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Fixing our eyes on the glory of Jesus

starsRev Matt Stone illustrates how God’s glory is revealed not just in the splendour of creation, but in the beautiful, radiant love shown by Jesus in the act of salvation, and then examines what this love means for us practically in the way we live our lives.

The Oxford dictionary defines ‘glory’ as ‘magnificence or great beauty’, and we see the glory of God – the magnificence and great beauty of God – in God’s created world around us. As the Psalmist proclaims: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19).
American preacher Louie Giglio gives an awe-inspiring introduction to the glory of God in creation online here. God is a star-breathing God (Psalm 33:6).
This is amazing, but isn’t it even more amazing that this star-breathing God is the same God who comes to us personally in Jesus? Hebrews 1:3 says: “[Jesus] is the one through whom God created the universe... He reflects the brightness of God's glory and is the exact likeness of God's own being, sustaining the universe with his powerful word.” Colossians 1:15-16 says: “Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God....For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things.”
The glory of God the Father and the glory of God the Son are one, because the Father and the Son are one. Jesus is not a ‘chip off the old block’, He is the ‘old block’. Nothing would exist without Jesus. He created and He sustains everything that is by His powerful word.  So what then does Jesus add to our picture of God and his glory? The answer lies in what Jesus does for us. The glory of God is revealed not just in the splendour and vastness of creation, but in the act of salvation.
And this is where the Gospel, the crux of the Christian faith, becomes its most stunningly profound. The God who crafted galaxies, the God who breathed Canis Majoris – a star so vast it could hold quadrillions of earths within it – is the God who was born in a dirty manger, who washed his disciples’ feet, and who was nailed to a Roman cross.
God’s glory is not just seen in his cosmic architecture, but in the way He loves – deeply, deeply loves – the people He has made. God’s glory is seen in Jesus’ humility and servant-hood, Jesus’ sacrifice and grace. God’s glory is seen as he accepts the Roman nails in his wrists and the humiliation and scorn of such a shameful death. God’s glory is seen as He reaches down from heaven with his arm of salvation and offers to bring us back into relationship with Him. God’s glory is seen as Jesus rises back to life and inaugurates God’s new creation, God’s Kingdom that will endure forever.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:20-23: “Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself... At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence.” 
The cross of Christ is like a glorious, glistening diamond – there are lots of different ways of understanding its work. Jesus is revealed to us as King, Priest and Prophet, linking in with the three main ways that theologians have traditionally understood the cross: the three theories of Christus Victor, Christus Mediator, and Christus Exemplar.
Christus Victor is the first model of salvation through the cross. This idea is that because of sin, humanity is held captive by the Satan’s power; that we rightly belong to Satan, but that God offered his Son as a ransom to save us (Mark 10:45). It was only when Satan got Jesus down into hell that he realised his mistake, because death could not hold Jesus, and he rose triumphant. Satan was defeated; his prisoners liberated. Christ was victorious. It is easy to see the influence of this theory in C.S. Lewis’ story, ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, where Aslan gives his life for Edmund, only to rise again triumphant defeating the witch’s evil and freeing Narnia from her icy spell.

Christus Mediator is the second view you can have of the cross, whereby Jesus bears the punishment for our sin so that we can be made right with God. He is Isaiah’s suffering servant who is “pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53). Jesus acts as Mediator between God and humanity. He bridges the gap between humans in their sinfulness and God in his holy perfection. In Charles Dickens’ book, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’, we see this model of salvation illustrated as, motivated by love, Sydney Carton exchanges cloaks with Charles Darnay and goes to the guillotine in his place.
Christus Exemplar sees the cross as significant because Jesus’ passion kindles in us a flame of love. The cross sets an example for us – an example of loving humility and self-sacrifice – that we should copy in our own lives. However, it relies on the first two models of salvation because it is not enough that Jesus simply dies: Jesus must also accomplish something. We would admire a father who runs into a burning building to rescue his children, but we would pity a father who jumps off a really tall building whilst shouting, ‘I love you”.

Jesus’ example has to achieve something objectively for it to motivate us subjectively to love with the same self-giving courage. Looking at the cross, we see our sins forgiven and so we in turn forgive those who sin against us showing love and mercy even when it costs us. In the book, play and film ‘Les Miserables’, we see a perfect example of this in the priest Myriel who gives the thief Jean Valjean his silver plates and candlesticks to set him free both from legal punishment and from sinful dishonesty.

Christus Victor, Christus Mediator, and Christus Exemplar all reveal to us different aspects of God’s glory. In Jesus, God is a glorious victor; a humble mediator, who wants us to know Him and love Him; and a glorious example of love for us to follow. Glory is not just about majesty and splendour in the traditional royal sense. It’s about love; beautiful and magnificent and radiant love that shines out into the universe and into our lives.
But what does all this theology mean for us and how we live? In the book of Colossians, Paul begins with Jesus’ supremacy, sacrifice and glory and then he goes on to unpack what this means for how we live. It’s a structure common to several of Paul’s letters. In Romans, we have 11 chapters of Paul unpacking the message of the Gospel, followed by 5 chapters of practical application. In Ephesians, we see it again. Here are three practical points based around the idea of Jesus as King, Priest and Prophet, all linking in to Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

1. Jesus as King means that we should respond in worship.

We worship God not just by admiring his handiwork in creation and congratulating Him for a job well done. We worship God by recognising his personal work, his salvation and love, in our lives. God is not just at work out there, He’s at work in here.
In Colossians 2:7, Paul tells us to “be filled with thanksgiving”. Later, in Colossians 3:16-17, Paul says: “Christ's message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.”
Christ’s message is to dwell in us richly, and should lead us to live lives of worship and gratitude; lives that visibly declare and demonstrate Jesus’ love. Our whole lives should be like a song of praise to God.
From the way I live, I hope people can tell that I love my wife, Jenni. I talk positively about Jenni. I spend time with Jenni and prioritise her above other parts of my life. I (occasionally!) buy flowers and gifts for Jenni. In short, my love is visible. People would recognise – I hope – that we are in a committed and stable and happy relationship. The same should be true of our relationship with God. People should be able to tell that we love God; that Jesus is a priority in our lives; that we are passionate about his presence with us. People should see that going to church is important to us; that giving time and money to the work of the church is close to our hearts. This is all a part of worship – demonstrating that Jesus is precious and worth a lot to us.

2. Jesus as Priest means that we can overcome the sin in our lives – those things that take us away from God and God’s will for us.
Sin has a way of shrinking God down and puffing us up in our own estimation.  If you don’t think you have any sin, Paul says you’re deluded. You don’t see yourself as God and others see you. We all sin; but we can and should work to overcome those sins, as challenging as that can be.

“You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as...greed (for greed is a form of idolatry)... anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self.” (Col. 3:5, 8-10).

A summary of Colossians 2 and 3 could be: You’ve got new life in Christ, you’ve got a fresh start and a clean slate: now live like it. Don’t be led astray by false teaching and what others think of you. Remember that Jesus has been victorious over the powers that try to make you greedy; the powers that loosen your tongue to gossip; the powers that puff you up and shrink God down in your life; the powers that dull your love for God. Jesus has paid the price once and for all; put it behind you and move on.
3. Jesus as Prophet is our example for how to live.
We need to fix our eyes and hearts on Christ, now seated in heaven, and clothe ourselves in his life. Colossians 3:12-14 puts it like this: “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant...forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.”
But where do we fix our eyes?  In an old Candid Camera episode, an actor is on a busy sidewalk and begins looking at the ground. He walks around a bit and continues to look down. People are passing by him and a few give him strange looks. After a couple minutes, he decides to get down on his hands and knees and begins feeling around with his hands. People begin to slow down and watch what he’s doing. Finally, one person stops and starts looking at the ground. Then another one begins searching the sidewalk. 

In a few minutes, the camera shows about a dozen people looking down, some even on their hands and knees! At that point, the actor, who got all this started in the first place, quietly gets up and walks away. No one else notices that he has left. They’re so intent in their search that they never even bothered to ask what it was they were looking for.
Where are our eyes? Do we follow the crowd and look only at what the world offers us, the temporary benefits of wealth or popularity or comfort or security? Or do we have our eyes fixed on someone far greater? Do we live as our neighbours live, or as the crucified King lived? Do we live for ourselves, or for others? Are we grabbing or giving; selfish or selfless; self-important or humble?
Jesus promises us a prize beyond anything we can touch or own or stash away for a rainy day. “Your real life” – Paul says – “is Christ”. Everything else is a counterfeit. “And when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!” (Col. 3:4)
When we recognise God’s glory in Jesus, when we believe the message he brings, when we fix our eyes on him who died and rose again for us – we are promised an eternity of sharing his glory. Jesus’ magnificence, beauty, greatness and love will be ours to share. It’s a gift beyond words... a gift we cannot earn and do not deserve. A gift of grace and glory.

Matt Stone is a Minister in the Norwich Area group of United Reformed Churches, serving at Ipswich Road and Wroxham & Hoveton URCs.

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