Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Unlikely Glory

On November 18th, our congregation gathered for the funeral of Bill Scott. Bill’s obituary can be read here. The following is the message I gave at the funeral based on John 12:20-28.

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“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
So said Jesus in John 12:23. What hour brought Christ’s glory? How was he glorified?

When we think of glory or of someone be glorified, we think of splendor and awe and a display of beauty. A fabulous fireworks display is glorious. A brilliant sunset or standing over the edge of the Grand Canyon is glorious. For some, Peyton Manning throwing a last-second, game-winning touchdown over the Patriots is glorious.


Yet these more or less earthly glories pale next to the final glory we know will be revealed one day. We know that Christ will come again when the heavens open up with the voice of archangel and the trumpet of God, accompanied by His mighty angels, and he will descend to the earth to judge the living and the dead.
How glorious that will be!

Yet that is not the hour that Jesus said had come, and His final manifestation is not the glory of which He speaks. There is another glory of which Jesus speaks. One that preceded and indeed made possible the consummate glory that is to come. It is what we will call "an unlikely glory." Jesus makes it clear in the context here and throughout the gospel of John what that glory is:

· In John 12:24 in connection with this statement, He uses a metaphor of a grain of wheat being planted, dying in the soil, and from it bearing more fruit.

· He then talks about losing your life for others.

· He states that his soul is troubled over this hour of glory that has come.

· In John 17:1-2, the night before he died, in like manner he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”


The hour, the glory, the trouble of which Jesus spoke is the cross.
What a place of unlikely glory! For it raises the question, “How can the brutal beating and crucifying and death of a man be in any way described as glorious?” To be treated as a criminal is inglorious, ignoble, dishonorable. As Isaiah said about Jesus, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” In other words, no glory.

But wait a minute. R
ecall when we think of something as glorious, we are to think of splendor and awe and a display of beauty. For those with eyes to see it, that is what they do see at the cross in that mangled, naked body. He went through that hideous event to remove the sins of those who believe in Him - a most glorious sight! He was dying so that the rest of His prayer might be fulfilled, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.


What a paradox! Christ should appear to us most glorious at the point when He seemed the most inglorious. Unlikely glory! John Wesley captures this paradox in his hymn “Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin?"

For you the purple current flowed
In pardons from His wounded side,
Languished for you the eternal God,
For you the Prince of glory died:
Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven;
Only believe, and yours is Heaven!


This gospel paradox teaches us a key truth – it is the lowly, the inglorious of this world, that God takes and makes vessels of unlikely glory. Wesley captured this as well when earlier in this same hymn he wrote:


Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads His arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone His grace receives;
No need of Him the righteous have;
He came the lost to seek and save.


How this was seen in the life of Bill Scott. Some could not see the glory in Bill. After all, he was a hobo by his own admission. He was addicted at one time to volumes of drink and clouds of cigarette smoke. He was gruff at first appearance. He was missing both legs. But we have seen the unlikely glory of God in Bill. I have no interest in preaching a dead sinner into heaven, as some appear to want to do at funerals. No, I am here proclaiming that I have seen the unlikely glory in the life of Bill. Let me offer three evidences.


1) Faithfulness - Bill was faithful to the Lord and the church. Back in the old Mission building some 13-14 years ago, I helped Ron Visser by leading a Bible study down there. We began with twelve, but pretty soon only a few were left, one of whom was Bill. Sometimes I came there and it was only Bill. When I learned he was not attending church anywhere, I invited him and at first he resisted coming. But as he professed faith, he came faithfully. He began attending more events, such as a men’s group at my home early every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. When he lost one leg, still he came though four men had to lift him up the front stairs. When he lost both legs and could not get into the building, he still loved to go out to eat on his birthday or come to the Memorial Day Picnic. In these last days, he prayed for the church. Even recently, he said he wanted to come back. In honor of him, that is why we are having his funeral here. Though we know he is in a far more glorious place of worship now, we wanted to say goodbye to him here.


2) Forgiveness - Bill sought forgiveness - a lot! He would get in fights at the Mission, often responding wrongly to some kid ridiculing him. At our men's study, he would at times use the Lord’s name in vain. At times through all these years in hospitals and nursing homes, he would give the nurses fits. Yet there was somehting unique about Bill that I do not find with many. Every time I or someone else would correct him, he would seek forgiveness. He go to those young punks and apologize. He would grow sheepish when I told him he should be more careful about how he uses Jesus' name, and say it was a bad habit and he would work at not doing it again. He would admit he had not been praying for the nurses, but then the next time tell you sincerely that he had started. As others have testified, beneath the gruffness was a tender heart.


3) Fortitude - Bill persevered. He almost died twice last year. I was in one of his doctor's appointments when the doctor said what Bill had gone through, and even his current medical condition, would have killed most men. He was tough as ox. Yet last year during the times he was in the valley, it became clear to us that spiritually speaking, he was not ready to die nor ready yet for heaven. He was struggling and confused, unclear about his spiritual status. Yet during that time, as various people ministered to him such as Jason testified to doing, he was revived in his soul. Last fall, he and I were sitting outside the nursing home on a beautiful, sunny day, and I was reading from I John 1 to him. Just at that time, a lady who knew Bill walked by and asked him based on what I was reading, “Bill, are you walking in the light?” Looking down at his wheelchair, Bill responded, “Naw, I'm rolling in the light!"


In John 12:26, Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Bill is rolling in the light in a whole new way now, basking and rejoicing in the light of his Father and Savior. And on the day of the resurrection he will be fully restored, and with the rest of us who have believed in the unlikely glory of Jesus Christ he will be walking and leaping and praising the great God of glory. Jesus prayer will be realized: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."

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The portrait of Bill you see here, which captures him so well and is now displayed in my study, was painted by Natalie Thoman in the space of two days before his funeral. As several years ago he had served as a model of Matthew Cuthbert when Natalie was painting scenes from Anne of Green Gables, she was all too willing to paint him one final time from a picture taken when he used to work as the rag cutter at the Rescue Mission. If you would like to view her work or even order a portrait yourself, see Natalie's artwork.

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