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The Invisibility of God - 1 John 4

Why can't we see God? Why doesn't He show Himself to us? There are several reasons for this . . .

1 John 4:12a; Proverbs 18:16; Genesis 32:28-30; Exodus 33:7-23; John 1:18, 4:24, 5:37, 6:46, 12:45; Luke 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:13-16; Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Hebrews 1:3; Job 19:25-27; 1 Corinthians 13:12

Jan 25, 2015 12:00 AM

MP3 audio icon The-Invisibility-of-God _01-25-2015.mp3 — MP3 audio, 16012 kB (16397154 bytes)

Earlier, Sam read to us from Genesis 32.  It is the account of Jacob returning to Canaan to face his brother Esau whom he cheated out of his birthright.  Many years have passed since Jacob fled for his life from his enraged brother.  As far as we know, there has been no contact between them.  Until now.  

So Jacob prepares gifts for his brother.  Proverbs tells us of the wisdom of such an act:

A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great. Prov 18:16

Jacob feared for his life.  But he trusted in the promise of God and returned to his home.  He sent everyone else ahead while he remained behind.  While he was alone, he has a strange encounter with a man with whom he wrestles all night, until daybreak when the man touches Jacob’s hip and puts it out of joint.  The man tells him,

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28 ESV)

His name is changed from “Deceiver” to “He Strives With God”.  And Jacob’s, or rather, Israel’s response is

"I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30 ESV)

Not only was Jacob surprised that he had encountered God in the form of a man, but he even survived to tell about it.  Jacob thought he should be dead because he had actually seen God “face to face”.  Look with me at Exodus 33:

[7] Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting.  And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. [8] Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. [9] When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. [10] And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door.

[11] Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.  When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

And, of course, Moses did not die.  Far from it.  This was a regular custom of Moses to go to the Tent of Meeting. And there, the text tells us the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (v11).  Moses continues this conversation with Jehovah, asking Him to please accompany Moses and the children of Israel to the Promised Land.

[17] And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” [18] Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

Why does Moses ask this?  Because He knows that whatever it is he is seeing when he speaks to God face to face, there’s more to be had.  He may be seeing God, but he is not seeing all there is to see.  He wants more.  But the LORD says:

[19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’  And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

[21] And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, [22] and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [23] Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
(Exodus 33:7-23 ESV)

Why are we talking about this?  Because our text for today talks about it.

[7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

[12] No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

[18] No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
(John 1:18 ESV)

[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
(John 6:46 ESV)

[37] And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his FORM you have never seen, (John 5:37 ESV)

[45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. (John 12:45 ESV)

Form - Gr. eidos, occurs 5x in New Testament: external appearance; sight, perception.

[22] and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22 ESV)

The Holy Spirit did not become a literal dove.  He did not take on bird flesh.  He descended in the FORM of a dove, LIKE a dove, with the APPEARANCE of a dove.  In the same manner as angels who appear as men throughout the Bible, but they are not men.

[29] And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:29 ESV)

[6] So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, [7] for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV)

[22] Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV)

You’ve heard the saying, “There’s more to this than meets the eye”.  That is exactly what we are speaking of here.

John, who spent 3 years with Jesus, says several times in his gospel and in his epistles, No one has ever seen God.“  Clearly he is talking about something other than seeing Jesus.  Multitudes of people saw Jesus with their own eyes.  And clearly, John believes Jesus is God.  So how can he say, “No one has ever seen God?”  

It is because God is invisible.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 ESV)  

God is spirit means that God is not made of any physical matter and does not have a material body but has a more wonderful kind of existence that is everywhere present (hence worship is not confined to one place, v. 21), is not perceived by the bodily senses (cf. 3:6, 8), and yet is so powerful that he brought the universe into existence (cf. 1:1–3, 10; 17:5). Because “God is spirit,” the Israelites were not to make idols “in the form of anything” in creation as did the surrounding nations (Ex. 20:4).

The fullness of God’s person, or as we read in Exodus, God’s face cannot be seen.  Why?  Why is God invisible, hid from our eyes?  Why do angels who live in God’s presence cover their eyes with their wings?  This is why we cannot see God:

[20] “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
(Exodus 33:20 ESV)

We believe the “Man” who spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, in the form of the literal man He would be in the future.  Moses saw Christ and spoke with Him as a man, like a man, in the appearance of a man.  But God, in His fulness, in the unrestrained display of all His glory, is a sight that would be lethal to sinful men.

[13] I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, [14] to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [15] which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

[16] who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16 ESV)

In this present age, we are not equipped with eyes that can see, or bodies that can bear the sight of Him who dwells in unapproachable light.  But Jacob wrestled with God and survived the experience.  He not only approached God, but strove with him physically.  That was undoubtedly the Lord Jesus, in the appearance of a man, but also fully God.

[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15 ESV)

And I would submit to you that Jesus has always been the image of God to men, spiritually in the Old Testament and physically in the New Testament.  The Lord Jesus is the only direct access we as human beings will ever have with God the Father.

[3] And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

[3] He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
(Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

[45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. (John 12:45 ESV)

Why can’t we see God?  Because of the mercy of God.  He hides Himself and remains unapproachable because, as He said to Moses, “No one can see my face, my essence, my person, and survive.”  It is a mercy that God keeps us from seeing Him.

But He has sent His Son.  And He will send Him again!  And we will see God.  

[25] For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
[26] And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
[27] whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
(Job 19:25-27 ESV)

[2] Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 ESV)

[12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV)



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