Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Text: Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Recall the events of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus led three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, to the top of a mountain. There Jesus was transfigured, changed. Luke describes Jesus’ appearance this way: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29) Jesus was allowing his disciples to see a glimpse of the glory that was his as the Son of God. Two Old Testament heroes of faith, Moses and Elijah, appeared with the Lord and spoke about what would happen when Jesus got to Jerusalem. When Peter saw this, he exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33) Who could blame him? The disciples were experiencing heaven on earth. They didn’t want it to end. Yet, Jesus knew that this could not be the end of his journey on earth. There was something that would be far more glorious that had to take place, namely, his suffering, death, and resurrection. With that in mind, we exclaim, “MASTER, IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE 1. Not In The Fading Glory Of The Law, 2. But In The Eternal Glory Of The Gospel.
Paul brings to his readers’ minds the events recorded in Exodus 34. Moses would go up Mt. Sinai and speak with the LORD. He would then come down the mountain and tell the people what the LORD said. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. (Exodus 34:29-30) As Moses spoke to the people, his face was glowing because he had been in the presence of God. Because the people were afraid of Moses, he would put a veil over his face after he told them what God had said. Paul uses the picture of Moses putting the veil over his face to teach about the fading glory of the law and the eternal glory of the gospel.
Paul writes in verses 14-15, “But their (the Israelites’) minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.” Paul speaks about a veil that covered the hearts of the Israelites when they heard the law, the old covenant. Although God meant to bless his people through the law that he gave them, we read how time and again the Israelites rejected that law. Their veil was that they thought they could disregard God’s law and could do whatever they wanted to do. Paul noted that this veil continued to his day: “To this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read.” Paul is referring to many Jews of his day who saw the law as something that they could accomplish and, thus, earn God’s favor. Think of the Pharisees that constantly challenged Jesus. They not only held on to the laws that God had given at Mt. Sinai, but also added many laws that they said had to be kept, as well. Many shared the conviction of the man who came to Jesus, asking what he had to do to be saved. After Jesus reminded him of the commandments, the man responded, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (Mark 10:20) They thought of God’s law and the be-all and end-all in their relationship with God. The veil of work-righteousness veiled their eyes.
That same veil is still so evident in most of the religions in the world. The pagan religions have a series of things that you must do if you want to get right with your deity. You must make a pilgrimage to this or that place. You must pray at certain times facing a particular direction. You must abstain from certain foods. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is also present in so many churches that call themselves Christian. If you want to get right with God, you must do something to make up for all that you have done wrong. You must take the first step and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Even though they call themselves Christians, a veil covers their eyes.
It is so easy for this veil to cover our eyes, as well. There is that part of us that thinks that there is something that we must do to be in that right relationship with God. We get fooled into thinking that if we do this or that, we can make our salvation more secure. We look at our lives and almost start to feel as though God owes us something for our keeping of the old covenant, the law.
Yet, Paul describes what happens with those who follow this old covenant, the law. He calls it “The ministry that brought death.” (Verse 7) Later, he describes it as “The ministry that brought condemnation.” (Verse 9) Please, note that there was nothing wrong with the old covenant, the law. Paul describes it as “glorious.” (Verse 9) It had to be good, it had to be glorious, because it came from God. There was and is absolutely nothing wrong with the old covenant. The terms of the old covenant are quite simple: “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28) No, the problem isn’t with the covenant. The problem is with us, with all humanity. No one can keep the law. Every single person who has ever existed on this planet, including you and me, has broken that law. God tells us that he is to be the most important one in our lives. How many times haven’t we allowed other things or other people, including ourselves, to be the most important? Getting them or pleasing them is more important than our relationship with him. We are to respect those in authority over us. We agree to do so, as long as we agree with what they are saying or doing. If not, we feel perfectly justified in making fun of them. We have all broken the terms of this covenant. As a result, the law speaks of condemnation. We are convicted in our sins. As we read the familiar words of Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” This is what will always happen when people, wearing the veil of self-righteousness, think that the old covenant can save them.
Yet, remember why Moses put that veil over his face. Paul writes that Moses, “put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” (Verse 13) By means of this picture, Paul reminds us that the glory of the old covenant was fading, in that it could not save. Instead, we are pointed to a covenant that is even more glorious. Listen to this comparison in verses 9-11, “If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” This covenant brings righteousness, that is, the way that we are made right with God. This covenant is the gospel.
The gospel points away from us doing anything for our salvation to the one who actually accomplished our salvation: Jesus Christ. Remember that old covenant brought about a self-righteous attitude in the heart, which could never save us. The new covenant, the gospel, gives us the righteousness that Christ accomplished for us. Jesus accomplished this righteousness through his perfect life. He perfectly followed the law in our place. Where you and I have failed to always put God in first place in our lives, Jesus always followed his Father’s will. Though you and I have not always given the proper respect to those in authority over us, Jesus showed respect even to those leaders who were mistreating him. Then, he offered that perfect life as a sacrifice on the cross. During those hours on the cross, he was enduring the punishment that you and I deserved. Because of his actions, our sins have been washed away. His accomplished feat was announced as he rose from the dead. Jesus brought about the righteousness that we needed. This is the new covenant, the gospel. Jesus has accomplished salvation.
How do we receive the benefits of what he did for us? Paul writes in verse 16, “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, whenever any one is brought to faith, the veil of old covenant, the thought of trying to save yourself, is taken away. Now we never have to wonder if we did enough or the right things to be saved. We firmly place our trust in the one who brought about righteousness, Jesus Christ.
Earlier, we talked about what the old covenant, the law, brought about. It was condemnation and death. Listen to the blessings that are ours through the new covenant, the gospel. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (Verse 17) We have freedom. We have freedom from the condemnation of the law, because, through Jesus, our sins have been forgiven. We have freedom from the power of sin. Before, we were held captive by sin and had to do whatever it said to do. Now, we can say “No” when we are tempted to sin. We also have freedom from the fear of death. As believers, we know that, if we should die before the Lord comes in glory, we know that we will be safe in the arms of Jesus in heaven. With the old covenant, there was slavery. With the new covenant, the gospel, we have freedom.
We read of another benefit in verse 18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” A transformation, a change, takes place when we contemplate the Lord’s glory of the new covenant. We regain the image of God that Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden. We are now holy in God’s sight. Also, we are transformed so that we have a different outlook and purpose in life. We go from wanting to serve ourselves to wanting to serve God in thanksgiving for all that he has done for us. These blessings all come to us from a covenant that God has made with us. Unlike the old covenant, this glory will never fade away. “If what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” (Verse 11)
What if Jesus listened to Peter’s request and they stayed there on the mount of transfiguration? It would have been great for a while, but eventually the disciples would have died, and they would still have been in their sins. Jesus needed to leave the glory of that mountain top and travel the road that would lead to his death and resurrection. He needed to leave that glory for an even greater glory. What if all we had was the fading glory of the law? We might have fooled ourselves into thinking that we had done enough to be saved. However, at the end of our lives, we would have been lost forever. We thank God for bringing us into the light of his eternal covenant, the gospel. We pray that he would always keep us in that light and that we might reflect the glory of this covenant to those we meet. We pray that this gospel covenant would shine on people all over the world. As we get ready to see the full extent of Jesus’ love for us this Lenten season, we thank God and say, “Master, it is good for us to be here in the eternal glory of your gospel. Amen.
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