As I read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus, I am always pained in the heart when it comes to the story of his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. As I read these stories, I cannot help but feel the same desire as Peter, who when told of the things to come, took Jesus aside and said, “Master, pity thyself: this shall not be unto thee” (GNV Mt 16.22). It is hard to think that these terrible things had to happen in order to set the miserable masses of humanity free from the law of sin and death. That would be why Jesus response to Peter’s concern was to say:
“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense until me, because thou understandest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men” (GNV Mt 16.23).
There is power in these words, for we do more easily understand the things of men than we do the things of God. This point was driven home to me as I read and considered the ramifications of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. We live in a world where the Christian faith has become a buffet, we have so many choices between denominations that each worship Christ in a different way. Some denominations will not recognize as a follower of Christ an individual who has been baptized under the faith of another branch. The body of Christ has been divided into sects with each one suspicious of the other’s beliefs and practices. Paul addresses this issue with the Church at Corinth when he writes:
“For when one saith, I am Paul’s, and another, I am Apollos’, are ye not carnal” (GNV 1 Co 3.4)?
For each of our modern denominations come from the same place as the divisions Paul addresses as the people of Corinth desire to say, “I am Paul’s, and I am Apollos’, and I am Cephas’, and I am Christ’s” (GNV 1 Co 1.12). The church who chooses to follow after the doctrines of man are causing division and are acting in direct opposition to the prayer prayed in earnest by Christ in Gethsemane.
On the night Jesus knew he was to be betrayed, he retreated to a quiet spot to pray. In this prayer he lifts up to God both his disciples and all those who would come after them in faith. As he prays, there is one singular theme that runs through all he asks of God. This theme can be summed up in one word, unity. Jesus knows that he was able to accomplish all that God had called him to do because he had remained in the Father. It was through that unity that Christ was made strong and able. As he prays over the disciples, Christ asks:
“And now that I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in they name, even them whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are one” (GNV Jn 17.11).
During his earthly ministry, Jesus was their protection and shield, but now that he will be no more in the world, they will need a guide to protect them. For Jesus knew that the world would hate them and seek to destroy their ministry, so it would be through their unity of heart that would keep them strong and grounded in the faith. It is through this unity that the Church would testify before a lost world the message Jesus came to bring. Jesus prays:
“That they all may be one, as thou, O Lord, art in men, and I in thee: even that they may be also one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (GNV Jn 17.21).
What better way for Satan to undermine the message of Christ and belittle the testimony of the Apostles then to cause division within the body and have members chasing after the carnal teachings of men? It undermines the credibility of the message, places Christians at odds with other Christians, and it opens the door for non-believers to question the truth of the faith because even the Church is at odds (oftentimes violent odds) at what it believes and acknowledges as truth. Brothers and sisters in Christ this cannot be because Christ tells us that:
“A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (GNV Jn 13.34-35).
He also prays:
“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou loved me” (GNV Jn 17.23).
Church, I have a question. Do we truly reflect back this love when we live happily with such division? What testimony does it send when we stand in suspicion of our brothers and sisters who call upon the same God but do so under a different denominational name? By doing this we divide the body and act in direct opposition to the prayer Christ prayed on our behalf. We have allowed Satan to come kill, steal, and destroy all that Jesus did in his earthly ministry and all that Apostles died to testify. We should be ashamed of our behavior and we need to repent before a holy God of our sin. We need to recapture the prayers of Christ and seek with all our hearts to dwell in unity with other believers for this is how our lost world will see and believe the Word of Christ. The longer we stand in opposition to one another, the more people we will actively shut out of the kingdom of God, for we have been called to:
“…avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for the person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (ESV Tit 3.9-11).
Paul also pleads with the Romans to:
“…watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (ESV 17-18).
Finally, as Jesus confronts the people about casting out a demon, he warns that “every kingdom divided against itself, shall be desolate, and an house divided against an house falleth” (GNV Mt 11.17).
Church this is where we are. We are divided against ourselves and we are failing in this generation. More and more people are turning their back on the Word of Christ and embracing the world. Our testimony falls flat in the face of the culture, a culture that we reflect back instead of stand in contrast. In these last days we need to stand and pray for a return to unity of the faith. That all believers stand in one accord under the pure doctrine of Christ. That we reflect back to this generation the same love and affection for one another that the early Church reflected within the culture of Rome. We need to stop serving our own carnal appetites and return to the Gospel preached by Christ and testified to though the lives and deaths of the Apostles.