#1 The Glory of Christ

Series: The Other Lord’s Prayer

1:  The Glory of Christ

John 17:1-5 (NLT)

Last Sunday, we completed our sermon series on Holy Communion.  This morning, we begin a new series of sermons based on the 17thchapter of John’s Gospel, a series I’m calling “The Other Lord’s Prayer.”

Every Sunday in our church we close our prayer time with the words of Jesus we have come to refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” as we ought to.  It’s a wonderful prayer that is worthy of repeating often.  In fact, since I’ve been pastor here at Mims UMC, I have preached a series of sermons on that prayer.

But when you go back and read that familiar prayer in its context within the Gospels, you discover that it isn’t really Jesus’ prayer, so much as it is our prayer.  The Disciples had asked him to teach them how to pray.   And Jesus responded, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…’”  and then he proceeded to give them a template they should use to guide their own prayer life.

Most all of us are so familiar with that prayer that we have committed it to memory.  But many of us may not be as familiar with the other prayers of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels. It would be a fascinating study to reflect on each prayer Jesus is reported to have prayed.

But, of all the prayers that passed the lips of Jesus, none compares with the prayer we find recorded in John 17, the one I am calling “The Other Lord’s Prayer;” and some biblical scholars have named Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.”  One reason it is significant is that it is by far the longest prayer of Jesus we have – it is an entire chapter long.  But what makes it even more important is where it falls in the events of Jesus’ life.  Jesus launches into this prayer at the close of the Last Supper with his Disciples, just before they leave the Upper Room and Jesus is arrested, tried, and killed.  It is at this most crucial moment, which marks the transition between his ministry and his passion and death, that Jesus offers this prayer.  In a way, the prayer functions as Jesus’ “Farewell” speech – a prayer that sums up his life and mission, and prepares his Disciples to carry on after he has left them.

And that is perhaps the paramount reason for us to focus on this prayer of Jesus – because in it, he prays for his followers – both his Disciples in the room with him that night, as well as for all those who would believe in him down through the centuries.  After they left the Upper Room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, the other Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed an agonizing prayer for himself, asking his Father that, if possible, he might avoid the cross –  but nonetheless, let God’s “will be done.”  In the Garden, Jesus prayed for himself.  But not here.  In John 17, Jesus doesn’t pray for his own concerns or needs.  The focus of Jesus’ prayer in the Upper Room – is on us.  He is interceding with his Father on our behalf.  It’s amazing to realize that, as the agony of the cross loomed and Jesus was preparing to lay down his life for the world, he was thinking of you and me!

So, what is it that Jesus asks God for on our behalf?  During the next six weeks, we will eves drop on his prayer to find out:

This morning, we read just the first five verses of Jesus’ prayer.  But within those few verses we already pick up a theme – Glory!  Four times in these verses, Jesus uses the words glory or glorify.  “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you…  I brought you glory here on earth by doing everything you told me to do. And now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.”

Now, these statements from Jesus don’t strike us as particularly radical – we’ve all grown up assuming that we should give glory to Jesus.  But when Jesus spoke them in that Upper Room, it would have caused quite a stir among his followers.  That’s because throughout the Jewish scripture, the only one worthy of receiving glory is God himself.  References in the Bible to God’s glory are almost too many to count:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex. 40:34)

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (1 Chron 16:24)

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1)

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.” (Ps. 24:7)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…” (Luke 2)

Only God is worthy of Glory.  But here, Jesus uses the glory language to refer to himself.  “Glorify your Son… bring me into my glory…”  Jesus is declaring that He and the Father are both worthy of Glory.  It’s as if here, as he prepares for his rendezvous with destiny, Jesus is declaring in no uncertain terms his identity as the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  Throughout his ministry, over and over Jesus says, “My time has not yet come.”  But now in the Upper Room, he declares that His hour had finally come.  It was time to lay it all on the line.  It was time for him to be glorified before the world.

What Jesus is referring to, of course, is the cross.  It is in laying down his life for our sakes, that Jesus reveals the glory of God. And it is in the willingness of Jesus to endure the cross that we witness the glory of God’s Son.  Jesus prays that he is willing to suffer the shame of the cross if that is what it would take for all the world to behold the glory of God.

So, Christ’s glory is revealed, most perfectly in the cross.  But this glory isn’t a new status for Jesus. According to John’s Gospel, Christ has always and will always be worthy of glory.  It is in John’s Gospel that we are told that Jesus is the Logos, the Word of God that spoke all creation into existence, and it is John that emphasizes that after the cross, Jesus will return to the Father to share God’s glory eternally.  John is the one who quotes Jesus saying, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”  For John, Jesus has always and will always be worthy of glory.

In fact, in order to make sense of this prayer, we have to understand this insight that John has about the work of Christ.  Bible scholars who study John’s Gospel tell us that for John, there is a pattern of descent and ascent – that Jesus came down to earth from glory (the Word made flesh that dwelt among us), revealed his glory on the cross, and returned to reign with the Father in glory.

The way John describes the mission of Christ reminds me of the old stories of the gallant knights of old that were sent out from the castle to kill that dragon and rescue the damsel in distress, bringing her back with him to the castle in victory, so that he might marry her and they might live happily ever after.

The story of Jesus as John tells it is like that.  Jesus, the ultimate “knight in shining armor,” is sent from heaven on a rescue mission, and we are the prize.  In the cross he defeats the dragon, proclaims victory, and brings his bride, the Church, back to the castle to live happily ever after.

Peter captures the same idea in his first Letter.  He writes, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.  He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.  Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” (1 Peter 1:18-21)

So, in our prayer, Jesus prays that in his obedience to his mission, the Son has given glory to his Father.  And now as he completes his mission on the cross, the Father will glorify him.  And the only reason for this elaborate rescue mission – that you and I might have the opportunity to experience eternal life. We are the damsel in distress, who needs rescuing from the dragon.  We are the object of God’s passion and love.

With that in mind, I think there are four insightsthese five verses we should hears – ways the glory of Christ reveal God’s love for us:

The first thing we can learn from Jesus’ prayer is that Christ came into the world to reveal God’s Glory.

This is obvious by what I have just said.  Jesus says this plainly in the 12thchapter of John “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (v 44-45)

As you may know from my recent sermon series on the four gospels, each of the four gospel writers presents a little different picture of who Jesus is.  As I mentioned in my sermon on the Gospel of John, one of my seminary professors described John’s understanding of Jesus like this. He said it’s like taking a piece of onion skin paper (some of us a little older will know what that is), and writing with a magic marker the word GOD on one side and JESUS on the other. When you hold up to the light the side that says Jesus, God shows through.  That’s how John describes the mission of Jesus:  When we look at Jesus, we can see the glory of God.

The next insight from our scripture this morning follows naturally from the first:  You and I can also access the Glory of God, but only when we acknowledge, recognize, and accept the glory of the God’s Son.

Jesus makes this clear over and over in John’s Gospel.  It is in this gospel that Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This claim that Jesus is the only way to God is sometimes called “The Scandal of Particularity,” the assertion by the Christian Church that, because Jesus as the second person of the Trinity is the pure revelation of God, and because of the transformative work of Christ on the cross, there is only one way to have full access to the Father – and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  In our pluralistic and politically correct society, this claim to particularity is scandalous, and makes many people in our society uncomfortable, even some within the church.  But no matter how you feel about this understanding of salvation, no one can deny that scripture is clear – especially in John – that faith in Jesus is the key to salvation and eternal life.

Hear Jesus’ words again, this time from John 6:38-40;  “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose none of those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day.  This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

And of course, from our text this morning, Jesus prays, ”For you have given (the Son) authority over everyone in all the earth. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.  And this is the way to have eternal life – to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”

John is pretty clear – access to the Father is possible only through the Son.  We must recognize the Glory of Christ if we are to hope to see the Glory of God.

The third insight we can glean from the first part of Jesus’ prayer is this:  While faith is Christ is key to our salvation, that salvation is available to all people.  Everyone has access to God’s Glory through Christ.

As I just quoted from the prayer, ”For you have given (the Son) authority over everyone in all the earth. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.”  Or even more plainly, we find this truth in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life…”

There are some Christian groups and denominations who teach that God has predestined (or predetermined) who should be saved and who should be damned.  That is not our Wesleyan or United Methodist belief. We actually believe Jesus actually meant what he said in John 3:16:  “that whosoeverbelieveth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

My favorite seminary professor put it like this, “John 3:16 is God’s ‘Yes’ to the world; if there is (a) ‘No,’ the world will have to say it.”1

Charles Wesley, the great Methodist hymn writer, put this truth to poetry in his hymn, Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast:

Come, sinners, to the gospel feast;

let every soul be Jesus’ guest.

Ye need not one be left behind,

for God hath bid all humankind.

Christ came to offer salvation to ALL – it is God’s hope and desire that EVERY soul will accept his invitation to the Gospel Feast – In Christ, “God hath bid ALL humankind.”

The final lesson from our morning scripture is wonderful news for each of us.  Because Christ has returned to heaven to share God’s glory, Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to us so that the Glory of God can shine through us.

I said that only God is worthy of Glory – certainly not us.  But when we give Christ the glory he is due, the glory of God comes to rest upon us!

In the chapter that immediately precedes this prayer of Jesus, he says this to his disciples:

“The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”  “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  (16:27-28, 7)

Paul also teaches us in his Letter to the Romans, that in Christ, we can share God’s Glory:  “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access  to this grace in which we stand; and we  boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1-2)

What both John and Paul are telling us is that the mission of Christ’s coming into the world was to transfer God’s glory to you and me!  The Glory of God – can rest on US!

I’m not much into sports, but I love watching the Olympic games.  The couple of weeks when the Games are held captivate the world’s attention.  But preparations for the games begin long before.  Weeks before the Games begin, the Olympic flame must make a long and arduous journey, from the moment it is kindled in Greece, then carried by relay runners throughout the world, until it finally reaches its destination, and the caldron is lit at the opening ceremonies.

I think that image sums up what Jesus is saying about the glory he came to share.  Like the runner who carries the Olympic flame, Jesus bears the glory of God from the heights of heaven, through the dark valleys of the world, until that glory is lit within the caldron of our hearts. We are not complete until the flame of God’s glory burns within us!

Paul expresses it like this in 2 Cor. 4:6: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

So, the challenge we hear from this part of Jesus’ prayer is this:  Do you recognize the Son that God has sent?  Have you beheld the glory of the Son of God, so that God’s glory might come to rest on you?

If not, my prayer for you during this sermon series, is that, as you behold the Glory of Christ on the cross, you might finally see there the Glory of God.

For it’s just as Paul wrote in Second Thessalonians:  “For this purpose (God)called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thes. 2:14)

1 Fred Craddock. John.  John Knox Press 1982. p. 12