November 17, 2019

Reclaiming Glory

Passage: John 17:1-5

We will be in and out of the Gospel of John through the rest of this year as we go through the seasons of Thanksgiving and Advent. But today I wanted to just open up for you one of the most remarkable prayers in the Bible, Jesus’ high priestly prayer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. When a private moment like Jesus’ quiet time is recorded for us we know that it is to teach us something. Well, there is a lot to learn here for sure. The first thing to note in the opening lines is that Jesus starts with praying for himself. I have heard people boast that they never pray for themselves, that they only pray for others. That is absolute nonsense. Even Jesus prayed for himself. Praying for yourself is the only way to open up to God emotionally and well as to seek guidance for yourself. Depending on God is the highest virtue there is! Everything else is just pride and arrogance.
Having said that, when it comes to praying for oneself, “glorify me” is a prayer that I have not heard. Especially not in humble Mennonite circles ? But nobody can beat the humility of Jesus, right? So how does being humble and praying that God glorify you go along with each other? That is what we are going to look at today.
To set the stage to understanding fully what is happening in the first few verse of John 17 I want to tell you a story. Many years ago, in a land far away, there was a king. This was a good king. The kind of king who was really interested in the welfare of his people. The king was surrounded by people he appointed to look after different aspects of the kingdom. One person in charge of agriculture, one person in charge of mining, one person in charge of taxes, another in charge of education, another in charge of defense and so on. Now the king had regular meetings with his advisors. He would enquire about different projects and every time he enquired how things were going, he would get glowing responses about how great things were. Now the king was not convinced as his cabinet was telling him the truth. But he realized that he would not be able to determine the truth from his officials directly so he hatched a plan. He decided to disguise himself as a commoner, with none of the trappings of his kingly position. He wore ordinary clothes and carried no expensive looking accessories or stately horses. Only a few trusted guards knew what he was doing. So one evening after dusk he secretly left the palace by himself. Once outside he walked through his kingdom talking to the people on the streets and in the market places. And when he walked about as an ordinary person, people had no inhibitions about telling him the truth about what was going on and what they thought about the King and his officials. And what he found out shocked him. Because he found out that his officials had systematically diverted money for projects for their own personal gain. As a result the lands that was supposed to be irrigated were not irrigated causing crop failures, the roads were not built that was supposed to be built and taxes were being collected beyond what the people could pay causing hardship to the people. Of course this made our king very upset and he wanted to make heads role as a result. But here is the thing. The king was successful in getting the information that he wanted but as a commoner he also had no power to do anything about the problems he had learnt about in his kingdom. He could protest all he wanted and shout at officials till he went hoarse but nobody would care to listen. If he needed to make the changes necessary he would have to reclaim the glory he once had. Luckily, he had trusted the right people at the palace gate who knew about his plan. They did let him in so that he could resumed his position as king, exposed the corruption of his officials and made the changes necessary to solve the problems that he had discovered.
I wanted to tell you this story because it helps to understand this phase of Jesus’ life. You see Jesus did not limit himself and come to this world as a regular human being to learn about the mess in the world like our king in the story. But he did come into this world to take on human limitations to experience and identify with the worst of human temptations and suffering so that he could be our empathetic priest. And then to give his life so that he could also be our sacrifice because there was no other sacrifice available.
But here is the thing. Making a sacrifice to God, now think Cain and Abel, means nothing unless that sacrifice is accepted by God, right? So Christ’s death on the cross is only a game changer when his sacrifice is accepted by God. This is where the story of Jesus gets to the climax. When Jesus in John is praying to his Father saying “glorify me so that I can glorify you” what is going on is this. In John every time Jesus’ glorification is talked about, it is a reference to his crucifixion, right? But why?
The reason is this friends. Jesus’ crucifixion goes together with His heavenly Father’s acceptance of that sacrifice. And the sign of the Father’s acceptance is the restoring of the glory Jesus gave up when he came to earth. It is like the king in our story being allowed to return back into the palace. The return was a critical step because if that king was not allowed back into his palace his palace, he would have no power to implement any corrections needed. In the same way, if Jesus only made his sacrifice and he stayed dead, he would have no power to give eternal life to anybody. So while step one was for Jesus to sacrifice his life on the cross, the critical step two of the plan was for the Father to indicate that that sacrifice was accepted. This he indicates by bringing Jesus back to life on the third day showing that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God himself. The pure and Holy One who had power even over life and death. This vindication is the glorification that Jesus was praying for. Let me also emphasize here, when Jesus asks to be glorified, he was not asking for something new, he was simply asking for a restoration of something he willingly gave up for a purpose. You see it is important for Jesus’ glory to be restored because Jesus is the embodiment of all that is good and true and beautiful and honorable and worthy of glory in the universe. And pure and holy and honorable things and not meant to be cursed and spat upon. When Jesus’ glory is restored, it is like the universe itself is turned the right side up. When Jesus prays for the restoration of glory, he is simply saying, call what is good to be good again. Declare what is true to be true again! And when what is good is declared good and what is true declared true, that is when everything else can be accurately measured and transformed. When God is glorified and not spat upon, then the whole fallen universe can be renewed. That is why the resurrected Jesus is also declared the first born of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth.
But there is another amazing thing that happens when Jesus is glorified. Jesus says he will restore glory to His Father. Now the heavenly Father was always in heaven and in heaven he was always being surrounded by his glory. So what glory restoration does the Father need, you may ask. Here is the situation. The problem is the situation on earth. Because on earth, people whom he created were supposed to glorify their creator. But that did not happen because as you know starting with the first couple Adam and Eve they wanted to by-pass God and do their own thing. Doing your own thing is dishonoring to your creator rather than glorifying right? That caused the relationship between the heavenly father and his created people to be destroyed. So while the heavenly Father is still glorified in heaven, he was not being glorified on earth. And that is the situation that Jesus Christ came to change.
What Jesus does when he is own glory is restored is this. When people finally recognize who Jesus is after his resurrection and put their trust in him, then the Holy Spirit enables Jesus’ disciples to also have a relationship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus tells his disciples, before his ascension in John 20:17, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Jesus literally connects his disciples after his ascension into heaven to His heavenly Father making Him their father too. And when you are in a relationship with your heavenly Father, you can now begin to honor and glorify the Father as well. So when Jesus the Son is glorified, He in turn glorifies the Father and enables his disciples on earth to glorify His Father. So in heaven each person of the Trinity honors and brings glory to each other.
I want you to hold this picture in your mind and even seal this image of mutual glorification in heaven. There is well known parable that I think will help to seal this image. It is called the parable of the long spoons. It goes like this. When someone was asked what hell is like, they described it like this. It is like this gorgeous banquet table. In it is laid the best of food and wine. But the food can only be eaten by utensils. Now the utensils are also provided but they are 3 foot long. And the problem with 3 foot long utensils is that there is no way you can pick up food and put it in your mouth right? So in the end in hell people will starve in front of a sumptuous meal because they are in the end unable to feed themselves. So what about heaven then? Surprisingly, in this parable heaven has the exact same sumptuous meal and the same banquet setting. In fact each person has the same kind of 3 foot utensils. But the difference in heaven is when you look at the faces of the people. Because when you look at the faces you will see that people are not skeletons but flourishing, healthy and happy. How come? Because the people in heaven have discovered that while you cannot feed yourself with 3 foot utensils, you can feed someone sitting 3 feet away from you. And if everybody cared for someone else’s needs, everyone needs would be taken care of and everyone would be satisfied.
I really like this parable because this is what is happens right inside the Trinity. The Father is glorifying the Son and the Son is glorifying the Father and so on. When you care for others with the care you would normally show for yourself, then you have a replication of what is happening in the Trinity. In other words you have heaven on earth. When you focus on your own needs, the irony is that nobodies’ needs are met including yourself. This is what normally happens in our fallen world.
We have been looking at the 5 opening sentences of Jesus’ high priestly prayer. This opening is focused on Jesus’ prayer for himself. Prayer that his heavenly Father would restore the glory that he had. How can these 5 sentences shape our walk with God? Let me give you three points.
The first is when you pray, pray that God would help you meet the end goal and the details will take care of themselves. Think about this. Jesus was about to be crucified. There was so much that he could have prayed for. My prayer suggestions would have been that the process would be quick, that he would not feel as much pain, that the disciples would not desert him. He could have prayed all those prayers. But that is not what he prayed. He prayed that he would be glorified as a result of his sacrifice. In other words that his sacrifice he was about to make would be accepted to his heavenly Father. That is the most important thing you can pray for. If you and I wake up every morning and pray that what we do during the day would be acceptable to our heavenly Father, then automatically, we know that we are praying in the center of God’s will and things will have to fall into place even if the details don’t go as we planned. Pray for your work to be acceptable and honoring to God.
Secondly, focus on what God wants and not on what you want and God will take care of what you need. You have to be careful here. I don’t mean that you simply burn yourself out by being busy taking care of everybody else. Jesus himself often when to quiet spots for restoration. Being busier that Jesus is not right. But remember how the Trinity functions. Remember the long spoons. Remember also God’s promises, seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all else will be added unto you. You focus on God’s needs and God will surely take care of everything you need.
Finally, remember the definition of eternal life that Jesus is talking about here in verse 3. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son. You can’t pray that your work will be acceptable or that you will focus on God’s mission if you don’t have a relationship with the Father and the Son in the first place. There are many images of what heaven is like and many of them have a valid points to make but remember this. But the most important thing about heaven is not what is on the menu up there, but the fact that you will get to have the deepest richest relationship possible with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And the relationships you have in heaven and a continuation of the relationships you have with them on earth. When you have these divine relationships your actions are found to be acceptable to God and bring God glory. You will be focused on serving God and God will take care of all your needs. This is what heaven is like my friends. And Jesus Christ reclaimed his heavenly glory so that you and I can get a little taste of what heaven is like right here on earth. I hope you would not miss it, for the world ? Let us pray.