// the reason we live (part 2)

THE STORY SO FAR

In the Old Testament, glory, the mark of God’s presence with His people, is something awesomely powerful. It shows itself in the moments where God’s people commit themselves to Him, moments of holiness, and the ceremonial process by which His people were made holy, eventually only served to distance those people from their God, a God who seemed remote and incomprehensible and, frankly, terrifying. And as the story of the Israelites progresses throughout the OT, God’s glory is seen less and less, and the people get further and further away from Him, until the memory of what God’s glory even is becomes faded in the minds of the Israelites.

And it’s then that something changes.

DAY TWO

Whilst in the OT God’s glory is something distancing, something viewed with awe but also unapproachable, in the opening pages of the New Testament something very odd happens. In the Temple, the place where God’s glory was meant to dwell, a baby is brought to an old man called Simeon, a righteous man, waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2). The baby is, of course, Jesus, and Simeon’s words are astonishing:

Sovereign Lord, as You have promised,
You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel…

At this point, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a little out of character for the God who appears as a “consuming fire”, the God whose glory is so powerful that it strikes people dead for even touching the Ark of the Covenant with Israel. So, His glory used to be something powerful, and now His glory is a baby? Is this still the same God we’re talking about here?

Except then you look a little closer, and realise that what changed wasn’t the God, just the way in which His glory is expressed. God’s glory was in the first place the sign of His presence with His people, guiding them and showing them that He was with them, and, apparently, this child is the new embodiment of that glory. Where in the past it was found in an Ark carrying the tablets of the Law, brought out of that “consuming fire” by Moses, now it’s found in a child who fulfils that Law in its entirety.

This is what glory looks like now, apparently.

John, the writer of another gospel, opens his story even more directly. “The word became flesh,” he writes, “and made His dwelling among us. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Inexplicably, mysteriously, it seems that there is something glorious about this man Jesus – something powerful and holy – even if it’s difficult to express exactly how that works. Jesus even says it himself later in John’s gospel; “I am not seeking glory for myself… if I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim is your God, is the one who glorifies me” (John 8:50, 54).

Remember the tabernacle? The place where God’s glory dwelt? Well, says Jesus, that glory has a new dwelling-place, and it’s in this man in front of you. And, what’s more, he calls the people of Israel to follow him. To live as he lives, and do as he does.

It’s like everything changes, even as nothing changes. God is still calling His people to live a certain way; His glory is still present with Israel, still dwelling in a holy place; except that ‘holy place’ is now walking around in public, healing and teaching and disrupting. And, eventually, dying, too.

It would be easy to write an entire book on how Jesus expresses and models God’s glory in his life, death and resurrection, and there’s a massive amount to say about that. However, at this point in time, what I’m interested in is what happens to the glory of God after Jesus has been resurrected and taken up to heaven, as it’s as though it expands – the glory of God is catapulted outwards, and that explains in some way how we got to where we are today…

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul starts describing what glory looks like in the aftermath of Christ, describing the Corinthians alongside himself as being those “who, with unveiled faces, contemplate the Lord’s glory” (2 Corinthians 3), again using the example of Moses, back on that mountain all those years ago, as a way of explaining what is going on in their lives. Moses met with God, and his face shone as he returned to his camp, Paul reminds his readers; and the same is true of them. They have all been brought into God’s presence, have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, and they are being transformed “from glory into glory” as a result…

In his earlier letter to the Corinthians Paul asked his readers, “do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from Christ? You are not your own; you were bought at a price!” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) The people have become the temple. They have become the ones who are carrying the glory of God, modelling His presence, demonstrating His power and character to the world. Everything changed, and yet nothing changed. God started out using His people, Israel, to be a light to the nations, to demonstrate His glory to the rest of the world. And that’s just what He’s still doing. It’s just that the expression changed slightly.

In Christ’s death, in that moment where he defeated sin, he made it possible for us to became holy. That’s grace in action – all those years of rules, all the rituals of ceremonial cleansing that were required for Israel to be holy enough to even come near to God, are fulfilled, and now it is possible for them to draw close to Him. And so, in that place of holiness, it is also possible for us to see God’s glory. His glory can dwell in us, and with us, as He has made us clean…

And if Christ is the ultimate representation of God’s glory, and we are being transformed into the image of Christ…

Then we are the emblem of God’s presence in this world.

You are the emblem of God’s presence in this world.

We are the carriers of a frightening holiness.

You are the carrier of a frightening holiness; holy enough to hurt the eyes. What the apostle Paul called “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). That’s how we came to be carriers of God’s glory; that’s how God’s glory came to dwell anywhere near us at all.

As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, “you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm… You have come to God, the Judge of all… to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12).

Sure, this is a new kind of glory. But it’s also, in a strange way, the old kind of glory as well.

And of course, there is more to say. There are conditions behind the revelation of God’s glory, and there are reasons behind the way in which He works, and much, much bigger questions to be asked. And it’s evident even from this that this is just the beginning, just the surface level, and there is so, so much more to be said about all of this…

But that, again, is a story for tomorrow.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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