Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sermon on John 17:1-5 (Happy Mother's Day!)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text for this Seventh Sunday of Easter is John 17:1-5,

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

From the beginning of the Gospel of John, when Jesus performs His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, the stage is set for something truly monumental to happen. The first eight chapters of the Gospel of John have a recurring phrase that tells us that all of these signs and events and teachings in Jesus’ life are building up to something big. A climax of everything He has done. This reoccurring phrase is “My time has not yet come;” or depending on the translation you use “My hour has not yet come.” So the whole time that you are reading through the Gospel, you pick up on these cues, that Jesus’ time had not yet come. Then finally in chapter 12, when He has arrived in Jerusalem for the final time, He says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). Then He says it a second time here in chapter 17 during this great prayer that we often call the “High Priestly Prayer,” the longest prayer that Jesus prayed that we have written down. The time has come. Everything that Jesus’ earthly ministry had been building up to was now about to begin. The time for Jesus’ Passion had finally arrived. Here was the pivotal point of Jesus’ mission to earth—the pinnacle of what He was to accomplish for God—the redemption of humanity by His suffering, death, and resurrection.

Since this is the defining stage of Jesus’ ministry; the climax to which the whole Gospel is building; then how should it not also be central to, and define our ministry as pastor’s and teachers of God’s Word? And likewise this suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ is central in all our Christian lives. As St. Paul said in the letter to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Our task as preachers is to proclaim this message so that by hearing of Christ’s death and resurrection, you will have faith to believe this good news. Yet some may be taken aback at how central Christ’s death is to Christianity. It seems such a brutal and shameful thing to talk about so much. However, from the words of today’s text we hear differently. From the verses I read just before, you might have noticed that there is a whole lot of “glory talk” in today’s Gospel. Why all this talk about glory, when seemingly the opposite—humiliation and shame—was about to take place?

Jesus says, “Father, the time has come; glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” and again, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” But before we sort all that out, let’s consider for a moment what the word “glory” means. After all, we have a lot of “glory talk” in our worship service. I count a minimum of seven different places where we speak of “glory” in the Divine Service, and every time it is directed to God or Christ specifically. The Bible Dictionary defines “glory” this way: “properly, it is the exercise and display of what constitutes the distinctive excellence of the subject to which it is spoken.” So glory is the exercise and display of what makes up the distinctive excellence of the subject. It’s a matter of recognizing the honor and majesty that God deserves. And here in today’s Gospel we learn that this pivotal time that had come was precisely the time and manner in which God chose to display His distinctive excellence. Jesus’ Passion is the very thing that reveals precisely what shows God to be excellent above all things, and worthy alone of our praise and glory.

Apart from knowing the Word of God, this reality of God revealing glory in humility is so foreign to us simply because we are accustomed to glory being shown in much different ways than in suffering, death, and humility. In olden times, it might be expected that a king would win glory for himself by great feats of strength or amassing great wealth and prestige, with which to impress His subjects and enemies alike. Yet contrary to worldly wisdom, the recognition of the true honor and majesty of God as our King, comes through Christ descending from the heavenly throne, making Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men, humbling Himself to death, even death on a cross. So that as the crown of His Lordship, as the display of all that made Christ distinctively excellent, this King came to lower Himself and become and live as one of His own subjects, and ultimately die. And this was His chosen glory. The letter to the Hebrews says it best, “Jesus [is] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
Though the world doesn’t recognize or understand this kind of glory, there is a parallel to this in our everyday lives. This mother’s day we express gratitude for our mothers who raised us. There in our mothers we see a parallel to the kind of glory that Christ displayed on the cross, and went unrecognized by the world. A mother’s glory, that which marks her as distinctively excellent, is found in that same self-sacrificing, self-giving love that protects her children, binds up their wounds and cares for them. The humility with which she raises her children, often without reward. But the truest reward and glory for her is to see her children grow up into godly men and women, who have been raised in the sincere faith in Christ taught them by their mothers and fathers. Here we see the glory that God has given to mothers, in a parallel way to the glory that God gave and revealed in His Son, through humility and self-sacrifice.

Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” So Jesus’ glorification comes from the Father, and likewise the Father’s glorification comes from the Son. How is this so? Because in this way the Father chose to be glorified—in the display of the humiliation and death of His Son. Not as some mere spectacle, but to show His love and His purpose for entering the world, as the next verse describes, “For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those you have given Him.” And what is eternal life? Jesus says, “That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” By bringing eternal life to believers, Jesus glorifies His Father. And in His death and resurrection, the Father glorifies Jesus. So here we see that the Father and the Son have a shared glory. To us, this may hardly seem surprising, and rightly so, since we believe. But to a first-century Jew hearing this, it would be stunning. Why?

In the book of Isaiah, in a passage that prophesies Jesus’ coming as God’s servant, God says these words, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Is. 42:8). God says that He gives His glory to no one else; so it would have been stunning for the Jews to hear Jesus asking the Father to glorify Him. And Jesus also prayed, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Hearing this with the ears of a person who knew the Old Testament, it would be unmistakable that Jesus was saying that He Himself was God. The only way Jesus could say these words, and not be blaspheming against God, was if He were in fact true God. And His words show this—that He was not only going to be glorified in His coming death, but that He also had gotten glory for His Father by completing the work given Him to do. And furthermore, He already possessed glory before this—the glory that he shared with the Father from before the creation of the world. Here we see Jesus speak of His eternity as the Son of God. So Jesus’ glory shows that He is true God. He had said “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” These words are echoed for us in the letter of 1 John, where he writes, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). So this Jewish man, who died and rose from the dead, is the true God and eternal life, who is One with the Father and shares in His glory—the glory that belongs to God alone.

This chosen time, this pinnacle of Jesus’ work, was the time God chose to glorify His Son, and be glorified Himself, by His Son’s death and resurrection. This time, this hour, in weakness, suffering, and humility, God found glory like nothing the world had ever seen. A cursed man, hanged on a tree was the glory of God! How was there glory in that? Because this is how God wants us to know Him. He wants us to know Him through Jesus, the humble, suffering Jesus. Where God gave the final answer to all our suffering, pain, and death. Here at the cross is God’s answer to the sin that ruined our love for God, cast humanity out of Paradise, and left us dying. Sin was our own fault, and it is the source of all the evil in this life. But here at the cross, God gave His answer—He put forth His full love for us by taking the punishment that we deserved. By dying for our sins, Jesus’ forgave every last sin, and crushed the serpent’s head for us. His triumph over death in His resurrection gained for us eternal life! Truly, by redeeming us from our sins and winning eternal life, Jesus got glory for the Father! By this great redemption and resurrection, He has shown His distinctive excellence as the Son of God. He truly is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor as our Redeemer King! For our God has revealed His glory in humility. A crucified and risen Savior; FOR US!

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

No comments: