Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Price Glory?

Texts: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; Luke 9:28-36

WHEN I WAS HERE LAST, I mentioned I was involved with the design of the Welsh Nationality Room to be built over at the University of Pittsburgh.

Before I moved to this area, I’d never heard of Pitt’s Nationality Room program. But now I know what a big deal that is and what an honor it is to be able to help design one. When it’s done, it’ll be a glorious thing to be able to say, "Yes, I designed that."

But this glory comes at a price. The sponsoring organization, the St. David’s Society, is a non-profit group. So there’s very little money in the budget for architects’ and engineers’ fees. But there’s lots of architectural and engineering work to be done. I mean, if you want the finished project to look like an 18th century barn-chapel, you can’t just put a couple lines on the paper and tell 21st century Joe Contractor to have at it.

So we did what had to be done. But as my boss put it, if this one little project hadn’t required so much unreimbursed work, everyone in the office-- we’re talking forty people-- could have received $3,000 a year raise in pay.

You don’t take on jobs like the Welsh Nationality Room because you think you’re going to make a profit. You take them on because it’s an honor. Because it’ll bring your firm glory. But oh, does that glory ever come at a price!

That’s the way it is. You have to put out and pay up to receive your glory. The athlete or the musician has to practice long and hard. The soldier in the war zone has to be ready to give his life. Even celebrities like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, who seem to be famous for being famous-- they pay for their glory by giving up their privacy and doing the latest shocking and outrageous thing to keep them in the camera’s eye.

But that's the way it is in this world--you pay the price and you get the glory. You’d take the glory without paying the price, if you could, and for some lucky and talented people, it seems that’s the way it works.

But what would you say if someone told you that paying the price was the glorious thing? That there would be glory in it even if most people neither knew nor cared what we’d done, even if people criticized and berated us and covered us with shame because of it? What if the cost of glory isn’t just money or hard work, but submission and humility?

That sounds really strange, doesn’t it? What do humility and glory have to do with one another?

In this world, usually, not a lot. But in the kingdom of God, there is no glory without humility. In fact, in the kingdom of God, the humility is the glorious act itself.

In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul is talking about the ministry he and his companions have, of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you read back into Chapter 3, you’ll see that this is a glorious ministry. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit of Almighty God, that makes evil men righteous and makes dead men live! It is the good news of freedom, of unity with the Lord, high and exalted! The ministry of the gospel of Christ causes believers to reflect the glory of the Lord Himself! It transforms them into His likeness, from glory into glory!

This would be something to boast about, to glory in! It’s so wonderful, everybody should accept this gospel the minute they’re told it, right? And if you or I or any Christian tells someone about Jesus Christ, that person should think we’re pretty glorious, too, correct?

But Paul says that’s not how it works. He says, "Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." Lose heart, Paul? Why talk about losing heart? We thought you were talking about glory!

He was. But he was talking about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, which we servants of His always have to offer to the world in forthrightness, lowliness, and humility.

Paul says, "we do not use deception [when we preach Christ], nor do we distort the word of God." That is, we do not pretend that the gospel is something it is not. We do not pretend that believing in Jesus is going to solve all your earthly problems. We do not claim that becoming a Christian will give you perfect children or make you rich.

"On the contrary," Paul says, "by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God." He knew what it was like to have unbelievers tell him they didn’t need Christ because they did good works in the name of their own gods. But his duty as Christ’s minister was to show people their sin in the sight of the only God of the universe. He had to show them their need for God, not to improve their lives, but in order to save them.

But that isn’t good news to a lot of people. It isn’t good news to most people. People don’t like hearing that they fall short of the glory of God, and nothing they can do will make them pleasing to Him. And it’s the Devil’s business-- the business of the god of this age-- to blind unbelievers into thinking they’re good enough as they are. He wants them to think they can climb up to glory by themselves. He wants them to reject and disdain the crucified Son of Man and worship some made-up version of Jesus instead.

The gospel of Christ crucified for our sins and risen for our life is glorious, more glorious than anything we can imagine. But ministering this gospel to the world takes a lot of humility. It tells us to keep up our courage even in the face of opposition. It forces us to keep the focus off ourselves and on God. It makes us admit our weakness and frailty. It requires us to pay the price.

Why is that? Because Jesus paid the price for glory before us, and His glory was in the price He paid and the shame He bore. The cross wasn’t just something for Jesus to get through in order to get the prize. Rather, the prize-- for Jesus and for us-- lay in the cross itself.

Our gospel reading tells of a time when Jesus’ glory was open and apparent. But what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration didn’t happen for its own sake. It happened because of the greater glory He would achieve on the Mount of Calvary.

We have to see this in context. Eight days before this, Jesus had asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

Was He just a great Teacher or moral leader? Was He one of the prophets come back to life? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter declared, "You are the Christ of God!"

Peter was giving Jesus the title of ultimate glory. We take the word "Christ" for granted, almost as if it were Jesus’ last name. But "Christ" or "Messiah" means "the Anointed One," and to say that Jesus is the Anointed One of God was to say that He is the Ultimate Prophet, anointed to speak for God. He is the Ultimate Priest, anointed to offer up perfect sacrifices for our sin to God. And He is the Ultimate King, anointed to exercise authority in the full power of God. Talk about a revelation of glory! This Jesus was not merely a good man or a great man, He was and is the Son of God, some to earth in human flesh!

But you know what it’s like when a bolt of lightning lights up the landscape, and then it’s gone and everything’s in darkness again? It seemed that just as soon as Jesus had revealed His glory to His disciples like this, He hid it again. He ordered them not to tell anyone who He was.
Not only that, He told them that He would have to be rejected and crucified, and then be raised to life. And if anyone wanted to be His follower and share His glory, that person would have to be willing to be crucified, too.

Could any glory, even divine glory, be worth the price of the cross? How would anyone ever believe Jesus was the Christ if He went to the cross? How could He expect anyone to follow Him if they had to bear the cross, too? This was too shameful for any reasonable person to accept. It was too high a price for any human being to be willing to pay. But Jesus tells his disciples, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory." The high price of the Cross would open the way for glory! The suffering of the Cross was the key to the Kingdom of God!

Eight days later, Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up onto a mountain in that region to pray. And while He was there, He was transfigured before them. His face and clothing became incandescent. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. I used to think that the Transfiguration was kind of a special treat for Jesus and the three disciples. You know, an encouraging interlude before Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem and the Cross. But it wasn’t that at all. Moses speaks for the Law, Elijah stands for the Prophets. Both are ambassadors of the written Word of God.

And what do they speak with Jesus about? About His departure, or as the Greek puts it, His exodus that He was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem. Jesus’ glory was revealed as never before as He is speaking about the Cross.

Was the Cross an unfortunate accident? Was it an unpleasant episode to be gotten over? No, the whole testimony of Scripture was that "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Moses and Elijah were there to demonstrate that this was so. Against all human reasoning, God predestined the Cross to be the means by which His Son’s glory would ultimately be revealed. It was the price of glory and the very means by which Christ’s glory would be achieved. And in case the three disciples didn’t believe Moses and Elijah, a cloud enveloped them and a Voice from it said, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him!"

Listen to Him, as He tells you and the whole world that you can be reconciled to God only at the cost of His blood. Listen to Him, as He tells you that your sins are so great, it took the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God to pay what you owed God for them. Listen to Him, as Jesus declares that only by faith in Him can you be saved.

This is a glorious ministry, but as Paul says, we pay the price for being its ministers. In troubles, in opposition, in ridicule, in inconvenience, in so many ways we carry around in our bodies and souls the death of Jesus. We are indeed like clay pots holding precious ointment. We are like plastic store bags holding precious gold and jewels. We go through hell to proclaim the mysteries of heaven, and we preach a crucified Savior to give to others the glory of eternal life. We do not lose heart, because the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us. The God who revealed Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration will someday reveal His glory in us. And it will be worth the price.

You may say, "I can’t pay that price. I’m not merely a clay jar, I’m a cracked pot!" But the witness of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians, the witness of the Transfiguration is that we can pay the price for divine glory. We can take up our crosses and follow Him! We can be the clay jars that pour out the glorious treasure of the saving death of Jesus Christ!

And how? Because Christ the Son of God Himself has paid the price of glory. He laid aside His equality with the Father and became a clay jar human being like us and walked among us. Jesus our Lord paid the price of being broken on the Cross, hanging in shame before the world, to bring many brothers and sisters to glory in Him.

Our Redeemer now entrusts this ministry to us, the Church, as frail as we are. By the ministry of the Holy Spirit the light of Christ shines in our hearts as He works in us and through us what we could never do of ourselves.

What price glory? The greatest price of all, the life of the Son of God.

Someday pain and suffering will be no more. Someday all mankind will see and acknowledge the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Someday we will lay our crosses down and know the joy of Christ’s glorious resurrection; we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Until that day, hope in His promise, trust in what He has done, and rest in His love. And never, ever lose heart.

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