“Let your face shine!” 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 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. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains un-lifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

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What an incredible message we have for our today’s meditation! I can’t remember that I would have ever thought much about this aspect of what it means to be a Christian. Maybe I had heard about it in passing, but when you focus on it, when you pray that the Holy Spirit helps you to truly get, it blows your mind.

Now, imagine! Imagine a congregation where there are theological divisions. Different divisive views on different divisive issues. Where some of members are puffed up in their hearts believing that they are better than others, some believing that they already know everything that there is to know and that they don’t need to listen to their pastor anymore.

Imagine a congregation where there are serious conflicts between some of members. Where one actually is about to take another to the court to solve their issues. Where yet others gossip all sorts of nasty things about their pastor.

Where there is also sexual promiscuity, in different ways, some more hidden, some more open. And where the rest kind of see what is going on wrong, but are too cowardly to call others to repentance or don’t know what to do about it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you recognize which congregation it is?

Yes, this is what Paul’s congregation in Corinth was like. They had all of this in abundance and more. Surely there are bits and pieces of that in every congregation. You know what was the amazing thing about all of this? The way Paul addressed those fellow Christians. Do you remember?

He begins his letter with: “To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints.” (2 Cor 1:1). The Church of God… with all the saints! Isn’t that a bit challenging to accept that Paul calls all those people … saints?

It is hard to imagine how much headaches Paul probably had trying to deal with all those issues. Where do you even begin? But then, remember how on New Year’s Eve we agree to do one thing this year, to ask one specific question. Remember?

Whatever happens, we would ask: “Lord Jesus, we know that you desire to bless us, please, show us how will you bless us through this? How will you bless us?” This question may do wonders, for suddenly we have put ourselves in the hands of our all-wise God allowing Him to take control of our situation, where we trustingly look at Him and wait to see how He will work it out for good.

This situation with our fellow saints and sinners in Corinth is a great example. How terrible that situation may have looked and felt when in the midst of it. But, see, what our good and kind Lord has done. And what has He done?

As His faithful apostle Paul struggles to address this situation, with so many various problems, he writes these inspired letters to Corinthians, containing the riches of God’s wisdom for how we are supposed to address situations like these.

As the result, the whole Christian Church for two millennia have read, meditated upon, drown wisdom and insights and used these inspired instructions in their own unique situations, trying to live grace-filled and Gospel-shaped lives.

We can only try to imagine what hell Paul the apostle went through trying to pastor those puffed up, stiff-necked and self-righteous Corinthians. But, on the other hand, we can clearly see – what a loss it would be for the Church, if we didn’t have these two letters at our disposal. Thanks be to our God, who desires to bless us!

Now, what can we learn from how Paul approached that sea of problems? We can and should learn what Paul did dealing with those terrible, terrible… yes, saints of God. He kept reminding them who they were.

Their new identity and what it truly means. And this is what we too need to be reminded of. And our reading from 2 Corinthians brings to us something that, as I mention in the beginning, sort of blows our minds away.

If you recall, Paul in his letter is referring to the event where Moses spoke with God Yahweh and received the Commandments. That was our OT reading for today. And what happened then? Yes, Moses’ face shone, it reflected God’s glory.

His radiance was so bright that people could not gaze at him. But then, the divine glory from his face gradually waned away. Then Paul goes on and compares that event with … the preaching of the Gospel and shows how much greater is the ministry of the Gospel and how much greater is the glory that the Gospel brings to us. Let’s read and try to unpack what Paul wrote.  

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” When we turn to the Lord… The question is, what do we turn away from? And the answer is – from ourselves. From believing and living as if we were lords of our lives and suns in our tiny solar systems, where everything revolves around us and is about us.

Where we love ourselves more than anything. But our Triune God turns us towards Him and helps us to put Him is the centre of our lives. Do you know what it means? That He takes off our shoulders and our hearts the unsufferable burden.

The burden to make us somebody, to make a name for ourselves, to make us good enough, to achieve glory, to be significant, to make us lovable, to secure our future, and so one. All the things that we toil for our entire lives, and never fully achieve.

He takes all of that off our hearts and shoulders. He embraces us and says: “I have made you my child and my heir, there is nothing greater than that. You will reign with me forever. And you are good in my eyes, I delight it you, I love you so much, and I entrust you great responsibilities, and don’t you worry about your future, I’ve got it, it is all sorted, rely on me!” He says it to you…

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We need to set the record straight. We don’t actually turn to our Lord Jesus, it is our gracious God who comes to us, gently calls us, indwells in us, creates in us new hearts and then gradually turns to Himself.

Away from our selfish self and self-imagined sources of worth and security, from falsehood to truth. As He Himself indwells in us… and that is the beginning of true freedom, freedom from everything that hinders us living as our Creator intended.  

When our Father embraces us and we don’t resist, we are set free from the need to always justify ourselves that we haven’t sinned, that we haven’t done anything wrong. We are so loved that we are free to say: “Yes, I have sinned, forgive me!” So that we can hear: “Yes, I forgive you!” Jesus has set us free.

And this is where we get to the heart of the matter. “And [now] we all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We need to understand this. This is incredible!

Remember, Moses was in the presence of God. The glory of God and the glory of His Commandments made Moses’ face so radiant that others couldn’t gaze at him. But that glory waned away. That’s how it is with God’s Law.

When someone hears God’s Law for the first time, as God’s will, with God’s own authority, it is impressive, it is glorious. So much wisdom, and clarity and direction, but … as you try to live by it, you inevitably face the reality that we can’t endure the glory of God’s Law.

It exposes our imperfections, our sinful passions, our self-centredness, our unwillingness to obey true God, it begins to crush us. The truth is, we can’t live by it. For it is holy and good and perfect, and we are sinful and unclean.  

Now, this is what Paul is saying, and he is saying it to you too. Listen carefully! But when you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of God’s forgiveness and freedom, something incredible happens.

You know that the Word of God, true and pure Word of God, always comes together with the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul is saying to us, that the glory of the Law shines on us, but it wanes. But the glory of the Gospel is not like that.

It remains… For it comes from the Lord, its source is the Lord Holy Spirit in you. We need this penny to drop – as long as we keep gazing at the glory of the Lord, as long as our eyes are fixed on Jesus, on the Gospel, on His message to us, as long as we behold His glorious beauty, we keep receiving the Holy Spirit.

We could do the experiment. We could take a photo of people before the Divine Service and after the Divine Service. Before Gospel filled Bible Study and after. Before joyful, Jesus and grace focused Christian conversations and after.

What would we notice? What do you think? The glory of God in your face! Yes! This is not a nice Christian idea. This is something that those who gladly listen to the Lord have experienced again and again and again in their lives.

How do we feel when we have been gazing, so to speak, at the beauty of the Gospel, when we have marvelled at God’s grace? Transformed, more and more into the likeness of Christ. Radiant of joy!

And think about this – how beautiful, how glorious are those people, those fellow saints who bring us the sweet, sweet message of God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness. Aren’t they glorious? There is God’s glory in their face!

This is our Christian reality, God’s glory in us, whenever we keep beholding the glory of the Lord, in His Word, in His Sacraments. As long as you keep doing it, you are transformed from one degree of glory to another. Amen!

I don’t know about you, but I find this mind blowing, heart-warming, incredibly humbling… for we don’t deserve any of this. And we don’t even get it, and we really struggle to appreciate it and give thanks for it and to pass it on.

The amazing glory of the Gospel! For you! In you! This was Paul’s source of strengths. Imagine his congregation with all their problems. Who wouldn’t give up and run? And who would condemn them? But this is what Paul says:

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold … Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

This is it. Whatever happened, Paul and his fellow pastors were not going to lose hearts. They saw the true divine glory of their ministry. This is why they could not and would not twist or alter or silence God’s Word.

No cunning, no tampering, no trying to appease people, no acceptance of sinful behaviour. They stood firm, not on their own, but only by the mercy of God. Even if criticized and rejected and betrayed by those they tried to serve, they entrusted themselves in the sight of God.

Amazing testimony. Amazing… Dear Brothers and Sisters, I pray that what Paul teaches us would be a blessing to all of us. May the Holy Spirit help us to comprehend the grandeur of what we heard.

Whatever our sins, whatever our failures, whatever often and repeated they are, as we keep beholding God’s glory in Christ through the hearing of the Gospel, you too became radiant, and God’s glory shines forth in your face. This is how great our message is, how great the privilege to hear it and to pass on.

May the glory of Christ forever shine in your face and may the hope that we all have and the boldness in Christ bring many to our gracious Lord Jesus.

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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