Exodus 33:20, 34:6-7, John 1:14-18
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After God created Eve, he personally brought her to Adam, and Adam rejoiced over this gift God had created. There was perfect fellowship between God and the humans he had created, and there was perfect fellowship between Adam and Eve. God could walk and talk with them in the garden in the cool of the day and they were not afraid.
How things changed the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s on command! Immediately they felt shame. When they heard God coming to meet with them, they foolishly tried to hide from God. When confronted with their sin they refused to take responsibility. They blamed each other, the snake, and even God. They no longer had perfect fellowship with God, or with each other. God emphasized the fact that their sin had separated them from him by evicting them from the garden where he had provided everything for them. They could no longer meet with him and see his glory.
Fast forward thousands of years to the time of Moses. God was revealing his glory through many signs and wonders. There were ten plagues that even Pharoah’s musicians had to acknowledge were done by the hand of God. When they got to Mt. Sinai, God descended on the mountain in clouds and smoke and thunder and lightning. The people heard the voice of God speaking what we call the ten commandments, and they were terrified! They felt that if God continued to speak to them directly, they would surely die of fear. So they asked Moses to go up on the mountain and speak with God and then come back down and tell them what God said. God agreed, but when Moses came down the mountain and his face was glowing, reflecting the glory of God, the people were still frightened.
The people had been warned not come close to the mountain while God revealed his presence on it. God warned that if a sinful human came too close to his holy presence that his holy justice would be released, and they would be destroyed. Moses, however, was allowed to come near to God on the mountain so that he could serve as God’s spokesman, his prophet. When Moses asked if he could see more of God, more than a fire in a burning bush, more than a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, more than just a booming voice from a mountain, the Lord makes something very clear. No sinful human being can see the face of God, see God in his full glory, and live.
Sin separates us from God. None of us can stand in the presence of God, see his face, his full glory as God, and live. But God wants us to know him. He wants to have the kind of fellowship with us that he had with Adam and Eve before they sinned. That’s why he allowed Moses to come up on the mountain, to receive the two tablets of stone on which God himself had written his ten words, and to hear all the things that God wanted people to know about him.
What did God want people to know about himself? That he is the LORD, Jehovah, the one who simply exists, the eternal, the almighty, the creator of all that exists. Outward signs of his glory terrify us, but he wants us to know that he is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and overflowing with mercy and truth, maintaining mercy for thousands, forgiving guilt and rebellion and sin. He will by no means clear the guilty. He calls their children and their children’s children to account for the guilt of the fathers, even to the third and the fourth generation.
Through his word God reveals himself to us as compassionate and gracious, and at the same time holy and just. He shows that he wants us to be reconciled to him by displaying his glory in ways we can handle- pillar of cloud, pillar of fire, a voice from a mountain. He realizes that to come in his glory and speak to us directly would be too much for us to handle, so he speaks to us through prophets. Then, when the time had fully come, he demonstrated how great his desire is to reconcile us to himself so that we can one day see his face and live. When the time was just right, he, true God with the father from eternity, the one through whom everything that exists was made, chose to make his dwelling among us. We could not come to him, so he came to us. He could not come in his full glory as God, so he hid his glory in flesh and blood. He took on flesh and blood and became our brother.
John the Baptist recognized him. He testified that Jesus outranked him because he existed before him. That might not sound like much at first glance. But remember, the angel appeared to John’s father Zechariah to foretell the birth of John. John was conceived six months before the angel appeared to Mary and Jesus was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. Humanly speaking, John was born six months before Jesus. But Jesus existed before John because he is God hiding his glory in flesh and blood. Jesus is the word who was with God in the beginning, who is in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something he wouldn’t give up. He chose to set aside his power and glory as God to become man, to take on flesh and blood, to be born of a woman and laid in a manger in Bethlehem.
What is Christmas all about? No one has ever seen God, not face to face, not in his full glory. But the only-begotten Son, who is close to the Father’s side, has made him known. He has made him know by becoming flesh and setting up a temporary dwelling among us.
He makes know to us how compassionate and gracious God is. He makes known to us how much he is willing to do to rescue us from sin and Satan so that we can be reconciled with him. He is willing to give up the riches of heaven for us. He is willing to restrict his freedom and live in a body. He is willing to experience hunger and thirst, heat and cold. He is willing to subject himself to temptation. He is even willing to subject himself to torture, to beating and mocking and a painful execution, none of which he deserved because he had never done anything wrong. While he lived in flesh and blood on earth he never once sinned.
It’s clear to see how Jesus reveals God’s compassion, grace and love, but what about God’s justice? How did he reveal the fact that God will by no means clear the guilty?
God’s justice is revealed in the fact that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. He made his own Son, the word who was with him in eternity, who took on flesh and blood, who placed himself under the law and kept it perfectly, he made the one who had no sin of his own guilty of our sins and the sins of the whole world. He gave Jesus, his only perfect son, up for us all, a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.
In Jesus we see the glory of God. In Jesus we see what God told Moses about himself. He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with mercy, forgiving guilt and rebellion and sin. He is the one who desires to be reconciled to us so much so that he was willing to give up heaven for a while to show us the full extent of his love for us. In Jesus we see that he is a just God who doesn’t just clear the guilty as if sin was no big deal. He shows us what a big deal sin is through all trials and troubles we face every day, through crime and war, through temptation and bodies that are subject to sickness, disease and death. But he shows his justice most clearly on the cross, not just by the physical suffering Jesus endured because of sin, but as he heard the agonizing cry that should be ours – My God, my God why have you forsaken me. Jesus, the God/Man, was forsaken so that we don’t have to be. He was declared guilty of all our sins so that we could be cleared of our guilt. Only at the cross do we understand that God is just, and still able to justify us.
Our sins separate us from God. Sinful humans cannot stand in the presence of God in his full glory, and live. But God wants us to know him. He wants us to enjoy the kind of fellowship he had with Adam and Eve before they sinned. He wants us to be reconciled with him. So he reveals himself in his word. And then he reveals himself in Jesus. He shows us that he truly is the compassionate and gracious God who remains absolutely just by taking on flesh and blood and suffering the punishment we deserve.
Look at Jesus in the manger. Look at Jesus on the cross. Only through faith in him can you look forward without fear to seeing God in his full glory.