The Face of Jesus Christ
May 28th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
2 Corinthians 4:6
THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 4:6
5-28-67 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Face of Jesus Christ. The text is 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 6, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Some time ago I preached a sermon on this beautiful text entitled The Knowledge of the Glory of God. This is a second message prepared in the concluding words of the verse, "the face of Jesus Christ."
It is an unusual and an astonishing thing that there is no description of any part of the physical form of our Lord in the days of His flesh, neither the color of His hair, the height of His stature. There is no description of any kind of our Savior in the days of His flesh. This, I would think, is a part of the planned revelation of God. How the Lord actually appeared is something spiritual; it is beyond a man’s ability to draw, or a poet’s ability to describe, or beyond a theologian’s presentation in thought or in sermon. Each one of us has in his mind, in his soul, a vision of the face of Jesus Christ. How did He look? How was it to be in His presence?
If the man were to stand before us, what was He like? We cannot say; God does not answer. It is a spiritual conception and all of us have it. When we pray, when we think about the Lord, when we envisage Him, to each one of us there comes a separate vision. But a true vision it is, "For God was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. [John 1:14] For the light that God commanded to "shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:6]
An artist one time, painted a picture of the Last Supper, and in his genius and in the gift of his superlative talent, he painted a beautiful chalice – the cup held in the hand of the Savior. And when the painting was presented, the people coming by looked upon it and without fail remarked upon the beautiful cup. After the presentation of the painting the artist, standing by and listening to the comment on the beautiful cup, after the people had gone he took a brush, he daubed it in paint and he smeared out the cup altogether, and said in disappointment, "They never saw the face of my Lord, only that cup."
In the Riverside Church in New York City are three Hofmann paintings. One is the original of "Christ in Gethsemane." A presentation, a representation of that painting is in that beautiful stained glass window at the front of our building. Another, and a second, is the rich young ruler, as he registers in his face that civil war in his heart, as he turns aside from the invitation of Christ to eternal life, having too much of the world in his heart. The third Hofmann painting in the church is of the Christ child in the temple at twelve years of age, standing with the doctors of the law. All three of those paintings are known to us. We have seen them all our lives, the original Christ in Gethsemane, the original Christ and the rich young ruler.
Then as I talked to the man in the church, "Is this also an original: the Christ child with the doctors of the law?" And he said, "Yes, and yet, no." He replied, "All that you see in the painting was done by the pupils, the students of the great master, all except one thing. The students, the pupils drew the doctors of the law and the temple background and all that you see except," he said, "the face of the Lord. The pupils, the students, finally came to the old master after they had tried and tried and tried, and said to him, ‘We cannot paint the face of Jesus.’ So the old master took his brush and his paints." And the man of the church said, "What you see in the picture, original, is the face of the child, the face of Jesus Christ." To every soul, there’s a vision. To every one of us, there’s a likeness. The glory of God shining through in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now the reason for the text is found in a story in the thirty-third and the thirty-fourth chapters of Exodus. And it is referred to in the previous chapter that the apostle Paul writes in the 2 Corinthian letter. The story in Exodus is when Moses went up to the top of the mount, there to commune with the Lord. When he came down from Mount Sinai, he wished not that the skin of his face shone. And the children of Israel could not look upon Moses because of the glory of God that shined in his face. So the story says in Exodus that Moses took a veil and covered his face that the children of Israel might not be blinded by the glory of God shining through.
Now the apostle Paul takes that story and he says that Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not look to the end of that which was abolished. For the glory of God that shined in the face of Moses was lessened and faded and died away. And using that as an illustration, he speaks of the glory of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ that never fades, that never dims, that never lessens, but abides forever.
I can conceive of the mountains and of the hills dissolving away. I can conceive of the rivers exhausting themselves in the plentitude and infinity of the sea. I can conceive of the stars waxing old like a garment and dying like a candle going out. I can conceive of the sun turning to cinders and to ashes. But I could never conceive of the revelation and the fullness and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ fading away. He is timeless and eternal and abreast of every century, and the promise and hope of the ages that are yet to come. After the sun has gone out and after the stars have faded away, Jesus the Christ will still be the glory and the revelation and the incarnation of God.
The stars shine over the land,
The stars shine over the sea,
The stars look down on you, and
The stars look down on me.
The stars have shined a billion years,
A billion years and a day,
But Christ and we shall live and love,
When the stars have faded away.
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 4:6]
Now I shall follow that text in the life of our Lord. First, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as He was transfigured. Three times are we told of the face of our Lord when deity shone through. And in all three instances, the same words and the same description is followed. First: on the mount, when Peter, James and John, and our Lord ascended to Mount Hermon. And there while they prayed, our Lord was transfigured before them. His raiment became white as no dyer, no fuller could whiten them, and His face became bright, shining like the sun. [Matthew 17:1-2]
A second time that is presented is in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Breathing out threatening and slaughter against the saints of the Lord, he made his way to Jerusalem to hale in to prison those who might call upon His name. And as he came nigh to the city of Damascus, there appeared before him Jesus of Nazareth. Above the brightness of the noonday Syrian sun and blinded by the glory of that light, he fell down to the ground. [Acts 9:1-4]
A third time our Lord is described in the glory of His countenance is in the first chapter of the Revelation when John, on the Isle of Patmos, heard a voice back of him as the sound of many waters, and turning to see the voice that spake unto him, he saw one like unto the Son of Man standing in the midst of the seven brass lampstands. "His head was white, white as snow; His eyes were as a flame of fire; His feet as fine brass that burned in a furnace." [Revelation 1:14-15] And his face like the sun shining in His strength. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," transfigured, glorified above the brightness of the meridian sun.
The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the face of our Lord in redeeming love. Would you not have loved to have seen our Savior as He took in His arms little children and blessed them? Or as He bent over a blind man or a palsied man or a crippled man and healed him? Or as He wept over Jerusalem or at the tomb of Lazarus, would you not have loved to have been there to see the look of compassionate sympathy in His face?
If an angel were to come to us and to say, "Any great personality of ancient history, upon any occasion in the long ago, I will let you see, look upon it." If an angel could give you such an opportunity, what would you choose? Oh, a ton of things comes into my soul as I review. Those mighty men of old, those giants of the day gone by and some of the great, moving, significant moments in their lives, to have been there to see, to listen, to look, think of it!
Socrates teaching young Plato, or Plato teaching young Aristotle, or Aristotle teaching young Alexander who became "the Great". Wherever Alexander went in his worldwide conquest, he took with him his old teacher Aristotle. They made the civilized world Greek. Think of being there and listening to those tremendous philosophers as the master taught his pupil.
Or think of being in an audience in a convocation in Athens, and listening to Demosthenes in his Philippics against Phillip of Macedonia. Think of being there and looking into the face of the most eloquent man who ever lived, think of it. Or think of Cicero in the Roman senate as he attacked Catiline; think of it. Or think of walking by the side of Caesar in his conquest of Gaul, or of Scipio over Hannibal. Think of some of those tremendous days and hours and personalities that lived in an ancient time. Of Nebuchadnezzar, as he stands on the top of his palace in Babylon. There before him the seventh wonder of the world, the Hanging Gardens, and as far as eye could see, the greatest city the world had ever seen. And listen to him as he says, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built with the might of my power and the majesty of my kingdom?" [Daniel 4:30] Think of it!
But out of all of these scenes of early life, out of all of the personages and personalities of an ancient day, if I had my choice, I’d pass every king by. I’d pass every ruler by. I would pass every one of the great heroes of the ancient day by. And if I had my choice, I would love to have been there when Jesus put His hands on the eyes of the blind, or when Jesus lifted up a cripple, or when Jesus cleansed a leper, or when Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"
Glorious in humility and in suffering agony, there is a passage in the Old Testament. All of us are familiar with the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." [Isaiah 53:6] But hardly any of us is aware of the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah, and here he mentions the face of our Lord. In the next to the last verse. "His visage was so marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men." [Isaiah 52:14] The face of Jesus Christ, and His countenance, His face "was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." The face of Jesus Christ in agony and in suffering and in the hours of His humility.
First, He was arrested and taken before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, then before Caiaphas, the high priest, then before the Sanhedrin where He was formally condemned to die. And in those hours He was buffeted and beat and blasphemed and insulted. There came one from this side and slapped Him on the face and said, "So you are a prophet? Tell me who slaps You!" And there came another from the other side and hit Him with the back of his hand. "So you are a prophet? Tell me my name; who am I that slaps You?"
And there came others and they plucked out His beard. And blood, of course, followed after as they jerked the beard from His face. And they smote Him, and beat Him, and as though blood and buffeting and fisticuffs were not enough, they spit upon Him. There flowed from His face blood mingled with spittle. "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." [Isaiah 52:14] And after His mockery and His buffeting, and His insulting by the Jewish rulers, then He was turned over to Pontius Pilate, who in turn laid Him in the hands of the Roman legions.
And they, delighting for an opportunity to show their contempt for the Jews, said, "So He is the king of the Jews? But a king must have a crown!" And they wove one out of thorns and pressed it on His head. "And a king must have a scepter!" And they got a reed and stuck it in His hand. "But a king must have a robe!" And they found a dirty, filthy, cast-off purple garment and put it around His shoulders. "And a king must have obeisance", and they bowed the knee and said, "Hail, king of the Jews!" and smote Him! Then taking off the purple robe and baring His naked back, they beat Him with scorpian, leather and lead. And blood flowed down to the pavement. "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." [Isaiah 52:14] Think of it, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, torn, buffeted, spit upon, humiliated, blasphemed, despised, outcast.
He hath no form nor comeliness;
And when we see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected of men;
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;,
He was despised, and we esteemed Him not."
The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But there is one other. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". Someday, some triumphant day, we shall see our glorious Lord in His appearing, in His coming, in His Kingdom. And in that day these who spit upon the Lord and who buffeted the Lord and who blasphemed the Lord who rejected the Lord and slew the Lord, in that day they shall face Him, face to face. There shall be a confrontation between Christ Himself and these who despised Him and spit upon Him and plucked out His beard and smote Him on the cheek.
The text of the apocalypse is Revelation 1:7. As I have taken the text this morning, so John took a text and around it he wove the great visions of the Apocalypse. That text is Revelation 1:7: "Behold, behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, amen." There is something of the human on the part of the apostle John in that text. I have thought of it a thousand times, a thousand times, "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him."
Out of the millions, and the millions, and the millions, and the billions, and the billions who shall see the Lord when He comes, John picks out a little handful, an infinitesimal and inconsequential handful, and after speaking of the billions who shall see the face of our Lord when He comes, he refers especially and particularly to a little handful of men who mutilated and who buffeted and who spit upon Him and who crucified Him. And I say, I think there is something of the human on the part of the John in that text.
You see, all of the other disciples forsook Him and fled, and even Simon Peter followed afar off, but John, the beloved disciple, stayed by His side all through that agonizing week. And John was there when they smote Him with their hands and said, "Tell me my name! Who am I that slaps You?" John was there when they plucked out His beard and the blood ran down His face. John was there when they spit upon Him, saw blood and spittle mingled, flowing down. John was there when the solders, in rude, crude, buffoonery and mockery, pressed on His brow the crown of thorns. And John saw Him beat with the cat-o-nine tails and the blood flowed down to the pavement. John was there when they drove those great nails through hands and feet. And he saw the Roman spear that broke open His heart, and the blood and the water that flowed out. John saw it, and he never forgot it. And in the text around which he wrote the Revelation he especially says, "Someday, someday, these men who buffeted Him and spit upon Him and drove nails through His hands and feet, someday they shall confront Him face to face."
And in the spirit of that text, so the Revelation follows:
And the great men of the earth, and the captains, and the lords, and the rich men who have despised the Savior trod underfoot the blood of the covenant, done despite to the Spirit of grace.
They shall cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them and to hide them from the face, from the face of Him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
For the great day of His wrath is come and who shall be able to stand?
[Adapted from Revelation 6:15-17]
And the great, last judgment throne, that same recurring theme, "And I saw a great throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the heavens and the earth fled away!" [Revelation 20:11] Oh, the awesome majesty when lost men confront the Judge of all the earth!
But how different for those who have placed their trust and their hope in Him. For to them, the face of Jesus Christ is the assurance and the comfort and the hope and a blessing of a life that is yet to come.
There was a chaplain in the Marines, and the United States government did an unusual thing. When the body of that fallen Marine was brought here to Dallas and to this church for burial, they sent a Marine chaplain with him. And he and I had the memorial service for that fallen lad. This was in the Korean War. And when we shared, the Marine chaplain and I, when we shared that memorial hour together for one of our boys who had laid down his life in this struggle against a Communist enemy. When the chaplain conducted the service, he had a beautiful folder. On the inside of it he had written words of appreciation for the fallen boy. He outlined the order of the service. And the front of that little folder was his message that memorial hour. I have kept that folder. When I die, it’ll be among these sermons that I’ve preached here in Dallas.
The front of that picture in the background are the storms of war, the bombs bursting, the guns belching forth flame and fire, and the armies marshalling in battle array. And toward the front of the picture is a Marine, an American boy, who’s been struck, mortally wounded, and he’s falling to the earth. And as he falls to the ground, the lad has lifted up his face and his eyes, and he sees a glory. And there in the immediate forefront of the picture is the figure and the face of Jesus Christ. And that American boy is looking up into the face of Jesus. I’ll never forget that memorial service.
When I was a youth, a wonderful pastor said, in his congregation was a fine Christian man who was dying. And just before he died he called to his wife and said, "Dear, come here, come here." And she stood by his bed and he said, "Dear, would you walk over yonder?" And she walked to that side of the room. And he said, "Now Dear, would you walk over here?" And she walked to the other side of the room. He said, "Would you go to that door?" And she went to the door. He said, "Would you walk through that door and come and stand by me?" And she walked back through the door and into the room and stood by him. And in amazement she said, "Why? I don’t understand." He said, "Dear, I just wanted to be sure that I have my mind, that I’m not in a delirium, that high fever has not taken away my senses. "Dear wife," he said, "I saw the face of Jesus my Lord. I saw it; I looked upon it. And I just wanted to know for sure that I am still right in my mind. So I had you walk to the right of the room and to the left and to come in the door and my eyes followed you. I know, I know that I am not out of my senses or out of my mind. I saw the Lord."
At the end of the 8:15 service this morning, one of my finest men came to me and said, "Pastor, my father died when I was nine years old, and he died like that, singing and praising God in the glorious vision of the Savior." "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
No need for the sun in heaven, we’re told;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
For the Lamb is the Light in the City of gold,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Oh come to the Light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the Light has dawned upon me,
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The light of the world is Jesus.
["The Light of the World is Jesus," by Phillip Paul Bliss]
"The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
While we sing our hymn of appeal you, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple you, or one somebody you, while we sing our hymn, while we press this appeal, come. On the first note of the first stanza make it now; come now while we stand and while we sing.