06/02/2017

The Glory of Christ

‘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’ (John 1:14).

‘Show me Thy glory’
Under the Old Covenant the saints of God had a great desire to behold the glory of the Lord. It was Moses who prayed, ‘Lord, show me Thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18). That was his great desire – to see something of the glory of God. But the Lord said to Moses, ‘You cannot see my face, for no man can see Me and live’ (Exodus 33:20). So Moses was led to a cleft in the rock, sheltered in the hands of the Almighty, and there the presence of God passed by and Moses was given a glimpse of His glory, but not of His face. How did God reveal His glory to Moses? Was it am ecstatic feeling that overwhelmed him? Or a supernatural aura, or a blinding light? No. The presence of God was marked by His speech – His word, His voice. He proclaims His name to Moses: ‘The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin …’ (Exodus 34:6). In other words, God’s revelation of His glory was a revelation of His divine nature and attributes. God made Himself known to Moses personally as the God of mercy and grace who is able to freely pardon and forgive sinful people. The glory of God, then, is the sum of His attributes. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. This is our God. This is His glory. So when Moses cried out, ‘Lord, show me Thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18), he was pleading with God for a revelation of the divine being. He wanted to know God. He was thirsting and longing for experiential knowledge of the great I AM – to know Him, to love Him, and to learn of His nature and character.

‘The Word …’
As we come to the New Testament, we find that the fullness of the Father’s glory is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. As the hymn writer says, ‘Would we see His highest glory? Here it shines in Jesus’ face’. ‘All that mortal man is capable of knowing about God the Father is fully revealed to us by His Son’ (J. C. Ryle). He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). ‘For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). ‘He is the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15). He Himself says, ‘I and my Father are one’ (John 10:30). He says, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9). John, in our text, calls the Lord Jesus ‘the Word’ – the Logos. He says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). He affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ, His unity with the Godhead, and the fullness of His Deity – ‘The Word was God’. The Logos, the Word, is the One who makes the Father known. He is ‘the Sermon’ of God (Calvin). He is the Reason for everything – the Creator of all things visible and invisible, the one through whom all things were made (v.2). He is the Answer – the meaning of life. ‘In Him was life,’ John says, ‘and that life was the light of men’ (v.4). Indeed, He is the Light of the World who says to lost mankind, ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). So the Lord Jesus Christ is God the Word – the whole reality of God is most perfectly expressed in Him. He is everything that God is. He is equal in every way with the Father and the Spirit. He is autotheos – God of Himself. We see in Him all the attributes of deity. The Name Moses heard proclaimed by the Lord God is manifest in Jesus Christ – ‘His perfect wisdom, His almighty power, His unspeakable love to sinners, His incomparable holiness, His hatred of sin could never be represented to our eyes more clearly than we see them in Christ’s life and death’ (J. C. Ryle).

‘Became flesh’
The Lord Jesus Christ is God incarnate – the embodiment of the second Person of the Trinity. He is ‘God manifest in the flesh’ (1 Timothy 3:16). He is the meeting-point between the Trinity and lost humanity (J. C. Ryle). John says most clearly, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. The infinite, eternal Son of God took a body and entered the reality of space and time. He intervened physically in human history. He took human nature upon Himself, and became a man like ourselves in all things, yet without sin. He was a man of reasonable body and soul. He had human hair, teeth, nails, skin, hands, and feet. He had capillaries, arteries and veins. He suffered human frailty. He hungered, thirsted, ate, drank, slept, got tired and worn out, felt pain, wept, rejoiced, suffered at the hands of cruel men, sweat drops of blood, faced untold agonies, indeed He was crucified, and He died. He was a real man. He became flesh. The Chalcedonian Creed (451 A.D.) says that He is ‘consubstantial with us according to the manhood, in all things like unto us, yet without sin’. He has a human body, a human mind, human emotions, human affections, a human soul. He was like us in every way, sin only excepted.

The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say that He came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Romans 8:3). He didn’t come as a sinner, but He came in all the weakness and frailty of lost mankind. He knew what it was like to hurt, to cry, to suffer, to die. He knew agony of mind and body. He was tempted in every way, yet He never sinned. He was taken into the wilderness by the Spirit and there He battled with Satan in the realm of His mind (Matthew 4:1–11). Satan tested His obedience to the Father – He pushed Him to His very limits. So the Lord Jesus understands the human situation. Even now, as He is enthroned in glory, that human heart He still retains. We have a sympathetic high priest, one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. He came into full identification with lost mankind. He understands the plight of man not merely because He is omniscient as God, but because He has experienced it as man.

‘And dwelt among us’
John says, ‘He dwelt among us’. For thirty years of His life, He was the great nobody. He was God incognito. The divine Lord of Glory came and dwelt among us like an undercover agent. He was born in an obscure village. Though he was the Son of God, yet he was brought up as the son of a carpenter. He worked there for most of His life. He made things. He worked with His hands. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He had no A Levels, no degrees, not even a GCSE. He didn’t travel far from home – at the most, he went 200 miles away from the place where He was born. ‘He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him’ (Isaiah 53:2). He looked like any other man. You’d pass by Him in the street, yet He was true Almighty God.

Thomas Goodwin said, ‘when God became man, heaven kissed earth’. But why did He come into this broken world? Why did God become man? He came to bring us back to God. He came to rescue and to save. ‘For the Son of man came to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). He came to live a holy and a blameless life. He came to obey the will of His Heavenly Father. He came to keep the Holy Law of God perfectly. Indeed, He is the fulfilment of the Law (Romans 10:4). We’ve trampled upon God’s righteous commands. We’ve smashed His statutes and offended His honour. We’ve lived as if God did not exist. But He came in the beauty of holiness and He lived a life full of love – love for God and love for mankind. He carried all of our griefs and sorrows. He took all of our sins and lawlessness upon Himself. So great was His identification with lost mankind that ‘God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). ‘For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh’ (Romans 8:3). All of our guilt, all of our sin, all of our shame was laid upon Him. ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief … He was despised, and we esteemed Him not’ (Isaiah 53:3). He was taken to Calvary and crucified there for sins not His own. ‘He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds, we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5).

He is the God-man (theanthropos), and it is only the God-man who can save us. None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. He is perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood. He is truly God and truly man – two natures (divine and human), concurring without confusion in one remarkable person. ‘He is almighty, because He is God, and yet He can feel with us, because He is man’ (J. C. Ryle). He is powerful to save us because He is God, and He is fit to represent us because He is man. To quote one of the Puritans, ‘What a wonder it is, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united that anything in the world; and yet without any confusion. That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That the God upon the throne should become an infant in the cradle; that the thundering Creator should become a suffering man – these are such expressions of His mighty power, and condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven’ (Thomas Goodwin). 

Are we astonished by this? It is truly remarkable. As C. S. Lewis once said, the incarnation is the ‘greatest miracle’ in human history: ‘He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still … [into] the womb [of a virgin] … down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to rise up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him’. We need Him. We need the God-man. We need the whole Christ (totus Christus) and only Christ (solus Christus) to save us. As B. B. Warfield reminds us, we do not need ‘a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man – one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is: upon whose almighty arm we can rest, and to whose human sympathy we can appeal. We cannot afford to lose either the God in the man or the man in the God; our hearts cry out for the complete God-man whom the Scriptures offer us’.

‘And we have seen His glory’
The Apostle John testifies as an eyewitness to the glory and majesty of the God-man. He says, ‘And we have seen His glory’. His glory is the sum and substance of their message. His glory is the very essence of Christianity. You cannot separate the good news of the Gospel from the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ. The Good News is Christ ‘clothed with His Gospel’ (Calvin). Sometimes as Christians we talk about the blessings of salvation as if they were abstracted from Christ. We talk about regeneration, and justification, and glorification, but without Christ none of these things would be possible – for all of our salvation is found in Him. Paul reminds the Ephesians that every spiritual blessing comes to us ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 1). They come to us by virtue of a spiritual union with Him that was established before the foundation of the world – a union that becomes a reality in our lives through faith in Christ alone. For the Christian, there is something more wonderful than the blessings of salvation. There is something more glorious than the new birth. There is something more beautiful than sanctification. There is something greater even than justification and adoption. There is the glory of Christ Himself. Stephen Charnock says, ‘there is something in Christ more excellent and comely than the office of a Saviour; the greatness of His person is more excellent than the salvation procured by His death’. This is what the beloved disciple saw in Christ – His glory, His majesty, His beauty, His radiance. They looked upon Him and were lost in wonder, love, and awe. ‘We have seen His glory’. He was glorious in life and in death – never was He more glorious and majestic than when He died and rose again for lost mankind:

In His highest work, redemption,
See His brightest glory blaze!

The work of redemption is like a great mirror wherein we behold the glory of Christ. The world was His theatre and Calvary the stage upon which the God-man made know His glory to sinners of lost mankind. ‘We have seen His glory’, John says. The things of this world, all of our sins, all the temptations, all of vanity fair pales into significance in the light of His glory and grace. So we must look away from ourselves, and behold Jesus. The Psalmist says, ‘They who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed’ (Psalm 34:5). The Lord Christ Himself says, ‘Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other’ (Isaiah 45:22). On this looking to Christ depends all of our salvation and assurance of faith. If we keep looking inward, into ourselves and into sin, then we’ll fall to pieces. But the sight of our Saviour dispels all thoughts of darkness and despair. For who can cheer the heart like Jesus? All the glory, and majesty, and power, and power, and love of God is found in Christ.

Words fail to capture the beauty and glory of Christ. We need psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs to lisp our praise – to worship and love Him. Solomon says, ‘He is the fairest of ten thousand, the lily of the valley, the rose of Sharon, yes, He is altogether lovely’. Solomon and Moses only had a glimpse of the glory of God, but these disciples, these fishermen, these tax collectors and sinners – they have seen His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. My friends, have we had such a sight of His glory? If Moses under the Old Covenant had such a view of the glory of God and such holy desires to know Him then, how much more should seek the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? John Owen says, ‘We need a constant view of the glory of Christ to revive our souls and cause our spiritual lives to flourish and thrive’. What do we know of this constant view of Christ in our lives? The Apostle Paul speaks of ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?’ What do we know of this glory by experience? Are we thirsting and longing for a sight of His glory? Are we hungering for His righteousness? Are we longing for a sense of His presence?

The Lord Jesus wants us to enjoy His glory by experience. He says to His Father, ‘Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24). Oh that we may behold the glory of Christ more clearly by faith in this world, so as to prepare to behold His glory more clearly by sight in the next! If we cannot behold Him by faith in the here and now, how shall we behold Him by sight in the hereafter? Have we seen His glory with the eyes of faith? May God stamp a vision of Christ upon our eyes.

Practical Applications
I] Of comfort: we see in the incarnation the depths of His love for us. Sometimes we are prone to think harsh thoughts of Christ and we imagine that He doesn’t love us. We look at our many sins, we look at our failures, we feel our own worthlessness, and we think to ourselves ‘How can He love a sinner like me?’ Yet, as one of the Church fathers observed, ‘it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body’ (Athanasius). He came into this world for us. He came because He loved us and desired to save us. He came to show the love His Heavenly Father for lost mankind. ‘When we had lost ourselves by sin, God, in the riches of His grace, sent for his Son, made of a woman, to redeem us’ (Thomas Watson). Oh the love of Christ! So great and so vast His love that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6–8, 10).

II] Of encouragement to prayer: there is a real man in glory who ever lives to make intercession for us. He came down to earth and assumed our nature, and He went back up into heaven as a real man, with a human heart, and human feelings. He understands our situation. He knows. He is ever ready to listen and to hear us. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize without weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). He knows what you are going through. He knows the pain, the suffering, and the anxiety. He understands the searing pain of temptation, He knows the sorrows of life, and the misery of death. He feels for you. His heart beats in heaven with love for poor sinners. He prays just for you. He goes to His Heavenly Father with your name upon His lips. ‘He hears your sighs and bottles your tears’ (Thomas Watson). He is ever ready to listen. At your lowest ebb, when all things are falling apart, when the world is crashing to bits around you – there is a Saviour, the God-man, in the glory pleading for you with tears before the throne of mercy. You can always cast yourself upon Him – ‘I know one gate is open, one ear will hear my prayer’.

III] Of exhortation to evangelise: John’s great desire was to testify concerning the glory of Christ. He spoke from the heart concerning what He had seen with His own eyes. We may not have seen the glory of Christ with our physical eyes, but we behold Him by faith and our calling in this world is to know Christ and to make Him known. We are called to be witnesses. It is not enough for us to pray for revival. It is not enough for us to hope that sinners will wander into Church. We are called to speak up for Jesus – to say a word for Him. We may not have great gifts or eloquence, but we have Him. We know Him. We love Him. We’ve sat through hundreds of sermons about Him. So we must stand up for Him and speak of His greatness and His glory. How can we not? How can we keep silent about Him? He is incredible. He is remarkable. He is Good News. Oh that we might have a fresh sight of His glory! Oh that we might come to know Him and love Him more! If we have grown cold and stale in the work of evangelism, then let us look upon Him and find fresh energy and enthusiasm for the work of the Gospel. There is something terribly wrong with a Christian who has no desire to make Christ known. It is not simply a duty; it is our delight – our highest privilege. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus Christ and His work of redemption is the pervasive characteristic of Paul’s theology – everything in His preaching and teaching is connected with Him. This is how our Churches and our evangelism must be – we are to be the ‘Jesus people’. There must be absolute clarity about where we stand – ‘we preach Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23).  

Sinclair Ferguson closes His wonderful book The Whole Christ (2016) with an anecdote about Scottish Pulpits. Many of them, he says, would have a small brass plate fastened inside the pulpit with the words visible only to the preacher: ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’. That’s the ethos we need today in every pulpit in Wales. The chief desire of every Christian and every Gospel preacher should be to know Christ and to make Him known – ‘to seem Him more clearly, to love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly’. Amen.

References & Further Reading
Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation (c.318).
Ferguson, Sinclair, & Derek Thomas, ICHTHUS: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Saviour (Crossway, 2015).
Ferguson, Sinclair, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Crossway, 2016).
Jones, Mark, Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology (Christian Focus, 2012).
Jones, Mark, Knowing Christ (Banner of Truth, 2015).
Macleod, Donald, The Person of Christ (IVP, 1998).
Olyott, Stuart, What the Bible Teaches about the Person of Christ (Evangelical Press, 2016).
Ryle, J. C., Daily Readings from all four Gospels (Evangelical Press, 2015).
Warfield, B. B., The Person and Work of Christ (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1950).
Watson, Thomas, A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth, 1965), pp. 192–208.

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