Displaying the invisible

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1:15)

You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord's food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Lev 24:5-9)

I have been thinking some more on how God is made manifest - the invisible made visible, and how like Christ, the church bears the image of the invisible.

I have found a powerful example in the Old Testament with the showbread. Under the Old Covenant God's presence was hidden behind the veil, yet in front of the veil were golden objects that represented the hidden glory of God. The altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table where the showbread was placed. Each of these is worthy of a study in its own right. The prayers of the people, the prophetic witness of the people and the presence among God's people, but it is this last one I want to examine today. For the showbread was also called the "bread of the Presence." It was there to show - make visible - the invisible presence of God.

Since we know that it is in Christ that we find the perfect image of the invisible, it should not surprise us to find elements of him and his covenant meal - the bread of life - the table of the Lord.

But here's where the symbolism gets interesting... there's not one loaf on the table but twelve. Twelve tribes, twelve apostles - twelve is the number of God's chosen people. So are we looking at a representation of Christ or the Church? The language in Leviticus mixes it around a bit too, for we are told of the bread that is is both from the people (v8) and from the Lord (v9).

We see that the showbread, the bread of the Presence, is the people representing Christ, making the invisible presence visible.

Some other details of the showbread then take on a relevance for how we as the people of God make his presence known.

The bread was covered in frankincense - it was a fragrant offering from the people to the Lord. It represents the people offering themselves to God, laying their lives on the altar - engaging in true spiritual worship.

The bread was arranged in two piles of six. The significance of this symbolism would not have escaped the notice of the people in their journey through the wilderness - for it was their marching order! When the people camped they were arranged in four groups of three, one to each point of the compass, with the presence of God in the middle. But when they were on the move the formation changed; two groups of six with the presence of God in between - six tribes in front and six tribes behind.

So the showbread doesn't represent a holy huddle of the people of God, camped round the presence keeping it to themselves. But the church on the move, going out, following the mandate to go, taking the visible display of the presence with them.

As we go we go with a message, so the two piles of bread that can be seen represent the two angelic cherubs behind the veil that cannot be seen, and in between... is the Presence!


The Visible Love of God - part 2

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1Jn 3:1a)

In my last post I wrote about how Christ is the visible manifestation of God's love (agape). But it is not just in Jesus that the visible love of God is displayed...

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God...

The primary way that God's agape love is made visible to the world today is not through Christ, whom they cannot see, but through us! The church, the community of the children of God, is designed to be a display of what the Father's love looks like to the world.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)

John's message, time and time again in his first epistle is that our love - the love between brothers and sisters in the faith - is a visible expression of the Father's own love. If we love each other we display the love of the Father. If we do not love each other then it is a telling evidence of an absence of the Father's love - not toward us, for that remains steadfast even while we were still in sin - an absence of that love reflected in our own hearts.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1Jn 4:20)

Our display of agape love to each other, I believe, is the primary way we make God manifest to the world. Even the gifts of the Spirit, which are described as manifestations of the Spirit - and thus by design function to make God known, are meaningless if they do not operate in the context of love. You cannot have chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians without chapter 13!

We are happy to boast in the Father's unconditional love towards us, but how is that reflected in our attitude towards a brother or sister who does not measure up to our own "conditions"? We thank God for the journey he has taken us on out of error and into truth; yet how do we react to those who speak what we consider to be in error? Do we instruct them gently or rebuke them harshly and publicly? It's all too easy, like Peter, to be confessing Christ one minute, and be a mouthpiece for the Accuser the next. As James says - my brothers, this should not be!

If the light does not shine on its own stand how can it illuminate the world?

How are we to love each other? In the same way the God loves us. Not just conceptually or emotionally, but tangibly and visibly, with a love that does something that can be seen.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1Jn 3:18)


The visible love of God

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1John 3:1)

During my recent holiday I was meditating on 1John and Jude. Sometimes when you read the Word a verse will jump up and grab you; sometimes it can be single word. As I read the verse above it was the first word that arrested my attention.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us...

What kind of love has the Father given to us? The visible kind! The kind that can be displayed and seen!

John doesn't say we should know the love of God theoretically, or read about it, or just feel it touching our emotions... he tells us to see it! The love of God is not an abstract concept, but something that has a visible expression. That is one of the main themes of this letter of John. He is telling the brothers what the love of God should look like.

I love the way the letter starts...

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1Jn 1:1-2)

Right from the beginning John frames his discourse, not on nebulous concepts, but on the tangible, visible realities of God's nature that had been made manifest to him.

God's love is visible, his life made manifest, primarily through the means that John is referring to here - through Jesus.

If we want to know what the Father is like, we have a perfect representation in the Son.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn 14:18-19)

So if we want to see the love of God, the first place we need to look is at Jesus himself. For God so loved the world... and that love resulted in a visible expression - Jesus, who embodied and demonstrated the love of the Father.

It's interesting... Jesus has many names and titles in the Scriptures. The one most frequently used in connection with him is Christ - the anointed one. But there are two times when God the Father speaks directly, and audibly, from heaven concerning the Son; what title does he use?

And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17)

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)

The word used in the Scriptures for "the Beloved" is "o agapetos" - the Agape-One. Jesus was and is, the Agape-One, the perfect expression of God's covenant love. Not just because he was beloved, but because he made visible that same expression of love that is the very nature of God himself.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love [agape]. (1Jn 4:8)

Love is at the core of who God is. It is the expression of his nature. It is the motivating force behind all he does. Whenever God is made manifest it is always in the context of love. So when the Father describes the son, it seems even his status as the Anointed-One is subordinate to his ultimate expression as the Agape-One. His anointing is also on the basis of his love.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. (Heb 1:9)

If the visible love of God is so crucial, so central, how does this effect how we seek to represent God to the world?

[More to follow...]