The Light of His Face

Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 16:40 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Many are saying, Who will—who can—show us any good (4:6)? So said David around, oh, three thousand years ago. And people somehow think that the Scriptures are irrelevant to modern concerns. Many were saying then, “Who will show us some good?” And many are saying it now. We’ve spent roughly two years under various kinds of rules and regulations; there is a well-publicized war on the borders of Europe; the political climate of the United States is about as reasonable as a classroom of 50 kindergartners (although that’s probably unfair to kindergartners). Who can show us any good? At the very least, who can show us some good that doesn’t get entirely lost in the wash of bad news? And I wouldn’t blame only the gatekeepers of information; there’s a reason why we see mostly bad, and it’s because we seek out mostly bad. The companies that keep track of every click we make, every search request, they know what we’re really looking for, and they give us more of it. We can lament it all we want, but do we think that “if it bleeds, it leads” became a cliché of news organizations for no reason at all? And yet we keep looking to these various “authorities” and “experts” to free us from the mess to which they and we have all been contributing for a long time now. As David says, “O sons of man, how long…will you love emptiness and seek the lie” (4:2; 4:3 MT).

Although we’ve been trained to think otherwise, most of the things we see or read about in the news don’t affect us directly. But we also have more than a few struggles in our own minds, our own lives, our jobs, families, congregations, and local communities. Who can show us any good? David says, “Lift up upon us the light of Your face, Yahweh.” This is the request that goes with the blessing given to Aaron to put on the people: “Yahweh shine the light of His face on you and be gracious to you; Yahweh lift up His face upon you and give you shalom” (Numbers 6:25-26).

It is bad for you to be hidden from the face of God, as Cain said he would be (Genesis 4:14); if God hides His face from you, it is the language of forsaking and forgetting you (Deuteronomy 31:17, 18; Psalm 10:11; Isaiah 54:8; 57:17). It is bad for God to set His face against you (Leviticus 17:10; 26:17; Jeremiah 21:10; 44:11). People like Moses (Exodus 3:6) and Joshua (Joshua 5:14), Gideon (Judges 6:22) and Samson’s father (Judges 13:22) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) know that it is dangerous to see God, even if you don’t know at first that it is God. And in the Psalms, everything depends on whether God turns His face away from you in anger and condemnation (Psalm 10:11; 13:1; 22:24; 27:9; 30:7; 44:24; 69:17; 88:14; 102:2; 104:29; 143:7) or lets the light of His face shine on you in mercy (Psalm 31:16; 44:3; 67:1; 80:3, 7, 19; 89:15; 119:135). We need God to hide His face from our sins, not from us (Psalm 51:9).

“Hear, O Yahweh, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Yahweh, do I seek.’ Do not hide Your face from me” (Psalm 27:7-8)! Who will show us the good things? Where will we seek and find the merciful face of God? Show us the Father and it will be enough for us. And He does. He turns His face toward us in the face of Jesus, so that we will see the heart of His mercy. He does not hide Jesus, but openly displays Him for all to see. “Because it is the God who said, ‘From darkness let the light shine,’ who has shined in our hearts [to give] the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father,” Jesus says (John 14:9).

And where do we see His face most clearly? “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem…[and] the people did not receive Him because His face was set toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, 53). His face is set toward Jerusalem and the cross. Here He shows us every good in the midst of all this world’s evil; precisely at the height of evil, in our crucifixion of our God, of the marring of His face by blood and thorn, is where we see the Icon of God’s merciful face turned toward us. “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” The face of the Father turns away, not from us, but from His Son who bears our sin and evil and rebellion. And because He turned His face from the Son in darkness and earth-shaking silence; because He raised Him from the dead; He will never turn His face from you.

Here we fix our eyes on the crucified Lord, who is the only face of God we can see in this world and this age. But even so, “we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glory of the cross will be transformed into the glory of the resurrection. Everyone who looks at Him and believes will be saved, and will never perish. Here He shines the light of His face and blesses us with His own Name, because we have been crucified with Him and buried with Him by baptism into death. Never hide Your face from me, lest I be like those who are dead (Psalm 143:7)!

He hears and answers; He gives relief to His people who are in distress. That means, literally, that He widens the narrow and difficult place. We go through those narrow, difficult, constricted places; He will not fail to open up the way to life. So we will sacrifice the sacrifices of righteousness, of faith and praise toward Him, and trust Him (4:5). We have His promise. You, O God, have put joy in my heart, (more) than in the time when their grain and new wine are multiplied. Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:5). And the shalom, the peace, the wholeness by which He blesses us reverberates every single day: In shalom, I will both lie down and I will sleep, because You, Yahweh alone, cause me to dwell in safety. Safety comes because of trust; if you trust the one who has promised protection, then you have safety, regardless of whatever might be happening around you. Tonight, as every night, “The radiant sun has vanished, its golden rays are banished from dark’ning skies of night; But Christ, the Sun of gladness, dispelling all our sadness, shines down on us in warmest light” (LSB 880:2).

When no one else can show us anything good, He shines the light of His face on us. “As for [us], [we] shall behold Your face in righteousness; when [we] awake, [we] shall be satisfied with Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15). From now on, you know Him in the Son, and you have seen His likeness. So we will be satisfied with His Image in Christ when we awake each day, and even more when we awake on that eternal resurrection day. “Oh, may my soul in Thee repose, and may sweet sleep mine eyelids close, sleep that shall me more vig’rous make to serve my God when I awake!” (LSB 883:4). “May God indeed be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). He alone will show us the only Good in the light of His face.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/16/22

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