“Show Me Thy Glory”, a Sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon (communion with God, God’s Goodness, Gracious Concealment)

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Show Me Thy Glory, a sermon by C. H. SPURGEON

New Park Street Chapel, Southwark November 26, 1908

“And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory.”- Exd 33:18

THAT WAS A large request to make. He could not have asked for more: “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” Why, it is the greatest petition that man ever asked of God. It seems to me the greatest stretch of faith that I have either heard or read of. It was great faith which made Abraham go into the plain to offer up intercession for a guilty city like Sodom. It was vast faith which enabled Jacob to grasp the angel; it was mighty faith which enabled Elijah to rend the heavens and fetch down rain from skies which had been like brass before; but it appears to me that this prayer contains a greater amount of faith than all the others put together. It is the greatest request that man could make to God: “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” Had he requested a fiery chariot to whirl him up to heaven; had he asked to cleave the water-floods and drown the chivalry of a nation; had he prayed the Almighty to send fire from heaven to consume whole armies, I could have found a parallel to his prayer; but when he offers this petition, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory,” he stands alone, a giant among giants; a Colossus even in those days of mighty men. His request surpasses that of any other man: “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.”

Among the lofty peaks and summits of man’s prayers that rise like mountains to the skies, this is the culminating point; this is the highest elevation that faith ever gained: it is the loftiest place to which the great ambition of faith could climb; it is the topmost pillar of all the towering structures that confidence ever piled. I am astonished that Moses himself should have been bold enough to supplicate so wondrous a favor. Surely after he had uttered the desire, his bones must have trembled, his blood curdled in his veins, and his hair must have stood on end. Did he not wonder at himself? Did he not tremble at his own hardihood? We believe that such would have been the case had not the faith which prompted the prayer sustained him in the review of it.

Whence, then, came faith like this? How did Moses obtain so eminent a degree of this virtue? Ah, beloved, it was by communion with God.

Had he not been for forty days in the council-chamber with his God? Had he not tarried in the secret pavilion of burning fire? Had not Jehovah spoken to him as a man speaketh with his friend, he would not have had courage enough to ask so large a boon. Yea, more, I doubt whether all this communion would have been sufficient if he had not also received a fresh testimony to the grace of God, in sparing a nation through his intercession. Moses had argued with God, he had pleaded the covenant, and although God had said, “Let me alone that I may destroy them,” he had still maintained his hold; he had even ventured to say, “If not, blot my name out of the book of life,” let me die as well as the rest; he had wrestled hard with justice, and had prevailed.

The strength gained by this victory, joined with his former communion with the Lord, made him mighty in prayer; but had he not received grace by these means, I think the petition was too large even for Moses to venture to carry to the throne. Would you, my brethren, have like faith, then walk in the same path.

Be much in secret prayer. Hold constant fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ; so shall you soar aloft on wings of confidence, so shall you also open your mouth wide and have it filled with divine favors, and if you do not offer the same request, yet you may have equal faith to that which bade Moses say, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.”

Allow me to refer you to the 13th verse of this chapter, where Moses speaks unto his God-“Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way.” Moses asked a less favor before he requested the greater. He asked to see God’s way before he prayed to see his glory. 

Mark you, my friends, this is the true mode of prayer.

Rest not content with past answers, but double your request and go again.

Look upon your past petitions as the small end of the wedge opening the way for larger ones. The best way to repay God, and the way he loves best, is to take and ask him ten times as much each time. Nothing pleases God so much as when a sinner comes again very soon with twice as large a petition-

“Lord thou didst hear me last time, and now I am come again.” Faith is a mighty grace, and always grows upon that which it feeds. When God has heard prayer for one thing, faith comes and asks for two things, and when God has given those two things, faith asks for six. Faith can scale the walls of heaven. She is a giant grace. She takes mountains by their roots, and puts them on other mountains, and so climbs to the throne in confidence with large petitions, knowing that she shall not be refused.

We are most of us too slow to go to God. We are not like the beggars who come to the door twenty times if you do not give them anything. But if we have been heard once, we go away, instead of coming time after time, and each time with a larger prayer. Make your petitions longer and longer. Ask for ten, and if God gives them, then for a thousand, and keep going on until at last you will positively get faith enough to ask, if it were proper, as great a favor as Moses did-“I beseech thee, show me thy glory.”

Now, my friends, we have just spoken a word or two on the prayer itself; we shall have to see how it was received at the throne. It was answered, first, by a gracious manifestation; secondly, by a gracious concealment; and, thirdly, by a gracious shielding.

I. First of all this prayer which Moses offered was heard by God, and he gave him A GRACIOUS MANIFESTATION: “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee; and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

I think that, when Moses put up this prayer to God, he was very much like Peter, when, on the mountain top, he wist not what he said. I do think that Moses himself hardly understood the petition that he offered to God. With all the clearness of his ideas; however pure his conception of the divinity might be, I do think that even Moses himself had not adequate views of the Godhead. He did not then know so much of God as he now has learned where he stands before the throne of the Most High. I believe that Moses knew that God is a Spirit. I think he must have been sensible that the mind of man can never conceive an idea of the incomprehensible Jehovah. He must have learned that the God of Mount Sinai, the King whose feet glowed like a furnace, and made the mountain smoke, could never be grasped by the senses of a mortal. Yet it is likely with all this knowledge, the great lawgiver had a vague and indistinct idea that it might be possible for divinity to be seen. My friends, it is hard for creatures encumbered with flesh and blood to gain a just conception of a spirit. We are so linked with the material, that the spiritual is above our reach. Surely then, if a mere spirit is above our comprehension, much more “the Father of Spirits, the Eternal, Immortal, Invisible.”

The poet sings most truly-

“The more of wonderful
Is heard in him, the more we should assent.
Could we conceive him, God he could not be;
Or he not God, or we could not be men.
A God alone can comprehend a God.”

These eyes are but organs to convey to me the knowledge of material substances; they can not discern spirits; it is not their duty; it is beyond their province. Purer than celestial ether of the most refined nature; subtler than the secret power of electricity; infinitely above the most rarified forms of matter is the existence we call a spirit. As well might we expect to bind the winds with cords, or smite them with a sword, as to behold spirits with eyes which were only made to see gross solid materialism.

We find that Moses saw no similitude; no form passed before him. He had an audience; he had a vision; but it was an audience from behind a covering, and a vision, not of a person, but an attribute. Behold then the scene. There stands Moses about to be honored with visions of God. The Lord is about to answer thee. O Moses, God is come. Dost thou not tremble; do not thy knees knock together; are not thy bones loosened; are not thy sinews broken? Canst thou bear the thought of God coming to thee? O, I can picture Moses as he stood in that cleft of the rock with the hand of God before his eyes, and I can see him look as man never looked before, confident in faith, yet more than confounded at himself that he could have asked such a petition.

Now, what attribute is God about to show to Moses? His petition is, “Show me thy glory.” Will he show him his justice? Will he show him his holiness? Will he show his wrath? Will he show him his power? Will he break yon cedar and show him he is almighty? Will he rend yonder mountain and show him that he can be angry? Will he bring his sins to remembrance, and show that he is omniscient?

No; hear the still small voice-“I will make all my goodness pass before thee.”

Ah! the goodness of God is God’s glory. God’s greatest glory is that he is good. The brightest gem in the crown of God is his goodness. “I will make all my goodness pass before thee.” There is a panorama such as time would not be long enough for you to see.

Consider the goodness of God in creation. Who could ever tell all God’s goodness there? Why, every creek that runs up into the shore is full of it where the fry dance in the water. Why, every tree and every forest rings with it; where the feathered songsters sit and make their wings quiver with delight and ecstasy. Why, every atom of this air, which is dense with animalculae, is full of God’s goodness. The cattle on a thousand hills he feeds; the ravens come and peck their food from his liberal hands. The fishes leap out of their element, and he supplies them; every insect is nourished by him. The lion roars in the forest for his prey, and he sendeth it to him. Ten thousand thousand creatures are all fed by him. Can you tell, then, what God’s goodness is? If you knew all the myriad works of God, would your life be long enough to make all God’s creative goodness pass before you?

Then think of his goodness to the children of men. Think how many of our race have come into this world and died. We are of yesterday, and we know nothing. Man is as a flower; he lives, he dies; he is the infant of a day, and he is gone to-morrow, but yet the Lord doth not forget him. O, my God! if thou shouldst make all thy goodness pass before me-all thy goodness to the children of men-I must sit me down on an adamantine rock forever and look throughout eternity; I should wear these eyes out, and must have eyes of fire, or else I should never be able to see all thy goodness toward the sons of men.

But then rise higher still, and think of his sovereign goodness toward his chosen people. O, my soul, go thou back into eternity and see thy name in God’s book of predestinating, unchanging grace! And then come down to the time of redemption, and see there thy Saviour bleeding and agonizing. O my soul, there were drops of goodness before, but O, rivers of goodness roll before thee now! When thou sawest the Son of God groaning, agonizing, shrieking, dying, buried in his grave, and then rising again, thou sawest the goodness of God. “I will make all my goodness pass before thee.”

I say again, what a panorama! What a series of dissolving views! What sight upon sight, each one melting into the other! Could I stand here this morning, and borrow the eloquence of an angel; could I speak to you as I might wish-but, alas! I cannot break these bonds that hold my stammering tongue-could I loose these lips and speak as angels speak, then could I tell you something, but not much,of the goodness of God; for it is “past finding out.” Since I cannot utter it myself, I would invoke all creation to be vocal in his praise. Ye hills, lift up your voices; let the shaggy woods upon your summits wave with adoration. Ye valleys, fill the air with the bleatings of your sheep and the lowing of your cattle.

Ye that have life, if ye have voices, tune his praise; and if ye walk in silence, let your joyful motions show the thanks ye cannot speak. O, ye trees of the field, clap your hands; ye winds, in solemn harmony chant to his glory. Thou ocean, with thy myriad waves, in all thy solemn pomp, thy motion to and fro, forget not him who bids a thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain, and write no furrow on thy ever youthful brow. And you, ye storms, howl out his greatness; let your thunders roll like drums in the march of the God of armies; let your lightnings write his name in fire upon the midnight darkness; let the illimitable void of space become one mouth for song; and let the unnavigated ether, through its shoreless depths, bear through the infinite remote the name of him who is ever good and doeth good.

I can say no more concerning God’s goodness. But this is not all that Moses saw. If you look to the words which follow my text, you will see that God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee;” but there was something more.

No one attribute of God sets God out to perfection; there must always be another. He said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,” there is another attribute of God. There is his sovereignty. God’s goodness without his sovereignty does not completely set forth his nature. 

I think of the man who, when he was dying, called me to see him. He said, “I am going to heaven.” “Well,” I replied. “what makes you think you are going there, for you never thought of it before?” Said he, “God is good.” “Yes.” I answered. “but God is just.” “No,” said he, “God is merciful and good.” Now that poor creature was dying, and being lost forever; for he had not a right conception of God. He had only one idea of God, that God is good; but that is not enough. If you only see one attribute you only have half a God. God is good, and he is a sovereign, and doeth what he pleases; and though good to all in the sense of benevolence, he is not obliged to be good to any. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

Do not you be alarmed, my friends, because I am going to preach about sovereignty. I know some people, when they hear about sovereignty, say, “O, we are going to have some terrible high doctrine.” Well, if it is in the Bible, that is enough for you. Is not that all you want to know? If God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,” it is not for you to say it is high doctrine. Who told you it was high doctrine? It is good doctrine.

What right have you to call one doctrine high and one low? Would you like me to have a Bible with “H” against high, and “L” against low, so that I could leave the high doctrine out and please you? My Bible has no mark of that kind; it says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” There is divine sovereignty. I believe some are afraid to say any thing about this great doctrine lest they should offend some of their people; but. my friends, it is true, and you shall hear it. God is a sovereign. He was a sovereign ere he made this world. He lived alone, and this was in his mind: Shall I make any thing or shall I not? I have a right to make creatures or not to make any. He resolved that he would fashion a world. When he made it, he had a right to form the world in what shape and size he pleased; and he had a right, if he chose, to leave the globe untenanted by a single creature. When he had resolved to make man, he had a right to make him whatever kind of creature he liked. If he wished to make him a worm or a serpent, he had a right to do it. When he made him. he had a right to put any command on him that he pleased; and God had a right to say to Adam. Thou shalt not touch that forbidden tree. And when Adam offended, God had a right to punish him and all the race forever in the bottomless pit.

God is so far sovereign, that he has a right, if he likes, to save anyone in this chapel, or to crush all who are here. He has a right to take us all to heaven if he pleases, or to destroy us. He has a right to do just as he pleases with us. We are as much in his hands as prisoners in the hands of her majesty when they are condemned for a capital offense against the law of the land; yea, as much as clay in the hands of the potter. This is what he asserted, when he said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

This stirs up your carnal pride, does it not? Men want to be somebody. They do not like to lie down before God, and have it preached to them that God can do just as he wills with them. Ah! you may hate it, but it is what the Scripture tells us. Surely it is self-evident that God may do as he will with his own. We all like to do what we will with our own property. God has said, that if you go to his throne he will hear you; but he has a right not to do it if he likes. He has a right to do just as he pleases. If he chooses to let you go on in the error of your ways, that is his right; and if he says, as he does, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” it is his right to do so. That is the high and awful doctrine of DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY.*

Put the two together, goodness and sovereignty, and you see God’s glory. If you take sovereignty alone, you will not understand God. Some people only have an idea of God’s sovereignty, and not of his goodness; such are usually gloomy, harsh, and ill-humored. You must put the two together; that God is good, and that God is a sovereign. You must speak of sovereign grace. God is not grace alone, he is sovereign grace. He is not sovereign alone, but he is graciously sovereign. That is the best idea of God. When Moses said, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory,” God made him see that he was glorious, and that his glory was his sovereign goodness. Surely, beloved, we cannot be wrong in loving the doctrine of free, unmerited, distinguishing grace, when we see it thus mentioned as the brightest jewel in the crown of our covenant God. Do not be afraid of election and sovereignty. The time is come when our ministers must tell us more about them; or, if not, our souls will be so lean and starved that we shall mutiny for the bread of life. O, may God send us more thorough gospel men who will preach sovereign grace as the glory of the gospel.

II. The second point is-there was A GRACIOUS CONCEALMENT.

Read the next verse. “He said, thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live.” There was a gracious concealment.

There was as much grace in that concealment as there was in the manifestation. Mark you, beloved, when God does not tell us anything, there is as much grace in his withholding it as there is in any of his revelations. Did you ever hear or read the sentiment, that there is as much to be learned from what is not in the Bible, as from what there is in the Bible? Some people read the Scriptures, and they say, “I wish I knew so-and-so.” Now you ought not to wish such a thing; for if it was good for you, it would be there; and there is as much grace in what God has not put in the Bible, as in what he has put there. If he had put more in it, it would have been our destruction. There is just enough and no more.

Do you know how Robert of Normandy lost his sight? His brother passed a red-hot copper bowl before his face, and burned the eyes out of their sockets; and there are some doctrines that men want to know, which, if they could understand them, it would be like passing a red-hot bowl before their eyes. They would scorch men’s eyes out, and their understandings would be completely crushed. We have seen this in some ministers, who have studied so much that they have gone out of their minds. They have gone further than they ought to have ventured. There is a point to which we may go, and no further; and happy is the man who goes as near to it as possible without overstepping it. God said to Moses-“Thou canst not see my face and live.” There are two senses in which this is true. No man can see God’s face as a sinner; and no man can see God’s face even as a saint.

First, no man can see God’s face as a sinner. There comes a wretch before the throne of God. God has spread his books, and set his seat of judgment. There comes a man before the throne of God. Look at him! He is wearing a robe of his own righteousness. “Wretch, how comest thou in hither?” And the creature tries to look at God; he cries that he may live! But, no! God saith, “he cannot see my face and live.” Thus saith the Judge. “Executioners of my vengeance, come forth!” Angels come with crowns on their brows; they grasp their swords and stand ready-“Bind him hand and foot; cast him into the lake that burneth.” The wretch is cast away into the fire of hell. He sees written in letters of fire-“No man can see my face and live.” Clothed in his own righteousness, he must perish.

Then, again, it is true that no man, even as a saint, can see God’s face and live; not because of moral disability, but because of physical inability.

The body is not strong enough to bear the sight or vision of God. I cannot tell whether even the saints in heaven see God. God dwells among them; but I do not know whether they ever behold him. That is a speculation.

We can leave that till we get there. We will decide it when we get to heaven. I hardly know whether finite beings when immortalized would be capable of seeing God. This much is certain-that on earth, no man, however holy, can ever see God’s face, and yet live. Why, Manoah, when he saw an angel, thought he should die. He said-“I have seen an angel of the Lord; I shall die.” If you and I were to meet an angel, or a troop of angels, as Jacob did at Mahanaim, we should say-“We shall die.” The blaze of splendor would overwhelm us. We could not endure it. We “cannot see God and live.”

All that we can ever see of God, is what Moses called his “back parts.” The words, I think, signify “regal train.” You have seen kings have trains hanging behind them; and all that we can ever see of God is his train that floats behind. Yon sun that burns in the heavens with all his effulgence, you think he is bright; you look upon him, and he dazzles you; but all his splendor is but a single thread in the regal skirts of the robe of Deity.

You have seen night wrapped in her sable mantle woven with gems and stars-there they shine as ornaments worked by the needle of God in that brilliant piece of tapestry which is spread over our heads, like a tent for the inhabitants of the earth to dwell in: you have said, “O! how majestic! That star, that comet, that silver moon, How splendid!” They are nothing, but just a tiny portion of the skirts of God that drag in the dust. But what are the shoulders-what the girdle of divinity-what the bracelets of Godhead-what the crown that girdles his lofty brow, man cannot conceive; I could imagine that all the stars and constellations of stars might be put together and threaded into a string-made into a bracelet for the arm, or a ring for the finger of Jehovah-but I cannot conceive what God is himself. All I can ever learn-all that the thunder ever spake-all that the boistrous ocean ever could teach me-all that the heaven above, or the earth beneath can ever open to my mind, is nothing but the “back parts” of God. I can never see; nor can I understand what he is.

III. Now, beloved, we go to the third point; and that is THE GRACIOUS SHIELDING.

Moses had to be put in the cleft of a rock before he could see God.

There was a rock in the wilderness once; Moses smote it, and water gushed out. The apostle tells us “that Rock was Christ.”

Very well, Paul, I believe it was. There is another thing I believe-I believe this rock was Christ. I know it was not Christ literally; but Moses stood on a literal rock. Moses stood on the top of a high mountain, hidden in the cleft of a real rock. But, O, my soul, what is the cleft of the rock where thou must stand; if thou wouldst ever see God’s face and live. O, it is the “Rock of ages cleft for me,” where I must hide my head! O, what a cleaving that was when Jesus died! O, my soul, enter into the hole in Jesus’ side. That is the cleft of the rock where thou must abide and see God.

“Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three,
Are terrors to my mind.”

But when I get into the cleft of that rock, O, my soul, when I get into that cleft whose massive roof is the well ordered everlasting covenant, whose solid golden floor is made of the solemn decrees of the predestination of the Most High; and whose sides are called Jachin and Boaz, that is establishment and strength, a cleft in a rock which is so enduring that time can never dissolve it. Precious Christ! may I be found in thee amid the concussion of the elements when the world shall melt away, and the heavens shall be dissolved! O, may I stand in thee, thou precious cleft of the Rock; thou art all-in-all to my soul.

Some of you, I know, are in that cleft of the Rock. But let me ask others, where are you? Let it be a personal question. I have preached a long while about God; I have tried to mount the height of this great argument and speak of the wondrous things of God. I may have failed, but let me say to each of you-Are you in that cleft of the rock? Can you sing this-

“Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.”

In closing, I want one practical inference, and what shall it be? Draw it yourselves. Let it be this-there is an hour coming, when we must all, in a certain sense, see God.

We must see him as a Judge.

It becomes us, then, to think seriously whether we shall stand in the cleft of the Rock when he comes.

There is a passage we would mention before closing-“I saw death on a pale horse, and hell followed him.” There was death on the pale horse; and the original says-“hades followed him.” You know the word hades comprises both heaven and hell. It means the state of spirits. Yes, death is after me and thee. Ah, run! run! run! but run as thou wilt, the rider on the white horse shall overtake thee. If thou canst escape him seventy years, he will overtake thee at last. Death is riding! Here his horse comes-I hear his snortings, I feel his hot breath; he comes! he comes! and thou must die! BUT, WICKED MAN, WHAT COMES AFTERWARDS? Will it be heaven or hell? O, if it be hell that is after thee, where art thou when thou art cast away from God? Ah, I pray God deliver you from hell; he is coming after you, sure enough; and if you have no hiding-place. woe unto you. See you that cleft in the rock, see that cross, see that blood. There is security, and only there. Thy works are but a useless incumbrance; cast them away, and with all thy might flee to the mountain with-

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

Yea, more than this, you will need divine aid, even in coming to Christ-

“O, for this no strength have I,
My strength is at thy feet to lie.”

But, poor helpless one, if thou art but hidden in Christ. All is secure. Storms may arise, but you cannot be overwhelmed; old Boreas may blow until his cheeks do burst, but not a breath of wind can injure you; for in the cleft of the Rock, you shall be hidden until the vengeance is overpast.

“Treasures from C.S. Lewis”, quotes to gather and hold in our hearts.

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Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
C.S. Lewis “God In The Dock” (1970)

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
C.S. Lewis “Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis” (2006)

“We do not want merely to see beauty . . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
C.S. Lewis “Transposition and Other Addresses” (1949)

We are mirrors whose brightness is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.
C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” (1960)

“Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.”
C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)

“The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred”
C.S. Lewis  “Mere Christianity” (1952)

The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
C.S. Lewis  “The Weight of Glory” (1949)

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)

“When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.”
C.S. Lewis “Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis” (2008)

Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
C.S. Lewis “Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis” (2006)

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.”
C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
C.S. Lewis “Is Theology Poetry” (1945)

“Come and See” by Tim Keller, be Amazed at His Grace (Courage, Humility, See Jesus)

Come and See by Timothy Keller

‘We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus.’ In his book After Heaven, Robert Wuthnow says the watchword of Americans today is spiritual. People say, ‘I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. I am searching for spiritual reality, but I don’t expect to find it in religious institutions or sets of dogmas.’ What Wuthnow articulates so well here is Americans’ combined rejection of the idea that secular science and reason alone can give us meaning in life or a life worth living’ that their real interest is in the supernatural and in the eternal. They don’t want to go back to the perceived creativity-stifling, smug moralism of ‘traditional religion,’ so they say, ‘Ah, the new spirituality, not the old traditional religion.’

In John 1:35-51, we see the account of how Jesus Christ met his first disciples. We see something offered to us that is neither the new spirituality nor the old traditional religion. It’s not a vague or general sense of spiritual well-being or a new set of rules. It’s an encounter with a living Person.

I have chosen this biblical passage because there are patterns here. If you want to find this spiritual reality through Jesus—this man who bridges the gap between spirituality and religion, and who offers us something different from either the new spirituality or the old traditional religion—then you need to see what the key is. The key is this repeated phrase: ‘Come and see.’ What does that mean? Let’s look at it together.

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Think: Examine the Evidence’

The first time ‘Come and see’ happens, the disciples are kind of nervous. They were just told Jesus is this incredible person, so they follow. He says, ‘What do you want?’ What they want is to know if what they have heard is really true.

Jesus doesn’t demand belief at the moment. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, let me tell you who I am and how I demand obedience.’ He says, ‘Come and get to know me. Come and see how I live. Come and see how I speak. Come and see what I do.’ The second time we see ‘Come and see’ in the Gospel passage is when Philip says to his friend, Nathanael, ‘I found the Messiah.’

Nathanael responds with a valid question. Everybody at that time knew the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, out of the line of David. So Nathanael looks at Philip and says, ‘He is from Galilee. He is from Nazareth. How could he be the Messiah?’ Philip’s answer is to say, ‘Let’s go find out. Come and see.’

The question we ask today is: ‘How could there be a loving and merciful God when the world is the way it is with all the injustice?’ This is another valid question, so let’s see how Jesus would answer it.

He doesn’t define the ‘new spirituality’ by saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe. Figure out what works for you.’ Although that would be convenient—no critical thinking, no assessment—instead he says, ‘Come and think.’ He does not say to you what traditional religion has often said: ‘Don’t question. Just believe what we’re telling you because we’ve told you.’ No, Jesus says, ‘Come and think.’ How different this is from either the neo-spirituality or old religion.

Although the Gospel writer was addressing people who lived two thousand years ago, those people were in the same boat as we are today. How can they go and look at Jesus? How can they listen to him? How can they look at the evidence of what he said and how he lived? Here is the answer: ‘The next day John [the Baptist] was there.’ When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look”’

There are two important points here. All through the first chapter of John, we’re told that John the Baptist saw and said. The Greek word used here means essentially, ‘I was actually there. I really saw this, and now my testimony is admissible evidence in court.’ John the Baptist is not talking about an inward experience. He’s not talking about an impression. John is saying, ‘I’m seeing this.’

As we read this passage, we see it has the marks of an eyewitness account. It says they saw where he was staying and they spent the day with him until the tenth hour, which is 4:00 pm.

In Reynolds Price’s introduction to his book Three Gospels, he makes the interesting point that in the ancient world, fictional narratives such as epics, legends, and myths never used details.

You don’t see, ‘Oedipus went to see the Oracle at Delphi, and she came out around 4:00.’ Our Gospel passage, however, states, ‘The next day,’ not ‘Once upon a time.’ Price says that when you see such detail, it means that the author is signaling the reader that this is a legal testimony, not an urban legend. This is John’s way of saying, ‘This is an eyewitness account. I’m showing you exactly what he said and did. If you read my account, you will be able to come and see and examine the evidence the way we did.’

How can you come and see? Read the account of the Gospels. Then you will have to decide whether you believe these were deliberate, intricate lies by people who died for those lies, or that a human being was the Creator God who came to earth to save us. But there is nothing in the middle that is warranted.

The only way you know you’ve come and seen is if you have a position that, frankly, is extremely hard. It’s very hard to believe that a human being would be God, and it’s very hard to believe that this incredible movement and these incredible people, who died for this, consciously and deliberately told us lies about it. You have to decide which one is easier for you to believe, but don’t you dare stand in the middle. If you have, it means you haven’t come and seen.

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Follow: Change Your Life’

The word come means that I move from where I am to here. I make a change. The reason Jesus says ‘Come’ is because he wants them to follow. He doesn’t just want them to believe.

The text gets that across in a couple of ways, but here is the best one. In John 1:29, the Baptist says to his disciples, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ It’s not until verse 35 that they actually follow. This is a way for us to see the difference. When John the Baptist told his disciples ‘This is the Messiah,’ surely they believed, but they weren’t ‘followers’ until they actually began to follow Jesus.

That’s the difference between being just a person who ascribes to beliefs, who says, ‘Oh, I like Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I’m trying to follow Jesus,’ and knowing Jesus personally and becoming a follower, a disciple. Now how does that happen in your life? In verse 51, Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth.’ What the Gospel writer tells us he really says is, ‘Amen, amen.’ The word amen is an Aramaic word that means, ‘This is true.’ Every commentator and historian, anybody who knows ancient cultures, knows this is a unique usage of it. As one commentator puts it, ‘Jesus Christ’s use of amen to introduce his own words is without analogy in all of Judaism and among any other New Testament writers.’ Amen was only used to affirm and approve and accredit the words of another.’

For example, when someone was preaching in the synagogue, the elders would stand up. When they were all done, they would say, ‘Amen.’ Why? That was their way of saying, ‘We’ve checked out what this person says with our understanding of the Scripture, and it’s true.’ Maybe all the people would say, ‘Amen.’

Of course, Jesus Christ made it even harder for us because he affirms the Bible. It’s not that just his words printed in red in your Bible are the ones we have to obey. Jesus himself says, ‘The Scriptures shall not be broken. Not a jot or a tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled.’ We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus. If you want to come and see and believe—that is, investigate the evidence—all you have to do is believe that the Bible is reliable reporting. But if you want to be a disciple and if you want to know Jesus personally, you have to be willing to listen to what the Word of God says, whether you like it or not.

Personal following without an infallible Bible is impossible. If you read the words of Jesus and say ‘That’s great’ about some things and ‘I can’t believe that; that’s primitive’ about others, what kind of Jesus do you have at the end of your reading? You have a Jesus of your own heart’s making. You think you’re following Jesus, but you’re following your own heart under the guise of following Jesus.

Unless Jesus compels you to say, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to listen to this. I’m going to wrestle with this. I’m going to submit to this even where I hate it’, if you don’t have that, then you don’t have a personal Jesus.

Come and See’ Means ‘Process This with Friends’

What’s really interesting about this encounter in the Gospel account is that John the Baptist leads Andrew and the other person, whoever it is, to Jesus. Andrew leads his brother Peter to Jesus. Philip leads Nathanael to Jesus. When Philip says, ‘Come and see,’ what he means is, ‘Let’s go together. Let’s figure this out.’ This is a very important point. While there are exceptions, the general rule is that the way to find Jesus is almost always through someone you know. In this case, it was a friend who had already found Jesus.

Christianity is not a philosophy through some great teacher by which you can save yourself. No, Christianity is an encounter with a Person, and we see in the Bible that people find Jesus through their friends. After being introduced to Jesus, then we need friends who are a couple of steps ahead of us spiritually to help us in our walk.

There are some of you who have already experienced the blessing of having found Jesus through friends. Some of you have a lot to offer, but you’re not finding anybody for Jesus. If you want to know how you can finally be effective and really be helpful to people, then look at the Gospel text. There are three things we see here.

1. First, patience. John the Baptist says repeatedly, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ Finally, they follow Jesus. You have to be patient. Who knows how many times you have to say ‘Look’ before they follow.

2. Second, courage. Philip says, ‘We found the Messiah, and here he is.’ Nathanael asks him a tough question that he has no idea how to answer. Isn’t this the reason why we’re all such chickens? Aren’t we afraid of being asked a question we don’t know the answer to? But the way to get good at answering those questions is practice by floundering and blowing it for years. Unless you’re willing, unless you have the courage to do that, you’re never going to be effective.

3. Third, confident humility. What does Philip do when he gets the total stump question of ‘Isn’t the Messiah supposed to be from Bethlehem?’ He says, ‘I don’t know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s study. Let’s go talk to him. Let’s go look.’ There is a humility here because he takes Nathanael seriously enough to say, ‘We do need to think about this, and I don’t know the answer.’ But he also has the confidence to say, ‘If you come, you will see.’

‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Wonder’

When Nathanael meets Jesus, Jesus says, ‘You believe because.’ You will see greater things than you can imagine. ‘Come and see’ means come and wonder. I am calling you into an adventure so wonderful that it is beyond your imagination.’ How does he do this?

First of all, he calls us to the wondrous adventure of personal transformation. I’ll put it to you this way. Do you remember ever meeting somebody you suddenly realized really understood you? It could have been a counselor, a new friend, or an older, wiser person. It could have been somebody you were falling in love with. Why was it so heady and addicting? I’ll tell you why. To begin with, you’re excited about the possibility of finally being able to figure yourself out.

We’re all riddles to ourselves. ‘Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel what I feel?’ You’re also excited that this wise person, this person you love and respect, thinks about you, considers you significant enough to think of you, to ponder you, to consider you. The two together, the prospect of new information and that incredible affirmation, just blow you through the roof. But even this kind of revelation and fulfillment has its boundaries—ultimately, you always find there is a limit to how much that person really knows you and loves you.

When Nathanael walks up to Jesus, he is blown away by something no rabbi ever has done or ever will do. Jesus says to him, ‘Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile’ (KJV). What Jesus is talking about is his character. He uses a word that means unpretentious and transparent. Nathanael looks at him and says, ‘You nailed me. Yeah, I am that kind of person. I’m plain spoken. I’m kind of blunt. How do you know me?’ Then Jesus says, ‘Know you? I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael’s eyes get as big as saucers. He says, ‘How could you’? How could any’? You are the Messiah!’

What does that mean? I don’t know. We don’t know. That’s one of the marks of an eyewitness account. But I’ll tell you, it was something so private, so significant, so absolutely impossible that any human being could know that Nathanael is astounded. ‘This is not just somebody who knows me somewhat; he knows me completely.’

That’s not the only reason he is blown away. Jesus Christ is not just saying, ‘I know you.’ He is praising him, even though Nathanael doesn’t know him. Isn’t that astounding? Jesus Christ knows you to the bottom and praises you to the skies. There has never been a Counselor like this. There has never been a friend like this. There has never been a lover like this. This is the Wonderful Counselor. This is the friend you’ve always been looking for. When God comes and calls you in love, by his call he makes you what he calls you.

First, Jesus says, ‘Nathanael, I will give you greater things than that. You have no idea what you’re going to become, transformed by my love.’ Second, Jesus talks about an upward journey, an outward journey. He says, ‘Verily, verily I say to you, you will see heaven open and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ What he is saying here is astounding.

In the Old Testament story of Jacob, Jacob was running through the desert, fleeing for his life, despairing that he had lost God, that he had lost everything. Going to sleep for the night, he dreams of a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending.

Jesus Christ says to Nathanael, ‘Let me tell you something beyond your imagination. I am the gate of heaven Jacob saw. That was not just a dream; that was a promise. I am the way through that wall into that cosmic reality that is behind this world.’ What does it mean? It means that story is about him. It means all the stories in the Old Testament are about him.

When John the Baptist says, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,’ what is he saying? He is referring to that night long ago in Egypt when the angel of death passed over those who had blood on their doorframes. For those who didn’t have the blood of the lamb on their doors, the firstborn of that house died. John the Baptist says, ‘Jesus is that slain Lamb. That story was about him, about his life, about his death.’

But it goes beyond that. When Jesus Christ says, ‘I am the door and the gateway into the cosmic reality behind everything,’ he is not just saying, ‘All the biblical stories are about me.’ He is saying, ‘All the stories are about me.’ Jesus says, ‘My story is the story to which all the other stories are pointing. Therefore, the stories are true. You can know me, and this same cosmic power from that cosmic, glorious center will come into your life. You will be in the story. Evil spells will be broken. I am the reality to which all the legends point.’

‘Come and see’ means you can get in. ‘Come and see’ means I can’t even begin to describe what is going to happen in your life if you come and follow him.

You say, ‘Okay, I have to change my life, right? Obey the Bible, right?’ You’re excited. You’re ready. ‘I have to tell my friends about Jesus. I have to study the Bible.’

No. The key to getting in is not to do anything. Jesus does not say, ‘I’m at the top of the ladder.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Angels are ascending and descending to the Son of Man.’ He doesn’t say, ‘If you try really hard, you can ascend.’ No, you can’t. Psalm 24 says, ‘Who shall ascend into the presence of God? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.’

How are we ever going to get up there? Jesus says, ‘I am the ladder. I came down to bring you to God. I lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died. Trust in me. If you do, you get in.’

Come and see. Think. Come and see. Follow. Come and see with friends. ‘Come and see’ means be amazed at his grace. He can’t wait to show you what he is going to do for you. Come and see.

Timothy Keller

Source: Modern Reformation Magazine; Who Is Jesus? VOL 24; ISSUE 6, 10/31/2015