Readers, indulge my literary analogy for a moment, if you please. One of my favorite short stories is by Nathaniel Hawthorne called “The Great Stone Face.” I highly recommend taking an hour and pouring over this simple story.
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The Great Stone Face: A Summary
The main character of this story is a man named Ernest. At the outset of the story Ernest is a young boy sitting with his mother near the door of their cottage. They are gazing into the distance looking upon a most unusual rock formation known as the Great Stone Face.
“The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance.”
There is a legend, an ancient prophecy, among the inhabitants of their valley: Some day a child would be born in the valley who would be the greatest and noblest person in his day, whose face would actually resemble the Great Stone Face. Ernest is a bit of a dreamer and in his youthful zeal believes the prophecy his mother tells him. He continues to believe it for his entire life. Hawthorne narrates Ernest’s life in stages, from childhood, to young adulthood, to middle-age, to elderly. All through his life nothing pleases Ernest more, after his daily work is done, than walking through the valley, in solitary places, so that he can gaze upon the Great Stone Face. He is fascinated with it. Most found his obsession somewhat odd, but Earnest continued his daily walks, gazing upon the Face undisturbed. One by one, natives of the valley emerge as potential candidates to fulfill the age-old prophecy: a wealthy merchant, a famous warrior-general, an accomplished statesman. But one by one, these men prove not to be the fulfillment of the prophecy. As the story moves along, Ernest becomes less and less obscure in his valley community, and more well-known for his humility and wisdom.
“Yet Ernest had had no teacher, save only that the Great Stone Face became one to him. When the toil of the day was over, he would gaze at it for hours, until he began to imagine that those vast features recognized him, and gave him a smile of kindness and encouragement, responsive to his own look of veneration.”
“And Ernest had ceased to be obscure. Unsought for, undesired, had come the fame which so many seek, and made him known in the great world, beyond the limits of the valley in which he had dwelt so quietly. College professors, and even the active men of cities, came from far to see and converse with Ernest; for the report had gone abroad that this simple husbandman had ideas unlike those of other men, not gained from books, but of a higher tone,—a tranquil and familiar majesty, as if he had been talking with the angels as his daily friends.”
At the end of the story, Ernest is addressing a small crowd of listeners at sunset, right within sight of the Great Stone Face bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. The crowd hangs on his words because they have reality and depth, because his words harmonized with his life of holy love. It was then, during this address, that the crowd realized the fulfillment of the prophecy. As they sat and listened, they saw in Earnest what they had not seen in the in the wealthiest, greatest, most powerful men: the elderly Ernest bore the likeness of the Great Stone Face. He fulfilled the prophecy.
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The Face of Christ – How we are transformed
Reading this my mind was brought back to statements made by the apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. . . . For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6)
Perhaps Paul is thinking back to his own conversion in some sense. One unexpected day, Paul did literally see the glory of God. He saw the face of Christ on the Damascus road when Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light. Similarly, when God restores and regenerates lost souls, he shines in their hearts so that they can see the person of Jesus for who He really is.
That’s what “the face of Christ” means—the person of Jesus as He really is. The face of Christ was not merely the thing that had arrested Paul’s attention at his conversion; Jesus was an obsession throughout the rest of his life. Paul belonged to a people who waited eagerly for the Messiah, the coming King. When he met the true Messiah in blinding glory, it changed his course of life forever. But that vision did not change him completely. Paul, like the rest of us, progressively changed, from one degree of glory to another, as he put it. How was Paul being transformed? By continually “beholding” the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Like Ernest in Hawthorne’s story, that great face had captivated his attention and his worship, and as a result, he started to become like the one he worshiped.
We become like what we worship. This is true whether we worship the true God or an idol. As we run after worthless idols we will mimic their worthless qualities (Jeremiah 2:5). All who make idols or even trust in them become like them (Psalm 115:4-8). Worship wealth, become greedy. Worship sex, become filled with lust. Worship power, become corrupt. Worship self, become selfish. We know this from experience; whatever we value most will shape our character.
The same is true with our worship of Christ. Our new self is being recreated in His image (Colossians 3:10). So as we set our minds and hearts on things above, on Christ seated at God’s right hand (3:1-4), we will begin to live as people who have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Our eyes are taken off of self and the things that tie us to this world, this age.
Think for a moment about the Day of Jesus’ return. It will be a Day like no other. On that Day, the apostle John says, “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Not as I think He is, not as you think He is, not as I think He should be, but as He really is. Jesus, in all His kingly glory, will fill our vision. What does John say will be the result of this sight? “When He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” Something about just seeing Jesus as He is will transform us completely.
So it is in our lives on this side of eternity. We can worship Jesus now through the means he has given us: the daily devotion of prayer, corporate worship gatherings, the sacraments, and sharing the joy of our salvation with the lost. While our vision of Jesus is cloudy, while we see Him now “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), we still see Him, and that vision transforms us. Beholding God’s glory in the person of Jesus means that our hearts are progressively captured by His majesty and we grow in our worship and adoration and awe.