Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What the Lord of the Universe is Comforted By

In my devotional time this semester I've been in the Gospel of John. Now I'm in chapter 17, which is just a wonderful section of Scripture that I intend to go through a bit more slowly. When I read through John 17:1-5 it struck me that there was a similar section earlier in the Gospel. It was in the middle of chapter 12. As I read John 12:23-28 again I was also reminded of a conversation I had with a good friend a while back about that passage. I thought it'd be for our benefit to share those thoughts.

And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

So Jesus is acknowledging that the time for His crucifixion is near. We learn from the next verse (which we'll look at in a minute) that He was troubled. And that's not terribly surprising. It's not that He's just going to die an agonizing and ignominious death at the hands of those who have perverted His Father's holy Law, and have subjugated His people under a yoke of slavery that no one in history has been able to bear (Ac 15:10). That would be enough to trouble any of us, certainly.

But Jesus' trouble went deeper than that. He was troubled at the fact that soon He would lose the delightful and exuberant fellowship that He had always enjoyed with the Father. There would, for the first time in eternity, be a horrible change in their relationship; it would go from one of perfect communion, love, blessing, joy, and delight in each other, to abandonment, hatred, cursing, wrath, and shame. On the cross, Jesus would experience the full exercise of the righteous wrath of His Father -- wrath He had known objectively but never experientially. The bitter cup that He never deserved to drink would soon be pressed to His lips, and the delightful, well-pleased smile of His Father -- the apple of His eye from all eternity -- would be hidden from Him.

Very literally, Jesus is about to go through hell.

And so He's troubled. But even at that point (in verses 23-26), He is comforting Himself with the promises of His Father. He speaks of His impending death -- both physical and spiritual -- as being "glorified." Rather than focus on the condemnation He will suffer for His people, He remembers that His Father will not let His Holy One undergo decay (Ps 16:10), and that as a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied (Is 53:11), He will be allotted a portion with the great (Is 53:12). And so He reminds Himself that His death will eventually mean His glorification. He reminds Himself and His disciples that it is through this kind of self-sacrifice that one doesn't waste his life, but bears much fruit... that eternal life knowing the Father and knowing Christ (Jn 17:3) is better than a comfortable life on earth for 80 years.

And yet in the moment, He still says, "Now My soul has become troubled."

And then he asks, "...and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour."

That's so beautiful. "Father, I am troubled. My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death (Mt 26:38). I don't want to leave You. I don't want to be abandoned by You. I don't want to lay down the privilege of the consummate joy and love and delight that We've had for all eternity. I want to continue to know Your blessing and Your smile. I want to continue to be well-pleasing to You. Father, I am troubled.

"But Father I trust You. I entrust Myself wholly to You (1Pet 2:23). For I know You are in control of all things. And I know that You are most wise. And I know that at the heart of Your very Being that You are good, for I have witnessed firsthand the overflow of Your beneficence in all creation and providence. So I will not ask that you deliver me out of this trial. No, this is precisely why I have come."

And so He doesn't ask that His suffering be removed. But what is amazing, what is staggering, what is so refreshing, is what He does ask for.

"Father, glorify Your name."

That's what He wants! That's what comforts the Savior's soul! He wants to see His Father's name be magnified and honored and made to look as big and as sweet and as desirable as it actually is! He wants to see His Father's glory! The glory of the Father is so pleasing, so delightful, so enjoyable to the Son that it is what He asks for to comfort Him before the greatest trial, the greatest suffering, that anyone has endured in history.

Oh, we've got to see this! This is not just amazing self-sacrifice on Jesus' part. Jesus is not merely saying, "I'll give it all up as long as God is glorified." He's saying that, but that's not nearly the whole story! He's actually saying that what He wants to calm His troubled, deeply grieved soul is the sight of His Father's glory! This is what reassures Him of His Father's sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. It is knowing that He Himself will be glorified with this glory that He so enjoys, as He enjoyed before the world was (Jn 17:5), that comforts Him and gives Him strength to do this terrible, awesome work. The Father's glory is the joy that was set before Him for which He endured that shameful cross (Heb 12:2)!

And the Father grants His Son's request: "Then a voice came out of heaven: 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.'"

Oh I pray that you feel the weight of that, Christian! I pray that this awesome interaction between Father and Son lands on you!

And how instructive it is for us in our Christian life, especially through the trials and sufferings that God has granted to us (Phil 1:29). In every aspect of our lives, what should be our comfort? What should be our request to God for strength to do the work He's given us? Our request should be, "Father, glorify Your name." Our comfort should be the seeing and savoring of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:6; 2Cor 3:18; Ex 33:18).

I can bear the scoffing and mocking of an unbelieving generation. I can gladly sacrifice popularity among my friends. I can endure the disowning and snubbing of my own family. I can face cancer, disease, and arduous medical procedures with joy. I can live my life with next to no money and worldly comforts for these 80 short years. I can lay down my life... if... if my Father will glorify His name! If the name of my God would be lifted up and exalted and magnified, if I can see Him and enjoy Him in all His majesty, well then for me to live is Christ! And to die is gain!

Be instructed, dear friends, and be comforted by what the Lord of the universe is comforted by.

...for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance
through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
according to my earnest expectation and hope,
that I will not be put to shame in anything,
but that with all boldness, Christ will even now,
as always, be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me,
to live is Christ
and to die is gain.

- Philippians 1:19-21 -

2 comments:

Daryl said...

Mike,

This is at once convicting and encouraging.

Convicting primarily because I just don't have the glory of the Father as my chief concern.

Encouraging because we see Jesus looking not past, but straight through the pain that He will not avoid straight to the glory. He looked through it, even as we need to looked through ours.
It seems to me that it's when we try and look past or around the pain that we can get tripped up and begin to look for our own glory and our deliverance from the very thing the God has decided He will deliver us through and not from.

I hope that makes sense.

I think the safest and surest way to remain faithful is to expect and embrace and look through the pain. And not try to use God as a means of avoiding it.

Y'know?

Mike Riccardi said...

I do know. ;o)

It does make sense, and I think you're on the money.

Trying to see past our suffering and pain isn't rejoicing in our sufferings; it's rejoicing after our suffering, or rejoicing at the prospect of our suffering being over. That's not what Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul all command us to do.

Amen. Let us not aim to look past our sufferings, but straight through them to the glory of Christ, who is our life.

Thanks for stopping by. It's nice to see your name and picture over here!