READ : John 17:4
I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do.
John 17:4 rsv
Early in my life, I was struck by the first question and answer of an ancient catechism. The question: “What is man’s chief end?” In other words, what is the great purpose for which human beings live? What are we here for? Here’s the answer. It must have come back to my mind hundreds of times in the years since I first read it: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
What was arresting to me about this was its focus on our relationship to God. According to this view, the purpose of life is not to be sought in self-fulfillment or in the advancement of a group or cause. I learned that we were made for God, to glorify Him and enjoy Him always. I didn’t always grasp what that meant and surely didn’t always live in the light of it, but it gave a new vision and direction to my life.
I want to think with you today about what it means to “glorify God,” since that’s the part that isn’t always clear to us. How do we fulfill this high destiny? How do you and I go about glorifying God?
The word glory has a fuzzy, indistinct meaning for most people. We often think of it as credit or recognition for something we’ve done, the praises of the crowd for an outstanding success. For a person to “cover himself with glory” is for him to do something heroic or masterful.
In the language of the Old Testament, God’s glory had two meanings: one was the idea of heaviness. We sometimes speak of “a man of substance” whose opinions have “weight.” We describe those who exercise power and influence as “heavies.” There’s something of that in the biblical sense of glory: God’s weight, His majesty, His impressiveness, the overwhelming effect that He has on people.
Glory also came to mean brightness. We use that image too, don’t we? We call our outstanding athletes or entertainers “stars.” They “shine” with special radiance. The peerless student is said to be the “brightest” in her class. God is the one, the Bible teaches, who dwells in “light unapproachable.” His glory is His unimaginable, blazing splendor, too wonderful for human eyes to behold.
Well, if that’s what God’s glory means, His weight and significance, His outshining brightness, how could human beings ever be said to “glorify Him”? Could we possibly make Him any more weighty or wonderful than He is? Can we increase His influence or add to His luster? Obviously not.
Rather, we begin to glorify God when we recognize who He is and what He is like, when we begin to feel His weightiness and behold the beams of His glory, when we respond to these in worship, praising God, celebrating who He is, thinking magnificently of Him.
When people come to this reverent awareness of God, they always want to pass it on. You know how it is when you glimpse a gorgeous sunset on the western horizon or see a fresh vista of leaves turning crimson orange and gold in the autumn. There’s a breathtaking thrill of pleasure, followed by an almost instinctive cry. “Look! Look!” you say to everyone around you. You want them to see what you’ve seen, enjoy what you’ve enjoyed, marvel with you at this startling loveliness.
Glorifying God is something like that. We behold Him in the mystery of His creation, in the riches of His Word, in the face of His Son. Then we wonder and adore. We give praise and thanks. And as we do, our instinct is always to say, “Look!” – to invite others around us to share the vision. We glorify God when we call the attention of others to who He is and what He is like. We glorify God when, in our words and lives, something of His majesty and mercy, His marvelous goodness, become evident to people. The more we know and worship Him ourselves, the more we lead others to meet and praise Him, the more God is glorified in us.
With those thoughts as a background, let’s listen to these words Jesus spoke at the end of His life, in a prayer to His Father in heaven. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 17, verse 4: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do.” This was Jesus’ confession as He looked back over the course of His life and ministry. He had glorified God. It had always been His prayer that He should do so. Jesus saw that as “man’s chief end.”
How did He do it? He prayed to His Father in heaven, praised, gave thanks. The prayer, “Father, glorify thy name,” was often on His lips. He called others to praise God too, teaching His disciples to pray as the first petition of their hearts, “Father, let Your name be hallowed.”
But in a special sense, Jesus glorified God His Father by revealing Him to others. That began to happen on that first Christmas. The angels announcing His birth sang of “glory to God in the highest.” The “glory of the Lord” shone around the wondering shepherds. Jesus was to be, according to Simeon’s prophecy, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and “glory” to God’s people Israel. John writes about Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). Paul marvels at what he calls “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus glorified God as His great revealer.
And He did that not only by His teachings but by His life, not only by word but most of all by work. That’s what He says here in His prayer, “I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” Somehow, the things Jesus did and the way He did them expressed worship to God and revealed His glory to others. Jesus labored first as a carpenter, pursuing a craft in woodworking. He later went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed by the devil. When Jesus reached out to touch a leper and make his skin fresh and whole again, when He stooped to forgive and restore some moral outcast, when He unstopped deaf ears, opened blind eyes, and comforted the grieving by restoring their dead to life again, He was glorifying God. He was revealing to the world through His ministry, God’s mercy and might, His loving purpose to save, heal and restore.
When Jesus thundered woes against hypocrites, when He overturned the tables of moneychangers in the temple, when He told the vengeful ones that the man without sin should throw the first stone, He was revealing God’s fury against oppressors and His heart for the down-trodden.
Remember when Jesus at the close of His sufferings on the cross cried out, “It is accomplished”? “It is finished”? That was the same word He used in this prayer. As He suffered without threats and bitterness, as He prayed for His tormentors, as He gave hope to a dying thief, as He bore in love both the hatred of mankind and the wrath of God against our sin, Jesus was, in it all, revealing and glorifying God.
He saw all of this not as a personal achievement on His part but as an act of obedience to His Father. All that He did came not by His own initiative. He was responding to the Father’s call. He was doing the works God had given Him to do. That was His “meat.” That was His passion: to fulfill His ministry, accomplish His mission. And precisely in doing that, He glorified God.
And that, most profoundly, is how His followers do it too. We glorify God in our prayers and praises. We invite others by witness and invitation to do the same. We pray for His glory to be revealed. We proclaim His glory to all the earth. But all of that has reality and power only as we do it in our lives, in our works. Jesus reminded His followers of that when He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). I hope you see it that way. We glorify God in everyday common things, in the offering to Him of our whole lives.
“But wait a minute,” someone objects, “is it realistic for us to think in that way?” It’s one thing for Jesus to say He has glorified the Father on the earth, one thing for Him to claim that He has accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do, but He was the Son of God. He lived a life without sin. He could glorify God in all of life, but how is that possible for you and me?
I have often felt keenly and personally the force of that objection. When I look back over my life and I think of all the good things I might have done but didn’t do, all the ministries I haven’t done well or haven’t given myself fully to do, all my wanderings from God’s path and slowness to respond to His call, the thought that I could have done everything He called me to do seems incredible, impossible.
And yet we have God’s promise that His servants will be able to fulfill their ministry, to realize their destiny. God says to Jacob, for example (hardly a promising disciple at the time), “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you” (Gen. 28:15). He says to Jeremiah, “Do not say, `I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7). So David can say to Solomon, “Be strong and of good courage and do it. Fear not, be not dismayed for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (see 1 Chron. 22:13-16). David is saying, in effect, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be able to do it.”
The psalmist rejoices in that same confidence. He sings, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” He knows his weakness. He knows his failure. He knows his vulnerability. But still he says, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” And that’s the confidence we can have, friends, in Jesus Christ. Through Christ and His Cross, His reconciling work, we not only have our sins forgiven. Our works are accepted. All the imperfections of our life and service are somehow blotted out.
It’s only the wisdom of a sovereign God that can make that possible. He can overrule our failures for good. He can bring us, even by the most wandering of paths, home at last. He can enable us to be and to do what in ourselves would never have been possible. That’s why the apostle Paul can say, at the end of His life, this man who was the chief of sinners, the man not worthy to be called an apostle, the man who persecuted the church of God, who was less than the least of all saints, “I have finished my course” (2 Tim. 4:7).
Through all eternity, the apostle will praise the Lord for this. He doesn’t dream that it happened because of his own virtue or strength. He glories only in the cross of Jesus Christ. But he knows that by God’s marvelous grace at work in his life, by the power of the risen Jesus, through the working of the Holy Spirit, he has been able to accomplish the work he was given to do. He has fulfilled his destiny. He has glorified God.
Oh, may that be true for you and for me as we place all our trust in Jesus Christ and so abandon our lives to His purpose that the One we serve can be magnified, glorified in our bodies! So shall we fulfill the purpose for which we were made. We’ll glorify God and begin that enjoying of Him that will go on forever.
Prayer: O God, open our eyes, we pray, to the real meaning of our lives, that we are made for You, to know You, to worship You, to reveal Your glory in this world, and to accomplish the purpose that You have for our lives. We commit ourselves to You, Lord, trusting in Your Son, and believing that through Him we can fulfill our destiny. Strengthen us all to accomplish the work You give us to do. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.