Glory Stolen and Returned
When this month I received an Anglican Prayer Diary with not one prayer addressed to God the Father, and at a public meeting no less a Pentecostal than Margaret Court said “Many Pentecostals today talk about God, but they don’t mention the name of Jesus.”, my convictions about the spiritual crisis across the Australian Church were confirmed. We have lost sight of the glory of the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the root of the discipleship crisis across the Body of Christ is our failure to discern the integrity of all the words in Jesus’ Great Commission; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20). If we are not consciously teaching about the loving unity in diversity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit we cannot make mature disciples. If in practice we deny the Trinitarian glory Jesus will not be powerfully present amongst us in the way he promised. Such a Church, as I will go on to explain, cannot be a missionary Church. Behind the darkening spiritual climate of our nation is our failure to live out the command of Christ. “You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16 ESV). Australia is deeply fragmented because it has lost sight of the Father’s glory through the Church.
After nearly 250 years of colonisation we still can’t work out whether to specially recognise our Indigenous people in our constitution? Into this confusion the Body of Christ should be imaging the reality that God “made from one every nation” but it is extremely rare to find a black person leading a white church (Acts 17:26). It is understandable that different ethnic groups find it hard to trust each other, but when there is actual violence between representatives of two tribal groups who attend neighbouring churches it is shockingly clear these “Christians” do not acknowledge that “there is one God and Father of us all” (Eph 4:6). A “generation gap” in an age of technology explosion is predictable; but rare is that congregation where young people put down their devices for face to face contact with wise spiritual fathers and mothers (1 Cor 4:15; 1 Tim 5:1). If the Labor party feels it needs to enact laws to promote women in politics that reasonable; but while many women feel disregarded in the Church Paul’s words ring hollow; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). When increasing numbers of Evangelicals support same sex marriage despite Jesus’ teaching that God made “male and female” I know that we have grossly departed from the Trinitarian glory of unity in diversity (Matt 19:3-6 cf. Mal 2:14-15).
The relational “glue” which once held together marriages, families and communities in former proudly “Christian” nations is becoming unstuck. This “glue” is not merely a common set of values or beliefs, but the presence of the glorious relationship shared by the Father with his Son in the power of their Holy Spirit. But what is “glory”?
The Glory of God
Outstanding insights into the nature of divine glory are found in Jesus’ prayers in John 17.
“Jesus…lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” In our world people seek glory for themselves, but the only glory Jesus seeks is the one that will be radiated back to the Father (v1). “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (v. 4). Jesus honours the Father by submitting to all that the Father asks him to do; it is his greatest joy to say “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Revealing the Father is not something Jesus simply does, it is the very meaning of his Sonship, it is his glory as Son and the means by which the Father is glorified. When he asks, ““Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (v.5) we sense Christ’s burning hungry to return to the Father in heaven not merely for his own enjoyment but so that he can make him more fully known (John 1:18; Heb 12:2). Jesus will communicate the Father across the earth by creating a new community united in the oneness of the Father-Son love. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one… that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”” (John 17:22-23). The world comes to know Jesus as its Saviour when it beholds the Church family enwrapped in the love of the Father for his Son. The glory of the Church is not its numbers, finances, prestige or power, the glory of the Church is its ability to make the eternal Father-Son love visible to perishing men and women. Glory shows its true character by moving in ever-widening circles; Father, Son, Church, world. A Church abiding in the glory between Father and Son will spontaneously be a Church which goes out from itself communicating God’s love through prayer, missionary sending, financial release and acts of charity. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 begins and ends not with his glory but with the glory of the Father (cf. John 14:6). This insight opens up for us an understanding of how humanity has lost the glory of God of the Father.
The first “son of God” who stripped himself of the glory of being fathered by God was the devil (Job 1:6; 2:1). He is the “father of lies and murderer from the beginning” who always takes more than he can ever give. (John 8:44). Satan offered Jesus a proposition in the wilderness, worship me and in exchange receive “all the kingdoms of the world….and their glory”. But there was no way a true Son would abandon the glory of his Father (Luke 4:4-7). But Adam and Eve proved not to be true children and so “fell short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The pinnacle of Eden’s splendour was not its natural beauty or even the delight of a beautiful spouse; it was concentrated in the description of Adam as “the son of God.” (3:38). To succeed in his plan to lead humanity away from God Satan had to offer them something even more “God-like” than what they already possessed; to become fully like God they needed to “know good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5). Overcome by desire to be gods in their own right the imagined properties of the forbidden fruit became more important than keeping close to the Lord, in their thinking the forbidden fruit became an idol and, as Paul puts it; “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”” (Gen 2:17; Rom 1:23).
Since nothing in creation can honour you with the immortal love of God as Father, Adam and Eve immediately felt like all forsaken children; ashamed. Naked and afraid they tried to cover up their embarrassment with the first thing they could put their hands on, fig leaves (Gen 3:7). But if shame is a sense of the loss of the glory of God then any effort to cover up shame by using a created object is simply another act of idolatry. The situation is hopeless. Men and women cover up their nakedness with money, power, sex, popularity, education, possessions, ministry and all manner of achievements for which are rewarded by others. Every time I drive past St John of God hospital in Subiaco I see these buildings with names of them. But Jesus spoke sternly about all such things us, ““No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly receive glory from each other, but you don’t care about the glory that comes from the one who alone is God.” (John 5:44 cf. Matt 6:1-4). Christians should know better than to reinforce acts of idolatry. A young man was telling me recently how his believing relatives were so positive about his purchase of a house. Then he said; “But Christians aren’t meant to think like that are they?” then we prayed together and he placed the house on the altar of sacrifice for God to do with it whatever he please. Receiving honour from men and giving honour to God are mutually exclusive.
If glory moves in ever-widening circles the shamefulness of idolatry closes us in on ourselves. This is why psychological disorders have multiplied in our consumer society; this is why every now and then a celebrity who has everything and has tried everything commits suicide; the latest being the comedian Robin Williams. Idolatry always runs dry: ““my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols…they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”” (Jer 2:11-13). Whether you treat a carved stone like your heavenly Father or Facebook as your saviour you will find yourself moving in increasingly narrowing circles of relational intimacy (Jer 2:27). Those who deny God the glory of his love as Father end up in a circle of shameful loneliness devoid of the giving and receiving and giving which is the heart of eternal life. And in our increasingly disordered society more and more people are enduring a foretaste of hell. Our situation is dire.
The more we achieve as a society the more we worship ourselves and the more we fall under the judgement of God. When it was announced this month scientists had grown the equivalent of the brain of a five week old foetus in a laboratory this was extolled as a major achievement. But who gave glory to the God who gave the scientists the brains to be able to do such things. I was listening to a TV ad for the Telstra broadband network recently with a jingle, “You’ve got the whole world in your hands”. This is of course a distortion of a Christian hymn, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.” The hands of God are nurturing, but the internet will never love you. Before God we are in a terrible state. The more we deny the Lord his glory for our creativity the more he withdraws his glorious presence from our sight and hands us over to “the god of this world” to “blind the minds of unbelievers” from seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (Isa 42:8; Rom 1:24, 26, 28; 2 Cor 4:4 cf. Eph 2:1-3; 2 Thess 2:11). Judged by God and ravaged by Satan, blighted by sickness, ageing, mental confusion, demonization and eventual death, but at the same time star-struck with its own ingenuity, fallen humanity cannot conceive as God as an unconditionally loving Father. For many in our society today God’s fatherly nature has become effectively invisible. We have become like the brilliant but idolatrous Athenian idolaters of Paul’s day, there may be an “unknown God” but beyond that who can say (Acts 17:23)? Only Jesus can give us the revelation of the Father we so desperately need.
John sums up the content of the uniquely magnificent life of Christ; “the Word became flesh and lived amongst us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14). Whilst modern man is “full of himself”, Christ puts the spotlight only on his Father; “I only do what I see the Father doing…the Father who dwells in me does his works….whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 5:19; 14:9, 10). It is vitally important that we understand that Jesus perfectly reveals the glory of the Father in his humanity (John 1:14). In coming down from heaven Jesus fully “emptied himself” of the eternal glory he shared with the Father so that he might restore to his fellow human beings the glory of God weakened by the Fall (Phil 2:6-7; Heb 2:14; 4:15). The religious world of Jesus’ day was used to brilliant teachers and magnificent miracle workers who imaged a triumphant spirituality that gave them honour and influence amongst men (Acts 8:9-11; 13:6). Religious leaders have always been idolised. For this reason Jesus needed to go into a place of such weakness that all could see all the glory belongs to his Father. This is the purpose of the cross.
Facing death Jesus enters into deep turmoil; ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”” (John 12:27-28). Jesus must conquer evil’s self-aggrandisement through a unique form of selflessness. Since the ultimate punishment for the sin of denying glory to God is the invisibility of the Father, this is what Jesus must take upon himself on the cross. The loud cry, ““My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”” marks the point when dying in our place the Son loses all consciousness of his Sonship, for the Father has completely disappeared behind our sin (Mark 15:34). With the manifest glory of God totally withdrawn from his sight Christ endures the torments of hell for us (2 Cor 5:21). But the cross is not the end of Jesus.
Paul proudly proclaims, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6:4). The Father was so pleased with the sacrifice of Jesus that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11). The time is coming when the fullness of the Father which fills the Son will fill the whole universe (1 Cor 15:28; Eph 1:22-23). This is the Trinity’s great eternal plan, “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10). This is high theology, but the presence of the glory of the Father in our perishing world depends on us following Jesus in the way of lowliness.
Capture Those Thoughts
Time without number when folk share with me their hurts and confusions I ask them; “Have you prayed about that?” “Have you placed that longing on the altar of sacrifice for God to crucify or resurrect?” “Have you put that part of your life under the Lordship of Christ?” So often, even with those considered mature Christians, the answer is in the negative. If our broken and isolated world is to see the glory of the Father we need to be much more submitted sons. (Matt 5:14-16; 1 Cor 2:16).
Few believers will be called to overseas mission, even fewer Australians will be called to die as martyrs, but there is a death to self that we are all called to undergo. The unveiling of God’s glory involves the crucifixion of our ordinary everyday thoughts. Let me use a personal example. Recently I confessed the sin of cynicism to some people; cynicism is a sin because Jesus never had one sceptical thought. Jesus never had one resentful thought or one regretful thought or one lustful thought…Ungodly preoccupation with possessions, careers, pleasures….un-Christlike attitudes to people who have hurt us, to politicians, refugees, ethnic groups, aborigines, homosexuals…The prescription is the same; we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”, our own “arguments and lofty opinions” need time and again to go be put to death for the glory of God (2 Cor 10:5). If we do this our thought life will be raised from the dead; the “honourable…true…just…pure…lovely…commendable…excellent and praiseworthy” i.e. all the things of Christ. In this simple way can we fulfil the tremendously high calling of God on our lives; “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27).
I began this sermon with a list of the problems permeating our world today. I do not need to repeat them. In our post-Christian nations we are in the day spoken of by scripture when men and women “glory in their shame” (Phil 3:19). I am not personally preoccupied with the social ills of our fractured culture, but what interests me as a teacher of the Church is that when the apostle Paul lists these many evils at the start of Romans he traces them back to one foundational act, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”” (Rom 1:23). The brokenness and fragmentation of our culture have one root, abandoning the glory of God for idols. Yet the Lord always speaks to his people first. The tide of brokenness and sin in the world cannot be healed unless the Church is cleansed of her idols. And our idols are many.
We elevate successful pastors, Christian sportspeople and businessmen. We encourage a spirit of achievement teaching “How To…”….be a leader, grow a church, release spiritual gifts, make more money, be an influencer, find the right partner and so on. Most of our strategies are merely contemporary forms of idolatry leading us away from the brokenness of the way of the cross. Only Jesus can teach you “how to” live as a son whose life-meaning is to glorify his Father. This will require a radical restructuring away from the hierarchical relationships of our churches.
Only ongoing intense spiritual intimacy can impart a mature discipling in the Trinitarian faith. Only mature spiritual fathers/mothers can image to their adopted children the glory of the relationship between Father and Son (1 Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19; Philemon 10). One of the greatest needs of our hour is for humble men and women who have been emptied of selfish personal ambitions to connect with humble disciples who are willing to learn the wisdom of the way of the cross to the glory of God the Father (John 15:5; James 3:13, 17). Until we abandon the idols in the Church we cannot be “the light of the world” and both Church and culture will go from bad to worse (1 John 5:21). Humanly speaking I can find no optimism for such a death and resurrection of Christian spirituality in our time; but I do see more and more people praying, and if by the Spirit their prayers join with this one of Paul’s, who knows what God might do; “to him (God the Father) be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…forever and ever. Amen.” (Luke 11:52; Eph 3:21; Col 2:3).