Sunday Sermon: Glorifying Jesus

 |  Sunday Sermon

Text: John 17:1-5
Series: "The Prayers of Jesus"

Adam Smith is often identified as the “father of modern capitalism.” His major work, titled, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, written in 1776, the same year of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, is required reading in economics classes even today. And yet, Smith was not an economist; he was a philosopher, and most of his writings focused on the natural principles that govern morality and the ways in which we humans come to know those principles and abide by them.

One of Smith’s “natural principles” is also one of his most controversial, and that is how every human operates out self-interest. I say it is controversial because of how most of us would like to think that we can rise above self-interest, that we can be selfless and altruistic, but in our natural state we do tend to be driven by what’s best for us, even when we appear to be doing something for others, and to operate from a different place, one that is not in any way motivated by self-interest, requires a transformation of the heart that only God can bring about.

That’s a lesson we learn from the prayer of Jesus that’s before us this morning from John’s gospel, the 17th chapter. Our text today is actually a part of a much lengthier prayer that we will be looking at over the next several Sundays, as we draw nearer to Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. This prayer in John 17 is often called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer” because of how it marked by Jesus’ intercession for those whom the Father has given him as his disciples. Jesus, much as did the Old Testament high priests on the Day of Atonement, enters into the presence of God to pray for himself, to pray for his family, and finally to pray for the nation. He prays specifically for their protection and their redemption. 

But what stands out to me in this first part of the prayer is how on the surface it appears that Jesus, at least in part, is praying out of self-interest. “Father,” he prays, “the hour has come. Glorify Your son…. Glorify me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” What, pray tell, has caused Jesus suddenly to focus on his own fame and honor?

If that’s a question that’s creeped into your mind, then it’s because you’re hearing Jesus’ prayer from a completely human perspective, what Adam Smith would call one tainted by self-interest. John’s gospel invites us to hear Jesus’ prayer from an entirely different perspective, from that of one who “in the beginning was with God, and who was God” (1:1-2), from one who was sent by God so that we might behold God’s glory, “the glory of the Only Begotten, full of grace and truth” (1:14). He invites us to follow Jesus as Jesus performs seven signs that “reveal his glory” (2:11) and help us to “behold the glory of God” (11:40). 

In other words, glory is a signal theme in the fourth gospel, and it refers to the visible display of divine majesty through acts of supernatural power, which as John tells us in his Gospel is precisely what God sent Jesus to do. God sent Jesus to walk a path that would eventually take him to the cross, where in an act of the most noble sacrifice, the very opposite of human self-interest, people might be drawn to Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, be moved to believe in him as the ultimate, definitive expression of God’s love for the world, and through their faith have eternal life (3:15-16). Such is the theological backdrop of this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, and without it you simply cannot appreciate the power it evokes to transform your own selfish soul.

“Father,” he prays. “The time has come.” Here, Jesus is not talking about the time of day; he’s talking instead about how it is time for him to go to the cross. And while Jesus indeed prays for God to glorify him at this time, now you can understand how his prayer is not just for his own fame or renown. No, he prays, “Glorify Your son, that Your Son may glorify You.” What we hear Jesus praying is for God to honor Jesus’ obedience so that his death does not come to be viewed as just one more crucifixion among countless crucifixions that Rome perpetrated against those they perceived might work to threaten their self-interest. Jesus is instead praying that God would turn that “emblem of shame” into a symbol of salvation, which of course God most definitely did. Jesus is praying that his life, which is soon to be devoted to God in death, might be an acceptable sacrifice so that the honor and the glory that belong to God alone may also be his, and that the world might recognize it and believe in it so that through the laying down of his life they might have life and have it in all its fullness (10:10).

Do you view the cross of Christ in that light and are you willing to embrace it by setting your personal aims and agendas to the side so that you might give yourself to whatever is necessary to make much of God and His Son Jesus Christ, and to do so for as long as it takes? Are you willing to forego self-interest for God’s interest so that in the process you might follow in the way of Jesus and honor him also with your obedience?

Eugene Peterson was a Presbyterian minister who founded a church in Bel Air, Maryland, just north of Baltimore, and stayed there as pastor for some twenty-nine years. Along the way, Peterson had many opportunities to move to another parish, but he always said that Bel Air was precisely where God wanted him and so until the Holy Spirit said otherwise, Bel Air would be where he would stay. 

I have been blessed by so many of his books, and I would imagine many of you are familiar with his excellent translation of the Scriptures, titled, simply, The Message.  There is an expression Peterson used in one of his books to describe the journey of faith. He called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” I like that phrase; don’t you?  Peterson uses it to describe how in the face of a prevailing culture that is in love with the quick fix, Christians should take more seriously the example of Jesus, who understood all too well that from the moment he began his earthly ministry, it would lead him to the cross. Once Jesus set out from the wilderness, having been baptized by John the Baptist, there never was a moment when Jesus didn’t understand that in order to fulfill God’s mission, he must be willing to suffer and die, which is why even before that Friday we call “Good,” Jesus could already say to God, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave me to do.”

What is the answer to that first question posed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, that summary of Christian doctrine that dates back to 17th century England? “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It’s not to glorify self. It’s not to advance our own interests. It’s to honor God through our obedience, even as did Jesus, and by so doing to bring glory to Jesus as well as the one whom God sent to bring us to eternal life.

How do we do that? Not so much by doing great things. Not many of us will ever be in a position to do great things. But we can do small things in a great way, and the best thing we can do is to glorify God by making much of Jesus.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was one of the most sought-after speakers of the last century. Shortly before his death, he was speaking at a large church out in California.  When the time came in the service for Dr. Peale to be introduced, the pastor began in this way: “I want to introduce you to the most dynamic person you’ll ever meet in your life. He is exciting. He is positive. He is winsome. He can reach down inside of you more deeply than anyone you’ve ever known. He will give you confidence and courage, and a whole lot of other things you’ve always wanted in life but never had.”

Dr. Peale was both astounded and embarrassed. This introduction had blown through the valley of politeness and ascended into the realm of veneration. He had received anything near such an introduction, and he wondered how he should respond to it.  And as he was thinking about what he might say, he heard the pastor finish in this way: “The person I’m speaking about of course is Jesus Christ; and here to tell you about him is my friend, Norman Vincent Peale.”

An introduction is a small thing, but the pastor did it in a great way. So, go and do likewise, and make much of Jesus so that people may know Jesus Christ and the only true God who sent him that by doing so they might have eternal life. Without question, such a glorious introduction is what Jesus, even now, is praying for you to do.