By John MacArthur
As you know, last week we finished the section in Matthew which was our concern. And rather than go on to the next section, I decided that instead of spending one Lord's day reviewing the message of Christmas, we'd spend two--this one and the next one. And what I want to share with you this week and next is the real story of Christmas...not the one the world talks about, not the one with which most people are familiar, but the story of Christmas as viewed by the Word of God.
There are so many ways to approach it and so many facets, each year I find that the Spirit of God prompts my heart in a direction that's unlike those of the past. And I trust that this year's will be no different, that the Spirit of God will speak to us as we consider the real story of Christmas from a different perspective.
A couple of weeks ago, running through my mind was a melody and some words that I've associated for years with Christmas. The words come from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, the music comes from George Frederick Handel. It is that segment of Handel's "Messiah" where the lyric says, "And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, shall be revealed." One of, I think, the greatest of all of the portions of that musical masterpiece.
As all of the words of Handel's "Messiah" are written by the Holy Spirit, because they're all taken from Scripture, they carry tremendous power. But there probably is no more wonderful statement germane to the issue that we want to see this morning than the statement of Isaiah chapter 40, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed."
I want you to take your Bible with me and turn to that chapter, Isaiah chapter 40. As we prepare our hearts for making this Christmas season most meaningful, I want us to focus on this very phrase in verse 5, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed." Now if you know me at all, you know that the glory of God and the glory of the Lord is a tremendously important and urgent theme in my own teaching ministry. I speak of it often because the Bible speaks of it often. And you might think that perhaps we're forcing this very, very beloved theme on to the issue of Christmas, but that is not the case at all, for the word of Isaiah in chapter 40 verse 5, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" is in fact the Christmas story. It is the Christmas message. The birth of Christ was the revelation of the glory of the Lord...just as Isaiah had promised.
The whole concept of the glory of the Lord surrounds the Christmas scene. At the birth of Christ, the Bible says that angels required such a focus as they shouted, "Glory to God in the highest." And in Luke 2:9, it says, "The shepherds in meeting the angel were instantly aware that the glory of the Lord shown round about them and they were very much afraid." So the glory of the Lord was the angelic focus at the birth of Christ. The glory of the Lord was the aura that invaded the scene. It isn't imposed upon the Christmas story, it is the Christmas story.
Now look with me for a moment at the fortieth chapter of Isaiah and let me just give you a brief background so you'll know the import of these words. The book of Isaiah falls into three parts. The first 35 chapters are chapters of dark doom and judgment, chapters where God speaks words of wrath, vengeance, condemnation and judgment, not only upon His people Israel but upon the other nations as well. Here and there the gloom and the darkness is pierced with a light of mercy and a gleam of grace as God's judgment is always tempered with His love. But by and large, 35 chapters of unmitigated judgment.
The second section is in chapters 36 through 39. That small section in the middle is really the heart of the prophecy. It is the historic setting in Israel that brought about the message of the book. In these chapters, the prophet describes the situation, the affairs in his own time and why God must bring judgment. So really though they are distinct in a way because they are historical, they fit the theme of the first 35 and we can say that for 39 chapters you have judgment in Isaiah.
But it didn't end there. Thankfully it didn't end there. For God's people there was coming another day and chapters 40 through 66 introduce that. That is the section on salvation. And in that section is introduced the Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Look how the section begins in verse 1 of chapter 40. After 39 chapters of judgment, you read this: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
A message of comfort, saying salvation is coming, iniquity is pardoned, chastening is over. This is the message of hope. This is the message of glory. This is the dawning of a new day. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, the morning star that signals the end of the blackness of night. Salvation is coming.
With that theme, we proceed to verse 3. And the prophet takes us further into the arrival of this dawning of a new day. It begins with the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And when you come to the New Testament and you read the third chapter of Matthew and the third verse, you find that that is a prophecy fulfilled by John the Baptist. The comfort, the pardoning, the salvation, the dawning of a new day would be introduced by this man crying in the wilderness, John the Baptist. He was preparing not a physical road, but a highway into men's hearts, an entrance into men's hearts. Every valley exalted, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked made straight and the rough places plain, he was making things right in the lives and the hearts of men for the arrival of their Savior. That was his ministry. And he did those things by preaching repentance and the confession of sin and the baptism that spoke of a heart that was washed. And so came John the Baptist proclaiming the arrival of salvation.
Then verse 5, following John the Baptist, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And ultimately, in the final blaze of glory all flesh shall see together and this is true because the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. And verse 8 says, "The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever." If God says it, that settles it. There is a day of salvation. John the Baptist will introduce it. He will prepare the hearts of men, smoothing out the rough places, and then the glory of the Lord will be revealed. And then the prophet without seeing the age of the church skips all the way to the fullness of blazing Kingdom glory, when all flesh sees together.
But let's focus, if we can, just on that first part of verse 5, "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed." What does that mean? What kind of name is this? What kind of title is this? What kind of thought is this? What is the truth bound up in the message of the Spirit of God here?
Let me give you simply this, to begin with. The glory of the Lord is the expression of God's person. It is any manifestation of God's character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory. That really refers to His presence.
Now we know that everything that exists in the universe is a manifestation of God's glory because all things were made by Him. And everything that is in existence then is somewhat an emanation or a result of His nature, therefore it projects His person. The heavens declare the glory of God. The beast of the field gives Him glory. Everything He ever made speaks of His nature. Everything He ever did speaks of His essence so that the whole of all created things and all things in existence are revelations of God's glory. They are disclosures of His person. You see His glory in the smallest flower. You see His glory in the butterfly. You see His glory in a tree. You see His glory in the sky. You see His glory in everything. All are reference points to His nature.
Now, Moses--having seen all of that--wanted more. And in Exodus 33 he said to God, "Show me Your glory." It wasn't as if he had never seen any of it, it was as if he wanted to see more of it. And God said to him, "No man shall see Me and live. I cannot display to you the fullness of My glory or you would be consumed, but I'll allow you to see My afterglow." Tucked him in a rock and revealed some of His glory. And so there were times when beyond the general revelation of His creation, beyond His glory manifest in what we see in nature, beyond that, God gave some very special revelations of His glory--that day to Moses when he was tucked in the rock, later to the people as he came down from the mountain and had the glory of God emanating from his face.
God gave some special manifestations of glory. In the garden, for example, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the day, His presence was there in an emanating ineffable cloud of light. And they saw His glory.
In Leviticus chapter 9 and verse 6, Moses told the people that the glory of the Lord was going to appear to them and it did. When they were in the wilderness, in Exodus chapter 16, God was feeding them with manna and as the manna came and was provided for them, the Bible says the glory of the Lord was seen. At Mount Sinai when Moses went up to commune with God, the glory of the Lord covered the mountain and covered Moses so that the people could not see either, Exodus 24:15. We find that in Exodus chapter 40 at the completion of the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord filled the tent of the congregation. And in Leviticus chapter 9 when the priesthood was initiated and the priestly ministry defined, and at first was set apart unto God, at that very initiation of the priesthood, the glory of the Lord was seen.
In Numbers 14 and verse 10, when the people had reached Kadesh- Barnea and instead of entering into the promised land by faith, they began to murmur and complain and rebel. The Bible says the glory of the Lord appeared. Later on, after God had established the priesthood, there were three men, Korah, Dathan and Abiram who decided that they would take upon themselves the priestly function and they defiled that holy office and the ground opened up and swallowed them, according to Numbers 16. And it says in verse 19 that the glory of the Lord appeared.
In the same chapter later on when the people rebelled against Moses and Aaron, the glory of the Lord was manifest and it says it threatened to consume them in a moment. In their wanderings in the wilderness, according to the twentieth chapter of Numbers, they became thirsty at Meribah. And in the midst of their thirst, Moses and Aaron fell prostrate before the Lord to pray on their behalf and the glory of the Lord was there.
In 1 Kings 8:11, it says when they completed the temple, the glory of the Lord came and filled it. When they offered the first offering, 2 Chronicles chapter 7 verse 1, the glory of the Lord was seen and the people fell down and worshiped.
So you see, God not only revealed His glory in creation, but God revealed His glory in very special ways, in the ineffable Shekinah. Now, I grant you that as I read these things again and again, all of the appearances of God's glory have about them a certain amount of mystery. No matter how many times you go over it and how many times you think it through, there is connected with the glory of God a certain amount of marvelous mystery, a cloud, a pillar of fire, blazing light.
Very difficult for us to understand what this must have been like. There's only one place we can go in the Old Testament to get a description of it and it's in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Would you look with me for a moment at that? Ezekiel chapter 1. Ezekiel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us the only description of what it was to see the Shekinah. And just to give you an idea of what he says, let me run down through this text, just listen.
Ezekiel 1, verse 4, "And I looked and behold a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud and a fire enfolding it and a brightness was about it and out of the midst of it like the color of amber out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man and every one had four faces and every one had four wings." By the way, this has to do--I think--with angelic attendance to the Shekinah. "And their feet were straight feet, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of a calf's foot and they sparkle like the color of burnish bronze. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another. They turned not when they went, they went every one straight forward; as for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man and the face of a lion on the right side, and they four had the face of an ox on the left side, and they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces and their wings were stretched upward, two wings of every one were joined one to another and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward, whenever the spirit was to go they went and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of lamps, it went up and down among the living creatures and the fire was bright and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned like the appearance of a flash of lightning."
Have you got it? Clear? I'll read more. "Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold, one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures with its four faces, the appearance of the wheels and their work was like the color of a beryl," that's a precious stone, "they four had one likeness, their appearance and their work was it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides and they turned not when they went. As for their rims, they were so high they were dreadful, their rims were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them. And when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Wherever the spirit was to go, they went. There was to their spirit to go. And the wheels were lifted up beside them for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels."
Frankly, folks, it doesn't get any better. It just keeps going on like this, and on and on. You come to verse 26, "And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, like the appearance of a sapphire stone. And upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw like the color of amber, like the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of its loins even upward and from the appearance of its loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire and it had brightness round about like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about." Stop there.
You say, "Mercy, MacArthur, help. I'm long lost." Listen, people have asked me for years, "What does all that mean?" I can give it to you very simply, I haven't got the faintest idea. And I think that's the point. Ezekiel really did the best he could do, but he was trying to describe the indescribable. He was trying, as one man said, to unscrew the unscrutable. He was trying to tell us something that was impossible to communicate. He saw the glory of the Lord and that's what he says in verse 28. Middle of the verse, "This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." I mean, I gave you the best shot, but I just can't give you any more, it's too mysterious, it's too much. At best, he gave it a good effort. He saw the glory of the Lord later in chapter 3. He saw the glory of the Lord later in chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10. He saw it and saw it and saw it and still it had this incredible mystery.
"Now there's coming a day," says the prophet Habakkuk, "when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." But until that day of full knowledge, we are dealing with limited perception. We just really don't understand. And Ezekiel could and could not describe it. And the more he goes on, the more tangled up we get. Creation revealed the glory of God. And beyond that, the Shekinah, those very special glory appearances revealed His glory. But even with those, there is mystery. There was mystery. If all we had was that, our understanding of God's glory would be shrouded in confusion. And yet God wants us to know Him and He wants us to perceive Him and He wants us to understand His self-revelation. How can we ever know if that's all we have?
Well, fortunately Isaiah comes along and Isaiah says this: "The glory of the Lord shall be...what?...revealed." There's coming a greater disclosure, a fuller revelation. Let's see how the New Testament speaks of its fulfillment. Hebrews chapter 1--Hebrews chapter 1 is another text that deals with the true Christmas story...the true Christmas story.
Verse 1, Hebrews 1, "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets." And you can stop there.
God spoke--that's the subject and the verb. God spoke. God's self-disclosure. He did it at different times and in different ways. That's what those two terms mean. At different times and in different ways, God revealed Himself. Primarily, now mark it, unto the fathers-- that is to historic progenitors of the nation of Israel, the godly men of the past--he did speak by the prophets.
Now think with me. Let's pull together what we've learned up to now. God did not remain silent. God did not remain invisible. God did not leave Himself shrouded in the clouds of darkness. But He shone the light of glory. First of all, He shone the light of glory in creation. And then He shone the light of glory in the Shekinah, those very special ways in which He invaded the life of the people of the Old Testament. But most marvelously, and most conclusively, and most helpfully, He disclosed Himself beyond His creation and beyond His Shekinah in the Word of God revealed to the prophets so that the greatest revelation in time past is not the vision of the Shekinah, it is not the comprehension of the creation, it is the understanding of the Old Testament--for that is the word spoken by the prophets.
It says, verse 7 of Amos 3, "The Lord God will do nothing but that He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets." He has disclosed Himself through the prophets in the writings of the Old Testament.
Now listen, creation and the Shekinah is limited. The written word gives content to the creation. It gives content to the Shekinah. We might even borrow the words of Job. When Job contemplates the God who reveals Himself in creation, he says this: "Lo," Job 26:14, "these are but the outskirts of His ways and how small a whisper do we hear of Him." You see, God only whispers in His creation. God only whispers in His Shekinah. But He speaks in His Word. And in the Old Testament, verse 1, He spoke. Not a whisper but in full voice.
But you know something? Even that was full of mystery, did you know that? We've just finished the study of the book of Daniel. I doubt whether there was ever in the Old Testament time a more godly man than Daniel. He really knew what it was to pray. He knew what it was to walk with God. He knew what it was to live a life of obedience. He had a sense of history, he lived over 90 years and he saw God work through all of those years. He had revelations from God that were not equalled by anybody else. He saw the future like no one in the Old Testament saw it. Incredible man, given all that he was given in his personal relationship with God, given all that he was given through divine revelation, given all of those factors, at the very end of Daniel, chapter 12 verse 8 he says this: "I heard but I did not understand."
You didn't understand, Daniel? You didn't understand? No, you see, that's how it is. If all you had was creation, you'd have a whisper. If all you had was Shekinah, you'd still have a whisper. If you had the Old Testament, you'd have God speaking in a full voice, but even then there would be mystery. That's why 1 Peter 1:10 to 12 says that the Old Testament prophets searched what they wrote to see what person or what manner of time it referred to. But it was not revealed unto them, says Peter, but unto us. That's why in Hebrews 11:39 and 40 it says that they were not perfected without us. The completion didn't come until the better thing, which is the new covenant.
So, with all that they had there was still mystery. The fullness was still missing. They didn't get the fullest truest complete picture of what God was really like. Creation helped. Shekinah helped. The Word helped. But there was an incompleteness in it all until...verse 2, Hebrews 1..."He hath in these last days spoken again." And how did He speak this time? "By His...what?...Son."
Now that is God shouting. If He whispers in His Shekinah and He speaks in the Old Testament, He shouts in His Son. You can't mistake it. It's unmistakable. He is God and you see all of God manifest in Him: His judgment, His justice, His love, His wisdom, His power, His omniscience. It's all out of Him as we watch Him walk through the world, working His work, living His life. The fullness of God is seen as it was never ever seen in Jesus Christ. And that's why 2 Corinthians 1:20 makes a monumental statement that you ought to remember and you ought to mark in your Bible, "All the promises of God in Him," that is in Christ, "are yes and in Him amen unto the glory of God." Everything of the glory of God is "yes" and "amen" in Christ. He becomes that full revelation of the glory of the Lord.
Look at verse 2 for a moment. It says, "In these last days..." What are the last days? That is a term that refers to the Messianic period. The last days began when the Lord Jesus came. There's a long period of last days. We're still in it 2,000 years later. John said, "My little children, it is the last time." The New Testament says, "He has appeared once in the end of the age." The last time, the end of the age, the last days began when the Messiah came. It was the last days of revelation, for the canon, the testament, the text was completed then. It was the last time God spoke until He utters His voice again in His Kingdom. And so, after God had given the whisper and the audible voice, He shouted in His Son and the New Testament gives us that revelation.
There's an interesting note that I just make to those of you who look at the text perhaps more closely. It says in the Greek, "He has spoken unto us by Sonness." The word "His" isn't there. By Sonness. In other words, the article is absent. In the past He spoke by prophetness, or He spoke through prophets. Now He speaks through Sonness. And the emphasis then is not so much on the person of the Son as the quality of being a Son.
In other words, being a Son is better than being a prophet. He is stressing the quality or the nature of the term. He has elevated the quality of His spokesman. And that fits into the text of Hebrews because the whole book of Hebrews, basically, compares Christ with everything else. He is greater than the prophets. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than the priests. He is greater than Moses, greater than Aaron, greater than Melchizedek and on and on and on. His covenant is a greater covenant and so forth. And so He speaks by Sonness. He speaks in the living Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then he goes on in verses 2 and 3, and that's all we're going to look at, to point out some of the characteristics of this Son. But I want you to notice verse 3. "Who being the brightness of glory." Who is Jesus Christ? He is the glory of the Lord. That is what he's saying here. He is the ineffable radiation of God. He is the brightness of God. That's why it says in John 1:14, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory." The glory as of the only begotten of the Father.
The phrase "being the brightness of His glory" is very simple. The brightness is the word apaugasma. It means "radiance." It means "to send forth light," or "to send forth brightness." It's simply saying He is the shining forth of God. Just as the radiance of the Sun reaches the earth to light us, to warm us, to give us life and growth, so in Christ do we sense the warmth and radiance of the glorious light of God touching the hearts of men. The brightness of the sun is of the same nature as the Sun. It is as old as the Sun. And never was the sun without its brightness. The brightness of the sun cannot be separated from the sun and yet it is distinct. And so, Christ is God and yet distinct. He is God and yet He is the manifestation of God. He is the glory of the Lord who shouts the reality of God which is only whispered and spoken in time past. He is the Son of righteousness risen with healing in His beams.
And the most graphic illustration of this is found is a familiar text in Matthew 17. It says, "And after six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother and brought them into a high mountain privately and was transformed, or transfigured, before them. His face did shine like the sun and His raiment was as white as the light." And there He is showing His glory. There He is on that mountain that day revealing His glory. He wanted them to know who He was and out of a cloud that surrounded them came a voice, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him." And standing there were Moses and Elijah. And that was a marvelous reality.
Why was this going on? To convince the disciples beyond a doubt who He was--the voice of God, the ineffable brightness of Shekinah glory. And then the presence of Moses and Elijah. Why? Moses of the law, Elijah of the prophets, and Christ stood with them, the two greatest Old Testament spokesmen for God. They were to understand that Jesus was ranked as the voice of God. Moses and Elijah who had begun the two eras of miracles in the Old Testament, and now Christ to begin the third. Moses and Elijah, both of whom left this world shrouded in mystery. Moses' death, a very unique and strange one. Elijah translated. Christ who died a unique death and then rose to be translated. The parallels go on and on.
But when they saw the glory and heard the voice of God and saw the presence of Moses and Elijah, it was an affirmation beyond question of the fact that Jesus was not only the voice of God but that He was God Himself. That's why later on in Peter's ministry, as he writes 2 Peter chapter 1 verses 16 to 19, he says, "We do not preach unto you cunningly devised fables, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty when we were with Him in the holy mount. We know whereof we speak, we saw His glory." It became the point of their confidence. And so, Jesus is the glory of God.
Back to Hebrews 1. You look at the cradle and you don't see just a baby. You look at the cradle and you don't see just a child. But you see the glory of God, the glory of the Lord in human flesh. Every time Jesus performed a miracle, every time He healed a lame man or gave sight to the blind, or hearing to the deaf, or a voice to the dumb, every time He forgave sin, God was revealing His glory. Notice it says also in verse 3 that He was the express image of His person. The word is charakter from which we get character. It basically is a classical word in Greek and it means "an engraving tool, a die or a stamp or a mold or a mark that is made by a seal." It has the idea of a copy or image or reproduction. And he is saying, "Christ is the image of God. He is the express image of God. He is the character of God revealed. He is the mark of God on human society. He is the stamp of God on human flesh."
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and in Colossians 1:15 says, "Christ is the image of God." And he uses a different word, the word is eikon which means "an exact reproduction, an exact image or a precise copy." So whether it's charakter or whether it's eikon, Jesus is the stamp of God, the mark of God, the seal of God, the image of God, the reproduction of God, the precise copy of God. And may I hasten to add that those words even at their best come short of the reality of the truth because it's impossible to express that He is in fact the very essence of God in any analogous way without losing something. I think it's best expressed in Colossians 2:9 where Paul says, "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Greatest statement of the deity of Christ.
And then in order to support that, the writer gives us the excellencies of Christ. Number one, His inheritance, verse 2: "Whom He hath appointed heir of all things." Sonship demands inheritance. Psalm 2, "I will make His enemies His footstool." Psalm 2, "I will set My King on the holy hill of Zion." Psalm 2 is where the Father affirms the right of the Son to rule.
Colossians 1, "All things are made by Him and for Him." Everything ultimately comes back to belong to Him. "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things to whom be glory forever, amen," Romans 11:36.
In Revelation 5, you remember the scene, John looks at the throne of God and it's time to take back possession of the earth. And they cry, "Who is worthy to take the scroll, the title deed to the earth and open it?" And they look all over heaven and everywhere and no one is found. And finally comes forth the Lamb...the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ and He can take the scroll. Why? Because He is the rightful heir to the earth. And He unrolls the scroll and beginning in chapter 6, the seals are broken as He repossesses the earth to establish His Kingdom. He is the one who has the right to rule. He is the one who is given the inheritance by God. And a marvelous thing to realize, that this One who came in humiliation and condescension will inherit all things.
So, we see--first of all--His inheritance. Secondly, His initiation, the end of verse 2. "By whom also He made the worlds." Christ not only will receive it in the end but He is the source of its origination in the beginning. He initiated it all through...the word "by" means "through," dia, through...all things were made by Him. "And without Him was not anything made that was made," John 1:3 says. He can create. He did create. And only God can do that.
My I point out one very interesting thing? The word for "world" there, "worlds," is not kosmos, it is not talking about the physical worlds alone. It goes way beyond that. The word is aionas(?) and it means "ages." It means ages. Listen, it is not that He just created the physical worlds and the physical things that exist in the universe, it is that He created the concepts in which physical things can exist. It takes you one step beyond the physical. He created time and space and force and energy and matter. He created the stuff of which the physical creation is made. He made it all.
So, we see His inheritance, His initiation. Thirdly, we see His influence in verse 3. It says this: "He upholds all things by the word of His power." That's His influence. He holds the whole thing together. It is His influence. It is Him that makes the atom move in its proper orbit, the building block of all things. It is His power.
By the way, the verb there has to do with supporting present continuous action. He continually holds all things together. This universe would disintegrate and fly to pieces if it weren't for His upholding power.
Do you know that if the earth's rotation should slow down just a little bit, we would alternately freeze and burn? Or did you know that the sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit and if it were any closer or further away, we would freeze or burn?
Do you know that our globe is tilted at exactly 23 degrees and if it wasn't at that exact angle, vapors from the ocean would move north and south and pile up massive continents of ice?
Did you know that if the moon did not remain at its exact distance from the earth, the ocean tides would inundate the land twice every day?
Do you know that if the ocean slipped to just a couple of feet depth further than it is carbon dioxide and oxygen in the earth's atmosphere would be completely absorbed and no vegetable life could exist?
Did you know that if the atmosphere didn't remain constant in the earth but it thinned out, millions of meteors which are harmlessly burned up in space would pummel the earth in a barrage of bombardment that would devastate us all?
Who holds the delicate balance? Keeps it all working? The Son does, the glory of the Lord. I often think about that. When He was walking through the world in His human body, and was going through all of the things that a man goes through, at the same time He was upholding the whole universe.
So, we see His inheritance, His initiation, His influence. Fourthly, we see His intervention in verse 3. I love this. "When He had by Himself...I'll say that again...When He had by Himself purged our sin." Did you know He did it by Himself? You must know that. Even God the Father turned His back on Him. "My God, My God, why hast Thou...what?...forsaken Me?" Did it by Himself. By Himself He purged our sins.
Now, beloved, that's power. By Himself. He didn't need the assistance of anybody or anything. By Himself He did it. A greater work than creation, a greater work than providence, upholding, was the work of purging. He made purification. He cleansed our sins. And that becomes the great ringing theme of the book of Hebrews as you move through. He says in 7:27, the writer of Hebrews does, "Who needeth not daily as those high priests to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins and then for the people's; for this He did once when He offered up Himself." He purged our sins.
That was His intervention into the human disaster. And for a brief moment, the glory departed. For a brief moment, the Shekinah went black. For a brief moment, the brightness became darkness. And the very darkness Jesus had resisted, engulfed Him. But He did it for us and He did it by Himself. And it didn't end there.
We see His inheritance, His initiation, His influence, His intervention. Finally, His installation. When He was done, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High. The "Majesty on High" is simply a name for God. He is the Majesty on High. His right hand is the place of honor, the place of blessing, the place of power. He sat down. Why did He sit down? He was done.
You want to know something interesting? In the temple and in the tabernacle, there were no seats. You read the description of the tabernacle, you read the description of the temple, there were no seats nowhere. Why? Because a priest never finished and so he never sat down. Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice by the millions and they never sat down because it never ever was a finished work. Jesus made one sacrifice and when it was finished He sat down. He sat down. It was over. There was nothing more to do. He finished and sat down. Hebrews 10:12, what a great verse, "But this man...that is Christ...after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God."
Beloved, this is the message of Christmas. God has come into the world and we focus on His deity. Next week, we'll turn the table and focus on His humanity. This is God. Why was He given the right hand? Four reasons:
First of all, the right hand was a place of honor. Philippians 2 says that God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name. The right hand is a place of honor. He's seated there because He is to be honored.
Secondly, it's the place of ruling. First Peter 3:22 says that God lifted Him to His right hand and made angels and authorities and powers subject unto Him. It's the place of honor, it's the place of rule.
Thirdly, it's the place of rest. He sat down because He was finished.
Fourthly, it's the place of intercession. He's at the right hand of God, Romans 8:34 tells us wonderfully, "Making intercession for us." And so He took His place at the right hand.
Now what am I saying? This: The prophet said the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. The writer of Hebrews says the Son is the brightness of His glory. The message of Christmas is that God came into the world in all of His glory and what was only a whisper or in the Word an audible voice becomes a shout. And someday in the future as you read the book of Revelation, when He comes back in His blazing glory which...I love it...Jesus calls "great glory"... when He comes back in Second Coming glory, the Bible says the shout will be even louder so that every voice in the universe will cry and shout and sing His praises.
What does this say to us? Let me have you look at 2 Corinthians 3 and we'll close. Verse 10, "For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that exceleth." Now listen what that verse means. The Old Testament, the Shekinah appearances, the text of the Old Testament, the old covenant was glorious. That's true. "Even that which was made glorious" refers to the Old Testament, the old economy, the old covenant, the Shekinah appearances. It was made glorious. "But it has no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels."
In other words, the new disclosure of glory in the incarnate Christ and the new covenant about Him is so far more glorious that the old seems not glorious at all. It has no glory when compared with the glory that excels. Great thought. So, that revelation of the glory in the New Testament far exceeds anything in the past. And that's why we say God shouts in the person of Christ.
And what does it say to us? Verse 18, "But we all with unveiled face," that is, the veil is taken away, the things that were mysterious, troublesome, confusing. We're not like Ezekiel anymore. That's gone. The veil is off. "We now behold in a glass the glory of the Lord." And who is it? It's Christ. And as we behold Him and look at Him and gaze on Him, "We are changed into the same image from one level of glory to the next by the Spirit of the Lord." In other words, we literally become like Him as we gaze on Him.
Now all of us as believers are in this process. We're gazing at His glory and being transformed into His image in the process.
You remember the story of the "Ugly Duckling?" I'm sure you probably do. Let me refresh your memory. He was more awkward and less attractive than the ducks he grew up beside. And so they ridiculed his differences. Fleeing their abuse, he took shelter in a home whose pets were a chicken and a cat. He was rejected there, too, because he couldn't lay eggs like a hen and he couldn't purr like a kitten.
"You just don't understand me," he told them. But he was treated only with scorn. Then one day he beheld the graceful and elegant swans, the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. And a strange feeling came over him. He turned somersaults in the water. He stretched his neck trying to follow their flight. And he uttered a cry so loud that it frightened him.
When he finally lost sight of them, he dived right down to the very bottom of the water. And when he came up, he was quite beside himself, he had no idea what the birds were called or where they were going. He only knew that he loved them as he had never loved anything before.
Another winter came with all its struggles. And at last spring melted the ice of the ponds. And as the ugly duckling was swimming, he saw again two of those beautiful birds. They swam straight toward him. And the closer they came, the more frightened he became. And then when such beauty was right in front of him, he bowed his head in humility and covered his face with his wings.
However, when he bowed his head he saw his own reflection in the water for the very first time. And in speechless amazement, he saw that he, too, was a swan. Slowly uncovering his wings from his face, he lifted his head from the pond. He didn't raise it proudly and high as an ostrich would, but humbly as a swan, slightly bent over in an expression of gratitude. Then he swam off with his fellow swans.
Maybe we can see in that an analogy. Perhaps your experience is similar to that. Think with me. Your first look at Christ in faith may be like the ugly duckling who first saw the swans. You have an overwhelming sense of your own ugliness and yet there is an irresistibility in Christ that turns your heart inside out. We know why the ugly duckling was beside himself when he saw the swans. He responded from his inmost being because he was a swan and that's what he was made to be. And similarly, we may respond to Christ. Deep within ourselves we really don't know why we respond that way but it's because that's what we were meant to be. And then one day as we face humility in our ugliness, as we gaze in the mirror, we see we are becoming that very beautiful thing we long to be. And with humility in our walk and gratitude in our hearts, we live our lives before God.
Listen, God wants to transform you into His own image from one level of glory to the next. It is staggering for me to perceive that the Lord Jesus Christ is the glory of the Lord revealed TO us. It is more staggering to reveal that He is the glory of the Lord revealed FOR us. It is most staggering of all to re...to understand that He is the glory of God revealed IN us. "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Oh my!
Most people will miss Christmas. They'll miss it. They'll miss Jesus Christ. They'll miss the glory of the Lord. Hope you don't. I hope you focus on Him so that you can become what you were created to be, you radiating that very same glory. Would you bow with me in prayer?
Listen to these words. "Before the paling of the stars, before the winter morn, before the earliest cock crow Jesus Christ was born. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger in the world His hands had made, born a stranger. Jesus on His mother's breast in the stable cold, spotless Lamb of God was He, Shepherd of the fold. Let us kneel with Mary maid, with Joseph bent and hoary, with saint and angel, ox and ass, to hail the Lord of glory."
I trust that you can do that, that you know the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord of glory, that you're in the process of being transformed into His own image, from one level of glory to the next, of becoming what you were created to be. If you have any doubt, you don't need to. You can invite Jesus Christ to come into your life right now right where you sit. To my right in the front of the church is a counseling room, a prayer room. Our counselors are going to be there--some gentlemen, some ladies whose lives have been changed by Christ, who know His Word. And they would love to share with you. If you need to come to Christ today, or if you have a burden of any kind in your life, for a spiritual need of any kind, instead of leaving when we're dismissed, come to the front to my right through those front doors. Slip into the prayer room. Take some free material. Let someone pray with you, answer your questions. Whatever your need, we invite you to come.
Father, now we pray that You'll dismiss us with Your blessing. Thank You for the reality of this season that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed in the world and beyond that, mystery of all mysteries, in us who love Him. Bring to the prayer room those that need to come, challenge all our hearts. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.