Below are the messages from the Coldwater Area Ministerial Evening Good Friday Service. I hope it will be an encouragement to you – it was to me! The area pastors are friends an co-workers in the kingdom of God – a blessing to me and to the larger church. – Shayne
Our theme tonight is the glory of God. We want to look at God’s glory through the lens of Scripture and the medium of song. It will be something like climbing a mountain: at each new rise, we will gain a perspective we didn’t have before. Then, at last, we will come around the mountain, and out from the cleft of the rock to see God’s love and holiness displayed with breathtaking and fearsome glory.
When we were in Yosemite a few years ago, we came to a lookout high in the mountains, where we could gaze down at the valley stretching out before us. We saw distant and noiseless waterfalls perpetually cascading down sheer rock walls. There was Half-Dome reaching for the sky. To our left was El Capitan with it 3,000-foot vertical wall. As we looked, my wife and I had the same thought: It doesn’t look real. It was clear and grand – but too grand to take in; there was always more to see than you could see. Whichever way you turned, wherever you looked, there was some new glory.
Tonight, we hope to have the same kind of experience, but as we look at the cross: “Let me never boast,” the great apostle said, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When it comes to the cross, whichever way you turn, wherever you look, there is some new glory. We can’t take it all in – perhaps we’ll never take it all in – but tonight we will look and be awed.
Some form of the “word” glory is used in over 300 verses in the Bible, but the word doesn’t appear at all in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. It doesn’t make its first appearance until the story of the Exodus – the story of Israel’s escape from slavery and oppression in Egypt. God reveals his glory as he triumphs over the gods of Egypt, one by one, in plague after plague. His glory shines as he defeats his people’s oppressors and their gods.
The pharaoh recognized the superior might of Israel’s God, and surrendered, but later withdrew his surrender and sent the armies of Egypt, with their overwhelming numbers and advanced weaponry, sweeping down on Israel’s frightened refugees. But the God of Israel will have none of it. His glory lights the heavens. His right hand stirs the sea – “The God of glory thunders over the sea.” He rends the waters like a garment, then sews them back together right over the top of the enemy of his people.
The gods of Egypt are humbled before the Lord God Almighty. The light of Rah, the mighty sun god, is dimmed before the dazzling glory of Jehovah (Yahweh). The glory of the god Khepri (who was always represented by the scarab beetle) was crushed under the weight of glory of the God of Israel. When the Gods battled in Egypt, the God of Israel was the glorious victor.
God showed his glory in Egypt when he bared his arm and made a fist.
The next significant grouping of “glory” words comes as Israel journeys to the Promised Land. Instead of heading northwest to Canaan, the Israelites are led by God to go south into the formidable Arabian desert. They travel through some of the most barren and intimidating country on earth until they come to Horeb, the Mountain of God: the place called Sinai.
Here the Lord displays his glory. As it settles on Mount Sinai, fear settles in the hearts of the people. The sight is awesome and alarming: It looks as if the entire top of the mountain is being consumed by fire. Here the God who “is a consuming fire” enters into covenant with a people who are like chaff. Deity and humanity come to terms, and laws for their relationship are put in place.
It is here that Moses ascends the mountain and dares to say to God: “Now, show me your glory.” So, God hides him in the cleft of the rock and causes his glory to pass by, but warns Moses that he will only see his back for no one can see his face and live.
Moses returns from the mountain heights, his face shining with glory. He carries two tablets of stone, on which are engraved the terms of the covenant. These are the Ten Commandments (or Ten Words), the basis for the Book of the Law. They are placed in the ark, where the glory of God shines continually. God revealed his glory at Sinai, when he donned his judge’s robes and laid down the law.
The next major cluster of glory words appears around the construction of the tabernacle and, later, the temple. God gave instructions to Moses for making a tabernacle where people could come to meet God, worship him and seek his forgiveness. Inside the tabernacle (and, later, Solomon’s temple) was the Holy Place, where only priests were permitted to go. But inside the Holy Place was the Most Holy Place. It was cordoned off by thick curtains and surrounded by an overwhelming – and frightening – sense of holiness.
No one entered it except the High Priest, the firstborn son of the firstborn son in Aaron’s direct line, and he only entered one day a year: The Day of Atonement. When he entered, he wore a robe that had little bells sewn on its hem. The priests outside would listen, and if the bells stopped ringing, they would know that God had taken the High Priest’s life because he had entered the most holy place in a state of sin.
Within the Holy of Holies was the golden lampstand and the ark of the covenant: The ark that contained Aaron’ staff, a jar of manna, and the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. It was in this hidden place that God displayed his glory. It was so awesome that no one dared enter except the high priest, and he only entered because he was required by God to do so.
When the tabernacle was completed, the glory of God descended on it. It filled the tabernacle so that even Moses dared not enter. When Solomon completed the temple, the same thing happened, so that the priests could not even perform their service.
After a while, it seemed to those outside that the glory had dispersed, but really it had condensed: it filled that tiny room known as the Holy of Holies, which was charged with glory. Hidden from all human eyes, except those of the high priest, and hidden from him on all days but one, God displayed his glory in the straight, unbending form of his holiness.
God made a fist in Egypt, and displayed his glory. He donned judge’s robes at Sinai, and displayed his glory. He descended on the temple in unbending holiness, and displayed his glory. But the greatest revelation of his glory, its most terrifying display, happened elsewhere.
Even Jesus’s disciples, looking at it, did not see it. They did not consider this a day of glory but of infamy; not a day of praise but of shame. When they looked at the cross, they not only didn’t see God’s glory, they didn’t see God. They felt abandoned. Their sense of loss and desperation found expression in one voice that rose above the din in a cry of desolation: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? “My God, my God—why have you forsaken me?”
There were other people looking on, the priests and rulers, who watched all this with satisfaction. When they looked at Jesus, they saw a bloody lump of human flesh nailed to a cross. They saw nothing they cared for, nothing they desired. They scorned and mocked him in the cross, just as their spiritual descendants scorn and mock him now, in the church. When they looked at the cross, they saw weakness. They saw shame. As far as they were concerned, they had put that man in his place.
But they were blind to what was really going on, which is just what Jesus told them. They could no more take in what was going on than your pet can take in a work of art. If you go to the Louvre with your service dog, and enter the gallery with Michelangelo’s sculpture of The Dying Slave, your dog will see what you see, but it will mean nothing to him. He will miss all the glory and pathos and wonder. To him, The Dying Slave may be nothing more than a substitute fire hydrant.
The priests and rulers looked but did not see. As far they were concerned, they had put this man in his place. But the truth they couldn’t see is that God had put himself in our place. Had they seen God’s hands outstretched to strike their enemies, as he had once struck Egypt, they would have called it glory. But when they saw his hands outstretched to embrace a world – outstretched, and nailed to a cross – they called it shame. They exulted in the fact that God has revealed his glory by giving them the Law, but they missed his greater glory when he took the punishment the law demanded on himself.
They thought they knew the glorious God: the wonder-working, enemy-striking, law-giving, mountain-shaking, temple-filling, plague-sending, sea-parting God. But up till now, they had only seen the fringes of his garment. Like Moses, they had not seen his face. They had seen only his back.
And now they look on the face of God … and don’t recognize him. They see but do not perceive. They don’t realize that beyond the glory of his power is the greater glory of his love. Beyond the glory of his might is the unfathomable glory of his helplessness. The wonder-working, enemy-striking, law-giving, mountain-shaking, temple-filling, plague-sending, sea-parting God is also the cross-carrying, humanity-serving, sin-bearing, pain-enduring, curse-suffering, sorrow-knowing, life-giving Lamb.
This is glory.
Before the crucifixion, Pontius Pilate brought Jesus before the crowds and cried, “Behold the man!” But mystery of mysteries: On the cross, God brought Jesus before humankind, before angels and principalities and powers, and cried: “Behold your God!” This is what God is like. This is glory.
The poet spoke of “Earth cramm’d with glory, and every common bush aflame with God,” but she warned that most of us lack eyes to see it. Will we have eyes to see this? Not a common bush, but a tree; a tree cramm’d with a glory that burns but is never burned up; a glory so bright that our eyes cannot bear it, only our hearts. A tree, on which is nailed our Lord and our God. Here is the ultimate display of God’s glory, “in the very dying form of one who suffered there for me.” This – this – is glory!
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.