Saturday, 21 May 2011

on Glory


We are people who crave glory.

It is very hard to define glory. But if it is hard to define, we have an intuitive understanding of what it is. We can glimpse it and we want it. It is about having your name in lights. It is about receiving honour and recognition and praise and worship and adulation – all rolled into one.

We love it when others recognise us – when they recognise our value, our uniqueness, our achievement, our success, our victory.
We love it when we are lifted up and honoured.

It is why people dedicate hours of their life to training. So, for instance, swimmers will spend 6 or more hours each day in the pool. Why? For the possibility of the glory of winning.
It is why we put ourselves forward for competitions or auditions: so that we might get the chance to shine and to be recognised.
It is also why 22 million of us will watch something like the final of the X factor: the glory for the winner at the end. And the thing that makes us really sad, is that we support one or other of the contestants - so that if they win, we share in their glory – even though we have done nothing apart from slob on a sofa with beer and kebab, or some cheese and wine (depending on your taste!).
It is the same as when we support a team - we share in the glory of the goal, or the victory (although that doesn’t explain why people support Ipswich). Tomorrow there will an open top bus parade through the city of Manchester: people will be on the streets glorifying their team and sharing in that glory.
It is also why we don’t put ourselves forward on the public stage. I’m OK when I have a role to play, but in other contexts I’m a bit of a disaster. And if we are honest, it is not that those of us who are shy, who don’t like the limelight, are not putting ourselves forward to avoid glory. Far from it. We just fear that if we were in the limelight they would laugh at us and not praise us. So we play safe.

We crave glory – and yet, the strange thing is, when glory comes, it is so short, so brief. We are on top of the world for an hour, a day, even several days – and then .. reality hits.

Or putting this in a different way, I wonder what you glory in?

It is the thing you take most pride in, the thing that you really want to most talk about (even if you don’t).  For some, it is themselves – their appearance, their ability, their stuff, their career, their achievement. Others glory in something outside of them: whether it is their beloved or their children, their team, their business, their church, their teacher or leader, their country. Others will glory in physical power and status, in their ability to get what they want, in wealth.

When it comes to what we glory in, we need to be careful of a double danger.
i. The danger that we will only stand if that in which we glory stands. If it falls we fall. 
ii. The far more serious danger, which is that we become like our gods. We become like the thing in which we glory.

So what is going on here when Jesus prays, at the beginning of this prayer in John 17, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you … And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed’?

Is he simply doing what we do: seeking glory for himself? Or is there something else going on. And if Jesus prays to be glorified, can we pray to be glorified?

  • The Bible teaches that God is the source of all glory. All glory comes from Him and belongs to him: 1 Chron 29:11 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours”..
CS Lewis said, “A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.”

  • The Bible teaches us that God’s glory fills the earth – if only we would open our eyes and see. When Isaiah has a vision, he sees the angels. “And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."Isaiah 6:3)
Thomas Merton wrote, ‘By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.’

And John 12:41 says that the Prophet Isaiah was able to speak of God because he saw God’s glory.

  • And the Bible teaches us that God’s glory is, at times, so real that it can be touched. 
Ex 16:10  While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

Ex 24:16 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

Ex 33:18  Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

Ex 40:35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (cf 1 Kings 8:11)

So what is Jesus doing, praying that his Father will glorify him?
Should he not simply be praying that God his Father will be glorified, that all people will see the glory of his Father?

But for Jesus, his hour has come.

  1. He is praying for something that he really did have. He is praying for the glory which he had with the Father in the beginning, before the world existed (John 17:5) 
Jesus Christ was a human being. If you analysed a sample of his DNA it would have been exactly like yours or mine. But Jesus Christ was different because there was a dimension to him which could never be analysed, but which controlled everything that he was and did, at a far deeper level than his DNA. He was the unique eternal Son of God – sent by the ‘only true God’.

John has made that very clear as we read through the gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God .. the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory of the only Son from the Father’.

John the Baptist says, ‘I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God’

And Thomas, the doubting disciple, declares, ‘My Lord and my God’.

And just keeping to these 5 verses, Jesus, we are told, has authority over all flesh.
He even has it in him to grant life: he is the source of life and he gives eternal life to all who the Father has given him

And so when Jesus prays to be glorified, he is asking his Father to give to him that which he had at the beginning.
It was the glory that the disciples glimpsed when Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:11).
It was the glory that the disciples glimpsed when he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:4).
It was the glory that the disciples began to see at the transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-17)
It was the glory that the world was going to see when he rose from the dead.

Now, now that Jesus hour has come, now that he has done all that he was called to do, he prays that his Father will glorify him with the glory that he had with him before the world existed.

  1. Jesus can pray to be glorified because he has glorified the Father on earth by ‘accomplishing the work’ which the Father had given him (John 17:4) 
Jesus lived the life that God had called him to live. He accomplished the work. It is the same word that Jesus uses when he talks about doing the work that God had given him to do (John 4:34; 5:36). It is the same word that Jesus uses just before he dies, when he cries out, ‘it is accomplished’ (John 19:30 – although most of our translations use the English word ‘finished’). And in living a completely God centred, God directed, God focused, God driven life Jesus both gave glory to the one to whom all glory belongs, and he reflected that glory.

You see people and things are glorified to the extent that they fulfil their purposes with relation to God.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of the glory of different bodies: He talks of the glory of the sun and of the moon and of the stars; the glory of heavenly bodies and the glory of earthly bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40-41).

Everything that God has made has its own glory. It is a reflected glory, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so each created thing reflects the glory of its creator. A stone has its own glory. A big stone, a mountain, has its own glory. A tree has its own glory. Animals have their own glory. And human beings have their own glory: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him .. you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour’.

And we make known that glory when we recognise that our glory depends on him. As Augustine said, “We give glory to God when we say, ‘You made me and not I’”.

We make known that glory when we live in the way that we were made to live.
When the sun shines it shows the glory of God; when grass grows and gives off its CO2 it shows the glory of God; when new born lambs jump in the fields they show the glory of God; when we live – when we really live, in the way that we were created to - praising God for his glory, responding to his love with love, joyfully submitting to him, trusting him in dependence, loving and serving him and one another and his creation - recognising that all glory belongs to him – we show the glory of God. That is why Irenaeus said that ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive, with their face turned to God’.

And that is why the Bible tells us that we can share in the glory of God – by looking at the glory of God, by looking at the man who did do that, who did live the fully human life, by looking at Jesus Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”. (2 Corinthians 3:18) 

  1. He asks the Father to glorify him, so that he might glorify the Father (John 17:1) 
All glory belongs to the Trinity, to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in John 17 we get a glimpse into the inner life of the Trinity. Obviously this is far beyond our human understanding. But what it seems in the Trinity is not that the Father says, ‘I’m the main one and the Son and the Spirit need to glorify me’, but that it is so arranged that when one of the Trinity glorifies the other, then they themselves are glorified.

So Jesus seeks the glory of the one who sent him (John 7:19 cf John 8:50-54).

And listen to this: John 13:31 ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once’.

And Jesus talks of the Spirit, how the Spirit ‘will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you’.

It is very hard to separate the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son and so wants glory for the Son. The Son loves the Father and so longs for glory to go to the Father. The Spirit loves the Son and longs for glory to go to the Son. And in seeking the glory of the other, the one who they love, they find their own glory.

And so Jesus says, a little later in this prayer, ‘The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one ..’ (John 17:22)

So do we begin to see it?

Do you crave glory? It is OK to crave glory. But whose glory do you crave, and from whom do you crave glory?

Glory is like all the gifts of God. It is like life, or love, or possessions, or peace, or joy. If you try to grab hold of it for yourself, you will lose it. If you give it away you will gain it.

The world tries to gain glory by seeking its own glory, when in fact the way to gain true glory is to give glory to another.

That is why churches should be marked by people who are not seeking their own glory, their own interest, but the interest and the glory of others.
But above all churches should be marked by people who are seeking the glory of the Father, and the Son and the Spirit, who is the source of Glory and who is the most Glorious.

And if, with Jesus, we do choose to glorify – through our words and our actions - the One who is most glorious, we begin to share in that glory. We begin to share that glory today. But we can look forward to that day when we will be fully glorified. We will stand in front of him, and we will receive the highest of accolades. It comes from the One who really matters, the one who loves us. And he will say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness’. Or perhaps that could be reworded: ‘Come and share your master’s glory’.

Paul writes in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom God predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’.

For those who wish to consider this subject further, CS Lewis preached an exceptional sermon, called The Weight of Glory.

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