Magnifying the Glory of God
So for the last three weeks here in the month of August we’ve been hitting “reset” as a church. And if you can remember way back to the first sermon, the goal of this series has been for us to come back to the foundation. It’s that we need to step back, catch our breath, and remember together who God is and who we are and how we’re supposed to live in this world.
And the timing of this reset is also important because we’re here at the end of summer, and we’re about to step into a new season, and I want us to be ready for what God has for us. I have been praying and expecting, by God’s grace, that this fall season is going to be fruitful. God is at work in our church — he is at work in you — and so I want us to be anchored and refreshed and excited about what’s next, and so that’s why we’re doing this reset.
And let me go ahead and tell you again the truth that we’ve been coming back to. You’ve heard me say this a lot over the last three weeks, and I really want this to sink in. It goes like this:
- The more we are assured of God’s love and of how much we don’t deserve it,
- then the more we are humbled and filled with joy,
- then the more we are poured out in love for others,
- which all amounts to magnifying the glory of God.
And today we’re going to look closer at this last part on the glory of God. And in order for us to do this we need to slow down for a minute and consider some basic questions that I think we can tend to overlook. So here’s the plan for the sermon. It’s very straightforward. We’re looking at three questions:
- What is the glory of God?
- How is the glory of God magnified?
- Why does it all matter?
So let’s pray and then we’ll get started:
Father, in your love we now come to your word and we are asking that you would speak to us. You know better than we do all the different things that we’re bringing into this place. You know every heart in here. You know the heavy hearts and the elated hearts. You know the broken and distracted and the busy and the tired. You know all things, and you know us. And so we’re asking, by your grace, show us more of who you are. In Jesus’s name, amen.
1. What is the glory of God?
When it comes to churchy words and phrases, I think “the glory of God” is on the top of the list — there’s a good chance you’ve heard that phrase before. It’s one of the most common things we say in churches like ours, and there are a couple reasons why we say it a lot. One reason is good, and other is not so good.
The first reason, the good reason, is because the glory of God is always relevant, and so it makes sense to talk about the glory of God. That’s a good thing.
The second reason, which is not so good, is because we can make “the glory of God” a generic, catchall phrase that we treat like a tax on conversations that we want to sound spiritual. Sometimes we can make the phrase simply jargon — and it’s much easier for us to hear this kind of thing than to describe it.
For example, a few weeks ago I was doing some training related to different logistics in pastoral leadership. And I was watching a video of a leadership-expert pastor talk about different principles related to these logistics, and he gave around 4 or 5 solid principles, and it was helpful, practical advice. I was helped by what this guy said. But then at the end of the talk, he made a comment like: “These principles will help you do this or that for the glory of God.”
And when I heard it I realized that was the first time he had mentioned anything about God. Up to that point he had said nothing about God or the glory of God and so then I was stuck — because I know God’s glory is always relevant, but the way it was referred to bothered me.
What was meant in saying “for the glory of God?” Why did he say that? I mean it felt kind of cheap. It felt like it was just said to be said, like it was just sort of tacked on there at the end — and then I realized, wait a minute, I do the same thing sometimes.
But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to just say it to say it. I don’t want to make the glory of God a throwaway word. And so: what are we talking about here? What is the glory of God? What does the Bible say about the glory of God? Okay, that’s what we’re doing here.
Kavod and Doxa
There are two main words for “glory” in the Bible. There’s the Hebrew word kavod in the Old Testament, and the Greek word doxa in the New Testament. And they both have the same basic meaning. They’re used hundreds of times in the Bible, and every time we see the word it means something. In the Old Testament the word “glory” (kavod) literally means heaviness or weight or substance. Here are a few examples:
Exodus Chapter 24, verses 16–17:
The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. … the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain…
Then Moses later, in Exodus 33, verse 18, prays to God and says:
“Please show me your glory.” And God replied to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The Lord.’”
Then over in Psalm 19, verse 1, David says,
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Then in Isaiah Chapter 6, verse 3, the prophet Isaiah has this vision of the temple, and there’s a seraph-angel calling out, and this is what the angel says:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
The Communication of Holiness
And I think here in Isaiah 6 it’s especially helpful because “holy” and “glory” are in the same sentence, and when we see them both together it helps us understand what they mean.
First, when it comes to God’s holiness, God’s holiness refers to the totality of all God’s perfections. God as holy is the most fundamental way we can talk about God — it means God is set apart from everything and everyone. It means that all of who God is he is that as the one who is set apart. God is the Holy One.
Now we saw in the first sermon, according to 1 John 4:8, that God is love. The Bible says that. And well here in Isaiah 6:3 the Bible says that God is holy. So which is it? God is love. And God is holy. How do both of these predicates work?
Well, the way to say it is that God is holy love.
Back in that first sermon I said that love doesn’t define God, but that God defines love. And this is what I mean. God is love in his holiness. God is love in a category all his own. That’s what it means that God is holy. The holy God who is love is holy love.
And that’s still kind of abstract. This is hard for us to wrap our heads around because it’s big and conceptual and invisible, and I think that’s right. It’s not easy to understand. But now what about glory?
Well God’s glory is the communication of God’s holiness. If holiness is the invisible, glory is the visible. Holiness is conceptual, glory is practical. It’s like: if holiness were the sun, then glory is like the rays of the sun that shoot from sun, and we feel them.
Remember glory means substance. It’s heavy and weighty, and so it’s felt and seen and experienced. Glory is evidential.
That’s how the angel can say in Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; and the whole earth is full of his glory!” Glory is something the earth is full of.
That’s how David can say in Psalm 19 that the “heavens declare the glory of God!” And that’s how Moses can pray in Exodus 33 “Please show me your glory!” Glory means we’re talking about something that we can see and hear and grasp!
God’s glory is the substance of God’s holiness that we get to experience.
That’s also what “glory” (doxa) means in the New Testament. It carries this idea of the visible. The glory of God is the manifest presentation of God’s nature.
Never a Throwaway Word
And this is why it’s never a throwaway word. Glory is always talking about something real and something vivid. God’s glory is the showcase of his heart, and historically he has shown us his glory in more vivid ways than others.
The main example in the Old Testament is the exodus. That was the big event in Israel’s history when God set them free from slavery in Egypt, and it was all about God’s glory — that’s what God said (see Exodus 14:4). The exodus was the defining moment for Israel when God displayed his holiness. God showed his glory. And that whole event was really just a foreshadowing of a greater rescue to come.
The most vivid display of God’s nature, the greatest showcase of who God is, was when Jesus died on the cross for us.
At the Cross of Jesus
At the cross of Jesus was when God’s justice and mercy came together. It was when sin was punished and sinners were forgiven. That was when the God who is holy love himself came here in flesh and blood. Jesus who is God the Son came here to rescue us in person. And when Jesus died the whole sky went dark, and the earth shook, and the senses of humanity were overloaded because the glory of God was shining the brightest.
See, there was nothing abstract about a man being crucified — it was Jesus who is real, with real blood, dying a real death, because the glory of God is real. The glory of God is substance and weight. God’s heart of mercy and grace is visible — and so Jesus came here to show us that. Jesus died to show us that. Jesus was raised from the dead to show us that.
Jesus is — in his person and work — Jesus is the most vivid showcase of God. Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God,” says Hebrews 1:3.
So when we’re talking about glory we’re talking about what is real and visible and felt and experienced — the entire earth is full of God’s glory and an actual person is glory’s most vivid display.
So then how to do we magnify that?
2. How is the glory of God magnified?
Okay, so track with me here:
Because God’s glory is the weight or substance of his holiness, we ourselves cannot add to that, we can only see it. God’s glory doesn’t multiply; it can only be witnessed. But see, the problem is that we don’t.
Isaiah 6, again, says, “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” And well, we live on this earth, and that must mean we must see God’s glory all the time, but do we recognize what we’re seeing? Do we get it?
It’s kind of like when my kids play outside. We spend a lot of time outside in the summer, out in the backyard, and we’ve got dirt out there, and rocks, and mud, and all the things that kids love. And also, inside our house, we have white colored walls in our kitchen — I think the official color is called Steamed Milk. And in the summer, it seems like everyday I have to take one of those Magic Erasers to the walls because there are dirt hand-prints everywhere. Because when my kids come in the house they just rub their hands down the walls.
And it’s always interesting how those conversation go with the kids (and I mainly mean the younger ones here). They’ll come in after playing in the dirt for a couple hours, and if I’m there at the door I say: “Hey, wash your hands before you start touching stuff.” And you know what they do?
They look down [at their hands] and say, “Nah, I think I’m good.” And they hold their hands out for me to see.
And we’ve got different ideas for what’s good. Those hands are not good. But the thing is: they don’t really know what they’re looking for. But see if I were to give them some special glasses, or if I could somehow magnify their hands, then they’d say: Oh, I get it. I get it! I see it!
Encountering His Realness
And that’s the same thing that happens when the glory of God is magnified. We’re not creating anything original, we’re just being awakened to what is. The whole earth is full of the glory of God and when it’s magnified we get it. We know what we’re looking at. The sun is shining. The rain is falling. The birds are singing. My heart is beating. My lungs are breathing. My brain is working. And it all comes back to who? It all comes back to God! It comes back to the God who is holy love.
And why then is God doing that? Why does God make the sun shine and the rain fall and the birds sing and my heart beat and my lungs breathe and my brain work? Why do all these things happen?
They happen for the glory of God! — Because God wants me to experience the substance of who he is. He wants me to know his heaviness. He wants me to encounter his realness.
And so when God’s glory is magnified it means that we encounter him more. It means the realness of God who is holy love is experienced more deeply.
Here’s the simplest way to say it: magnifying the glory of God means we experience more of God. That’s the point. More of God.
And that’s what we see in Revelation 21.
And here’s why it all matters.
3. Why does it matter?
It all matters, in short, because heaven is more of God.
This earth as we now know it is passing away, and one day it will be made into a new earth — that’s what the Bible calls heaven (see Revelation 21:1) — and in this new earth, in this new reality, there will be more of God. That is the whole purpose for everything.
Revelation 21, verse 22,
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
The apostle John here in the Book of Revelation is giving us a glimpse into the new creation — this is what the new world will be like when it’s all said and done.
And John describes it by stating two current things that will be absent because two other things that will be present in new ways. Here’s what’s absent: there will be no temple and there will be no need for light (so there’s no sun and moon). Now why?
Well, the temple is the place where God dwells, and that’s not going to be needed in the new creation because the whole earth will be like a temple. In the new creation the whole world is the place where God dwells.
Everything Is His
And right now, sometimes, if we’re honest, we would like for God to “have his own place” and then we have ours. Sometimes we wish that we could just relegate God to Sunday mornings, or maybe we wish that he would just be satisfied with a few parts of our lives and not want the whole thing. We wish we could have some area in our lives that belongs only to us.
But we know it doesn’t really work that way with God, and it certainly won’t work that way in the new creation. Which means: if you like having places in your life where God can’t enter, you’re not going to like heaven.
Because in heaven, in the new creation, God will be so near, so in your face, so all around you, so much in everything you do that his name will be tattooed on your forehead (see Revelation 22:4). Everywhere and everything is his.
His Glory Ultimately Magnified
And in this new creation there’s not going to be a sun or a moon because the glory of God will be the light. We will not need any help seeing anything because there is nothing that will be unseen. With God’s unfiltered presence comes God’s unfiltered glory. All that will be visible is the substance and radiance and weight of God. The whole new earth will be thick with the glory of God — so thick and so overwhelming and so real that we are going to need new bodies to take it all in. And we barely have the categories for this, which is why we need to use our imaginations.
The new creation will be so real that right now, compared to that realness, we are basically transparent beings. And this is where C.S. Lewis helps us. In his book The Great Divorce, Lewis is dreaming about the world to come, and in his dream he writes that the light and grass and trees of the new world will be “so much more solid than things in our country that men [are] ghosts by comparison.” Lewis imagines that daises will be hard as diamonds, and that one leaf will be heavier than a sack of coal.
It will all be more real than things are now, and we will all be more awake, because there will be more of God. Because God’s glory will be in every nook and cranny. Because God’s glory will be ultimately magnified.
More of God Close and Clear
Another way to say it is that God’s glory magnified in the new creation means there will be more of God close and clear. That’s Revelation 21.
That’s why there will be no temple and no light. God’s dwelling place is the whole world — he will be close; God’s glory is the light — he will be clear. More of God close and clear.
That is the future world that God is preparing for us; and for which we are being prepared. The glory of God will be everywhere, and we will live in his glory. More of God close and clear.
And here’s the thing: one day in the future that will be this world, and we can begin to live that way right now. Right now, in our lives here, we can magnify the glory of God. We can in this life experience more of God close and clear.
Three Ways to Magnify the Glory of God
And I want to give you three ways how. Here in closing, these are three ways that here and now we can experience more of God close and clear. Or another way to say it: here are three ways to magnify the glory of God:
1. Be assured of God’s love for you and of how much you don’t deserve it.
It all comes back to the love of God. In the book of Jude in the New Testament there’s this amazing command in verse 21. Jude is encouraging Christians to preserve and this is what he says. He says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Church, do not forget about the love of God. We cannot make it without the love of God. So remember it; meditate on it; revel in it; sing it; share it; live like it’s true because it is. God loves you. God loves you. Hear this, church: God loves you.
2. Live humbly and filled with joy.
Understand the kind of love that the Father has given to us; he calls us his children, for so we are (1 John 3:1). And therefore my life is filled with hope, and that hope emanates a certain kind of character. We are humbled. We are bewildered in gratitude. And we are filled with joy. And I mean rock-bottom joy.
Because of God’s love, because of who he had made me to be, because I can never be separated from him, I have joy. Abiding, unassailable, everlasting joy. So the enemy can dig and pry and scrap his way down to the bottom of my heart, and when he gets there, do you know what he will find? A smile.
3. Pour yourself out in love for others.
The transformation that God accomplishes in our hearts is not a dead-end road. God pours his love into our lives so that we would become channels of his love into the lives of others. And that love always lines up with the truth; that love is always a difference-maker; and that love always comes with a cost that we gladly absorb for the sake of love — because that is the Jesus way, and his Spirit gives us the power. So we love.
This All Amounts to What?
And each of these three things are all happening together. This is the matrix of the Christian life. This is what it means to live under the lordship of Jesus, and when we live this way — the more we are assured of God’s love and of how much we don’t deserve it, then the more we are humbled and filled with joy, and then the more we are poured out in love for others. And all of that amounts to what?
It amounts to us having more of God close and clear now. It means more of God in my life. It means more of God in everything I do. It means magnifying the glory of God.
I want that so badly in my life and in my family. I want that so badly for this church. I want that for these cities. I want us all to long for this.
And this is where, the more I have thought and prayed about this, it really all comes back to the first and most consistent prayer I’ve prayed for us since we became a church four years ago.
It’s the prayer that Jesus be more real to us than anything else.
One day we are going to see his face; and I want us to see more of him now. And I want these cities to see more of him through us.
That’s what we’re doing here. That’s the reset.
And now we’re going to sing.
In just a few minutes we’re going to celebrate the gospel through baptism. But before we do, we’re going to respond to God’s word together. Let’s pray:
Father, all of this is about you. Our lives and this church, and all that we’ve talked about, it’s about you. It’s because of you. It’s for you. And Father, we want more of you. Father, fill us with your fullness. Work in us by your Spirit. Open our eyes to realness of Jesus. Because Father, we know that you love us. You have shown us your love. You have proven to us your love. And so we trust you and look to you, in Jesus’s name. Amen.