“Glory was Revealed”
December 29, 2019
Our Hearts resonate when the glory of Jesus is revealed.
I. The birth of the baby was glorious (Luke 2:9-14)
II. The life of the Son was glorious (John 1:14-18)
III. The reign of the Righteous Branch will be glorious (Isaiah 11:1-10)
The words glory or glorify or glorious occur 493 times in the English Standard Version, 266 in the Old Testament, and 227 in the New Testament. I guess I have studied the concept of glory on some level at least 493 time in my fifty years as a believer. Some have been fairly deep and concentrated studies. But I’ll admit I still don’t fully understand how Scripture uses this word glory.
In Hebrew the word is kavod, the literal meaning of which is “heavy.” However, it is only rarely used literally. Figuratively, Scripture says things like “his sin was heavy upon him,” or “he was heavy of heart.” It is most often a reflection of a person’s character, “one who is weighty or glorious in the sense of being noteworthy or impressive.” “One who is honorable or honored.” Among people wealth, beauty or social position made one an honored or weighty, person in the society. But even here the book of Proverbs makes it clear that one was expected to merit the honor and the glory.
But above all God is honored, or, as often translated, glorious. He is to be honored for all his character qualities: his righteousness, his faithfulness, his judgment or justice, and his salvation. He is the king of glory, who has done gloriously. He is to be honored for his position as sovereign head of the universe but also because of his surpassing character in all realms. One attempt at a definition says “glory is the manifested presence of God, often displayed in dazzling magnificence; is his character, his attributes expressed; it is his weight, his inestimable worth revealed in his creation.” Another definition simply says “The glory of God refers first and foremost to the sheer weight of the reality of His presence.” Still another says “In Scripture, the word glory is often used to represent the totality of God’s nature, character, and attributes.” For myself, over the years, I’ve used a similar definition. “The glory of God is the radiance of the perfection of each of his character qualities.” Thus God’s love is glorious, his justice is glorious, his power is glorious, his knowledge is glorious, and as a result his presence radiates the glory of all these qualities.
But before we see this in the Christmas Scriptures we need to ask ourselves one more question: what then does it mean to glorify God? For we are often commanded in Scripture to glorify God. Psalm 22:23 “You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!” Clearly it has something to do with fear and praise and standing in awe. Probably the easiest approach is to substitute the phrase “give glory” wherever you see the word glorify, or the command “glory to God.”
But what does it mean to give glory to God? He’s already got all the glory he could possibly have. How can we give him something he’s already got? It doesn’t work. What we have to see is that in giving glory to God we are recognizing his glory, or ascribing to him glory. Psalm 29 “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” This is the key. Whether we are seeing the glory of God, or the glory of Jesus, or being commanded to glorify God, our response is the same: to see the radiance of the perfection of his person and work and to give him praise and honor.
So let me summarize what I’d like to attempt today with two key sentences that seem very different but really say the same thing. First key sentence: Our hearts resonate when the glory of Jesus is revealed. Second key sentence: To glorify Jesus we must first really notice his glory. The difference between the two is that the first is passive; it just happens to us. We’re going along and all of a sudden glory bursts forth and our hearts get caught up in it, and we honor and praise the one who has been revealed. But the second sentence is active. If we want to glorify Jesus we’ve got to do something, which is to see, to actively look at his perfections and character and see in these things the glory that is inherently his and then we’ll honor and praise the one we have seen. Our first text is allows us to observe the first sentence at work. Our second text allows us to observe the second sentence at work.
Our first text is the familiar account of the angels and the shepherds. Let’s read it one last time. Luke 2:8-20 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17When they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The shepherds got to experience my first key sentence. Their hearts resonated when the glory of Jesus was revealed to them. The word glory appears three times in this text. Since this is the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the actual word in the text is doxa, not the Hebrew kavod. Doxa, from which we get the word doxology, was used in classical Greek of an opinion of men, usually positive, much as we might use the phrase “he was a good man.” But when Greek speaking Jews translated the Old Testament they chose doxa as the most common translation of kavod. As one dictionary says the force of kavod “is so compelling that it remolds the meaning of doxa from an opinion of men to something absolutely objective.” Another scholar says “It becomes identical with kāḇôḋ and hence does not bear the ordinary sense of dóxa in secular Greek usage.” Simply put, when we see “glory” in the New Testament, it carries all the weight and meaning of “glory” in the Old Testament.
The first use of “glory” in Luke 2 is verse 9: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Here the idea of radiance dominates. God’s glory is the radiance of the perfection of all his character traits and works. Everything he is is perfect and everything he does is perfect and that perfection is perceived as a kind of holy light. This is what the shepherds experience as the angels announce the most perfect of all God’s perfect acts, his incarnation as the Savior. This is good news of great joy to all people. It’s glorious news. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Notice that for the shepherds this the experience of glory was passive. They were just sitting there minding their own business, minding their sheep when “boom,” “glory.” When God’s glory is revealed this way, our hearts resonate.
In the next use of the word is it the hearts of the angels that resonate. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Notice how glory and praise go together. They praise God by ascribing glory to him, recognizing his glory. Russ Ramsey, in his devotional book Behold the Lamb of God captures something I’ve been seeing in this passage: “This was big news. The shepherds sensed it, but the angels in heaven knew it, and their behavior offered a glimpse into the cosmic weight of this announcement. Initially, it was just one glorious but solitary angel who appeared to these men in Bethlehem’s fields. But as soon as he announced Jesus’ birth, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” It was as if there were millions of angels hiding just behind some celestial curtain, and once they heard, “Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” they were unable to contain their joy any longer and all rushed in. The angels, all of them, could not contain themselves.
In the same way the shepherd could not contain themselves. We read that they go to Bethlehem and find everything just as the angel had said: the baby, the manger, the swaddling clothes, everything. And they tell Mary and Joseph and anyone else who will listen what has happened to them, the glory they had seen and the good news they had heard. Then, verse 20, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The glory of God, the perfection of his character and of his mighty acts on our behalf, had been revealed to them, their hearts resonated with this glory and so they themselves ascribed glory to God and gave him praise.
And this, of course, is the right response when his glory is revealed. We are to recognize and praise it. This is what the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in 1647 was saying in its very first question: “What is the chief end of man?” or the main purpose of humankind? “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God made people “for our good,” because the greatest good we could experience was to enjoy him forever, and he made us for his glory, because when his person, character, perfection and mighty works are revealed to us, the right response of our hearts is to glorify him. It does us good to glorify him.
So that’s the passive response, when God’s glory bursts upon us as it did for the shepherds. Our hearts resonate when the glory of Jesus is revealed. And such displays continue even today. But let’s be honest. Unless Jesus returns today, we can’t expect such a glorious display, such an angelic host. The incarnation was the opening curtain of the most significant act in history. The passion of Jesus, and his resurrection was the climax of this story, and His return is the final resolution. Those degrees of glory we can’t expect to just fall on us every other day. Yet I would contend that we still receive displays of glory frequently. Let me give two main examples, which are true for me and I think for others. These won’t surprise you because I’ve mentioned them often.
The first is creation. Very often when we come upon some beauty of creation, we are, to again use C. S. Lewis’ phrase, surprised by joy. That’s because creation declares the glory of God. So, I receive a glimpse of glory in every sunrise that God orchestrates. I receive a glimpse of glory in moonlight on water. I see his glory in the birth of a baby. I see his glory in the structure of a crystal. I see his glory in the dew on a leaf. I see his glory in the stars of the night sky. And often we see glory in what I call augmented creation, where the creativity he has given humankind opens vistas otherwise hidden. The most obvious example is these nebulas we’ve been using as backgrounds. These are beauties God has created, but it took the creativity and intelligence of people created in His image to build the instruments to capture that far distant hidden beauty.
The second example is art, another augmented creation glory. I spoke last week about Behold the Lamb of God, the Andrew Peterson Christmas event that we livestreamed. The sheer God given skill of the musicians combined with the God honoring, thoughtful and paradoxical lyrics is, for me, and experience of his glory revealed. I receive it and praise and honor him. In the words of the lyric I played last week, we “sing out for joy for the brave little boy who was God but he made himself nothing. He gave up his pride and he came here died like man. Therefore God exalted him to the place of highest praises. And gave him the name above every name. At the very name of Jesus. Son of God. Son of Man. So music glorifies God. This has to be why J. S. Bach signed every composition he wrote with “Soli Deo Gloria.” To God alone be the glory.
Our hearts resonate when the glory of Jesus is revealed. But this morning I want to go beyond that to the active sense. To glorify Jesus we must first really notice his glory. We see this in John 1. Let’s read verses 14 to 18: 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. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
The word became flesh. That’s incarnation. That’s the thing we usually celebrate from this verse. We saw in verses 1-3 at the start of this series that the Word is God. So what would you expect to see if God, God the Son, became physically present here on this little platform? You would expect to see glory. You would expect to blinded by the glory, bowed down by the glory, humbled by the glory, like the shepherds. But when Jesus walked, taught and ministered in Galilee and Judea, most people did not have that experience. His glory was veiled. He took on flesh as a tent. His glory was contained, didn’t overwhelm most who saw. The Pharisees were not overwhelmed, and others could say things like “isn’t this just the carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his brothers.”
As Don Carson says “Up to this point, a reader might be excused for thinking that the glory manifest in the incarnate Word was openly visible—that Jesus went around with a kind of luminescence that marked him out as nothing less than the Son of God. But as John proceeds with his Gospel, it becomes clearer and clearer that the glory Christ displayed was not perceived by everyone. When he performed a miracle he “revealed his glory,” but only his disciples put their faith in him. The miraculous sign was not itself unshielded glory; the eyes of faith were necessary to 'see' the glory that was revealed by the sign. . . .”
There is a hiddenness to the display of glory in the incarnate Word. But, John is saying, he and the other disciples and those who put their faith in Jesus saw his glory, even after it was tented in flesh, saw a glory that could only have been from the unique Son of God. We have seen it, John says. The word is gazed upon or observed or beheld it. We too will not usually see the glory of Jesus until we begin to gaze upon, to dwell, to seriously observe Jesus.
What does John offer as testimony to this ‘gazing’ that perceives glory? Remember the definition of glory that I’m using. It is the radiance of the perfections of all of God’s character qualities and works. Now look at what John says “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth are the perfect character qualities that so filled the Son, even in his tented human nature that the disciples and those who followed him could see them and thus see his glory. Perfect grace and perfect truth shown from the incarnate Jesus, not in a visible manifestation but in a fullness that you could see, perceive, gaze on if you took the time to look.
This is what John expands on in the rest of the prologue. Verse 15 “John [the Baptist] bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” John the Baptist saw his glory and knew that while he himself had a certain ministry for God, this one he gazed on outranked him because he was the pre-existing glorious one. “Behold,” gaze, John said of Jesus, “The Lamb of God.”
Verse 16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” From his overflowing perfection of grace we have all received grace. We see his glory as we contemplate his perfect grace. This is a journey, folks, this is a crucial and necessary passage for each believer. We need to gaze on and behold the grace of Jesus which saves us and keeps us and sanctifies us for no merit of our own. I’ve often said that if you ask most any four-year-old what he or she needs to do to go to heaven, they will say “be good.” That’s the starting point of human perception. But as we grow and mature, either in Christ or not, we more and more see that “being good” is an impossible standard, just as the Law God gave Moses, while itself good, was an impossible standard. We do not fully love God and fully love others as the law demands, as goodness itself demands. The more we fail at this, the more we see our selfishness and self-centeredness and brokenness. The more we sense our inability not to fail at this, the more we recognize our need for grace. The more we marvel at the grace given in Jesus who fulfilled the Law for us and by grace, because of his great love for us, made us alive, and brought us into intimate relationship with God, the more we see His Glory.
When we gaze at the grace upon grace we have received, we see his glory, the radiance of the perfection of this grace. Same thing when we behold truth. Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The truth here is not just objective truth, but truth that shows the true way, truth that makes a difference. Again, this is a journey. Our culture would love for us to discard truth, to disregard truth, to somehow put kindness or niceness above truth. But the more we gaze at the truth of the Gospel, both the bad news of sin and judgment and the good news of God’s love and rescue, through Jesus, by faith, the more we see that the kindest thing we can do for those caught in sin and self-deception is to tell them the truth. This is what Jesus did, whether you were a Pharisee, a tax collector, a governor or a king. And he revealed what he taught, that the truth was the only thing that could make us free from the deception and lies of a fallen world.
The pairing of grace and truth is an intentional echo of a key revealing of God’s glory in the Old Testament. As Carson says “John is almost certainly directing his readers to Exodus 33 and 34. There Moses begs God, “Now show me your glory.” The Lord replies, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” So Moses stands on Mount Sinai, and, we are told, “the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’”
Love and faithfulness are the heart of the goodness which is God’s glory. The two crucial words in Hebrew are ḥeseḏ (steadfast love, loving kindness, mercy, graciousness) and and ʾemeṯ (truth or faithfulness). This pair of expressions recurs again and again in the Old Testament. The two words that John uses, 'full of grace and truth', are his ways of summing up the same ideas. The glory revealed to Moses when the Lord passed in front of him and announced his name, displaying that divine goodness characterized by ineffable grace and truth, was the same glory John and his friends saw in the Word-made-flesh.
And so we see God’s glory when we stare hard at Jesus. Verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” To see God is to see his glory. Even Moses, when God displayed his glory and revealed himself, even then God had to cover Moses with his hand and let him see only the corona of his glory or he would have died. But in Jesus God is known to us, the rich, Biblical knowing that is far more than just head knowledge, but is a deep, relational, heart knowledge, the kind of presence with us that is God’s big idea from the beginning.
Active seeking and seeing of God’s perfections, of Jesus’ perfect person and work is the way to see his glory. Once in a great while it might burst in on us in some blatant manifestation and demand the response of honor and praise, and thank God when it does. But mostly we see God’s glory when we slow down to gaze on his perfections, revealed in Scripture. In His perfect character, his perfect work we will see his glory. But friends, I would not be true to myself if I didn’t emphasize looking into the Scriptures. These Christmas Scriptures and the words that we’ve studied this month are portals through which we see the glory – if we will slow down to gaze. The Gospel of Luke, which we will pick up again next week, is a tremendous portal through which we see Jesus’ glory – if we will slow down to gaze. This new year is an opportunity to seek Jesus’ glory – if you will slow down to gaze at Scripture. We often call his meditation, the turning over and turning over and looking at a verse or two or three of Scripture with the goal of seeing what’s really there, of gazing at the perfection of God’s character and work long enough to see his glory.
All this has reminded me of the old Steve Green song which celebrated all this: There they are again. The witnesses of Jesus take their stand. Twelve amazing men. Their testimony spreads across the land. Such a story told! How can they believe? That God has walked upon the earth? Could they be deceived? But how their words persuade. The truth is in their eyes. And many hearts are won to faith. As they testify: We have seen God's glory. We have lived and walked with Christ the King. We have seen Him heal the wounded. We have heard the brokenhearted sing. We have seen God's glory. We have seen Him dead and raised to life. We will worship Him forever. We have seen God's glory, Jesus Christ.
We see God’s glory when we gaze on Jesus.