Some might say that former President Trump has a large personality. I don’t think that is a disservice to him. I think he would agree. In some ways we might describe his persona as bigger-than-life, opulent, over-the-top, grand, and glorious. He seems to be quite fond of that last adjective: glorious. I’ve heard him use it more than once.
Isn’t the elevator in his Manhattan hotel gold plated? And isn’t his penthouse filled with gilded furnishings? And have you seen pictures of his current Mar-A-Lago residence? Glorious. According to a worldly definition that is. Drive through the mansions of Lake Forest or Lincoln Park. Take a vacation to Beverly Hills or Malibu, and you will see the glory of this world on full display.
And yet, “glory” in and of itself is not a bad word. It is how you define the word that determines its moral value. Self-centered glory--most people would agree, “That is not the best thing.” But what about doing something meaningful on behalf of another? What about the concepts of self-sacrifice and self-denial in order to better someone else? Would such love also be considered “glorious”?
We might first think of the word “noble”, but I want to focus on the word “glorious” today because that is what this text does. Note the common theme of glory in these verses. In verse 23 Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In verse 28 he says, “Father, glorify your name.” Then there is the voice from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” It is as loud as thunder. Some say it is the voice of an angel. And then in verses 32 and 33 all of that glory comes crashing down when Jesus references his crucifixion. How is a crucifixion glorious?
Well, remember that last week’s Gospel lesson connected Jesus’ crucifixion to the bronze snake that Moses lifted up on a pole in the wilderness. All who looked to it were healed. Therefore John 3:14, 15 says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Well, that is glorious. Indeed, saving another person is the most glorious thing one could ever do.
Now, this is what God predicted throughout the Old Testament. Solomon’s temple, for example, was glorious. Its walls and furnishings were very much according to the gold-plated Trump style. The second temple was not as glorious. In Ezra 3:12 we read, “But many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this temple…” They wept because its outer glory paled in comparison to that of Solomon’s temple.
But then the prophet Haggai prophesies, “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first…” How so? Because Jesus was there. Jesus literally walked through the second temple’s hallways and courtyards. And Jesus is God. And God is glorious.
Understanding this helps us understand the connection between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons appointed for today. New is better than old. That is the argument Jeremiah is making in chapter 31. The old covenant (the old promise) was very glorious. It happened when God gave Israel the Ten Commandments. It came with glory (smoke, fire, earthquake, trumpet blasts). But as glorious as it was, it wasn’t permanent. Hence the adjectives “new” and “old”. The new replaces the old.
So, the Bible teaches that there is a new promise that replaces the old promise. And this new promise will be permanent because unlike the old one, it actually will forgive the world its sin. Jeremiah 31:34 - “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” Loved ones, you are forgiven.
Let me explain this a little further. The old covenant was based on works. God said to Israel, “You do this, and I will do that. You obey me, and I will bless you.” In other words, God’s blessing was dependent on Israel’s obedience. Well, we know how well that turned out. It didn’t. But the problem was not with God. The reason the Old Covenant had to be replaced was because of the people. Israel was unfaithful to the Lord. They couldn’t keep their end of the agreement. Neither can we. And so, our unfaithfulness (our sin) is what voids this contractual agreement with God.
Now what do you think most businesses would do if the other party they are dealing with voids a contractual agreement? Penalize? Sue? Charge interest, or pull out of the agreement altogether? That is NOT what God did. Do you know what God did? He did the unthinkable. He tore up the old contract and made a new one. He said, “Given the fact that we’ve tried this arrangement for 1,500 year and it hasn’t worked, we are going to try something new because clearly you cannot be faithful. So, this is what I am going to do. Rather than punish you, I will forgive you. Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive [your] wickedness and remember [your] sins no more.” And although you will still be unfaithful to me under this new agreement, my promise (my new promise) is that I will nevertheless remain faithful in my promise to forgive you. And that is how I will save you.”
Fast forward to the New Testament and John chapter 12. Notice how Jesus speaks about his obedience to the Father. That is the reason Jesus came to this world. It was in obedience to his Father. And it was to fulfill the Old Covenant (the old agreement). And the greatest act of obedience that Jesus rendered to his Father was to die for you and me. Now, if you want to talk about the meaning of the word glorious, and what God’s greatest glory is, it is right here. It is Jesus dying on the cross as our Substitute. In other words, Jesus’ greatest glory--the reason all creation worships and praises him is that he gives his own life to save you and me!
There is not greater love known to mankind. No single action could one ever take that would bring so much benefit to another while receiving nothing in exchange. And I mean nothing! What did Jesus receive in exchange for saving the world? Mockery? Ridicule? Torture? Death? And that by very people he died for!
You see, this is why the Greek believers in these verses come off looking better than the Jews. The Greek believers wanted to see Jesus. “So they came to Philip … and requested of him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’” (v. 21). The Jews, on the other hand, for the most part couldn’t be bothered with him. Indeed, Jesus was such a bother to them, that they ended up killing him!
What about you? Do you want to see Jesus, or is he more of a bother in your life? Is he a bore? Is the gold and greatness of this world more glorious to you than Jesus?
Well then I invite you to consider that glory that will one day be yours in heaven because of Jesus! You see, nothing makes sense in the Bible until we understand that the glory that God talks about is a glory that is not seen right now. It comes later! In the same way that Jesus’ glory on earth wasn’t seen in building a physical kingdom, but rather in defeating sin, death, and the devil, and thereby establishing a heavenly kingdom.
It is like a flower. Flowers are beautiful. Flowers have an innate glory to them. But seeds aren’t beautiful. There is no glory apparent in a seed. What has to happen for the seed to become glorious? It has to die. That is a fixed principle of life. The seed has to die in order for the fruit of the flower to burst forth. Jesus is saying that this same principle is at work in the arena of spiritual life. The outward glory becomes apparent only later.
Now, Jesus is first of all speaking of himself. “Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” The only way for God to reap a harvest of souls is for Jesus to first die for their sins. Well, dying isn’t glorious. But a resurrection is. And because of the resurrection that always follows the death of a believer, this is where the hidden glory of the crucifixion really lies. This is what makes Jesus so glorious even in his death: he does it all for us!
Can you say that to yourself? He died for me? All that he is and all that he does, all that he suffers and all that he endures, he does for one and one reason alone: because he loves you. It is hard to believe, isn’t it? And yet, nothing could ever be more true. What a glorious Savior we have in Jesus! Amen.