would experience the life that we were made to enjoy – a life rooted in Him as our savior.  When Jesus prayed, He prayed for the Church who is His bride. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was “the greatest prayer offered on earth…”[1]  I want you to look with me at the first five verses of this incredible chapter in the Bible, because Jesus highlights three things that every Christian shares in common.  I will unpack each of these three.  In John 17, Jesus prays for those who…

  1. Belong to Him.
  2. Believe in Him.
  3. Were bought by Him.

We Belong to Him

Jesus’ prayer begins and ends with glory, for through His death He will glorify the Father.  Why would Jesus pray that the Father be glorified by His horrible and violent death?  Remember that the “glory” of God is not a reference to some bright light, but it is all things that comprise the character of God.  God’s glory is His perfect grace, it is His perfect wrath, it is His perfect mercy, it is His perfect justice, it is His perfect love, and it is His perfect holiness put on display for all to see.  When Jesus lifted up His eyes and prayed: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…”  (v. 1), He was praying that through His violent and horrific death, God’s character would be on perfect display. 

Before we can even consider what it means to belong to Jesus, we have to pause to consider how it is that God is glorified through His death and how we can belong to Him in the first place.  The reality is that God is holy and we are not.  We are sinners in great need of the grace of God because, apart from grace, there is no hope of a pardon, but only the expectation of an eternal and great judgment.  The Bible states of God: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Hab. 1:13).  The Bible also states that, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). 

As a perfect judge, God is morally obligated to judge our sin, but do not misunderstand God’s obligation to judge to be reactionary, self-indulgent, or with the feeling of suffering a great injustice, or him just “flying off the handle” like can happen sometimes as a parent.  Do you know where the phrase, “Fly off the handle” originated?  The phrase alludes to the uncontrolled way a loose axe-head flies off from its handle.  This example is not how God’s anger and wrath work.  J.I. Packer wrote of the wrath of God in his book, Knowing God: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is.  It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”

So why did Jesus pray that his death would glorify the Father? Through Jesus’ death, the wrath and justice of a perfect and holy God would be satisfied.  No good judge can ignore wrongdoing and/or injustice.  People stand up in protest when justice is ignored or trivialized, unless they are on the receiving end of justice, resultant of their wrongdoing.  Therefore, if in His divine and holy purity, God is unable look upon sin, then we, who all have been born into sin, stand in great peril under the looming of a perfect and good judge who cannot turn a blind eye from our sin.  We need a mediator, a priest, and someone who will stand on our behalf! 

When Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…”  He was praying that he would glorify God through his death, because through his death, Jesus would liberate a people to be His.  Jesus is glorified through his death because through it we are given eternal life.  What brings us together is not our personality, good looks, or nationality.  What brings us together is the finished work of Christ; the “all” that the Father has given to Jesus to receive eternal life is us.   This gift is the reason for what Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, ESV)

The first thing we share in common is that we belong to Jesus together.

We Believe in Him

In Jesus’ prayer, he said that eternal life is that they (we) know God, and Jesus, who was sent by God.  The word “know” in this verse is not the kind of knowledge you have about the day-to-day.  The word “know” that is used in verse 3 is the Greek word: “Ginosko” which means knowledge, but it is an experiential knowledge that involves more than just the mind.  To know God is to trust in him and to know Jesus is to be convinced that he is all that you need for the forgiveness of your sins. 

The reason we belong to Jesus is that we believe in him.  The only means to receive the mercy and grace of God, so that we can know the love of God, is through a personal relationship with God that is rooted in a faith convinced that Jesus lived the life we could never live and died the death we deserved.  Jesus prayed: “And this is eternal life,  that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Jesus did not include Mohammad, he did not include Siddhartha Gautama, he did not include the 330 million gods that make up Hinduism, and he did not include your good intentions, your religious devotion, or whatever deeds you think you need to do to get to heaven.  Jesus is the only means to be reconciled to God alone. 

Our faith in Jesus binds us together as his people.   

We Were Bought by Him

When Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” he was referring to the work he came to do, and that he was born to die on our behalf.  When I read John 17, it feels very much like a courtroom where he is standing on our behalf, not to get us acquitted in God’s courtroom of justice, but to take on the full wrath of God on our behalf so that God’s perfect justice would be satisfied. 

Jesus prayed he would glorify God through his death because at the cross, the perfect justice of God, His perfect mercy, grace, and love, would be offered to guilty sinners.  This glorification is why the Bible states in Romans 5:8, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Make no mistake; there was no trivializing of sin with Jesus’ prayer.  He stood on our behalf, to satisfy the wrath of God and ransomed us from sin and death:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23–26, ESV)

Jesus prayed that he would glorify God through his death, because through his death, Jesus would claim a bride for himself.  Jesus bought us through His own blood.  Now, through our belief in him, we belong to him. 

Application

Jesus’ blood is an eternal binding of all who believe in Him, and it is stronger than the bond we share with anyone else.  This binding is why Jesus prayed about the unification of His church. 

During the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, newly freed slaves faced the inconsistencies of their new “freedom” juxtaposed against the many new laws enacted, primarily in the southern states, to keep them, quite literally, in their place.  Jim Crow Laws, as they have come to be known, took their name from a minstrel song of the 1830s in which the character was named Jim Crow.  The character came to be associated as the archetypical black slave.

Jim Crow Laws were a series of legislative mandates that assured blacks and whites “separate” places in society.  From separate restrooms and rail cars, to separate water fountains and park benches, these 1896 US Supreme Court ruling cemented these laws under the banner of the  in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson declaring the rights of blacks and whites to be “separate but equal.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we set aside a day to honor a man who felt and believed that such laws should never have been tolerated.  A bond stronger than our constitution binds us together, because the color of our skin does not matter, nor does our ethnic heritage, nor socioeconomic status.  We are one in Jesus Christ.  The  Bible states that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  This unification is also why Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

In God’s economy, there is no such thing as “separate but equal.”  There is only equal; there is one, and this one is the Church!


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of our Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books; 2000), p. 11.