The Secret of Radiance

Then, in such hour of need
Of our fainting, dispirited race,
You, like angels, appear
Radiant with ardor divine!

— MATTHEW ARNOLD IN RUGBY CHAPEL

*    *    *    *    *

   Radiance to me is not heat waves from a fireplace or a radiator. Rather it is a quality of joy, much in the way that joy was and is a quality of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Beginning His ministry at 30 years of age, this young man showed such radiance of spirit that the common people of His day found Him hard to resist. There was a buoyancy about Him, a freedom and openness yes, and a gladness and merriment as He set about doing His Father's will. Men, women, and children all found Him appealing, sometimes in contrast to other religious types.

   Jesus never seems to have traded on His personality. He coveted no honors and anticipated no glory except the role of a servant. Most of the time He was unwilling to talk about Himself. Instead He would ask, "Who do people say that I am?" We look in vain for expressions from Him such as "my power,"

Page 140

"my wisdom," "my significance," "my reverence" or "my holiness."

   He did mention one characteristic of Himself worth examining. In John 15 and 17 He spoke of "my joy." It was not an honor He earned or developed; it was just part of Him that He brought from heaven. While He was addressing His Father in the great prayer of John 17, Jesus said, "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them."1

   "My joy." If you wonder what gave Jesus' face such a radiance that He instinctively drew all kinds of men, women and children to Himself, you may find a clue here. His joy was not an attribute or a characteristic of Him so much as it was a kind of radiating of Himself. So why did He single out joy for emphasis? I can think of no reason for speaking of "my joy" beyond the fact that He must have been in Himself a radiant, Spirit-filled Person.

   Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury and a compiler of the Greek New Testament, believes that when Jesus spoke of "my joy" He was referring not to His camaraderie with His disciples or His enjoyment of the Palestinian environment. Rather He was reflecting "His holy exultation in the love of His Father."2 His joy was the "joy of the Lord" that the prophet Nehemiah in the Old Testament declared "is your strength." It comes to us as an inner joy that radiates from God and remains untouchable even in the worst of times. It kept Jesus radiating good cheer wherever He happened to be, even in a sinking boat.

   This quality, "my joy," was what Jesus came to bring us as an accompaniment to our salvation. He said explicitly in John 15, "These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." Once His joy is implanted in us, He said, He wants it to become our joy, our unique and permanent possession. It then becomes something that can no more be taken from us than Jesus' own joy could be taken from Him. He wants joy to radiate from us as it did from Him, and He wants our joy to be full. He wants it to be jubilant, exultant, merry, brimful, and spilling over. Not obnoxious, of course;

Page 141

not oh-so-jolly or happy-go-lucky, or put on as a professional clown puts on his painted smile and costume, but real, sturdy, and contagious, a light touch able to bolster people's spirits in the midst of tough situations.

   Arthur John Gossip tells us that in the book of Acts the disciples caught the joy of Jesus, that "always their eyes are shining, always their hearts dance and exult in the sheer delight of what they have found the splendor and the joy of it. They coin new words. They invent superlatives. But in the end they frankly confess they have given no idea of it."3

   I want a radiance like that. I join with Oswald Chambers in saying, "May the Lord keep me radiantly and joyously His." I ought to make more of an effort to be amiable and all that. But to get to heaven I am depending solely on the blood of Jesus and the amazing grace of God, who loves and understands me.

   Would you like a radiant glow? Would you like the iridescent glory of the Holy Spirit to be visible on your face so that it might reflect on those you may encounter? That's a large order, and it might do well for us to take a good look at what the Bible means by the word "radiant."

   The word is found often in the NIV translation. In Exodus 34:29 we read, "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD." The Living Bible also uses the word "radiate" to describe the face of the Lord God Himself. A famous benediction that God gave to Moses and Aaron contains the words "May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord's face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).

   The New Testament translations of the Gospel of Matthew all say that when Jesus ascended the Mount of Transfiguration,

Page 142

His face "shone like the sun." Dean Alford suggests that Jesus' face was "lighted with radiance both from without and within."4 Was He smiling? The record does not say.

   In the Random House dictionary the word "radiance" is listed as having two meanings. One has to do with light and its warm, shining effect. The second has to do with such subjects as joy and hope, as in "a radiant smile" and "a radiant future."

   At the birth of Jesus the light of heaven created a radiance that seems always to have surrounded the Christmas season since the early centuries. The stars shone down on shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem as they tended their flocks, and the angels brought glad tidings of great joy and peace. Later the light from a particular star guided the magi or "wise men from the East" who crossed the desert to find the dwelling place of the Christ child.

   It is worth asking why Christmas (despite some modern attempts to eliminate it from American culture) is universally the most popular holiday in the calendar. Due in large part to the labors of missionaries past and present, it is celebrated today more than ever, not only in Western countries but also around the world.

   I'll tell you what makes Christmas popular: It is the radiance that comes from the face of Jesus Christ. Year after year Jesus continues to shed a radiant glow over the Christmas season. He is the watershed between life's goodness and badness. We express that truth by singing songs and hymns, by sending greeting cards and exchanging presents, by attending special church services and family gatherings. The joy of Christmas is very real, even though many people manage to miss it.

   Some fascinating uses of the word "radiance" are found in the Old Testament. Shulamith, in the Song of Songs, describes her lover as "radiant and ruddy." Psalm 19 speaks of the commands of the Lord as "radiant." And Ezekiel in his great vision sees the land of Israel itself as "radiant with His glory."

   Just glance at a few of the words commonly associated with this one word "radiant": ebullient, ecstatic, elated, glad, enraptured, euphoric, exuberant, exultant, jocund, jubilant, mirthful,

Page 143

merry, animate, hilarious. You'll find them all in the English Bible in one translation or another.

   In a rare moment during His ministry Jesus declared, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). A confirmation of that assertion is found in the letter to the Hebrews: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (1:3 NIV). One clear message of the whole New Testament is that the radiance of the Lord has come down and is available to us! The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that Christ Himself anticipated a "radiant church."

   It has been my privilege to worship God in churches on six continents: Brethren assemblies in New Zealand; a GI Quonset hut in the Aleutian Islands; white-painted meetinghouses in New England; a cardboard church in an Oregon city where whiskey glasses were used to serve communion; gigantic Roman, Anglican, and Russian Orthodox cathedrals in Europe; missionary churches in Samoa and the Yukon; Presbyterian churches in Brazil, Korea, and South Africa; indigenous churches in Jamaica and St. Lawrence island; a skyscraper in Hong Kong.

   Did I find radiance in these churches? Yes! But let me tell you about a man in a particular church in southern California. This church is known the world over as Calvary Chapel. Located in lower Costa Mesa in what was once called the "Gospel Swamp," the church had a membership of 25 in 1970 when it called as its pastor a onetime Foursquare Gospel preacher named Charles Ward Smith. Today 35,000 people pass through its buildings every week.

   Mr. Smith, known throughout the world as "Chuck," had dropped out of the ministry in his younger days, discouraged, and had turned to cleaning carpets and building houses. On the side he taught the Bible in home groups. But soon he resumed his ministry in Calvary Chapel, and a spiritual explosion took place among West Coast young people who became known as the "Jesus Generation."

Page 144

   Who were these young people? Actually a lot of them were "flower children," druggies who had been frightened out of their skins by demons appearing in their dreams. Trips "way out" on LSD, cocaine, and methamphetamine drugs had produced nightmares of sheer terror. Many of them came from good homes. They cried out, calling on the one Name they remembered from childhood who had authority over the demons: Jesus. It worked.

   Grateful for deliverance, hundreds and thousands of them began swarming into Pacific Coast churches during the late 60s and 70s. Unwashed, longhaired, barefoot, wearing earrings and unkempt clothing, they dropped their joints outside on the church sidewalk, flushed their hard drugs down the church toilets, and slumped into the church pews, where they tried sticking their bare toes through the communion cup holders.

   Chuck Smith and his wife Kay went out of their way to befriend the young people. The word spread quickly among the communes: Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa had a welcome mat. It soon became an unofficial place for the movement.

   Today Chuck Smith has passed his seventieth birthday. His four children are grown. The fringe of hair around his handsome bald head has turned white. But his frame is still stocky, and his broad smile is as radiant as it was when the Jesus people responded to it by pouring into his church back in the 1970s. One such, responding at age 26, was the man who later became my pastor, Dr. Michael MacIntosh, founding minister of Horizon Christian Fellowship, San Diego.

   What is it about Chuck Smith?5 People say that it is the joy and peace on his countenance. It is a benign, genuine expression of goodness, righteousness, and love. However you describe it, it makes people feel good just to look at him. What about his Bible-believing theology, his position on sin and trust in the supernatural? Yes, that is all part of Chuck. What about his love for Jesus? Yes! That is the real source of his radiance.

______________________

1. John 17:13 NIV

2. Henry Alford, The Greek New Testament, fifth edition, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 177ff.

3. Arthur John Gossip, The Galilean Accent (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1927).

4. Alford, New Testament, p. 178.

5. Copies of Chuck Smith's many books may be obtained by calling him at Word for Today: (800)-272-WORD (9673).

Chapter 19 || Table of Contents