Historically, it was your talent that got you noticed; today that talent is to get noticed. One vital skill in the digital age is to get noticed — and preferably by cameras.
If we simply pull the plug from the buzz of self-glory — as we saw in Part 1 — we are met with a reality that is not only frightening, but legitimately dangerous. If we simply expose the vanity of our self-glory, we would be met only with despair. The only safe way to expose the vanity of self-glory in our social media feeds is to offer a greater glory in return. And for that greater glory, we turn to John 17.
Father, Son, and Church
To find our footing in the age of reality TV, hoaxes, and self-glory in our social media feeds, we need to turn to “The Book of Glory,” a synonym for chapters 13–21 of the Gospel of John. Specifically, to Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17:1–26.
The cross is imminent. Christ turns his attention to his Father, in prayer. We are invited to listen into God’s triune communion.
Throughout John, and especially in John 17:1–2, Jesus has been stiff-arming human popularity. Why? He wasn’t ready to go big yet. Now he is. The moment has come for God to be glorified in Christ. Jesus’s relatively localized Palestinian ministry is about to step on a cosmic stage in the cross.
That’s what we read in John 17:3–25.
- Jesus’s prayer focuses on the Father-Son union in verses 1–5.
The first prayer we see here from Christ is the prayer for mutual glorification. Verse 1: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” This is the cross.
In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the cross represents a rending, a forsaking of the Son. But not in John’s Gospel. John gives us a unique angle on the cross. In John’s Gospel, the glorification of the Son begins with the cross, not with the resurrection or ascension. To be “lifted up” is to be exalted and glorified. The cross, in John’s scheme of things, is the beginning of the exaltation of Jesus. At the cross the Father and Son will be co-mutually glorified. When the Son is lifted up on the cross, he will reflect to the universe the Father’s glory. And the Father’s glory will shine in and through the Son. So much so that it is in and through this cultural icon of disgrace — the cross; what no author in the first century celebrated; a form of death so hideous, no poet wrote about it — that will be the chosen location for God to showcase his majesty.
And this mutual glorification will carry into the glorious resurrection to follow. Verses 4–5: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” From the glory of the cross to the glory of the resurrection, ascension, enthronement of Christ in eternity as the sovereign King over all things. A glory that existed for all eternity, but now amplified. A truly majestic glimpse into the Father-Son dynamic.
- Jesus’s prayer focuses on the Son-church union in verses 6–19.
Christ pulls the church into the equation, because the implications of this incredible glory are immediate for us. And although it’s hard to see it at the end of John, Christ’s ministry has produced a little church, an apostolic church. And this little church glorifies Christ: “I am glorified in them” (verse 10). Then Christ prays that the church be “one” as the Son and the Father are one (verse 11). While on earth, Christ delivered the Father’s words to the church. Why? So that “they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (in verses 13–14). Christ will purchase our joy. Then he sends his church into the world on mission (verses 14–19). This passage is a truly precious glimpse into the Son-church union.
- Jesus’s prayer focuses on the Father-Son-church union in verses 20–26.
Christ gives the divine glory to the church, saying in verse 22, “The glory that you [Father] have given me I have given to them.” And then comes a mutual indwelling that now includes the church here. Christ indwells the church; the Father indwells the Son (verses 20–23). And then Christ wants the church to one day behold his physical radiance, so he prays in verse 24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Jesus has shown off his physical glory a couple of times. We call it transfiguration. But he is eager to the point of being giddy here, to show off his glory to his church, physically, in their presence one day. So much so that there will be no need for a sun in eternity, the glory of Christ will be our illumination forever (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). That’s all anticipated here.
The glory of the Father, in the cross and resurrection, is glory given to the church. John 17 is building toward this glorious future! What is the endgame of redemptive history? The Father will indwell the Son, and the Son will indwell the bride. The church brought into physical proximity to the Savior, to share the glory and joy of God, together. That is God’s premeditated plan unveiled in John 17!
Gaze at Glory
What is this glory? We have yet to answer the question of this conference — glory-seeking and glory-finding. As we saw last time, we do know where this glory is not found: in vainglory. And Jesus has made it clear, he himself has zero interest in human glory. He outright rejected human celebrity culture. He’s only really concerned with the glory that comes from his Father, and now we know what that means. Here’s what we know about the glory from Jesus’s prayer:
Verses 4–5: Christ glorified the Father on earth and now asks the Father to glorify him on earth — that is, on the cross.
Verse 10: Christ is glorified by the new church.
Verse 13: Christ is soon going to the Father after the resurrection, ascension, enthronement. And from this place of glorification, Christ’s joy will be given to the church.
Verses 22–23: The glory of the Father has been given to the Son, and the Son has given that glory to the church to stabilize her unity. To live for the glory of God is to be hated by the self-loving world. And so, the divine glory will hold together the church in her pressures.
Verse 24: Christ prays that the church will one day behold his fully manifested glory, a glory that existed forever in the past, and will be, for the bride, on display for her delight in eternity future.
I was explaining all this to my 12-year-old son recently and I could tell he was troubled. He said, “Dad, I see the Father and the Son, but where is the Holy Spirit?” Great question from a 12-year-old, right? The Spirit is never mentioned in John 17 — and he’s all over John 17. The Spirit is a foretaste of the full joy and presence of God, the glory and joy of God poured into our lives right now. This plan of John 17 is unfolding even right now, in our lives.
Jesus + My Joy
Here’s one last thing I want you to see in John 17. It’s so clear, but I just discovered this recently, and it landed on me really hard — in a great way.
All over the New Testament we are called to rejoice in the Lord. And it’s amazing isn’t it? God commands us to be happy in him! But here’s something even more amazing: here in verse 13, Jesus takes the initiative upon himself for our experience of divine joy. Jesus is so heavily invested in our joy, he initiates that joy on our behalf. It is one of the recurrent features in John’s Gospel that Jesus wants his people joyous (John 3:29; 15:11; 16:20–24; 17:13).
And the burden of our joy is first carried by our Savior — a burden he carried to the cross, and into the resurrection and ascension and enthronement in heaven. No surprise, the exact same thing can be said of the glory we are to experience in verses 22–23. Jesus initiates our participation in God’s glory.
The point is this: Long before we receive any commission to love and enjoy God, it was the conspiracy of the Father and the Son through the Spirit to redeem a people — one by one, by name — into a church that finds her joy in Christ. Our joy was first Christ’s burden before it became our calling. This is stunningly evident in John 17.
All About Glory
Here’s the thing: it’s all about glory. Finding a glory that will sustain our soul — that’s the very heart of Christianity. Most of you already know intuitively that Christianity doesn’t promise a lot of things in this life. It doesn’t. Christianity does not promise to fix your marriage, fix your kids, end all your anxieties, stop all your sin struggles, or expel your depression. It might do some of these things, but there’s no guarantee that it will do any of them. Christianity does not answer all our questions, solve all our problems, or advise us on who to marry and which career to chase. It doesn’t. And following Christ will probably not make you wealthy, healthy, or popular in this life. In many ways, following Christ will make your life less comfortable. And if you come to Christ to have all your felt needs met, you’ll get disappointed fast.
We never stop praying for miracles. But when the miracles don’t come, and when we look around and see our needs and wants and lacks, we don’t give up on God. No. We are led back again to our trust in unseen promises, which is the essence of faith. To know that we are kept by him now and that he’s got a future for us that is far greater than the present. We hope in what’s unseen (Hebrews 11:1).
But here’s what Christianity does promise: It promises that in Christ your sins can be forgiven. Jesus’s death satisfied God’s wrath, so you can be adopted into the family of God and behold what will truly satisfy your heart — the awesome glory of God! Jesus died not to satisfy our old desires for self-glory — no! He died to give us brand-new desires to see and behold and be satisfied by the glory of God.
And this new appetite, this newly-visible glory to us, will — once we truly see it — outshine all the petty little attempts we made at self-glory.
He does promise that everything in our lives is working together for an eventual good (Romans 8:28). Everything broken in our lives will be put back together one day. And we live in that glorious hope. And he does promise us his Spirit, so that his glory and joy are not just out there, eventually, but in here now.
As Christians, we experience glimmers of his glory and joy now in this life — and we will experience endless bliss in the presence of God’s glory and joy for all of eternity.
Straight to Me
That’s exactly the promise of Scripture. And that is the most immediately pressing need we have right now. We are sinners. We are naturally bent toward self-centeredness. That’s what it means to be a sinner: to bend toward the self. We make everything about ourselves. We want wealth and praise. We need to be saved from this, saved from ourselves. And that is what the gospel delivers.
We all know this instinctively. What happens when you meet up with an old classmate and that classmate pulls out your fifth-grade class picture? Fess up! Where do your eyes go immediately? Your eyes go right to . . . you. You make a beeline to you. All of us do it. It’s been proven in study after study after study. It’s not until we’ve carefully reviewed ourselves that we can appreciate anyone else in the same picture. That’s true any time we’re shown a picture with me in it; I must first find me.
The same is true when someone takes a smartphone picture of us now and posts it on Instagram. We’re like: Yep, bad hair day. All we can see. We assess our self-glory quotient. Or it’s a hideous double chin, horrible angle, and before we can look at anything else in the picture, we’re trying to convince someone to delete the picture as if it never happened. Photoshop that. Airbrush it. At least filter it — give it some Valencia or something! There should be a law banning bad photographer-friends from taking pictures of us.
It’s funny, but why do we all do this? Why do our eyes instinctively dart to ourselves? It’s because we are all self-centered jerks who need Jesus. We’re all self-centered jerks who need Jesus. And if you know you’re a self-centered jerk who needs Jesus, you came to the right place. Here together we worship God and seek in him a glory to outshine the puny vainglory we’re trying to impress the world with.
Our social media feeds must glorify someone because our lives must glorify someone. So, who is getting glorified in your feed? That’s the humongous question we all face as image-bearers in the digital age. We were created to image God in this world — for his glory to reflect through us into the world. That’s what drove Jesus. So it’s never just: “I think I’ll download Instagram on my phone for fun.” No, we say: “Lord, I know I am a self-centered jerk, and I need you to save me, and by downloading Instagram I want to image you, to reflect you, through my life and into my Instagram feed. Help me do it!”
Digital Detox Cannot Save
So, let’s recap.
Here’s the bad news: no one in this room glorifies God like he should. Each of us face-plant short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Here’s the great news: Christ died for self-glory seeking, piety-flouting, peer-fearing, narcissistic sinners like you and me. And he proved it by carrying our joy on his shoulders to the cross and into the grave and into the resurrection and into heaven! Only because of him can we now die to the praise of this world.
Because even in Christ we are tempted to puff up the resume and polish ourselves to impress others. And I still fail to relish the glory of God as I ought, and my social media habits show it. And digital minimalism will not save me. And a new lifehack app will not save me. And a digital detox will not save me. And deleting all my non-essential apps will not save me. And switching to a dumbphone will not save me. And more religion and more morality will not save me.
So, if you hear me saying that being offline makes you more holy — let me say otherwise: you can be offline and self-glorify all day long.
And if you hear me saying that all the social media habits of religious people are good — let me say otherwise: many religious people, like the religious leaders Jesus faced, simply use religion as a Botox shot to smooth out the self.
And if you hear me saying that Christians cannot be on social media — let me say otherwise: all sorts of Christians do social media right.
And if you’re asking, Can Christians have platforms? the Gospel of John has answers. But we’re out of time. So, here’s your homework. I’ve been talking about smartphones and social media from the Gospel of John. Read the Gospel, beginning to end, and make a list of the people given platforms. You’ll see them. As you read, name three things: (1) Who got the platform? (2) How’d they get it? (3) What did they do with it? Those three questions are answered in John. Here’s a spoiler: whenever Jesus touches a life, a new witness is born.
Glory to God Alone
In the end, God alone can break our obsession with trivial habits and grabs for vainglory. He must show up. God’s glorious presence must become real to us. He must cause us to marvel at him, to enjoy him, to obey him, to wonder at his creation, to gaze at his works, to give our lives in sacrifice to others, as we anticipate an eternity to come with him, perfectly glorifying him forever.
To live for the glory of God is to choose his glory over vainglory.
Beholding the glory of God and centering your life on him is what it means to be truly human. This is how God restores us. He’s remaking our lives to make us more human. He does it by re-centering us so that the weightiest, most significant thing in the universe to us, is not us, but him. And that is the whole goal of the triune conspiracy of John 17.
So, the end of the matter is this: whether you eat or drink or text or tweet or snap or gram or instant message or TikTok — whatever you do — do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).