God Made Known

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 1:18

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

John 1:18 rsv

NO ONE HAS SEEN GOD

“No one has ever seen God.” That’s a sweeping claim, isn’t it? What do we make of it? Careful students of the Bible may think of a number of passages which seem to say otherwise. What about Jacob, who wrestled through the night with the angel at Peniel and said in the morning, “I have seen God face to face”? What about Moses who was accustomed to speak to God, when we read, “face to face as a man speaks to his friend”? What about Job whose questions and complainings were all ended when he met the Lord? “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,” he says, “but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5,6). What about Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died? Listen to his testimony, “I saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). Why, once it was said of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders that “they saw the God of Israel and there was under his feet, as it were, a pavement of sapphire stone like the very heaven for clearness.” What can the evangelist John mean, then, when he says, “No one has ever seen God”?

Apparently these favored servants saw some manifestation of God, some sign of His presence, but they did not behold Him. We learn that from the experience of Moses. When Israel’s leader cried to God, “I pray thee, show me thy glory,” the Lord responded, “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 upon 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” (Exod. 33:19-23).

There it is – the back but not the face. Genuine vision, yet somehow indirect. This Moses whose face shone with unbearable brilliance after communing with God did not behold the Lord in the fullness of His splendor but only in a partial disclosure. Others who are described in scripture as having seen the glory of the Lord had similar experiences. God encountered them. They were made aware of His presence. They saw as much of His radiance as He was pleased to reveal but they could not truly see Him. Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy that God is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see.”

When I read that, I think about our everyday experience with the sun. Everyone with the gift of sight has seen the sun. When the skies are fair we rejoice in its beams every day. But none of us have ever beheld this blazing star up close. In fact, even at a distance of some 93 million miles we cannot endure looking directly at the unveiled sun. Those who watch eclipses are warned not to look directly toward the sun even when the moon blocks out most of its light. The rays of the corona are still too much for us. They could destroy our vision. There is a sense in which none of us on earth can ever look steadily upon the glory of the sun.

That seems to be a parable for the unveiled splendor of the Lord. He dwells in light unapproachable. As His frail creatures, we cannot bear the full radiance of His presence. Even more, as sinful people, we could not see God and live. We could all say with the young prophet Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). And Isaiah, remember, saw only a glimpse of the glory, only the outskirts of God’s ways. No one has ever seen God, or could ever see God, and live to tell about it.

CHRIST HAS MADE HIM KNOWN

But John cites this universal negative to prepare us for good news. Listen. This is from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” John is writing here about the Word made flesh, the light of the world, Jesus of Nazareth. He describes Jesus here as “the only begotten Son.” Some of the best manuscripts use the phrase “only begotten God.” On either reading, Jesus is God’s unique Son, sharing His divine being. One stresses His sonship, the other His deity. He is distinct from all creatures as the creative Word and from all other children as the unique Son, eternally with His Father.

He is further described here as being “in the bosom of the Father,” even while He lives on earth. This phrase, which we meet again later in the gospel, when the beloved disciple John reclines near to Jesus at the Last Supper, describes the intimate companionship of a meal. The Son of God always dwells in fellowship with the Father. He watches His works, listens to His Word, rejoices in His love. And this is the Son, says John, who has made God known.

Someone objects, “But wasn’t God known before Jesus came? Aren’t the heavens always telling the glory of God and the firmament showing His handiwork? Doesn’t the whole creation show forth His praise?” Indeed it does. And what about the revelation given to Moses and the prophets and the seers? Surely God made Himself known to them and through them. Yes, but not, apparently, in the same manner or measure.

The law, says the gospel writer, was “given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The law was from God, mediated through His servant. It was a divine revelation that made clear God’s will for human life. But the grace of God that saves and renews us and the truth of God in which He becomes fully known – these came through Christ. So much brighter the light, so much greater the gift.

Jesus has made God known. Literally, He has “exegeted Him.” That’s a term from the Greek language which means “to lead forth” or “draw out the meaning of a biblical text.” When we exegete the Word of Scripture, for example, we open up its truth. We bring its meaning to light. We lead out and expose to view the riches it contains. The rabbis could “exegete” the law. They could explain its meaning and detail its application. They depended in everything upon this written law of Moses. By contrast, Jesus as the Son depends also on what He has heard and seen with the Father. Out of intimate fellowship with Him, He proclaims God. He reveals Him, makes Him known in the world.

Do you see the difference? The rabbis were like professors giving learned treatises on a great poem. Jesus was like the poet himself, opening up all that He had in mind in His artistic creation. The rabbis gave their opinions; Jesus spoke with authority. They pointed toward the revelation of God; He embodied it. They were the custodians of the sacred writings. He was the living Word of the Eternal.

The works of creation, the Old Testament Scriptures, the history of God’s people, all revealed something of God’s character and His ways. But Jesus is the full and final Word, the crowning revelation. In His person, in His teaching, in His ministry, in His sufferings and triumph, Jesus makes God visible, accessible, bearable for us. In Him we see not only God’s back, the fringes of His ways, but God’s face, God’s heart. While John says, “No one has ever seen God,” Jesus can make this astounding claim, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”

Not everyone accepts that affirmation of Jesus. Some of His contemporaries, remember, viewed Him in a very negative way. Do you recall the things they said about Him? “He is a sinner . . . He blasphemes . . . He’s out of His mind . . . He has a demon . . . He casts out demons by the prince of demons . . . He’s a gluttonous man and a winebibber . . . He leads people astray.” When some of them heard Him say, “I and my Father are one,” they actually cast about for stones to try to stone Him to death. They did not believe His self-witness. They did not see in Him the glory of the Lord.

But here is the testimony of the apostles: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us, . . . and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we read through John’s Gospel, we see how God was more and more made known to these disciples in the life and ministry of Jesus. At a wedding in Cana of Galilee, He turned water at the feast into wine for the guests. John comments, “This is the first of his signs that Jesus did at Cana of Galilee and manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him.” Later, also in Cana, Jesus healed by His sheer word of authority the son of a government official. John comments, “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” And so it went. In words of grace, in works of mercy and power, in the heart-warming acceptance He showed to people, Jesus revealed God’s glory and the disciples beheld it. He could say in prayer to His Father, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world.” Finally, in the unimaginable grace of His giving Himself up to die and in the joy-bringing surprise of His resurrection, Jesus made known the Father’s purpose, the Father’s saving love. When they beheld Him risen from the dead, the disciples were unspeakably glad. Even a doubting Thomas could see and say, “My Lord and my God.”

HOW CAN WE SEE?

How can people today see God? How can you? How can I? It’s still true that no one has ever seen God in His unveiled splendor. But the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known. If you want to see God, if you want to meet Him, if you want to know Him, the clue is in Christ Jesus. The God who dwells in unapproachable light has accommodated Himself to our limited vision. He has made Himself approachable. He has clothed Himself with our humanity. He has made Himself tangible, visible as a man. In the face of Christ shines all the glory we can bear to see. All that can be known of God in this age is revealed to us in Him. He is God’s full, final Word. “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature,” sings the writer to the Hebrews.

You say you have never seen all of that in Him? Let me invite you to look again. Let me encourage you to read with a searching mind and heart the four Gospels. Start with this Gospel according to John. Listen to the words of Jesus. Ponder the things He did. Study His character. Consider His sufferings on our behalf and then look upon Him risen from the dead. It is in Him that God makes Himself known.

But you say, “I still have intellectual difficulties. I still find it hard to believe.” Then try the way of commitment. Jesus says, “If any man wills to do God’s will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak of myself.” There’s a moral element, apparently, in believing. The will, the heart, has something to do with seeing God’s glory. The disciples had made at least a beginning commitment to Jesus before they saw the glory of God shining in His face. They gave themselves to stay with Him, to walk beside Him. Why don’t you decide today to commit as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God in Christ?

Don’t wait around for flashes of inspiration. Begin to act as if He were Lord of all, as if God had been fully and wonderfully revealed in Him. Along the road of simple obedience the vision will become more and more plain. My prayer for you today is that you will so look upon this Jesus with openness, with trust, with commitment, that in Him you may come to know the living God. He, the Word incarnate, has forever made Him known. Look! Look toward Christ, and God will become more real to you than you would ever have dreamed possible.