Jesus is the Radiance of the Glory of God: Hebrews 1:3
On Monday last, I received a telephone call from an old friend. I had not seen nor had I spoken with him for years. He had come to my wedding, but distance and time and the day-to-day concerns of life had kept us apart. Our wives sent one-another Christmas cards, but we had not spoken.
He told me about his life. He also wanted to know something about mine. When I first came to know this man in college, during the early 1980’s, my manner of life was quite different than it is today. While the details would profit no one, Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 4:3 makes a fair summary of life at that time:
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
I was not the greatest sinners, but I was not best of men. Now, this does not make me some unique sinner. That circumstance or inclination held you back from worse vice and depravity does not make you a whit better. The law of God is as a pane of glass: a nick of the part is a breaking of the whole:
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
By birth, I am a sinner. But then, so are you. So let us put away our pretenses of perfection and self-righteousness and consider the things of God squarely. We have no right to speak a word before God in our defense – but we have an advocate who speak for us.
Now, to my friend’s second question. He asked it in a couple of different ways, but the gist of it is as follows: Since my manner of life has changed, do I think myself somehow better than his? If I, a pastor, came to see my old friend, would I look down on him? Would I condemn him?
That is the question which I will answer this morning. This man was as good a friend as I could have hoped. I honestly had delightful days with him. He treated me well and was always straight up with me. He deserves a fair and full answer to his question. I am answering that question here in public, because it concerns things far greater than him or me. To answer the question touches on sin and guilt and shame and redemption and hope and judgment and life and death.
Our text this morning is Hebrews 1:3, but I will read verses 1-4 to provide the proper context:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Our primary point of doctrine this morning is:
God spoke and God still speaks in His Son who is the radiance of the glory of God.
We will consider three questions:
First, what is the importance of God speaking in his Son who is the radiance of the glory of God?
Second, what is the glory of God?
Third, what does it matter: (1) to my friend, (2) to you who know God in Jesus Christ, (3) to you who claim to know God?
First, what is the importance of God speaking in his Son who is the radiance of the glory of God?
A fitting answer is matched to a question. You know the TV show Jeopardy: The contestant is given an answer and then must fashion a fitting question. For example, the contestant is told, He was the first president of the United States. The contestant says, Who was George Washington?
If God speaks in His Son who is the radiance of the glory of God, it would imply that such provision is given because the glory of God is something we lack.
That thought be may be quite strange to you: I rarely hear anyone speak of wanting to get glory from God. Most people never speak of glory at all – except in the context of military adventures or perhaps sports.
A well-trained Christian might speak of giving glory to God. One would know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But few ever speak of looking to obtain glory: that sounds too proud! Seeking glory sounds like it must be a sin – particularly to seek glory from God. How could I ever get glory from God? It sounds like blasphemy.
Turn to John 5. In that chapter we read of how Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethseda. It was done on a Sabbath, which provoked some consternation among those present. In the dispute which followed Jesus made the following statement, as recorded in John 5:17:
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
This brought the crowd to a boil. They wanted to kill Jesus because he had committed blasphemy. You will see their reaction in 5:18, read with me:
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jesus then went into an explanation of the Son’s position and authority. We must skip over a great deal of this, so please turn down to verse 40. In verse 40 Jesus had characterized the crowd as follows:
you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Then in verse 41, Jesus then makes this statement which further distinguishes him from the crowd:
I do not receive glory from people.
The word “glory” here might seem a bit strange. It might make more sense to think of this statement as saying, “I do not receive praise from people.” The opinion of human beings does not concern me. Let us now connect these two ideas together:
Those who do not seek Jesus do seek praise/glory from human beings.
Jesus wants to make this point perfectly clear, so he restates it in a slightly different manner in verse 44. Please read with me John 5:44 – and, if you have not done so, make this verse in your Bible:
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
You probably know that believing and having faith are two ways of expressing the same idea. Faith is of great importance for one’s life:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9. By faith, we do not mean some vague sort of faith. Faith is a complete and utter trusting in the merit of Jesus Christ. Faith does not make us worthy of salvation: that is a gift of God. Faith is the means by which obtain the merit of Jesus Christ.
In John 5:44, Jesus has explained that the only one who can possibly have faith – and thus the only one who can be saved — is the one who (1) does not seek glory from men, but (2) does seek the glory which comes from God.
You must see that the glory of God is more than an option – it lies at the very heart of life and death. Please turn to the third chapter of Romans. In chapters 1, 2 & 3, Paul has been building the case that all humanity, every man and woman ever born stands guilty before God. The indictment culminates in the charge of Romans 3:23:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
In the church, most of the attention is placed upon the first clause: all have sinned. The second clause, concerning God’s glory, gets short shrift. It is that second clause which I want you to consider.
Jesus has said that God’s glory is something we must seek. And Paul here says that God’s glory is something we lack. The verb here translated “fall short” is a word which is elsewhere translated by “lack” or “need”. As John Murray explains, “the verb refers to a condition not to an action”. We could say,
For all have sinned and continually lack the glory of God.
We often think of sin as a sort of abstract law breaking: it is a behavior which is better or worse. It is like a parking 25 minutes in a 20 minute zone. When my friend asked me the question as to whether I would condemn him for his behavior – should I come and see him – he was making the same sort of assumption. It is what people generally believe.
Now it is true that sin is the violation of the law of God. But in violating the law of God, we are doing far more than merely failing to do or not some required action. Let me explain:
Some years ago I heard a story of a pharmacist who allegedly sold diluted cancer drugs. I don’t know whether he was eventually convicted, but I do recall that I was indigent at the accusation. At that time, my father was dying of cancer. So the matter of cancer medication had a personal bite.
By selling the diluted drugs, a pharmacist could make more money. His motivation was economic. His wrong was thus an economic wrong: He had made a contract to sell a product of a certain quality for a certain price. By selling an inferior product, he breached his contract. The solution would be adjust the contract price.
We do this sort of thing all the time: the truck driver dings the washing machine on the way into the house, so the store knocks $50 off the price. A paving stone is improperly set, so the installer gives you a $10 break. We do not think the washer machine delivery man evil for dinging the washer and we don’t feel cheated when the price is adjusted.
But the wrong of the pharmacist was somehow worse than merely breaching his contract: diluted drugs would kill someone. The wrong was deeper, greater than mere money and behavior: if the pharmacist had actually deliberately diluted drugs, he was a killer.
Many people treat sin like a mere breach of contract. Their fault lies in doing or not doing some required thing. Sure they dinged the washing machine – but they make up for the wrong by being especially good in some other place. An angry word costs a donation to a pre-school; adultery costs expensive jewelry and feeling very bad: there are all sorts of adjustments that can be made. When you add in the fact that I was provoked before I became angry, or I was weak before I committed adultery, the books begin to balance rather quickly.
But Jesus and Paul make a rather different point. Sin is not a matter of some particular action or the failure to do some particular thing: sure it entails behavior, but it is far worse than mere behavior. The wrong of sin cannot be balanced by doing some countervailing good deeds. The pharmacist does not fix the wrong of killing my father by reimbursing me half the price of the drugs. A deceiving pharmacist is not just a thief, he would be a murderer. The one who sins is not just engaging in bad behavior. Sin is not just an action which divides into good people and bad people.
Sin is a status: it is a condition. Sin means that we lack the glory of God.
This brings us to our second question: What is the glory of God?
Jesus has said plainly that we will not be saved, unless we seek the glory which comes from God. Paul has laid humanity under a common indictment: we have sinned, we lack the glory of God. What does this mean? What glory of God are we lacking?
Consider our text in Hebrews again: In these last days, God has spoken finally and fully in his Son, Jesus: Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. Jesus is what God has to say. Jesus displays fully the glory of God. Jesus is the answer to our sin. I want you to see how this works, so please turn with me to Exodus in the 32nd chapter.
As you turn there, I will set the stage. The Israelites were forced into slavery in the land of Egypt. God had promised Abraham that he would rescue Abraham’s descendants from slavery in the land of Egypt. Even though the Israelites in Egypt were idolaters – they were wicked rebellious people who did not worship God — God did rescue the Israelites. God displayed his power by destroying the Egyptian gods one-by-one. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile, so God turned the Nile to blood. Act-by-act, God proved to the Egyptians and to the Israelites that he was true and living God.
God took the Israelites through the sea and drowned the Egyptian army. God took them out to the wilderness. Then on Mt. Sinai, God showed himself in clouds and fire and lightning, and spoke the Ten Words from the Mountain. God began with the gracious word of salvation:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Ex. 20:2. God did not save them based upon their merit, but based upon his promise. When God gave them the law, it was because he had rescued them. He did not give them the law so that they could earn their rescue.
Here is how the people reacted:
Exodus 20:18–21 (ESV)
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Moses when up the mountain to be with God and to receive the law. With Moses gone, the people pestered Aaron for some gods: “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Ex. 32:1.
Sin is always insane. Sin is madness. Sin makes a beast of a man; sin unmans man, it makes us less than a man. In sin we trade “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23).
Bizarrely, these Israelites lived as if God had died, as if he were no longer to be found. God was not pleased, and God told Moses of their sin. God threatened to destroy the people. Moses in humility sought God’s mercy on the people. God relented in his determination to destroy the people.
It is this point that I want to pick up the story. If you will look in chapter 33, I want you to look at the request of Moses in verse 18, Exodus 33:18:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
What a strange request. Moses has seen God thunder from Mt. Sinai. Moses has heard God speak. Moses has been on the mountain and has received the law from God. God has come down as pillar of cloud over the tent of meeting. God spoke with Moses personally. Why then did Moses say,
Please show me your glory.
God then answers Moses as follows:
Exodus 33:19–23 (ESV)
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
In chapter 34, we are given an account of what happens. How does God show his glory to Moses? God has performed signs and wonders beyond all comprehension. He has destroyed the most powerful kingdom in the world. He has mocked the gods of the Egyptians. He has spoken audibly. What is there to show.
Look down at verse 5 of chapter 34, and I will read through verse 8:
Exodus 34:5–8 (ESV)
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
God is asked to show his glory. What does God reveal? Does God show Moses a universe which extends through trillions of miles? Does God show Moses Seraphim of aching beauty? Does God pulverize a mountain range? What does God display?
He tells Moses his name. He displays – not his creation, not his power, not wisdom – he reveals his name. And how does God name himself. Look at this again. Mark it in your Bible. Do not forget these words:
He is God
He is merciful
He is gracious
He is slow to anger
He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness
He forgives iniquity
He forgives transgression
He forgives sin
Yet, he will not clear the guilty.
What is the glory of God; what is at the heart? It is the mercy and grace of God. And how is that displayed? In Jesus Christ. There is a sting in this disclosure – and we will get there. But first I want you to see this and drag it into your head and heart: God is a God of mercy and grace.
But God is no fool. God is just. God cannot show this mercy for nothing. God cannot overlook the least sin. If the smallest sin were unchecked, God would cease to be God. The least unrighteousness in God – and what is more unrighteous than to leave wickedness unpunished — would shake the heavens and un-god God. God’s justice will not go unsatisfied.
And so, to display mercy, God met his justice by fulfilling the demands of justice. God granted mercy, but at a cost. God became a man. The Son of God became man. Jesus did not cease to be God, but he veiled his glory in the wrap of humanity. Jesus became a man.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ruler of all creation, the heir of all ages, the one who upholds all creation by the word his power, the king of angels, lowered himself to become a man. The Lord of glory, became a man. Jesus suffered pain, and indignity and shame. Jesus suffered insult and weakness and sorrow. Jesus suffered betrayal and hatred. Jesus was delivered over and murdered. God made Jesus to be the representative of mankind. God made Jesus to suffer the punishment due to man.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Here is the radiance of the glory of God. When asked to show his glory, God proclaimed his mercy. But that mercy was not a cheap grace; it was not a thoughtless gift. For God to proclaim that mercy, he had to give of himself.
I could try to give you a picture of the graciousness, the depth of love shown by God in Jesus Christ. But any picture I could draw would be too little. Any analogy would tempt blasphemy, because God’s love is incomparable. Anything to which I could compare this love would be too little. Some things cannot be compared. At some places, we must merely stand in silence and wonder and awe.
If for a moment we actually saw the profound depth of God’s justice-satisfying mercy in Jesus Christ; if we understood what it was for God to become man, to bear the weight of the curse and fulfill the demands of the law; if we caught a glimpse of the shame of sin born by Jesus Christ; if we understood the marvel of overcoming death in the resurrection; if we could even hear the eternal praise to the Lamb of God, it shake our hearts with fear and love – we would shiver with a holy awe.
The men who saw only hints of God’s glory fell down in worship. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality” (T.S. Elliott, Burnt Norton). The reality of God’s glory shatters the confidence and pride of men. If you would be cured, gaze upon this glory.
Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God.
What does this mean?
It means much: I will apply this point to three sorts of people: To those who do not truly know God in Jesus Christ. To those who do know God in Jesus Christ. And to those who claim to know God, but settle for seeking glory and praise which comes from man.
The first application: To those who have not come to know God in Jesus Christ:
You may think that I would have you to be good. I do not. Being good, as you call it, is of absolutely no value. I am tired of hearing Christians and moralist think that the world would be right if only they could make everyone else behave. The problem with the world is not behavior. The problem with the world is that human beings lack the glory of God –the gift of God himself. The problem with human beings is not their conduct, it is that they lack Jesus Christ.
No one is going to hell because they are drunk or immoral or deceitful or angry or murderous or – you pick your problem. Jesus explained quite plainly why people are damned:
John 3:17–18 (ESV)
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Anyone in hell, is there solely because they refused to believe in the Jesus Christ. If you go to hell, it is because you refused to receive the glory of God radiantly displayed in Jesus Christ.
Let us be plain. You are a sinner. Your parents were sinners. Your children are sinners. The world has only produced one type of human beings: sinful. We are all in the same boat on this count, so let’s stop pretending that someone else is more deserving of hell than us. We all deserve hell. We all know that we sinners.
That is bad news. Sinners are going to be punished.
However, there is good news. God is merciful. God freely saves all who receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God does not demand money. God does not demand sacrifices. In fact, God will not sell salvation for any price in heaven or earth or under the earth. Salvation is not for sale.
Yet God will freely give salvation to all who admit that they lack the glory of God. God will give salvation to all who by faith appropriate, take hold of the merit of Jesus Christ. By faith, we mean that one absolutely trusts in Jesus Christ’s merits – and that you at the same time give up all claim to your own righteousness. You must strip off every vestige of your own glory, your own pride. You must admit that you are deserving of no good – and then you must receive as a gift the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
It is the trade of the universe. One trades sin and shame for mercy and glory. One trades death for life. One trades being an enemy of God to be a joint heir with Christ. One trades the hatred of the world for the fellowship of the saints. You trade your sin for Christ’s glory.
There is a bite here to: Should you come to judgment day dressed in your own glory, you will be damned. Why so? You said no one will go to hell because of this or that sin. Yes, but you will go to hell because you have spurned the mercy of God.
Jesus said that Hell was created for the devil and his angels. Every man in Hell is trespassing. But men will be in Hell. Jesus said, Many on that day ….
Why will they be in Hell? Because God offered them mercy and grace and forgiveness. But man rejected God’s grace. A man who rejects the pardon of God is guilty before God. A man who is offered the free grace of God and spurns that grace deserves nothing less than God’s wrath.
Should you go to Hell, you will go to Hell solely based upon your own pride. You are too proud to receive that which God freely gives. You are saying, God becoming man, bearing the cross, fulfilling the law – all of that is too little for me! If I do not go through the front door of heaven, bearing my own glory – I will not go.
You will not go.
I do not say this of my own opinion. I say it based upon the opinion of Jesus and His apostles. If you say this is wrong, then you say that Jesus was wrong. You may say this, but be plain of what you are saying. If you dislike the message, then take your complaint to God and tell him that his grace is too expensive, since it will cost you all your pride.
The second application: To those who know Jesus.
1 John 1:8–10 (ESV)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Anyone who says that he has never sinned makes a liar of God. Anyone who says that he does not currently possess sin is self-deceived. Dear believer, in this life you will never be out of gunshot of sin. While we are in this life, we will be imperfect.
It is true that as we come to know the Lord, that the Lord changes us. Anyone who has truly come to know the Lord will be able to look back over the arc of his life and see change. The change may be erratic, it may be fitful; there will be falls – sometimes spectacular falls – but there will be change. I like the image Jack once gave: You have seen those little dogs on long leashes. As the master walks up the block, the dog may be going in any number of directions. At any moment, the dog may actually be running the wrong way. But over the course time, the dog begins at one end of the block and ends up at the other end.
One who has come to know Jesus must be changed to conform to Jesus. That is the effect of the glory of God:
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)
18And 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.
When you have come to God, the glory of God in Jesus Christ will change you. It must happen. The glory of God changes the heart as surely as the sun warms the earth. To say that you know Christ and yet that knowledge has made no transformation of your heart is as if you say you saw a flood with no water or a fire with no flame: it is a contradiction in terms. To know Christ is to be changed.
And yet this does not happen all at once. Sin will dog us as long as we live on this earth. We will stumble and fall. We will trade our glory for shame. And while we may lose the trade of many of our most obvious sins, our sight of sin becomes more acute. The longer we know the Lord, the more our sin pangs us. As the glory of God shines more brightly, we see more fully the depth and breadth of our sin.
If you come into an abandoned house filled with broken furniture, you do not need much light to see that it needs to be cleaned. And so you begin to haul old chairs and tables out of the room. You open the shutters. Then you add a lamp. And as you clean and increase the light, you discover that the room was far more filthy and disgusting than you knew at first.
As God cleans out the most obvious sins from our lives, he opens our eyes to the true depth of our sin to keep us ever humble.
Here we see the pride crushing weight of mercy. The law reveals the presence of sin – it is as a broom in a dusty room: it creates a great cloud, it reveals the dust; but it does little make the room clean. The Gospel shows sin for its evil. The Gospel reveals sin in all its hideous color. If you wish to understand sin, look at the cross. The mercy of God discloses sin for its hateful end.
On the cross, men killed Jesus; but that was not the greatest pang borne by Jesus. On the cross, Jesus bore the full wrath of God. When you see sin, you must think of the unmitigated fury and hatred of God against sin. When you see the cross, you must know that sin cost your dearest friend an infinitude burden of wrath. When you see the cross, you must see God’s love for you – but more than that, you must see the glory of God. God loves you that you love him, that you may make much of Him, that you may glorify Him – for therein lies your greatest joy. To display the glory of God- that is the end for which you were created. To be anything less than a God-glorifying grace-bought sinner is to forfeit your joy and crown and hope and glory.
When you see your sin in the light of the glory of God as shone in the cross, it must make your feet to stumble and your heart to break for love and fear. When I see my sin by light of the cross, when I see the bitterness of sin and the unsparing depths of God’s mercy, it must drive me to repentance.
But how? If God is merciful, then does henot lift of burden of sin? Do you not know
The kindness of God leads you to repentance.
Rom. 2:4 (NASB). Thomas Watson wrote of repentance:
It is sorrow for the offence rather than for the punishment. God’s law has been infringed, his love abused. This melts the soul in tears….O that I should offend so good a God, that I should grieve my Comforter! This breaks my heart! (21-22).
David fell. Abraham fell. Peter fell. How could we be better than they? We fall. Thomas Brooks wrote that before sin Satan is a parasite, after we sin he is a tyrant. Before we fall, sin beckons us. After we fall, sin mocks us. You my friend will sin again – and here is where mercy triumphs over shame, where the glory of God rescues us from sin – not by making sin a light thing, but by revealing the glory of God.
To sin and think, I have done nothing wrong. Or to think, I will just say “I’m sorry – Jesus forgave this so it is no big deal” is madness. To have no conscience for sin and yet claim to know Christ is like a man who has no pulse and yet claims to live. If you think that the mercy of God means that sin is a light thing, then you understand neither mercy nor sin. The one who thinks mercy has made sin light is one who has not tasted mercy. A man filled with morphine and Novocain may think his body whole – even though his legs are being sawed off. A man filled with false concepts of mercy may think himself safe, while his soul totters on the brink of Hell.
A true understanding of cross-bought mercy makes the conscience tender to sin and desirous of holiness.
Mercy is a pledge to the true son to not despair. I wish to speak to the believer who has sinned – perhaps has even seen a sin dog his heels for years and despaired of ever shaking himself free from this parasite. How your sin wearies you and leads you to despair – for you I have a word of hope.
Sin seeks to drive you to despair. Sin lies about your Lord. The Devil tempts you to think, God cannot forgive – not such a one as you! You have failed again! Oh, such lies! To lie against mercy! To deny the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
See your sin in the light of the cross. The cross drives you to the sweet end of repentance. Repentance has not been given to crush your soul, but to crush your pride: Your pride says that you must be good enough to be loved. The cross says, you cannot be good enough – but do not despair. Jesus is good enough. Jesus has merited your salvation. Your sin has been nailed to his cross. Hopeless, graceless sinners are saved to display the unsearchable riches of Christ so that
Through the church the maniformed wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Repentance is not a gloomy self-centered introspection: it is a sweet unburdening of the conscience by casting sin upon the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. It is sorrow, but it is sorrow which seeks joy. Here is the cause to rejoice:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
My friend, your conscience may be your terror this morning. Your heart may ache, your conscience bloodied because you have sinned. I could list them, but you know them well. You tremble and think, how could God forgive me again? How can I plead forgiveness one more time?
Which father of you would throw away your four years old son, because he disobeyed five times in one day? Which mother of you would cast away your baby because she fell ill of a fever? If you can show mercy and extend grace to the foolishness and weakness of a child, why do you think God would show less mercy?
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Rom. 8:1. And:
Romans 8:32 (ESV)
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Do not despair in your sin. To fall into despair because you think that God’s mercy has run dry is to defame God and murder your own hope. I have sinned, you say. Then come:
Hebrews 4:15–16 (ESV)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Of this point, Richard Sibbes wrote:
What should we learn from this, but to `come boldly to the throne of grace’ (Heb. 4:16) in all our grievances? Shall our sins discourage us, when he appears there only for sinners? Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and take not Satan’s counsel. Go to Christ, although trembling, as the poor woman who said, `If I may but touch his garment’ (Matt. 9:21). We shall be healed and have a gracious answer. Go boldly to God in our flesh; he is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone for this reason, that we might go boldly to him. Never fear to go to God, since we have such a Mediator with him, who is not only our friend but our brother and husband. Well might the angel proclaim from heaven, `Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy’ (Luke 2:10). Well might the apostle stir us up to `rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4). Paul was well advised upon what grounds he did it. Peace and joy are two main fruits of Christ’s kingdom. Let the world be as it will, if we cannot rejoice in the world, yet we may rejoice in the Lord. His presence makes any condition comfortable. `Be not afraid,’ says he to his disciples, when they were afraid, as if they had seen a ghost, `It is I’ (Matt. 14:27), as if there were no cause of fear where he was present.
The Third application: To those who say they know Jesus, but seek glory from men.
For you, I have no words of comfort. This mercy of God speaks your doom. Jesus said that if you seek the glory which comes from men, they you cannot believe. If you seek the glory which comes from men, you will not be saved.
Some weeks ago, Jack preached a sermon, “Hell’s Furnace Heated Hotter”. That sermon was preached to you. Who did Jesus condemn most pointedly: Those who love the praise of men and who use religion as a pretense to gain such praise.
Let me be perfectly plain. There are people in this room who use their Sunday attendance as a cloak for their Monday vice. You have come to this room, week after week and use an hour of sermon and a couple of bucks every few weeks as a sop to your conscience so that you can lie and cheat, you can be unforgiving and unkind, so that you can refuse to love your wife, refuse to honor your husband, so that you can complain against your employer, so that you can neglect your children in the pursuit of toys which your children will curse when you fall into your grave.
You are in this room. You may have hid your sin from everyone around you. You have concealed your lust from your husband, your theft from the boss, your covetousness from your small group, your hatred from your brother. I may have praised you to your face. You may have fooled us all. But God sees and God is not mocked.
There is hope for you. The hope of repentance. The hope of mercy. The mercies of God are great. He will forgive any who repents.
But if you continue to care more for the glory of man and the praise of man than the glory which comes from God alone, you have God’s promise. As Jesus says in Luke 20:47:
They will receive the greater condemnation.