Rendering God’s Character: Reflections on John 17

WENDY ALSUP|GUEST

The elder led our Sunday School class to John 17 for a study of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”

As is the practice in the adult Sunday School class at my church, the teacher passed out cross references for us to read as we went through the lesson.  My cross reference was John 15:8, which I looked up before the lesson started so I didn’t hold up the class when my time came to read.  There, Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

Jesus glorified God on earth, accomplishing the work God gave Him to do (17:4).  He manifested, or made God obvious and clear, to those God gave Him (17:6).  We too glorify God on earth when we bear fruit in His name (15:8).

All these phrases on making God known converged during that lesson, and I fell down a rabbit hole of study and reflection as the teacher spoke.  I had in my hands my keyword study Bible that included the Strong’s definition of the Greek word for glorify in the back of it.  I was struck by the definition of the Greek doxazo—to magnify, make renowned, render illustrious, to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.[1]  In some sense, I knew all of this already.  I particularly understood Jesus’s manifestation and glorification of God from John 17. Jesus was the “exact representation” of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3) and the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).  It makes sense to me to say that Jesus glorified and manifested God.

But it is harder to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus said it about his followers in John 15:8.  It humbles me to think of it for myself.  Through fruit in my life, I can glorify God?!  I believe in the theological truth of the pervasive depravity of man.  I know well my own sins, and I experience frustration again and again with my children in particular as I seem to do the opposite of the character of God when I’m tired or stressed. Yet, we see similar wording in other places in Scripture, such as the often quoted I Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  If I’ve said that verse once, I’ve said it a thousand times, having worked for six summers at a Christian camp that made us quote it before every meal.  But it didn’t strike me then like it did in this Sunday School lesson twenty five years later, as I read the definition of glory in my study Bible.

Magnify.  Manifest.  Render.

There’s a lot of meaning in those words.

I was caught by the word render in particular. Though not a computer science major, I have enough familiarity with technology to understand the basics of software rendering, the process of generating an image from a model using computer programs.  Manifest has similar meaning, to make something clear or obvious that was previously obscure.  A ship’s manifest, for instance, is the document containing precise details of who or what is on that ship.  As the ship sits ready to sail, most of the passengers and cargo are obscured from sight, in interior staterooms or cargo holds.  But the manifest renders in paper form the essence of the ship’s contents. What is hidden from sight inside the ship is then known by the appropriate authorities.

When I consider such definitions in light of John 15-17, I am humbled. And I am inspired.  I see Jesus manifest the character of God in the Gospels, representing Him in clear, obvious form to the watching world.  And then I read too that God through me can be manifested to a watching world—made obvious, magnified, and glorified—like an image coming to life on a screen from the coding imprinted in the software of a computer.

Thankfully, John 15 also gives insight into how God can be magnified and imaged out by me to a watching world – by bearing fruit.  But this challenges me as well.  Is this the fruit of new converts?  Certainly, the disciples of Jesus preached in ways that many believed on Jesus, bringing great glory to God.  But we see another kind of fruit in Scripture as well, the fruit of the Spirit, as those very converts are transformed internally away from sin that destroyed relationships into those who bring love, patience, and kindness to cultures characterized by the opposite.

These passages together draw me to lean into the Spirit and walk with Him that I may manifest, render, and magnify Jesus to a watching world, desperately in need of Him.

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, ….”

Wendy has a M. Ed. in Math Education from Clemson University, teaching math for the last 15 years in community colleges in Seattle and South Carolina. Her first love, though, is teaching theology to women. Out of this love, she has written Practical Theology for Women (Crossway, 2008) and Is the Bible Good for Women? (Waterbrook/Multnomah, 2017). She is a mother to two middle school sons and a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

 

[1]    http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/doxazo.html

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