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In The Divine Presence

Before Our Savior's Face

Erwin W. Lutzer | March 2, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

Throughout the Scriptures, we see numerous faces of Christ. If we follow Him up the Mount of Transfiguration, we see His transformed face. If we walk by His side during His last days, Jesus’ face displays determination, submission, and suffering. 

But one day, in a recreated world, we will behold the glorified face of our Savior. For all eternity, we will praise Him, even as we treasure the warmth of His presence and acceptance. 

What do we mean when we say, “I talk to him face to face?” It’s very different, isn’t it, when you meet somebody and you talk to him or her directly over against reading about him or her in a newspaper, or reading something that they wrote?

I think that when you speak to somebody face to face there’s a connection, isn’t there? There is a sense in which we can discern their moods. We know whether they are angry, whether they are fearful, whether or not they are optimistic. Somehow we can read all of that and a whole lot more on their face. We can also discern, not only their mood, but also something about their attitude toward us. Do they love us? Do they care about us? Would they rather see us not be there? Are they angry with us? All of that is also read on the human face.

I worked with a man who was not able at all to control the way in which he looked. If he was angry it became so very, very apparent he couldn’t hide it. All that you needed to do was to look at his face and to know whether or not you were going to have a good day. I remember my father seldom had to spank us a children. He just had to look at us, and that said it all. 

Now when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ we have no portrait of him. As far as we know no artist sat down and said, “Jesus, I’d like to paint you.” If it happened we don’t know about it, but we do, in the Bible, have many different pictures of Jesus Christ’s face – that is to say word pictures – that describe his face, and what was going on his life as it is being described.

The reason that I am preaching this message is because at the end of the day we’ll be reminded that we are always in Christ’s presence. Everything that we do is before the face of Jesus, but more than that we should be like Jesus, and we’re going to be looking at five different expressions or portraits of Jesus, and even as we look at these, everyone of them has specific application to us, and at the end of the message I’ll tell you how all of those commitments to Jesus and how Christ-likeness can be ours. 

I was at the Moody Bible Institute library one day and I picked up a book entitled, “The Face of Christ,” by John McBeef. I looked at it and saw very interestingly that he had ten or so different portraits of Christ, that is verbal portraits of him, and so I am indebted to him for the idea of his message. But also, I need to say that as I got into these five portraits that we’re going to look at, I thought to myself, “This should have really been five separate messages, but today you’re going to just get the outline and maybe someday you’re going to get the outline piece by piece, and a message on each one.

I’m not going to ask you to turn to all the passages, but at least two or three. We begin, first of all, with the portrait of Jesus that could be best described as the transformed face, and I do want you to look at the Matthew 17. Jesus has told his disciples that some of them who are standing there will not see death until they see the kingdom. The disciples were beginning to wonder whether Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus wanted to give at least to a few of the disciples a revelation of his glory. As I mentioned last time, at Christmas we sing, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” 

Well, for these few moments on the Mount of Transfiguration (which almost certainly is Mount Herman) Jesus went with his disciples, and you’ll notice that the text says in Matthew 17:2 that “he was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” What an experience for the disciples – Peter, James and John and Moses and Elijah – who got to see that. 

What do we learn about Jesus in this experience? The Bible says that his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. We see something about the purity of Jesus. The Bible says, regarding God, “In him there is no darkness at all,” and that’s why it is so important for us not to walk in darkness. If there is a part of your heart that you know is in darkness, if there is a sin that you have not confessed that God has pointed out to you, you cannot walk in perfect harmony with God, because the Bible says that God is light, and because God is light there is no room for darkness when the light shines. It shows us the purity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It also shows us his strength. The Bible says that his face shone like the sun. Imagine what that is like - the sun in all of its brilliance, with all of its energy, with all of its life-giving qualities, here is Jesus with this shining transformed face.

Now can you and I imitate that? Well not on our own, and we certainly aren’t Jesus and we’ll never have a face like his, but you can tell those who spend time in God’s presence on their face. Moses was with God forty days and forty nights and the Bible says that when he came down from the mountain his face shone. As a matter of fact his face shone like that, but notice that Moses himself didn’t realize it. The Bible says that he “wist not” – he didn’t know that his face was shining. And you remember the Bible says that as Steven was being stoned before he was taken to heaven his face was like the face of an angel. You could tell that they’d been with God because of the look on their faces.

It’s not that we have that natural radiance. It is the reflection of time spent in God’s presence, and you can see it on a person’s face. There are some people at Moody Church that it is very obvious that they spend time with God. There’s a woman, and I’ve told her this (her husband is in heaven now), but when I look at her face it is almost as if I can see Jesus on her face. There’s such a sense of radiance, and such a sense of joy, such a sense of satisfaction. I hope that when I grow old someday [laughter] that I will look like that, and I hope that you will too.

You know to be a gloomy Christian is really an oxymoron. It shouldn’t happen, so let me say to you candidly, if you’re a Christian, tell your face. All right? Tell your face that you’re a Christian. The disciples are up on the Mount of Transfiguration and they see Jesus in his brilliance, and I can imagine that when they came down they looked different too. First of all, we’ve seen now the transformed face of Jesus. 

Let’s notice now the resolute face, and I won’t ask you to turn to this passage – the resolute or determined face of Jesus. It says in Luke 9:51, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Some of the older manuscripts actually add an extra word. They say, “He set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem,” or like the King James used to translate it, “He set his face like a flint – like an arrow – to go to Jerusalem.” Here is the determined face of Jesus.

Let’s remember that when he decided to go to Jerusalem, think about what that road was like. He needed to be determined because this would be a very rough road. Jesus would be going to Jerusalem where he would be rejected, where he would be killed. He knew that at the end of this road there was death. There was separation momentarily from the Father. This was a very, very rough road. It was also a lonely road, because the Bible says that all of the disciples forsook him and fled. Jesus knew that when he went to Jerusalem he would be going places where he’d have to go alone. When he was dying on the cross there were three hours of sunlight, during which time he suffered under the hands of men, and then later on, three hours of darkness when he suffered under the hands of God. The reason that God shrouded the earth in darkness is that when that transaction was taking place, when Jesus was being made sin for us – the one who knew no sin, when this was being laid upon him and he was becoming a sacrifice for our sins to the Father, the Father said that no one can see what is happening, and so the earth is shrouded in darkness, and Isaac Watts wrote, “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut its glories in when Christ the great redeemer died for man, the creature’s sin.” 

When Jesus was there on the cross, every second of the clock seemed like hours as he suffered, and so you looked at Jesus with a determined face and you could see that he was absolutely resolute. He was determined to go to Jerusalem no matter the cost, and when we follow Christ, there are times when we have to go alone. There are times when the only thing that can sustain us is grit and determination.

A few moments ago we commissioned this young couple to go to Southeast Asia. The reason I admire people like them is because they are saying no to a lot of things that we as Americans think are so precious, and they are absolutely determined that if God calls, you go, and sometimes the road is rough, and sometimes the road is lonely and you’re misunderstood, but they stand fast and their heart is firm. Their faith is great and they keep on pressing on. May God give us a determined face to do what he’s called us to do.

Let’s look at a third face of Jesus, and that is the submissive face, and for this I do want you to turn to Matthew 26. This could be called the submissive face of Jesus. You’ll notice in verse 39 we’re in Gethsemane now at a place where we should take the shoes from our feet because the ground is holy. The Son of God is wrestling with the will of the Father. Matthew 26:39 and going a little farther it says, “And he fell on his face and prayed saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.’” He falls on his face. Why did Jesus fall on his face? First of all he fell on his face because of the sheer weight of the sorrow. You remember the text in the Old Testament that says, “Does anyone have sorrow like I have sorrow?” and the answer, of course, is no. It’s not possible for us to comprehend the sorrow that Jesus was in.

So he falls on his face because of the extent and depth of the sorrow, but also falling on his face before the Father showed his submission and his acceptance of the Father’s will. You’ll notice it says, “Not my will.” That’s the human will of Jesus because Jesus had a human will. He was one hundred percent man, one hundred percent humanity joined with one hundred percent deity, but here’s Jesus as a man. “Father, not my will but Thine be done,” and there’s no way that you can really say that unless you are wholly submissive, and the best way to say it is on your face before God.

There are different ways that we can pray. We pray when we are seated. We can pray when we are standing up. We can kneel, but when you want to, as an individual, lay down the weapons of a rebel, when you are finally finished and you say, “No longer my will but yours be done,” the best place is to be on your face before God.

I have in my mind here an image of Jesus. I don’t think that this was a graceful act, because it says he fell down. It’s as if the weight was so great he couldn’t take it. He just went face first into the dust of Gethsemane. “Father, not my will, but Thine be done,” he cried. It’s the submissive face of Jesus.

Why was Jesus able to say that to the Father? Well, of course, it was because he loved the Father and this was part of the Father’s plan, and the real reason that Jesus could say this is because he knew that the cup that he would have to drink had been a cup given to him by the Father – not by Satan. Satan was involved, but at the end of the day it was from God. “The cup which my Father has given me – shall I not drink it?”

My dear fellow Christian today, when you see your trial as coming not from Satan, though he may be involved, not from just the circumstances of life, but when you see behind all of that God, you’ll be able to accept it, and you’ll be able to say, “Thy will be done.”

The great theologian of Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin had many, many physical infirmities, and he prayed one day, and said, “Oh, God, I am greatly afflicted, but it is from thy hand, therefore, I am abundantly satisfied.” Jesus represents to us the submissive face, the face that says, “Father, thy will be done,” and I’m speaking to many today, and you need to say that to God, don’t you? In fact, if you’d be on your face I think that you would know what God’s will is because there’s something in your life that God is pointing out, that it’s your will against his, and it’s time his won, and so you get on your face and you say, “Father, thy will be done.” That’s the submissive face of Jesus.

Let’s go on to a fourth face, and that is what we could call the dishonored face. We’re still in Matthew 26. You’ll notice it says in verse 67, “Then they spit in his face and struck him, and some of them slapped him saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ. Who is that that struck you?” Wow! When you spit in somebody’s face that is the ultimate insult, but in that culture and in that day it was even more abhorrent. It indicated your greatest contempt for that person, and Jesus is struck in the face and they spit in his face. This is the dishonored face, and yet look at his response. He remains silent. In fact part of the story here in context is that the priest is trying to get Jesus to speak and Jesus remains silent, and then he gives them that great declaration of his deity, and it is at that point that they spit in his face. Someone has said that never was a dishonor less deserved and never more bravely borne. Wow! 

I was meditating on this and I was amazed to remember that Jesus was not in a helpless situation. If you and I had been there, what would we have done? Well, the answer is that in our weakness we would have had maybe to just bear it because we had no other options.  If you’re tied up and somebody is spitting in your face you just need to take it. But Jesus wasn’t in that situation. He was not a victim in that sense of the word. He said, “Do you not know that I could call twelve legions of angels and they’d come and deliver me? If I wanted out of this I could get out of it just like that. All of you would be incinerated if I gave the word,” and yet he endured it.

This morning as I was reviewing my notes, this phrase came to me. I thought of all of the unused power of Jesus - a man who could retaliate. Now let’s think about yourself. You are working in an office and there are people who want to do you in, and they are making life as miserable as they possibly can for you, and you could retaliate. You have the power to do that. You could really give word for word, insult for insult, injury for injury, weapon for weapon because you’ve got your own arsenal, but you choose not to. Now we’re talking about true greatness. True greatness is not seen necessarily by the power that is used but by the power that is unused, but could be used in retaliation. Jesus takes it and there are times in life when you and I need to simply take it too. 

There are really three laws. You might want to write them down. The first law is the law of Satan. Satan’s law is this. You hate people who love you. That’s Satan’s law. Then you have man’s law. Man’s law is you love those who love you. Jesus said that human beings do that. They love those who love them, but then there’s the divine law. You love those who hate you. That is divine love. Jesus is standing here and he is bearing it. This is his dishonored face. No matter how great the provocation was, even greater yet was the patience and the faith of Jesus that he did not need to settle all of his accounts right there. It’s a verse I’ve given to you many times. I Peter 2, “Who when he was reviled, reviled not again. When he suffered he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” Jesus said, “I don’t need to straighten out all these injustices. I trust my Father in heaven to do right by me some day, and that’s good enough for me.” It’s the dishonored face. It’s the kind of face that you and I are not good at, are we, because retaliation is in our bones. Jesus said, “I can take it”

Well, think of how far we’ve come. We spoke about the transformed face, the resolute face, the submissive face, the dishonored face, and now we come to the glorified face of Jesus, and for this you have to turn to Revelation 22. By the time you get to Revelation 22 you’re in a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and God has created a brand new order of reality, and what an order of reality it is.

You’ll notice in Revelation 22:3 it says, “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. They shall see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of the lamp or of the sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign with him into the ages of the ages,” the text says. For all of eternity he’ll reign with him. This is now the glorified face, the face of Jesus.

Notice what the text says – no more curse; instead of the curse, the throne of God and of the Lamb. God has finally taken over. His rule has come. He now rules in every pocket of the universe, but today he rules by delegating responsibility and we notice what happens when that’s the method of ruling, but in the end it’s all going to be wrapped up. Justice will have been done. All of the loose ends of society will finally have been answered. Every single sin, every single crime will already have been retried, so that throughout all of eternity we can sing “just and true are thy ways thou king of saints,” and now we’re in the forever land, and you’ll notice what the text says. “His servants will worship him, serve him.” Both words are important. Many people think that when we get to heaven all that we’re going to do is we’re going to begin at hymn number 1 in our hymnal and sing all the way through, and when we get to the end Tim or Jerry (or somebody like that) is going to begin again with number 1 and we’re going to sing all the way through. No, my friend, when it says his servants (his doulos) it is his slaves who will serve him. We’re going to be assigned tasks. We’re going to be given things to do in the new order of reality.

You’re going to be busy in heaven, and one of the things that we’re going to be doing is studying the ideas of God that go on for all eternity. Oh, there’s going to be lots of time for worship and fellowship, but you’re going to be given assignments by God. You’re going to serve him, and we have some idea as to what those assignments might be.

But now notice the text. It says, “They shall see his face.” What can I say about that? To see the face of someone means access. No longer will Jesus be distant from us. We will see his face. I mean we’re going to be able to connect. The things that I spoke about at the beginning of the message – his mood, his love for us, his acceptance of us – all of that is going to be open to everyone. There’ll be no glass in between. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face, and we shall see him in all of his glory.

So the Bible says that we shall see him face to face and his name shall be on our foreheads. What’s that all about? That’s ownership. It means that we belong to him, and we are going to willingly, gladly and irresistibly serve him and love him forever and ever and ever. In fact, I read the text. “They will reign with him forever and ever” - the final face of Jesus, the one that we shall see throughout all of eternity.

Now the Bible says, “No man can see God and live,” you remember, but that means nobody can see God in these bodies, but we are going to be so transformed (that’s why I’m looking forward so much to Resurrection Sunday) that we are going to be like him, the Bible says, for we shall see him as he is. There’s going to be a huge resemblance between Jesus, and us even though we’ll never be Jesus, but there’s going to be a resemblance. God had one son and then he wanted to bring many sons into glory, the Bible says, and so he redeemed us so that we could be like his one son, and we’re going to be like him. And at that time we’ll be able to see God directly. We’ll be able to see Jesus directly. The Mount of Transfiguration which was just for a few of the disciples will suddenly be the experience of all of us as we behold his face, and we worship him and we serve him forever and ever.

Now what does all this mean to us as believers? First of all, it should mean the recognition and the reminder that we do serve the Lord in his face, even here on earth, but we cannot see Jesus. He’s watching us. He is seeing us because the eyes of the Lord and the face of the Lord from that standpoint go throughout the whole earth, but how are we transformed into the likeness of Jesus, which is God’s agenda for you, by the way. People always say, “Well, I don’t know God’s will.” Well, I’m so glad you came here today. I’ll just tell you God’s will and settle it for you. It says in the book of Romans that we might be conformed to the image of his son. But how does that happen in this life? It’s supposed to happen in this life and then it culminates in the life to come, but how can I be like Jesus? That’s the question that you and I ought to be asking.

Do you remember that story of the great stone face? The story of the great stone face goes on for a bit but I’m giving you the summary version. There was a little village and across the valley off in the distance there was a mountain, and the stones in the mountain had been thrown together in such a way that it resembled the face of a man. He looked like a kind man, but there it was across the other side of the big valley.

There was a rumor in this little town that someday somebody was going to appear who would resemble the great stone face. Well, there were poets that came to town, and there were lectures that were given, and people said, “Could that be the man who resembles the great stone face?” but they looked at him and there wasn’t a match. But there was one little boy who grew up in that village whose name was Ernest. Ernest loved to look at the great stone face. Rather than playing Ernest would spend his afternoons gazing at the great stone face. Even as a teenager he spent all of his extra time looking at the great stone face and then as an adult, and one day Ernest was giving a lecture in town to the townspeople, and as they looked at him they could see his silhouette over and against the other side of the valley, and unanimously they all agreed that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy, that Ernest looked like the great stone face. He fulfilled it. 

The lesson is simply this. We become what we gaze at. If you gaze at television that’s what you become. If you gaze at God and his word, that’s what you become. What an awesome explosive passage of scripture.

Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all with open face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed from one degree of glory to another degree of glory, even as by the Lord, the Spirit.” 

God wants us to be like Jesus, and we become more and more like what we gaze at. It begins here and it ends in the life to come when we shall see him finally face to face.

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