Three Sightings of the Glory of Jesus
Funeral Meditation for Char Ransom
Note from John Piper: Char Ransom was unmarried all her life. I know this was by choice because I recall one very eligible suitor in the 1980s who wanted very much to win her. She joked that no man deserved to be as happy as she could make him. I take that to be a true and Calvinistic assessment of male human nature, and a sober judgment of her own joy.
The reason it is worth mentioning Char’s unmarried life is that no one in all my experience modeled better how to live an outgoing, engaged, hope-filled life of ministry as an unmarried person. She was in the lives of hundreds of people. She walked toward relationships, not away from them. She walked into ministry opportunities, not out of them. She brought strength to her single friends, and to her happily married friends. She acted against self-pity, not under it. She leaned into public opportunities, not as a wall-flower, but as a full partner in life, indeed, as a leader. She embraced modest, stylish attractiveness — never out of fashion, and never too in. She turned sixty somewhere along the way and stayed there all her life.
She risked. Ten times she went to Africa. And the latter trips were at an age when most people have their aging feet up. She aggressively read the Bible and promoted Bible memory. Year after year she was the primary fixture — emcee, writer, humorist, director, champion — in the January mid-week service that called the whole church to memorize the Bible together.
She was loyal to her friends, even when those friends were torn asunder. She was a very precious friend to me. We talked often of racing to heaven. On my last phone call, she said, “I’m going to beat you.” I conceded. The second week of January she found out she had lung cancer. In less than two weeks she was gone. The Lord stepped in with astonishing decisiveness — and gentleness.
I am sure that if it had not been for Char Ransom I would not have been a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and my life would have been incalculably different. I say that because Char’s influence was such that a veto from her on the Pastoral Search Committee that recommended me to the church would have ended my candidacy. She did not veto me. She loved me — for 36 years. And everything in my life as been different because of her. I am thankful.
What was Jesus’ most ultimate prayer for Char Ransom? Was it answered? What difference would this make for you?
Let’s take just a few minutes on each of those questions, and answer them from the Book that Char believed — and we believe — is the very word of God, the Bible. O how she loved the Bible.
1. What was Jesus’ most ultimate prayer for Char Ransom?
We know that Jesus prayed for Char. John, the apostle of Jesus, records Jesus’ longest prayer in John 17. And in it Jesus is praying for his disciples. But at one point, he says that his prayer is not just for his present disciples (verse 20): “Father, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” So we know that if someone believes in Jesus because of what the apostles have written — because of reading or hearing their words in the New Testament — Jesus was praying for that person.
And when Char was a teenager, she heard the words of the apostles about Jesus, and she saw the truth and beauty of Christ, and she believed. So we know that Jesus prayed for Char. Because he said, “I am praying for those who will believe in me through their word.”
What, then, was the most ultimate thing that he prayed for Char? Four verses later in that prayer we see the answer. He prayed like this (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.” And then he added (verse 26) the request that, when they see his glory, their love for him would rise to the immeasurable intensity of the Father’s divine love for his Son — “I pray, that the love with which you love me might be in them.”
The most ultimate prayer that Jesus prayed for Char — and that could be prayed for Char — was that she would see the glory of the risen Christ and love him with an all-satisfying love the way his Father does. There isn’t anything greater than to see the Son of God in all his divine beauty and radiance and greatness, and be supremely and increasingly happy in him forever. There isn’t anything greater or more profoundly satisfying than this. And this is what Jesus prayed for Char.
2. Was this prayer answered?
Yes, it was. It was answered in three successive stages in Char’s life.
Stage One. At first, like everyone else, Char saw the glory of Jesus but did not see it as glorious, or true, or beautiful, or compelling, or satisfying. The apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh [that is, the Son of God became the God-man Jesus] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
But did Judas see it? He looked at it every day for three years. And in the end, he sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus described people like that (Matthew 13:13): “Seeing they do not see.” And so it was with Char.
Stage Two. But then something happened. Char saw the glory of Jesus in a new way. She saw it as beautiful, compelling, satisfying, true. What happened is described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4–6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light . . . of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”
God opened the eyes of Char’s heart to see Jesus for who he really is. She heard the gospel of Jesus and saw his overwhelming, self-authenticating glory in it. Char lived in the light of that glory for about seventy years — “the light of gospel of the glory of Christ.”
In our last conversation, nine days before she died, we reveled together in the brightness of the glory of Jesus in the Gospel from 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10. I told her this was the word of God that carried me through my cancer, and would carry her all the way home. It goes like this:
God has not destined us for wrath [Char!], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep [live or die] we might live with him.
She knew this was true, because she saw the glory of Christ in the gospel. She saw it with eyes more reliable than physical eyes. She saw it with the eyes of her heart, illumined by the Holy Spirit.
Stage Three. Then, to all or our amazement, before we could even adjust our minds to illness, let alone death, she was gone. I received the call about an hour after she died. Two hours later, I was recording an answer to a question online. The person asked,
Where in the Bible can I be more confident of what happens to me or to someone I love when they die?
I paused and said, “As I speak, I have a friend who has been in the presence of Jesus three hours and 16 minutes.”
She is not unconscious. She is not in a kind of soul-sleep awaiting the resurrection. Her body is at the university — in a final act of love to those in need — but her soul is alive and is with Jesus.
We know this because the apostle Paul taught us this: “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). And “to depart and be with Christ, is far better” than remaining here (Philippians 1:23). Why?
Because this is the climax of Jesus’ prayer: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24). “With me!” Not at a distance. Not like these seventy years of Christian life as in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). But face to face. What began seventy years ago, in seeing the glory of Jesus in the gospel, has now become for Char the all-satisfying sight of Jesus face to face. When John saw Jesus on the earth he said, “This is the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). But when John was allowed to see the glory of the risen Jesus, that Char sees now, he fell on his face as though dead (Revelation 1:17). Such glory is so wonderful that it is almost unbearably beautiful.
So the answer is yes. Jesus’ prayer for Char was answered. As we speak, Char sees, face to face, the glory of Jesus. Which leaves one last question.
3. What difference would this make for you?
And the answer is this: If you would turn away from your own glory as the quest of your life, and set your heart on the glory of Jesus, you will see — you will know — that he is true, and you will find immeasurable joy in his presence forever. And I know Char would want me to say, Please, join me here in the presence of Christ.