Simon Bowkett's Podcast

4. Transcendence for our Era of Anxiety - John 11:40

January 29, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Show Notes Transcript

         •        Introduction

Did you ever wonder why people ever start doing drugs?

Or go searching for answers in the bottom of a bottle (or two … or a few?)

What is it with these addictions to alcohol or video games or pornography or … crack cocaine?

I mean … it isn’t healthy so you’ve got to ask why do people (why DO we) GO there?!

Yes, we have to admit, there is an extensive body of scholarly literature dealing with ‘the addictive personality’, but thirty odd years as a front-line sort of pastor leads me to think that all too often it starts (emphasis on ‘starts’) with people who just want to get out of their life for a bit.

Their life is anxiety-inducing and they don’t want to be there all the time.

Possibly their life is painfully, excruciatingly dull, boring, painful, difficult, or insignificant (delete as appropriate) and they long for some sort of experience that gets them out of there for a bit … that transcends it.

Or as my granny would say, that ‘takes you out of yourself for a bit’ … who KNOWS what did it for her, bless her - probably a cheeky glass of the cooking sherry while no-one was watching or something … but what I’m trying to establish is that we ALL have this tendency to need a bit of transcendence.

You see, the antidote to that sense your life is mind-crushingly mundane is not ultimately a hobby, or a hard night out, or a trip to the seaside.

The ultimate antidote to dull, grey and boring is not interest or diversion but GLORY!

And, oh my, the Christian Easter hope has got oodles of transcendence and Glory!

         •        Transcending the weedy Garden that was Eden 

We’re going to come to the implications … but first we need to set the foundations of those in some theology.

Now look, the thing is, we are so used to things being the way we see them (earth-bound, frustrating, dull, painful) that this first bit is going to sound a bit weird.

But different from what we’re used to is what we’re looking for … taking us OUT of our little lives for a bit … isn’t it?

So just pull up your thinking chair and let’s grasp some foundational theology here for a minute.

(It shouldn’t hurt).

In John 11 in the account of the raising of Lazarus Jesus drops us a golden nugget.

What happens is that Jesus rocks up outside the tomb His friend Lazarus has been buried in for three days now and in the presence of the family He says: ‘Open the door’.

Now, of course, the deceased’s sister Martha objects from an earth-bound view of the situation that you can’t do that because Lazarus has already been dead three days and in THAT climate in particular there’ll be quite a pong.

Jesus’s viewpoint is not earth-bound and we read this:

“Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?””

John 11:40

Now, the raising of Lazarus which is about to follow on from that verse is a miracle done to illustrate Jesus’s teaching the He is (Himself) the Resurrection and the Life.

And of course He goes on to demonstrate that resurrection resides in Himself when He is raised not by someone else but as One Who has life in Himself.

There’s the thing.

His resurrection deals not just with our anxiety-inducing fear of death, but it also brings Heaven to earth.

As Tim Keller writes “It {the resurrection} reunites people with the Glory of God. This is one of the most important themes that run through the Scripture” (He says).

So, how do you figure that out, Tim?

Well, he figures it like this, firstly from the Old Testament:


            •          Old Testament origins

In the Garden of Eden people walked with God, enjoyed His presence and saw His Glory UNVEILED.

God’s Glory wasn’t veiled until sin came into the world and then the God of Glory had to withdraw and hide His face from the now sinful human race, and He had to do this because seeing His Glory face to face would destroy humanity along with their sin.

Humanity was banished from God’s presence in Eden (which … incidentally … was laid out very much like the floor plan of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and then later the Jerusalem Temple ).

A flanking sword (of justice) was set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24) as a stunning representation that sin left a debt to be paid and that the penalty for sin is death.

The way back into the presence of the God of Glory was blocked by the Justiciar’s sword.

No way back into experiencing God’s transcendent Glory remained, without going under the sword.

This idea pops up again when the Israelites have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and made it across to Mount Sinai where God led them, so that they could meet with Him.

At Sinai the raw, unmediated presence of God was just too much for the people and they begged God would NOT speak to them “or we will die” … such was the weight of the distant appearance of God’s transcendent Glory to sinful flesh (Exodus 20:19).

But in that rear-ward shrinking mass of humanity there was one person who was willing to approach the lightning and smoke-shrouded mountain and the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:21).

Moses wanted MORE of God’s glorious presence not less of it, asking God in Exodus 33:18 quite directly:

“Now show me your Glory”.

But God replied (Exodus 33:20) 

““you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

The way back to the sort of experience humanity had in the Garden was NOT open … it was still blocked by the Cherubim and their flaming sword.

Moses still wants the presence of the God of Glory (literally Moses says, His ‘face’) to go with the Israelites on their journey forward from Mount Sinai so God gives them instructions on how to build His mobile ‘sanctuary’ and carry it off with them into the Wilderness … the tent where the people could draw near to meet with God but with adequate safeguards from the searing Glory of His presence in place to protect their sinful flesh.

The passage that deals with this most clearly is in Exodus 25:17-22

““Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.”

Now, that Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Jerusalem Temple that followed after it shared many of their design features with the Garden of Eden itself.

If you look at the design of the Garden of Eden you’ve got a larger outer area that’s Called Eden.

Then in Eden, God plants a Garden.

And then in the centre of that Garden God plants … the Tree of Life.

And the Tabernacle/ Temple also has this outer court, an inner court (paralleling the garden God planted within Eden for His pre-Fall people to be with Him in) and then there’s the Holy of Holies where the atonement cover was to deal with the sin that caused death and give life (paralleling the Tree of Life in Eden).

Now, over the atonement place … the place that gave life in place of death … the Tabernacle and then the Temple had the Cherubim and the sword set over the top guarding as it were the entrance to Eden and its Tree of Life.

In fact, all around the place the Tabernacle/ Temple had carved around it (on walls, pillars, furniture and curtains) things like palm trees, pomegranates, animals and flowers that evoked the original Garden of God

There are places in the Bible that depict the Garden of Eden as being on a high mountain (the place where earth meets Heaven) and the Temple was famously to be located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

There are LOADS of these parallels!

When Adam and Eve were put into the Garden of Eden they were to ‘work’ and to ‘keep’ the Garden which are the same words used to describe what the priests were later set apart to do in the Tabernacle

There’s a lot more that could be said about this but if you feel like looking into it you can find some good stuff both in Tim Keller’s ‘Hope in a time of Fear’ and in the Bible Project’s short video ‘Royal Priests of Eden’. 

The conclusion that gets drawn these days about Tabernacle and Temple is, therefore, that these were the initial re-establishment of God’s place for dwelling on earth.

Deuteronomy 12:4 makes it clear that the people of Israel were not to worship anywhere and anyhow they saw fit (like the nations around them) but that the Tabernacle and the Temple were the places to go, with their established pattern of prescribed worship, because THAT’s where the throne room of the sanctuary of their God was located on earth … the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.

That, they were taught, was the one place on earth where God’s Glory and His Name routinely dwelt.

It was where His shekinah cloud rested.

So (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) as Solomon’s Temple is being dedicated as the place where God’s presence would be particularly located and where He would ‘dwell’ …

“When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,

 

‘He is good;

    his love endures for ever.’”

 

It was the ONE place that Heaven and earth touched.

But still, just as with Moses and the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Glory of God’s holiness remained hidden … it lay behind the veil in the sanctuary behind which no sinner could stray and still live.

As Tim Keller puts it in this book coming out close to Easter:

“The Tabernacle brought God nearer but still no-one could see His Glory and live.”

(Keller: Hope in Times of Fear p. 45)

Solomon built a permanent place for God’s Glory to be present, but he wasn’t the Son of David prophesied to undo the Fall and restore Eden.

His Temple was destroyed at the Fall of Jerusalem, and then the prophets of the Exile prophesied a new David to rebuild the Temple meeting place with God, with His Glory filling it (Ezekiel 48:3) … a place so large that all the nations of the earth would enter it.

But in Ezra 3, when the exiles returned and rebuilt the Temple, and then those who could remember the splendour of Solomon’s Temple saw the rebuild of Ezra’s day they WEPT … this newly rebuilt temple was NOT the one the Exilic prophets had prophesied (see Haggai 2:1-8).

That prophesied new temple awaited the age when the Messiah would come.

But that new location for God’s presence, the place where Heaven and Earth touch and meet, that place to experience true transcendence … was NOT where the Old Testament people had imagined it would be.

Jacob’s ladder was to be most amazingly located.

So those are the Old Testament foundations, let’s come to the New Testament Inauguration of all this.


            •          New Testament inauguration

As it picks up this thread of Old Testament prophecies the New Testament (in this case in John 1:14) makes the shock revelation that when Christ became flesh He TABERNACLED among us … and as had occurred with the dedication of the Tabernacle then several Temples “we beheld His Glory”.

The Glory there (an inalienable attribute of God Himself, by the way) belongs to Christ … it is HIS Glory.

The Glory of God was located, sitting in, hovering over, the flesh and blood Jesus, the Christ.

Hebrews 1:3 picks up this thread, telling us that 

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

You see, Jesus doesn’t just have or bring God’s Glory.

He IS God’s Glory … He reveals and shows up with (in His very essence) God’s Glory in Himself.

But there’s more.

In the second chapter of John’s amazing Gospel Jesus throws the unreconstructed capitalists out of the Temple and when questioned as to what right he had to do this he replies:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

 

20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

John 2:19-22

Now, it seems that not even Jesus’ disciples knew what He was talking about there, but it looks as if He was saying that when He’d been raised from the dead He would BE the new Temple, the ‘place’ where Heaven met earth and people could meet with God … to which the previous Tabernacle and Temples had been pointing all along.

He is the great High Priest Who went under the flaming sword of the Cherubim to pay the price of sin so that people could meet God.

He bridges the gap to God’s Glory, but He does that as the One Who IS God’s Glory in Himself … no one has said anything like THAT before.

So when we are united to Christ by faith we connect with the transcendent Glory of God … because it is in Christ.

Moses unrealised YEARNING to see the light of God’s Glory, to see God’s face (as Moses prays in Exodus 33:18), is now our post-resurrection privilege …

So as John 1:14 puts it:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Or as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:6

“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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

And it is because Christ is the final Temple, and because we are in Christ, that we too are the final Temple … the ‘Living Stones’ in it (1 Peter 2:4-10).

Tim Keller puts it neatly:

“All the lines and themes of the Temple converge on Jesus - he is the sacrifice, the priest, the altar, the light, the bread, the blood of purification, the Shekinah glory. For all the promises of God become yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).”

This finally makes sense of one of the closing verses of the Bible in Revelation 21:22-23 where John writes of His vision of Glory:

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.”

Now look, there’s the theology and I KNOW that it is mind-blowing stuff, revealing the long-distance purpose of God to restore not just contact but relationship between earth-bound humanity and its glorious God, and to restore them to the condition that they were in at the first.

Let’s very much more quickly see what sort of things grow from this deep theological foundation about transcendent experience of the Glory of God for His New Covenant people … this is NOT an exhaustive analysis, not is this perfectly experienced yet - you can go on working the implications out for yourself in the inaugurated but not yet fully realised Kingdom of God.


            •          Glory for the Individual

There’s this stupendous truth, then: Jesus has brought Heaven and the individual together.

That’s the super-transcendent reality, because it takes us right out of this world in ways that sex, drink and drugs can never do for us.

We’re not talking about a temporary high that drops you back bruised and aching on the mat.

Moses first had an experience of the presence of God at a bush that was burned but not consumed.

How does that work?

It ‘worked’ because what Moses recognised as fire was the bright shining Glory of God.

Moses again saw that fire and smoke descend at Mt. Sinai, and because He recognised it (unlike the mass of the people at the base of the mountain) he wanted to get right up close and look into it, only to be put off from that by God Who told him (Exodus 33:20) “you cannot see my face”.

This wasn’t just curiosity in Moses.

The Hebrew idiom ‘to see someone’s face’ meant to have intimate fellowship with them.

You see, in Eden humanity had that intimate fellowship with God.

We were CREATED for that primary relationship.

It is in THAT relationship that humanity was designed to find its ultimate self-transcendence.

Tim Keller (p. 49) gives us something poignant on this yearning for transcendence thing, which really needs a bit of thinking about.

He writes:

“Because of sin, the one thing that we most need - the presence and Glory of God - becomes the one thing we most fear and avoid. That is, according to the Bible, the human condition.”

In the light of all we’ve said about the Old Testament anticipations of this, what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 & 4:6 is extraordinary:

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

 

“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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

 

Now, of course, we don’t yet have a PHYSICAL sight of Christ … in the already we have a faith-sight of Him not a realised physical sight of His Glory …

But in prayer, through the Holy Spirit Who the Risen Christ sent, as we ponder and meditate on God’s Word, it is possible to get such a faith-sight of Christ’s glory and beauty that our own hearts are transformed, reproducing a little of His goodness, love, wisdom, joy and peace in us. 

That is the PRACTISING Christian’s transcendent individual experience of reality.


            •          Glory in the Church

Whilst the Scriptures do speak of individual Christians as temples, filled with the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6 is clear on this), it also sees the church TOGETHER as being the corporate Temple of God.

So 1 Peter 2: 5 says “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The tenses there tend to indicate that this is a progressive thing … a process in the here and now … 

The upshot is that Scripture anticipates that the Glory of God coming to earth in the RESURRECTED Christ not only produces radically changed individuals, but radically changed togetherness … a new kind of human community as Eden gets restored post-Fall and post- Cain and Abel.

As Philippians 3 indicates in all that it says about our citizenship being in Heaven, the church is to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God, an earth-located but not an earthly minded colony of Heaven.

This experience in fellowship also transcends our earth-bound realities.

And then the Glory of God residing in the resurrected Christ also whispers promise of …


            •          Glory for the World

In the Old Testament prophets there is a pattern of thought that theologians describe as ‘New Exodus Typology’.

The basic idea is that God will come and show Himself glorious by turning back the effects of sin in Creation, making the desert bloom and the parched land become fruitful.

And in Psalm 72 this shows itself as the era the coming King Who will rule to the ends of the earth (v. 8) for as long as the sun and moon shine (v. 5).

He is the One Who will come to rescue them from oppression and violence and take pity on the weak and the needy (vv. 13-14)

And when that happens the Psalm says:

“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does marvellous deeds.

19 Praise be to his glorious name for ever;

    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.”

You see, the response of the world to seeing the glories of the Kingdom of God, in mercy and release for the needy and the oppressed, is that His Creatures join the chorus: to praise His Name and seek that the whole earth will be filled with His Glory.

His Glory … manifested in blessings for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor, and by them being treated justly and fairly.

That’s not exactly what we see at the moment, is it, and we cry out at the sad effects in the world and on our lives when people are NOT taken up with God’s Glory but with ‘making a name for themselves’(Genesis 11:4) just like those people building a tower at Babel to see if they could create their own transcendence by joining together Heaven and Earth by themselves.

They were living for their own Glory not God’s, which even in our ‘technological’ and ‘scientific’ enlightened era only ever leads to conflict and exploitation.

Here’s the thing.

The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t only offer personal forgiveness for my sins and open Heaven for me when I die … although that on its own would be great!

It means more.

Christ has in fact been raised as well as laying down His life for sin, and He is the first-fruits of a renewed creation where righteousness dwells because its ruler is righteous in Himself to the roots of His being.

The full realisation of that is in the ‘not yet’, but the working towards all of that is very definitely in the ‘already’ of the life of the Kingdom of God.

The Glory of the resurrection also impacts our world.

But here in conclusion is the big take away thought.

This all arises because in His resurrection, it is JESUS Who is the stairway to Heaven.

In spite of the words of Led Zep’s 1971 rock anthem Stairway to Heaven, you can’t buy yourself a stairway to Heaven.

Jesus is the stairway that brings God and Mankind together, the One Who brings God’s Glory down to us by the power of His resurrection … and here’s how it works.

         •        Conclusion: Jesus is the stairway to Heaven

Do you remember in John 1:47-51 when Jesus saw Nathaniel coming and said: ‘Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit’?

And Nathaniel said something like ‘You don’t know me! How do you know ME?’

And Jesus said he’d seen Nathaniel (supernaturally by the look of it) when before this episode Nathaniel had been away somewhere sitting under a fig tree.

Now, that was enough for Nathaniel to declare Jesus to be ‘the Son of God, the coming King of Israel’.

So the Lord asked Nathaniel if he now believed because Jesus had just told him about where he’d been previously sitting, and Jesus went on to say that there was much more to come … giving him the following example of some of that ‘much more’ to come.

Now here’s the important bit:

“‘Very truly I tell you (plural), 

you (plural again - this is NOT just about Nathaniel) will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’”

(John 1:51)

Significantly, Jesus is describing a great manifestation of His transcendent Glory as the One Who enables earth to meet Heaven … but it’s a reference back to a very unworthy person being shown it.

Now Jacob was a liar and a cheat … he lied to his aged blind father and deceived him to cheat his brother Esau out of Esau’s inheritance and blessing, and he did it as his father lay on his death bed.

Not a nice man.

And when that all unravelled on him, Jacob fled into the desert without a home or a friend in the world and lay down in the desert to sleep with no shelter and only a rock for his pillow.

As he lay there, he had a dream - God gave him a vision - of a giant staircase reaching from the earth up to Heaven, with angels (who in the Bible brought the message and the presence of God’s throne-room to earth) ascending and descending on that stairway.

Jacob hadn’t repented (yet) of his wrongdoing, but here was a connection for him between Heaven and earth, a passage offered from the mundane to transcendent reality.

And here’s Jesus referring to that offer of transcendence to, let’s say, an unworthy person if ever there was one … and saying ‘Nathaniel, that ladder raising unworthy people from the crushing mundane-ness of their lives in sin, that ladder from here to eternal transcendence, it is ME’.

He is not saying He can show Nathaniel the way to that staircase.

He is saying ‘Nathaniel, the staircase IS me.’

If that can happen for Jacob, then for us too … all us who are our own ‘Jacob’ in our own particular way …  there is abundant and infinite hope.

Even we can know Heaven on earth, the glory and power of God being ‘earthed’ in OUR lives.

And that is Christianity’s supreme transcendent reality.