God sent His Son not only to die for us, but also to live in such radical ways that His example sparks in us a desire to live that way too.
In God’s broad view of human history, there was only one thing to do. He had planned it all along, and at just the right time, Jesus came to live and die as a human being and teach us firsthand what real unity is all about. The apostle Paul expressed it quite clearly: “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:9, 10, NIV).
First, Jesus lives in a family—possibly a rather dysfunctional one in some ways. He shows us it is possible to love them anyway. Then He chooses a small group of people to take with Him everywhere and to train. It is instructive that He seems to spend more time simply letting them follow Him around and watch Him work and work with Him, than in orally instructing them. He does teach them, too, and when He does, He calls God the equivalent of “Daddy,” (a shocking idea to an observant Jew of the time), and talks a lot about God’s realm, where things are completely upside-down and sideways from anybody’s idea of a normal realm or kingdom.
In this “Realm of God,” people are supposed to be like little children (Matt. 18:4). As Isaiah wrote, “A little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6, NKJV). In this realm, a son who ran off with his inheritance, wasted it all, and ruined his life is welcomed back with open arms and no condemnation (Luke 15:11-32). Did not Jeremiah say something like that? “ ‘Is Ephraim My dear son? . . . I will surely have mercy on him’ ” (31:20, NKJV). In this kingdom, the last was supposed to be first, the greatest like the youngest, and the ruler like a servant. (Luke 22:2, 27) Wasn’t the great King David himself chosen as the youngest of his house, and didn’t the law say that a king’s heart must not be lifted up above his countrymen? (Deut. 17:20).
When they listened to Jesus, the people’s hearts must have tingled like something long asleep beginning to awaken, like something lost showing up unexpectedly, like something forgotten, now newly remembered. Crowds followed Him, hanging on His every word. Children brought Him their lunches, and thousands ate together as one family.
A Roman centurion, lepers, women from Syro-Phoenicia and Samaria, demoniacs from “the other side of the water,” and at least one highly-placed Pharisee reached out to Jesus, and in so doing, came a little closer to each other. So this is what God means by fellowship!
By the end of Jesus’ earthly life, His friends may sometimes be bright-eyed with hope and possibilities, but they’re not really getting it. They argue over who’s greater and beg for the best places in His government and run away when He’s arrested. Two of them betray Him, one with a kiss and one with an oath.
It is in the middle of this confusion that Jesus prays His ultimate prayer request for His followers in all ages. “ ‘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. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world 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’ ” (John 17:18-26, NIV).
There are many fascinating mind-stretchers in this prayer. “You in Me . . . I in You . . . they in Us . . . I in them . . . you in Me”—try drawing a diagram of that! But there is a good deal more than first meets the eye. It is most often assumed, for instance, that when Jesus asks His Father “that they . . . be where I am,” He is speaking of going with Him to heaven someday, and so He no doubt is. But take a look at Ephesians 2:6 where God “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
Was this, in fact, also an immediate prayer request? Was it fulfilled soon, in some way? Is it fulfilled now? “So that they may see my glory.” Does this only mean His glory after all things are completed, or does it mean something present and immediate? When is/was Jesus’ moment of greatest glory? Is it the brilliance of His presence on the throne (with us, incomprehensibly!), the blinding flash of His second coming? Perhaps the moment of the resurrection, when soldiers collapsed? Or is it the bloody, gasping spectacle of the Son of God and man giving up His life for us? Those He prayed for that night were about to see that. Not only that, but millions have been staring spellbound at (or averting their eyes from) that heartrending scene for twenty centuries now.
God sent His Son not only to die for us, but also to live in such radical ways that His example sparks in us a desire to live that way too.*