Seeing What We Haven't Seen Before
I just wrapped up a four-part series at the Pleasant View Church of Christ…and after it I find myself returning over-and-over-and-over again to one Scripture in the Bible. It's a verse that I've read multiple times previously without it fully registering in my psyche. I'm assuming that experience is not unique to me…is there anyone else sitting here today who, studying a familiar part of the Bible, has said to himself or herself, "Wow?! Why haven't I ever seen that before?!"?
Do you ever wonder if the reason you've missed that awesome revelation from God is because you were just thick…or maybe instead God was "saving" it for you? Perhaps our Lord hides things in the Bible from us so that we'll never get bored reading His Word because of the joy we feel when, like an explorer, we discover something for the very first time.
At least the first time for us. 🙂
It's like the Most High has lifted a veil and we can finally see what we should have seen before…
So, what is this magnificent Scripture that I'm speaking of?
You'll just have to wait to find out. 🙂
Instead, let's first spend a little time looking at a few uncomfortable verses in the Bible…starting with one I've brought up here multiple times…Hebrews 9:27
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment
When you hear those words, do you immediately repeat Paul and say, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better"? (Philippians 1:23b)
Or, does knowing that as soon as you die you have to face God make you a bit apprehensive? More than a little apprehensive? Downright frightened?
That same writer of Hebrews seems to indicate there is reason to be uneasy…just a chapter later he penned these words:
6 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Although that line isn't quite as bad as what I once read to you from Jonathan Edward's sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (for example, "Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you should not this very moment drop down into hell")…it's still disconcerting.
When you finally do face God, what type of expression will you see on His face?
But…let's be serious…Hebrews' author isn't the warm and fuzziest kind of person, so maybe what he wrote is just a bit of hyperbole.
Now Jesus, He's someone who had the clearest picture of the Father. His words are "safer" to base our picture of God on. Let's see what he said in Luke 12:4-5:
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Ack! We turn to Jesus for some comforting words…and that's what we get?!
And that's not the only place where Jesus' words can put us a little on edge. I've heard it said that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did heaven (although I've never measured it myself)…but who can forget His words about the judgment where "he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:32b)? It doesn't work out so well for the goats:
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Now are you uncomfortable?
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
We can try to stick our head in the sand, but we all die…and after we do…comes judgment.
When we face God what kind of face will we see?
The Glory of God
Throughout the ages the question of what God is like has often been debated. In the Garden the serpent claimed He was both a liar and someone who was selfishly holding back a blessing from mankind (see Genesis 3:1-6). On the other end of the spectrum, there have been (and are) many who believe He is so loving that nobody ends up in the "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels"—that everyone will be saved.
What exactly is the Most High like?
To try to get a better handle on the answer to that question, speak a little bit about the glory of God…starting with a famous psalm…or the first 3 and a half verses of a famous psalm:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a).
Does anyone sitting here disagree that "the heavens declare the glory of God"? Not only that, but without spoken words that "their voice goes out through all the earth"?
But, even that kind of glory doesn't tell us much about the character of God. It tells us how powerful and creative He is, but such an omnipotent God could be a liar (as the Devil claims). Nothing in beginning of the 19 psalm gives us reason to be more comfortable with the words we read from Hebrews, Luke, or Matthew.
There is definitely a lot of glory of God in the universe that surrounds us. But, is that all there is to divine glory?
To find out the answer to that question, let's see what kind of response someone got when he asked to be shown God's glory.
As a quick catch-up…our Lord has released Israel from bondage in Egypt…and soon after they do something that Psalm 106:19-20 speaks of:
19 They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
That's right…they create a golden calf and worship it…even claiming, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4b).
They truly did "exchange the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass…giving glory to "a metal image."
Not only was God not amused, but Moses was also more than just a wee bit aggravated…and trashed the first set of the 10 commandments. Before he gets the second set, he and God have a conversation in Exodus 33:12-23:
12 Moses said to the LORD, "See, you say to me, 'Bring up this people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.' 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." 14 And he said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 And he said to him, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?"
17 And the LORD said to Moses, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." 18 Moses said, "Please show me your glory." 19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." 21 And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen"
As I mentioned to the folks back at the Pleasant View Church of Christ…like Solomon Moses doesn't ask for anything the world might want…money…women…fame…instead he first requests that God remain with him and the Jews…and then…
"Please show me your glory."
And our Lord promises to do so…but mentions that even Moses, the man a verse earlier says "the Lord used to speak to…face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (see Exodus 33:11)…cannot view God's the face of God, "for man shall not see me and live."
That's a bit more of the Psalm 19 type glory, isn't it? It also fit part of what we read in Hebrews…do you remember it speaking of "a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:27)? For, as the same writer notes in Hebrews 12:29, "our God is a consuming fire."
When we face God is that the face of God we'll see? A fire that will consume us?
Moses "Sees" God's Glory
Let's head back to Exodus, and take a look at the glory of God our Lord promised to show him. True to God's command, Moses has cut out a couple more stone tablets for the finger of God to write the 10 commandments on…and headed back to Mount Sinai. Turning to Exodus 34:5-9:
5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance."
Notice we still get plenty of that first kind of glory…so much that:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:29-30).
But when God provided what He promised to Moses…showed Moses His glory…the focus wasn't on the "make your face glow" kind of glory, was it? We really only know about it because of the after-effect Scripture records (Moses glowing)…not because the Bible calls it out in the actual incident that shows God's glory.
Instead our God declares His glory with:
"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Although we have to be cautious about reading too much into it…often what a person wants you to focus on is what they say first…and although there is still a judgment aspect in those verses…it's impossible to miss that…showing His glory to Moses…God said He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."
Now…as I've mentioned before…like my departed friend Graham Maxwell said…we don't count scriptures, we weigh them, but not only do we hear about God's compassion directly from God's lips, but we also hear that from King Hezekiah:
For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him" (2 Chronicles 30:9).
Nehemiah…or someone else with him speaking corporately for the Israelites (this was one I recently ran into reading through all 66):
16 "But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them (Nehemiah 9:16-17).
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15)
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).
And I could go on…well…how about one more…this time God speaking for Himself again:
12 "Yet even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:12-13)
Our glorious God shows that glory in His character…one that not only is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love"…but one that "relents over disaster." Yes, He will "by no means clear the guilty"…but he has spent every age since our parents first fell in the Garden trying to get His wayward children to return to him with all their heart. And, as Ezekiel twice records, when He finally does have to bring disaster on the lost, He does not revel in it:
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live" (Ezekiel 18:32)
No, He is slow to anger because He hopes that we will turn and live. It's part of the reason we continue to wait for Jesus' return:
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:7-9).
Which sort of brings us full circle to where we began, doesn't it? Back to judgment…yet even in the pending judgment…the reason it is "pending" and not "present" judgment…we see confirmation of those words our Lord spoke to Moses as part of showing that friend of God His glory.
To Be Continued…
And at this point it's time to use those words that used to drive me up a wall as a kid while I was watching an episode of my favorite television show.
Not that I really like it now either. 🙂
To be continued…
Not only "to be continued," but I actually haven't yet shared the Scripture that started this whole train of thought. Instead you are going to have to tune in next week, same bat channel, same bat time.
But I am hoping at this point you've picked up a few things:
- In the future…it may be many years…it may be this afternoon…you will face God. That's a promise.
- Thus, it is important you be able to answer the question, "What is the face of God like?" What kind of face will you face?
- We also learned that God's glory is far more than just His infinite power (or ability to make us glow in the dark)…that it's in His character.
- A character that is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin"…that takes no "pleasure in the death of the wicked" and would rather "he should turn from his way and live." So much that He even delays the end of everything…"not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
But we still have the lingering claim from Satan that our God is a liar…One that selfishly tried to hold back a blessing in the Garden of Eden to keep us from becoming like gods…followed by millennia of other myriad accusations against our Lord.
Next week we will peer more into the glory of God and see who is telling the truth, our Lord or the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4).