John 21:15-25: A Life that Glorifies God
Easter Sunday worship, April 1, 2018
Many of us were raised on stories about the American flag from grade school onward. We were taught about Betsy Ross sewing a flag for General George Washington and about Francis Scott Key writing the words that became “The Star Spangled Banner” while a captive of the British as they attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor in 1814. We were taught the story of the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima in 1945. We witnessed the 1969 Apollo 11 flag raising on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Almost all of us have seen the raising of the American flag at Ground Zero in New York following the destruction of the World Trade Center and the flag raised over victorious Olympians. But most of us don’t know the story of how the American flag became known as “Old Glory” which is recounted at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Glory among other places. A 19th-century American sea captain named William Driver and the civil war battles fought in Nashville are at the heart of the story. The flag, at its best, symbolizes what is good and glorious about our country. So, conversely, when one wants to protest against America or an American social or political policy, disrespecting the flag in some manner can become a powerful symbol evoking many different emotions.
I share this to help us understand a little better how Jesus’ claim that “I and the Father are One” in John 10:30 impacted the Jewish leaders. Jesus continued, “Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:36-38). The works Jesus was talking about were all done, in John’s words, to the glory of God. John wrote his Gospel to force his original audiences, and now us, to decide once and for all whether or not we will live and act believing “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). The Jewish leaders (1) did not believe that Jesus’ works glorified the God of Israel, (2) determined Jesus was a blasphemer, and (3) acted on their belief by forcing the Roman governor Pilate into a politically volatile position which resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus (1) was resurrected from the dead and appeared on multiple occasions to those closest to Him in His three years of public ministry in a bodily form recognizable to them, (2) spoke words, ate food, and recounted memories real to them, and (3) was physically touched, those closest to Him concluded Jesus was the Lord God Himself (20:28).
This morning I want to briefly touch on the works by which John concluded Jesus’ entire life in human flesh was a monument to the glory of God. Then I want to issue a challenge I believe all of us must accept. John began his Gospel with a statement on Jesus’ existence before His birth through Mary: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus existed from eternity sharing the glory of God and entered this world with that glory veiled, but still a part of His character. Mankind witnessed the veiled glory of Jesus in His attributes of grace and truth. During His public ministry, John records that Jesus’ turning of water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (2:11). Jesus also healed a man born blind (9:6-7) which the Jewish leaders rejected believing Jesus’ power came from a source other than Israel’s God. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and challenged Lazarus’ sister Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (11:40). Jesus told His Father in prayer, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (17:4). After recounting these and other acts of Jesus, John summarized the polarizing response to Jesus’ works this way: “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him…as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (12:37-41). What Isaiah prophetically saw about 700 years before it happened, the Jewish leaders could not understand in real time. Jesus’ disciples did.
Jesus claimed His glory came from God and John includes statements from God Himself to back up Jesus’ claims. Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me” (8:54). As the crowds shouted on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…Father, glorify your name!” (12:13, 23, 28). “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him” (12:28-29). This reciprocal relationship was on Jesus’ mind as he faced His death on the cross, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (17:5). And as Jesus died, John’s Gospel records His final words in human flesh, “‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (19:30). In His death, Jesus did what none of us can do. Jesus determined the time of His death and ordered His Spirit onward. All of this was done to the glory of His Father.
For three months now we have studied John’s eloquently presented Gospel. What I have just shared are the basic facts of John’s argument and his conclusion: Jesus is One with God, “I and the Father are One.” Jesus became a man to glorify His Father in the way He lived and in the way He died. His prayer for us is this: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (17:24). The choice is ours to make. We can answer Jesus’ prayer the way we want Him to answer ours—by fulfilling Jesus’ desire—or we can say no. But understand that saying yes means we have to live our lives in this world in a way that also glorifies God. Jesus made that clear when He reinstated Peter to his rightful position of leadership among the Apostles after Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times shortly before Jesus’ death on the cross. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (21:15, 16, 17). Peter twice answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (vv15, 16). The third time, a wounded Peter replied, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v17). Then we read something very powerful: “‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (vv18-19).
Here is the real challenge of Easter, the challenge of the dead then resurrected Christ, I believe we all must accept if we want to see Jesus’ glory, the glory God gave Jesus because God loved Jesus before the creation of the world. We must follow Jesus in a way that glorifies God the Father in our lives and in our deaths. Internalize the way Jesus told Peter he would glorify God in his death: “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” What parallel death in our present world does that sound like? We more than likely will not die as a religious prisoner locked in a prison cell and then crucified upside down like tradition says was true of Peter. But if we live long enough our bodies will become frail, possibly our minds as well, and we will dressed by others and led where we do not want to go. I can’t tell remember how many times I’ve heard people pray that they could just die peacefully in their sleep or die without pain. Few and far between are the times that I’ve heard people say they want to die in a way that glorifies God. One of those who said that just died last week, Steve Marshall, and I wish to acknowledge publicly his beauty. Another young lady grew up a friend of his. The way we live should parallel the way we die; both should occur in ways that bring glory to God. That is the challenge of Easter.
The word I would suggest, a word that has constantly been on my mind for two years now, is the word surrendered. I believe the phrase, “dressed by others and led where we do not want to go” is an apt definition of a surrendered life. But surrendered does not mean resigned, cowardly, or powerless. Peter lived a strong, powerful, and bold life before he died a surrendered death. We are not to live defeated in our spirits, we are to live exemplary lives as overcomers. We are to face the challenges life brings our way with our heads held high, with grace and truth in our hearts, and with love on our lips. Study the events which took Jesus from the Upper Room until His death on the cross and make note of how many people He reached out to with offers of forgiveness, hope, and even eternal life. Even on the cross itself, one came to know Jesus. We are to work wonders and bring healing to those we touch. We are to pray great prayers that lead to wonders occurring to the glory of our Father. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (15:8). Live life fully. Love passionately. Bring joy and healing to those you touch. Sacrifice. Surrender and live the life of one totally free. This is the way we bring glory to our Heavenly Father.