“To the Praise of His Glory”

Sermon for 14 March 2004

Texts: John 17:1-10 and Ephesians 1.12-14

 

Call to Worship: Psalm 29

Big Idea: We exist for the praise of His glory.

Purpose: To explain the meaning of “glory.” 

Question: Do you have a personal purpose statement?

 

            Ephesians is considered by some to be the crowning achievement of Paul’s apostolic teaching; it possesses the clearest and most concise statement of his theology.  In the summation of the doxology which I presented last week, we shared the phrase, “the praise of His glory.”  Not to raise artificial problems, I think it would be fair to say that this phrase qualifies as high sounding religious jargon--we may speak it because it seems worshipful (and it is) and suitable for praise (which is also true).  But do we actually understand what it means.  This sermon is dedicated to the task of expounding what “the praise of His glory,” and particularly the word “glory” means.  You heard “glory” repeated in the passage from John 17 and if we were to read on we would come, in verse 22 “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they might be one, even as we are one.”  Therefore, we may rightly conclude that whatever this glory is, it is something that Christ has prayed for us and it has huge ramifications for our unity, our unity with God and with one another.  Still, I must caution you, that this exploration will take us to some very diverse places in Scripture and I will not be able to fully explain all those contexts within the constraints of a single sermon--you may need to note some of your questions and follow-up on them with me later.

 

            Our first stop is Romans 1: 19-23:

. . .because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. Rom 1:20  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Rom 1:21  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Rom 1:22  Professing to be wise, they became fools, Rom 1:23  and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 

In verse 22 we read “they did not honor Him as God.”  This is rendered in another translation as “they glorified Him not as God.”  The Greek there is doxazw and is the word for glorify in the New Testament specifically reserved to glorifying God.  And if we had any doubt as to the inference here Paul proceeds to state (they) “exchanged the glory of God” for “idolatry,” rendering His image in the likeness of created things.  This means among other things that they refused to glorify God in His capacity as Creator and reduced their understanding of Him to the worldly, prosaic, the common and ordinary.  They stripped God of His glory, His awesomeness, His divinity in fact.  The God they worshipped as a result was no God of power, but tame and useless.  This is a far cry from the glorious One who appeared on Mount Sinai to the people He chose for “the praise of His glory”:

 

Deu 5:22  "These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. Deu 5:23  "And it came about, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. Deu 5:24  "And you said, 'Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His  greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. Deu 5:25  'Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we shall die. Deu 5:26  'For who is there of all flesh, who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Deu 5:27  'Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.'

We must truly pay attention here.  First, we have an attempt to reduce God’s glory to the mundane and manageable, something roundly condemned in Romans--it has its start in a fear of the Lord that results in withdrawal, as seen in asking someone else (ie a Moses) to “listen to God for us” lest we be consumed.  Now, this is a very subtle subversion.  Fear of the Lord is good, insulation from His glory is not necessarily all good.  If the people had paid  better attention to actuality, they would have put their feet down on this realization: they had seen the majesty, and heard the voice of God for themselves and lived.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom indeed--but fear of the Lord that induces you to seek an intermediary is a move in the wrong direction.  On this level, the request for Moses to listen for them proves a very dangerous misstep.  Why ask for second-hand revelation when you can have it first-hand?  Why indeed. 

 

            Another observation on this display of glory at Sinai: much is made of the “still small voice of God” which Elijah harkened to in his terrified flight to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19, esp. v 12).  We are much more comfortable with that idea.  But this is in addition to “thick gloom and a great voice,” I think, not in place of.  What about the voice “from the midst of the darkness”--which darkness some of us endure?  And, what about the voice “from the midst of the fire”?  Can we yet welcome that earth-shaking, fiery and consuming side of our great and glorious God as well as that which seems more pacified, even domesticated?  There is an untamable wildness to the God who loves us and it is bent to the very same purpose: to draw to Himself a people for the praise of His glory.

 

            We do well to recall that God, beyond His glory in Creation. . .the Exodus. . .and giving of the law at Sinai, also displayed His glory to His people when He guided the Israelites through a cloud of great darkness by day and a pillar of fire by night.  That was His people’s daily experience of Him; He was present with them.  Some of them were the same people who witnessed God’s awesome works in Egypt, works that led, eventually, to their liberation.  At times, it seems as if the people of Israel were more terrified of the freedom offered by a loving, merciful and awesome God than they were of cruel, abusive and dehumanizing slavery.  They murmur and complain and long to return to the flesh pots of Egypt rather than continue with this God of fire, power and darkness.  Rather than to trust, despite His mighty deliverances, in the God of their salvation, they trust in themselves, or other men.  The same God who we worship today remains willing to do terrible things to set us free from bondage and oppression; He purposes to purify, shape and deliver His children even now.  For example, the exercise of our God-given spiritual gifts can evoke fears--like those inspired by the fire, gloom, darkness and power of Sinai. (The eternal attributes of a god who is not only alive but majestic and, well, glorious are fearsome in our experience of them.)  Using such power is a fearful thing and that is, perhaps partially why many denominations have shrunk back from, or sought to explain away the spiritual gifts.  They are willing to read about them being active elsewhere, or to restrict it to the distant past, but, good heavens, what if God were to carry on in their midst like that?  It’s so, they may say, unmanageable, so unpredictable; but it is not--all these things are working His purpose out beyond the reach of our current understanding.  Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that God is irrational, or that life is out of control in any ultimate sense.

 

            We struggle, beloved, with “glory” in part because our vocabulary is so limited.  But, if you have followed me this far, can you see now that some of that impoverishment is self-imposed.  We have just exchanged one language for another.  The broader language appropriate for ascribing glory to God is amply provided in His Word--God has revealed His glory adequately there.  Glory is expressed in Hebrew through kavad, or kavod, its derivative.  In simplest terms, it means “weighty.”  It denotes something weighty, important and shining as in majesty.  These properties are those which accompany God’s presence.  We covered an ironic use of kavad in 1 Samuel in the narrative relating to the death of Eli--when he heard the news of the ark’s capture, he fell over backwards and broke his neck. . .because he was kavod, he was very heavy.  We take that to mean corpulent, or fat.  It also means weighty with wealth, importance; but it certainly did not mean, in that context, glorious, or majestic as God is both!  We exist for “the praise of His glory.”  There does appear to be some redundancy here.  Praise can mean “to give glory to.”  That reads, then, we exist to give glory to His glory.  And we do, in this manner: God possesses glory in Himself and we ascribe that glory to Him in our confession, worship and praise.  It is the essential nature of God that give Him weight, significance, due consideration in relationship to us, His worshipping community.

 

Psa 22:23  You who fear the LORD, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.

 

Psa 86:12  I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Thy name forever. Psa 86:13  For Thy lovingkindness toward me is great, And Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

 

            God also displays His glory in His just dealings with humankind--that is, in addition to fire, storms and the events of nature.  Righteousness is His perfect attribute and He seeks to duplicate that righteousness in us: to make us holy and blameless, a people for the praise of His glory in all the earth.  (Phil 1:6  For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.) God is indeed powerful, He is able to produce the effects He desires and so He exercises authority and assigns dominion as He pleases. 

 

Isa 6:1  In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Isa 6:2  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. Isa 6:3  And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." Isa 6:4  And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Isa 6:5  Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Isa 6:6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. Isa 6:7  And he touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven."

We should take note then that all authority in heaven and on earth has been conveyed to the Lord Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  And the miracles of Jesus were demonstrations of power which establish beyond doubt His full divinity.  (John 2:11  This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.)  A further manifestation of His glory is the incident known as the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-13 & Luke 9:28-36) as interpreted by Peter (2 Peter 1:16-18):

2 Pet 1:16  For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 2 Pet 1:17  For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- 2 Pet 1:18  and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

He, too, is worthy of praise and glory.  And yet there is in this glory something that Jesus prays (John 17) will be ascribed to us.  What could that be?

 

            I believe that one of the deepest needs we have as creatures is the need for the glory of signifi-cance.  This is a need of design, not a need of human fabrication.  I must admit that an old book, C. S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, has contributed profoundly to my approach to this subject--so you will, I’m sure hear echoes of him.  Our need for significance can be framed several ways.  Negatively, we can assert that fear of being found wanting, weightless, insignificant or irrelevant (these things make life meaningless)--and, as a result, to be left outside, repelled, exiled, estranged, excluded and “unspeakably ignored” (which makes life hopeless) are all pointers to our hope of glory.  Positively, we can identify glory as obtaining heft with God, weight, or substance--which is something akin to having a good report with God, to counting when it matters most, to be pleasing to God and so to be appreciated, loved and delighted in by our Creator.  It would indeed be glorious to not only do well but also to be an ingredient in His happiness!  It would be glorious to be well-pleasing in His sight, to hear His robust and warm laugh of welcome.  To hear, if at all possible, you did better than I expected, you did more with your limitations than I asked for is to really count for something, that is to receive glory from Him. . .that is to make life worth living and heaven worth attaining.

 

            And here is the promise: one day, if we are faithful and true, we shall get in.  We shall shine like the Morning Star, possessing in our own selves the luminosity of the transfiguration once restricted to our Lord.  We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.  We shall penetrate the corruptible, pierce through the husk of a dying, though created Nature so that when the last of the suns has dwindled and died, when all the lights of heaven have been extinguished, we shall remain as that splendor of light which was in the beginning, before the creation of the sun and moon and stars.  We shall be entertained by the Glorious One, eat of the tree of life in the company of all his righteous ones and bask in the everlasting approval of the One who loves us most. . .‘but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." 1 Cor 2:9.’

 

            My friends, if you have been with us for a season, you have probably heard about the importance of a purpose driven life.  You will have heard about the purpose for this church--it is printed on the bulletin: That all may know, love and worship God.  I want you to be able to make a personal application of the word you’ve heard today:  God’s purpose, again, is that we should be a people for the praise of His Glory and that we should live holy and blameless lives in Christ.  How does that square with your personal purpose statement?  And how does your personal purpose statement line up with your involvement in the work of the Kingdom at home, abroad and in the local church?  It helps to think about these things.  Such thinking gives coherence and validity to what you are doing with your life to glorify the One who created you for such a time as this.

 

                                                                        Amen.