By Pastor Glenn Pease
John Mcgee Jr. wrote the poem High Flight. It is so meaningful to some pilots, they repeat it as they sit in their planes soaring though the skies. It goes like this-
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds-and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of-wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.-Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Flight does link man with the angels but it does not get man any closer to God. It is only poetic license to say you can fly so high as to touch the face of God. Man could never reach that high but the message of Christmas is, God stooped low enough to literally allow men to touch His face.
On Christmas day God did embrace
The planet earth with loving grace,
Making Bethlehem the birth place
Of Jesus who revealed God's face.
When Mary pressed the soft warm cheeks of baby Jesus to her own, she was touching the face of God. When the shepherds and the wise men came to see Jesus they were seeing the face of God. Christmas is about the face of God. Before Christmas God was veiled, and men were not allowed to come into His presence to see His face. Whenever God did, on rare occasions, let men see His presence, they were terrified of His glory. But on Christmas God entered human flesh where men could see Him face to face and not be afraid. Nothing is less fearful than seeing a baby.
Jesus grew from His baby face childhood to mature manhood, and by degrees He exposed man to His Deity. Three of the disciples saw the glory of His divine face on the Mt. of Transfiguration where we read in Matt. 17:2, "there He was transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun..." This glory was shown only to a few, for that was not the face Jesus came to show the world. One day all the redeemed will see their Savior face to face in all it's splendor. But this is the face He will have in His second coming. His first coming-His Christmas coming, revealed to us the face of God which is more practical for life in our fallen world. It was a face of compassion and love; a face of mercy and understanding. It was the face of a friend.
Christmas is unique in all of history for it was the day God let men see His face, and begin to know Him as He really is. Jesus was the light of the world, the light that lit up the face of God for man to see their Creator. This is what Paul was getting at in verse 6, "for God, who said, let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
How do we know who God is, and how He feels about us and His lost world? Where do we go to get this kind of knowledge? Do we go to the Information Super Highway? No, we go to the face of Christ-the face first seen on the first Christmas morning.
Robert Coles wrote a fascinating book titled, The Spiritual Life of Children. He is a Harvard Univ. professor who has written about the inner life of children like no other author. He has studied children around the world in all different cultures. One of the things he does is to get children to draw the face of God. Jewish and Muslim children will not do it, for they are taught not to make pictures of God. But Christian children all over the world feel free to make pictures of God. Why? Because for Christians, God has shown His face to the world in Jesus Christ. All the religions of the world have invisible gods, but Christianity has a visible God; a God who was seen and touched. That is what the incarnation was all about. God became visible in flesh so men could see Him face to face.
Professor Coles has 293 pictures of God, and all but 38 are of His face. When Christian children visualize God they primarily see His face. All around the world, artist in every land and culture paint the face of Jesus. There are oriental faces, and Negroid faces, or Italian or German, and dozens of others. All facial features are found in the face of Jesus. He is the man of a thousand faces yet His is the face of one-the face of God. ,
A Sunday school teacher and her second grade class were looking at a painting of Jesus. Little Billy exclaimed, "Isn't it wonderful! It looks just like Him!" If it's a face that children fall in love with, that is truly a legitimate face of Jesus.
I have not seen it but I have read about an artist that painted a portrait of Jesus, which if you look at it close, is composed of 48 different faces. There are all kinds of people of every race, color and age. He was conveying a theological reality. In Christ the entire human race with all of it's variety becomes one. Jesus was the son of man, the perfection of all men. Many feel the reason we have no description of the face of Jesus is so all can portray Him like themselves.
Artists all through history have conveyed many theological truths by means of the face of Jesus. Thorwaldsen has his famous sculpture of Christ in the Cathedral of Copenhagen, Denmark. The beautiful white marble statue of Jesus has His arms outstretched for all who enter. It draws you down the isle like a magnet. But when you come near you still can't see the face of Jesus. You have to get down on your knees and then look up to see His face of love and compassion. No one can see His face unless they first kneel. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted, said Jesus. He humbled himself to come and show us God's face, and we need to bow before Him in humility to see that face.
Leonardo da Vinci became very angry with another man when he was painting the famous Last Supper. He was trying to finish the face of Jesus, but he just could not get it right. Finally he humbled himself to go to the man and seek forgiveness. The man accepted his apology and Leonardo was then able to complete the face of Jesus. Jesus said get right with your brother before you come before God, for then you will see the face of God smiling with pleasure as you offer your gifts.
One of the major goals of Satan is to keep men from beholding the face of God. In Rev. 12:1-9, we have one of most amazing accounts of the Christmas story. It is Christmas from the perspective of spiritual warfare. Satan desperately wanted to keep mankind from ever seeing the face of God in Jesus Christ. The birth of baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, led to the greatest warfare this universe has ever seen. Satan, called in this text the dragon, had power to sweep a third of the stars out of the sky. We are talking of power that makes all of man's atom bombs look like the power of a gnat. He was determined that Christmas would never happen, and he risked everything to prevent God from showing His face. Listen to this account of Christmas from a heavenly perspective.
"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed
with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars
on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about
to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous
red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his
heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."
The dragon wanted to devour the Christ child so that no one, not even Mary, would ever see the face of God in the flesh. Satan knew if this baby lived the whole relationship of God and man would be changed for the better. The whole power structure of the universe would be altered, and so he fought desperately to stop the Incarnation. The angels not only sang that first Christmas, they fought the devil and his angels to make sure there was something to sing about for all mankind. We know of no other event in the history of the universe that was so important to all the forces in the universe, both good and bad. The destiny of man was wrapped up in that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger-for in Him was the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. The entire Christmas story can be seen as revolving around the face of God revealed in the Christ child. I have said it in poetry-
Christmas is God's great invasion
Of this earth from beyond space.
On this marvelous occasion
He revealed to man His face.
At the start He was a stranger
Just a baby out of place.
Earth's Creator in a manger
Was not to Him a disgrace.
Shepherds watching their flocks by night
Heard the good news of God's grace.
When the angels had left their sight
They left too with hurried pace.
They ran to Bethlehem's stable
Where the Christ child they embrace.
Praising God that they were able
To behold Him face to face.
Wise men saw His star in the East
It was rare, not commonplace.
When heaven celebrates a feast
They it's meaning long to trace.
No journey could be on a par
Nothing could that sight erase.
They would ever follow that star
Till they saw Christ's shining face.
He came here to be one of us
To stand with us face to face.
Taking on Him the name Jesus
Savior of our fallen race.
To the heavens He's ascended
He has returned to His base.
All that's broken will be mended
And all evil He'll replace.
When we see the face of Jesus
We behold the face of God.
May this amazing truth seize us
As we through this season trod.
We look upon the face of God
When the face of Christ we see.
Let this Christmas spirit, you prod
To look and in Him be free.
Jesus said in John 3:14-15, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." People in the Old Testament could look at the serpent on the pole, and they would be healed when bitten by poisonous snakes. Their salvation was in looking to this symbol. Jesus said He was lifted up on the cross for the same reason. Men bitten by that old serpent the devil will die in their sin unless they look to Him on the cross. If they look they will live
Some of the greatest conversions of history have happened because of this text. Charles Hadden Spurgeon heard a Methodist preacher preach on looking to Jesus on the cross. He looked and was forgiven and became one of the most famous preachers in history. He then pointed thousands of others to look to the face of Jesus and become children of God.
416 times the face is mentioned in the Bible. It is an important part of the human anatomy. It is also an important part of our theology, for it is in the face of Christ that we come to know God. For centuries the hope of heaven revolved around the beatific vision-the seeing of God's face. Christians do not stress this today for the modern Christian is more interested in seeing the streets of gold than seeing the face of God. In a materialistic world rewards become a priority over the personal. But the personal is the primary focus of the Bible. When Stephen was stoned to death for being a Christian, we read in Acts 7:55, "but Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." What he saw was Persons. It is true John was caught up to heaven and showed us a lot of the things that will be there, but the first vision he had in Rev.1 was of the glorified Christ. Our primary hope is not to see things but to see Him. "Face to face I shall behold Him, Far beyond the starry sky; face to face in all His glory I shall see Him by and by."
A little Italian boy once said, "Jesus is the best photograph that God ever took." that is what the writer of Hebrews says as well for Jesus is "the express image-the exact likeness of God." In the famous text of Isa. 9:6 we read, "unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." How can this Christ child be called Everlasting Father? How can the Son of God be called the Father? It is because the Father and the Son are one and when you see the face of Jesus you see the face of God. Jesus is God with a face.
The Incarnation means God can be known as never before in history. The shepherds were not content to take the angels word for it. They wanted to see the Christ child face to face. The wise men were not content to see the miraculous star. They did not stop their pursuit until they saw the child face to face.
When you go to the hospital to see a new born baby you are not content to see a blanket-wrapped bundle. You want to see the face-not the back of the head, or the bottom-but the face. No one is satisfied until they see the face. The face makes the bundle personal. It is seeing the face that makes you feel you have met the person. We need to see the face of God in Jesus to feel that we have met God personally.
God becomes a real person in Jesus. I saw the cutest cartoon of a father reading to his little boy a bedtime story of the first Christmas. The little guy with his head on his pillow with two pictures of his dog on the wall over his bed says to his dad, "Gold, frankincense, and myrrh? I bet what he really wanted was a puppy." The baby Jesus was a real person to this boy, and he could feel the sense of identity with him, which was the whole point of the Incarnation.
Christmas is more than mistletoe and ho ho ho
And brilliant lights that reflect in snow,
And the warmth we feel in the fireplace glow.
Christmas is about the God we can know
Who descended from heaven to earth below
To His kind face to mankind show.
Paul Reese, the great preacher, tells of reading about the French Revolution. A lawless mob broke into the king's palace. They were wild for vengeance and loot. They rushed down a long corridor and busted into a room at the end. Suddenly the looters grew quiet; the yelling and cursing ceased, and some of them even knelt on the floor as others removed their hats. What happened to cause such quiet reverence? It was the face of Jesus on the wall.
Unfortunately the story did not end there. One of the leaders stepped forward and turned the picture of Jesus toward the wall. He then shouted to the crowd to continue their plundering. This is a parable of what the whole world is now doing. They are either, like the shepherds and wise men, seeking to bow before the face of Jesus, or, like Satan and Herod, seeking to turn the face of Jesus to the wall.
We all have a choice. The call of Heb. 12:2 is, "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfection of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." The greatest sight you can see this Christmas ,and any other time of the year, is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.