This will be a bit of a confession. I recently listened to a renowned opera singer performing what I think must be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was beauty so exquisite that I was in tears.
This is not the first time I’ve had this experience—the beautiful music, and the tears. Apparently it’s a weakness I have. The tears, I mean. They well up out of my soul when I hear beautiful music.
I took violin lessons as a boy and—another confession—was never very good at it. But I loved the music, and always wished I could play the violin the way I knew it could be played. Those who have listened to great violin music played by a master know what I mean. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D Minor played by master violinist Jascha Heifetz, for example. Some consider the Chaconne Heifetz’ signature piece. “We call Bach the Bible,” Heifetz once said, adding, “As many years as I’ve played Bach I don’t think I know him. I’m discovering, and rediscovering, new things.”
(I don’t know if Heifetz said that because the Bible is like that—a book in which one continually discovers and rediscovers new things, the result of which is that after many years one finds oneself saying, “I am so glad I know Him,” but then after reading something else, or even that same passage another time, “I don’t think I know Him.”)
Bach, we are told, wrote his music to glorify God. You know that by listening to his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor played on a magnificent organ. There is a majesty, a grandeur, about this piece; I listen, and the chords start reverberating in my heart, and fill my heart with the fear of God. I cannot listen to this without being overcome with worship.
When this most recent experience was over and I was drying my eyes—it was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu sung (sorry, it is far more than singing, but I can’t think of a better word) by Sissel Kyrkjebo—I realized something about myself that I don’t think I’ve always been able to articulate. Yes, I have always loved beautiful music. But this time I became aware that what’s in my heart is more than that. It’s more akin to an ache, a deep ache for beauty, that apparently over the years has grown in my heart because of all the ugliness in this world. There is a lot of ugliness in the family of man, the result of the grievous disconnect between man and his Creator because of the entrance of sin into the world.
Yet how is it? Fallen man is capable of beauty. I could name the names of many of the great ones in art, music and literature. Where did this beauty come from? It comes from God. All beauty comes from God. Even though man is in a fallen state, vestiges of the original beauty that God bestowed upon Adam are still there.
We see it in the arts. Much beauty. It is seldom returned to Him, that is, given back to Him, although there are some who have returned His beauty to Him, giving Him glory for it. I am thankful that Bach wrote his music to glorify God.
But all too often, man makes himself famous for that beauty or talent instead of God. He keeps it for himself. He uses the beauty God has given him to glorify himself instead of God.
We know where this comes from as well. We gather from our Bible that a being called Lucifer had originally been created in unmatchable beauty. God’s whole purpose in creating him so beautiful was to the intent that he return glory to God for his beauty, and thus bring praise and glory to God. But the time came when Lucifer the light bearer (for so is the meaning of his name) decided to keep that glory for himself. He wanted to be praised himself.
Thus into our universe entered… ugliness.
The beauty of the Lord
The prophet Isaiah acknowledged that there is beauty in man, but added that it is like the flower of the grass—here today and gone the next. We hear words like “the immortal Shakespeare.” Yes, much of what Shakespeare wrote is beautiful, and has endured long. But it’s the flower of the grass. It’s the flower of the grass, which, though beautiful, is but for a moment. There is coming a day when Shakespeare will no more be remembered.
I have come to realize something about this desire in my heart for beauty. This is not something that just grew of its own accord. This came from God. Will He not, then, satisfy this desire? Yes He will, and beyond my greatest expectations. In this ugly world of ours I am going to see beauty (I already see glimpses of it) beyond anything I am yet capable of comprehending—the beauty of the Lord. The psalmist David prophesied of this when he wrote of his one desire—to dwell in the house of the Lord all his days so he could behold the beauty of the Lord.
Think of that, beloved. Where did David anticipate seeing the beauty of the Lord?
One thing have I desired of the LORD: that will I seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life [that is, forever];
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to enquire in His temple (Ps. 27.4).
The beauty of the LORD… in His temple? And so, what am I pursuing in my earthly life—or even in my Christian walk? Anything less?
Let it all go the way of the grass.
For, our Bible tells us of Zion—that is, the new creation Zion—which is “the perfection of beauty,” and “the joy of the whole earth.”
Out of Zion the perfection of beauty God hath shined… (Ps. 50:2).
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great king (Ps. 48: 2).
Who hath shined out of Zion?
The joy of the whole earth?
Beloved, I do not hear in this hour all the earth shouting for joy because of the beauty of the church, the city of God, the bride of Christ. In fact,
All that pass by clap their hands at thee [in mocking scorn]; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying,
Is this the city that men have called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth? (Lamentations 2:15).
There is a lot of ugliness in our world. And, I am grieved to have to say, there is a lot of ugliness in our churches as well. But the scripture cannot be broken. All that God has promised will yet come to pass. And when we see the beauty of the Lord revealed, unveiled, in Zion—in the temple of God, the church of the living God, the Bride of Christ, the City of God, the new Jerusalem, Mount Zion—all the beauty and glory of man from the beginning of the world will seem to us like corruption, will disintegrate to dust, and be forever blown away.
Some will shout for joy to see this beauty. Some will weep uncontrollably.
I know which of those two groups I am in.
The Church of the redeemed is the crowning work of the great Artist and Architect and Sculptor Himself. “For we are His workmanship—His poema, the Greek says: His masterpiece, His ultimate work of art—created in Christ Jesus…” When it is fully unveiled—and the Artist finally draws back the veil that has hidden his life’s work—the beauty of the Lord in His new creation Temple will so surpass all the glory of man, so far outshine all the beauty that has ever been seen in man, will so completely eclipse it all… that man’s most beautiful music, poetry, art, sculpture, architecture, achievement… will no more be remembered.
None of the former things will be remembered. For this is what the Temple of the Lord is all about—the full unveiling of the new creation beauty of the eternal Lord God Himself.
Where? Where is this beauty to be seen?
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
Dwells in whom? In creatures who were once ugliness, but have been redeemed and transformed by the God of Calvary’s love into the beauty of the Lord by the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin, the ugliness, of the world.