Our Unveiled Faces

(Please read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I use the NIV.)

(The following is an abridged of the AP article cited.)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — “A granite monument of the Ten Commandments that has sparked controversy since its installation on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds was moved early Tuesday.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court decided in June that the display violates a state constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.” A contractor began removing the monument shortly after 10:30 p.m. Monday.  The state paid a contractor about $4,700 to remove the monument.

“Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus said said the monument was removed under the cover of darkness to avoid disturbing workers at the Capitol and to keep protesters from demonstrating while heavy equipment was used to detach the 2-ton monument from its base.

“Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012.  Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue depicting Satan, a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group, and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

“The original monument was smashed into pieces last year when someone drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed. A new monument was erected in January.”

<Retrieved from http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/workers-removing-ten-commandments-from-oklahoma-capitol/ar-AAf8wUL?ocid=ansmsnnews11 on 10/09/15.>

This is another of those situations where the world is unwilling to face the truth.  Today we’ll look at a similar situation, where the children of Israel were unwilling to face God, not even the derived glory of God as it was reflected on the radiant face of Moses.

MESSAGE: God provides everything we need to reflect His glory – direct attention to Him – in our daily living.

CONTEXT: In the preceding passage, Paul once again rose to the defense of the ministry of himself and the other apostles.  He did this by reminding the Corinthians we live under the New Covenant a situation which reveals more of the glory of God than even Moses himself knew.

  1. Moses’ veiled face as a symbol of the old covenant, sin, and death.

Starting in verse 7, the Apostle Paul writes to show that the greater glory shone on the face of Christ, rather than on the face of Moses.  This refers to an extraordinary historic incident in Exodus 34:29-35:

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.  But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.  Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.  When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.  But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak w/t Lord.

The point of this account is to stress the glory of God.  Even the reflected, derived, radiance of God’s presence was so great that the Israelites found it unbearable to behold.  In the Bible, a radiant face is one way to know God is with someone.  For example, in Matthew 17:2, we are told at His Transfiguration, Jesus’ face SHONE LIKE THE SUN.  In Matthew 28:3, the APPEARANCE of the angel atop the stone rolled back from Jesus’ tomb WAS LIKE LIGHTNING.

Paul makes use of this incident as a symbol of all that Jesus Christ replaced.

– THE MINISTRY THAT BROUGHT DEATH refers to the Second Death, the spiritual death that is the outcome of a life devoted to anything but God (see Romans 6:23; 8:6; Ephesians 2:2; 4:18).

– ENGRAVED IN LETTERS ON STONE refers to the contrast made in 3:3 between THE LETTER FROM CHRIST…WRITTEN…ON TABLETS OF HUMAN HEARTS, not on TABLETS OF STONE. It also reminds us of Jeremiah 31:33, where God promised to put His law IN THEIR MINDS and WRITE IT ON THEIR HEARTS.

– CAME WITH GLORY, SO THE ISRAELITES COULD NOT LOOK STEADILY ON T FACE OF MOSES, BECAUSE OF THE GLORY, FADING THOUGH IT WAS. The accounts in Exodus imply the radiance of Moses’ face was an effect that diminished after time; it was a temporary thing, not mentioned again.  However, in contrast, the radiance of God’s glory is of greater brightness and lasts for all eternity.

What word do we use for someone who comes to understand the truth?  “Enlightenment!”  The exciting promise of this passage is that all of us who believe reflect the glory of God in our faces!

Verses 8-11 elaborate on the greater glory of the new MINISTRY.

– THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT is EVEN MORE GLORIOUS. This is true in both quantity (the glory of the Spirit is eternal, the glory Moses reflected was only temporary) and quality (the unreflected glory is obviously brighter, more inspiring than the glory reflected on Moses’ face).

– THE MINISTRY THAT BRINGS RIGHTEOUSNESS is more glorious than THE MINISTRY THAT CONDEMNS MEN. This is a point Paul makes often in his letters; the Old Covenant existed to identify and condemn sin.  The New Covenant provided salvation and the Spirit to result in people made RIGHTEOUS in God’s eyes.

– Though he will make one more comparison, Paul pauses in verse 10 to summarize his argument: There is no comparison between the old and the new. The GLORY of the new is so great that it is as if there were no light shed under the old system!

– THE GLORY WHICH LASTS is GREATER than the GLORY that faded away. What Paul demonstrated with these repeated contrasts is that the New Covenant is the completion of the Old.  The New transcends the Old in every way.

2. Our unveiled faces as symbols of the new covenant and the Christ-like life we live right now.

We exercise our faith boldly.  Compare the timidity of the Israelites with our boldness.  In verse 12: THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE SUCH A HOPE, WE ARE VERY BOLD.  Our boldness does not come from ourselves, but from God.  We don’t let people push us around because we are on God’s side.

The glory of God coming off the face of Moses frightened the Israelites (v. 13).  As we read, they would not face him until he was veiled and the glory dimmed.  Knowing their own hearts, they dared not be exposed by the glorious light coming off Moses’ face.  Sinners in the presence of God fear judgment.

We read the Bible with understanding.  Compare the veil of their misunderstanding with our unveiled understanding of the word of God.

Verses 14+15 state: THEIR MINDS WERE MADE DULL…THE SAME VEIL REMAINS WHEN THE OLD COVENANT IS READ…EVEN TO THIS DAY WHEN MOSES IS READ, A VEIL COVERS THEIR HEARTS.  (see Romans 11:7-8, 25). Paul uses the historic veil on Moses’ face as a symbol of the willful ignorance of the Jews.  Since they continue to reject Christ as Savior, they cannot understand the truth.  He refers to Moses throughout this passage because his opponents took pride in having Moses as their authority figure.  In a way, they hid behind his name.

This verse also reminds us of something important about God: His justice.  When people continually reject Him and sin against Him, these decisions solidify into character, the person’s way of life.  God does not force Himself on anyone.

But there is hope, and its source is revealed in verses 14+16: BECAUSE ONLY IN CHRIST IS [the veil] TAKEN AWAY…WHENEVER ANYONE TURNS TO THE LORD, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.  Jesus Christ gives the Holy Spirit to His people.  The Holy Spirit imparts “illumination” (understanding) of the word of God.  This is how the VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.

We live in the Spirit, being transformed in the image of Jesus Christ.  The SPIRIT brings FREEDOM (v. 17).  It is this FREEDOM that makes it possible for us to be bold.  People who are not free do not tend to be bold.  This is the key verse to this passage and a summary of a great portion of all that Paul taught in his letters.

Follow Paul’s chain of reasoning: our FREEDOM exists so we can be TRANSFORMED into the likeness of the Lord (v. 18).  The VEIL over Moses’ face was not a sacred object, but a barrier between them and the glory of God.  It was a concession made to their fear.  This is why Paul uses it to represent the incompleteness and inadequacy of the Old Covenant, and worse, the willful disobedience of Israel.

It is infinitely better to be UNVEILED in the New Covenant than to be veiled in the Old.  WE…WITH UNVEILED FACES, ALL REFLECT THE LORD’S GLORY.

– BEING TRANSFORMED INTO HIS LIKENESS (see 2 Corinthians 4:6).  As disciples, our goal is to increasingly become like Jesus, who is the glorious likeness of God.  This is primarily a spiritual transformation but it is also manifest in our mental, moral, and emotional aspects as well.

– WITH EVER-INCREASING GLORY. Of course, this is not our glory, but God’s.  Our lives are supposed to more and more draw attention to God, less and less to self.

– WHICH COMES FROM THE LORD, WHO IS THE SPIRIT. All the persons of the Trinity are in view here.  The glory of God the Father is reflected in God the Son and we, in turn, reflect his glory (in the way that a series of mirrors can reflect light).  This reflective power is not our own, however.  It is supplied to us by the Holy Spirit.  By choosing to grow in our faith we effectively polish our mirror surface to produce a greater reflection.

A recurring problem in Paul’s ministry was caused by Jewish Christians who taught falsely that observing the particulars of the Law given through Moses was necessary for salvation.  They would attempt to throw their weight around in the churches to convince others to share their convictions.

To Paul, this was nothing less than surrendering the freedom Jesus Christ died to obtain for us.  It was worse than foolish and false, it was blasphemous.  This passage is one of many places where his teaching is directed at these false teachers.

I think these false teachers did what they did because they were sincerely or insincerely wrong.  Some of them were sincerely but wrongly convinced that as Jesus was the Jewish Messiah that the full weight of the Law must still be in force.  Others were being false – misusing the Law- twisting it for personal gain and advantage.  Jesus reserved His strongest rebukes for people who wielded the letter of the Law to violate its spirit.

Kenneth L. Chafin wrote the following comment on this passage: “The Old Covenant became the religion of struggling to impress God with one’s goodness, of endless rules and regulations governing every conceivable area of one’s life, of outward conformity and worrying about appearance, of spiritual pride and competitiveness.”  (The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 223.)  One trouble with legalism is that it is superficial.  It is possible to change behavior without changing the heart.

We who follow Christ are indeed bound to a moral standard, but it is a greater and more complete standard than the complicated code of the Old Testament and the layers of interpretation the Jews had added to it.  Jesus Himself taught that there were only two commandments and both of them were based on love.  He reduced the entirety of the Law given through Moses to love for God and love for neighbor founded on love for self.