This is neither the time nor the place to try to explain the mystery of the Trinity to you – because it cannot be done. We lack the words and the concepts to express how the Father, Son, and Spirit can be three distinct persons yet one God. Besides, we have more important things to do: we have an entire world to reach with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The night of Jesus’ final meal with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trial, and death was neither the time nor the place, either, to expound on the Trinity. Jesus had more important things to do – like pray for Himself, for His followers who would not have Him physically present with them much longer, and for all believers.
And yet, He declared the truth of the unity of God in the Trinity in what we call His “High Priestly Prayer,” which is recorded in John 17. Hear the Word of God:
[Read John 17:20-26]
Jesus is asking here for all believers to be unified, because their unity testifies to the unity that exists in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Specifically in verse 21, Jesus tells His Father that He wants them to have the same kind of oneness that Jesus has with His Father: “…that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The Son’s unity with the Father is why the Son was willing to come to earth to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. When we reflect that unity in our relationship with other Christians, we bear witness to God’s unity.
But how do we achieve that unity, when human beings tend to divide? A.T. Robertson wrote, “The only possible way to have unity among believers is for all of them to find unity first with God in Christ.”
Jesus explains that in verse 22 when He prays, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
The glory Jesus has received from the Father is shared with us so that we can experience that oneness. When we are united with Jesus, we are then united with the Father and with each other. And it is truly glorious.
Jesus wants us to have that same perfect oneness. “I in them and you in me,” He prays in verse 23. And He repeats His request for them to experience that oneness completely for the purpose of showing the world that the Father sent the Son out of love for us – love that is as great for us as it is for His Son.
Then Jesus asks in verse 24 that this oneness continue for eternity, so that we will be with Jesus in eternity and will then see Him in all His glory.
The upshot of all this is that God the Father makes us one with Jesus and with Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. That oneness gives us God’s righteousness, which is what we absolutely must have for salvation. And that unity will never end. That is the essence of eternity life.
Since all believers are one with Jesus, then they are one with each other – in a spiritual way, but not always in a practical way. Jesus knows how quickly His human followers will start to fragment. They will not demonstrate the unity that is theirs – and that will reflect badly on their Savior and Lord. Hence, this part of His High Priestly Prayer.
You hear echoes in this prayer of what God said through the prophet Malachi: that the one God created His people, and established a covenant relationship with them. That meant that they also had a covenant relationship with each other.
God chastises his people for breaking that covenant relationship, which reflects the breaking of the covenant relationship with God. We read in verse 10: “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?”
So in ancient Israel, we see a breaking of the covenant with God and with each other. And it has continued ever since.
We saw it 500 years ago in the Reformation – which started as a good-faith effort to bring the Church back to “the faith once delivered to the saints,” as Jude wrote. Sadly, human sin quickly took over and God’s people divided into armed camps. Kings and empires took sides, and entire wars were fought over religious differences.
It is impossible to estimate how many people died as a result – but it is safe to say the number is in the millions. Perhaps too few people were reading the last verse of our passage from Malachi 2, in which God says:
“and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
Thank God that we are no longer killing each other. In fact, most Christians in America really believe it when they sing “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” – which was inspired by Jesus’ prayer.
Regularly, this love and respect is demonstrated by the churches of the Bellaire Clergy Association. I love to watch Father Dan Heusel from St. John’s Church interacting with Pastor Bill Marinelli from Faith Fellowship Church. Those two are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of worship styles and on many doctrinal issues – but they are the two you can count on to be at every event. They are absolutely committed to showing the community the unity of Jesus’ Church.
But there is much more work to be done before we are truly unified. Especially in our own fractured denomination and our own churches.
You have probably heard stories of people who left a church because the pulpit Bible their great-great-grandparents gave was replaced – either because it was the King James Version or it had fallen apart.
Or the new pew cushions were red – not blue. Or the pastor picked hymns they didn’t know or like.
We can joke about examples like those, because they sound petty – at least they do now – but theological differences are far more damaging to the unity of the Church. The statistics from 2016 just came out,
and 99 congregations representing almost 30-thousand people left the Presbyterian Church USA last year.
Most – if not all – left for theological reasons.
I understand why they felt they had to leave, and it’s no secret that I usually agree with them on those theological issues. But I do not believe that further dividing the body of Christ is a solution. In fact, the influx of so many of our congregations into other denominations has caused anxiety and conflict similar to that experienced in blended families.
So I am glad that you as a congregation have decided to stay in your covenantal relationship, because Jesus was clear that oneness among Christians is a testimony to the oneness of our God: our God who loved us so much that He united us to His united self.
I thank God that our presbytery has lost only two congregations – with just one more on its way out.
I think one reason is that we as a presbytery decided several years ago that we would not put up roadblocks for congregations who felt they should leave us.
We wanted to remain as united as we could in our separation. We followed the example of Abraham and Lot, who let Lot take the best land and leave peacefully.
What kind of witness is it when people who proclaim the love and unity of God spend fortunes suing each other over church buildings? Or when those who have left and those who stayed refuse to speak to each other?
It happens often – and we wanted no part of that.
Because it sure looks like a divorce to the unbelieving, skeptical, and questioning world – which is why God addressed divorce at the same time in Malachi’s prophecy. In verse 14 God chastises His people for breaking covenant with their spouses:
… the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians that marriage is a living, breathing – and sometimes struggling – metaphor for Jesus’ relationship with His Church. So it stands to reason that if the Church’s unity is strained at times, Christian marriages will be strained at times – and may even break.
But with all the stresses of 21st-century American life, Christians are hanging in there and are working hard to maintain unity in their marriages. I am happy to tell you that those statistics you have probably heard about Christians and divorce have been debunked.
Active Christians are not as likely as non-believers to divorce. In fact, active Catholics are 31% less likely to divorce and active Protestants are 35% less likely to split up. I wish it were 100%, but this is nevertheless a testimony to the unity of our God, and our unity with God in Christ.
So yes, we have made great strides toward unity in the body of Christ –including the covenant of Christian marriage – but we cannot rest on our laurels. As Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
It’s a lot of work. It takes patience and forbearance and forgiveness and understanding – even when we don’t feel like it. And it’s an ongoing work. But it’s worth the effort, so commit yourselves to oneness with your fellow Christians: the ones in the next pew, down the street, across the ocean, and in your home. When you do, you help to answer Jesus’ prayer that His followers would be made one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.