Jesus' Hour of Glorification, Our Glory in Eternal Life
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Dear friends in Christ, the Gospel according to St. John has been described as a river in which a small child could safely swim but in which an elephant would drown. The words of John 3:16 are so simple and direct that a child can recite and understand their basic meaning, yet when you ponder John 3:16, you find meaning and truth so deep that the verse cannot be exhausted in a lifetime.
John 17 is like that. I could spend hours upon hours explaining the richness of each line of this beautiful chapter; I won't spend hours this morning, just a few minutes. We'll focus on the first five verses, which I'll read (and which are printed on the back of your bulletin):
"When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." (John 17:1-5)
From that text, we will focus on this theme: "The Hour of Glorification for Jesus and Our Glory in Eternal Life."
We usually only listen to or read snippets of the Bible due to time constraints, but the books of the New Testament were originally intended to be read through in one sitting. When you read a book from front to back, you are able to pick up various themes, which the author usually brings together in its climactic scenes and ties together in its conclusion. Often an author will add an "afterword" to tie up loose ends—themes and story lines that didn't get wrapped up in the conclusion.
John's Gospel reads like a novel because it introduces all sorts of themes that only come together in its climax (chapters 18-19, the Passion of Jesus) and, finally, in its conclusion (chapter 20, the Resurrection of Jesus), and in its afterword (chapter 21, final signs and words from Jesus).
Our text from John 17 is a prayer of Jesus on behalf of His disciples before His crucifixion. In it, three themes that come together are "the hour," "glory and glorification," and "eternal life." These three themes or strands all weave together to show us God's great love, mercy, and salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In John's Gospel, everything points forward to "the hour" for Jesus. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You." But several times in the preceding chapters, we are told that the hour was not at hand just yet. At the wedding at Cana in Galilee, when Mary observed that they were running out of wine, Jesus demonstrated His glory by changing water into wine, but He also said to Mary, "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:1-11).
Some time later, after Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God and the only source of eternal life, the Jews wanted to arrest Him for blasphemy, but St. John says that they were prevented from arresting Jesus "because His hour had not yet come" (John 7:30, 8:20).
But finally, after He had raised Lazarus and was anointed by Mary and rode to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus announced, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:23-24)
Clearly, the hour that Jesus was pointing forward to His whole life long was His death on the cross, followed by His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. Jesus, the grain of wheat, had to die and be buried in the earth so that He could bear much fruit—in His resurrection He would be the firstfruits of the dead; and by sending the Holy Spirit to deliver the forgiveness of sins which He earned on the cross, Jesus has given the fruit of eternal life to those who believe in Him.
So "the hour" for Jesus would begin on the cross and that is where Jesus would be glorified. When Jesus prays, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You," He is asking the Father to take Him up to the cross and slay Him. And this is supposed to glorify God.
But where is God's glory when Jesus is on the cross? Jesus' crucifixion was shameful, humiliating, painful, and violent. Isn't the glory of God supposed to be awe-inspiring, powerful, and miraculous? Well, sometimes in the Bible God does show His glory that way. In the Old Testament, we are told that God's glory is shown in rushing winds, powerful storms, and majestic mountain tops (e.g., Psalm 97:6). His glory is shown by His mighty works of redemption, particularly when He ransomed Israel from slavery in Egypt. And that is the type of glory Jesus refers to when He says to His Father in John 17:4, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do." Jesus did demonstrate God's glory to the world through mighty signs, particularly seven of them in John's Gospel:
Those seven mighty signs of Jesus certainly revealed God's glory and glorified God; those glorious signs testify to Jesus' divinity. But in John 17, when Jesus prays, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son," Jesus is not talking about the glory of God's powerful works; He is talking about the glory of God at the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple, where the sacrifices were offered in the presence of God's glory.
In the Old Testament, God's glory was located specifically at the Tabernacle and Temple, where He chose to dwell in the midst of Israel in order to bless His people and hear their prayers. And at the Tabernacle and Temple, the Lord instituted a system of ritual sacrifices that obtained forgiveness of sins for Israel.
The Gospel according to John shows us that in the New Testament, Jesus has become the Tabernacle, Temple, the location of the glory of God, and the location of the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sin of the world.
John says of Jesus, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1,14). Christ's flesh is now the location of God's glory, which had once resided in the Old Testament Tabernacle.
In John 2, after Jesus has driven the money changers out of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus told the Jews, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body." (John 2:19-21) The flesh of Jesus is now the Temple of God, the location of God's glory that had once resided at the Temple in Jerusalem.
And how could we forget what St. John the Baptist says of Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The eternal Word of God, who took on our human flesh and tabernacled among us, whose body is the New Testament Temple, who glorified His Father perfectly through His life of faithful obedience to God's Law—He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by offering up to God the Father the perfect sacrifice. And in this, God is glorified, because on the cross God has shown His glory in His merciful, saving presence in the flesh of Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins and win for us eternal glory with the Triune God in heaven.
Early on in John's Gospel, Jesus had spoken of this glorious work and predicted His saving death for our sins. He said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:14-16)
The goal of all of God's glorious works is to bring us into eternal life with Him. So Jesus prayed for this and was granted His requests: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
Jesus' prayer has been answered right here at Grace Lutheran Church, where the Father has sent out His Holy Spirit to reveal the glory of His Son, Jesus Christ to you, so that you now know Him and have eternal life—present tense—you have eternal life. For you have been baptized, and Jesus has said, "Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14)
You have been absolved of all of your sins by the voice of Jesus speaking through His ministry, and Jesus has said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)
And Jesus has promised to those who eat and drink His flesh and blood in faith, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54)
St. Paul wrote that the God who created the earth "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). If you want to see the glory of God, look no further than the places where you see the face of Jesus-the Holy Scriptures, the preaching of the Gospel, Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. In those Gospel—gifts, the Lord lifts up His countenance upon us and grants us peace in the forgiveness of all of our sins.
It may surprise us that those gifts from the Lord don't seem too glorious. The words of God look like just ordinary words on a page; Absolution seems to be just hot air coming from a preacher's mouth; Baptism is a few words and a bit of water; and Communion seems to be just regular old bread and wine. So St. Paul continues, "But we have this treasure [that is, the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)
The sinful world cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as He comes to us in the Word and Sacraments, just as the unbelieving world rejected the lowly appearances of Jesus Christ and could not see God's glory in His cross. But our risen Lord Jesus has given us His Word so that we can see His face and glory in the Word and Sacraments, so even as you suffer trials and temptations and so many inglorious things in this sinful world, take heart!—because the glory of God remains yours in the cross of Jesus Christ, in His Words, and in the life-giving blood and water that flows from His pierced side over your sins, washing you clean and covering you with His glorious robe of righteousness. You have received the glory of eternal life as a totally undeserved gift of God's grace because Jesus has completed His hour of glorification. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.