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Glory, Unity, and the Christian Testimony

“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”

(John 17:22)

Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one.  Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God.  Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.

But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians?  To begin with, what is the glory of Christ?  The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from.  This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person.  The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance.  Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become.  C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.

Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure.  And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence.  When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him.  How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory.  There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship.  It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.

A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project.  Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day?  And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it?  It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages.  Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures!  He reveals to us Christ!  He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation.  To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace.  And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world.  What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image.  There is no human work that can pale in comparison.

Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts.  We act as if God’s glory is nothing  more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself?  Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in.  And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.”  If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us?  And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness?  Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith?  It ought to be.

His Majesty Covers the Heavens (Habakkuk 3:3)

“God entered from Teman and the Holy One from Mount Paran—Selah!

His majesty covers the heavens and his praise fills the earth.”

(Habakkuk 3:3)

 

From here on out, there is a shift of focus from God’s coming judgment on Israel to God’s judgment on the Babylonians for coming to destroy Israel.  Teman and Paran are both areas that are part of the territory ruled by the Edomites (the descendents of Esau).  The language of God “entering from” this area is not so much language meant to suggest that God is not with his people, but instead meant to depict the God of Glory who knows no national boundaries executing judgment on his enemies even as he moves to redeem his people.  It is worth noting that while the Edomites were not the invading force that overthrew Judah and their capitol city, Jerusalem, they did assist the Babylonians by helping to round up the Israelites that sought to escape from the region.  For this action, God uses the harshest language of judgment.  Thus, God judges without, but also brings strict discipline upon his people within the covenant.

Mid verse (not at the end like some of our translations render it) there is a “Selah,” a liturgical term of which no one really knows the meaning. Some have suggested that it is related to the term ll;s’ (salal), which means “to raise up,” suggesting that it is an instruction to singers to raise their voices at this section of music.  Others suggest that it is derived from the verb hl;s’ (salah), which means “to discard” or “to throw away,” suggesting this is where voices were to drop off.  Simply speaking, we just do not know, though the context of this passage at least would suggest a crescendo, not a decrescendo. 

Either way, Habakkuk moves from the focus on geography to the God who transcends Geography and enters into a wonderful description of God on high in this and the following verses.  To begin with, Habakkuk speaks of God’s majesty covering the heavens.  The word that Habakkuk uses here is dAh (hod), which speaks of the power, the splendor, or the majesty of God.  It is similar in use to the word dAbK’ (kavod), which means “weighty” and is used to speak of God’s glory.  The bottom line is that God’s majesty, his glory, his honor, his splendor, his wonder, etc…—all of these attributes—are too big and glorious for the world to contain.  Like a weighty blanket, God’s glory is spread across the earth. 

And, as a result of God’s majesty spread across the earth, the earth resounds with God’s praise.  The word employed here is hL’hiT. (tehillah), which typically speaks of songs of praise.  This is worth noting initially because the Hebrew language contains numerous words to describe the praise of God’s people as they enter into his presence.  The second reason to point this out is because in the Hebrew culture, singing was a very important part of life and worship and I wonder sometimes whether we have lost some of that in our modern culture—the idea of singing God’s praises both inside and outside of the sanctuary—singing God’s praises even as a form of our outward testimony of God’s grace.  And when I am speaking, I don’t so much have in mind the professionals, but the average person like you or me—do the events of God’s grace and splendor all around us in life move us to sing his praises as we go through life?  They do for Habakkuk as you will see at the end of this chapter.

The final reason that this language of praise needs to be pointed out is that the earth is described as being filled with God’s praises.  Indeed, in the heavenly presentation of worship, all of creation sings its praises to God (Revelation 5:13) and if mankind does not sing, nature will take his place (Luke 19:40).  Part of the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:28-30) is to do just what Habakkuk is talking about—fill the earth with praise.  We are to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and make disciples so that the earth will be filled with the praises of God.  The question we must always be asking ourselves is what are we doing to fulfill that mandate?  Are we going to the ends of the world ourselves?  Are we sharing the gospel with our neighbors so that our communities will be filled with the praises of God?  Are we equipping others to fulfill this mandate?  Are our churches doing the same?  Beloved, this is our call—to fill the earth with the praises of those who love our Great and Majestic King, Jesus Christ.

We’ve a story to tell to the nations,

That shall turn their hearts to the right;

A story of truth and mercy,

A story of peace and light,

A story of peace and light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noon-day bright;

For Christ’s great kingdom shall come to the earth,

The kingdom of love and light.

-Ernest Nichol