Something that’s become a bit of a feature of the Christmas holidays in recent years is the now inevitable Netflix binge watching. Isn’t that right? Used to be DVD box-sets back in the day. And of course, at the time cracking into them seemed lazy beyond belief. But the bar has lowered even further, hasn’t it? At least then, you had to actually get up and change the DVD. You could congratulate yourself that you were getting your five a day – your five steps a day, that is. Or even if you were just watching the 3 or 4 episodes on the one dvd, you’d at least have to reach out your arm at the end of each episode and press a button. Now you don’t even have to do that, do you? The credits start, and what does it say? Next episode starts in 10 seconds – 9 – 8 – and so on. It’s now strictly opt-out. You just sit there and gawk open-mouthed at the screen, and it just keeps rolling all night…
For Libby and myself, our Christmas binge-watch this holidays was season 2 of The Crown.
And I don’t think we were alone. I imagine quite a few of us here in this room, and perhaps even more of our parents, have succumbed to The Crown. It’s a fine series. Beautifully shot. Great acting. Convincing script-writing. Basically a good package all-up, as I suppose you’d expecrt from the most expensive TV series ever made. But I was reflecting on what it is that really generates the interest. Why is it millions of us have been giving over our evenings to watch what is at heart just another costume drama?
The answer, presumably, is that we are just a bit nosy. The monarchy does fascinate us, doesn’t it? It seems so strange, such a different world, so “other”. Who are these extraordinary people, we wonder. We want to know what life is really like behind those great gilded doors. It’s all very well, switching on at 3 o’clock on Christmas Day and hearing the Queen address the nation and the commonwealth. But we want more. We want a peek behind the scenes.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful not just to be spoken to by the monarch, but to listen in as the royal family speak to each other. Wouldn’t that be something? Well, now we can, thanks to The Crown. Never mind that it’s fiction, it’s just imagined. That’s a trivial issue in the big scheme of things. It feels like we’ve got access to the inner working of the palace, the way they behave behind closed doors. The most intimate conversations between members of the family.
And it’s just captivating.
These next three Sundays here at the Six O’Clock, I’m hoping we will feel equally captivated as we listen in to the intimate conversations of another royal family.
We’re returning to the gospel of John, this extraordinary kind of stylised biography of Jesus. And we’re landing roughly three-quarters of the way through, in chapter 17. It’s a chapter unlike any other in the Bible. Because what it records is really an extended conversation between two members of the divine trinity.
• Well, I say it’s a conversation – it’s all one-way traffic in reality.
• And I say it’s between two members of the trinity. The speaker is of course Jesus. Someone who is not less than God the Son, talking to his Father, but is more too. He is fully human – as much as you and me, and therefore using human language which is intelligible to you and me.
This is Jesus at prayer. He’s been spending the evening with his inner circle. He’s washed their feet, he’s shared a meal with them, he’s looked on with them as one of their number, Judas, has walked out into the night to do the dark and traitorous deed he is set on doing. And he’s been teaching them. Preparing them for life after his departure. He’s shortly going to leave this dinner venue and take his final steps towards his own death. But before he does, he pauses for prayer.
John 17 shows us Jesus praying for himself (in verses 1-5), then for his disciples (in verses 6-19), and then for those who at that stage were yet to become disciples, I guess for us (verses 20-26).
And this evening we’re looking at the first of those 3 prayers. What Jesus prays for himself. And it’s two things.
The first is that his glory will be seen in the place of shame.
After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed:
‘Father, the hour has come.
Now, what does he mean by that?
It’s actually been an ongoing theme in John’s gospel – this question of whether the hour for Jesus has come or not.
• Back in chapter 2, at the wedding at Cana, Jesus had been explicit: ‘my hour has not yet come’
• It was the same in chapter 7: ‘his hour had not yet come.’
• And again in chapter 8: ‘his hour had not yet come’
• But then in chapter 12, it changes: ‘The hour has come’, says Jesus.
But that still begs the question of what this hour really is. It sounds like it’s the hour when he’ll really shine. The hour for recognition and adulation. We sometimes talk about public figures having their time, don’t we.
• Jeremy Corbyn – all those years on the back benches but then a couple of years ago it was his time – and he rose to the leadership.
• Or an actor or a footballer or someone, who’s been quietly plodding away, but finally reaches the big stage. Their moment has come, we say.
But is that how it is for Jesus? No, the hour for Jesus, is not the moment of adulation. It’s not the moment when a golden throne drops from heaven for him. And angels blow a fanfare for him. Far from it, it’s actually the moment of shame and humiliation. The hour was the hour of his death. And not just any death - death in the most disgraceful way imaginable: by a brutal execution on a Roman cross.
This was the hour that had come for Jesus. And yet look what he prays in these circumstances:
‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’
Now that is a bit of a shock, isn’t it? Or maybe not if you’ve been reading John’s gospel. See, in the gospel, there’s a kind of running double entendre about Jesus being lifted up or exalted: paradoxically, he’s lifted up in status when he’s lifted up onto the cross. So actually this turns out to be a natural prayer to pray: as he approaches the place of greatest shame, Jesus asks that here he might indeed shine the brightest, shine in a way he’s never shone before.
So what is it for Jesus to be glorified? I've floated that language of it being a time to shine, and I've done that deliberately.
In the Old Testament, on occasion you find some kind of visible sign of God's presence. And light is often a feature of it. So for example,
• as Israel make their way towards the Red Sea, they do so how? With the help of God himself in the form of a cloud or a fire.
• It’s the same later as they travel around the wilderness.
• At the heart of the tabernacle, that great sign of God's presence among his people, is a lampstand.
• When God takes on human flesh, the place where he lies is marked by a star,
• and as Jesus ministers, John describes him as the light of the world. When God appears, in other words, the lights come on.
And they need to, don't they? Because if they didn’t, knowing you and me, our eyes are so dim, we'd probably miss it completely. Imagine trapsing through a forest in the dark. You think there might be a cottage somewhere around here. But you're not sure. You can’t see a thing. You’ve got no torch that works in this place. What do you need? You need the owner of the cottage to switch on the lights so that you can see the place.
For God to be glorified is for him to switch the lights on for people like us so that we can see him for who he is. So that we can see his character, what he's really like.
Do you remember when Moses made that request of God? Exodus 33v18 – ‘Show me your glory’. What does God so? He hides him in a cleft of a rock, covers him up to protect him, and then passes by in person in such a way that Moses can just about glimpse the tail end of him. But Moses certainly hears what God says. Exodus 34:6…
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
For God to be glorified is for people to see the outward shining of his inward being.
And when Jesus asks to be glorified in the hour of his death, he is asking that there at Calvary, people far and wide would see more of his inward being shining out, and therefore see more of his Father’s.
Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
So the question is: what is it that shines forth from Calvary? What do we actually learn there about God? Well, you see how Jesus describes his work. It’s a work of bringing people who are spiritually dead and alienated from God to life and relationship with him. Verse 2.
2 For you granted him – the Son – authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
What does that mean? What is this life? Verse 3.
3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
It’s the clearest definition of eternal life you’ll find in the whole Bible. Eternal life is not primarily a quantity thing – living for a very very long time, for ever in fact. No, it’s primarily a quality thing – it’s living in relationship with God. That is what God is doing at the cross. He is executing his plan to bring lost people home to Daddy.
So what is it that’s shining out from Calvary? If you were to attach what would I suppose have to be a very clever microphone to the cross, what would you hear announced to the world through the PA system?
• Well, for one thing, presumably, that God is all-wise.
• Here is a plan of salvation which would have eluded any lesser being. But for God, even in eternity past, there was a plan being hatched in the divine mind, to bring reconciliation and restoration of relationship, where sin had threatened to banish all such things. The Son and therefore the Father, is glorified at the cross in his wisdom.
• More than that, we would hear that God is all-just.
• Sin cannot remain unpunished, can it? I mean, if you wrong me, I can just say to you: ‘I forgive you’, and be done with it. But God can’t do that, can he? He’s not a private individual like me. He’s in charge of maintaining the public justice of the cosmos. He has to see that sin is punished. But at Calvary, that is exactly what happens. The Son and therefore the Father, is glorified at the cross in his justice
• And then more than even his wisdom or his justice, we hear announced from the microphone at the cross that God is all-loving.
• The horror of what lay ahead for Jesus and his determination to keep pressing on regardless is proof of that, isn’t it? John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The Son and therefore the Father, is glorified at the cross most wonderfully of all in his love.
This is what Jesus prays for. This switching on of the lights so that people far and wide might see the outward shining of his inward character.
And I guess our most fitting response is – what? We can’t pray as Jesus prayed here. There are certainly lots of model prayers in the Bible that we ccan make our own. But not this one. We can’t pray this prayers. But we can be the answer to the prayer, can’t we? Isn’t that an amazing thought? Any time that we pause and marvel at the character of God shown at the cross, we are becoming the answer to his prayer! We are becoming the instruments by which the Father can say to the Son: ‘there, I’ve done what you’ve asked.
• X is marveling at my wisdom;
• Y is marveling at my justice;
• Z is marveling at my love.
I’ve answered your prayer. I’ve glorified you so that you may glorify me.’
So there is Jesus’ first prayer – that his glory may be seen at the place of shame.
Let’s look more briefly at the second – that his glory may be seen at the place of honour.
4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
What is Jesus asking here? Is he basically just asking to go home? Is that it?
We’ve got a bit of a tradition in our family. Whenever we go away for a holiday, we’ll be driving back home, and just as we’re getting close, when we’re about 20 minutes out, we go around everyone in the car. And everyone has to say one thing they loved about their time away. But then also, one thing they’re looking forward to about coming home. The coming home thing is usually something about a shower that actually works, or seeing Titch the cat, or most often just getting back to their own bed.
But is that what Jesus is saying? He just wants Dad to take him home so he can snuggle back into his comfy bed, as it were, and enjoy the comforts of his heavenly home? No it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Jesus is casting his mind forward 24 hours to the cross. That time when he will breathe out for the last time and announce ‘it is finished’.
‘I have brought you glory on earth’, he says, ‘by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now glorify me in your presence.’ In other words, ‘my humiliation has led to some of my inward being shining out, and people seeing the character of their God. But now allow my exaltation to reveal still more’.
If you think back to last term, and our studies in Daniel, you’ll recall talk in Daniel chapter 7 of one ‘like a son of man’. Daniel 7v.13:
He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
And here is Jesus asking that the final part of his journey can be completed so that the prophecy can be fulfilled and his colours nailed to the mast for good.
He’s praying, effectively:
• Let X marvel at the majesty of his/her God
• Let Y marvel at the authority of his/her God
• Let Z marvel at the sovereign power of his/her God
And so once again you see you and I are able to be the answer to this prayer of Jesus. The question is: will we in fact turn our inner eye towards the ascended Son, shining in all his glory, and see more of his character?
Now it’s hard, isn’t it, to have the discipline to do that when our lives are so full and busy. We all finf that, I imagine. I sometimes think life is like mint. You know how it is when you’ve brushed your teeth with your fresh mint toothpaste, or you’ve just been sucking on a mint. And then you sit down to some beautiful smoked salmon or something. You can’t taste it, at all, can you? The superficial and immediate taste of the mint has blocked out your ability to appreciate the deeper and richer taste of the salmon? And life does that to us. The pressures of work and relationships and the intensity of our screens and our leisure activities. All that just makes the discipline of meditating in our hearts on our ascended King in his glory just a bit lacking in taste. Doesn’t really do anything for us. Leaves us cold when we try to marvel at him.
But marvel at him we must. Because if we don’t, we’ll find that little be little we diminish him in our minds. Our conception of him will be brought down to someone more on our level. So we turn our inner eye towards the throne of heaven. And let that ineer eye rest there for a while. We dwell on his glory. We reject the pressures on us to block him out or even to be ashamed of him in some way. And we go on our way rejoicing that we have such a great God.
And the prayer of Jesus will have been answered