In the Old Testament, the priest and father of the family blessed his children particularly when it was time for him to die. Jacob is an example. He was old and about to be “gathered to his fathers,” so he blessed Joseph and his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh…
And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15–16)
This was a prophetic and patriarchal blessing, but Jacob could not bless as God blesses. As my devotional reading says, he could speak the words of blessing, but he knew that the effect, the real blessing itself, depended on God, so his words were like a prayer.
This rite points ahead to Jesus whose care and love for His people was expressed in a prayer of blessing just before His death. Prior to this prayer, Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” by washing their feet as a servant. (John 13:1). Then, in His prayer, He expressed what He desired for His followers…
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
While we look at the disunity and factions in the church, God the Father hears the prayer of His Son so we can have unity of spirit in His name. In the heart of God, we are not to be the fragments visible, but united by the invisible power and Spirit of God. This means that whatever we do, it fits with His plan, a unified and perfect plan.
In His prayer, Jesus asked for oneness would be like the oneness between the Father and the Son. This is a unity that is difficult to imagine. The image that comes to mind is from those verses that describe how God, “before the foundation of the world” planned salvation, the redemption of His sinful and fallen creation. In that plan, the Father sent the Son, and the Son was completely willing to come to earth and die on a cross. With their heads together, there were no arguments, no plan B proposals, no fudging or hedging. Jesus would die for us and this would happen because they agreed together. They were and still are united.
As for the Body of Christ, our arms, legs, eyes and ears often squabble over the methods and means. Yet if we set aside all our denominations and differences, our hearts are united concerning His plan. We know what God did and what He desires. His goal is to redeem sinners. We are to cooperate by telling others about the marvel of the plan, that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead to bring us into a saving relationship with Himself.
When Jesus prayed that we be kept in God’s name and for our unity, He had in mind that the glory the Father had given Him would also be given to His followers. This glory would unite us so we, despite our varying methods, would work as one body “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22–23)
When Jacob blessed his son and grandsons, he wanted his name to be carried on and his people to multiply and fill the earth. Jesus had the same thing in mind. He desires that His name be known by us, in us, and through us so we fill the earth with people who know His love and who work together with us to love and follow Him.
Unity is about that goal, about being lights in a dark place and demonstrating the love of God to those who have no idea that their Creator longs for a deep and saving relationship with them.