What leads to human glory? Put differently what defines the path of great success? Or, what delineates the triumph of a life well lived?
It is reported that Alexander the Great was not satisfied, even when he had completely subdued the nations. “He wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, and he died at an early age in a state of debauchery. Hannibal, who filled three bushels with the gold rings taken from the knights he had slaughtered, committed suicide by swallowing poison. Few noted his passing, and he left this earth completely unmourned. Julius Caesar, ‘dyeing his garments in the blood of one million of his foes’, conquered 800 cities, only to be stabbed by his best friends at the scene of his greatest triumph. Napoleon, the feared conqueror, after being the scourge of Europe, spent his last years in banishment.” (Pulpit Resource, G.S. Bowles) For all their supposed glory, the true road to glory eluded these great ones of history.
More than three hundred years before the birth of Christ, Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, walked the Athenian marketplace at high noon with a lantern replying to inquirers that he was “searching for an honest man” – whom he never found. Characteristically the Greek was a searcher after the truth, a seeker of the road to glory. “It was no unusual thing to find a Greek who had passed through philosophy after philosophy, and religion after religion, and gone from teacher to teacher in the search of truth.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, p. 120)
Today’s quest for truth and glory may be different in outward form, but its inward content has changed little. The proliferation of philosophies, religions and self-help books which mark our age give testimony to a search for success. Contrast our search with the road to glory that leads to the cross of Good Friday.
Speaking of the road to glory, “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” (John 12:22-23) Then he unpacked what this road looks like. He marked out three signs for us to look for.
1. Only in spending our lives for others, do we gain our life. Verse 24, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) William Barclay put it this way: “If we look after ourselves as a hypochondriac looks after his health, no doubt we will exist longer – but we will never live.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, p. 124) The road to glory runs through spending your life from great and worthy causes – family and friends, peace and justice, the gospel and goodness, faith and mercy.
2. Through death comes life. Verse 25, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) When we die to personal desire and ambition we become to the glory of life lived for God. It is when we finally surrender our own aspirations that God gives us even greater triumphs. Death really does lead to life.
3. Greatness comes through service. Verse 26, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:26) Take a quick heart check. When have you been most alive? Isn’t the answer when we have been serving others? The glory of a day well lived finds its expression in the joy of serving with spouse, child or friend; reaching to others in need whether it’s through work or church or school or whatever. We instinctively know this truth and yet so easily forget it.
For Christ, the road to glory lead to the cross in sacrifice and then beyond! He sees this clearly and thus states: “’Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” (John 12:27-28)
May your experience of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday lead to the cross. May it be a journey on the glory road. It is only on this road that Easter morning dawns.