One of my favorite pastors from history is Samuel Rutherford, a Puritan who pastored in Scotland in the 1600’s. He was persecuted by the government for his Biblical beliefs, and for a time was banished from his church. Rutherford is remembered especially for the famous “Letters” he wrote to a his church members while he was in exile. I have a copy of “Rutherford’s Letters” from the 1800’s, a beautiful old book I bought when we were in England, and it is one of my very favorite physical books. Rutherford is well-known for the wise counsel he gave in these letters. The last words he uttered on his death bed were very striking. Just before he died, Rutherford was heard to whisper: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land!” What was this “glory” Rutherford whispered about that was waiting for him after death? Our passage for this morning refers to it:
“It was for this he called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 2:14)
I. Created for the Glory
The “glory” of God is His “majesty,” His “splendor.” One calls it “the unspoken manifestation of God” (Strong’s). John Piper says God’s glory is really beyond our ability to describe, but pressed to give it a definition, he says: “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.” His glory is His holiness and beauty and greatness as it shines forth, and it brings awe and joy and fulfillment to those who experience it. It is literally beyond human description. As we saw last week, His glory is greater than 1,000 suns! As the physicist said, it is like “shuddering before the beautiful.”
We saw before where Moses asked God in Exodus 33, “Show me Your glory.” To see the glory of God is the unspoken desire of every human being.
This is because God created us to know His glory, to share with Him His glory in heaven. Jesus said in His High Priestly Prayer of John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, SO THAT THEY MAY SEE MY GLORY …”. Jesus said He wants us to be in heaven specifically for this purpose: to see His glory! It is His glory that will make heaven, heaven. We were designed and created to bask in the glory of God. When C.S. Lewis says we were made to run on God the way a car was made to run on gasoline, he means we were made to “run” on the glory of God!
God created us to experience this glory with Him in heaven forever.
— Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The glory of the presence of God will give us pleasure and joy beyond anything we’ve experienced on earth. THAT is what makes heaven so appealing.
— Psalm 17:15 says “As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” The continual presence of the glory of God will give us ultimate satisfaction in heaven forever.
Austin Phelps was a minister and seminary president in the 1800’s. He watched people in the Royal Art Gallery at Dresden Germany, sit for hours before a single masterpiece painting by Raphael. He wrote: “Weeks are spent every year in the study of that one work … Lovers of art cannot enjoy it to the full, till they have made it their own by prolonged communion with its matchless form.” Phelps tells of a conversation with one of the painting’s admirers, who said he had spent years looking at this painting and yet found it possible over and over to ‘discover some new beauty, and a new joy.’” Phelps then asked, what painting, could be anything like the great God Himself …”? (Timothy Keller, Prayer, p. 122)
We will never tire, in heaven, of looking at the manifest majesty and glory of God, and the ultimate pleasures and joys that gazing on Him, gives to us. We will “feast” on the glory of God forever!
As I mentioned earlier, the Puritan pastor Samuel Rutherford was exiled for his beliefs, but he continued to pastor his flock the best he could through his correspondence, which is what the book, “The Letters of Samuel Rutherford” is comprised of. In his congregation, there was a very well-to-do woman by the name of Lady Kenmure, who had lost a child, had many health problems, and who endured many tribulations on earth. In one of his letters, Rutherford wrote to Lady Kenmure to comfort her, by having her focus on what awaited her in heaven. Among other things he wrote: “Your soul will feast and banquet forever and ever upon a glorious sight of the incomprehensible Trinity.” What Rutherford was talking about, was the glory of the Lord we will experience in heaven. We will “feast and banquet,” forever and ever, on the glorious sight of the Lord. THAT is what is awaiting us in heaven. That is the glory of God we were created to experience.
II. Falling Short of the Glory
But the problem is, mankind lost the ability to experience God’s glory by our sin. This is one of the clearest and most common teachings in the Bible, although we have heard it so many times, that many of us have just looked past it. One of the 2-3 verses that most any Christian knows is Romans 3:23. Most of you can quote it, right? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”? We say that; we know it; we quote it — but what does it really MEAN, that because of our sin, we “fall short of the glory of God?” Have you ever thought about what that really means?
What it means is that because of our sin, we LOST the privilege of seeing the glory that God made us to experience with Him. It means that we CAN’T go to heaven to be with Him and see His glory; that we can’t have fellowship with God and be thrilled and fulfilled by His glorious presence the way we were designed to be. It means we have been cast OUT of the Garden, and away the glory and the fellowship of God. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”
Soon we’ll be reading the Book of Ezekiel in our daily Bible readings, and we’ll come to Ezekiel 10, where, after Ezekiel preaches against all the compromise and sin of God’s people in the house of the Lord, :18 says that “the glory of the LORD departed” from the Temple
This is so symbolic of what happens when we sin:
— Sin causes the glory of the Lord to depart from us;
— Adam & Eve’s sin caused them to be cast out of the Presence of the Glory of the Lord in the Garden of Eden;
— In I Samuel 4, when Israel in the Promised Land had departed from God’s ways, the Philistines defeated them in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was taken, and the high priest’s daughter in law gave birth to a son, whom she named “Ichabod,” meaning, “the glory has departed.” God’s glory had departed from His people because of their sin.
— The sin and compromise of Israel caused the Glory of God to depart from the Temple in Ezekiel.
— II Thess. 1:9 says of those who are not saved: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord, and from the GLORY of His power.”
See, that’s what hell is. Hell is not just bad because it’s a burning fire. It IS “eternal destruction, it says. But the worst thing about hell is that you are eternally separated from the only thing you could be ultimately satisfied by: the glory of God. It is being “AWAY from the presence of the Lord;” it is being “AWAY … from the glory of His power.” THAT is what Romans 3:23 means, that we have sinned, and “fall short of the glory of God.” It means that our sin has caused us to be cast out from the presence of God’s glory.
In John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost,” he describes the fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and how because of their sin they were expelled from the Garden, away from the presence of the glory of God:
“They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”
Such sad lines that close that poem. They were cast out of that beautiful Paradise because of their sin. But it’s such a vivid picture of what our sin does to us: like Adam & Eve, our sin casts us out of the Garden; our sin makes “Paradise Lost;” our sin makes us fall short of the glory of God.
And who is it that this happened to? ALL of us: “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Adam & Eve’s story is the story of all of us. It’s your story; it’s mine; we’ve all sinned. We’ve all fallen short of His glory. Had God not done something for us, none of us would ever see the glory of God.
III. Gaining the Glory
But the good news is that God DID do something, that we might yet gain the glory of God. This is what Paul writes about here in II Thessalonians 2:14, “It was for this that He called you through our gospel, that you may GAIN the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God’s glory, once lost, may yet be “gained.” This Bible word “gain” here means to “obtain, to possess.” The Bible says we may yet obtain the glory of God through the gospel.
Over and over the Bible tells us that when we are saved, we gain access to the glory of God:
— Psalm 73:24 “With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me TO GLORY.”
— Isaiah 66:18 says: “And they shall come and SEE MY GLORY.”
— Jesus told Martha in John 11:40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the GLORY of God?”
— Romans 9:23 says saved people are “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for GLORY.”
— I Peter 5:10 says God called you “To His ETERNAL GLORY in Christ …”
— And Revelation 21 closes the story of the whole Bible by saying that the new Jerusalem would come down out of heaven, “HAVING THE GLORY OF GOD”! And “the GLORY of God has illumined it” (:23).
Over and over the Bible tells us that the end result our salvation is that we regain the ability to experience the glory of God that will satisfy our souls. Verse 10 of the first chapter of this book talks about the return of Jesus and our gathering to Him, and says: “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be MARVELED at among all who have believed.” The Bible says we will MARVEL at the glory of God forever!
In David McCullough’s acclaimed biography of the Wright Brothers he wrote about how when Wilbur Wright was finally able to fly, a reporter asked him what it was like. Wright said “The sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. Nobody who has not experienced it for himself can realize it. It is a realization of a dream so many persons have had of floating in the air. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost — if you can conceive of such a combination.” Perfect peace/and excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost. Multiply that by a BILLION, and that’s something like what we will experience with the glory of God in heaven.
Jonathan Edwards said it like this: that the glory of God in Jesus Christ will produce “a soul-satisfying happiness answerable to the capacity and cravings of our souls.” Everything we need to make us perfectly happy and completely satisfy the “cravings of our souls” will be fulfilled by the glory of God in heaven.
II Thessalonians 2 says that is what we “gain” when we are saved. Salvation doesn’t just give us “pearly gates.” It doesn’t just give us “streets of gold.”
It gives us access again to the glory we lost at Eden.
“Paradise Lost” will be “Paradise Regained.”
We who “fell short” of the glory of God, can “gain” it back!
IV. The Way to the Glory
“It was for this He called you THROUGH OUR GOSPEL, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” HOW do we gain that glory we had lost? Paul says we get it “THROUGH our gospel.”
The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” When Paul says “our gospel” he was referring to the “good news” message that he and the apostles were preaching, as opposed to the “false gospel” some were teaching, that human effort can get you to heaven, instead of by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
— Paul said in Galatians 1:4 that “his gospel” is “the Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this evil age.”
— Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that “his gospel” was “faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Salvation through “our” gospel, the Paul was talking about here, is not based on what we can do for God; but on what GOD did for US through Jesus Christ. That is why the gospel is such “good news.” We don’t have to earn it; we don’t have to perform some amazing deed in order to get it. You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest, or make a 36 on your ACT; or have perfect attendance at church or anything like that to earn it. God did it FOR us through Jesus and His death on the cross, and He GIVES it as a gift to everyone who believes in Him, and commits his life to Him.
But the Bible tells us that this gift of the gospel through Jesus is THE ONLY path to God’s glory. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” There is only one way to gain God’s glory, and that is through Jesus.
In the mountains of Peru there is a massive temple complex called Macchu Picchu that was built centuries ago by the Inca Empire as a place to worship the sun. My sister Erin visited there not long ago. It is an amazing complex, with walls built of massive stones which fit so precisely together you can’t fit a needle in between the stones. Once you made your way up the winding mountain trails, and enter the complex, you come to the Temple itself. But there is only ONE entrance into that Temple; there is only ONE door, which everyone who enters, must pass through. If you want to enter that Temple, you must pass through that door; there is no other way. That’s not being narrow-minded, or prejudiced, or bigoted; it’s simply a fact: there IS only ONE entrance into the Temple of the Sun in Macchu Piccu.
And in the same way, the Bible tells us that there is only one way to see the glory of God in His eternal temple in heaven. There is only one door. Jesus said in John 10:7, “I am the door.” He said in John 14:6, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through Me.” That’s not being “narrow-minded;” that is not being “prejudiced,” or bigoted or anything else. It is just a fact. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Our sins separated us from the glory of God, and if we want to regain access to that glory, there is only one possible way to do it: you must have your sins forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. That was the only possible means of salvation. That’s why God went through the costly sacrifice of becoming a man in Jesus Christ, that’s why He died on the cross with the weight of our sins on His body; that’s why when Jesus asked if there was any other way, please let this cup pass from Me — but God sent Him to the cross because there WAS no other way our sins could be forgiven, and we could see the glory of God, than for us to receive the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.
There is only one way to the glory of God: and that is through Jesus Christ.
That’s why Paul said in Galatians 1 that if anyone preaches another gospel, let him be accursed — because there really IS no other gospel; there IS no other way to heaven. Any other way of salvation that is offered to you, other than through faith in Jesus Christ is a deception and will NOT get you to glory.
So the most important question of your life is: ARE YOU ON THAT WAY?
— Do you realize that you were made to “feast” on the glory of God forever?
— Do you realize that your sin has separated you from that glory of God?
— And do you believe that Jesus made the way for you to come BACK to the glory of God, through His death on the cross for your sins?
— If so, then commit your life to Jesus as YOUR Lord & Savior, and follow Him through whatever hardships you may encounter in this life, in order to receive the surpassing greatness of the glory of God in heaven forever.
If you will do that, then you can be confident that one day, you will experience that “soul-satisfying happiness” Jonathan Edwards talked about, which will satisfy every deep desire of your soul, and you will see the glory of God.
In II Corinthians 4:4 Paul calls the gospel, “The gospel of the glory of Christ.” The gospel really is “The Gospel of Glory.” It’s all about glory:
— God created us to experience His glory forever
— our sin separated us from that glory
— and through the gospel, we gain BACK access to that glory, that we will “feast” on forever and ever!
About 200 years after Pastor Samuel Rutherford’s death, a Scottish pastor’s wife (Ann R. Cousin) wrote a poem using Rutherford’s last words “Glory, glory dwells in Immanuel’s land” as its key phrase. (Some of you may have heard these words put to music in an old hymn):
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks,
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory — glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The King there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen
It were a well-spent journey
Though seven deaths lay between;
The Lamb with His fair army
Doth on Mt. Zion stand
And glory — glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Deep waters cross’d life’s pathway,
The hedge of thorns was sharp;
Now these all lie behind me —
Oh! For a well-tuned harp;
Oh! To join Hallelujah
With yon triumphant band
Who sing, where glory dwelleth,
In Immanuel’s land.
I wish that “this poor, lisping, stammering tongue” could do a better job of describing for you the glory of God. But I know God’s Spirit has put a sense of His glory into the heart of every true believer. I Peter 1:8 says: “though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of GLORY …”. You know in your heart, Christian person, God’s glory is there for you!
“Glory; glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.” God created us to “feast” on His glory. We lost that glory in our sin, but through the gospel of Jesus we gain back the glory. And if we’re on that one road to glory, then we can stare death in the face with a smile, and say like Pastor Samuel Rutherford: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”