What is God’s glory? “Glory” is one of those words that we instinctively understand although it is difficult to define. We can talk about glory in general as fame or greatness. But when it comes to God, His glory is in a class by itself, because He is in a class by Himself.
It is said that God’s glory is His holiness revealed. His holiness would then be the quality of Him being God with all that goes with it. He is majestic and perfect and powerful and so forth. But this is probably more confusing than helpful for understanding what glory is.
How does Scripture describe His glory? God’s glory fills the whole earth, Isaiah six. Yet it is also something that can suddenly appear, as in Exodus sixteen, when the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud. We imagine this means that the cloud was shining with light, but surely that is not the extent of what glory is.
God can either reveal or conceal His glory. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ revealed His glory as the Son of God. Yet He had been the glorious Son of God long before that moment, which means that He had been concealing His glory from the moment He became Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In Exodus 33, the Lord revealed to Moses some of His glory, His “back” as He described it, yet not His full glory, His “face”, lest Moses see His face and die. Although God, as a spirit, has no physical back or face, what He described was His full glory as opposed to only part of it. But again, this does not really help us define glory.
Scripture describes God as being clothed in glory, Psalm 93:1. He also revealed His glory in events like the plagues and other miracles, in His presence on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in the ark of the covenant. In these things we can see God’s power and majesty revealed, so it makes sense that they show His glory.
But then we get to the birth of Christ, and we hear the words of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men.” The birth of Christ points to God’s glory, or reveals it, or calls for it. Yet the birth of Christ does not seem glorious. He did not come bursting into our world, shining with brilliant light, so that everyone said, “Now there is the Son of God.” He was not even laid in a proper crib, but a manger. Yet this occasion brings glory to God in the highest.
Again, at the Triumphal Entry, the crowd said, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Christ coming to Jerusalem was an occasion for God’s glory, even though Christ did not look like much: a dusty traveler riding on a lowly donkey. This was not a Transfiguration moment. Christ did not let His face and clothing shine with light like the sun. Instead, an ordinary-looking Man was God’s glory.
Then we come to today’s holy Gospel. Christ said, “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.”
When Christ was a few days away from His suffering, He was shaken. He knew how horrifically bad it would be. But He would not back down because of His infinite love for us. So He prayed for His Father to glorify His name.
Now, God’s name is always glorious. Glory is a part of His being, as Scripture says. Yet Christ was asking God to manifest or reveal His glory. In what? Well, the only event He had mentioned so far is His approaching hour that troubles Him, that is, His suffering.
His suffering is the glory.
If this is not perfectly clear, after His Father spoke from heaven that He would glorify His name, Christ said to the people, “This voice has come for your sake, not Mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.
So Christ, in explaining the meaning of the Father’s words, “I will glorify it,” describes His death. The death of Christ is the glory of the Father.
That sounds even stranger than saying that the birth of Christ and His Triumphal entry are God’s glory. At Christ’s Passion, the innocent and holy Son of God was tortured and killed by sinful men. He suffered crushing, unequaled agony, even though He should never have felt the tiniest pain. The glorious Son of Man was treated most shamefully. How could this be the glory of God?
The question is, what does God consider glorious? He does not take pleasure in destroying men. He does not delight in punishing people. He does not prefer the death of sinners, but that they turn from their sinful ways and live. He does not enjoy showing how awesome He is for His own sake, because God does not need our worship. He does not need for us to glorify His name (although it is right for us to do so).
What God desires most of all is that He show mercy and grace to men. What He wants is to give us His gifts of love. He wants to save us from the ruler of this world, who is satan. We were bound to the kingdom of darkness by our own fault because of our many sins. But God wanted, more than anything else, to set us free.
So when Christ suffered, He was doing the work that shows what is in the heart of God, namely, compassion for sinful men. When Christ was lifted up on the Cross, He was revealing the glorious grace of the Father (and therefore also the glorious grace of the Son and the Holy Spirit). The Cross shows this most clearly. The Cross puts the glory of God’s loving heart before our eyes. There we see what God is like more than anywhere else in history.
Paying the price for all men’s sins is the glory of God. Therefore we also glorify God best when we speak and sing words about His mercy that He put on display on Calvary. To praise Him best, we confess His chief and best work, when He was lifted up from the earth.
As humans, we usually enjoy most when we celebrate the things that seem most glorious to us: Christmas and Easter. We think the birth and resurrection are glorious, and they are. But we should train ourselves to think as God thinks: The most glorious thing of all is the Cross.
In His Name alone to whom belongs all the glory, who sent His Son to suffer for us. Amen.
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