“The reality of God lays lightly on the American church.”
— David Wells
“Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the LORD’s glory has shone upon you. Though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the LORD will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance. Lift up your eyes and look all around: they are all gathered; they have come to you. Your sons will come from far away, and your daughters on caregivers’ hips. Then you will see and be radiant; your heart will tremble and open wide, because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you; the nations’ wealth will come to you. Countless camels will cover your land, young camels from Midian and Ephah. They will all come from Sheba, carrying gold and incense, proclaiming the LORD’s praises. All Kedar’s sheep will be gathered for you; rams from Nebaioth will be your offerings; they will be accepted on my altar, and I will glorify my splendid house.”
— Isaiah 60:1-7
American evangelicalism has emerged in the 21st century not as a prophetic witness but as a political action committee, not as a proclaimer of the glory of Christ but a purveyor of pragmatism and production values.
We take God lightly. We treat him flippantly. We are too busy saying “whee” in church when we should be saying “woe is me.” The weightiness, the gravity, the all-encompassing and awe-inspiring glory of the Creator God, the Great I AM, is woefully neglected in far too many places where something resembling worship takes place.
But God will not have it.
In Isaiah 60 we see the enormity of the effect on the church and on the world of the God who lives. Think of all the ways we try to make the church appealing that have almost nothing to do with God. God almost seems like an afterthought, or a benevolent grandpa sitting in the corner admiring our concerts to ourselves. There is no glory in those exercises.
In the end, if we will have glory it MUST come from God.
Our light comes from HIM shining over us – Is. 60:1
His glory will appear over us – v.2
The radiance is a reflection of him – v.5
The praises will go to the LORD – v.6
He will glorify HIS beautiful house – v.7
This theme runs throughout the entire book of Isaiah. In the midst of ruins, the Lord reigns:
For the High and Exalted One,
who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this:
“I live in a high and holy place.” (Isaiah 57:15)
Heaven is my throne,
and earth is my footstool.
Where could you possibly build a house for me? (Isaiah 66:1)
God is enthroned above the circle of the earth;
its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. (Isaiah 40:22)
Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales;
he lifts up the islands like fine dust. (Isaiah 40:15)
And this commences of course with Isaiah 6:
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. And the angels are calling Holy Holy Holy and Isaiah is utterly undone. “I am unclean. Woe is me!”
And it is out of this divine discombobulation, this awestruck reconstitution, that the missional mandate is given. And this is always the case with great moves of God in which men are tools in his hands—they always begin with gospel exultation. Mission begins not with leadership skills or leadership strategies, but a glorious encounter with the living God.
Look, what America needs, brothers and sisters, is not merely believers in God, but worshipers of God—not people simply willing to mentally assent to the reality of the supreme being, willing perhaps to accommodate acknowledgment of him into their weekly schedule, willing to nod at him on social media as a missing “value” in society, but people willing to offer their whole hearts to the reality of the glory of the one true God YHWH, willing to surrender their days—their very lives—to him, willing to reorient their very existence around the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
When we look back at the genuine moves of God throughout history we inevitably find a preaching of God that is drenched in majesty. Movements begun through the preaching of the glory of the church fizzle out quickly. But movements begun through the preaching of the glory of God have captured whole counties and countries. They have changed the face of the globe.
A domesticated, privatized god moves nothing. But the majesty of the God of the Scriptures is like a heavenly magnet, drawing and repelling, reshaping the very world into a reflection of his foreordained designs.
(This is a portion of a sermon on “The Church Majestic” preached at the 2018 For The Church National Conference.)