Beholding the Glory of the Lord
2 Corinthians 3:1–18 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019 (am)
Second Corinthians 3:18 paints such a vivid picture of fully satisfied faith, of sanctified enjoyment of God and enriching fellowship with one another, that it’s a favorite verse of many. It reliably expresses the richness of true relationship with God in Christ even when it’s lifted out of context! So, just imagine its impact when it stays within its context! That’s why we’re biting off the whole of c.3 today. Hopefully it’s not more than we can chew! But, by God’s grace I’m confident it will bless our hearts this morning, and deepen our love for God, and magnify our awe at His salvation.
Paul has just made an amazing statement (2:12-17); he thanks God that he’s being led to his death to the praise of God’s saving power and glory. His God-enabled love for these Corinthians runs so deep that he’ll gladly pour out his life for them (cf. 12:15) so that they, too, will grow in this love and experience gospel comfort in their every affliction (1:3-11). Then he asks: Who is sufficient for these things? Who [has any hope of actually bringing about such a thing]? And the assumed answer to his question is surprising: I am. That’s what Paul wants us to hear! That’s clear from what follows—last week (2:17) and again today (3:1). But he’s not intending to exalt himself. We’ll see that as we get started here. So, let’s get started! We want to arrive at that sweet, savory v.18 and taste of the [transforming] glory of the Lord this day!
We can see that this passage is comparing God’s glory revealed in the new covenant Paul is preaching with God’s glory revealed in the old covenant delivered by Moses. And this difference is Paul’s latest defense of his apostleship. But there is so much more here for us to see and receive and understand and celebrate leading up to v.18. We’re not going to move through this material in verse order today, though. We’re going to take more of a thematic approach. Let’s process the message of c.3 in three parts.
Encountering God’s Glory Apart from Christ
Throughout this chapter we see that this is precisely what happens under the old covenant delivered by Moses. The glory of God was evident on Mt. Sinai as He was giving Moses the Law, the standard the Israelites needed to keep in order to live in covenant relationship with God. But while Moses was still on the mountain, they were in the valley below breaking every one of those Ten Commandments in the incident with the golden calf (Exo.32). God sent Moses down to intervene and when he saw what was happening he broke [the tablets] at the foot of the mountain (Exo.32:19) signaling the broken covenant. God was ready to cut off Israel and not go up to the Promise Land with them lest I consume you on the way, He said, for you are a stiff-necked people (Exo.33:3).
But Moses prayed for the people and God answered. He didn’t leave them on their own in the desert but remained with them. And in response to Moses’ request to see His glory (Exo.33:18), God did so because Moses found favor in [His] sight (Exo.33:17). And in an almost unimaginable show of mercy and grace, God renewed covenant relationship with Israel (Exo.34). He rewrote two tablets of stone like the first two (Exo.34:1). And this time 29 [w]hen Moses came down from ... the mountain, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people... saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him because that was the afterglow of God’s glory, and they knew that no one could gaze at the glory of God and live!
This was the glory with which the old covenant was delivered. It was carved in letters on stone (7), written with the very finger of God (Exo.31:19). It was the revelation of the standard Israel must keep in order to live in covenant relationship with Him. 13 ... Moses... would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not... 7 ... gaze at [it]... and die under God’s just judgment. Yet, all of this glory accompanied the cutting of a covenant which 7, 13 ... was being brought to an end! It was called 7 ... the ministry of death, 9 ... the ministry of condemnation! Just like the veil over Moses’ face, a veil covered Israel’s hearts, 14 ... because only through Christ [can] it [be] taken away.
Experiencing God’s Glory in Christ
16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. And therein lies the greater glory of the new covenant! There’s the difference between the two. The old covenant revealed the standard of relationship with God, but it had no provision to enable our obedience. The new covenant does! It is 3 ... written... not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. In the new covenant, the Spirit of God gives life! (6) The new covenant grants righteousness (9) so it eclipses the old covenant in glory. 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
I have often heard Christians say that they wished they could live in the Old Testament times because back then God’s people heard directly from Him. He spoke audibly through the prophets and sometimes even directly to them. And He lived among them in the Tabernacle, then the Temple. You may be one of those Christians. But if you are, it’s time for a return trip to 2Co.3! This is the place that tells us clearly what we have under the new covenant that Israel didn’t have under the old. This is the place that reminds us that the manifestation of God’s glory in our day far surpasses what they saw. This is where we hear Paul speak of 4 ... the confidence we have through Christ toward God. We hear him say that: 12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. This is where we’re reminded that the regenerating work of the Spirit of the living God (3) gives us life (6) and righteousness (9) and freedom (17)—freedom from sin and from the veil that covers Israel’s heart, freedom from hardheartedness (Hafemann 160- 1), freedom to be bold in hope (12), freedom to [behold] the glory of the Lord with unveiled face yet with no fear of judgement—freedom to obey God!
And this, then, brings us into the sweet, savory v.18.
Enjoying God’s Glory in This New Covenant Community
We’ve seen the glory of the old covenant surpassed by the glory of the new (7). We’ve seen the ministry of condemnation swallowed up the ministry of righteousness (9). We’ve seen Paul’s apostleship vindicated yet again because it was Paul whom God used to open the eyes of these Corinthians’ hearts to behold His glory displayed in this new covenant life, to receive the standard of God written not on tablets of stone but on [each one of their] hearts (3) in fulfillment of his promises through Jeremiah (31:31-4) and Ezekiel (36:25-7), to receive by faith the regenerating work of the Spirit of the living God (3) and life and [boldness] of hope (12) and freedom (17) from all that keeps us from fully satisfied faith, and sanctified enjoyment of God, and enriching fellowship with one another in Christ!
But by the time we arrive to v.18 we’ve almost forgotten about Paul, the man, the apostle, which is likely just what he intended. Our attention is fully drawn to the refracted the light of the amazing new covenant gospel he preaches, to the kaleidoscope of component colors it’s throwing out from the very page of Scripture. Then we read v. 18 And we all, each and every new covenant believer, with unveiled face, let that sink in for a moment, just a passing phrase, but telling us that each and every new covenant believer engages with God in in a manner analogous to Moses in the tent of meeting (Exo.34:34), unveiled, face-to-face, beholding the glory of the Lord without judgment, without death.... 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image—not only are we able to [behold] the glory of the Lord and live, but we are being [changed] into [that] same image, [changed], not just to reflecting His glory as the word beholding might suggest (beholding as in a mirror [NAS]) but [changed], transformed into the same image, into the [glory of God] progressively, from one degree of glory to another. God works in us continuously to bring about His likeness in us, to restore His image in us, to share His glory with us. This is God’s work. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
There is a taste of v.18!
However, one practical question remains. Where do we [behold] the glory of the Lord with unveiled face? We may understand our correlation with Moses in the tent of meeting, but we don’t have a tent of meeting where we see God face-to-face. We may understand the ministry of the Spirit Who now baptizes and indwells and fills and seals us in Christ, making us, the church, collectively and individually, the temple in which God dwells by His Spirit (Eph.2:22). But where do we [behold] the glory of the Lord with unveiled face? Surely we [behold] Him on the pages of Scripture, enabled in our perception by the ministry of the Spirit. Surely we also [behold] Him in the things that He has made. Psa.8:1 ...You have set your glory above the heavens. ... 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have put in place, I am in awe! But surely we also [behold] Him in the very lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Surely we see His reflection in those around us who are also beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (NAS). Do you see the change of countenance in those who receive Christ as Savior? Surely you see Him in the love He enables in our hearts, like Paul was sharing about his love for these Corinthians. 1Jo.4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us, made complete in us (NIV). His love is [displayed] in us, [made visible] in us. [When] we love one another in Christ, the invisible God is made visible to the watching world! Joh.13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. So, we [behold] the glory of the Lord through the eyes of our hearts in our corporate worship and fellowship. And we could keep going.
But this morning we want to finish by beholding the glory of the Lord at the Table of the Lord, seeking Him to show His glory among us, and keep transforming us into [this] same image as we remember the price He paid to do so.