• God’s glory reflected by us makes God real to others
Who brings God’s presence to others around them? Is it in the spiritual gifts of a Pentecostal meeting, the careful Bible exposition of an evangelical church, the elaborate music and ritual of a cathedral or the priest and sacraments of Catholic style worship?
The problem is that only about three per cent (in the UK) attend church with any regularity. So how do those of the great majority catch a glimpse of God’s glory?
The short answer is that it is shared fleetingly in the smile of those who have peace with God and carry the love of Jesus. But let’s allow Scripture to tell its story as we start with some verses from Psalm 99:
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.
Moses and Aaron were among His priests, Samuel was among those who called on His name; they called on the Lord and He answered them.
He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept His statutes and the decrees He gave them.
Lord our God, You answered them…
…Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
Psalm 99 excerpt
The poet is recalling a much earlier time when Israel’s great leader Moses went up Mount Sinai, making a lengthy ascent to meet with God in the fire and smoke that could be seen at the summit. God told him he had to shelter hidden in a cleft in the rock lest he should catch sight of God directly and the experience would kill him.
Moses is out of sight for a long time. He receives the 10 words – or 10 Commandments – from Yahweh and makes his descent down the mountain again.
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.
30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
31-32 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.
34-35 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with Him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.
Back from his ascent, Moses tells Aaron and the tribal leaders what the Ten Words on the stone slabs mean. And they notice that his appearance has changed — he has a radiance. Spending that time in the close presence of God has transformed him. He is carrying some of that presence with him in a way others can see.
People who have had a profound encounter with God, or who have spent much time with him, are changed by that encounter. They have a certain aura. This is probably what medieval artists were trying to capture in their depictions of great and holy men – think of Francis of Assisi – with a halo.
In the New Testament we see some of the great events of the Old Testament times replicated in the life of Jesus. The 40 years of wandering in the desert seem to have a parallel in the 40 days of wilderness loneliness and fasting where Jesus was tested by the devil and overcame him by using the Sword of the Spirit, God’s word in Scripture.
Miraculous events which overturned the natural course of nature – for example passing through the Red Sea, or the crossing of the river Jordan, in both of which deep water yielded in an extraordinary way to offer safe walking passage for a large number of men, women, children and animals.
A favourite story about Jesus is the time when, exhausted by the demands of ministry, He is fast asleep in the stern of the boat carrying him across the Sea of Galilee when one of its sudden evening storms blows up with such violence that it threatens to swamp the boat. Jesus, woken up by his terrified disciples, speaks to the wind and the waves and commands them to become calm.
This incident demonstrated His mastery over the forces of nature. It demonstrated the presence of God.
In this next Bible passage we see the presence of God and the glory of God demonstrated in a spectacular way.
Jesus and His three most trusted disciples have ascended to the top of a high mountain. This has overtones of Moses going up to meet God on Mount Sinai. And as Jesus prays, it is as if there is a window into heaven allowing the glory of God to penetrate with dazzling brightness.
And people appear — there is a manifestation of the recognisable fathers of faith Moses and Elijah, who appear and converse with Jesus about the death he will die.
Let’s hear the story from Luke:.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
29 As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
30-31 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.
32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”
36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
This is a story of uncomfortable, dazzling brilliance and holiness.
It was difficult for the disciples to cope with – it put them into confusion,
judging by Peter’s hasty response.
Later, in writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reflects on this incident and on Moses’ experience on the mountain in Sinai.
The point he draws out is about the freedom and revelation that believers have in the life of the Spirit. He contrasts this with Scripture being read to people who just didn’t get it,
3:12-13 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.
14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.
15-16 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
When we know the Lord in a personal way, as we can through receiving Jesus into our hearts, when Scripture is read we hear on two levels – the words and also God speaking to us through those words in a more personal way.
If we only know God in a religious and formal sense, then as Paul says it is as if we are trying to see through a veil – in other words not able to see very much at all. However, when we come close to God through Jesus, it’s as If that veil is whisked off so that we see Him clearly and hear Him speaking afresh through His eternal words.
God speaking through his word? God being present through His word? That is God’s glory coming to us in every situation in which we turn to Him and listen to Him.
If we are in a position to share this with another, perhaps a word of comfort, or encouragement, or it could be in the course of praying for healing or overcoming a problem, then this revelation is God’s glory being shared and experienced.
When Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Words it was a significant milestone in the salvation history – this is about God revealing who He is.
When Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain it was another ‘signpost moment’. This was about Yahweh — who we know as God the Father — revealing in an unmistakable way who Jesus is, shortly after Peter has paid his famous exclamation: “You are the Christ!”
And as Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, reflects on these two encounters, this now becomes about who we are.
He doesn’t use his favourite expressions “in Christ” or “in Him” in this passage, although he has earlier talked about His readers being people acting like a letter “from Christ” and having a confidence about this Spirit-empowered ministry “through Christ”.
Then he explains further: this is about “being transformed into God’s image with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (v.18)
If we are free to be changed by the Spirit who brings freedom (v. 17) He puts God’s glory on us so that, increasingly, we look a little bit like the Lord to other people.
That is about God in us. And that is the story, from ancient times to now, of how God uses each one of us to bring His glorious presence to the world around us, for others to see it and have the opportunity to catch it for themselves.