Not Seeing to See
Thursday of Pentecost 4
16 June 2016
God hides Himself that we might see Him. His self-revelation is never first a disclosure, but an enclosure; and only then a self-disclosure. He encloses Himself in the cloak of human flesh, born of Mary, that He might disclose God to us (Jn 6:64). How backward this is from the expectation of us vain humans. We expect the God-show spectacular; complete with divine pyrotechnics. We expect the miraculous signs and attractive human wisdom which God has decisively spurned in His Son Jesus Christ. So according to human knowledge and expectation the Messiah is very disappointing. We expect God to prove Himself to us, "Come on, God, show me your stuff. Walk across my swimming pool!"
 
God has proven Himself. But only in the very signs of weakness that we despise. He hides us in the cleft of Calvary that we might see his "backside" on the cross. He passes by as the Suffering Servant that we might see Him for what he truly is: the God who does not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:28).
 
In so doing He saves us from our worst enemy; ourselves. For while our desire to see God face to face is an exalted and blessed desire, to see His face and its full glory is to sign our own death warrant. Now He shows us only what we need: our salvation in Christ. He will not blind us for our arrogance in demanding to see that which man cannot see. Instead we see the back of God torn by our sins. Instead we see shoulders weighed down by our sorrow. Instead we see His countenance marred beyond human semblance that we might see God's face. Instead a nail-scarred hand is thrown up before us that we might see the truth of his glory passing by only in His death. In the cleft of Calvary we see only the cross, suffering, weakness, death, blood and water flowing mingled down and in these to see God's true glory. Later we see face to face. Now only the backside of the cross. That is God's hiding; and in that hiding all is revealed.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"When Moses sees God's back (Ex 33:17-23) it is commonly understood to prefigure the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. His 'back parts' are to be taken as His flesh, in which He was born of the Virgin, and died, and rose again; whether they are called back parts on account of the end of mortality, or because it was almost in the end of the world, that is, at a late period, that He deigned to take it. His 'face' was that form of God, in which He 'thought it not robbery to be equal with God' (Phil 2:6), which no one certainly can see and live; whether because after this life, in which we are absent from the Lord (2Cor 5:6), and where the corruptible body presses down the soul (cf. 2Cor 5:4) we shall see 'face to face,' as the apostle says (1Co 13:12).
 
"For in the Psalms, it is said of this life, 'Truly every man living is altogether emptiness' (Ps 39:5); and again, 'For in Your sight shall no man living be justified' (Ps 143:2); and in this life also, according to John, 'It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know,' He says, 'that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is' (1Jn 3:2); which he certainly intended to be understood as after this life, when we shall have paid the debt of death, and shall have received the promise of the resurrection.
 
"Or whether that even now, in whatever degree we spiritually understand the wisdom of God, by which all things were made, in that same degree we die to fleshly desires, so that, considering this world dead to us, we also ourselves die to this world, and say what the apostle says, 'The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world' (Gal 4:14). For it was of this death that he also says, 'If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations' (Col 2:20)? Therefore, no one will be able to see the 'face,' that is, the manifestation itself of the wisdom of God, and live. For it is this very appearance, for the contemplation of which every one sighs who strives to love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind; to the contemplation of which, he who Loves his neighbor, too, as himself builds up his neighbor also as far as he may; on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Mt 22:37-40). This is shown also in Moses himself. For when he had said, on account of the love of God with which he was specially inflamed, 'If I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Yourself plainly, that I may find grace in Your sight;' he immediately added, on account of the love also of his neighbor, 'And that I may know that this nation is Your people.' It is therefore that 'appearance' which hurries away every rational soul with the desire of it, and the more ardently the more pure that soul is; and it is the more pure the more it rises to spiritual things; and it rises the more to spiritual things the more it dies to fleshly things.
 
"But while we are absent from the Lord, and walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:6-7) we ought to see the 'back parts' of Christ, that is His flesh, by that very faith, that is, standing on the solid foundation of faith, which the rock signifies, and beholding it from such a safe watch-tower, namely in the catholic Church, of which it is said, 'And upon this rock I will build my Church' (Mt 16:18). For so much the more certainly we love that face of Christ, which we earnestly desire to see, as we recognize in His back parts how much first Christ loved us."

Augustine, 
On the Trinity, 2.17
Exodus 33:15-23

And [Moses] said to him, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" And the LORD said to Moses, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Please show me your glory." And he said, "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 on 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." (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, spread Your nail-scarred hand before my face, that I might see your bloodied grace and blinded in my human sight see only by Your mercy's light. Amen.
 
For Gilbert Lamberson, who is gravely ill, that God would send His holy angels to watch over him
 
For President Dale Meyer and the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis that God the Lord would strengthen them in their calling to form pastors for the holy church
For all those who cannot see beyond the seen, that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of all those who see blindly
 
For the Nicaragua mission team of Memorial Lutheran Church, as they return home today, that their travels would be safe and homecomings joyful
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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