Saturday, December 20, 2008

Glory to God in the Highest

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When the angels appeared to the shepherds they declared:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14)

That is part of the text I intend to preach on tomorrow.  I say “intend” because they are calling for 4-6” of snow and freezing rain here in Portland. I would say it is a 40/60% chance that we will have corporate worship tomorrow.

PART of my observations on the text include the fact that we focus on the second part of the angel’s message, but sometimes don’t focus enough attention on the first.  We focus on what “peace on earth” means and we squabble over what “those on whom his favor rests” means (or “goodwill to men”).  But do we think seriously about what it means to link Christ’s birth with the glory of God?

I am thinking along these lines because I have just begun John Piper’s book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.”  And the second chapter is entitled, “Brothers, God Loves His Glory.”  In one place Piper warns:

“Many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem. Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that is the foundation of His love for us.” (pp. 6-7)

We stress the John 3:16 aspect of the angel’s message: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son….” But there is an aspect of the angel’s message that is AT LEAST just as important. And that is that God came in human form to declare and to protect his own glory. 

When humanity sinned, Satan and any onlookers had the opportunity to deride God’s glory.  God’s glory was not diminished by our sin, but the opportunity to deride his glory was given to others.  Therefore, since God desires to protect his glory, he put a plan into place to reverse the effects of our sin.  That is much of the history of God’s workings with mankind:

When God created a people out of Abraham’s descendents,to belong to himself he did it for his glory:

Isaiah 43:7: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Why did God spare rebellious Israel in the wilderness and finally bring them to the promised land?” (p. 8)

Ezekiel 20:14: But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

When God bore with patience those of us who deserved his wrath and destruction he did so for his glory:

Romans 9:22-23: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

“Why did the Father send the Incarnate son to Israel?” (p. 8)

Romans 15:8-9: For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”

“Christ died to glorify the Father and to repair all the defamation we had brought upon His honor.  Our only hopes is that the death of Christ satisfied God’s righteous claims to receive proper glory from His creatures.” (p. 8)

Romans 3:23-26 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

The question of God’s love and God’s glory are inextricably linked.   God cares immensely for his glory.  Is that overblown ego?  Not at all, since God is worthy of any praise he receives. It is not exaggeration:  He IS that worthy and He DESERVES whatever praise and glory we can give to Him. (Piper phrases it, playing off of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end of God?  God’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy His glory forever.”)

At Christmas time, the focus is most often on how special we are because God loved us.  And I don’t want to minimize that God’s love for us is amazing. (Not that WE are so amazing, but that God’s LOVE for us is amazing.)  But the other reality contained in the angels declaration was that God is to be glorified & praised for the incredible love, power and wisdom he showed in the incarnation & nativity. 

As Charles Wesley has said so well:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing

Glory to the new-born King!

 

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