How can I even begin to define the glory of God? How can I describe the glory the Second Person of the Trinity had with the Father before the world began? How can we ever take in the vastness and majesty of the glory?
We use the word glory to describe the great achievements of those who have ascended the ladder of success in their field. On Monday morning we were told that Justin Bieber was basking in the glory of winning four American Music Awards on Sunday night. I didn’t even know he was nominated. Back in June, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 and the headline read: “LeBron, Cavs Bask in NBA Title Glory!” On November 2 of this year, after a 108 year drought, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in a dramatic game 7 for the ages! ESPN the website told the story:
For the people of Chicago, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was the kind of event that brought their city together the way that only a sports team can. It was a night that was glorious, exciting and filled with drama — a night that will not be soon forgotten.
The story was filled with people extolling the glory of their Cubs. One fan, Chris Francois, said it was the greatest day of his life. He has been attending Cubs games at Wrigley Field since he was 4 years old. Chris was so moved following the game that he broke down in the middle of Clark Street after the Cubs win.
The word “glory” isn’t just used to describe great achievements, it’s also used to describe awe-inspiring sights like a bride walking down the aisle on her way to her prince charming, the sensational colors of the northern lights with their swirls of green, red, and purple reaching out into the cold night sky, or the emotions felt by new parents when the doctor lays God’s handiwork in their arms for the very first time. Oh, how glorious all of these experiences are to us and yet God’s glory is something altogether different, something that we do not have the vocabulary to adequately describe.
The Hebrew word most often translated, “glory,” is the word, “???????” (kabowd) and it literally means, “heavy or weighty,” such as the weight of God’s presence. It can also mean, “glory, honour, glorious, abundance, splendour, or reputation.” Moses was the first person to ever use the word to describe God and he used it to describe God’s action. God had freed the Hebrew slaves, but as they were making their way across the desert they were starving and grumbling. In Exodus 16:6-7, we read,
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” (Exodus 16:6-7 NIVO)
Just two verses later, while Aaron was speaking to the people, “there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (Exodus 16:10 NIVO) The glory of the Lord is used to describe His actions because glory describes His very being. In Psalm 29:3, David calls Him “the God of glory.” Many Bible teachers have described the glory of God in a variety of ways, but one description I’ve read this past week has really stood out to me. Pastor Edward Strauss writes, “The glory of God is God Himself in all His intrinsic beauty and inherent majesty. God’s glory is who He is, what He possesses, and what He is like.”
We run into an interesting story in Exodus 33 where Moses was bargaining with God. God had called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. God had been faithful to Moses, He had met with Moses at the “tent of meeting,” and yet Moses still had questions. In Exodus 33:12-14 we read,
12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:12-14 NIVO)
Moses responded by saying, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” God assured Moses that He would do the very thing Moses had asked. Moses then said, “Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18 NIVO) God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock because no one can see God face-to-face and live. Then we read,
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Exodus 33:19 NIVO)
Just a few verses later, in Exodus 34:6-7, God once again passed in front of Moses while he was on Mount Sinai. Listen to what He said,
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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7 NIVO)
God showed Moses His glory, but it He did it by revealing His mercy, grace, long-suffering, compassion, goodness, truth, forgiveness, and His righteous wrath against sin. God’s glory is overwhelming. When the glory of God passed in front of Moses he fell down and worshiped.
When we arrive at the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, there is a scene in the 5th chapter that should drop us to our knees. John saw angels, thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand, a number so large he couldn’t count them all, and they were proclaiming at the top of their lungs,
12 In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” 14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:12-14 NIVO)
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” And did you notice what those who were in attendance did upon hearing these words and seeing the glory? “…the elders fell down and worshiped.”
It is important for us to understand God’s glory, as best we can, before we read our Scripture for this morning found in John 17:1-5. In these five verses Jesus used the Greek verb, “??????” (doxazo), four times and the Greek noun, “????” (doxa), once. The word, “????,” originally meant, “opinion or judgment,” but came to mean, “praise, honor, or glory.” In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, “????,” is used to translate 25 different Hebrew words, but it is used most often to translate the Hebrew word, “???????” (kabowd), “glory.” Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in John 17:1-5.
1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing 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. (John 17:1-5 NIVO)
In Jesus’ prayer, He asked the Father to glorify Him so that He might glorify the Father. In verse 4, Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Then, in verse 5, Jesus prayed, “…Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Throughout Jesus’ life He had set His sights on glorifying the Father. Jesus never did or said anything to glorify Himself, but all that He did was to glorify the Father. In John 7:18, Jesus said,
18 He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:18 NIVO)
There’s no mistaking who Jesus was referring to when He said, “…he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth;” At the same time, even though Jesus wasn’t seeking glory for Himself, God the Father glorified His Son. Jesus said,
50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (John 8:50 NIVO)
The question is, “How would God glorify His Son?” Would He throw a ticker-tape parade for Jesus in Times Square? Would He build a glorious temple in honor of Jesus for generations to come? How would God glorify His Son and how would Jesus most glorify the Father? First, we need to recognize that Jesus retained some of His glory while on the earth, even though it was not the same as the glory He had with the Father before the world began. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-11.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NLT)
Let me show you what I mean when I say Jesus retained some of His glory even though He emptied Himself and took on the “humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” In the very first chapter of John we read,
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIVO)
John, and others, saw Jesus glory, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then, in John 2, when Jesus performed His first miracle, we read,
11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11 NIVO)
So, those who interacted with Jesus during His three years of ministry got glimpses of His glory from time to time. Another instance is found in Matthew 17 on the Mount of Transfiguration where we are told Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that His face shone like the sun. Yet, it was in none of these instances that the Father’s glory was most evident. Jesus was most glorified in His humiliation, suffering, and rejection upon the cross. On the cross, Jesus suffered the culmination of shame and degradation. Beaten. Stripped. Despised. Humiliated by those, and in front of those, He came to save. Yet, it was through the experience of the cross, His suffering and death, that God highly exalted Him, crowned Him with glory, and gave Him the name that is above every name.
At the same time, Jesus would bring glory to the Father through His obedience to carry out the mission of salvation through the cross. This is why Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 12:27-28 with these words.
27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28 NIVO)
The glory of the Father was put on full display in His Son on the cross where the righteousness, mercy, grace, and justice of God came together to save those who were hopelessly lost because of our sin. What looked like the ultimate defeat became Jesus’ most glorious victory when God raised Him from the dead. What appeared to be a failed coup to overthrow sin and death was transformed into the overthrow of the powers of darkness that had held God’s people powerless. John Calvin writes,
In the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theatre, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God shines, indeed, in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross…in that death we see a boundless glory. (John Calvin, Commentary on John. 68, 135)
Jesus is God’s One and Only. His glorious Son who brings forgiveness for sin, erases the shame, and sets us free to see God’s hand at work in our own lives and in the world around us. Through Jesus our hearts of stone are transformed into hearts of flesh that are moldable in the hands of our glorious God and Father. Through Jesus our will that is set on getting what we want above all else is transformed so that our desire is to glorify and honor the God who has saved us and has a plan for our lives. Through Jesus we are given new eyes to see what we would never see otherwise. Before we come to know Jesus and His saving work on our behalf we are blind to what God is doing, we are blind to the glorious life He had made available to us, and we are blind to what is our greatest purpose in life…to glorify and honor our King in everything we do in life. Let me explain to you what I mean.
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth and taught them about the blindness that keeps the world from understanding the message of the glory of Jesus. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 4:4 and let’s read together.
4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT)
Satan has blinded the minds of all of those who do not believe. That describes each and every one of us before we come to know Jesus. If you are a follower of Jesus it is only because of God’s grace that the blinders have been removed. Some of you who are reading this are blinded to the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done on your behalf. You don’t see the glory of God anywhere, much less made most evident in Jesus. Let me illustrate what I’m talking about by showing you a couple of verses.
In Isaiah 6, we read about God’s call of Isaiah. As the chapter opens we read that Isaiah saw the LORD seated on His throne and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were flaming angels, seraphs, and they were speaking. Look at verse 3 with me.
3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIVO)
Isaiah learned “the whole earth is full of his glory.” The skeptic, the unbeliever, the one who rejects God says, “Where is His glory? I don’t see it.” The skeptic doesn’t see the glory of God throughout His creation because he is blind. In Psalm 19, David wrote,
1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3 NIVO)
All of creation is shouting to us, “Look! Did you see that? Can you believe that?! Do you see the glory of our Majestic King?!” Look at the sun setting in the east and inviting you to marvel at the Master’s Crayon box. Look at the intricate design of a moth’s wing, a shark’s skin, or the foot of a pesky little fly and hear them declaring His glory! Try to find a hollywood special effects person who can come close to duplicating the creativity He’s shown in designing the maggot of a bluebottle fly or the leg of a little Gecko…the whole earth is full of His glory!! His glory is evident all around us. In His creation, in the relationships we share, in the hardships we endure by His grace, when we are overwhelmed with gratitude because of His mercy and goodness, when we are overcome by the ecstasy of experiences of life we’d like to bottle up and keep with us forever…the whole earth is full of His glory!
When the blinders come off the world comes alive, faith comes alive, salvation comes alive, and things will never be the same again. We see the world like we’ve never seen it before. We see His fingerprints everywhere, even in the valleys of life, the hardships of life, the gut-wrenching times of life. Connie and I were talking this past week about how difficult it is describe the glory of God to someone, but when you’ve experienced His glory, His presence, it transforms us.
I found a video that I think captures what I’m trying to describe for you. Daniel had been blind for 21 years. He hadn’t seen his wife for 21 years and he had never seen his daughter. He knew her voice, he imagined what she looked like, but he had never seen her in her life. Then, through advancements in medical science, Daniel was able to receive a cornea. transplant. When the bandages were taken off his wife and daughter were in the room. Watch his reaction.
Did you see his reaction? Did you hear what he said to the daughter he had never seen in his life? Dad said, “You are more beautiful than I ever could have imagined!” And so it is when we see for the first time. I’m not talking about 20/20 vision. I’m talking about having God remove the bandages, the blinders that have shielded us from His glory, goodness, grace, and mercy and we behold the glory of His Son Jesus, our Savior. Won’t you invite Him in?