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A Hunger for Glory

Got glory-hunger? Meet Jesus at the Cross


Something happened in the fall of 1976 that sent shockwaves through the senior class of Edina-East High School in Edina, Minnesota. During the Homecoming Day ceremonies, nine guys and nine girls—the homecoming court—lined up to find out who would become the new king and queen. Last year's queen held a crown as she walked back and forth, preparing to crown the new king, faking left and faking right before she finally put the crown on the head of the most unlikely candidate among the guys' side of the court, and probably in the history of Edina homecoming kings. Yep, that was my head: Pastor Matt Woodley.

All the guys on the homecoming court—including the really cool captains of the Edina-East hockey team—looked down the row and said, "Woodley?" And then all the really cool girls looked down their row and said, "Woodley?" Hey, I was more shocked than all of them. On my best days, I was semi-cool—but I was definitely not really cool. (Of course, I had also recruited campaign managers for all of the lower classes, which is where I cleaned up on votes.)

This unbelievable turn of events ushered me into about 45 minutes of fame. I got to crown and kiss (on the cheek) Cathy Wright, who was the homecoming queen (and my secret crush for over a year). At the football game the next night, I got to wear my crown, sit by Cathy, and ride in a Cadillac convertible.

I have to admit that those 45 minutes were pretty amazing. I felt important. I felt significant. I felt like I mattered—to the senior class of 1977, to Cathy Wright, and to all the really cool people at Edina-East.


According to the Bible, there's a word for what I was feeling—it's the word "glory." We don't use that word often, but it's a very important word in the Bible. It's a really important word in the Gospel of John, too. In the Bible, it literally means "fatness" or "weightiness." But it also refers to "significance" or "importance." When applied to us, it means that we matter, that we aren't just lightweights. We have substance.

We all want this. We want glory. We want to feel significant. And we don't just grow out of it after high school or college. We want glory even when we're in our 70s, 80s, or 90s. We have a glory-hunger because we all want to know that our lives matter.

That's why there's good news in this Bible passage from John's gospel, because Jesus is going to tell us where to find glory. Most of us try to wade around in puddles of glory—like human praise, or getting the next promotion, or getting little snippets of fame and attention from others. But Jesus is going to tell us about an ocean of glory: an endless source of everlasting glory. But it's not where you might think it is. We could put it this way: Got glory-hunger? Meet Jesus at the Cross.

Meet Jesus at the Cross

In order to see how and why this makes any sense at all, let's look at the reading from John 12. You'll notice that our reading starts in verse 20, but the story actually begins a little earlier than verse 20. Jesus had just grabbed a small donkey and rode into the city of Jerusalem, much to the delight of a roaring crowd of his fans. People went nuts: waving palm branches, shouting and cheering, hailing Jesus as the next king. Then, in verse 19, even Jesus' critics complain, "[T]he whole world has gone after him!"

That's probably why, in verse 20, we read that some glory-hungry Greeks came to one of Jesus' disciples and said, "Hey, can you connect us with Jesus? We'd like to see the rock star." I take it they're impressed with Jesus, who seems on a clear path for glory-ness. So Philip grabs another disciple of Jesus named Andrew, and they go to Jesus.

But notice Jesus' response in verse 23: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." At first glance, he doesn't address the Greeks at all. Whenever Jesus refers to "the hour" in the Gospel of John, it usually means his death. Instead of talking about how we normally think of glory, Jesus starts talking about how his life is like a seed that will go into the ground and die. Then in verse 28, God the Father booms back that Jesus is correct: "I have glorified [my name], and will glorify it again." God the Father will also glorify his name through the death of his Son on the Cross. This is certainly not what the Greeks—or what we—had in mind when they wanted to see Jesus.

Think of it this way: Five years ago, I stood on a beach at the Pacific Ocean near Cabo San Lucas, and an old Mexican woman excitedly spoke in Spanish and pointed to the whales off in the distance. That was glorious. Last January, I stood on the west coast of Ireland and looked down the magnificent Cliffs of Moor. That was glorious. But according to Jesus, there's an even better place to satisfy our glory-hunger: by meeting Jesus in his death on the Cross.

How is that possible? Jesus is going to get beaten, stripped naked, strung up on a cross, and then left to die. That's not glorious. That's total defeat: utter failure and humiliation. Yet Jesus says that when "the hour" comes, he will be glorified.

How does the Cross of Jesus show forth the glory of God more than the Pacific Ocean?

Fully judged, fully loved

This is how: Because it's only at the Cross that we see the full brilliance and beauty of God's holiness and his love. The Cross is the only place in the universe where you can find two things at the same time—you are perfectly known, and you are perfectly loved.

Notice verse 31: "Now is the time for judgment on this world." The Cross is the place of judgment. It's the place where our sins get exposed, brought into the light, and judged. Notice also verse 27, where Jesus says, "Now my soul is troubled." Why is he so troubled? You remember the scene at the end of the movie Gladiator, where it takes Russell Crowe about five minutes to die? Yet he dies with such peace and calm because he keeps seeing beautiful wheat fields and sunsets. In all of the four Gospels, however, as Jesus faces his own death, he sees horror—and it shakes him to the core.

Why? Well, one answer is this: As Jesus died on the Cross, he didn't die for his sins. He died for our sins. As another verse from the Bible says, "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross" (1 Pet. 2:24). All of our badness—our worst and most secret rotten thoughts and attitudes, our selfishness, our lust, all the ways we use people, all the ways we ignore God the Father and spurn his grace, all the cruelty of human beings to each other, all of our cowardice and greed—all of it went into Jesus. He bore our judgment. We were fully known.

But at the Cross, we were also fully loved. Notice John 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth [or lifted up on the cross to die], will draw all people to myself." At the Cross, it looked like the opposite of glory. It looked ugly and brutal. But Jesus says, "No, on the Cross I will be lifted up so I can draw everyone—you, and you, and you, and him and her and them—to me." Look at verse 24. It looked like the grain of wheat was just getting buried and crushed by dirt. Nothing good can come of that, can it? But according to Jesus, what looks like the grain's demise is in fact its harvest. The crucifixion of Jesus becomes the supreme argument for, and the major display of, God's justice and love.

The Cross means you can find glory in something infinitely deeper than fickle human praise, achievements, or accomplishments. The atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote this in The New York Times: "[Human beings] are just a bit of pollution. If you got rid of us … then the universe would be largely the same. We're completely irrelevant." At the Cross of Jesus, we hear the exact opposite: You are significant. You can find a source of glory, an ocean of glory—not because of all the wonderful things you have done for God and others, not because you have achieved God's approval, but because Christ died for you.

Fully known and fully loved—that's what happened on the Cross. Notice how in verse 32, Jesus says that through the Cross, he "will draw all people to myself."

I don't know if science classes still use magnets, but in sixth grade, we got to play with huge magnets and little metal shavings. The same thing happened every time: Those little shavings—schoop—went right for the magnet. They get drawn to the magnet.

Does this mean that everyone will be drawn to Jesus Christ as their Savior? No, it simply means that when we really start to understand how judgment and love came together at the Cross—when that starts to sink in—it will draw us to Jesus. If you're a Christian, it's because at some point you were drawn to Christ. If you are not following Jesus, no one at this church can make you become one. You have to be drawn to Christ, and that starts at the Cross.

Christians are people who keep getting drawn back to the cross. They're like little kids at a fireworks display—"ooh, look at that! Ah, look at this!" They keep saying things like, "Look at God's love for us. Look at God's love for the world. Look at God's love for my enemies and all the people I could care less about." This is where we find our true significance. Ultimately, our glory doesn't reside in us. It comes as a gift from the source, the ocean of glory—Jesus, the crucified one.

Repent and believe the gospel

So what does this mean for us? How does this make our life any different? Notice verses 25-26. Jesus' death provides a pattern for his followers. If you want to be where the action really is, if you want to get in on real glory, if you want your life to really matter and count, then be where Jesus is. Follow him.

What does he mean by this "hate your life" talk? Sounds like really low self-esteem—like walking around and saying, "I'm a really good Christian because I hate my life." Notice he says, " … hate your life in this world." In the Gospel of John, "the world" is used in two ways. It's the good world—"God so loved the world … "—but it's also the fallen, messed-up, other-hurting, self-seeking, dog-eat-dog world that we live in. Jesus is saying, "Hate your life in that world, and you'll find real life."

There's a promise: "My Father will honor the one who serves me" (12:26). I take that as another way of saying that he will give you the glory you need. Again, we all want to be honored. We are glory-hungry, glory-seeking people. Here Jesus says, "You can have it. You can receive it. You come to me, and my Father will give you honor—for free. But here's the condition: Follow me. You can't say, 'I'll cling to my life. I'll refuse to be that seed that goes into the ground and dies and I will get God's honor too.' No, it doesn't work that way."

How do we do that? Every year, at our Ash Wednesday services, we hear these words: "Repent and believe the gospel." How do you repent? One way I need to repent is by identifying those things I'm using to fill my glory hunger. Unfortunately, we don't always know where to look to satisfy our glory hunger. There's that country song by Johnny Lee: "I was lookin' for love in all the wrong places." The same is true for our glory-hunger: We're lookin' for glory in all the wrong places.

Everyone tries to find glory in something. It's like we're bent toward these things and relationships: Our work. Our athletic ability. Our intellectual or musical ability. Our family. Our spouses or a special romantic relationship we long for. All of these can be good gifts, but the problem comes when we turn to these activities, accomplishments, or relationships and say, "Tell me that I matter. Give me glory. Tell me that I am weighty."

We repent by saying, "This may be a good thing, but it's just a puddle. It's a nice, clean puddle, but it's a puddle. It's not the ocean, but I've been trying to make it into the ocean: the source of my glory." Then you say, "Lord, I am sorry that I have made the puddle into my source instead of you."

Then you believe the gospel. You turn to the one who is the ocean of real glory—a never-ending supply of glory. You turn to him. Specifically, you turn to the Cross of Jesus. You look at the One who was lifted up on your behalf, the One who bore your sin. You see yourself shifting your glory quest to him.


Here's the problem: All human sources of glory—anything but God as the ocean and source of glory—deals with a limited supply. Every puddle of glory will dry up. That's what puddles do. They don't last. People spend their whole lives building a career or building a family, and then they retire or their spouse dies or their children move away, and they are so empty. Or they build their whole lives on physical beauty or good looks or athletic abilities or being able to accomplish things, and physical limitations set in. They're confined to a wheelchair. They have to wear Depends. Despair sets in. They feel so insignificant.

A follower of Christ is someone who can say, "You can take my job away from me, but I still know who I am and whose I am. I know an ocean of glory—the Cross of Christ. You can take my health away, but I still know who I am. I have an ocean of glory. You can take my religious liberties away, but I still know who I am. You can take my house away, but I still know who I am. You can take my money and my retirement accounts away, but I still know who I am. You can take away the praise of other people, but I still know who I am."

Glory-hungry people, don't be too easily pleased. Don't settle for puddles of glory. Jesus offers you the ocean. Take the ocean.

Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Glory-hunger

II. Meet Jesus at the cross

III. Fully judged, fully loved

IV. Repent and believe the gospel