One of the greatest of all prayers is recorded for us in the book of John, chapter 17. It is actually the true Lord’s Prayer; some know it as the High Priestly Prayer of Christ. In it Christ is praying over His disciples, and for the Church to come. In verses 20-23, He addresses what I refer to as The Great Apologetic. What is an apologetic, you may ask? Well, unlike what it sounds like, it is not an apology. Rather, it is a defense, so to speak, of a particular topic. In this context, it is a defense of the faith, a defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the last few hours of His life, the Lord is praying over His 11 disciples. His initial point of concern is that they are “sanctified in the truth.” His plea in verse 17 was, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” That is followed by another plea in verse 19 that they are “sanctified in the truth.” The Lord is communicating to the Father that He has been faithful to transmit to the disciples the heart of God, the Word of God, and His desire is that they be set aside to accurately communicate that truth to the world, as Christ is now sending them out into the world.
But notice that His prayer does not end with His disciples, rather it includes the future Church which will be built.
Read the words:“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
It is clear to see that the Lord is praying for unity among His disciples all through this prayer. A relationship so intimate, a unity, a mutual indwelling in like kind as between the Father and the Son. A unity which is so apparent that it, in itself becomes a proclamation of the power of the Gospel. It affirms that the Gospel is true. The witness of the disciples, in the way that they evidence unity is the greatest apologetic possible. To be sanctified in the truth of the Gospel, backed up by the evidence of unity among the disciples themselves forces the world to witness the transformational power of God, to attest to the truth that God is indeed real, and that He has sent His one and only Christ to save the lost.
In Matthew 16:18 Christ affirmed that He would build His Church upon the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus affirms here, in John, that He would do that through the witness of His people. Of such monumental importance is this unity, this witness, that some portion of glory has been imparted to the disciples by Jesus, “This glory You have given Me, I have given to them…” He is praying for the disciples, and for the church which will be borne from their witness, and to secure this seemingly impossible realization, the Lord conveys some measure of His glory.
The fruit of our witness of unity today is confirmation to the world that it may have eternal life through the gift which God has given through the work of Christ. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
How amazing it is that the Holy Spirit has preserved this prayer for us. We understand that one of the strongest ways to demonstrate to the lost world is by our relationships with each other. Yet, how often do we struggle, and search for right answers, clever lines, and apologetic arguments? We think if only we can “wrap them up tight in a Gospel web, then we win.” What I conclude from this prayer is that if we have every great apologetic argument, every cosmological, epistemological, moral, and teleological argument dialed into a “T”, we will still not be able to “argue” the world into the kingdom of Heaven. Nope, not if they hear our argument, and still see the ecclesial “train-wreck” of the Church playing out in slow-motion in front of them.
Yes, this greatest of apologetics transfers to the present-day Church, to us, to those of us who have believed in Him through their word. Some measure of the glory of God is upon you now, Christian! Love the Church. Love the loveable Church. Love the un-loveable Church. The Bride of Christ! The time is now.
How will the Church respond?
Sanctified in truth.
Together in unity.
Empowered with glory.
That the world may know.