We Reflect the Lord's Glory
Sermon 1791 2 Corinthians 3.7-18 February 27, 2022
You know how people say, “To make a long story short?” Well, I risk making a short story long today unless I break a cardinal rule. I know you didn’t come to church today thinking about Moses and the giving of the Ten Commandments. You came thinking about where to go for brunch afterwards, or thinking about that nagging catch in your knee you should tend to. Maybe you were planning your week’s schedule now that youth soccer season has started. A good introduction would take you from those thought patterns, where you are, to where the text is. But like I said, I’m going to break the rule. I’m jumping right into an Old Testament story you have to know so I don’t always have to go back to it during the rest of the sermon and turn a short story into a long one. Hang on.
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments the glory of the Lord, the physical manifestation of the Lord’s appearance, made Moses’ face glow. Not a sunburn, but a glow, a radiance. Moses didn’t know it, but he caught on as soon as he talked to the people. They were scared of him, because his appearance was so bright.
The radiance of Moses’ face faded over time, like a sunburn. He got the glow back every time he met with the Lord. Gals, it’s like going to a spa regularly. It was kind of neat, actually, because the people really paid attention to Moses when he gave them the messages the Lord had given to him. But there was a catch. Moses didn’t want the people to know this was a fading glory. He didn’t want them to think they only had to listen to God (and Moses, God’s spokesman) for a time and then could ignore him, like a teenage boy starts to tune out his mother. So Moses covered his face with a veil. The Children of Israel thought Moses always had a radiant face. Moses knew otherwise. That’s the story we need to understand Paul’s words to us today.
We Reflect the Lord’s Glory
1. Unfading (7-11)
2. Unveiled (12-16)
3. Freeing (17-18).
“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, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is 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 fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts (7-11)!”
We Christians reflect the Lord’s unfading glory.
Oh, the old covenant, let’s call it the Law, was glorious. The circumstances surrounding it were glorious. Mount Sinai looked like a volcano when God gave the Law to Moses. There was fire and smoke, lightning, peals of thundering trumpets and angels on hand, the Bible says. The Children of Israel cordoned off the mountain. When God spoke to them directly from the mountaintop, they could not bear it, but begged Moses to be their go-between.
The substance of the Law was glorious. If ever there was given a way by which man could gain heaven, this would be it. To love your neighbor as yourself. To dedicate your life to loving and serving God. Moral purity in thought, word and deed. No nation ever had such a standard placed before it. Walk by this and all the world will marvel at you and ask to follow your steps.
There was no problem with the Law. The problem was with us. We couldn’t keep it. So the glorious Law that showed the way to heaven became a message of condemnation to sinful mankind. Instead of the blessings we got the curses, for every wise law must specify punishment for infractions. So the Law turned into a stop sign. Stop thinking you are good enough to get to heaven. Stop thinking you are your own savior. Stop thinking you can earn God’s love. You are going to hell.
You and I have to admit, the Law serves that function in our lives. I never thought I’d live to be 52, I mouthed off to my parents so often. I knew the Law said honor your father and mother. I also knew I had not shown them love, honor and respect. Then throw in the respect and honor due to public servants, police, firemen, government. Whew. If I would have thought much about that, I would have been surprised to reach the age of 30!
But that was not the only message from God. It was a fading message, because there was a permanent and lasting message from the Lord. Let’s call it the Gospel. It was older than the Law, much older. The Law was given fourteen centuries before the birth of Christ. The Gospel was first given in the Garden of Eden, as soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin. The great Savior, born of a woman, would come and crush the head of the devil. There would be life for all who believed in him.
We reflect the Lord’s unfading glory. If the Law that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the Gospel that declares us not guilty of sin before God? That’s what the Gospel does. Jesus took the punishment of the Law off our shoulders and carried it himself when he hung on the cross. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For you, for me, for all believers, that function of the Law has faded away. The Gospel remains. And it is glorious.
We reflect the Lord’s unveiled glory.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 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. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (12-16).”
Some people have to have the latest thing. Not me. I hate change. My seven year old computer couldn’t hold a charge. I got a new battery. I got a new 5G phone, kicking and screaming because the 3G network vanished like dew in the desert. I can understand the problem of the Jewish mind. They lost focus on the Law. They could only see the Temple sacrifices. They took the statues and rituals from the very hand of God and turned them into something they were never meant to be in the hands of sinful human beings—the way to heaven. They couldn’t see they were incapable of keeping the Law. Though they would vehemently deny it, their view of the Law became so clouded, they mistakenly thought the Law condemned only the outward actions and not the inner motions of the heart. That’s why Jesus’ explanation of the Law, lust in the heart was adultery, a hateful word was murder, so shocked them. Every time the Bible was read at their worship services, and it was read every Sabbath, just as the Word of God is read every Sunday here, they could not see promises of the Savior in those words. They could only see the Law which commanded them to live for God. That impossible struggle became their goal in life.
But zealously following a misguided path in life is neither glorious nor godly. Paul sets forth a better way, reflecting the Lord’s unveiled glory.
What is the purpose of the Word of God? We are used to looking for mission statements. The Bible doesn’t leave us guessing. John tells us, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20.31).” He was taking his cue from Jesus who told the religious scholars, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me (John 5.39).” Yet the religious scholars refused to see Jesus in the Scriptures. They were so used to thinking of the Law as God’s last word, they could not see the Gospel.
By faith our eyesight is a 20-20. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus could be the motto of our life. He is our Beautiful Savior. Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as our way to heaven. What the Law could not do because of our weakness, Jesus did. We see that. Everything written beforehand, even the temple sacrifices, pictured Jesus, the Lamb of God who would once for all take away the sin of the world. In Christ we see the true glory of the Old Testament people. They were to show forth the promise of forgiveness through the coming Savior who would come through their nation. Theirs were the prophets, theirs were the covenants and theirs was the living Gospel in word and deed. As the work of a baby doctor comes to a joyous conclusion when the baby is delivered, so their work was to come to a joyful finale when the Christmas angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men.” By faith their Savior is our Savior. By faith their message is our message. We are sharers in the good promises of God.
We reflect the Lord’s freeing glory.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (17-18).”
Looking at the Law as a way to heaven means a person is bound to keep it, every bit of it. Not a single dot over an “i” or a cross mark on a “t” can be overlooked. If it is from God then it has to be kept. All of it. That’s why Paul was so adamant about the Galatian Christians thinking that if they were just circumcised they were good to go. If you are circumcised, thinking you have now earned God’s favor, Paul told them they would have to go all the way and keep the whole Law—an impossibility! And they would find, instead of God’s blessings, a curse, for “cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Galatians 3.10).” That’s not freedom. That’s bondage, bondage to sin which the Law will point out in a person’s life. Finally it works wrath in the hearts of sinners that God makes such impossible demands on us. That’s not a reflection of God’s freeing glory.
The Spirit of God frees us. When the Holy Spirit brought us to faith, when the Holy Spirit gave us faith, we were freed from the Law with its threats and demands. We didn’t have to keep the Law. Christ kept it for us. He fulfilled all of its demands, each and every one of its statutes and decrees. So instead of using the Law as a way to earn heaven, the Law turned into a way to thank God for his goodness, just as that first command in the Garden of Eden, to stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was Adam and Eve’s way of showing their thanks and gratitude towards God. So instead of keeping the Law out of fear, we strive to keep the Law out of love, love for a God who has shown himself to be our Savior from sin and love for the people around us. If God has so loved them, we ought to show love towards them, no matter what.
The difference between “have to” and “want to” is all the difference in the world. When my daughter asked what I would do in retirement (thinking she would have to suggest some hobbies to keep me occupied), my son-in-law answered, “Anything he wants to.” “Want to” is glorious. “Want to” answers most of the questions about our God, like why did he create the world? Why does he forgive our sins? He wanted to. When you are God and can do what you want, you do what you want. When you are a child of God who has been given new birth by the Spirit of God, you do what your new nature in Christ wants to do. You love and serve and give from the heart. It’s glorious. And it’s even more glorious when we realize we are simply reflecting the Lord’s glory. He is the sun in all its splendor. We are the moon, graceful and beautiful, shining with a reflected glory.
We Reflect the Lord’s Glory
1. Unfading (7-11)
2. Unveiled (12-16)
3. Freeing (17-18).
Will we ever perfectly reflect the Lord’s glory? Not in this world, for we still have the sinful human nature clinging to us. Because of that we still need the sting of the Law, the rebuke of the Law, just so we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we have become our own saviors. We need Jesus, but with Jesus, we have everything we want. It shows—we glow.