2Cor.3:12-18 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 3:12-18


Reasons to be Bold

OT Reading: Ex.33:7-34:9

If the encyclopedias are to be believed about one third of the world's population claims to be Christian, something like 2 1/ 4 billion people.

According to those same sources Judaism is adhered to by a little less than 14 million people which is less than 0.2% of the world's population.

While we might have been unaware of the exact figures we're probably not particularly surprised that there are lots more Christians than Jews in the world. It's been like that for a very long time indeed and we're simply used to it.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians half-way through the first century of the Christian era everything was very different. Judaism had been around for over 2.000 years and its law, the Law of Moses, was widely known and respected. Christianity was the new kid on the block and Christians were still being seen by many as just a subset (perhaps even an heretical subset) within Judaism.

And yet here was the apostle Paul travelling all over the known world preaching with such conviction and such confidence about Jesus Christ. Given our perspective this probably seems quite normal, quite ordinary in fact, what else would you expect?

But to those from a Jewish background it was utterly astonishing that two thousand years of history should  seem to count for very little at all for this Jewish man, Paul. After all, theirs was the history, theirs was the culture, theirs even were the very "oracles of God".  Surely then this man Paul should exhibit a more cautious approach as he preached his message. Surely he should find much more space for the old way of doing things. If Moses had exerted such an influence for the last 1500 years or so then wasn't that worthy of ongoing honour and respect?

Paul did not back away and give ground to this sort of criticism. How could he? And he gave some of his reasons for his confident hope and accompanying boldness.

  • He had been made a minister of a new covenant and this new covenant was not merely new it was to be permanent – something that the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be.

  • He had been and was being powerfully used by God. Paul was God's postman; ministering in the liberating, life-giving power of the Spirit.

  • He had been and was continuing to be led from one triumph to another by Christ.

In the light of such divine activity in his life and ministry for Paul to operate with anything other than boldness would have been to dishonour God himself.

Fading Glories of the Mosaic Covenant
Paul had a great understanding of God's truth and was capable of giving detailed explanations of it. However Paul was not simply concerned with promoting an intellectual awareness of the truth he wanted that truth to impact his own life and he wanted it to impact the lives of those who heard it too.

This short section is packed full of logical reasoning which demands some rigorous intellectual effort on our part if we are to follow just what Paul says. We are reminded once again of just how important it is for us as Christians to use our minds. We however not imagine that we have succeeded when we are able to follow Paul's line of reasoning – we must go on and allow that truth to function as a springboard for action in our lives as well.

Paul, in developing the explanation for his boldness as a Christian under the new covenant, continues to compare and contrast the old covenant as embodied by Moses with the new covenant.

He speaks firstly about the ministry Moses exercised before passing on to highlight some real and significant differences that mark out the new covenant as something very special indeed.

Moses' ministry was a wonderful one. In the Tent of Meeting Moses was privileged to meet with the LORD:

Ex.33:9-11 "When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."

This is extraordinary stuff and yet Moses was aware that there was a whole lot more to be experienced and just a few verses later we read of him pleading for a sight of the LORD's glory:

Ex.33:18 "Moses said, "Please show me your glory.""

The LORD graciously grants this request for yet further privilege though what Moses will be permitted to see will remain restricted. Moses is promised that the LORD will cause his glory to pass by him while he is kept safe in a cleft rock under the protection if the LORD's hand. Moses will be allowed then to see his back but not his face.

Moses duly experienced this and the account is found in Exodus 34. It becomes clear from that account that for Moses to see the glory of God means to understand more of the character of the LORD and to understand more of the way that character reveals itself in action:

Ex.34:5-7 "The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.""  

Moses was so privileged that being in the LORD's presence was no one-off experience for him. Indeed being in the LORD's presence was a transforming experience - after he had received the law on Mt.Sinai Moses face shone and this was evident to all those who saw him. The LORD's reflected glory on Moses' face brought fear to those who saw it and they didn't want to draw near – the radiance of God was upon Moses and it was an awesome matter.

All that is true and Paul affirms it, but that is not all that Paul wants to tell us. The glory that shone on Moses' face, real as it was, was a fading glory. Once Moses left the immediate presence of the LORD the brightness of his face began to dim until it had totally disappeared.

The people were frightened by Moses' appearance and Moses himself did not want them to see how the glory disappeared so he wore a veil to hide his face.

His ministry was genuine, God-honouring and good and yet it was only a temporary, preparatory ministry. Moses' ministry hinted that something better, much better, was needed if man's problem of relationship with God was ever to be fundamentally dealt with.

Moses' contemporaries were frightened and they didn't understand what it all meant – they were hardened in their minds. Oh yes, there was glory on his face, reflected glory, but it wasn't permanent, it would fade away. This shining face spoke of what it was like to be in fellowship with God but the old covenant could not lastingly secure this.

So Moses hid his face – it was an act of judgment as the glory was hidden from them. They were rebellious sinners who couldn't lift their eyes to contemplate God. Their sin made them responsible for their hardened mindset and Moses deliberately hid his face. This hiding meant that they would not see that the glory of this covenant could only fade away. In time these blind hardened Israelite sinners came to assume that everything was alright with them.

And so Paul shifts from talking about the veil that hid Moses' face to the veil that covered the Israelite heart. For the vast majority of the Israelites every further Christless reading of the law of Moses was the same - they didn't perceive the failed outcome of this covenant and consequently didn't eagerly pursue the new. When Christ is left out of the picture the story is left incomplete and a veil necessarily covers the heart and the mind is left hardened – lives are left cut off from God.

The Israelite community was a blessed community – they had the truth of God, they possessed the very oracles of God, but they misread what they had. Having the truth they did not possess the key that would unlock the truth and grant them understanding.

The temporary was passing away as it was destined to do but its demise would be accompanied by the fulfilment of God's promises, plans and purposes in the coming of Jesus Christ!

The Seriousness of Sin
Before we move on let us stop to make sure we see the implications of this for our understanding of the just how serious sin is.

In our regular lives in the 21 st century we tend to downplay the significance of sin, we tend to consider sin lightly and we don't tend to tremble at the approach of sin as we ought. But sin is terrible! Amongst other things it:

  • it offend a Holy and A Righteous God,

  • it shuts us away from the wonderful fellowship we as humans made in the image of God have been designed to enjoy

  • it pollutes and destroys our own lives and our relationships with others

  • it hardens our hearts and minds against God and his truth so that we don't embrace it nor do we understand it properly and yet in a state of such spiritual blindness we are convinced that we can see perfectly

What a tragedy sin is! But there is an answer and that answer is not to be located within the Mosaic covenant but in the new. The answer lies in Christ and in Christ alone!

New Covenant Blessings
If a veil lies over the heart of those who look to their own law-keeping, merit-gaining abilities then it is the work of the Spirit to lift that veil under the new covenant so that we might see Christ. He shows us the glories of Jesus' identity, the majesty of his person and the comprehensive effectiveness of his work.

It is the work of the Spirit to free us from the shackles of sin and to enable us:

  • to appreciate the importance of the Christ,

  • to appreciate the significance of what he has done

  • to exercise faith in him

This is the new covenant of which Paul has become a minister and it is this same covenant that has given Paul his boldness. This new covenant is a wonderful covenant focussing on Christ and being energised by his Spirit. This new covenant successfully and completely supplies what the old covenant of Moses could only dream of.

Under the mosaic dispensation Moses took off his veil as he went into the LORD's immediate presence – there he was able to enjoy a relationship of personal intimacy with God. It was a real blessing for Moses.

But now under the new covenant there are blessings, extraordinary, unthought of blessings!

v.18 "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,"

Do you see that "we all"? The blessings of the new covenant are spread so widely – every believer is included – what a privilege!

And it is the Lord whom we behold. The word translated "behold" can also be translated "reflect". So our privilege as Christians under the new covenant is at one and the same time to look at the Lord, to be all taken up with him as we behold him and as we look to hm we reflect his glory into an otherwise dark world.

Unlike the glory on Moses' face that faded away this glory continually increases – there is a progression from one degree of glory to another. Whereas Moses shining dimmed that is not the lot nor the end of the Christian under the new. Rather than dimming our glory is to grow and grow until we become just like our Lord in his perfect humanity. (This is exactly what the apostle John has declared to be the experience of the Christian:

1Jn.3:2 "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is."

Paul wasn't confident or bold because of his own innate qualities or abilities but he was confident and bold because the work to which he had been called was the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who gives new birth, who brings forth a new creation, who imparts new life. The fallen defaced image of God that we inherited from Adam is being renewed in Christ and will be brought to fullness, to completion, in him.

Why wouldn't Paul be bold when he had been brought to understand this and to be involved in this?

What is there left for us to say?

The more we understand these things the more we should rejoice in God's goodness to us. It really is amazing thing to be a Christian!

And if it is our privilege to be able to behold in an unveiled manner the glory of our Lord then let us make sure that we do in fact do so!

Paul is not leading us to some strange or esoteric form of Christian mystical experience rather he wants us to "see" Jesus, that is, to understand ever more clearly who he is and what he has done and why he has done what he has done.

Let us then practically in our lives "Turn our eyes upon Jesus", let us "Look full in his wonderful face" and let us too find that "The things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace".


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