God's Advent Promises!
The angel Gabriel announced to Zacharias that the LORD was about to fulfill His prophecy concerning the coming of the Savior! He and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son, who would prepare the way of the Lord!
Text: Isaiah 40:5
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
In Christ Jesus, the ultimate revelation of the glory of the LORD, dear fellow redeemed:
Tomorrow afternoon thousands of people will begin to gather near the White House in Washington D.C. At 5:00 p.m. (EST) President Bush will come out to light the National Christmas Tree and begin a program of inspirational music. The tree, which is typically nearly as tall as our sanctuary and covered with a multitude of lights, will no doubt be glorious! I am sure that when it is lit up, it will take people’s breath away. Yet, even something as magnificent as the National Christmas Tree does not begin to compare to “the glory of the LORD” as mentioned in our text. The phrase “the glory of the LORD” appears over eighty times in the Bible. It appears in numerous contexts and refers to a number of things in Scripture, but it is always found connected to a manifestation of God’s presence—His power, grace, or judgment. As such the “glory of the LORD” is intended to impress upon our hearts the reality of God, and bring to our hearts fear, love, hope, and joy!
The words of our text, chosen by Handel and emphasized in his first chorus of Messiah, are found tied to a promise of God, for Isaiah included this thought that “the mouth of the LORD has spoken!” When God speaks, my dear friends, we want to listen, for what God has to say is always vital for our present lives and our futures both here in this world and in the world to come. Let us, therefore, listen to our God today and consider GOD’S ADVENT PROMISES! What has He promised? He has promised that the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and He has also promised that all flesh shall see it together!
What exactly is “the glory of the LORD”? As mentioned already, it varies with the context. For instance, when the Psalmist David proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (19:1), he reminds us of how nature reveals the power, wisdom, and goodness of our Creator God. Earlier when the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness and found themselves without food, Moses told them that “the glory of the LORD” would be revealed to them through the provision of bread and meat—manna and quail (cf. Exodus 16:7). “The glory of the LORD” in that situation was not God’s creative genius, but rather His powerful, providential care. A short time later, the children of Israel beheld “the glory of the LORD” as “a consuming fire” on top of Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 24:16-17)—a vision which caused them to tremble in fear, as God revealed His righteous wrath and holiness prior to giving them His law. Still later, when the children of Israel had finished building the Tabernacle, we are told that “the glory of the LORD” in the form of a bright cloud filled the Tabernacle and the surrounding area, giving Israel a visual reassurance that the LORD was indeed present and pleased with their efforts.
So you see, “the glory of the LORD” meant different things at different times. What does it mean in Isaiah 40:5, when God promises that “the glory of the LORD will be revealed”? Let us consider the context. You heard a portion of it at the beginning of our service. Isaiah, as God’s spokesman, cried out to the believers of his day, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people! Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned!” God wanted Isaiah to proclaim a message of forgiveness and peace, but in connection with whom, and at what time, and in what way? He goes on to speak of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”—a direct prophecy of John the Baptizer, whom Isaiah said would “prepare the way of the LORD” and “make straight…a highway for our God!” John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, whom Isaiah identifies as the LORD Himself, our God! Consequently, when God Himself promises in our text that “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,” He is referring to the coming of Jesus, who as the God-Man is Himself the ultimate revelation of “the glory of the LORD!”
Consider the great Epiphany prophecy in Isaiah 60:1-3, “Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Jesus is that divine Light sent to relieve the darkness of our sin and reveal God’s glorious grace! Consider, then, how the evangelist John weaves into the opening chapter of his Gospel these same thoughts and applies them directly to Jesus: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him…. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:6-14).
Jesus is “the glory of the LORD” and all who are led by the Spirit of God to believe in Him are indeed God’s own children. Jesus demonstrated that He was our glorious God by changing water into wine, by calming stormy seas, by giving sight to the blind, by healing the sick, and by raising the dead! He did that by overcoming every temptation of Satan, by proclaiming a message of hope to every sinner, and by becoming every sinner’s champion by defeating death on the cross and by His empty tomb! Jesus proved Himself worthy of our trust and a solid foundation for our faith. Yes, GOD’S ADVENT PROMISE was that Jesus would come and reveal Himself to us for our salvation!
GOD’S ADVENT PROMISES, however, are not limited to Jesus’ first coming. That is made clear by the second of God’s promises found in our text, that when “the glory of the LORD” would be revealed—all flesh shall see it together! When Jesus came as that lowly Child in Bethlehem’s manger, He was acknowledged by only a few. His mother and father, Mary and Joseph, knew what a special Child He was. The angelic choirs informed the shepherds, who in turn after finding Jesus told everyone that they met that night in the small town of Bethlehem the news that the Savior had been born. But from the time of His birth to the time that He entered His ministry at age thirty, very few people were either aware or acknowledged that God was living in the flesh among men.
Even during Jesus’ earthly ministry when crowds of people came to listen to this preacher, who spoke with such authority and so differently than the other Bible teachers of the age, relatively few people saw His true glory. Peter, James, and John beheld what Peter described in his second epistle as Jesus’ “majesty” on the Mount of Transfiguration when “a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (1:16-17), but when Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross, He was abandoned by all with the exception of His disciple John, His mother, a few other women, and the thief hanging beside Him. While Jesus was seen by as many as five hundred believers following His resurrection, He soon ascended into heaven, so that now we do not see His glory, but rather believe in it and receive the blessings of it under the guidance of His shepherding hands.
Just as God kept His promise in revealing “the glory of the LORD” through Jesus and in Jesus during His earthly ministry, so He will keep His promise that “all flesh shall see it (that glory) together!” When will that happen? It will happen when Jesus comes again in final judgment on this world’s last day. The evangelist Matthew records Jesus’ own description in his twenty-fifth chapter, when he writes: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (25:31-32). Notice that absolutely no one will be able to avoid the judgment day of Jesus Christ. “All the nations” will be gathered before Him—absolutely every human being who has ever walked the face of this earth will be brought to stand before the judgment throne of Jesus. The apostle Paul speaks of this in Philippians 2:9-11, when he says: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Adam and Eve will be there to behold their Savior descendant with great joy. Noah will be there together with Methuselah; Moses and Pharaoh, too! David, as well as Goliath, will be there; Daniel, the three men who survived the fiery furnace, as well as Nebuchadnezzar who put them there. Matthew and Mark, Annas and Caiaphas, Peter and Paul, Arius, Augustine, Attila the Hun and Francis of Assisi—all will be there. Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, Albert Schweitzer, John F. Kennedy, Johnny Cash, Ted Turner, Rudi Giuliani, you and I—we will all be there, and every one of us will bend the knee before Jesus—“the glory of God!” We will all see Him together—some with great joy and others in abject terror. But we will see Him and acknowledge Him together as Lord, but only for that short time of judgment. Matthew informs us that Jesus will turn to those who believe in Him as their Savior from sin and tell them, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34). To the unbelievers, however, who were once bold in their blasphemy and sin, our Lord Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41).
My dear friends—God has and will keep His Advent promises! Jesus came in meekness to reveal God’s grace and mercy to us poor sinners. Let us not turn and walk away! Let us not succumb to Satan’s temptations to make of this world or anything in it a god upon which we pour out our affections or give our loyalty. Rather, may we confess our sins, take comfort in His forgiveness, and then behold with joy His glory as revealed in His Word, looking forward to that final revelation at the end of time. Do not hesitate—do not equivocate—only believe, for Jesus will return and all flesh shall see His glory! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting