“But Then Face to Face” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, ESV
This is the word of the Lord and it’s given to us this morning in love.
We have an expression in English, which as many expressions go is not always understood. If English isn’t your first language, it’s not always understood right away. I had to walk through this with a group of people as we talked about how difficult this was to understand what this expression meant. It’s the expression, “to miss the forest for the trees.”
When we talk about missing the forest for the trees it doesn’t totally make sense if you don’t have that expression growing up. It essentially means to be so consumed with details, to think about all of the individual trees, that you totally miss the fact that you’re in the middle of a forest. You see the details you, miss the big picture, miss the forest for the trees. This happens all over the place. Right we sometimes get so consumed with details that we don’t see the big picture of what’s happening all around us.
It’s also true that the opposite happens. Not only do we miss the forest for the trees, sometimes we know that we’re in an important forest, like we are here in 1 Corinthians 13. Because we know we’re in a particularly important forest, and just taking in all the glory of this forest we might overlook the fact that there is in this forest a particularly uniquely important tree.
There is a sentence here that gets at the most significant part of being a Christian, the beatific vision which just means the beautiful vision. That’s what beatific means, theologians call it the beatific vision. It’s the hope we have of beholding the glory of God face to face for all eternity.
Paul writes here in verse 12, look at it again,
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV
I understand this hope of seeing God face to face, this hope of the beatific vision, is the highest purpose for which you were created. I’m not overstating it, that is your chief end. God created you with the chief end of glorifying him and enjoying him forever for all eternity. To fulfill your chief end, to bring you to where you will be glorifying him and enjoying him for all eternity, he created you with the intention that he would reveal to you the endless facets of the infinite glory of his face through all eternity. Eternity by eternity, moment by moment throughout all of eternity you will continue to see new facets of the radiant jewel of the glory of God.
To see him in his face, God’s purpose is to reveal ever increasingly more of the infinite glory the infinite weight of the glory, that which we see in his face so that we might respond with ever increasingly glorifying and enjoyment of him forever. That’s our greatest responsibility in this life and throughout all of eternity and it is our greatest hope.
This section, this verse 12 gives us a critical insight here. So, this morning we’re going to look at this paragraph, but we’re really going to study this paragraph as for what it says here next week. This week we’re just we’re going to zoom in on this particularly important tree, so that we don’t miss the tree while we’re in the middle of this forest. This gives us a critical insight not only in where we are and in where we are going, but about how to get there.
Our big idea this morning is this No one will see the Lord face to face who does not now see him by faith.
So, three parts to our sermon this morning.
1. The Partial – What We See in Part Now
2. The Perfect – What We Will See Perfectly Someday, God Face to Face
3. The Pathway – Seeing Christ in the Word by Faith Through the Holy Spirit
So, the partial, the perfect, and then how to get there the pathway, from point a to point b.
So, let’s start with the partial, what we see in part now. Like I said we’re going to come back and look at this verse or this section as a section next week, but I want to give you sort of upfront the basic idea what Paul is getting at in this passage. In this section Paul is contrasting the difference between gospel graces and gospel gifts. He’s saying these gospel graces of faith, hope, and especially of love, these are graces that will endure through all of eternity. Our whole life is to cultivate these, and they will endure for the cultivation of our lives through all of eternity.
These gospel graces endure in contrast with the gospel gifts. Paul names specific gifts of prophecies and tongues and knowledge. So, you notice in verse 8, Paul begins by saying, “love will pass away”, and then in verse 13 sort of book ends at the beginning and the end when he says, “so now faith, hope, and love abide.”
These gospel graces remain, they endure, they are permanent, but these are in contrast to the gospel gifts. Paul says,
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away 1 Corinthians 13:8, ESV
So, these graces that endure forever and there are these gifts that must pass away. When we get to the verse that we’re looking at, verse 12, where Paul says, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face,” Paul is giving us an illustration of this principle. He’s contrasting what is temporary with what is permanent, what is partial with what is perfect.
He talks about this in the sense of looking into a mirror versus seeing someone face to face. What Paul says is, “now we see in a mirror dimly.” Now this word dimly is a word that we derive our English word enigma from. It means in Greek a riddle, it’s something that gets to the indirectness of the sight in a mirror.
I’ve heard sermons where people have talked about, and some people take this view, that this idea of seeing in a mirror deals with the poor quality, you know in our mirrors we see things so clearly, but in those days mirrors were terrible. I don’t think that’s probably what Paul means here for a couple reasons.
First of all, Paul had never seen one of our mirrors, he didn’t know what to compare it to. So, it’s not really fair to make that comparison. The second issue, which is more important, is that Corinth was actually famous for its mirror manufacturing. He’s using this example because the Corinthians knew their stuff about how to make the best mirrors in the world. He’s saying, but even so the problem isn’t that it’s blurry, the problem is that it’s indirect.
Now we can have this face-to-face conversation and there’s an intimacy to this, there’s a directness to it. Imagine if I preached the whole sermon with my back to you holding a mirror here so I could sort of see you a little bit here and there. That’d be weird and it would be really indirect.
Actually, right now we might know something a little bit more about this because how much have we hated not having face-to-face conversations with people, it’s an advantage of an indirect way of seeing people through video conferencing and things like this. It’s not the same, it’s indirect. What Paul is saying is now we see this indirect vision of God, that’s the partial, that’s the temporary. When the perfect comes that’s going to pass away, it will give way to seeing God face to face forever.
Now this language of seeing God indirectly came up in the Old Testament. Paul isn’t making up this language, he’s applying it to a mirror. This is language that actually talked about Moses’ unique relationship to the Lord. In Numbers 12:8, the Lord says that Moses had a unique relationship to the Lord.
8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Numbers 12:8, ESV
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament it’s the same word here as in 1 Corinthians 13, “I speak not in riddles, not in enigmas”, but he beholds the form of the Lord. So, Moses speaks mouth to mouth, face to face, he beholds the form of the Lord and God doesn’t speak with him in riddles. So, there’s a contrast here between this idea of seeing God and speaking to God in riddles, indirectly versus seeing him face to face. That’s the partial.
Now what Paul is saying here is that our ministry, the ministry that we do by these gospel gifts of tongues and of prophecies and of knowledge, this ministry in its current form is important. This is the way in which we have a glimpse of the glory of God in Christ, but it’s temporary. This gives us nothing more than a partial, indirect vision of God. When the perfect comes that partial vision will become obsolete when Christ returns so that we behold God face to face directly. So, the point Paul is making here, and again this is an illustration of his point, is that the gifts must cease while the graces will endure.
Now I want to make a point that we’re going to come back to we’ve talked, I’ve talked a couple of times over the last few passages as we’ve been talking about the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. We’ve talked about this idea of cessation theology, that the sign gifts of prophecy and tongues and knowledge as it was practiced in the early church, these gifts ceased at the coming of the New Testament, the perfection of the New Testament.
Now we’re going to sort of set that idea aside for the moment. What I simply want to say is that if you’re a Bible-believing Christian every Bible-believing Christian looking at this verse, all of them acknowledge that the gifts must cease. Whether you’re a Presbyterian or a Pentecostal, you believe, if you believe the Bible, that the gifts must cease. Paul says it here, “as for prophecies they will pass away, as for the tongues they will cease, as for knowledge it will pass away.” The difference is not whether these sign gifts will pass away, it is when and why. Everyone believes it will happen, the question is when does it happen and why does it happen? If we look at the question in this passage, it becomes very clear that the question we really need to be asking is what does it mean to see God face to face and what does that tell us about the enduring gift of love and of this gospel ministry that we have to know Christ and the perfection that we are still awaiting? So, where we are is with the partial, we have a partial indirect vision of God.
Let’s talk now about the perfect, where we are going, this perfect idea of seeing God face to face.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV
Now to understand this phrase face to face. It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t just making this up here either. This is a passage, or this is a phrase, that’s shown up throughout the course of the scriptures and it’s so important because we see from the beginning of the scriptures all the way to the end of the scriptures that God is increasingly giving his people a more and better and clearer vision of himself face to face.
We see this phrase come up again and again, but every time we see it, we’ll see a few things. Number one that it’s progressive, it’s always better than the vision that God gave to his people before since the fall of sin. It’s always better than the last, it’s always partial we’ll see that it’s a face-to-face vision of God but it’s not a face-to-face vision of God. They see him face to face and yet they don’t see him with perfect clarity, it’s partial just like the situation we’re in. Then the third thing to see is that these face-to-face visions of God are always pointed away from themselves, that is it’s pointed away from seeing God to hearing from God in his word. Consistently we see this again God points us away from the vision, from seeing to listening to him in his word.
So, let’s look at these passages where we see this phrase face to face come up. The first one is in Genesis chapter 32 which is when Jacob wrestles with God. I preached on that passage a few years ago, the big idea was ,“God wrestles with us to remake us.” That’s exactly what God did. God wrestled with Jacob to remake him, to change him from the scoundrel Jacob into Israel the one who strives with God wrestles with God and man and prevails.
Well in that time Jacob reflects that, “I have seen God face to face”, he says. In that time, we see that Jacob experienced something that his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham did not experience. We know that the Lord appeared to Abraham and Isaac, but it’s never said that they saw him face to face, the glory was always veiled in some sense. So, Jacob has a better vision of God, a face-to-face vision of God, than did Abraham or Isaac. We also know that it was partial.
Again if you go back to the sermon that I preached on Genesis 32, it’s interesting that three times in that text, the text continues to go out of its way to show that Jacob’s vision of God was not in the blazing daylight of the sun but rather in the murky shadows of the night. Three times it says that the sun had not yet risen. Jacob saw the face of God, but he didn’t see it fully because it was dark. It was progressive, it was partial, it also pointed away from himself.
God allows Jacob to sort of get him in a choke hold and Jacob’s not letting him go and of course God could break out of this at any moment, but he wants this to happen. Jacob says, “I will not let you go”, he doesn’t say then I will not let you go until the sun rises because I really want to see the fullness of your face and clarity. He says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” He means I don’t want to see more of you right now, I want to hear your word, your blessing spoken to me. So, God blesses him, and he leaves and then the sun eventually rises. That’s the first place where we see this phrase face to face.
The second place chronologically that we see this phrase face to face comes up out of order in the Bible to one we’re going to return to, but it’s pointing back to a story that this is the next chronologically. It’s in Deuteronomy chapter 5 when Moses is thinking back to the story of Mount Sinai when God gave his people the Ten Commandments. In fact, in Deuteronomy 5:4-5, these are the words that lead right into the second repetitive giving of the Ten Commandments in the Bible. We read it once in Exodus 20 and then again in Deuteronomy 5.
Well in the words leading up to the giving in Deuteronomy of the law, we read Moses says this,
4 The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, 5 while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain.
Deuteronomy 5:4-5, ESV
So, this is progressive for God to come down on Mount Sinai and to deal with his people. He was in the midst of just having redeemed them out of Egypt, having sealed a covenant bond with them, and here God is speaking to them face to face. It was better than what Jacob experienced in the shadows of the night.
But it was still only partial, they weren’t able to go up on the mountain. In fact, if you go back to Exodus chapter 19 and 20 God forbade them, God appointed guards at the at the base of the mountain so they wouldn’t try to go up on the mountain to see him face to face. Yet Moses says, “You talked with God face to face.” It also pointed away from itself, it wasn’t the vision that was important. What Moses said was important was that I declared to you, I stood between God’s glory and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, the Ten Commandments. That’s the second place we see that progressive partial pointed away from the vision to the hearing of the word of God.
The third place we see this phrase face to face, again this comes chronologically later although it’s earlier than Deuteronomy chapter five, but in Exodus chapter 33. We read again about the relationship that Moses had with the Lord. We read in Exodus 33:11 that Moses spoke with the Lord face to face as a man speaks with his friend.
Well there we go, Moses saw the Lord face to face. He did but he didn’t. As we’ve seen this is progressive, Moses’ relationship was better than the Israelites, better than Jacob his ancestor, but Moses’ relationship was still partial. Seven verses later in Exodus 33:18 Moses asks the Lord, “Show me your glory.” He hadn’t seen it all, he wanted to see his glory. The Lord said, “You cannot see my face.”
We just read that he’d been speaking with the Lord face to face, but now the Lord says you cannot see my face for man cannot see me and live. So, it’s interesting what the Lord says he’ll do. He says okay here’s what I’m going to do for you Moses, I’m going to put you in the cleft of the rock, I’m going to cover over you in the cleft of the rock, I’m going to pass by you so that you will not see my face directly, you will not see me face to face, instead you will see me indirectly, instead you will see the trailing parts of my glory, you’ll see the back side after I’ve passed by.
It’s partial. it’s in a riddle, it’s in a mystery, but it still points away from itself. Then when we roll from Exodus 33 into 34, we read there the vision that Moses saw, and we read not one word of what that vision looked like. When Moses saw the glory of the Lord, we instead read that the Lord passed by him and proclaimed the name of the Lord. That means that God preached about his name, his character, his fame, his glory. The Lord preached a sermon to Moses as he passed over and it’s in that that Moses saw the glory of the Lord. It’s still pointed away from the vision to the hearing of the word of the Lord. Progressive, partial, pointed away from itself toward the word.
Now the next instance that we find in salvation history of where this happens, we don’t find the phrase face to face but this is what’s happening. It’s in Matthew chapter 17, or there are a couple of other recordings of this in the gospels, it’s the transfiguration of Jesus. When Jesus was born you have God in the flesh and yet Jesus veiled his glory. You couldn’t see the fullness of his glory until Peter, James, and John went up with him onto the Mount of Transfiguration. There suddenly Jesus let down the veil he began to shine radiantly in front of his disciples. This was the best glimpse human beings have ever had to the glory of God ever before in human history, it’s progressive and yet it’s partial.
Peter looking at this doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. So, Peter says, “Lord I get it, you are as important as Moses and Elijah.” Moses and Elijah had appeared. He says, “Let’s make tabernacles for all three of you.” He doesn’t understand that he’s seeing the glory of Almighty God which surpasses that of Moses and Elijah. It’s still partial, he doesn’t get it fully face to face. He doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. It’s also pointed away from itself pointed away from the vision to the word of the Lord.
God corrects Peter. Imagine being corrected by God from heaven, it’s a terrifying thought. God says, “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” He doesn’t say look a little bit longer and you’re going to see it I know it, he says listen to him. Again, we’re pointed away from the vision to hearing the word of the Lord. That was the best glimpse of the glory of God ever before in human history, but Peter himself says that we have something better.
It is better to be us today than it was to be Peter on the Mountain of Transfiguration. It’s a shocking statement in 2 Peter chapter one, Peter is thinking back to the Mount of Transfiguration. He says that we were eyewitnesses of his majesty in 2 Peter 1:16
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
2 Peter 1:16, ESV
The light, the vision of the glory of God in Christ, is more clearly seen, progressively better seen in the prophetic word, more fully confirmed, in the scriptures than you could see it in the face of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Yet what Paul reminds us here in 1 Corinthians 13:12 is that what we see is still partial. We see in a mirror dimly indirectly, but then we shall see face to face. All of this is nothing it’s incomplete, it’s indirect compared to the great hope for which we are waiting in life which is to see God face to face. This is why the Bible ends on this promise.
In Revelation 22:3-4, we read that in the New Jerusalem the throne of God and of the lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him.
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Revelation 22:3-4, ESV
That’s what we’re waiting for, the day when we see God face to face forever. Throughout redemptive history God has been giving his people an increasingly clear and increasingly direct vision of himself. Jacob’s vision was wonderful, Israel’s vision was better, Moses was even better than that, Peter, James, and John had still yet a better vision. We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed and yet all of us are still awaiting the day when we will see God face to face in eternity.
Well this raises a giant question, how can that be? How can it be that it’s better to be us with a Bible today on the Lord’s day than it would have been to be Peter, James or John on the mountain? I would have even taken Moses in the cleft of the rock. How is it true that what we have is better?
The answer that we see in scripture is that we gain the clarity of our vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the word. The vision is always pointing away from itself for now, until the day when we can see him perfectly forever. For now, while our vision is indirect, we see Christ with perfect clarity, although indirectly in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
So, is that really better? Well this brings us to our third point the pathway. How we go from the partial to the perfect the pathway. The way to get from point a to point b and the pathway we are told in the scripture is that we must see Christ now in his word by faith and through the Holy Spirit.
If you have your Bible still open to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, I want you to flip to 2 Corinthians chapter three. Paul is writing to the same church a little bit later dealing with the same concerns using the same topics. In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul is contrasting there the great privileges that Moses had which are fading away, in comparison to the enduring permanent value of the privileges of the gospel of new covenant ministry. Four times there he talks about the glory of Moses which was fading away. This is the exact same word that Paul uses in our passage in 1 Corinthians 13 to talk about the way that the gifts must pass away, “prophecy it must pass away, it must fade away, the tongues must cease, knowledge must pass away.” Just as did the glory of Moses to give way to what is, Paul says, permanent or abiding or enduring.
When Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “So faith, hope, and love, these three abide”, he uses the same word that is translated as permanent in 2 Corinthians 3:11. I want to show you that we see here the fading away being brought to an end and the permanent abiding, enduring in one place. In 2 Corinthians 3:11 Paul says,
11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
2 Corinthians 3:11, ESV
“Brought to an end”, that’s the passing away word. “Much more will what is permanent”, that’s the word for abiding or enduring. Now remember 1 Corinthians 13 is all about how the gospel graces will endure whereas the gifts have to fade away, they have to pass away just as the ministry of Moses had to pass away. Moses saw God face to face and yet as good as his vision was it had to pass away, it had to fade away to give way to something even better which is what we have in the scriptures.
As we see Christ by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, this is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:12 he says,
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, ESV
How do you see God? You have to have the veil removed to see Christ in the scriptures. How does that happen? The way we come to see Jesus now in his glory the way we come to see God face to face, even as we know that it’s still indirect still partial as we await the direct the perfect for all of eternity is to gaze upon Christ in the word as the Spirit opens our eyes to give us the light of Christ.
Look at what Paul continues in 2 Corinthians chapter four he continues to talk about the word of God.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, ESV
Finally, we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of God’s word, the reading of the Old and the New Testaments. We have the most privileged vantage point, the box seats, the front row tickets whatever you want to see this, we have it. In all of human history we have the best glimpse; better than Jacob, better than Israel, better than Moses, better than the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
What this means also then is that we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, even better than the earliest church did. Now I’m not talking about the apostles who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected glory of Christ, who are the ones who are giving us this witness in the scriptures. I’m talking about the experience of the church as a whole. That in the early church we have a better vision than they do because we have the completed Bible. Sometimes people say that they want to go back to the early church, and there’s some value in that desire, it would be wonderful to get back to some of the simplicity and some of the fervency that we see recorded for us about the early church.
However, understand the earliest church couldn’t see Jesus as well as we can. They didn’t have the full complete New Testament as we do. They were still receiving revelation about Christ in bits and pieces by the exercise of the gospel gift of prophecy. They were initially grasping the meaning of that revelation bit by bit by the exercise of the spiritual gift of knowledge. They were just beginning to spread that gospel to new people groups through new languages by the exercise of the spiritual gift of tongues.
In contrast we have the full New Testament. We can compare scripture with scripture. We don’t have to try to remember what the prophet stood up and said last week in worship, it’s right here in the word and we can go home and read it and see Jesus face to face by the power of the Spirit.
We have a better vision than they did so let me draw a conclusion from this Biblical pattern. Again, and again we see God revealing himself face to face. Again, and again it’s always progressive, each time is better than the last. What has happened is that, in part when, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that these signed gifts must pass away, he’s saying in part they must pass away to give way to what is more perfect, the Bible.
He’s saying that in addition to, he’s saying both, he’s saying at the same time even then when they have the Bible in its completed Old and New Testaments, it’s still partial. Even though God’s people have seen God face to face throughout scripture, and we still do, and we now have a better version than the early church even did, we are still awaiting the day when we see God face to face.
Paul was both looking at the immediate cessation of the gifts at the close of the apostolic period and the cessation of gifts when Jesus Christ will return again where we will see him directly.
Well what should we do with this? Our applications this morning I have three.
1. See the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The hope of the gospel is that God will give you a vision of himself face to face. To see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is the purpose for which you were created. Often when we talk about the gospel, we’re talking about the forgiveness of sins and being counted righteous in Christ and adoption into the family of God. Those are extraordinary enduring graces.
Our righteousness will persist not because of what we have done, but because of the firm foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified. As extraordinary as these gospel graces are, as much as they will endure into eternity, they are as the Bible teaches us means to an end. The end goal is to see God, not indirectly, but face to face. Mot only by faith but by sight.
If you’re not a Christian this morning, if you’re trying to understand what Christianity is all about, let me tell you something that’s going to sound so strange. The goal of Christianity is to see God. That’s it, that’s the whole purpose. That is what we want is to see God face to face and the reason that sounds strange is we don’t have a clue about how glorious that would be. Yet we forget what we do, how far we go out of our way, to see things in this world.
Now when I was growing up, I had seen all manner of reproductions of the famous painting the Mona Lisa. I’d seen it in art you know, I’d seen it satirizing political cartoons, I’d seen it in art history, sometimes in on advertisements, I’d seen them everywhere. Everyone has seen the Mona Lisa I would dare say. Yet when I went to France and was in the Louvre, understand I went to find the signs to go to see where the Mona Lisa was.
I went in that room and I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t get anywhere near this tiny little insignificant painting. There were 50 people surrounding there who wouldn’t let me get anywhere near her because they wanted to see this famous painting with their eyes. It’s the most famous painting in the world and they wanted to see that work with their eyes.
I’ve seen tons of pictures of the Grand Canyon, but when I got there a couple of years ago, I realized that none of the pictures I had seen did it the least bit of justice. Think of what people will pay in this world for live tickets to a sporting event. Think of what people paid when Hamilton came through town, they just wanted to see it. You can see all of that on television, but to be there and to see it with your eyes is special.
We know it’s built into us because God created us to long to see him face to face. Understand that everything in this world would pale in comparison to just one glimpse, just one moment, of seeing the glory of God face to face. That’s our hope, to see the glory of God in all of his fullness, and all of his majesty, and all of his glory. To see the facets of this glory unveiled and unfurled slowly over the course of all of eternity so that we are always gazing on new vistas of grandeur as we look upon Christ.
Your whole life you have been longing and searching for this, to see God face to face. The promise of the gospel is that this vision of God face to face is for those who see him now by faith. Look to Jesus Christ in his word, by his Holy Spirit, by faith and see him with clarity. See the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2. Cultivate a holy dissatisfaction with anything less than seeing the glory of God face to face. I’m going to tell you the opposite of what you may have heard of trying to seek your best life now. I’m going to tell you the opposite of what our culture has enshrined is the goal of human life; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want to tell you to be as dissatisfied as you possibly can. Not because I want you to be gloomy and depressed and in despair, because in fact if you understand why you should be dissatisfied with the world it is the greatest source of joy imaginable.
If you’ve read Ecclesiastes, I love telling this story because it’s so fascinating, Ecclesiastes is such a dark gloomy depressed book. The preacher that looks around at everything, Solomon, looks around at everything and says everything is worthless under the sun. Everything is vanity under the sun.
Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer, considered Ecclesiastes to be the most optimistic book in the Bible because it clarifies our understanding of where we should find satisfaction and joy. If you look under the sun you are just going to find vanity, but if you look above the sun to the right hand of God the Father, where Jesus Christ is seated and is awaiting to return, you will find satisfaction. Don’t look for it in anything in this world. Cultivate deep dissatisfaction as you seek to grow in faith to know and love him as you await his return when you see him face to face. Cultivate a holy dissatisfaction for anything else in this world.
3. Read the Bible with the goal of seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We don’t have a perfect vision of God right now, we can only see him in a mirror indirectly in his word through the Holy Spirit by faith.
Brothers and sisters, the trek through the Bible this morning was to show us that we have a clearer sight of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ in the Bible than God’s people have ever had it any time in history. We have a better vision than Jacob, better than Israel, better than Moses, better than the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. Your purpose, your pathway between the partial now and the perfect to come is to grow in your fitness for seeing the glory of God face to face.
Now you can’t make yourself more fit for this, this is the work that God does in you. However, understand this is a work that God calls us to give ourselves to; to become fit to bear the weight of the glory of God in eternity to come.
When I decided, foolishly or not, to run a half marathon in 2013 I knew that I would die if I did no training. You don’t, well maybe you can, I can’t roll out of bed and run a half marathon. I’d never done anything like in my life. If I had done it, I would have died at trying to do it.
So, to you cannot bear the weight of the glory of God unless in this life you are given to growing in fitness for bearing under the weight of his glory. John Owen a Puritan writes this when he’s talking about this idea of seeing the glory of God and he says, “We shall hereby by faith in the word be made fit for heaven. All men indeed think themselves fit enough for glory. What should hinder them if they could attain it but it’s because they know not what it is. Men shall not be clothed with glory as it were whether they want to or not. It is to be received in that exercise of the faculties of their souls which unregenerate people have no ability for. Music has no pleasure to those who cannot hear, nor the most beautiful colors to those who cannot see. It would be no benefit for a fish to take him from the bottom of the ocean filled with cold and darkness and place him under the beams of the sun, for he is in no way suited to receive any refreshment from the sun. Heaven itself would not be more advantageous to persons not renewed by the spirit of grace in this life.”
We study this word to become familiar with the face of Jesus. We see him indirectly as in a mirror, but we study the word in order to grow in our appreciation for the beauty of the music of God’s redemptive symphony. To grow in our understanding and appreciation, to distinguish between all the hues, all the tints, all the tones, and all the shades of the colors of Christ’s glory. To bask in all the many rays of the sunlight of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, when we read the Bible, we have an infinite privilege to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. When we approach the Bible let us never forget that. For no one will see God face to face who does not now see him by faith. Brothers and sisters let us give ourselves to seeing Christ in his word, by faith and through his Spirit.
Lord we pray for grace as we want to see Jesus. Please show us your glory. We are overwhelmed in gratitude with the fact that you promise that you will give us your glory now in part, indirectly, as we see Christ in your word. We pray that you would open eyes here today even to see the light of the gospel of Christ who is the image of God. But Father we also pray for the day when all of this will become perfect, when our vision will be face to face. Make us fit now to enjoy all the glories of heaven ever after. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.