"No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). Here we distinguish God the Father, who can never be seen, and God the Son who was certainly seen for thirty years here on earth.
This takes us straight into the mystery of the Trinity - three eternal Persons with very different functions. In India a Muslim would come up and object when I was preaching : "You believe the Father is God? The Son is God? The Spirit is God?" Then he would count on his fingers, one plus one plus one plus one equals three, so you are a polytheist like the Hindus. There is only one God, but you Christians believe in three gods." On one occasion I picked up a mango from a fruit seller's basket, and I asked my objector : "The skin is mango? The juice is mango? The stone is mango? So you believe this is three mangoes?"
That was a clever argument, but I soon learned it did not help the person into faith. We need to begin with the fact that God is love, and you cannot love as a lone solitary being. Like Muslims we also believe that God is one. But God's oneness is a oneness of three Persons eternally held together by love.
The three Persons each have functions, which we experience in different ways. The Father is like a Parent behind the scenes. The Holy Spirit works from deep within us. But it is the Son who comes into personal contact with us. We never see the Father in this life, but the Son keeps appearing from time to time. And for thirty years he actually lived among us. So we begin with some appearances recorded in the Old Testament.
"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God" (Genesis 3:8). A walk gives us an opportunity for intimate conversation. We are not distracted by business, visitors, children, or the telephone. So here we have the second Person of the Trinity inviting humans for a walk. And as humans still do, the Son of God's invitation was rejected.
But in contrast to that, we read that "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him" (Genesis 5:24). Instead of hiding like Adam and Eve, Enoch kept walking with God. And in his case, there was no going down into the abode of the dead to await a future resurrection.
Many people tell me they enjoy talking to the Lord when they are walking in town. I find myself in conversation with him on the long drive to Toronto and back. And when we die, like Enoch, we are immediately taken by the Son of God to continue our walks in the city of God (see Revelation 21:24).
Another who enjoyed the intimacy of walking with the Son of God was Noah. He "was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Judging from the words of hymn writers, this must be a common experience to this day. We sing "When we walk with the Lord," and "He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way." It could be argued that walking with is metaphorical for obeying, or trusting in. But with Abraham and Moses we find more definite evidence of the Son of God meeting face to face with humans.
It was the Lord who told Abraham to move south from the area of Haran to settle in Canaanite territory (Genesis 12:1, 4). When he arrived in the land we read "The Lord appeared to Abram" and told him his offspring would eventually live there. A few years later "The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision" and told him not to be afraid (Genesis 15:1). As we will see in a few minutes exactly the same words of encouragement, "Do not be afraid" came to Paul in a vision when he was facing a tough situation in the city of Corinth eighteen centuries later (Acts 18:9).
Similarly "The Lord appeared to Isaac" and to Jacob when they faced special crises in their life (Genesis 26:2,24). Then when Jacob dreamed about the ladder reaching up into heaven "The Lord stood beside him" and said he was the same Son of God who had appeared to his father and grandfather (Genesis 28:13).
Even more striking was the experience twenty years later when "Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." Wrestling with a friend is called kushti in India, and it corresponds to an arm wrestle here in Canada. By the end of this long all night wrestle Jacob called the place Peniel (Hebrew for "face of God") and said "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:24, 30). The text we began with explained "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son who has made him known" (John 1:18). And Jacob discovered he had met God the Son face to face but in this momentous wrestling match.
Now we move on another three hundred years to the time of Moses. "The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed." Most of the time we are too busy to listen, so the Lord catches our attention with some unexpected physical phenomenon. When Moses' curiosity was aroused, he said "I must turn aside and see this great sight." That was when "God called to him out of the bush" and said "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:2-6).
Then the Son of God explained that he wanted Moses to go back into Egypt and bring out his people from slavery to the promised land. Moses wanted to know what he should say when people asked him God's name. And the answer was "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:13-15). In Hebrew the first person of the verb I AM is eheyeh. The third person of the verb I AM is iheyeh (meaning HE IS), so Jewish people began naming the Son of God by a name which was transliterated Jehovah in the King James Version and Yahweh in many modern translations. But Jewish people think this name is too sacred to pronounce, so they confine themselves to saying ha shem which means "The Name."
When John wrote his Gospel he remembered Jesus words "Before Abraham was I am" (John 8:58) which can only be a claim to be the I AM who called to Moses out of the burning bush. And when the Jewish temple guards came to arrest Jesus he asked them who they were looking for. When they said "Jesus of Nazareth" he used the divine name I AM. Knowing this could only be a claim to deity they stepped back and fell terrified to the ground (John 18:4-8 - the NRSV unfortunately avoids the force of the name by translating "I am he").
Before leaving Moses we should note that, after forty days with the Son of God on Mount Sinai, he was told "I have called Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and I have filled him with the divine spirit (the Holy Spirit), with ability, intelligence, and knowledge of every kind of craft" (Exodus 31:1-3). This special inspiration of the third Person of the Trinity was needed for the work of creating the tabernacle and its fittings. And it illustrates how the Son of God leaves the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Trinity) to do the work of inspiration in our lives. As we saw when we began, each of the three Persons of the Trinity relate to us in different ways, but they are totally one in the eternal love that unites them.
"When God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 18:31). Here again it was the Son of God, not the Father, who was in direct contact with his servant. And the writer adds "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face (as in Jacob's reference to peniel, the face of God), as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11).
Now we can see that Paul's experience was a continuation of these Old Testament meetings "face to face" with the eternal Son of God. Just as the Lord caught Moses attention with the burning bush, so Paul was stopped on the road to Damascus when "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him." He heard a voice saying "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" and when he asked "Who are you, Lord?" the answer was "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:3-5, see also his account in 26:12-16). From that moment Paul had no doubt that Jesus was the same I AM who had revealed himself to Moses.
We have noted how in a tough situation in Corinth the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid." Then when he was in danger of being torn to pieces by an angry crowd the Lord "stood near him" and said, "Keep up your courage" (Acts 23:10-11). I have had several people say to me that when they were in big trouble the Lord came to stand right by their bedside to encourage them. It has not happened to me, but I have no doubt the Lord comes to me when I talk to him every day, when I read his Word, and I have known him come to encourage me in a dream or vision of the night.
Finally let me remind you of the resurrection appearances of the Son of God. These occurred between Easter and the Ascension. On Easter morning the Son of God walked along with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). . Then "when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them" (John 20:1-19). Then the risen Lord did not appear again till the next Sunday, which I call Thomas Sunday (John 20:26-29). During the next five days the apostles walked up to Galilee, as Jesus had told them. . And he appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, again on a Sunday (see John 21:1, 21:14). These meetings were certainly "face to face." They clear that he would not come to be with them every day, but from time to time, and especially when they gathered to eat with him on the Lord's day.
What do we learn from this Bible study of the Lord's appearances to
his servants? I suggest next time the Son of God wants to come for a walk
with you, don't back away and hide. And when you are scared silly and in
big trouble, don't be surprised if he comes to encourage you. If something
grabs your curiosity, the Lord might easily be trying to get your attention.
And if, like Moses, he can count you as his friend, there could be no greater
privilege than sharing with him all that is in your heart, and he in turn
will share his concerns with you..