RPM, Volume 18, Number 12, March 13 to March 19, 2016

To See or Not to See

By Darren Edgington

It is winter. The leaves have long since left their perch atop the high places. How the mighty have fallen, only now to become a part of the lowly foliage — the carpet on which the woods wipes its feet. Dormant. Like vanquished foes in a far off land - they lay scattered, never to rise. Now they are twice dead, doubly disgraced, squashed under the annual compactor we call snow.

Trees are naked in the wind, exposed, shivering with each gust. Their glory has departed.

The uniformity of the snow is like a cheap paint job — every room is smeared over with the same shade of white. The most recent deposit is thick, blanketing over a multitude of distractions. Obstacles that formerly forbade clearer sight are tucked away like boxes of khaki shorts.

Over the crisp roll of white I can gaze past the large field and peer through the naked trees without even being distracted by their bare legs. Past the meadow I clearly see the formerly obscured outline of three of my neighbor's homes.

And as evening's sackcloth falls over the valley, an irony occurs. I can actually see more. Each house is silhouetted with a ghostly aura.

With a glance you can instinctively guess whether anyone is home. The plume from their chimney rolls out like an old man enjoying his favorite pipe after dinner, filling the air with wisps of gray and the faint aroma of cherry blend. The glow emanating from their windows across a sea of crystals indicates that there are living beings nestled inside, surviving the icy blast like chipmunks burrowed deep inside a hollow log.

The evidence is undeniable. Just look across that field. The neighbors are at home.

In the days of Israel's wilderness wanderings, the omnipresent God condescended and tangibly showed His presence. Day after day they could just look up like little children and receive a visible expression of assurance. They may question the comings and goings in the tent next door, but they could never doubt whether God was at home:

"For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel." (Exodus 40:38 NASB)

Like a boy putting bricks under his desk to be lifted up to be seen by all, God pitched His tent dead center in the middle of their camp. An Israelite would need to make an effort not to see His place. And there was no need of a neon light from a cheap motel. You could look and see whether or not this residence was occupied.

God was always there. Right there. You could point at the location with your finger. It is the large tent with a noticeable anomaly.

Just look at that otherworldly glow against the night sky. It is a scene that would surely make a great Miller beer commercial: "It just doesn't get any better than this." Everything seems so good. So right.

In a nostalgic moment we might wish for such tangible expressions. We might long to return so we might take up residence with Israel, and behold with our eyes. Like former high school sports heroes we might pull out our old letter jacket and dream about the good old days. "Back then" becomes a way of exaggerating former glory days when all things were peachy and a gallon of gas was just fifteen cents.

But God is not pleased when His people yearn for what is inferior. It is like craving milk that expired two weeks ago. It shouldn't be done.

People are prone to be nostalgic. As they wax eloquent about bygone eras, the hearer often doubts the veracity of the tale. It is hard to believe that someone really preferred the hot summers in a horse-drawn wagon, even though they recall such times with an animated breathlessness that makes Marilyn Monroe jealous. It is especially hard to believe when they are recalling the bygone story as they presently ride upon plush seats inside their air-conditioned Cadillac (all the while their story is peppered with complaints about "the blasted heat!")

Christians can parrot Bruce Springstein and sing about the glory days of Israel. But that

is not God's perspective on any of the revelation that preceded Christ.

It is offensive to yearn for a former good when God has purposively replaced it with a great. And God's great is so superior that He will not permit the silliness of pining for days gone by.

This progressive viewpoint is one of the central themes of the book of Hebrews. We must not ignore the way the New Testament writings tell us to approach the Old.

John describes God the Word coming to us in theologically rich words from bygone days: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14 NASB). This is God's great! God has "tented among us" in a superlative manner that makes all prior revelation unimpressive and inferior.

Redemption history progressively unveiled. So did God. The shadowy Trinity became an expressed clarity. Many former diversions were systematically removed. And in the fullness of time, God in a tent gave way to God in a man.

This massive step forward changes everything, dwarfing the impact of Neil Armstrong's boot print in the dust of the moon.

Types weren't meant to last. A type typifies something else — something greater. Types and shadows had their day on the stage, like an opening act filled with secondary characters.

Jesus has come. It is fitting that types pass away like the fading print of a newspaper advertisement as it is being consumed in the burn barrel. When all the Old Testament smoke cleared, there was Jesus. He is the intended fulfilling end, God's telos. He is what all of the former anticipatory things anticipated! "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Sadly, contemporary Christians often fail to appreciate this. We play the part of paupers who dream of a literalistic day ahead without grasping the true significance of what has come in Jesus. We can even be unhappy with God's answer, His Son. We squirm to find room for something else, something more.

We are like a child that is unhappy with his Christmas presents and scans the room on a constant vigil. Perhaps there is something more. It may even be that coveted Red Rider BB gun.

This unsettled craving is vibrantly displayed in the eschatological madness that pervades the modern church. Instead of a last days hope that stands firmly upon Jesus' past coming and then anticipates His glorious appearing, the person of Jesus gets lost in a flagrant overemphasis on peripheral details.

The church is busy, but much of the activity is little more than reading tea leaves by reading blogs and listening to cable news mongers. An interpretive model that has spread like a virus instructs believers to evaluate modern culture through the thin pages of a well-worn Scofield Reference Bible. If you really study those notes, you will be alerted to the multiplicity of signs in our time that point to the end of the world! The Biblical text on the same page . . . well, that is nice too.

Sadly, much of this last days insanity is birthed from a refusal to heartily "Amen" what God says He has accomplished in Christ. With charts and graphs in hand, we sleuth our way backward into the former days of tents and types, refusing to let God exalt the answer key that is His Son.

After the display of glory in the transfiguration, there was one solitary figure "with us": God the Son in our flesh, there to perform what only He can do — the ultimate exodus for sinners in Jerusalem. Moses and Elijah are there to discuss the game plan, not to compete with the only player on the court.

A hut for Moses and Elijah? May it never be! And while we are removing silly ideas, why not remove all notions of a hut for Jesus, or a tent, or even a temple! The law and the prophets perform their rightful role when they testify of Him. Both figureheads bow low and magnify the supremacy of the Christ of God. All of the Old Testament writers shouted in affirmation as the Father jubilantly proclaimed, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"

After the awesome sights of blazing glory, after hearing the audible voice of the Father from heaven, and after the disciples were assisted by Jesus to get up from the ground, no one was left "except Jesus Himself alone" (Matthew 17:8 NASB). Much later these same disciples understood, and they wrote. And their written testimony declares that having Him supersedes all they ever imagined.

The Bible will never be rightly comprehended apart from a robust view of the fulfillment that is Christ. The whole Book is unashamedly Christocentric.

But instead of letting our interpretations be ruled by the crisp revelation of God's Word about Christ, we can shrink into the fuzziness of yesteryear and utilize what Graeme Goldsworthy calls a "crass literalism". With both hands firmly clenched over our eyes, we can refuse to acknowledge that the crassly real predictions evaporated before the blaze of a superior fulfillment - God dwelt among us, died for us, then smashed death and hell in the mouth when He rose up out of the grave on the third day in victory. God's "great" is better than anyone ever expected.

Without apology, the New Testament writers assert that the entire thing has always been all about Jesus. In their minds, He is unquestionably more than enough.

But is He?

What is it that causes us to pine after former days of seeing, much like a jilted lover holds a faded photograph and aches for just one more kiss?

Why do we read of the stories about the visible manifestations in the midst of Israel and long to be back there to see it all?

Let's face it. We really just want to see. We can even dreamily contemplate that such seeing would be better for us.

But, contrary to what we might think is best, God chose that most people would not even see Jesus when He first came to us.

It amazes me that God did not display Himself to the masses when He came in the flesh. He didn't even make a courtesy visit to the North American Indian tribes (contrary to Mormon mythology).

To compound matters, when He was here Jesus spoke strangely. As the embodiment of the wisdom of God, He used parables that concealed their content to the majority of hearers. Modern educators would shake a rebuking finger at such things! He didn't appear to care.

When Jesus demonstrably praises His Father, it is for performing an upside-down feat that doesn't make the final copy in popular literature about His teaching style:

At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight." (Luke 10:21 NASB)

The secrets of the kingdom were just that, secrets. Jesus often drew away from the masses and only then revealed the hidden meaning to a small remnant whose eyes were blessed to see and ears were blessed to hear.

In reality, Jesus' public ministry was only a very short duration of time on a very small part of this very huge planet. And although He was a demonstration of miracle power almost everywhere He went, He did not go everywhere. He did not show Himself to everyone. The audacity of it all!

We might have a hard time with God's quirkiness and selectivity, but He is not quick to fix what we perceive as a problem. Jesus said it was well-pleasing for the Father to conceal Himself from many. It made Him happy to do it this way. It may not be well-pleasing to us, but our good pleasure and His are often far apart.

When God condescended and pitched His tent in flesh among men, He obscured its location. He didn't even put his name on his mailbox in Nazareth.

John the Baptist's early declaration represents what is actually the rarity. John does see Him. He speaks for the remnant that by God's grace behold the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we need to remember that John only partially got it, and later questioned whether he was right about this whole Jesus as the Messiah thing.

Despite the disciples' unremitting dullness, and despite all appearances to the contrary, this Jesus of Nazareth without outward form or majesty really is the promised One. He really is God with us. He doesn't glow in the night sky so you can locate Him, but to a chosen few He is progressively revealed to be the Christ. And to fulfil all righteousness, the Christ is also God's Servant, the suffering One. The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Some were chosen, regardless of their lack of awareness, to see this history unfold. We are not such eyewitnesses.

It is not given for all of us to see in this same way. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy — and His mercy to the apostles was specific to their calling. Ironically, this hand-selected group rarely even understood Jesus while He was with them on earth. While seeing, they rarely perceived.

You and I would not have been any better off if we would have observed it all. If we saw it, we would likely have missed it. So much for yearning for those good old days!

But Paul Harvey would step in at this point and remind us there is a "rest of the story". When the promised Spirit came, He fulfilled Jesus' prophecy: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26 NASB). These words were spoken to His chosen apostles, and they happened.

We have these teachings of Christ given by the Spirit in the apostolic writings. In them we have a historical witness of what was heard and seen. And just as importantly, we have an inspired interpretation of these sayings and events so we might understand the implications of the fullness of time that has come in Christ.

God tells us how to understand Jesus. God's audacity makes us Americans squirm like a boy in church with a hand-me-down suit and ill-fitting shoes. We are uncomfortable with the whole process. We want to vote on this thing.

Motion denied. God is not very democratic.

Despite our sense that God is overstepping His bounds, He remains the only true and living God. And what this God demands of all men everywhere is that they repent and believe the good news as He has decided to bring it to us.

We are not called to "see" Christ as we would behold a physical tent in the center of town. That would be to go back in history. It would be to revert. This has already been done.

No, our call is actually contrary to what is natural. We cannot currently see Jesus in history being lifted up as a serpent in the wilderness. In fact we are not to succumb to our fleshly need to see. Contrary to the natural, the Christian life is characterized as a walk of faith. This is an intentional contrast to a walk of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

As redemption history disrobed of types and shadows and in the fullness of time became uniquely clear, once and for all pinpointed in the person of Jesus, so did God's clarion call for His desired response. The New Testament expressly states that which has always been implied. We are to believe in this fullness of time Immanuel

The command to trust this Biblical God who likes to dwell among His people is not a new commandment. Rather, this is just an ancient truth now made much more clear. God's heralding for us to believe has morphed upward from 8-point font on standard letterhead to a huge lighted Jumbotron in Times Square.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! The New Testament's insistence is like a scratched record on an old phonograph that just skips back to play the same thing over and over again. If it weren't so important, one might accuse God of being unnecessarily redundant.

The repeated imperative is intentional. God's desire is not for us to see. It is for us to believe, even while we do not see.

Why does God place such a value upon this faith that has no ability to rest upon the input of the senses?

When we trust even when we do not see, we make much of the worthiness of the real, though presently unseen, Christ. And this glorifies God.

The grandstands in heaven erupt when God's people trust His provision made in His time and His way. God highly values God-exalting faith. Thus, He will even put His people to the test through trials so that our refined faith that is "more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7 NASB).

God shows off to the principalities and powers, and He loves to brag about His people that continue to trust Him even when they don't see.

Yearning to live back in the good old "Bible times", or whining for some current fleece to be wet in the morning, both express a bratty unbelief that demands to see. Instead of this God-diminishing unbelief, we are to live with confidence that God is with us because of what He has already done.

We are not called to look across the field to see if we think there might be a sign that He might be home. Such signs will often evade our senses.

Those who know our God best will testify with Isaiah, "Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!" (Isaiah 45:15 NASB). Often the particular providence we are living through will seem to declare that the only One who can save us is not at home! No plume of smoke. No lights. Nothing for the senses. Not one single thing.

Looking into the pervasive darkness, we might suppose that the absence of signs means that God abandoned us and moved to a distant city, or even another planet. And He didn't care to leave a forwarding address!

William Cowper, a Christian who was familiar with such darkness, aptly stated in a hymn: "Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain." I would add from reading the Biblical account of Job that even hearty faith can sometimes scan God's providential work in vain.

Our rest must be found outside and above our circumstances, and even beyond our subjective faith.

We dare not trust our blind unbelief, or even our subjective experience of belief. We dare not trust our wiles to discern the paths of providence that defy being traced out. We dare not trust even the "sweetest frame" of our emotional life. We dare not trust our natural senses.

No! We need Divine communication about what assuredly has happened in Christ. We need a Word outside of our own self about the finished work of the Savior, accomplished outside of ourselves. We need constant reminder from above that the Light we seek is otherworldly. Solace will not be found in our seeing or in things that are seen.

Faith looks upward to the God who definitively broke through the barriers and came to us, in order to be with us. He is our Immanuel who eternally lives . . . the One with our names inscribed into His real human hands. You can trust a crucified and risen Savior to keep His promise never to leave, never to forsake . . . even when you cannot see a thing.

"Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." (John 20:28 NASB)

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