First the Kingdom Part 30: Face to Face
Luke’s record in the “Acts of the Apostles” gives us an exciting portrait of the faith of the earliest Christians. Among the many characteristics of these ordinary people and their extraordinary faith, there is one thing that the apostles in Acts had in common: They had all been with Jesus!
The significance of this cannot be overstated. In fact this entire series on the Kingdom of God ultimately centers on the truth that the Kingdom of God appeared on the earth in the presence of Jesus Himself! No one could come into His presence and not be changed in one way or the other. Those who received Him as their Lord and Messiah were given citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and an entrance into the family of God!
He began with 12 ordinary men from various walks of life. They lived with Him, listened to Him, watched Him and learned from Him what it meant to be the people of God. His time with them equipped them and educated them more effectively than we could possibly imagine.
The apostle John wonderfully captured this thought in a letter to his fellow believers:
In 1 John 1:1-4 he writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life ; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full. (KJV)
Yes, the apostles and others in Acts had this one thing in common, they had been with Jesus. Peter, James and John had an additional experience in common, together they saw his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
John referred to this when he wrote “we beheld His glory,” and Peter in one of his letters wrote:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (NKJV)
(John 1:14-15, 2 Peter 1:16-18)
While Adam hid his face from God, others, like Jabez, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, sought his face and were changed.
It might seem that such a meeting with the Creator and Lord of the universe is reserved for a chosen few. However, God has actually revealed through these special messengers that He desires that special relationship with many more!
Abraham is known as the Father of the faithful today. His son Isaac, His grandson Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons were all given the special privilege of inheriting the promises given to Abraham. The 12 sons became 12 tribes and greatly increased in number, but God’s desire to bless them had not diminished. After delivering them from slavery in Egypt he called them to Mount Sinai to hear from Him and to become a kingdom of priests. Even though their fears hindered them from responding, He gave these words for those who did accept the priestly calling to speak over them.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”‘
“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” (NKJV)
When I was very young I noticed how it seemed so normal in the Bible for God to speak with Adam and Eve as we talk to each other today. Even after sin entered into the picture and paradise was lost, God still spoke to Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and many others in what seemed to be an audible voice. As time when on, this experience became very rare. It was not because of God’s inability to speak, or in the inability of the people to hear sound.
The distance between God and His people was in their hearts. Their hearts and minds became increasingly darkened by deception, fear, rebellion and disobedience. All they had left were the words written down by Moses and the special messages from the holy prophets which would later be committed to writing. Today we thank God that he has spoken and still speaks to us through these sacred writings. But have we forgotten how to listen to His Voice in the midst?
Jesus came to clear away the haze and confusion, and even to destroy the barrier between God and humanity. His message, His teaching, His patience and love, His miracles all expressed His desire for a face-to-face encounter with us! The grand climax in His suffering on the Cross for our sins, and His marvelous victory over death was the final proof of the great lengths our Lord and Savior would go for a relationship with us.
All that is left is for us to trust and believe in Him and receive the great gift He is offering to us – His very Self!
But alas! Even though every lie that Satan has pressed upon the world has been exposed, the human race continues so often in the same pattern of self-reliance and self-deception. These are the days of gallant battle and overcoming for those who have believed and do know Him. They are constantly tested by the unyielding rejection from the world around them and even from those they dearly love.
That is why John and Peter so firmly testified of what they had seen and heard. That is why they and countless others over the centuries gave their lives as evidence of a faith that could not be destroyed. That is also why Paul prayed for every believer to have a face-to-face encounter with the risen Christ even as he had!
No we are not talking about identical experiences like the transfiguration that Peter, James and John witnessed, or the vision that Paul received on the road to Damascas. But we are talking about the revelation of Jesus Christ!
In Ephesians 1:17-20 Paul prayed:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, (KJV)
It was Paul’s prayer that the believers in Ephesis would know Christ and His work on our behalf more deeply. He knew when their eyes were opened to greater insight into His wisdom that they too would be changed from the inside out! Later, in that same letter he added this prayer:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (NKJV)
In another letter, Paul wrote of Moses and his face-to-face encounter with God on Mount Sinai. This encounter actually caused his face to glow to the extent the people were afraid to come near him. So he wore a veil over his face for their sake.
Paul used this story as an analogy to describe the situation of his day. He realized that many were reading the words of God in the Bible as it were behind a veil. People were still afraid to meet God in His word because their hearts were stubborn and hardened. Jesus explained that the pure and humble of heart were blessed, for they could truly see God!
Therefor there was hope for one whose heart turns to Jesus Christ. In Him that veil is removed from the mind and Christ can now be seen as the true message of the Bible!
To this day I cannot say that I have heard an audible voice from God, and yet He does speak to me as often as I am willing to listen. He has found my attention often through unpleasant circumstances which caused me to see how foolish I have been at times. He has also reached out to me through the kindness of others. It was always the work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that Paul believed could open the understanding of his people. Others prayed for me also, and when I was finally willing to humble myself before Christ, He removed that veil that kept me in darkness for so long.
We today can have face-to-face encounters with God in many ways. We can meet Him in quiet moments of prayer and meditation. So often I can see His face as I gather with others who know and love Him. When we gather in His Name, He is in our midst!
The Bible is truly a wonderful place to find His presence, His nature, His power and His wisdom for every day life. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:
2 Corinthian 3:12-18:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)