- 1John 2:18-27;
- John 17:20-26
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Something has crept into church life in the last decade or two. They call it church shopping. Driven by our consumeristic world, a church, or more so a congregation—even irrespective of the particular of its doctrinal position—has to have certain characteristics and should have some activities to the liking of those who church shop. Only when he/she finds a church that will meet the shopper’s demand, will he/she join. This leaves the door open of course to leave whenever those expectations are not met.
Seldomly does such a church shopper measure his or her standards for what a church should be like against the desire of Christ for his church.
Today we will learn from the Scriptures what Christ was praying for his church. Our Lord was about to give his life when He prayed this prayer. His death was only hours away. Last requests are usually important requests.
The Church to grow by proclaiming the Word
In John 17:20 we hear our Lord pray:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… (John 17:20, NIV)
In the first part of the prayer Christ prayed for his disciples, but now He goes further: Jesus prayed for the church to grow through the preaching of the Word. Before He left them to return to his Father He gave them the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NIV)
His eye was on the ends of the earth: from every nation, tribe tongue and people God’s own has to be gathered in. Sometimes we don’t understand that this commission also includes our city; on average we support missionaries in far-off countries.
But what we more often than not lose focus of, especially in modern day congregations where the main items on the agenda have become music, entertainment and consumer satisfaction, is the medium, the tool by which we must conquer the world. What is it? The message (or as it sates in the Greek text of 17:20—the word!
We hear of “spirit-filled” worship, thundering music which sounds like rock concerts, of happenings, of emotion, and even of healings and miracles, but any worship service without the proclamation of the Word of God is no worship service.
Word proclamation was right on top of Christ’s prayer list for his Church to grow. Gospel proclamation is to have the people of God hear Him speak through his Holy Spirit; its about the message of Christ who came to take away the sins of the world; its equipping the saints for their work of service; through the Gospel God’s Spirit work to bring about regeneration, the new birth, the opening of blind eyes, the opening of deaf ears and to unlock a stubborn mind to understand the mercies and greatness of God.
The church in Corinth had all sorts of things happening in their worship services; people spoke in tongues, others performed miracles, others drove our demons, but somewhere along the way they missed out badly. Listen to what Paul writes to them:
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying [this is: proclaiming the Word], they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25, NIV)
What is your expectation of a church? Children’s programs, a certain music style, a more relaxed style of worship? Has the pure proclamation of the Word ever been on the top of your list? Is walking away from a worship service with a heart thumping like the music you heard more important than the knocking voice of Christ on the door of your heart. What will take you through low times other than the Word of God? What is your answer to a seeking sinner if you are not trained in the truths of the Gospel. Can you handle the sword—the Bible—of the Spirit?
We need to be attuned to the prayer of Christ and be a church who grows by the preaching of the Word.
The Church to be in unity under Christ
The second petition of Christ for his church was unity. We have to understand that the unity of Lord is praying for here is not oneness or uniformity. What our Lord is asking for is that his church would be one with Him in the same way He and the Father are one. This has not to do with structural unity, but does excludes such unity.
The world will be in no better position to believe that Christ was the One sent by the Father if there was only one denomination over all the earth. Structural unity might play a part, but the most important aspect about unity is that the church who lives under the authority of Christ would speaks the words of her Master, and thinks the thoughts of Him who her Head.
Right through the ministry of Christ we hear Him say things like:
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19, NIV)
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30, NIV)
My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. (John 7:16, NIV)
I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (John 8:50, NIV)
The unity between the Father and Christ was to think and act in unity; they are one in purpose, one in mind and one in deed.
When the mind of the church is set on the mind of our Lord and his Father, so that our words, our purpose, our goals and our actions reflect what God has ordained for his church, the world will take notice. This, of course, means that the church will be immersed in the Word of God. Like the prophets of old our only message will be, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
Who will believe our message if what we proclaim varies like a leaf in the wind of every new idea. It is now that we need to firmly need to stand by the Word to help those who seeking meaning in the tempest of modern day sexual revolution. Listen, the Word of God, says the prophet, is “like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV). The writer of Hebrews says,
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)
Charles Spurgeon once said:
“If you wish to know God you must know his word; if you wish to perceive his power you must see how He works by his word; if you wish to know his purpose before it is actually brought to pass you can only discover it by his word.”
Oh, that the Church of Christ might start thinking Gods thoughts after Him. Let’s cast out man-made ideas and wishy-washy doctrine which is the truth, because it is the truth which sets us free. Our message is never ours; its about Christ,, the One whom the Father sent to save sinners whom He calls through his Word.
The Church to shine forth the love of God for Christ
From unity of mind, spirit, action and purpose with the Father and the Son flows the necessity for the church to shine forth the love of the Father for the Son and for those He Himself loves.
Love without doctrine is mere emotion and will not stand the storms of life. Doctrine without love is nothing more than lifeless morality. But love and doctrine, how pure the intentions with if may be, without Christ is nothing but an ideology without a base. When Christ is in the centre, When He is the well-spring of doctrine and preaching, love necessarily follows.
Our time is obsessed with love with no substance. It never satisfies; its forever nothing more than shifting shadows.
But when someone finds Christ and meets the love of the Father everything changes. He can and will read more about it in the Scriptures, indeed he will consume God’s testament washed in the blood of Christ.
The challenge of the Christ is to shine forth this love—and it starts with a personal relationship with the Saviour. Nothing is more off-putting than someone telling you to do something he knows nothing about.
What does our congregation look like in the shining forth the love of the Father which He had for his Son? It’s not about me, or about you, Mr Church-shopper. It’s not about what you can get and how you can be a consumer of Bible goods; its about how you should shine forth the love of Father displayed in the Father. We are mere mirrors and soundboards—not the images and the sound.
The Church to live towards a sure destination
Our Lord prayed to ask his Father something we really can’t fathom:
“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. (John 17:24, NIV)
Man! Do we really get this? Is it your one and only desire to enter into the glory of your Saviour? Our Lord could ask boldly because He opened the gates of paradise when He was nailed to the cross, and He secured eternity for his own when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Now, those who live in Him will be taken into the realms of glory of Christ which were his before He left it to ransom his church with his blood.
He prays,”I want them to be with Me where I am.” That’s a sure destination. It’s not based on our good works or out utmost performance; it’s sure because Christ went ahead of us.
Christ prayed this petition for his church so she would never lose sight of her eternal destination. Through toils, snares and tribulation Christ’s own must look forward and say: We have an eternal home! My Lord is praying for me till I reach the everlasting shores, and then He will take my hand and welcome me into his glory!
Let’s close knowing that Christ prayer for his church to grow through the preaching of the Word, He prays for his church to think his thoughts after Him and are of the same mind, He prays that his church will live out and shine forth the love of the Father for his Son, He prays for his church to come home to Him in glory. Is his prayer your prayer too? Let’s make his prayer the prayer of our congregation.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 April 2017