I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.
Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.
“In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” John 1.1, 14a.
This passage is heavy on my mind this Christmas. It presents the glory of God and the meaning of Christmas in a powerful way.
John’s Gospel doesn’t open with an actual story about Jesus’ birth, as Matthew and Luke do. We are very familiar with those narratives. But John has a prologue speaking in terms of the Word, or in Greek, logos. Logos as understood by Greeks as the controlling force and rationality behind the universe, and to Jews, the revelation, words, actions, and power of God. The prologue to John in verses 1-13 is an epic sweeping statement of the majesty of the mystery of God, beginning with the pre-existence of the Word of God, the Word’s creative power in making everything, how the Word is true life, and true Light, how John the Baptist testified to the need to believe in Him, yet how most reject Him, yet again those who believe in Him are re-born by God’s power to be God’s very children. And into these expansive and high ideas come this piercing sentence that just sort of hangs in the air and makes everything still, as if I should hold my breath at the stupendous wonder of it: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Imagine that.
The Logos, what everyone is looking and longing for, this thing that creates and controls the universe, who is Creator, the Word of God, the personfication of God, true life and light… became human. A human being like us, with a heartbeat, bones, blood, and body tissue. That holy, all-powerful Spirit God would have the humility and character to become like one of us and wander around on this rock hanging out in space in order to redeem a people who hate Him is beyond me.
He “dwelt among us.” This word in the Greek is skeno. It happens to be the same word used for “pitching a tent” or “encamping” Himself among us. The word is also used of the tabernacle, the tent of worship to Yahweh when Israel was in the wilderness with Moses. The days of Moses and the tabernacle were the “good old days” of Jewish history, when God was doing mighty miracles and deliverances for Israel, where sacrifices were offered to God and where the visible glory of God in the form of a cloud dwelt.
But John’s Gospel is saying something beyond the glory days of Moses is here. The eternal God of our ancestors has become visible again, and of all things, as a human being. And He is everything He was in Moses’ day. And more.