As I sat down to write this piece my eyes were drawn to a spider’s web above the window sill. It glittered with brilliant purples and blues as the light of the sun fell upon it. I believe this was a sign from the Father to confirm his word about the beauty of the Son.
Whenever I am walking home of a morning with flowers picked from a garden for my lovely wife observers intuitively know, and sometimes comment, that I love her with my whole heart. It is also immediately plain to them that I consider her to be beautiful. Unquestionably, the beauty of nature, and especially of a person, is a window onto the wonder of the eternal. Christians often obscure the eternal by their busyness and “noise” concerning current political and economic events. Obamania, Obamaphobia, Israelolatry, anti-Semitism, attacks on capitalism, commendations of socialism are the most recent layers of difference that divide the functional unity of the church.
Appeals to tradition, scripture and reason as primary authorities for faith have proved fruitless in creating practical oneness. Worryingly, the contemporary pragmatic and emotive church mood is only leading to pluralism. For the sake of a Christian unity which leads to the recognition of Jesus as the Beloved of God, we must approach the question of truth in a different manner. Leaving behind the event – centred, programme oriented world of infotainment let us reflect on the in-depth structures God has placed within creation that reveal his own life. Beauty is one such reality. Against the economic currents of the day Jesus made this his reference point.
Who are we Hearing?
“It’s going to get very ugly.” (Media comment on the current economic crisis.)
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Jesus)
By pointing to the beauty of the flowers as an assurance of divine provision, Jesus radically challenges us about whose news we are hearing. These are the words of the Son of God speaking predominantly to Galilean peasants who lived a hand to mouth existence dependent on the yearly harvest. In context, Jesus contrasts the anxiety that serving money brings (6:24 – 25) with the provision of the heavenly Father. He teaches that to sidestep the message God gives through the beauty in creation is to adopt the spirituality of the Gentiles. To ignore the authority of beauty is an attack on the very nature of God as Father revealed in Christ.
All this is clear, but how does it work, how does beauty speak to us in the midst of the painful circumstances of life? For truth to be experienced as real we must enter into the Jesus personal experience by the Spirit.
The Beauty of Christ
Since “all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16), Jesus knew by revelation that the lilies of the field were a gift to him from the Father. As the Word through whom all things were created (John 1:3), he saw in flowers a reflection of his own loveliness. (Every beautiful thing radiates the excellence of Christ.) We are moved to ask, “What sort of a Father gives flowers to his Son?” The only valid way to answer this question is from within Jesus’ own life of love.
Christ came on a mission to re – beautify the whole creation. The classic text for this is Isaiah 61:1 – 3,“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”. By applying this passage to himself (Luke 4:16-19), Jesus explained that his anointing was to beautify.
Against the Old Testament background, this signifies that Jesus empowerment by the Spirit fulfils what was typified by the “holy anointing oil” that consecrated the High Priests for their special service. Such oil could only be produced by crushing the olive and mixing its liquid with the most expensive of spices. In Jesus, the realm of holiness, anointing and the crushing of humanity’s innermost being are perfectly united.
In a world full of suffering it is not easy to accept that beauty is more primary than evil. Humans everywhere are offended that God does not act to remove suffering. This is the primary obstacle to accepting that the beauty of God underlies all creation. Divine wrath, judgement and hell do not seem to be praiseworthy. The only answer to this dilemma is found in the unique atmosphere of holiness created by the wrath bearing of the cross.
“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him…. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53:2, 5). The singular beauty of the cross is that it is where the humanity of Jesus comes to perfection through the crushing of his spirit for us (Heb 2:10; 5:9). The cross is the climax of the flowering of humanity in him. In sacrificially dying for us Jesus offers up to the Father the perfection of worship through the offering of his life; he fulfils the deepest longing of covenantal spirituality, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (1 Chron 16:29). This is not the beauty of some thing, it is the beauty of humanity in the loving image of God under the very conditions of wrath that seem to deny it.
To know this is to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:19). It is to sense a reality whose wonder surpasses this world; it is to be in touch with the fount of all beauty himself. It is to dwell in the realm where “first love” (Rev 2:4) does not fade. Sadly, the knowledge of such things is rare in our due to shame.
Be ye Beautiful?
Shame came into the world when Eve rejected the presence of the beauty of the divine image (Gen 1:26) dwelling in the Word God had spoken (Gen 2:17; 3:6). The loss of this covering of glory exposed the relational nakedness of the first couple before God. Ever since, humanity has sought the substitute coverings of wealth, respectability, religion and pleasure. None of these can satisfy because none impart the beauty of the person of the Word – Jesus. It is time to return to the gospel. The old chorus, Something beautiful, something good; All my confusion He understood. All I had to offer Him Was brokenness and strife, But He made something beautiful of my life is gospel truth.
Consider Ephesians 5:25 – 27, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27). Jesus is not idealistic about the church; rather, he has the transforming power and loving will to produce his partner’s perfection. This testimony about the beauty of the Bride is a spiritual reality that we need to believe now. As Paul says a little earlier in Ephesians, “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). To belong to Jesus is to already dwell by grace in the realm of glory and splendour (Eph 1:3; 2:4 – 7). This means we cannot treat the grubby behaviour of the people of God as part of their true identity.
Years ago in prayer I saw an image of a person being stripped of layer upon layer of clothing. The layers were attempts by the church in our city to cover its shame; the stripping work was being done by the Spirit. Whenever we see sin being exposed amongst the people of God we must both mourn and recognise the Lord is at work turning us to Christ. More broadly, today the idol of prosperity luxuriated in by Western society and church is being stripped bare before our very eyes.
Conclusion: the Coming Efflorescence
Years ago, soon after a dramatic encounter with Jesus, I was taking a church service with very elderly folk in Perth. Many were crippled, toothless, demented, but I was aware of an outstandingly beautiful presence emanating from them all. It was the presence of the Lord. Something like this presence is what the Spirit is working to release in our midst.
Jesus wants to unveil his beauty through the Church in the midst of the perishing world – a splendour not found in her programmes, political power, numbers or influence, but in whom she is as the Bride fit for the King of kings and Lord of Lords. I see a simultaneous unfolding to produce a carpet of beautiful flowers across our city - in the media, art, business, politics, education, law, amongst men etc. We are talking about a presence that will evoke functional unity amongst believers and a heightened spiritual sensitivity in culture to the things of God. This is a prelude to global harvest.
A flower has form, shape and function and can be analysed scientifically, but more than any of these categories it is beautiful! How much more striking will it be when it is manifested that we are the true flowers of eternal radiant beauty that the Father has given to the Son (Heb 2:10). In the midst of this surprising manifestation many will turn to Jesus – not out of guilt, nor because they are seeking prosperity, but because they see through the church (Eph 3:10,21) the outstanding attractiveness of the beauty of the Lord Jesus living in his holy temple, even us (Eph 2:21; Rev 11:2).
 Using the word in the opposite sense to “music” i.e. disharmonious.
 A word I made up meaning “worship of Israel”.
 Pragmatic means, “does it work”, emotive means, “how does it feel”.
 The notion of many truths, or “truth for you”. A recent blatant example is bishop Gene Robinson’s prayer to “O God of our many understandings” at the Obama inauguration,
 “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 7:23 cf. Eph 1:6)
 A term coined to describe a superficial, non -analytical mixture of news and entertainment in the media.
 This approach is not novel. The use of Hubble telescope photos of the cosmos by Louie Giglio in his evangelistic presentations of the majesty of God is one example.
 Matthew 6:28-30
 Not a TV evangelist or local preacher whose income is assured by his congregation.
 “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matt 6:31-32).
 This includes human intellect, form, art, invention etc., whether Jesus is recognised in these things or not.
 Prepared at God’s command and reserved solely for the priests and tabernacle furniture (Ex 30:22 -33).
 Those in heaven plainly praise God for his judgements e.g. Rev 15:3; 16:7; 19:2.
 Compare Ps 29:2; 96:9 and Rom 12:1 – 2 as fulfilled in Christ.
 In the biblical sense of participation, experience, intimacy.
 Best thought of as a sense of lost glory e.g. Rom 3:23.
 Compare Revelation 19:7 – 8, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure””.
 For any political, national or economic system to claim it is its own covering is to claim divine status and bring down the judgement of God e.g. Gen 11:1-9; Isa 47:1-10; Rev 18:1-8.
 Using big words can make me feel more in control, this one simply means “flowering”.
 Where this title is used of Jesus (Rev 17:14; 19:6), his people are with him.