Together: Participating in God’s Mission

Together: Participating in God’s Mission

The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed – Part 3

John 17:13-19

The movie: The Greatest Showman illustrates strong themes regarding what it means to be loved, and to be human. I was introduced to The Greatest Showman through the movie’s soundtrack and fell in love with the music immediately.  Our whole family has seen the movie and my oldest son and I have seen the movie at least four times.  If you have not seen the movie, it is loosely based on the story of P.T. Barnum who gathered a band of “freaks” to be featured in his circus show, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 

The film received mixed reviews, and it only scored 56% positive reviews of the 232 critics that shared their thoughts on the movie.  The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote that the film was, “Empty, moronic, pandering and utterly forgettable.”  The New York Post suggested that the songs making up the soundtrack were “tacked on like some drunk’s game of pin the tail on the donkey.”  Well, it turns out that the film continues to be a fan favorite as the soundtrack remains in the top twenty on the top 200 Billboard Charts.  It also remains one of my top 10 favorite films. 

One of my favorite scenes in the film takes place after P.T Barnum made it clear that his circus staff of freaks were to remain out of sight during a show he put together for the world renowned and beautiful opera soloist, Rebecca Ferguson.  In the film, Barnum’s freaks were excluded from an after party celebration of social elites, of which the Bearded Lady, Lettie Lutz, protests in her song, This is Me (which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2017):

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

The reason I believe that this movie has been such a hit,  the reason the album is #14 on the Billboard charts, is  that the song reminds us that our circumstances, status, limitations, or disabilities do not need to define us.  Another reason I think this film remains a fan favorite is because it celebrates our humanity in its own way. 

What this film fails to do, which does not affect my love for the film and soundtrack, is that it accepts “my broken parts” and “my scars” as a part of the end product of “who I am meant to be.”  The reality is that we are broken, we do have scars, we are flawed, but it does not consider  who we are meant to be, especially in light of Jesus’ prayer. 

In Jesus’ prayer, he specifically prayed in John 17:13 for his people to have his joy fulfilled in them.  To what was Jesus referring  as the cause our joy in the midst of a hostile world?  It is obviously all that he taught, but it is more specifically what he said in “the greatest sermon ever preached on planet earth” (see John 14-16).  In the midst of a violent and hostile world, that is broken, scared, and dark, the gospel is the remedy to our troubled hearts.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).  We were made not for today, but for eternity.  We were made not for the purpose of brokenness and scars, but for a wholeness that can only be experienced through a relationship with a God.  He takes what is broken and scared and makes it new.  This is the good news that Jesus Christ brings; this is the Gospel.

We Were Given the Gospel

We have been given the Gospel; this is what Jesus meant in his prayer: “I have given them your word.”  As a result of being given the gospel and having accepted it, the world hated the disciples and it will hate anyone who has received the Gospel. Just as light dispels the darkness and life is an enemy of death, those whose eyes have been opened by the light of the Gospel and have been made alive through it, are, and will continue to be, hated by the world just as Jesus was and continues to be hated by the world.  This is why Jesus warned: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; NIV). 

What we learn from Jesus’ prayer is that in the midst of trouble, we can know and have real joy.  This is the Christian ideal, but as G.K. Chesterton observed: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  Christianity is a religion of inconvenience, because it calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24).  We live in a nation where the word “inconvenience” is a dirty word.  On a blog for Fortune.com, Benjamin Snyder observed:

Cereal sales are getting crushed and there’s a surprising reason why…

The core issue appears to be that millennials simply don’t have the energy for the breakfast option, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reported that a survey conducted by Mintel, a global research firm, found nearly 40% of millennials consider cereal inconvenient to consume. Why? Because it needs to be cleaned up after eating.

The paradox of the Gospel runs against the grain of what our culture believes the secret of life is, which can be summed up with the slogan: “You can have it your way.”  Jesus explained the paradox for us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).  In other words, remaining in the Father’s love and obedience to Jesus is the secret to happiness, but how we get there is “knowing God and knowing Jesus” (John 17:3), which begins with faith that Jesus lived the life we could never live, died the death we deserved, and conquered death by rising from it on the third day.  Jesus prayed that we would not be spared from trouble, but protected from the devil.  Why did Jesus pray that we would be “kept from the evil one?”  Because the evil one wants nothing more than to have Christians silenced and sidelined by fear, sin, frustration, and distractions.  

We Are Being Transformed by the Gospel

The greatest need people have is not acceptance, but gospel transformation.  This need is why Jesus prayed that we would not be taken out of the world, but kept from the evil one.  The strategic linchpin for the Gospel to go forth into the world is not systems or programs, but our pursuit of holiness.  Consider what Jesus prayed for us:

  1. Do not take them out of the world.
  2. Keep them from the evil one.
  3. Sanctify them in the truth

How are we to be sanctified in the truth?  We are sanctified in the truth more and more as we depend on Jesus as the only means for the remedy to transform the brokenness and scars resultant of our sins.  We are not meant to be what we are now, but who Jesus created us to be. 

How can we be “sanctified in the truth?”  A theologian by the name of Arthur W. Pink once wrote, “The Great mistake made by most of the Lord’s people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.”[1]  Just before Jesus prayed, he shared with his disciples the secret of sanctification, Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-3, 5).

Consider again what Jesus prayed for in verse 13; Jesus prayed that his joy would be fulfilled in us.  The way that this joy is fulfilled in us is by remaining in the Father’s love and obedience to Jesus – this faithfulness is what it means to “abide” in Jesus.  Abiding happens when accept Jesus as the only means for our salvation.  Belief in Jesus results in following him.  Following Jesus requires obedience to Jesus, which results in abiding in him, and as you abide in Jesus – His ways begin to evolve into the desire of your heart and the outcome of your life.  This internal transformation is what it means to “genosko” Jesus. 

In today’s world, where we can get the answer to most of our questions right at our finger tips, there are many things that we can “know.” If someone asks Siri the question, “How long is the Golden Gate Bridge,” they will get an almost instantaneous response.  But if we were sitting next to a retired construction worker who spent 4 years of his life building the Verrazano bridge in his 20s, we would not only get the right information, we would get it with great passion.  This juxtaposition is the difference between knowing about something, and truly “knowing” something.

Abiding in Jesus is the key strategic linchpin to fulfilling the great commission to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20).  If we are not abiding in Jesus by reading and studying our Bibles, gathering together with other Christians, sitting under the preaching of God’s word, and celebrating the Gospel through regular and consistent worship, we will have little influence in this world, lack the joy God wants us to experience, and find ourselves sidelined to the satisfaction of the devil, the grief of the Holy Spirit, and the eternal plight of our neighbors.  We were meant for so much more.

Jesus prayed that as we are sent into and remained in the world, we would be protected from the devil and sanctified through the Gospel. If you are ever tempted to think God can’t use you because of your past, consider the words of John Newton: “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.”

We Are Sent Into the World to Share the Gospel

We are not only made for a purpose, but we were made for a mission.  Just as Jesus was sent into the world, He has sent us into the world.  We were ransomed from our sin and the world to be transformed into the kind of people we were born to be, for Jesus prayed: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  How are we to go into the world?  We go into the world with the same mindset Jesus did: He laid his life down out of obedience to the Father for the sake of people in desperate need of salvation.

Jesus prayed that we would have the same self-sacrificing mindset that he did as we go into the world when he prayed: “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (v. 19).  We become sanctified in truth by dying to ourselves for the purpose of God’s mission to seek and save the lost.  The “great commission” of Matthew 28:19-20 is not the “great suggestion.”  We are sent into the world, not to play, but to point people to where real and true joy can be found in and through Jesus Christ.  After thinking a lot about the song, This is Me, I tried to reimagine what the words might be in the song if it was theologically accurate and biblically hopeful; this is what I came up with, and this is how I would like to conclude our time together:

I was a stranger in the dark
Running away, fallen, and astray
I was nothing, but fractured and broken apart
My sin has caused my brokenness and scars
Yet I continued to run away
Unaware that God meets us as we are.
For upon the Cross my savior died
And was buried, along with all my sin and shame
And now I have found my place in Christ
Whereas his new creation, I am made
So, when the world tries to bring me down
I’m gonna rest in God’s amazing grace.
I am saved, I am sanctified, I am in Christ
I am not yet what I will be, but I am becoming what I was meant to be
Look out ‘cause here I come
I am marching to the beat of a different drum
I am called by grace, I am sent by Christ
I am a new creation, this is me.

We were made for a mission.  This mission is the reason we were given the gospel.


[1] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace (Colorado Springs: Navepress; 1991), p. 101.