Relationships – The Passion of Jesus
John 17:20-26 (010)
I would find it a very interesting exercise to ask each of you what you are passionate about. What are the things that excite you and stir you up? What do you like to get involved in and talk about? What are you willing to devote time and money and energy to?
People can be passionate about all kinds of things – sport, politics, homes, families, work, hobbies, cars, helping others, cleanliness, health, clothes, the environment, music, movies, travel – just about anything. And because we’re all very different people, with different interests, gifts, abilities, skills, feelings, life experiences and personalities – we can all have different passions.
That’s one reason why it can be difficult for us at times to work together as Christians and as Christian churches. We’re very diverse people and we can have different passions and interests even within our ministries as God’s people.
So one of the really important things for us as God’s people is to focus on what we have in common – what makes us the “one holy Christian church” here on earth. And then, rather than thinking about our passions, we can think about Jesus and his passions, because that just may have an influence on us and what we do and say as we serve wherever God has called us to.
So what was Jesus passion? What was important for Jesus? What was so critical for him that he was prepared to die for it?
The last few hours before his crucifixion give us a clue. It had been a busy week, starting with a dramatic entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey. There were big crowds, cheering, shouting, waving palm branches, and throwing their coats on the road for him to ride over.
There was an argument in the temple with the money changers. The religious leaders demanded him to answer their questions. There was a unique meal with his disciples in an upper room where he spoke intensely about what was to happen to him. And then a quick exit into a garden to pray.
One moment he was talking, teaching, sharing – the next moment he was pouring out his heart to his Father. It was a prayer of deep intimacy and great intensity. An urgent and impassioned plea to God for his people.
Father, may they be one as we are one (v1). Father, you are in me and I am in you, may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me (v21). Father, may they be brought to complete unity (v.23). Father, may the love you have for me be in them (v26).
This is a prayer of passion. This is what is on his heart. This is why he’s been sent. This is the goal he has before him.
Jesus may well have been passionate about many things and many people – but this prayer highlights what he wants to see and have happen more than anything else. It’s a passion for unity. That’s what he wants – unity among his people. Harmony in relationships is what is really on his heart.
This prayer of Jesus breathes relationship, fellowship and intimacy. It’s an intimacy first of all between the God the Father and Jesus. It’s a special and unique relationship: Everything you have given me comes from you (v7). All I have is yours and all you have is mine (v10). You in me and I in you (v21). Here we catch a glimpse of an astonishing relationship between Father and Son. This prayer reflects the intimacy of the Trinity.
And we hear Jesus’ greatest desire – that his followers enjoy the same kind of relationship – that they can be in a close and intimate relationship with him and with each other. That’s his passion and the central focus of his prayer. That’s what he wants to see more than anything else.
The relationship between the Father and the Son is the example for all Christian relationships. It’s the standard that we have before us. It’s the model for marriages and families. It’s the model for small groups and meetings and committees and teams within churches. It’s the model for relationships within and between local congregations. It’s the example for the world-wide body of Christ.
That’s Jesus passion. His desire is that the respect, the cooperation and the depth of relationship enjoyed by him and his Father, might be what we experience in our relationship with him and other people.
That was God’s purpose in creating people – so that we could live in peace and harmony, and have good relationships with others. Imagine then how God felt when sin came into the world. His dream was destroyed. Relationships were broken, intimacy was smashed, trust was annihilated and unity was wrecked.
Where are you? God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden. What have you done? And he asked the same of Cain after he’d killed his brother Abel. His children, whom he’d given everything that they’d needed, had hurt him. He didn’t create them for brokenness and division. He created them, and us, so that we could have fellowship, security and joy in our relationships with him and others.
That’s not how things worked out. So Jesus, knowing the ache and pain in his Father’s heart, left his Father’s side to walk the dusty paths of Palestine that led him to the cross. He came to make it possible for relationships to be restored, restored between God and people, and between people themselves.
That’s the core of the Gospel message. That’s what Jesus agonised over in the garden of Gethsemane. That’s why he was so prepared to face all that he did. That’s why he was so passionate about doing something. All so that healing could take place in our relationships.
The price we pay for something gives us an idea of its value. The price that Jesus paid so that there might be healing and health and security in our relationships, gives us a pretty clear idea of how much he values us as people united in love and fellowship.
That’s where his passion lies. That’s what’s important for him. And that says something vitally significant about how we can grow and develop our passions.
In his passion for restored relationships, Jesus spent time with people – especially those people who were rejected by society at large. He argued against the traditions of his day – especially when it meant people’s needs were disregarded as a result. He had no desire to build an organisation – but he felt strongly about people being part of a family, about them being welcomed and made to feel at home. He didn’t come to put a program of ministry in place or give us seven or twelve steps to follow to be a healthy church, but to show mercy and give forgiveness to sinners.
That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with traditions or organisations or programmes or working through steps to better life and growth in the church. It just means that what’s more important than all of them put together is us having healthy relationships. Father may they be one as we are one. That’s Jesus’ passion.
So what does that say about what’s important for us. We may have or develop interests or passions in lots of different kinds of ministries or service in our churches. They are a variety of things that we can do as we use our gifts and as we meet the needs in our churches and community.
But if in the process we ignore or take for granted what Jesus’ greatest passion is, and not take that on board as the basis for our thinking, praying and planning – then whatever we do won’t be too effective. We might get a job done, we might meet a deadline or a budget, we might even achieve all our objectives and meet all our goals – but if we’re content to let our relationships with others take second place, then we’re spoiling God’s plan for his people here.
As hard as we work, we’re never going to have perfect relationships here. Our churches, our congregation, our families, will always have struggles and challenges, and we’ll all make mistakes and make a mess of things at times. But the same Jesus, who cried in the garden and prayed for our unity, also gives us what we need to work at our relationships so that we can continue to be effective. He provides us with his help, his patience, his wisdom, and his grace and forgiveness – especially when we run low on ours.
He not only had this passion for healing relationships when he walked this earth. He still has it now. And so he gives us all we need so that we can be working on building our relationships every day. We’re not left to our own devises and strength, but can receive power to do what may seem at times the impossible.
Jesus committed himself to us so that we can grow our relationships with others. That’s his passion. That’s his desire. That’s what he wants to see happen more and more in his church.
And as we explore our particular passions and work out our individual commitments, we can have that as the basis for our ministry and service. We can grow in having quality relationships with others, because that’s what Jesus empowers us to do. Amen.
Pastor Mark Leischke