It is a deliciously warm day. Tender green shoots show on the mulberry tree. A Cape white eye risks a dip in the birdbath with kitten keeping vigil close by. Our boys tumble over each other in pursuit of the dog, who is hightailing down the stone steps with a teddy bear held tenderly in his jaws. White winter skin drinks in the sweet warmth. My babies have grown so tall, lean and strong, angles and bones where curves and dimples used to be. But in their birthday suits, feet shod in gumboots, they look vulnerable and dear.
Two weeks ago I sat down to write a blog. I thought the words would come as they always do. But after grinding out a few sentences, there was just a muddle of thoughts and nothing else. Since then, the days have just somehow swept past. For me there has always been a fine balance between discipline, creativity and obedience in what I write. The first two I mostly manage. But this morning I realised that my hunger to hear God, has been dulled by daily challenges, worry and busyness. I have forgotten how to listen. Forgotten how to be really still. Forgotten how to surrender and be vulnerable.
But Jesus has not forgotten me. This morning, as I prayed, He reminded of how He prayed for His disciples, how He prayed for me, for us who came to believe in Him. I reached for my neglected bible and re-read John 17, the most incredible High Priestly prayer in all of scripture. The whole chapter is a prayer, it is the Lord’s own prayer.
What makes this prayer special, is that Jesus did not draw aside as He normally did when he prayed to the Father. He concluded His final teaching to the disciples in John 14-16 with these beautiful words of comfort. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!" Then He looked up at heaven and prayed. This happened after they had eaten the Passover and the Lord's supper together. It was an intimate parting prayer, prayed in a closed room. It was a preface to His sacrifice, which He was about to offer here on earth. The eleven, who had become His family on earth, were probably quite unsettled and fearful after all that He had told them. It was the evening of Jesus' arrest, and His final words in front of those He loved and whom had loved and followed Him, was a prayer. The words of this prayer were written down and included in God's living Word, our Holy Bible. So that I may read it today, more than 2000 years later, and know that our Saviour and Mediator still intercedes for us today. But no longer as a man, but as the risen and glorified Christ, at the right hand of the Father. It is meaningful that He begins by praying for Himself. Though Christ, as God, was prayed to, Christ, as man, prayed to fulfill righteousness. These were and still are, His words:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
There is so much here, too much to take in at a glance. But what really stood out for me, and has been at the back of my mind for quite a while, is the emphasis on "oneness". There has been much talk about "unity" among people, but is this what Jesus meant by being "one as we are one"?
Firstly, Jesus prays "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." By "them", Jesus was referring to those who believed in Him: "They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me." Jesus prays the protection of His own powerful name over those who had come to know and follow Him. In John 15:4, Jesus commands us to "abide" in Him. The dictionary defines abiding as to accept or act in accordance with a rule, decision, or recommendation. Synonyms include obey, observe, follow, uphold, heed, and accept. This definition isn’t far off from what Jesus is telling us to do in John 15. But before he gets to the meaning, he gives us a picture of what it looks like not to abide in him. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).
Being "one" with Christ, abiding in Him, is His command. "Unity" with those in Christ is what Jesus prays for, knowing how difficult it is, even for believers, to get along and be "one of heart and mind". Being "one" is intended to bring about His glory: "Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you harmony with one another in Christ Jesus, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.…" It is the powerful name of Jesus which protects and joins us together. Unity of all people is not God's design. He knew that His followers would be hated, and that "oneness" without great compromise was not possible. Jesus says in Luke 12: 49-51 "I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division.…"
Jesus prays for us to be protected from evil in this world, for "they are not of the world, even as I am not of it". Being one with Jesus and our Father God, is a gift and a choice. It sets us apart, His children, heirs of His heavenly Kingdom. Not of this world. Aliens in the true sense of the word. It can be a lonely path at times, friends and even family may oppose or even forsake you. But there is a promise from God in Joshua 1:5, also quoted in Hebrews 13:5 which gives us hope and strength: "No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Us in Him and Him in us. Never alone, our reason for hope and our promise of eternity with Jesus.
Jesus continues to pray also for those who will believe in Him through the message of his disciples, "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. "
That is the unity that God designed. Christ in us, the hope of glory. "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory." (Col 1.27) God chose to bring us into His covenant. In this the body of Christ is united. In Eph 3:16,17 Paul says: "That out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in you inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."
Jesus ends this wonderful prayer with this promise: "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you sent me. I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them.
The love that God has for His Son, is in us. Jesus himself is in us. Christ in you, the words that changed everything. This is what David calls knowledge too wonderful, too lofty for me to reach or comprehend. The hope of glory lives in me, in you. This hope is the silver thread between God's children. You and me, born into sin, but destined for glory.
It makes real the prospect of that sweet time, when we shall see Jesus face to face. Face to face... Not only for a little time, but:
"Millions of years our wondering eyes,
Shall over our Saviour's beauties rove.
And myriad ages we'll adore,
The wonders of His love."