The Face of God

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The ancient blessing from God contained the words: “The Lord make His face shine on you . . . The Lord turn His face toward you . . .”  (Numbers 6:26). In the terminology of the Old Testament, to “turn one’s face toward” someone was to signify favor and blessing from the greater to the lesser.  A king might show favor to a trusted soldier or advisor and shower him with gifts and position—he had turned his face toward him.  It was a mutual benefit as the king gained greater loyalty from the one he favored.  For the nation of Israel, the God of heaven and earth turned His face toward them and promised His blessing, His grace, and His peace (see vs. 24-26).  This weary group had just escaped from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery.  They had nothing to offer that would garner His favor, they had no country of their own, no wealth or treasure, and no political or military power.  When God turned His face toward them, it was purely an act of unmerited favor on the part of the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the favor of the Creator poured out on us, His creation.  We celebrate the gift of His mercy and His grace given in the Baby in the manger. Our celebrations are meager compared to this gift. We hang lights in our homes to honor the Light of the World.  We give gifts just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.  We sing songs remembering the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  We rejoice at the Joy of the shepherds who first saw this wondrous gift from heaven.

But let us not forget that God showed His highest favor toward us at Calvary.  The gift given at Jesus’ birth was made complete in His sacrifice.  At the cross, the Father turned His away from His one and only Son so that He might turn His face toward sinful humanity – toward you, Beloved – and give you peace.  It is the highest act of benevolence and it is the greatest gift you will ever be given.

Love, Sweet Love

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“What the world needs now

Is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing

That there’s just too little of

What the world needs now

Is love, sweet love

No, not just for some

But for everyone”

This 1965 hit song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and first recorded by Jackie DeShannon is the cry of every person’s heart. And it’s not a new concept. It’s an age-old yearning. The Bible says, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). We clamor for it, run after it, turn our lives upside down for it, and sadly, even kill for it. And we miss it unless we look to Calvary.

Love, sweet love, is only found at the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul said “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Even when we did not love God, He loved us and sent His one and only Son to die that we might live forever with Him. What sweeter love is there than this? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What greater love could you ask for but the love of God in the death of His Son for you?

We’re just a few days away from Valentine’s Day when we express our romantic affections for our beloved with flowers and chocolates. But God expressed His love for you and me one dark Friday afternoon on a hill just outside of Jerusalem. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s love, sweet love. For everyone.

Two Hearts at Calvary

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In the midst of the crowd of people at Golgotha that day stood a mother with a broken heart. In the halls of heaven, amid the angels and the saints, the Father’s heart surely broke as well. As the soldier’s sword pierced the side of Jesus, a sword of grief and pain pierced the heart of Mary as she watched her son die. Though the face of God the Father turned away from Jesus, I suspect the same sword that pierced Mary’s heart likely pierced the great heart of God. A mortal woman and an immortal and eternal God, bound by the love only a mother and Father shared over their son. A life’s journey that began before time, in the heart of God. A life’s journey that began in a stable in the heart of a young woman.

Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus, the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, within the familiar Christmas story of angels and wise men and shepherds, we learn something about the mother of Jesus. Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Every mother understands, to a degree, how we treasure the sight and sound and smell of our newborn baby. But for Mary, this was so much more than just the birth of her son. This was wonder. This was awe. For she had been told that her baby was to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Angles proclaimed His birth. Shepherds left their flocks and came to see this newborn King, then joyfully spread the news to everyone they met.

We find Mary again, tucking away treasures about her son in her heart, in the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Frantic worry and fear about His absence from their group gave way to that same awe and wonder at the wisdom of her child, and His passion to be in the house of His Father. Luke repeats the phrase, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  I imagine that, through the years, Mary added more and more to the treasury in her heart.   She knew her son was more than a flesh-and-blood man-child. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Deliverer of God’s people.

And what can we say about the heart of His Father? Can anyone describe the heart of God? A mother’s heart I can understand. Even the heart of a human father is not unique to us. But the heart of the God of Heaven and Earth? Vast. Eternal. Unyielding. Yet still, this was His Son. Surely we can say that the love God held for Jesus must have been beyond the scope of human comprehension. If the love God has for us, His creation is more than we can fathom, how much greater His love for His Son? He did not have to tuck treasures away in His heart, for He had perfect knowledge and remembrance; yet I image – just me thinking mind you – that He rejoiced over every moment of Jesus’ earthly life.

Until now. Until the cross. Until His mother and His Father witnessed the gruesome and cruel death of the son they both loved.

I wonder if Mary, watching her son’s life ebb away, took out those precious treasured memories of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe and tried to understand how this infant she bore could be the hated, dying criminal hanging before her. Was this really her child? Did she look at his hair, matted with blood from the thorns and recall pushing that same hair from His eyes? Did she remember how those hands held tightly to hers as they went to the market together?  The hands that were now nailed to the wood? Did she wonder, “How will he save anyone now?” The Son of God, the Messiah – battered, broken and bleeding. The light in His eyes dimmed as He surrendered His Spirit and died.

How much more was the Father’s heart in heaven breaking? If the love God had for His Son was multiplied to the nth degree, how much more His grief? And then, the Father did the hardest thing imaginable. He turned away from the sight of His Son, for in that moment, all the sin and shame and filth of mankind was cast upon Jesus. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. David’s sin. Peter’s sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the generations yet to come. The sin of all humanity for all time was heaped upon Jesus, and the Father turned away. Matthew 27: 46 records Jesus’ mournful cry: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet Jesus knew why. It was the plan of the ages to redeem mankind from sin and death. They had prepared for this from before time began. Prepared, but still shattered by grief.

Mary grieved for her son. Surely God grieved as He turned away from the sin His beloved Son bore.

Two broken hearts, forever entwined by love for the God-man who died at Calvary that day.