Glory

Original Date: 
Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hebrews 1:3 The Fullness of Deity: Glory

God with Skin On
I wonder if you can relate to either of these two children:

A little girl once said to her mother, "Mama, I like you better than God."

"Oh, you must not say that!" replied the mother.

"Yes, but really, Mama, I do like you better than God."

Shocked, her mother inquired, "Dear, what makes you say that?"

The child answered simply, "Because I can hug you!"

Or this one:

A little boy’s parents were frustrated because whenever a thunderstorm passed by he would end up in their bed. At the first rumble of thunder, the little boy would be out of his bed and into theirs. They tried to reassure him that he had nothing to fear, that their house would protect him, but nothing worked.

Then, one particularly stormy night, they thought they would apply the lessons of Sunday School. They knew that the little boy had been learning about creation and how God made everything. So as they tucked him back into his bed they told him: “Don’t worry son, God is with you.”

To which the little theologian replied: “Yes, but I want God with skin on.”

A God we can hug. A God with skin on. A God that you can see and touch and be near. Isn’t that what we all want? Faith would be so much easier if we could just shake God’s hand.

As Christians, we believe that God did indeed come within embracing distance. We believe in the “incarnation”—a word which means “taking on flesh.” We believe that at Christmas, when Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary in a stable in Bethlehem, that was God putting skin on. We believe that the second member of the Trinity—God’s own Son—became a human being.

Today we begin the season of Advent—a word that means “coming” or “arrival.” In these four Sundays before Christmas, we are preparing to celebrate the coming of God into the world. And the thought I want to center our Sunday sermons around is the truth that everything that God is was found in that baby boy. The majesty of heaven was in a manger laid.

Here’s the verse that I want to serve as our theme this Advent, Colossians 2:9:

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

All the fullness of deity dwells in Him. Everything that makes God God is found in Jesus. Fullness of deity. Nothing that is found in God is missing from Jesus. It’s all there. Jesus is God with skin on.

I want us to think about that as Christmas draws near. I want us to think about what this verse is claiming to be true. I want us to think about the implications of that: “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives.” And so, I want us to look at some of the attributes of God—some of the things that the Bible says are true of God and God only, some of the things that make God God—and see how they are true of Jesus. I want us to see what it means to say that the fullness of Deity lives in that baby of Bethlehem.

And I want to start with Glory.

Hard to Define
Hebrews 1:3 says:

3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory…

Here is another way of saying that the fullness of Deity lives in Him. The Son—who is Jesus—is the radiance—that is, the outworking, the expression of—God’s glory. Just as we say that the rays of sunlight which we can see are the radiance of the Sun that sits at the center of our solar system, so we can say that Jesus is the visible manifestation of God’s glory. To see Jesus, in other words, is to see the glory of God.

Now, glory is one of those words we use in church all the time—it works pretty well in our worship music—but it is a surprisingly hard word to define. It’s like trying to define “beauty”—you know it when you see it, but it is hard to put into words.

I looked it up in a theological dictionary, and here are some of the phrases that I read: Glory is “the luminous manifestation of [God’s] person, his glorious revelation of himself;” glory “suggests something that radiates from the one who has it, leaving an impression behind:” and glory “in the Bible is a quality belonging to God and is recognized by man only in response to him.” (TDNTT, p. 44-45)
That’s a mouthful. Another definition I found says “Glory is the going public of God’s [character]. It is the way He puts His [character] on display for people to apprehend.” (John Piper, http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-god-s-glory).

Essentially, glory is what people see when God is present. It is the light that surrounds God’s presence. It is the beauty and power and goodness that shines off of God. Glory is what can be seen when God invades the human sphere. It is the brilliant expression of His own excellence.

Glory is essential to who God is, because it is impossible for God to go anywhere without His glory.

But, like I said, a definition of the word glory is not going to get it done. We cannot break God’s glory down like a specimen on a lab table, we need to see God’s glory to fully appreciate it.

So what I would like to do is take you to a book of the Bible where God’s glory plays a central role—the book of Exodus, where we have spent so much of our year—and look at several episodes where God’s glory was on display. Then, at the end, we’ll talk about the implications of this same glory being found in Christ.

The Guiding Light
What I’m going to do today is share a number of scripture passages that show the glory of God. With each passage, we’ll ask: What is God’s glory like? Our goal is to get a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be the radiance of God’s glory.

You can follow along in your Bibles if you like—I’ll mostly be in Exodus--but when I get to each passage it will also appear—gloriously—on the screen behind me.

God’s glory appears as a cloud throughout Exodus. We first encounter that cloud in Exodus 13:20-21:

20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

This is the momentous occasion when the children of Israel left Egypt. After Moses confronted Pharaoh again and again, after the 10 devastating plagues—including the dreadful angel of death claiming the firstborn of every Egyptian family—after the Passover celebration and the consecration of the firstborn; finally, Pharaoh let the people go.

And as they set out with the plunder of Egypt, God went with them. He manifested His presence in a pillar of cloud. By day, this cloud stayed before them. At night, it lit up like a pillar of fire. As they set out for the land God would show them, they had God’s glory as their constant guide. They did not enter the desert alone.

A word you might hear in relation to God’s glory is shekinah. It’s not a word that appears in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined the phrase from a Hebrew word that means “he caused to dwell.” Shekinah is a way of saying that God came to be present with His people. As long as that cloud was visible, they knew God was with them.

But it wasn’t just the Israelites who saw the cloud. The Egyptians witnessed it as well. When they sent their chariots after the fleeing slaves and trapped them on the shores of the Red Sea, the cloud positioned itself between the Israelites and the Egyptians. On the Israelite side of the cloud it remained as bright as day, on the Egyptian side it became as black as night (Exodus 14:19-20).

Then, when God parted the waters of the sea, and the Israelites began to cross over on dry ground, the cloud withdrew and allowed the Egyptians to pursue. Exodus 14:24-25 tells us what happened next:

24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

This is our first encounter with the glory cloud in Exodus. God’s shekinah glory is present with His people as they set out from Egypt, and He serves as guide and guard as they make their way into the wilderness.

The Everlasting Storm
We can move ahead now in the story to the arrival of the people at Mt. Sinai. This is the mountain of the Lord. It is here that God first appeared to Moses in a bush that burned without being consumed. It is here that God is going to give the 10 Commandments and establish the covenant that makes Israel His chosen nation. It is here that God’s glory will be most fiercely on display.

In Exodus 19:9 the Lord tells Moses what is going to happen:

9 The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”

God then tells Moses to warn the people to keep their distance from the mountain. He warns them that the mountain is to be set apart as holy, and that anyone who touches the mountain must be put to death. Then, Exodus 19:16-19:

16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The glory of the Lord covered the mountain of God (cf. Exodus 24:15-18), and it was terrifying. The cloud appeared like a massive thunderhead, like dark smoke billowing from a blacksmith’s furnace, and it was filled with thunder and lightning. The presence of God descended like fire and the whole mountain trembled violently.

Imagine! The terribleness, the dread, the shaking of the earth, the sound of that mysterious trumpet growing and growing and growing, the sight of that thick cloud and smoke and fire! The power of the thunder and the flashing of the lightning. The mountain trembled! The mountain was on fire! The dread of this! The abject terror they must have felt! Just imagine how terrible it must have been to see this visible demonstration of the glory of God!

The mountain was on fire with the glory of God!

I read this week about a place that receives more lightning strikes than any other place on earth. It’s a small area in northwestern Venezuela where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo. It’s known as Relampago del Catatumbo, or “the everlasting storm.” Lightning rampages through the sky up to 160 nights per year, for as long as 10 hours at a time. And it’s not just the odd fierce strike here and there, oh no, this storm produces as many as 280 lightning strikes per hour. That’s an astounding 1.2 million lightning flashes per year. The flashes are so persistent that in colonial times Caribbean navigators used them as a wayfaring point, and they were called the “Lighthouse of Catatumbo.”

Scientists are not sure why this area gets so much lightning, but believe it has to do with the fact that Lake Maracaibo is surrounded on three sides by mountains, with the only open side facing the warm, moist air of the Caribbean. When this heavily moisture laden air rushes into the Maracaibo basin it encounters cooler air descending from the Andes mountains. The warm, wet air rushes upward, colliding with sleet and snow on its way down. These collisions knock electrons off the rising moisture; creating a charge separation. Molecules at the top of the cloud have fewer electrons—creating a positive charge—while the heavier molecules at the bottom of the cloud have more electrons and a negative charge.

When enough static energy is built up, there is a flash of lightning. In that moment, the air is heated to 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s five times the temperature on the surface of the sun!

That may be just a small glimpse of what the Israelites were seeing on Mount Sinai. God was showing them the majesty and power and holiness of His character. As they received the law, they needed to know with
whom they were dealing. They needed to know with whom they were entering into covenant. This God is a consuming fire! His glory is beyond searching out.

Weightiness
Now we can skip ahead again. To Exodus 33. This is right after the episode with the Golden Calf. Moses has been on top of this mountain, surrounded by this everlasting storm, for 40 days and 40 nights. In that time, the people despaired that he was ever coming back, and so they convinced Aaron to make a representation of God that they could see, touch, and (most importantly) control.

After Moses came down from the mountain and destroyed the calf and the original copy of the the Ten Commandments, he went back up to speak with God; who told him He was done with the Israelites. God said He was ready to start over with Moses and his family.

But Moses boldly argued with God. He got God to agree to let the people go on, but He said that His Presence would not go with them. So, again, Moses argued with God, and God agreed to take His Presence with them. Emboldened by his negotiating success, Moses asked for one more thing. Exodus 33:18:

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

The word that Moses uses here, and the word used for “glory” throughout the Old Testament, is kabod. The word originally meant “weight” or “heaviness.” It has to do with the “weightiness” of a person’s reputation. The importance, the majesty, the honor that belongs to somebody. The greater a person’s glory, the greater weight that they are figuratively said to carry.

And in that sense, nobody carries more weight than God. Verses 19-20:

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Here is the full weight of God’s glory. He describes His mercy and His compassion. All of His goodness, found in His name. But He affixes this warning: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
So, apparently, the cloud that guided the Israelites out of Egypt, and the lightning that thundered from the top of Sinai, were somewhat muted expressions of God’s glory. He could not fully reveal Himself, or all who saw Him would have died. And so, even for Moses, He could only partially reveal the full extent of His glory. Verses 21-23:

21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Interestingly, when Moses came back down the mountain after this visit with God, his face was so radiant with the reflected glory of God that the people could not bear to look at him. From that point on, Moses had to wear a veil over his face to protect the people from the glory reflected there. (Exodus 34:29-35)

That’s the weight of God’s glory.

Home
Fast-forward now to the end of Exodus. Exodus 40.

You may have noticed that our preaching journey through Exodus ended at chapter 20. That’s because, with the exception of the golden calf episode, the second half of Exodus is pretty much exclusively about the tabernacle. Chapters 25 through 31 give detailed instructions for how God wants the tabernacle built. And chapters 35 through 40 give a detailed account of the tabernacle’s construction. Exodus is very thorough in its description of this traveling tent.

It might be worth noting that the Hebrew word for “tabernacle” is mishkan, a word that shares the same root as the word shekinah. A mishkan was a “dwelling place” or “a place for the presence”, and in the second half of Exodus, that’s what the people were preparing.

Then, at the end of the book, when everything was ready, this is what happened. Exodus 40:34-38:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

These are the last verses of Exodus, and they are the climax of the book. The glory of God now has a place of residence within the camp of Israel. Wherever they go, the glory of God will be in the midst of them.
But, of course, the tabernacle had its limitations. It was a tent. And by design, it was meant to limit access. Surrounded by curtains and the furniture of sacrifice, the tabernacle emphasized the barriers that stand between sinful humanity and the glory of God.

The dominant image for me in these last few verses of Exodus is that of verse 35: Even Moses “could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Where God’s glory is concerned, access to humans is denied.

The Embodiment of God’s Glory
One more episode, this one from outside the book of Exodus. Luke, chapter 2. In the New Testament. Familiar words:

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

When it says that the glory of the Lord shone around these shepherds, we are supposed to think of the pillar of fire that separated the Egyptians from the Israelites; we are supposed to conjure up images of the everlasting storm on Mt. Sinai; we are supposed to think of the heaviness that forced Moses to hide his face in the rock while the LORD passed by; we are supposed to think of the cloud descending on the tent of meeting. This is the spectacular, brilliant, all-consuming fire of God trailing after this angel.

But it is not the glory in the heavenly skies that the angel wants these shepherds to notice. No, the angel is there to direct them to a manger, to a baby, who is the embodiment of God’s glory. This baby boy, the Messiah, the Lord, is the radiance of God’s glory. In Him, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

God’s glory has drawn near, taking up residence in a new tabernacle, and now the barriers to access are taken down. What Exodus was preparing for and hinting at becomes reality in Jesus. Jesus is the shekinah glory of God present on earth.

Two Questions
So, now, to conclude our time, I have two questions. The first is: Do you see the glory of God? Do you see the glory that belongs to God and God alone? Do you see His majesty and power and strength and beauty?
Psalm 19:1 says that the heavens are telling the glory of God. What does that mean? It means He is shouting at us. Every time you see a golden sunset in the west... Every time you look up on a clear night and see stars numbering in the thousands... Every time you watch the lightning of a thunderstorm illuminate everything around you… God is shouting at you. He is saying: “This is just a hint of my glory. This is just a whisper of my power and strength. I am glorious. I am beautiful. There is none like me.”

There is no glory like the glory of God. We need eyes. We need eyes that see His glory more than we need anything. We need to see that nothing else on earth can compare to the glory found in God. We need to see that everything else fades into black and white compared to the full color of His glory.

So I ask: Do you see it? Do you love it? You were made for this. Deep down in your heart you have been spending your whole life looking for true glory. You were made to behold the glory of God and know that your search is over. Moses was willing to stop everything just for a glimpse of God’s face, what about you?

And then, second question: Do you see the glory of God in Jesus?

This is what God wants us to see. This is what everything in Exodus was pointing to. Jesus is the tabernacle in which God’s glory dwells. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. All of the majesty and power and strength and beauty of God is found in Jesus Christ.

That’s why He came, that’s what He brought. Angels attended His birth and glory streamed from heaven, but the real glory was found in that manger.

If you are a totally disinterested person sitting there this morning just eager for the service to be over, there will come a day, I hope today, when enough of the crust is scraped off that you will say: “I am made for this. This is why I exist, to see that. Everything is pointing to that. All the glory that I thought was so attractive is going there, to Jesus. Everything else is just hints and whispers. The Bible was right. Jesus was right. Real glory is found in Him.”

There will come a day when every eye will see and every tongue confess that all glory is found in Jesus.

I hope that you will see that before it is too late.