I will never forget the Oconee County spelling bee during my third-grade year. I had experienced my few minutes of fame by winning the third-grade spelling bee at Walhalla Elementary. The big moment came when all the third-grade winners in the county stood side by side in a large auditorium. My name was called. I stepped forward and received the word multiplication: “M-U-L-T … A … .”
Although now I know that I had nothing to be ashamed of, I still remember the burning sensation on my face as I sat there while the other students continued to compete. The next day I had to explain to my classmates how quickly I was eliminated and which word stumped me. My glory turned into humiliation.
We human beings long for glory, beauty, or worth. We long to see it. It’s why we go to sporting events, why we wear certain clothing, why we enjoy seeing the ocean or mountains, or visit a big city. We long — or lust — for others to see glory in us: through job promotions, houses, spelling bees, educational attainments, and countless other activities.
This desire for glory is not all bad. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is to reflect His glory. The problem is when we seek glory apart from Him. I quoted Romans 3:23 for years as, “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” In reality, the second verb is in the present tense. It’s not that we have fallen short of God’s glory; we fall short. Our past sins affect our present lack of God’s glory.
As we move to John 18 and 19, the text has so many themes we could meditate on. First, we could focus on how John gives us an account that follows what we see in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, (mock!) trial, crucifixion, and death. We could also look at how Jesus’ death explains John the Baptist’s observation that Jesus is the Lamb of God taking away the world’s sins (John 1:29 and 19:14; cf. Revelation 5:5-6). Truth (John 18:37-38) and kingship (19:14) are also important throughout these chapters.
What is perhaps unique to John is the importance of Jesus’ complete control over the situation. Jesus would lay His life down since no one could take His life from Him (John 10:18). Since Jesus’ arrest came as no surprise to the One who knows all things, He took the initiative to address the menacing crowd, which falls to the ground as soon as He says, “I am” (John 18:4-6). They obey His command to let the disciples go. The Jewish leaders hand Him over to Pilate only in fulfillment of His prophecy (John 18:31-32). Pilate only has authority because of God (John 19:11). In a poignant scene that only John includes, Jesus even ensures that His mother is taken care of (John 19:25-27). As He dies, He is the one who gives up His spirit (John 19:28).
There’s an old Latin phrase that can be translated loosely as, “Thus passes away the glory of the world.” All glory apart from God will end up like my efforts in the countywide spelling bee: humiliation. In John, we see how important it is that Jesus willingly chose the path of the cross. He had all the glory we could ever have wanted through raw power, but He chose the path of glory, of being “lifted up” (John 12:32), through sacrificial love.