Read Revelation 21:9-27, Exodus 40:16-17,32-38 here.
When my husband Rob and I were getting married, we had dreams of going camping. We lived in California where it’s easy to get to lots of cool campgrounds in the mountains and on the beach. So on our gift registry, we had the usual household stuff, and we had camping equipment. Along with dishes and silverware and towels, we got a tent, a Coleman stove, a lantern, and two matching sleeping bags. We had some good friends who also liked to camp, and so we planned a vacation to go camping together. They were serious campers. They chose a camp site for us out in the wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles that was only accessible by going off road with a 4WD. Rob and I were excited about this new adventure with our friends. We got all packed up and headed out.
We found the dirt road that led into the area we wanted to go. Then the dirt road ended and the rest of the way was on a dry riverbed. If you’re not familiar with dry riverbeds in the mountains, let me tell you about them. They are full of rocks. Not little rocks. Big rocks. Boulders. That’s what we were driving over in their four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Oh, and did I forget to mention what we were driving? A Suzuki Samurai. It was very cute. And it had the shortest wheelbase available in a 4WD vehicle. As you might imagine, this ride was VERY bumpy. And it took four trips back to the trailhead where our other car was parked to get everything in to the campsite.
But we got through it and got everything to the spot they’d selected. It was a beautiful clearing surrounded by pine trees. Not another soul for miles and miles. We got out all our equipment. We were in-tents. We set up our tent. They set up theirs. Rob and I got our matching sleeping bags zipped together so we could be all cozy. We got out our stove and got that all set up. Our friends had all that stuff and more. They were busy setting up their portable shower, and their portable toilet. They hung up tarps to make a little bathroom on the edge of our campsite. They even set the toilet up facing the trees so that there was privacy but with a nice view. We had all that we needed and we had everything set up just so.
I thought about that camping trip as I was reading in Exodus about Israel in the wilderness. The last 16 chapters of the book of Exodus are all about God giving Moses the detailed plans for the tabernacle, the special tent that they were to set up in their campsite each time they stopped. It was their portable church, their house of God. The word for tabernacle means dwelling place. It was the place where the priests met with God and made the sacrifices. The part we read today, the final chapter, shows them getting the tabernacle all set up for the first time, just like we got our tents and tarps all set up that time we went camping with our friends. And when Moses and the priests were all finished, God’s glory filled the tabernacle. God’s glorious presence was so great that Moses couldn’t even go into the tent.
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Ex. 40:35)
This is one of many places that the Bible tells us about the glory of God. What is glory? We probably think of it as something intangible like love or grace, so how could it keep Moses from entering the tabernacle? Can we even imagine what it would be like to experience God’s presence in a cloud so thick, so bright, so intense that it would make it impossible for us to enter? I wonder what it would be like for that to happen here and now?
Many of the descriptions of God’s glory say that it is intensely bright light.
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
“God…lives in unapproachable light.” (1 Tim. 6:16)
This picture shows how an artist imagines the glory of God. Incredibly bright and complex and all-encompassing. How would you draw God’s glory?
The first time we find the word glory in the Bible, God is telling Moses that the people will see God’s glory when he frees them from their slavery in Egypt. And then they experienced the miracle of crossing the Red Sea, one way they see God’s glory, and then the other is when they get to meet God at Mount Sinai, where they see a cloud descend onto the mountain and the glory of the Lord is in the cloud. (Ex. 16:24)
The prophet Ezekiel describes God’s glory as being like fire and a rainbow and “the appearance of splendor all around.” (NRSV). Ezekiel says:
“… I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire within it all around. And from what seemed to be His waist down, I saw what looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded Him. The appearance of the brilliant light all around Him was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” (Ez. 1:27-28)
God’s glory is incredibly bright light, multicolored like a rainbow. And it’s more than that.
Earlier in Exodus, in chapter 33, Moses is discouraged and tired and frustrated. He’s looking for some assurance from God that God’s not going to leave him and the rest of the people alone in the middle of desert, so Moses asks God to show him his glory (Ex. 33:18). God agrees to do this, saying, “I will show you my goodness.” (Ex. 33:19). Since no one can see the face of God and live (v.20), God has Moses hide in a cleft of the rocks while God passes by, and Moses only gets to look after God has passed by. What God shows Moses is his goodness. As God passes by Moses, God says I am “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation.” (Ex. 34:6-7)
God’s glory is all the facets of God’s goodness and love.
From this we begin to understand John’s description of his vision in Revelation 21. In the vision, the angel has carried John to the top of a mountain, reminiscent of Moses on Mount Sinai, and now instead of a cloud coming down over the mountain, John sees a beautiful city. He says, “It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.” And there are twelve different gemstones, like the twelve tribes of Israel, symbolizing that all of them will be welcome, and reflecting the multi-faceted nature and color of God’s glory – God’s light and goodness.
Just like in Exodus where we find a detailed description of the tabernacle, here John gives us a detailed description of a new city. Like the tabernacle, and later the temple, this beautiful city is the dwelling place of God. The descriptions of the tabernacle include measurements, and so does John’s description of the new Jerusalem. It’s 1500 miles square.
Here’s what that looks like in relation to the United States:
It’s not really meant to be taken literally, though. The idea here is that it’s much bigger than the old Jerusalem, so much bigger that there’s room for everyone.
God’s glory is incredibly bright, so bright that John says in the New Jerusalem,
“the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light” (Rev. 21:23)
It’s full of all God’s beautiful goodness, and it’s really big and continually bright.
Glory is also a word we use to refer to heaven. You can see where that idea comes from when you read the words from Revelation 21. The light of God’s glory provides all the light. The many facets of God’s glory are reflected in the different gemstones, and in the different kinds of people. There’s an old song that says, “I’ve got a home in glory-land that outshines the sun…” meaning I’ve got a home prepared for me by Jesus in heaven. We see in John’s description why “glory-land” is an appropriate word.
God’s glory is intense light and multifaced goodness and the place Jesus prepared for us to go when we die.
But wait. There’s more. The Bible tells us we are made for God’s glory (Is. 43:7), and that we are to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). The Westminster Confession reinforces this, telling us that our chief purpose is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever. How do we enjoy God? How do we glorify God?
The descriptions of God’s glory say that God’s glory is multicolored, like a rainbow. There are two requirements for a rainbow. One is the presence of light. The other is something for it to shine through and refract. We see this with a prism. We shine a light through it, and it refracts or splits the light apart so that we can see the various colors. The colors were there before it went through the prism, but the prism separates them so we can see them.
The light of God’s glory is here. God’s glory fills the whole earth, as we sang earlier this morning. To fully see it in all its colors, it needs to shine through us. We reflect God’s glory, we glorify God by how we live in each moment. By how we enjoy each moment. We turn to God’s light so we can reflect God’s light. And so we can enjoy it. Joy is key.
18th century pastor Jonathan Edwards said, “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those who see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.”
Worry and hurry and complaining and arguing get in the way of glorifying God because they stop us from enjoying God. It’s just like Paul says I Corinthians 13, we can do all sorts of wonderful things, but if we do them without love, we’ve missed the point.
So how do we glorify God and enjoy God?
- We remember that God’s glory is the purpose for our actions.
Our purpose is always to glorify God in whatever we do, living out God’s commands to love all our neighbors, and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus was able to endure the suffering on the cross because he knew God’s purpose, the salvation of us all, was fulfilled through his suffering. We see Jesus wrestle with this when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: …what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. “Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27-28)
- We glorify God by loving what we do and doing what we love
There is always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of doing hard things. And we have to make sure we make time to do the things we love to do, and give thanks to God for the joy of doing them. Doing things is an important part of the equation.
- Give ourselves fully to the present moment
What are we hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, doing in that moment? Notice these details and thank God for them.
C.S. Lewis in his sermon “The Weight of Glory” says that we fall short of glorifying God because we don’t enjoy God as much as we could.
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We are made to enjoy being the people God made, the people Jesus died for. God’s glory is bright and beautiful and colorful and good. We are made to reflect God’s glory. We should settle for nothing less that God’s glory and our joy.
One of the reasons Rob and I used to love to go camping is that we would get away from the busyness of the city, and go to places where there was silence and space, where we could take time to breathe and enjoy the beauty of trees, mountains, water, rocks, birds. We all need those moments, and we need them more often than the occasional vacation. Spending time enjoying God is an end in itself, not a means to another end. Our highest purposed is to adore and enjoy God. We need to take time every day, throughout the day, to enjoy God in the moment, and give thanks to God for . . . everything. Then we will shine like the stars in the sky! (Phil. 2:15)
Let’s give thanks to God together now….
Amazing God, thank you. Thank you for this breath, for the ability to breath, for the gift of life, and for the wonder that we live on a planet with a breathable atmosphere. Thank you for this time to rest and ponder and seek you together.
 Earl F. Palmer, Communicator’s Commentary: 1,2,3 John, Revelation (Word Publishing), pg. 246.
 Jonathan Edwards “The End for Which God Created the World,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Yale University Press), 495, as quoted by Moore, Beth. The Beloved Disciple (p. 133). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Oswald Chambers expands on this idea here: https://utmost.org/receiving-yourself-in-the-fires-of-sorrow/
 C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” as quoted by Moore, Beth. The Beloved Disciple (pp. 133-134). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Thompson, Marjorie, J.. Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life . Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.