Jesus' heart for the church

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6 Mar 2019
Week 4 of our Lent series 'Journeying with Jesus'

Getting started

Last words are important. What would you want to say to those closest to you if you knew they would be the last words you ever spoke to them?

On the night before he died, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. This little group had been with him from the beginning, trailing round the countryside with Jesus, spending three years living as family, watching and learning. The plan was that they would be the very first church, the group which would spread the truth and good news about Jesus to all the world. And now Jesus was leaving them. 

After they had eaten together, John records Jesus’s last words to his disciples, which conclude with a heartfelt and passionate prayer to his Father for his disciples (John 17: 6-19) and then, beautifully, for us (John 17:20-26). With time running out, Jesus’s heart turns to the church. This week, we are looking at those two prayers. If last words contain what is most important for us to pass on, what can we learn from Jesus’s last words?

Bible: Jesus prays for his church 

This passage, John 17:9-26, is full of passion but is not the easiest read! Other ways to explore it might include:

  • Watching a dramatized version, such as this one which uses the biblical text 
  • Using a different version of the Bible, such as the New International Readers’ Version (NIRV), the Living Bible or the Message – all of these are available on biblegateway.com
  • As you read it, rewrite it in your own words, or write a summary of it.
  • Pick out the key themes – what are they?

Digging deeper

Like it or loathe it, the church is our inheritance from Jesus and it is our responsibility to keep it in good shape. The church is God’s plan for the continuation of Jesus’ mission – as well as being the very best place for us to learn, grow and flourish as Christians - and, as 2,000 years of history can testify, it’s pretty good at it!

It can feel hard to connect with church. No congregation is perfect and we’re not always free to be as much part of church as we’d like to. But we sometimes forget that church isn’t primarily what happens on Sunday – as Jesus reminded us (Matthew 18:20), it’s wherever two or more believers meet together. So church may be the big congregation on Sundays or the fabulous summer festival – but it’s also my small group, me and my friend having a drink together, or simply my family doing what we do.

In session 8 of the course, Rachel Turner teaches about the five values of church, the five purposes God has for it:

  • To draw near to God, to encounter him through worship, teaching and prayer
  • To radically love others, both inside and outside the community
  • To spur each other into action, through teaching, encouragement, challenging and equipping
  • To be purposeful, regardless of our status, age or experience, knowing that we are valuable and have unique and useful parts to play in God’s mission in the world
  • To pursue and experience the Holy Spirit, as he transforms us to be more like Jesus, and as he equips us to participate in his work in the world

Things to think about

  • Regardless of what your Sunday church looks like, how can you draw near to God?
  • Radical love is the sort of love Jesus showed – giving all, holding nothing back, putting others first. Where have you seen that in the church – both big and little?
  • Who spurs you into action? Who do you spur into action?
  • Where do you see people being a purposeful part of church? 
  • What’s your experience of the Holy Spirit? How has he transformed and equipped you?

Sparking conversation

  • The Bible has different ways of describing the church: for example, the people of God (1 Peter 2:9); the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18); the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-30); a flock of sheep (John 10:1-18); a vine with branches (John 15:1-8); a family (John 1:12-13). Which of these pictures do you like? Can you think of different ways to describe the church?
  • Paul’s picture of the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21-31) can help us understand how every member of the church is important if it is to do God’s work well. What part of the body do you think you are and why?
  • Find out about William and Catherine Booth, who founded a new sort of church to help the poorest and most desperate people discover God’s love. 
  • Luke describes what the first church was like in Acts 2:42-47. Would you like to have been part of that church? How is it similar to or different from your church?
  • The disciples had Jesus with them to lead them and look after them. But in John 14:16 Jesus tells them something amazing – that when he goes, God will send them someone just like him ‘to help you and be with you forever’. Does it help to think about the Holy Spirit as being exactly like having Jesus with us all the time? 
  • What jobs has God given your church to do at the moment? How are you already or could you be part of them?

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Image acknowledgements

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash