The Gospel According to John is all about God’s glory. We see it in the preamble where John writes:
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
In John 2 Jesus turns water into wine and the author writes:
This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
But the people misunderstand Jesus’ signs because the people and Jesus have different definitions of glory. In John 5 after Jesus heals a lame man on the Sabbath, the religious leaders of the day come after him for violating God’s day of rest. As the discussion unfolds it comes to a place where Jesus rejects the glory that comes from people, and instead seeks the glory that comes from God.
This human versus divine understandings of glory reappears when Jesus feeds the five thousand. The people honor him because he brings food. They want to make him a king by populist consent. But that is not Jesus’ agenda. Ultimately, not accepting Jesus on Jesus’ terms, is an act of unbelief. That is why the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” is so vital.
Do you believe in Jesus the way the crowds did, or as Jesus reveals himself? Is your Jesus the one of Western Christianity that interprets the Bible through the lens of feudal Europe, or one that flows from the world Jesus lived in? When you talk about Jesus have you co-opted him into a national icon, or are you listening to the man who stood before Pontus Pilate and said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
In so many ways, this entire conversation revolves around God’s crazy definition of glory. The crowds saw it in full bellies. Feudal culture sees it in the Lord’s honor over the masses. Jesus as a national icon finds it in our agendas so God loves the people we love and hates the people we hate. All of those are about power. They are beholden to the same definition of glory that the religious leaders used when they attacked Jesus.
So how does Jesus define glory? In John 13 at the Last Supper, after Judas leaves so he can betray him, Jesus says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him.” What time had come? The time for Jesus’ crucifixion.
For Jesus, glory is not about the primary definition of the Greek word doxa. That definition involves honor, praise, lauding, or celebrating. Instead, Jesus embraces a secondary definition, one centered on the manifestation of God’s presence. In other words, for Jesus, glory is when we see what God is like, and in the mind of Jesus, we see what God is like when we see Jesus dying on a cross.
Our definitions of glory and the pursuit of power would never take us to a cross. But that is what we risk every time we are vulnerable. The cross is possible whenever we dare to love someone right where they are, rather than waiting for them to become whom we want them to be. Crucifixion happens when we challenge what is popular, be it in the broader culture or within our community because we are more interested in what is good and true.
It is all part of embracing God’s crazy definition of glory.