The Glory of God
Objective Reality: His Works
A friend of mine asked me this week what I preached on for my first sermon as pastor. I smiled and said, “God.” He chuckled and said, “That’s good; start simple,” and I replied, “Yeah.” Now what he meant by that was that I began with something basic or, better, fundamental to the Christian faith, rather than something complex and controversial. Better to start with God than something thornier, e.g., the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, the fate of those who have never heard the gospel.
Nevertheless, something about his comment--and my initial response to his comment--struck me as troublesome. Why would I ever consider the subject of God to be simple? Perhaps it’s because I grew up learning about him. A little child can comprehend the concept of God, right? If she couldn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much valuable energy teaching her about God. Perhaps, then, we think that, since a child can understand something about God, then we must know all there is to know about him. I mean, sure, we’re going to keep growing. But it’s not like there’s more to the Bible that is going to be written. Once you’ve read it through a couple of times, you’ve basically got the point, right? Now that we’ve got this much figured out, we can move on to other things.
But can we? We probably wouldn’t verbalize such a thing, that we have God figured out. But practically that is how we live, as if God were a fairly simple subject matter that we pretty well understand—certainly more than the average person on the street. And there is no better way we reveal how little we think of God than how little we talk directly to him or about him. (Illustration of Michigan football for me.) If we really understood who God is and what he is like—if we understood his glory—it would transform our lives.
That’s why we’re taking four weeks to study this subject, the Glory of God. We learned last week that God’s glory begins with his massiveness/weightiness/heaviness inherent in his nature. We may describe his nature in terms of his his oneness (there is none like him), his threeness (he is three), and his character (what he is like).
Transition: All this would be unknown to us had God not revealed his glory to us. So this week we want to discuss the displays of God’s glory. God is intent on glorifying himself in everything.
1. Visible Displays.
1.1 Throughout Scripture God displays something of his magnificent worth visually, usually to emphasize his presence with his people. We’ll look at three separate displays of God’s glory in the OT. I want you to look for two things as we read these texts: notice how the glory of God displays itself and how people who see it respond.
1.2 Displays of God’s glory during the Exodus
1.2.1 Exodus 16.10 – And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
1.2.2 Exodus 24.15-18 – Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.
1.2.3 Exodus 34.5-8 – Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (33.18). He wanted a visible demonstration of the glory of God. 19And 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. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and 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. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (33.19-23). 5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6The 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, 7keeping 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 fourth generation.” 8And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (34.5-8).
1.2.4 Exodus 40.34-35 – Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
220.127.116.11 Similar events at the opening of the Temple: 2 Chronicles 7.1-3 – As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
1.3 Display of God’s glory to Isaiah. Isaiah 6.1-5 – In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
1.4 Display of God’s glory to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 1.26-28 – Above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness all around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
1.5 Argumentation: It is as if God takes a slice of time and space to display visually something of his glory. And when he does, it manifests itself in clouds and smoke and brightness and fire! In this sense we can refer to the glory of God as “the rainbow-like display of God’s manifold perfections.”
1.6 Application: Some want God to prove himself by showing up right here, right now. They reason, “If God appeared to people back in the Bible, I have a right to see him, too. He owes me that much!” This fails to consider that appearances like these were hundreds of years apart from one another and that many people in the Bible never saw visions like these. This line of thinking ends up betraying our own arrogance. A God like this—one whose very appearance forces us to our faces—is not one that can be manipulated or cornered into obedience. He owes us nothing; the fact that a God this great would show himself at all is an act of grace.
Transition: A second category emerges that is closely related to his visual displays.
2. His Creation.
2.1 Why a separate category?
2.1.1 The visible displays of his glory we just talked about were direct pointers, indicating what God is in himself, such that Moses, an Israelite, Isaiah, or Ezekiel could point to one of those displays and say truly, “There is God,” or “I saw the Lord.”
2.1.2 This category is similar in that we’re talking about a display of God’s glory that is visible (i.e., we can see creation). But it is quite different in that we cannot point to the creation and say truly, “There is God.”
2.1.3 In other words, the first point describes God’s visible displays of what he is like, while this point describes God’s visible displays of what he can do. It’s the difference between essence and activity.
2.1.4 What I’m describing is the difference between Christian theism and pantheism (the idea that all is God).
2.1.5 Illustration: We often sing, “In the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.” But what do we mean? Is the wind that rustles the grass God? No. When we say that he speaks to me everywhere, does that mean that the chirping birds and crashing waves are the voice of God? No. To say Yes would be pantheist. (Frankly because of the possible error of interpretation, it may be best not to sing this stanza!) What (I think) the hymnwriter meant was that the works of God in creation testify to the Person who created it. The creation is not the Creator, but teaches us about him and leads us to him.
2.2 Biblical evidence
2.2.1 Isaiah 6.3 – And one called to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
2.2.2 Psalm 19.1 – The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2.2.3 Psalm 97.6 – The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.
2.2.4 Isaiah 43.6-7 – “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
2.2.5 But isn’t that a reference only to the people of God? Cp. Ex 9.16 – [The Lord said to Pharaoh,] “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
2.2.6 Romans 1.18-20 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (For a helpful list of attributes of God that can be known through creation, cf. Doran, Johnson, and Eckman, For the Sake of His Name [Allen Park, MI: SGI, 2002], 201.)
2.3 Application: God is showing us something about himself through everything that he has made, from the vast expanse of stars that we see on a clear, moonless night, to the person sitting next to you on the bus, who herself is made in the image of God. His intention is for us to look around us—to look at all that he has made—and to learn truth about himself, indeed, to see his glory!
Transition: If all we had were visual displays, however, we would be left to our own interpretation as to what God really is like.
3. Verbal Displays
3.1 Scriptural Basis
3.1.1 Exodus 33.18-19 – Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The Lord.’”
3.1.2 Exodus 33.5-6 – The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
3.1.3 After the Decalogue was given: Deuteronomy 5.24 – Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the first. This day we have seen God speak with man and man still live.
3.2 Argumentation: “Even unfallen Adam needed to hear God’s direct speech that supplemented and interpreted God’s revelation in nature. He didn’t need to figure everything out for himself; in many cases that would have taken a long time or indeed been impossible for the finite mind. So, as God’s faithful covenant servant, Adam accepted this help gratefully. He accepted God’s interpretation of the world until he made the tragic decision to accept Satan’s interpretation instead. But after the fall, at least two other reasons for special divine speech entered the picture. One was man’s need of a saving promise, a promise that could never be deduced from natural revelation alone. The other reason was to correct our sinful misinterpretations of natural revelation. Romans 1:21-32 shows what people do with natural revelation when left with no other word from God. They repress it, disobey it, exchange it for a lie, disvalue it, and honor those who rebel against it. Thus, God has given us Scripture, or “special revelation,” both to supplement natural revelation (by adding to it the message of salvation) and to correct our misuses of natural revelation. As Calvin said, the Christian should look at nature with the ‘spectacles of Scripture.’ If even unfallen Adam needed to interpret the world according to God’s verbal utterance, how much more do we!” (Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994], 22-23).
Transition: As spectacular and gracious as the displays of his glory visibly, through creation, and through his words, none compares to the display of his glory that we read about in 2 Corinthians 4.6.
4. Personal Display.
4.1 In Christ.
4.1.1 2 Corinthians 4.6 – For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. You don’t know the glory of God apart from Christ. Jesus is the climactic display of the glory of God (cp. Heb 1.3).
4.1.2 Predicted: Isaiah 40.5 – And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
4.1.3 Incarnation: John 1.14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
4.1.4 Earthly ministry: John 2.11 – This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. But not merely in his acts of kindness for the poor and socially outcast.
4.1.5 Crucifixion of Christ: John 13.31-32 – When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” John 17.1 – When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (cp. Philippians 2.5-11).
4.1.6 Why is it crucial for God’s glory to be displayed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? Because it is the means by which he is glorifying himself through a host of people who are in Christ.
4.2 In us through the gospel.
4.2.1 Romans 9.23 – to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.
4.2.2 Ephesians 1.6, 12, 14 – to the praise of his glorious grace. Today’s choir anthem (“To the Praise of His Glorious Grace”) wasn’t just another nice truth to line up with all the other biblical truths you’ve learned. It is the point of the gospel—to take a people who should display God’s glory through his eternal and just condemnation of us and make us a people who display God’s glorious grace.
Illustration of the Mayflower Pilgrims writing back to England. So I would say with Job, Behold, these are but the outskirts [i.e., fringes, borders] of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? (26.14).
From one end of Scripture to another—from one end of time to the other—God is determined to make his glory known. Hk 2.14 – For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. You will glorify God forever; you exist for his glory, and God will not fail to get glory from your existence forever.