Bobby was exactly my age—only 28. The cause of death was a horrific car crash. His extended family was unchurched,
and I was asked to pray with them and later conduct the funeral. As a young pastor back then, I was jolted by the difficulty of comforting people who did not know God.
Everyone was in deep shock. I longed for Bobby’s relatives to know our all-wise, sovereign, and loving Savior. “At times like these,” I acknowledged, as I began the funeral message, “you can be tempted to doubt the love of God when actually, an assurance of how much God does love you is what you need to carry you through this time.”
I then preached on why a loving God would become a Man—a sermon suited for Christmas but delivered to grieving people in hopes of teaching them about a God they did not know.
Christmas wonderfully displays God’s character and plan. In the incarnation of Jesus, God became Man. If we could truly understand that magnificent feat, we could understand God.
John 17 displays that story of glory. To thoughtfully read this longest recorded prayer of Jesus is to enter the Holy of Holies and hear God talking to God—Son to Father. We stand in awe and see the reasons He so deserves our praise and obedience because of who He is.
HIS GLORY AS FATHER
The night before He went to the cross for us, Jesus prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (Jn. 17:5). Homesick for His Father’s presence, the Son remembered the glory He had shared with the rest of the Godhead before creation.
WHAT WAS GOD DOING BEFORE HE CREATED THE WORLD? FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT WERE ENJOYING A LOVING RELATIONSHIP.The term glory means “weight, significance, or excellence.” The glory of God is the display of His excellence. What was God doing before He created the world? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were enjoying a loving relationship. They shared their perfect glory with one another in unimaginable joy. That eternal relationship, especially of the Father and Son, displays God’s character. Wrote theologian Michael Reeves,
The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father. . . . Since God is, before all things a Father, . . . all his ways are beautifully fatherly. It is not that this God “does” being Father as a day job, only to kick back in the evenings as plain old “God.” It is not that he has a nice blob of fatherly icing on top. He is Father, all the way down. . . . He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father.1
This view is far different from that of other religions, like Islam, that deny the Trinity. Such a solitary God could not be eternally loving, for there was no one to love. “Everything changes when it comes to Father, Son, and Spirit. Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is.”2
I love being a dad, though I am flawed, like every human father. When my two children were little and afraid, I enjoyed taking them in my arms and comforting them. It is a glorious thing to know that the eternal God in His essence is Father. And this lovingly triune God decided to create mankind in order to share that love.
HIS GLORY AS SON
Jesus said, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4).
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God visibly displayed the excellence of His glory at times—in a burning bush, in thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, in a pillar of fire or cloud, and when His glory entered the Tabernacle and later the Temple. His glory also departed from the Temple due to the Israelites’ disobedience (Ezek. 10:18–19; 11:22–23).
In the New Testament, God declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1, 14). Within Jesus Christ, who is the living Word, the glory of God dwelt, or tabernacled, among us.
When the angels announced His birth to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk. 2:9). When Jesus performed miracles, He “manifested His glory” (Jn. 2:11). On the Mount of Transfiguration, “His face shone like the sun” as His inner deity glowed through the veil of His human flesh (Mt. 17:2). Consequently, Christ told His followers, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
THE GLORY OF GOD IS THE DISPLAY OF HIS EXCELLENCE.The greatest display of the Son’s love was when He “finished the work” His Father gave Him (17:4). This statement anticipated the next day on the cross, when He cried, “It is finished,” signaling that our sins were paid in full (19:30). Forevermore, we can look at the cross and be amazed at His love.
HIS GLORY THROUGH US
Jesus not only prayed for Himself, but also for His apostles and then for those of us who would believe in Him because of their message (17:20). What He told His Father is almost inconceivable: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them” (v. 22).
God’s display of glory through Christ’s followers would result in their unity and witness—“that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (v. 23). The God who lived eternally in triune community comes to indwell believers and use them to display the glory of His love to others.
When God’s love shines through obedient Christian relationships—a Christian marriage, a loving church family, sacrificial acts of service for others—a watching world can see the glory of our God and be drawn to hear more about Him.
The story of glory will go on forever. Jesus expressed this longing: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). Share this Post
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What we have to offer grieving people like Bobby’s family and everyone else, for that matter, is God Himself. The reality of God in the flesh that we celebrate at Christmas calls us to total commitment in obedience and praise (Rom. 12:1).
Whenever you are tempted to doubt God’s love, read John 17 slowly, listen to God talking to God, and thank Him for including you in the story of glory.
1 Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 23.
2 Ibid., 41.
Mark Johnson is the pastor of Independent Bible Church of Martinsburg, West Virginia.