Every once in awhile I get a little controversial from the pulpit. I know there are some differences among us on very weighty issues, but please hear me out. I think we can all agree that music peaked in the eighties. And the only genre that really mattered in the eighties was soft rock.
But narrowing down a favorite soft rock song is where it gets challenging. “The Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera has to be in the running. It was released in 1986 shortly after Cetera left Chicago, one of the greatest bands of all time. The song was also featured in the closing of The Karate Kid Part II.
The best songs deal with big ideas. Glory is one of those ideas. Many of us would probably struggle to come up with a simple definition. It really covers a broad semantic domain. But before we get to defining the term as it is found in Scripture, let’s remember the context.
Due to the incessant cultural pressure, these Jewish Christians in Rome were vulnerable. They seemed to be on the precipice of compromise—ready to abandon their Christian faith and return to the Judaic church. The author’s primary purpose is to elevate the value of Christ so that apostasy becomes unthinkable. In other words, they won’t find a more spectacular display of the glory of God by departing from the substance of Christ and returning to his shadows.
How do we steel ourselves against the temptation to wander away from the faith?
Those who frequently gaze upon the brightness of God’s glory through Christ will find every alternative grows increasingly dim.
Read Heb 1:1-4.
Robert Paul Martin acknowledges “Structurally this section is complex. Theologically it is rich.” Some see fragments of a hymn or confession of the early church that predates Hebrews. It’s clearly very deep and enriching. We’re pacing ourselves, carefully considering each phrase. Previously, we considered two aspects of the Son’s identity:
1. The Son as Heir of All Things
2. The Son as Agent of Creation
› This morning we will look at the next description.
The Son Radiates God’s Glory
‘Radiance’ only occurs here in the NT and once in the LXX (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-28 dated ~50 BC). Anyone familiar with the “radiance” of divine wisdom might immediately recognize that the author is highlighting the superiority of the Son. Rather than a personified attribute of God, the Son radiates God’s glory. The author has taken a familiar term and used it to reinforce his Christology.
‘Glory’ is oftentimes used to refer to fame and honor. When we glorify God, we are honoring him and acknowledging his worthiness to be praised. His fame and reputation are upheld by the adoration of his creatures.
The LXX’s most common translation of כָּבוֹד is δόξα. It literally means weight. One of my favorite essays from C.S. Lewis is titled “The Weight of Glory.” The title is a play on the meaning of ‘glory.’ Think of when the glory of God settled upon Mount Sinai. The cloud represented God’s presence which rested upon the people with a heaviness, a weightiness. The sight was so terrifying that the people asked Moses to speak to God directly, so they didn’t have to (Ex 20:18-19).
Yet, following their defeat by the Philistines—who captured the ark of the covenant—the Israelites lamented that “the glory departed” (1 Sam 4:21-22). The same glory that causes some people to hide in trembling fear will draw others in with trembling joy.
In Acts 22:11, Paul speaks of the δόξα of the light that blinded him as he journeyed toward Damascus. So glory also refers to the brightness of light. This is why, in the transfiguration of Jesus, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). When Peter, James, and John woke up, “they saw his glory” (Lk 9:32).
Arius (early 4th century) taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father and not co-equal. He also taught that there was a time when the Son was not. Rather than being co-eternal with the Father, the Son was the Father’s first created being. For these reasons, Arius was denounced as a heretic at the first Council of Nicea (325 AD), where the Nicene Creed was adopted.
Athanasius (in his late 20s), was Arius’ most vocal opponent and the champion of orthodoxy, who became Bishop of Alexandria just two years after Nicea. The Arian controversy defined the life of Athanasius who held firm to his convictions even though he was exiled five times for a combined total of seventeen years. His comments on this verse, reflect his commitment:
“Who does not see that the brightness cannot be separated from the light, but that it is by nature proper to it and co-existent with it, and is not produced after it?”
Likewise, Ambrose, writing later in the fourth century, said.
“Think not that there was ever a moment of time when God was without wisdom, any more than that there was ever a time when light was without radiance.” For “where there is light there is radiance, and where there is radiance there is also light; and thus we cannot have a light without radiance nor radiance without light, because both the light is in the radiance and the radiance in the light.”
Brightness is often reflected in the description of angelic beings. Anticipating the objection that the Son was nothing more than a heavenly being (especially given the use of the phrase “sons of God” to refer to heavenly beings in passages like Ps 29:1, 89:6), the author argues that the divine glory of the Son is far superior to the glory of angels (cf. Heb 1:4-14).
› The person of the Son is the radiance of God’s glory. Yet, as fallen creatures, we do our level best to find that glory in every possible alternative.
Fallen Man Replaces God’s Glory
Whenever we are confronted with something that is glorious, it takes our breath away. Think about the first time you hiked up Half Dome and looked over Yosemite Valley. It humbles and silences us as we simply take in the beauty.
Glory transcends everything this earth has to offer, yet as C.S. Lewis points out, “we go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” We are satisfied with the trifling and fleeting pleasures of sin. Fools suppress the knowledge of God and exchange his gloryfor idols that resemble creation (Rom 1:23). This is typically much more subtle than you might imagine. Idolatry doesn’t merely refer to the worship of an image carved out of wood, or chiseled from stone.
Lewis points out that idolatry occurs whenever we elevate the good things we enjoy in this life to an ultimate status. We think our desires can be satisfied by retrieving some past experience or appreciating the beauty in music. “These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.”
The point of the essay is to say that even our idolatrous desires reveal something about our purpose. They suggest something about the eternity for which we were made. Some might object that having a desire for food doesn’t mean we will actually get food. Tell this nonsense about our desires to people who are starving to death.
A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.
Redeemed Man Reflects God’s Glory
Although we cannot literally diminish God’s glory, whenever we fail to honor him in thought, word, and deed we rob him of the glory that we owe him. Instead, by meditating upon this truth, we are drawn into worship that begins to impact who we are. Our identity is defined by whatever we worship!
In his excellent book, We Become What We Worship, Greg Beale points out how believers will have the privilege of perfectly reflecting the glory of God.
Just as the close proximity of the high priest to the divine glory in the holy of holies enabled the twelve precious stones on his breast piece to shine and reflect that glory (so see Ex 28 and cf. Is 54:11-12), so all believers will stand so close to God in the eternal new cosmos that they will perfectly reflect his glory.
We see this illustrated in Rev. 4, where the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures give glory to God as they surround the one seated on the throne. He “had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” (Rev 4:3).
In other words, as we behold the glory of God in worship through Christ, we begin to reflect that glory. But, in our fallen nature, we will never reflect that glory perfectly. We were created in the image of God, but the fall has distorted that image. Christ, being sinless, is the only human to perfectly reflect the glory of God in this life. However, when we receive our glorified bodies, we will reflect the glory of God without the diminishing effects of sin.
That being said, we must always preserve the uniqueness of the Son. Our experience is always a passive reflection of the glory of God. The Son is the active radiance of God’s glory (John 1:1, 4-9; 10:30; 12:45; 14:9)! The Son is “God of God, light of light, very God of very God,” as taught by the Nicene Creed.
If we have defined ‘glory’ accurately, and broadly enough, then there one more incredible blessing we should consider. Since the Son is the radiance of God’s glory—our union with him—bestows upon us fame. This is not fame derived from other men, but fame with God. We receive the honored title of sons of God. The approval of God’s Son is attributed to all who place their faith in him!
This means that all of us are ultimately living for the acceptance and appreciation of God. What drives us and motivates everything we do is a craving for God’s affirmation. We long for our Heavenly Father to delight in us.
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
It almost feels wrong doesn’t it? It’s like this promise is too sacred to be true. We don’t see ourselves as worthy to receive such glory, ever. Well, maybe we are making too much out of this singular promise made by an obscure prophet from the Old Testament.
Isaiah 62:5 ESV
For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Not only does Isaiah state the same promise, but he paints for us an illustration that reminds us of this truth—every time we witness a wedding!
Which brings us back to where we began, with “The Glory of Love.” Despite Peter Cetera’s claim, no earthly love lasts forever. Daniel LaRusso moves on from Kumiko by the next film. But that deep-rooted desire is evidence that one day believers will be ushered into a glorious eternity!
Revelation 22:4–5 ESV
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.