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It’s Time! – Undeniable Love

It’s time we speak about Jesus’ least answered prayer—and how we can become the answer to it. Jesus’ least unanswered prayer is found in John chapter 17. Following the Last Supper, Jesus prays for the men in that room, and then he prays for all who will come to faith in him. Jesus prayed for everyone before he went to the cross. Here’s what he prayed for us…

“I pray…for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father…so that the world may believe that you have sent me…Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:20-21, 23

The Least Answered Prayer

Jesus’ least answered prayer…is that Christians will stick together with a love like the love between Jesus and God the Father. He prayed for supernatural unity among us. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything in order to stick together. Not at all! Rather, the miracle is when followers of Jesus stay committed to one another across our differences. It’s time for us to become the answer to Jesus’ prayer, and love one another in ways that become undeniable to those who know you and who know us. So that’s the title of today’s message, what Jesus prayed for is that we will demonstrate Undeniable Love.

Let’s start by agreeing on what we don’t want to be like. It was a Monday afternoon when Dennis found himself with a sweat-smelling suit as he was about to leave on a business trip the next morning. He quickly located a store with the name, “One-Hour Dry Cleaners.” He drove to the other side of town to drop off the suit. He figured he’d grab some take-out, pick up the clean suit, and be home by 8.

So he went into the store, handed over his suit, and explained, “I need this in an hour.” To which the employee behind the counter replied, “I can’t get this back to you until Thursday.” Dennis asked, “I thought you did dry cleaning in an hour?” “No,” she explained, “That’s just the name of the store.”

“One-Hour Dry Cleaners” in name, but not in practice. We can all agree that as yChurch, and as followers of Jesus, we want to love like Jesus, not in name only. The norm these days is the lie that if you don’t agree with me on everything, you can’t be my friend. We can’t stay together in the same church. I’ll unfollow you on social media and surround myself with people who never challenge or stretch me.

We want to be a church marked by the kind of supernatural unity that Jesus prayed for, treating one another with undeniable love. In other words, we want to practice what we preach, so that Jesus’ prayer is answered. It’s time.

What does undeniable love look like? One of the most practical examples is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica. Paul and his teammates Silas and Timothy loved the Christians in Thessalonica. They had to flee that city because of opposition to the good news of Jesus that literally resulted in a riot.

Now here’s an interesting parallel to our times. The city of Thessalonica was very diverse in who lived there: Barbaric Germans from the north who brought paganism with them; Greeks from the south who brought Greek philosophy with them; Romans from the west, many of them retired military bringing wealth, will, and political power; and there were also Jews who came in large numbers from the east; eventually a third of Thessalonica’s population was Jewish. They brought with them faith in one God, and their own national prejudices.

Here’s where it gets fascinating: when Paul goes there and begins to reason with the population about who Jesus is and why he came, that mix of people from different backgrounds comes into the church: some Jews, and many Gentiles. And of course, they bring into the church their cultures, all the differences between them. Jews never ate with Gentiles. Now they had to. Greeks would have looked down their noses at the Barbaric Germans, while German pagans would have been mortified at the Jews’ insistence that there’s only one God. On and on, there were a mess of differences brought into the local church.

And it is for this kind of church that Jesus prayed for supernatural unity, for undeniable love to overcome our natural tendencies to judge, condemn, and separate from those who think and act differently that we do.

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, Paul, now physically distanced from them due to the violence that forced him to flee, demonstrates four marks of undeniable love, four signs that we are answering Jesus’ prayer. Let’s take them one at a time.

How Can Jesus’ Prayer Be Answered?

Jesus’ prayer is answered when Christians are warmly affectionate toward one another.

I don’t know whether your family growing up was warm and affectionate, cold and stand-offish, abusive, or a confusing mix. What I can tell you is that Paul models here the value of appropriate expressions of affection. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1 he goes against the cultural norm of men being emotionally restrained, and freely express his love for them, writing (and feel the emotion here!)…

“When we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.”
1 Thessalonians 3:1

His heart is bursting as he says, “I love you so much that even during this time when we’re physically apart, I had to find a way to reach out to you.” His love had a personal cost to it. He took the initiative. Love shows up in tenderness and voicing love for one another. Undeniable love begins when we don’t hold back in expressing appreciation for one another. Look for the good and voice it, point it out.

I find that easy to do at yChurch. We major on the majors. We dive deep into God’s Word. And we follow Jesus together. That’s it, the short list. Beyond that, we appreciate the differences each one brings to the table. I learn from you as much as you learn from me, as it should be.

And if there was ever a time when people feel their need to be loved, this is it. It’s time! I came across a sermon given during the last pandemic, a hundred years ago, and this hundred-year-old sermon in a pandemic struck me for how it voices what we’re feeling. Pastor Francis Grimke, born a slave but got his freedom and eventually went on to pastor a church in our nation’s capital that had black and white parishioners together, even United States Senators in the same congregation with all of their differences.

Yet in that sermon, Pastor Grimke commented on how the season of separation the pandemic brought on them caused them to realize how much they valued being together, how much they treasured one another. Many of us are feeling the same way these days. So here’s what I would say: take a page from Paul, and find ways to express your love for someone you miss. Make a phone call. Invite someone over for a safe distance backyard barbecue. If you need a phone number, message me and we’ll get it to you.

And let’s go farther. Jesus prayed that Christians will be show undeniable love not only to encourage one another, but also so that spiritual outsiders will be unable to deny the love they see in you and in us as a church. Jesus prayed that we, Christians, will so warmly love one another, across all our differences, that your extended family, your coworkers, and your neighbors will see and be drawn to faith in Jesus who supernaturally unites us. This is what Jesus prayed for. And this is what our nation needs. It’s time.

You know how in forensics, explosives experts work with a “blast-radius,” which is the distance that is affected by an explosion. What Jesus prayed is that we, yChurch members and all Christians, will have a love radius—that anyone within your reach will undeniably feel the love of God in how we speak and act toward one another. When they see and hear warm affection despite our differences, Jesus’ prayer is answered.

This, and nothing less, is what Jesus prayed for.

Jesus’ prayer is answered when Christians Sacrifice for one another.

Real love sacrifices. Paul and Silas did exactly that, because they loved the church in Thessalonica. Verse 2 Paul explains…

“We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.” 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

Whoever your best friend is to you, Timothy was to Paul and Silas. They loved him. He was valuable to them. He was a great teammate. Paul and Silas sent their best to that church so far away, to strengthen and encourage them.

Let’s correct the weird theology that implies all you need is Jesus. No: Jesus created the church because we need one another. The way the Holy Spirit strengthens those who are weary and encourages those who are discouraged is by sending us to one another—as Paul and Silas did. Jesus’ prayer is answered when we sacrifice for one another.

Dave Simmons was taking his 8-year-old daughter Helen and 5-year-old son Brandon shopping, when they spotted a traveling petting zoo. His kids got all excited, pleading, “Daddy, can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?”

“Sure,” he said, handing them each the admission fee. A few minutes later, his 8-year-old came walking back while her younger brother was petting the animals. Dave was confused why she didn’t want to stay in the petting farm, so he bent down and asked her what was wrong.

She explained that the admission price was double what they thought, so she had given her money to her little brother. And then she repeated their family motto, “Love is action!”

It took everything Dave had not to just give her more money. But he sensed that it would be better to reinforce the love she had chosen to act on for her brother. So he stood with her as, together, they watched her little brother enjoying her sacrificial gift.

Love—real love—always costs something. Love gives instead of grabs.

Source: Dad the Family Coach

yChurch members, I want to thank you for your giving. During this pandemic, we are in no way lacking. Our ministry year-to-date is fully funded because of your choice to give. Thank you. Jesus’ prayer is answered when we sacrifice for one another—as you indeed are doing. 

Jesus’ prayer for supernatural unity is answered when Christians identify with one another.

Paul pivots to how important empathy is in verses 3 & 4, writing…

“For you know quite well that we are destined for them [trials]. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

This is the heart of a father coming alongside his kids when they’re hurting, letting them know this is normal, and you’re going to make it through. As the New Testament says elsewhere, anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. It’s a given. With the spiritual landscape shifting in the West from Christianity being favored, to more occasions of Christians being mocked, there may be times when you’re odd man out simply because you’re a Christian, because you believe what the Bible teaches, because you believe what Jesus said about being the way to the Father. That’s not as widely accepted as, say a generation ago.

So what Paul adds here is the value of empathy, identifying with those who are suffering. Identifying with the hurting is a powerful way to show love. Identifying with black Americans in their pursuit of justice is a way we can love our neighbor these days. Identifying is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, instead of only seeing things from your limited experience.

You answer Jesus’ prayer when you empathize with someone who is hurting.

Here at yChurch we have teachers and school nurses dealing with uncertainties surrounding the school year.
We have employees who have been working remotely now being called to return to the office.
We have members who are in-between jobs.

What carries people through is someone else coming alongside and sticking with them for the long-haul. That’s love. That’s what Jesus prayed for.

I can give you a powerful example from the Urbana Student Missions Conference held every three years. It brings together some 16,000 college and graduate students. They’re challenged to change the world, to invest their lives for God’s kingdom, for his will being done on earth. Students come from around the world come to hear world-class speakers and engage in workshops on a vast range of topics. Urbana was a huge influence on me as a college student. One year in particular, Christians who came with a wide range of differences broke through in a way that was a clear answer to Jesus’ prayer.

Here’s what happened. After an evening main session, students met in smaller groups for prayer and reflection. In a banquet hall, there was one small group comprised of students from China, another group with students from Taiwan, and a third group of students from Hong Kong.

Dividers separated those three groups. In fact there are massive “walls” of division pitting China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong against each other. The three have historically harbored deep bitterness and animosity.

So to no one’s surprise, when it was time for those small group breakout sessions, they naturally (pay attention to that, naturally) split up by nation, by political divisions. They would each pray and worship with “their own kind.”

But that night as the students from China were calling on Jesus in prayer, Jesus’ prayer began to be answered in a small but significant way. Students from China told their small group leader they wanted to invite the other countries to join them.

When the Taiwanese students received the invitation, they kept praying and singing on their own a bit longer, but then Jesus’ prayer began to be answered among them. They opened up the wall divider, took down the wall.

The Lord Jesus was just getting started. Before long the students from Hong Kong pulled back their divider, and all of them mingled together. The Taiwanese students asked the students from China and Hong Kong to lead them in worship.

The next night, those three nations of political and military enemies invited Korean and Japanese groups to join them, now five nations racked by fierce animosity historically. They all recognized this was a supernatural work. It was undeniable love—and it had all the marks of Jesus in it.

This kind of love is rare—and it is the answer to Jesus’ prayer. This is what Jesus prayed for, and this is what we want. We want our extended family members, our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers to witness undeniable love among us, and be drawn to follow Jesus with us.

Jesus’ prayer is answered when we take down the walls and identify with one another across the differences.

Adapted from Corrie McKee, “Asian Students Tear Down Walls,” Urbana Today (12-31-09), p. 6

Jesus’ prayer is answered when Christians protect one another.

Not attack, but protect. You protect your loved ones. It’s time we do the same in the church. Final verse, Paul concludes…

“For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.” 1 Thessalonians 3:5

Friends, we are a church that majors on Jesus, not giving too much air time to talking about the devil. But at a time of deep brokenness and division in our nation, it’s time to remind one another that division, isolation, and enemy-making is of the devil. The counterforce to his schemes is love that protects one another.

The Bible calls him the devil, Satan, Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies. The Bible calls him the god of this world, ruler of the demons, accuser, prince of the power of the air, the tempter, the wicked one, your adversary.

And so while Western society mocks the idea that there is a real devil who really hates people, Jesus could not have been clearer that the devil is real, personal, powerful, and intent on stealing, killing, and destroying as many people as possible, in as many ways possible, because he hates God, and he hates people, because we are created in God’s image.

One of the most powerful ways you can answer Jesus’ prayer is by protecting fellow believers from the devil’s schemes. Satan’s endgame is, as Paul points out, that you abandon faith in the Lord. The way he usually accomplishes that is by driving a wedge between Christians, causing those many differences to become divisions, and those divisions to drive us away from commitment to one another.

Paul took pains to protect the church from the tempter. May we do the same. Here’s an example: legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi was asked what it takes to make a winning team. He didn’t talk about toughness. Here’s what he said: “There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don’t win the game. Then you come to the third ingredient: if you’re going to play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another. You’ve got to love each other. Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself: ‘If I don’t block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job well in order that he can do his.’ “The difference between mediocrity and greatness,” Lombardi concluded, “The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other.” The proof that they love one another is how they protect one another.

Christopher Stinnett, Wailed Lake, Michigan. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 3.

So it is in the church. Jesus’ prayer is answered…when we protect one another from the devil’s many and destructive schemes.

We end where we began. The single most unanswered prayer of Jesus is that we will be so supernaturally united, across all the differences that could and far too often do divide and fracture and isolate us from one another. Jesus’ prayer is that we will so undeniably love one another that the watching world will be drawn to faith in Jesus, and decide to follow him…with us. What Jesus prayed, we must pursue. It’s time. Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we believe you reign.

We believe you have all authority in heaven and earth.

We grieve the countless ways we Christians have disputed and divided, separating from one another, driving the unchurched away from seeing how awesome you are.

For the ways we have been part of the problem, we ask you to forgive us. Cleanse us. And renew a right spirit within us.

Would you pour out your Holy Spirit on us so strongly, so fully, that the love of God, love like you and the Father share for each other, would well up within us and compel us to love warmly, sacrificially, and empathetically, protecting one another?

Would you start with us, with yChurch?
Make us a shining example for our families, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to see and be drawn to follow you with us.

Hear our prayer—and make us the answer to your prayer, we ask. Amen!

God bless you, and make you a blessing!