Reflection: The Son is the Radiance of God’s Glory

"The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and - the exact representation
of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."
Hebrews, chapter 1

I’d like to try and paint three pictures in your mind, without PowerPoint, if possible! Please do bear with me. 

The first starts with a question! 

Have you ever seen a partial eclipse of the sun? You know, when the moon moves across the sun and it looks like someone’s taken a bite out of the sun itself. It’s usually a big thing, predicted for weeks ahead with lots of publicity and TV coverage. If the weather is good and it’s a clear day, you can see the passage of the moon really well. I remember looking at several over my life, one in Cornwall in mid-summer, which was quite amazing, one in the back garden here on the Wirral, six or seven years ago, and one when I was at school.  The thing I recall most about that one was that the teachers distributed black plastic photographic film. We had to hold the film up against the sun and watch the eclipse through the film. Do you ever remember doing that?

The point was that you definitely shouldn’t look at the sun directly with no protection, because the power and sheer brightness, the energy involved, would irreparably damage your eyes. So, to see the eclipse, you looked through black photographic film, which blocked most of the sun’s radiating light. You see although the sun was 96 million miles away, its brightness was exceedingly dangerous. You couldn’t look straight at it.

It’s like that with God the Father. God is so utterly holy that no one can look on Him and live. And that was the big problem in Old Testament days. Sacrifices had to be made so that people could come into God’s presence, and even then it was only the priests in the temple, in the inner Holy of Holies, behind the thick curtain, who could approach God and ask for forgiveness on behalf of the people. God couldn’t be approached without sin offerings.

When Moses was first being called by God, to lead the Israelites, God came to him from within a burning bush, burning but not consumed. Moses went over to look at it:

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”  “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God was unapproachable without a sin offering.

And later again, the Israelites rebelled against Moses and God revealed His anger with them in Exodus 33. Afterwards, when Moses had warned them of God's anger, he spoke to God:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

There are many examples where the sin of the people makes them unable to approach God, the Father, the holy one. I’ve mentioned Moses here, but you could look at the story of Elijah, and the same thing applies.

But this is why our passage from the letter to the Hebrews, the Jewish people, is so important. Their history is that of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob with Rachel, and of Moses and the prophets, such as Elijah. They understood that God was to be feared and revered. He is Holy, and only a priest could approach God on their behalf, and the way to God was with the shedding of blood through countless sacrifices. The writer to the Hebrews, starts off by introducing Jesus.

The New Testament writer to the Hebrews (the Jews), is explaining that their long-promised Messiah, whom the world had rejected, was Jesus. And whereas God the Father, could not be approached, because like our sun, it was dangerous to look at him, in fact Jesus, God’s Son, is approachable. 

The writer uses this beautifully descriptive language to explain: The Son (Jesus) is the radiance of God’s glory. 

This brings me to our second image

You can’t look at our sun. It's too bright. But you can look at the rays of the sun and everything that those rays fall on and light up. You may be able to see it here in Hoylake in an evening setting sun, but often we’ve been out walking on the Dee estuary at sunset, near Parkgate or Ness, Heswall or Thurstaston. The sun is low, just about to set behind the Clwyd hills, and clouds cover it, and you see these amazing shafts of bright light, spreading out over the hills and picking out bright coloured patches greens and yellows on the land. The light fans out like a beautiful curtain of glistening colour.

That’s a bit how my mind’s eye pictures this phrase from Hebrews.  
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory ….

We can’t look on God the Father, but we can see God's Glory when we look on Jesus…the radiance of God’s glory, and the second part of the verse puts it into context…Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being, sustaining all things by his powerful word who after He created the world, pure and without blemish, and after He bought the world, paying the price for our profound blemishes or sins, has sat down in Glory at the right hand of the Father. 

So, so far… two images, the 1st of our sun which we can only look at indirectly through tinted film, and the second, that view of a setting sun’s rays fanning out and lighting up the world with their brilliance against a dark background. Two images which represent God the Father and God the Son. The one Holy and approachable only by the sacrifice of His son; the second, Jesus who is the radiance of Gods glory. The creator and sustainer of the world.

There is a third image I’d like to present to you 

It’s Christmas time.
We have a little oldie-worldie coloured glass house which sits on our mantlepiece, in which we put a candle. Imagine it. When the candle is not lit, you see the colours of the lamp, but it is as nothing compared to the lamp being lit from within by the candle. The colours shine out as the candle light passes through the colours of the house. The house suddenly looks quite different, bright and cosy, but the room looks different too, as all the colours radiate around the room, shining on all the walls and every surface of every object within. It looks beautiful. Of course, when the little house gets dirty and grubby, the candlelight shows up the blemishes and it shows which bits need a good clean.

It’s an all too inadequate picture of receiving God's Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. His glory shines through His people but He also shows up our faults – which of course, is why we come to Him in confession as well as praise
You see, Jesus, didn’t leave us on our own when He sat down at His Father's side. 

He redeemed us but didn’t then desert us. 

He promised to send us the comforter, His Spirit, THE HOLY SPIRIT, the third person of the Trinity; not to judge us., but to be part of us, dwelling in us and shining that radiance, God’s radiance out from us and through us. And through His written and living word, teaching and enabling us to live lives pleasing to Him. Which is why we have a Gospel reading at our services…because as well as the living word of God in scripture, we hear the Living words from the Living Word – Jesus, the son of God.

So: Three images:
  • The first is of the bright sun during an eclipse which we can’t look at directly, God the Father.
  • The second is of the beautiful radiance of the sun’s rays, over the Dee estuary, bringing colour and light to all the touch. Jesus the radiance of the Father.
  • The third, a coloured Christmas lamp lit by a candle, shining from within and out to the all it touches, God the Holy Spirit within us. 
Jesus said, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. 

But what is so important to hold on to, is that when we mess up, get things wrong, say or do something we shouldn’t have done, or don’t do something we should do, we can look at the cross and know that we have been forgiven. God just wants to move us on to glorify Him more fully. 

That is so simple, so childishly simple, that many find it hard to accept. But again, as we read today…Jesus said; Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold
Through life's fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
'Til our faith is turned to sight
When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Saviour loves me so
He will hold me fast

                             - Ada Habershon / Matt Merker


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