The Glory of Jesus
by Jack Wald | December 13th, 2015

John 1:14-18

In every culture of the world there are mythological characters that are used to explain history, nature and cultural customs.

Anansi is an African folktale character that originated from the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana and is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore. He is also known as Ananse, Kwaku Ananse, and Anancy; and in the southern United States he has evolved into Aunt Nancy. The word Ananse is Akan and means “spider”. Anansi is depicted in many different ways. Sometimes he looks like an ordinary spider, sometimes he is a spider wearing clothes or with a human face and sometimes he looks much more like a human with spider elements, such as eight legs. He is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. Elliot told me that children gather around the fire on Saturdays and tell Anansi stories.

In Asian mythology there is a character named kumiho that appears in the oral tales and legends of Korea. (There are also Japanese and Chinese variations of kumiho.) This name means “nine tailed fox”. A kumiho is a fox that lives a thousand years and then is transformed into a kumiho. A kumiho can freely transform, among other things, into a beautiful woman who often sets out to seduce boys and eat their liver or heart.

The mythology of the US has not had as much time to develop and reflects the challenge of conquering the west. Paul Bunyan was a lumberjack who set out with Babe the Blue Ox to tame the western US. Everything was done in large scale and in one of the earliest accounts, the cook house where he and the other lumberjacks ate had an army of cooks who prepared the food. The skillet on which they cooked was so large that the cook strapped two hams to his feet and skated up and down a kilometer of stove top in order to grease the skillet for the pancakes they made.

Pecos Bill is another character in US mythology. He was a cowboy who used a rattlesnake named Shake as a lasso and another snake as a little whip. His horse, Widow-Maker (also called Lightning), was so named because no other man could ride him and live. Dynamite was said to be his favorite food. It is also said Pecos Bill sometimes rode a mountain lion instead of a horse. On one of his adventures, Pecos Bill managed to lasso a tornado.

It is important for followers of Jesus to know that Jesus is a historical figure, not mythological. Hinduism has mythological gods, much like the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Scandinavians. It is not clear that the Buddah was a historical person. Modern scholars have attacked Christian faith by saying that Jesus was also not a historical figure. Is the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem true? Did Jesus live, die, and resurrect in Palestine two thousand years ago?

This morning we continue with the opening chapter of John’s gospel and come to John’s testimony that Jesus was a historical person.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In the first of John’s letters in the Bible he writes: (1 John 1:1–3)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

John tells us that what he writes is true because he was an eyewitness.

The historical evidence that Jesus was a man is very strong. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote about Jesus. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Jesus. The first of the New Testament books was written just a decade or two after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The last of the New Testament books was written less than seventy years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are thousands and thousands of copies of these books giving scholars the ability to work back through the copies that were made and verify the accuracy of what we have in our Bibles today.

As we read our Bible, it was clear to the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus that he claimed to be divine. People thought he was a prophet, but there was no offense in being a prophet. Is is when Jesus made claims to be God that the Jewish leaders were infuriated. This is the reason they tried to stone him and kill him. His miracles were attested to by those who were healed and delivered from demons by Jesus. Many of these people were part of the early church, telling their story over and over again.

Those who were interested in proving that Jesus did not rise from the dead, the Romans and Jewish leaders, were unable to dispute the stories of his resurrection because they could not produce the body of Jesus, even though soldiers had been guarding his tomb.

The transformation of the disciples from fearful bumblers who ran from Jesus when he was arrested into powerfully articulate preachers of the truth of the gospel was amazing. The Jewish leaders were certain they had dealt with Jesus and now his disciples were preaching boldly in the Temple courts, standing up to the warnings and punishment of the Sanhedrian, the ruling Jewish body, and doing the very miracles that had attracted so many people to Jesus.

The growth of the church was rapid. Within two hundred fifty years, the church was established all around the Mediterranean Sea, extending in North Africa all the way to Tunisia and Algeria, and perhaps Morocco. Some of the best thinkers and leaders of the early church were Berbers from North Africa: Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, and many others.

In the past couple hundred years some scholars challenged the historicity of Jesus and the Bible but archeological discoveries continue to confirm that what we read in the Bible is historical truth. Our faith in Jesus is based on a historical person who died, resurrected, and continues to work in our modern world to bring men and women into his kingdom.

John writes:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How did John see the glory of Jesus?

These are the stories that come to my mind.

Simon (later named Peter), James, and John were fishing on the Lake of Gennesaret. They fished all night and did not catch a thing. As they were washing their nets to be ready for the next night’s fishing, Jesus came and a crowd gathered around him. Because Jesus needed to have a better angle from which to speak to all the people, he asked Peter if he could speak from his boat out on the lake. When he was finished he told Peter: (Luke 5:1–10)
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

To fishermen who knew what was normal and what was not normal, this was truly miraculous.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Another time, Jesus sailed with his disciples across the lake. Jesus fell asleep and while he was sleeping, a squall came down on the lake that was so powerful the boat was in danger of sinking. (Luke 8:22–25)
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Jesus demonstrated his complete power over nature, revealing his divine nature.

After a day filled with teaching a crowd and feeding them with bread and fish, Jesus sent the disciples across the lake while he spent some time alone. In the middle of the night, in a storm on the lake, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. They were terrified and thought it was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them and when Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus told him, “Come,” and Peter had the brief exhilaration of walking on water before he gave into his fear and sank. (Matthew 14:25–33)
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter, James, and John climbed the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. These three were the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples and they climbed with Jesus to be alone and have time for prayer and reflection. (Luke 9:28–36)
As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

Being very much like us (have you ever fallen asleep while praying?), Peter, James, and John were sleepy but the light of heaven broke through their sleepiness and they became fully awake. Peter said something because he thought he needed to say something. He is again very much like us (have you ever wished you had kept your mouth closed and said nothing?).

While Peter was speaking,
a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

How do you tell someone about an experience like this if they were not there to see it with their own eyes? Because we read it through the filter of Jesus resurrecting from the dead, we understand it in a way that none of the disciples could have understood at the time.

To the dismay of the disciples, despite all that Jesus had been telling them, Jesus was arrested, crucified, and buried in a tomb. They hid in a room with the doors locked, grieving, fearful they would be next, trying to deal with the destruction of their dreams. Then, on Monday morning, Mary came running to them, “I have seen the Lord. He is alive!”

Jesus appeared to them, not using the door which was still locked. He spent forty days with them, teaching them, instructing them, before he ascended.

Toward the end of his life, John was in exile on the island of Patmos when he received a revelation. (Revelation 1:12–17)

We are not capable of visualizing this picture of Jesus John saw because of our earthly limitations. So John resorts to golden lampstands, a robe, a golden sash, hair white as wool or snow, eyes like blazing fire, feet glowing like bronze in a furnace, and a voice like the sound of rushing waters. There is symbolic meaning to all that John writes about this revelation. What is clear to us is the brilliance of this revelation. John had seen it on the Mount of Transfiguration and now it seems to be even more brilliant. How did John respond to this vision of the glory of Jesus?
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

Would you have liked to have been with John when he had these experiences of Jesus? I am envious of John for having heard with his ears, seen with his eyes, and touched with his hands. I am left with much more vague experiences of Jesus. I have sensed the presence of Jesus, but not with my five senses. My testimony about Jesus would not stand up in court. John could stand up and give proof that Jesus was who he said he was. What about you and me?

When Thomas came back and the other disciples told him Jesus had appeared to them, he could not believe what they said was true. Men, even a man as wonderful as Jesus, do not come back to life after they have died. So Thomas said to them (John 20:25–29)
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later Jesus appeared to them again and this time Thomas was with them.
Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Do you feel blessed? Why did Jesus say we who have not seen and yet believe are blessed?

In John 16 Jesus is talking with the disciples and tells them (John 16:16)
“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

The disciples are confused and dismayed at this and then Jesus says (John 16:7)
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Jesus told them that when he left it would be to their advantage because then the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, would come. Jesus said they would be better off with the presence of the Holy Spirit than they would be with his presence.

Is this true? Were the disciples better off with the Holy Spirit and without Jesus? Reading about the disciples in the gospels when they were with Jesus and then in Acts after Pentecost is like reading about two different groups of men. Peter and the other disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then Peter preached an eloquent sermon which resulted in about three thousand people becoming followers of Jesus.

Before Pentecost, the disciples fled from the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus and afterwards hid in a locked room. After Pentecost they went to the Temple court and boldly preached the good news of Jesus. When the soldiers came for them they did not run and hide. They went boldly into the presence of the Sanhedrin and despite the pressure and punishment they received, they spoke with such assurance and eloquence that the Jewish rulers were astonished. (Acts 4:13)
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

It is clear that the filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost significantly changed the disciples.

It also comes to mind that when Jesus was present with the disciples in the room behind locked doors, he was absent from Thomas. Jesus does not seem to have been present everywhere. I don’t want to make too big a point of this because I am speaking of a mystery greater than me. But the Holy Spirit is present with each of us. When we submit to Jesus and accept his offer of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and he is in each of us, no matter where we are or how many of us there are.

So I understand why it is good that we have the Holy Spirit, but I still long for the physical presence of Jesus.

Where do we see the glory of Jesus? John clearly saw the glory of Jesus on many different occasions. What about us?

I have never seen Jesus with my eyes, heard him with my ears, felt him with my hand. My senses of smell and taste have not helped me experience the presence of Jesus.

But when I was in university and was challenged to ask God to reveal himself to me to see if he was real, I walked in a store to steal some books and had to turn around and go out of the store because I knew God was watching me. I could not steal something if someone was watching.

One night when I was leading some young boys on a hiking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (in the northeast of the US), I put them into their tents and then went out by a waterfall to look up at the stars. I looked and looked and the universe kept growing as I looked. It became deeper and deeper and I began to talk to God the creator of all that I was seeing. It was a very powerful experience for me.

For a long time I have been praying for a deeper sense of the presence of God in our worship services. I look out at people in the church as they sing and see the joy and depth of feeling they are experiencing. That rarely happens to me. I operate very much in my head. So I have been praying for a renewal of my heart and discovered some months ago that in answer to my prayer God had given me greater compassion for people. I began feeling more deeply the pain of others. It seemed very strange to me and still feels strange to me that God answered my prayers this way, but God knows what he is doing.

I believe God has spoken to me when I have read the Bible, when I have received an insight for a sermon, when I say something that seems to me to be particularly wise. But, as I said, my evidence would not stand up in court. I am not an eyewitness.

It seems to me that John was able to see the glory of Jesus much more clearly than we are able to see the glory of Jesus. We see the glory of Jesus with spiritual senses that are not as highly developed as our physical senses.

It would be nice if Jesus would make appearances to us now and then. When I was in university and praying to see if he was real, it would have been nice if Jesus could have popped into my room and said, “Hey Jack, I am real and I want you on my team.”

Maybe two or three times over the years when I needed a boost he could have appeared again to encourage me. And then, when it is about time to die, it would be great if Jesus would appear and tell me, “Jack, it won’t be long now. Hang on. I will be with you and I will take you into my kingdom.”

But that is not what happens. In my life with Jesus there have been times when I wondered if I was making all this up. I have had to deal with doubt. I have to sit and contemplate once again why it is I believe and then decide that even with the doubt I will persevere and keep on trusting in Jesus.

Is that good? Is that helpful?

God wants us to grow in faith. Faith is the wealth of heaven and Jesus wants us to be prosperous citizens of heaven, full of faith. And faith does not grow in the presence of certainty. Faith grows in the presence of doubt. When we hold on to Jesus in the most difficult of times, in the times of greatest weakness, full of doubt, and continue to hold on, those are the times when faith grows best.

In 2010 when the parents of the children at the Village of Hope were deported, I lost my ability to trust in God and I struggled. But in the midst of my struggles I clung to Jesus and discovered later that my faith prospered in that year.

I wish it was different. I wish I could grow in faith while sitting in my hammock in the back yard of our home sipping iced tea. But that is not how it works.

I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit, but I would still prefer to see Jesus and talk with him. Because I know who I am and know a bit of who God is, I submit to him. Jesus said it is better for me to have the Holy Spirit and I trust him. I hold on to him and look forward to the day when I will share the experience of John and be present with Jesus in heaven, seeing him with my eyes and hearing him with my ears.

Jesus did not ask us to settle for second best. What Jesus is doing for us, helping us to grow close to him and to grow in faith, is the best he can do for us. The Holy Spirit is not a gift to be reluctantly accepted. The Holy Spirit is not a consolation prize. The Holy Spirit is God and is present in us. The Holy Spirit draws us deeper into the love of God for us through Jesus.

Be grateful this Christmas for the gift of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Work hard to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as you grow in faith. And then look forward to the day when Jesus will return, you will be taken up into heaven, and you will share with John his experience of knowing Jesus with your physical senses.