One of the good things about lockdown easing has been that we can start to see people face to face again. Facebook and Zoom calls have helped us stay in touch but even they are not the same as actually getting to see and spend time with people and in some cases we have not even had that, a number of our older members are not on the internet and so contact has been by phone. How wonderful to see them face to face again.
Here in the beatitudes is the promise is that one day, you and me will see God face to face. It relates to the question asked in Psalm 33:3-4
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
The problem is that we do not have clean hands or pure hearts. We have held bitterness, jealousy and lust in our hearts. We have not loved God whole heartedly. We have said and done things to hurt others and to show defiance against God. So the true answer to the question “Who can ascend…? Is “Nobody.” This is powerfully illustrated in an encounter we read about during the Exodus.
After Moses has returned from receiving the law at Mount Sinai and discovered the people worshipping golden calves, he ascends the mountain again to intercede with God for them, pleading that God will show mercy, not destroy the people and instead go up to the land. When God confirms that he will do this, Moses asks to see his glory. Exodus 33:18-22 records the conversation as follows:
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 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.”
Something changes in the New Testament. 1 John 3:2 says that a day will come when we will be like Jesus because we will see him, as he is … or in other words, see him face to face. What is it that causes the change? The answer is, Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who is pure hearted and clean handed, the only one who can ascend to stand in the Holy Place in the presence of his father. Yet, unjustly punished for crimes he did not commit, Jesus bore our sin and through his death and resurrection offers us his righteousness so that we now are clean.
It is because of Jesus’ atonement that we are now called to draw near, to enjoy God’s presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit and to look forward to that day when we will see God face to face.