It’s easy to think that Jesus of Nazareth is fairly unimpressive.
To the unbeliever, he was a man who taught some great things, maybe did some miracles, but whose life was tragically cut short. He didn’t know how to play politics, so his enemies caught up with him.
Even for we Christians. We love Jesus, but it’s hard to feel we do him justice. There must be more to him than it sometimes feels there is.
We need to look in the right place. Shortly before he died, Jesus prepared his disciples for the fact that he would soon be gone. Too far away to look impressive. His departure would be by a shameful and humiliating death.
And having taught them, he prayed. That prayer is recorded in John chapter 17, which we’re looking at in our combined services together.
For the third and final time, we’re looking at verses 1 to 5. July, we looked at verse 3, the centre of these delicious verses. What is eternal life? What does it mean to be fully alive? Verse 3: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s what it means to be fully alive. A personal relationship with the God who made you. And a relationship with Jesus Christ his Son. Do you have that?
Then in October we looked at verses 2 and 4. Jesus is the one who can give us that. He can bring us into relationship with God the Father. Why? Verse 2: Because God the Father has given him authority to do just that. Verse 4: Because he has finished the job he came to this earth to do. He’s died, he’s risen again – it’s mission accomplished, and so eternal life is now for all who are given it.
That leaves the outside of the paragraph. Verse 1, and verse 5. They belong together as a pair, and the word that binds them to together is the word “glory”. We get it twice in verse 1: “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” We get it twice in verse 5: “Glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
That word “glory” is what we were just talking about. It’s all about how impressive Jesus seems.
There are two sides to “glory”. It means weightiness, and it means brightness.
For Jesus to have glory is to say that he is weighty. Substance. Gravitas. He’s someone important. He’s someone to be reckoned with. He’s no pushover.
And for Jesus to have glory is to say that he is bright. Splendid. Magnificent. Dazzling to look at. Makes your jaw drop, your mind boggle, your face light up. Bright.
It’s a word that in the Old Testament only describes God. But Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He has glory, too. But you have to look in the right place, and this prayer in chapter 17 tells us where we will see his glory.
So if at times he looks unimpressive – politically naïve and executed young, absent and so hard to see what’s so impressive – then it’s his glory we need to see once again. And to see his glory, we must look in the right place.
Verses 1 and 5 give us two places to look. One from each verse.
Jesus’ Death – his Moment of Glory
The first is his death. Jesus’ death looks like his defeat, his moment of humiliation and shame. It is in fact his moment of glory. That’s what verse 1 says: Look at his death, his moment of glory.
Let me read verse 1: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”
There’s a feeling of “at last” to this. It’s a moment of climax. The whole of John’s gospel has been building up to this point, and finally it’s here. Chapter 2, verse 4, at the wedding at Cana, Jesus says to his mother: “Why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” In John chapter 7, the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus, but they were not able to because his hour had not yet come. The same in chapter 8.
And then comes chapter 12, events which took place right before chapter 17. John chapter 12, verse 23: “Jesus answered, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” At last. His hour. It’s here.
He goes on: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” His hour has come, the hour when he must die and fall into the ground, to give life to many. The very thought of this fills him with fear. Chapter 12, verse 27: “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” So he doesn’t ask to be delivered from the hour. Instead this is the prayer he chooses to pray: “Father, glorify your name.”
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. By which he means the hour to die. And so in our chapter, in John chapter 17, verse 1: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son.”
This is the moment when Jesus will be glorified. This is the moment when he will be seen in all his splendour. It is the moment when his love for us sinners shines most brightly. Romans chapter 5, verse 7: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Indeed, throughout the Old Testament there has been a riddle. God has shown himself to be both just and forgiving. He is perfectly just. He cannot look on evil and ignore it. God never winks, never turns a blind eye. He is also a compassionate and gracious God, who delights to forgive people. But how can he be both? How can he forgive us when we do wrong, without compromising his perfect justice?
Before he left office, President Obama pardoned a few people for their crimes. They were released from prison, or will be shortly. It’s kind of him. But it leaves you wondering. Did they not do the crime they were in prison for? Or did they do it, but the crime doesn’t really matter after all? It’s all very well to pardon someone, but either their imprisonment, or their early release, becomes a miscarriage of justice.
The same applies when God forgives.
The answer comes in the death of Jesus. Romans chapter 3, verse 25: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
As Jesus died on the cross, he was punished for the things we have done wrong. And so God’s justice is perfectly seen. God’s mercy is perfectly seen. His love is perfectly seen. And God’s wisdom – what a wonderful God to have come up with such a plan. What a wonderful God to absorb his own anger so that we might be forgiven. It truly gets no better than that.
Look in the right place, and you see Jesus’ glory. You see how weighty he is, how substantial, how bright, how beautiful, how magnificent. You see this in the death of Jesus more than anywhere else. It’s his moment of glory.
It’s easy to miss. It looks like a moment of defeat.
There’s a story doing the rounds from when the English were at war in the early 1800s. It might have been Waterloo against Napoleon and the French in 1815. It might have been Marmont and the Spanish at Salamanca in 1812. Either way, it involves the Duke of Wellington, who won the battle. It was a foggy day, and after just two words of message the fog descended. All England fell into despair when the message reached London: “Wellington defeated”. The following day, it was possible to transmit the full message: “Wellington defeated the French”. Or, if you prefer, the Spanish.
It’s easy to look at the death of Jesus in the fog. We look at it and despair. “Jesus defeated”. Or we don’t think much of his death. It’s the sad story that sets up the resurrection. Jesus says that the hour he died on the cross was his moment of glory. It’s where you see him in all his splendour more than anywhere else. It’s why the cross remains the universal emblem of the Christian faith. It’s why we celebrate his death. It’s why the apostle Paul said in Galatians chapter 6: “May I never boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Look at Jesus’ death – it’s his moment of glory.
Jesus’ Ascension – his Return to Glory
Verse 5 then gives us a second place to look to see the glory of the Lord Jesus.
Look at his ascension – it’s his return to glory. His ascension – his return to glory.
Verse 4: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”
Then verse 5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
He’s finished his mission, and he’s coming home.
When Tim Peake had finished his mission to the international space station, he came back home. The Science Museum have just bought the capsule he returned in. They’ve polished it up a bit, but it’s still a bit charred and singed from re-entry. It gives you a tiny glimpse of how dangerous that re-entry is, and the relief when he was safely back.
The analogy with Jesus is far from exact. It wasn’t his return home that was dangerous. It’s the mission he had while he was here. It cost him his life. But when he’d finished what he came here to do, he returned home. He went back to heaven.
What John 17 verse 5 is concerned about is not just the fact that he was coming home. But how. He is to return home in glory. He is to be restored to the glory he had, living in the presence of God the Father for all eternity, since before the world began.
Now, don’t get him wrong. When Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter morning, the gospel writers are at pains to show us that he was raised as a human being. And he didn’t lose his humanity when he returned to heaven. Jesus the man is still alive today. There is a man in heaven now. But he’s in glory.
Revelation chapter 1 describes the risen and ascended Jesus. It’s picture language, but it won’t mislead us as to just how glorious he is. He saw, quote: “one like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
Utterly brilliant. Dazzling. And certainly no light-weight.
Or there’s the hymn we sometimes sing, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”. Here’s how verse 3 begins: “Those dear tokens of his Passion still his dazzling body bears”. His body dazzles. And yet you can still see the scars, the nail marks from where he was held to the cross.
But remember that the cross was not his moment of shame, but his moment of glory. That’s why that verse goes on like this: “cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshippers: with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars!” His scars are glorious scars. Eternal reminders that he is the crucified one, the glorious one.
We heard on Thursday that it is now planned for Tim Peake to return to the space station. He’s going on another mission. Details not yet known, but he’s going back.
For him, it will be another mission like the first one. There for so many months, then return to earth again.
Jesus will also return to this earth. But not on another short-term mission, only to return home to heaven after so many years. This will be on a one-way ticket. He’s coming back to stay. And when he does, nobody will miss it.
Jesus himself said in the gospels that it will be like the lightening that lights up the sky. It will be witnessed everywhere on earth, from the east to the west. Not one human being alive at the time will miss his return. He will come back in such glory, to be marvelled at with all his holy angels. Because the Jesus who will return is a Jesus who now reigns in glory.
That’s the second place to look to see the glory of Jesus. Look at his ascension, his return to glory.
Yes, if you look in the wrong place, Jesus looks dull and unimpressive. Matt and rather flat.
So don’t look at his death as his moment of humiliation. See it as his moment of glory, his moment of triumph. And things look very different.
And don’t just look at the three adult years we know about when he was in Palestine. There he looks like any other ordinary human being, his glory well hidden. He’s finished his work, and he’s returned home, and if you met him now you’d never mistake it. He’s quite literally dazzling.
Jesus is weighty. Jesus is bright. Jesus is glorious. And that is why we worship him.