Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Date: February 6 & 7, 2016
The Transfiguration of our Lord, Year C
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 (NIV84)
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 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. 14 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. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
The Love of God is Revealed in Christ
1. Freedom from sin
2. Freedom to share
“I didn’t know you felt that way.” Maybe you’ve heard those words; maybe you’ve said those words. Depending on our personalities, we can be pretty good about hiding our true thoughts and feelings. Maybe we deeply care for someone but don’t know how to show that until we finally say or do something that makes it clear. Maybe we really don’t care for our friend’s favorite meal and choke it down with her until we have to just come clean and say, “I just really don’t like this food.” When the truth comes out, it can be a revelation. Maybe a lot of things that had happened before in your relationship with that person makes a whole lot more sense. Maybe the revelation is a relief; maybe it’s sad.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was slowly but surely revealing his true heart to those closest to him. His disciples slowly learned who he was, from plain water into miracle wine to the healing of life-long ailments and even raising the dead. Jesus’ work and his words made it clear that there was something different about him. As he took Peter, James, and John to that mountain top, when the glory of the Lord surrounded them and Jesus became radiant and the voice of the Father boomed from heaven the truth was inescapable: Jesus is God.
But Jesus’ divinity isn’t just something that we add to a fact sheet and say, “Yup, I know this piece of information from God’s Word.” Knowing who Jesus is makes clear why he did what he did. And not only the why, but it explains what it means for us. The love of God is most clearly revealed to us in Christ. That love of God means freedom from sin and freedom to share this radiant message of love.
In our lesson for this morning, Paul is writing to Christians living in Corinth. In his first letter that we have preserved for us, he urged them to do what they needed to do with an unrepentant sinner. There was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife, likely his step-mother. Rather than being repulsed by this notion, they were bragging about it! They were boasting about how tolerant and “loving” and open-minded they were being.
Paul had to write harsh words to them that this was not appropriate. Not only were the things this person was doing wrong and reprehensible by even secular, worldly standards (to say nothing of God’s will in sexual matters), but instead of loving this man, their tolerance of his sin was hating him. Refusing to warn of his sin was tantamount to assuring a family that the exposed wiring in their house is fine, despite the fact that the house is burning down around them.
To their credit, the Corinthians followed Paul’s direction. They excommunicated this man from their congregation to warn him. That excommunication had its desired effect. He had been brought to see the error of his ways and was truly sorry for what he had done. Paul directs the Corinthians in chapter 2 of this letter that now is the time to bring him back, restore him, and show him that even these flagrant sins are forgiven in the blood of Christ.
Which leads Paul to spend time in chapters 3 and 4 talking about this beautiful new covenant, one that is different from the covenant that the Jewish people had lived with for centuries. The old covenant, especially as the Jewish people at that time understood it, was one of law: obey and be blessed; disobey and be punished.
The notion is common to all people. We all have a portion of us that longs to set things right when we have messed up. That is very appropriate when it comes to our human relationships. The cheating spouse will want to and absolutely should seek to make amends and reconciliation with the spouse who was wronged. If you drive too fast, you should pay the ticket. If you lose something that you borrowed, you should pay to replace it. That is the way we live our lives. That’s the way our human relationships and the laws of our land work.
The problem is that this thinking falls apart in our relationship with God. Because while we might be able to repair a human relationship with good works, while we might be able to make up for our crimes with something positive, we absolutely cannot do anything to repair our relationship with God. When writing to the Ephesians, Paul notes that we are dead in sin. We can do as much for ourselves spiritually as a corpse can do for itself physically: nothing.
That doesn’t stop us from trying though. Paul references back to our First Lesson with Moses’ veil to cover his radiant face. He says that veil hides the true glory of God and our thinking about our relationship with God is distorted by nature. 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. 14 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. This veil isn’t limited to Judaism. Any religious thought that isn’t biblical Christianity wears this veil. Any religion that proclaims any amount of works to get right with God wears this same veil. If a church says you must submit to God to be right with him, if a church says you must do these works or this penance to make up for your sin, if a church says that you have power, though spiritually dead, and can actually choose to believe in Jesus and accept him as Savior, this veil remains and obscures the new covenant with works-righteousness.
What’s the solution? On our own we only come up these veil-distorted answers. But Paul is clear: only in Christ is [the veil] taken away. It is only in Jesus that we see God for who he really is and see his heart for what it really is. Because we were completely helpless in our sin, Jesus came to rescue us. He rescued us by taking our place under our punishment for one purpose. Paul says: But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Freedom. The absolute opposite of the slavery to sin we were under by nature. In Christ, we are free. We don’t need to worry about working off that sin or paying that debt back to God. The veil has been removed and we see his loving, forgiving heart for what it is. We don’t need to take credit for our faith or insert ourselves in that process—the Holy Spirit has given us faith to trust his forgiveness as is: a free gift. And because of that loving heart of God, because of the love that you and I did not deserve in the least, we are set free.
Paul reminds us that such freedom fundamentally changes us. “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.” As we heard last week, when we come into contact with God’s self-sacrificing love for us, we can’t help but reflect it. Moses spent time with God on Mount Sinai receiving the law and came down the mountain with a radiant, glowing face. How much more do we, having seen God’s love in his Word, reflect that glorious love to those around us? We are all like the moon, shining with reflected light. We are not the light ourselves, but we point out the source of that light, the source of that love, the source of that freedom: Jesus.
When the full relief of that freedom sets in, what joy there is in serving others! We are no longer burdened with trying to “look good to God.” We’ve been set free, and we can share that message with others! Paul comments on the ministry he and others worked on: Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. There is no need to distort anything, there’s no need to hide anything, there’s no need to try to trick anyone. As Christians, we are called simply to let God’s glory shine and be radiant as we find it in his Word. We let his Word stand for itself and be the blessing that it is intended to be for all people: the release from sin.
In the Corinthian congregation, this glorious ministry meant restoring the brother who had been trapped in sin and rejoicing in his forgiveness and in the forgiveness of the entire congregation. It is exactly the same for us today. We are all very different. We come from different families, have lived in different places, and have different backgrounds. But we are unified in these things: we had been dead but now we are alive. By God’s love alone we have seen in his Word the promise and assurance of our forgiveness. We have seen Jesus as he is, the Savior of mankind. We have seen the love of God and it means forgiveness for all of our sins and eternal life with him forever. Enjoy that freedom. Share that freedom. Bask in the glory of his radiant, forgiving love. Amen.