THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT
Exodus 34:29 - 35, 2 Corinthians 3:7 -
(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
This morning I want to spend time focusing on 2 Corinthians 3,
especially the phrase “The Lord is the Spirit,” but
to do that, I will have to start with Exodus 34.
Exodus 34:29 - 35
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two
tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face
was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all
the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to
come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the
leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32
Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the
commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.
34 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, 35 they saw that his
face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face
until he went in to speak with the LORD.
Many of us will remember the story of Moses climbing up Mount Sinai
into the very presence of God. Moses came back from the
presence of God with two tablets of stone, the ten commandments. It is
a story we heard lots about in Sunday School. The part that we tend to
forget is that when Moses came back from being in the presence of God,
he came back with a radiant glow on his face. Being in the
presence of the Lord rubbed off, the glory that belonged to God rubbed
off on Moses. Israel’s reaction was fear, even the spiritual
leaders of Israel for dread backed away from Moses, afraid to get to
close to him. In fact, every time that Moses went into the
presence of God, whether it was on Mount Sinai or in the temple, when
he came out, he glowed with the presence of God. The glory of God
appeared on his face. The fact that he had been with God
could not be hidden.
In this original story there are
three themes that I want to touch on. First, Israel feared the Glory of
God on Moses face – and so Moses, so that he could address
the people of God on God’s behalf, put a veil on his face as
that they dared approach him. In a sense, the only way he could be with
them was if the glory of God was veiled to them.
Second, notice that Moses, every
time he goes into the presence of the Lord he uncovers his
face, but then when he goes back to speak to the people, he
covers his face. What was the reason for this? Was it because Israel
refused to get accustomed to the glow of God, or was it because Moses
was hiding something, was Moses shy about the fact that the glory of
God on his face was a fading glory? The passage does not
answer that question. Paul will in just a few minutes.
Third, notice that Israel, afraid
of the glory of God, receives two tablets of stone, which summarize the
behaviour that is anticipated from them as the people of God. There is
something important to realize here. Israel had been chosen by God.
They had a relationship with God. That relationship was governed by a
covenant. As people who were related to God, they were expected to
obediently behave in a certain way. Their obedience was defined by the
two tablets of stone. For Israel, to obey the law was to obey God. To
submit oneself to the Lordship of the Law was to submit oneself to the
Lordship of God. These two stone tablets became the defining criteria
for Israel’s obedience to God. The Law was
their Lord. And so the Psalmist would say
“Oh how I love to meditate on your Law oh God.” The
Psalmist would say that the precepts and the laws of God are
trustworthy and true. Trusting God was trusting his law.
Submitting to God was submitting to the Law, even though that Law was
simply two tablets of stone, not living, not life giving.
Now in 2 Corinthians, Paul makes a
profound comparison. Listen to what he writes.
2 Corinthians 3:7 - 18
The Glory of the New
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters
on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look
steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it
was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If
the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is
the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no
glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was
fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that
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
Paul, in this passage is of course referring to the New Covenant or
“ministry” in Christ. When Christ died on the
cross, he carried on his shoulder’s the consequence
of our disobedience to the Law, he removed the barrier that existed
between humanity and God that divided us from one another, he
reconciled us to God, and so that we could know God in an intimate way,
he sent his Holy Spirit . This is the new ministry, the new covenant
that Christ mediated. And notice this morning that it is
profoundly different, profoundly more glorious than the Old
Testament Covenant. Paul brings our a variety of contrasts which I will
very quickly point out.
Whereas the OT Covenant brought death which was effectively
the curse of the law caused by our inability to obey it, in
contrast the New Covenant in Christ brings life because Jesus perfectly
obeyed the Law of God, and everyone who is “in
Christ” inherits the consequential blessings of being in
Christ. Let me just give you a very quick illustration of this truth.
An important illustration which I will also use in the future.
What does it mean to be in Christ?
Just imagine you are my sermon, All by yourself, vulnerable to whatever
happens. Now imagine if I put my sermon in my bible. Whatever happens
to my bible happens to my sermon. If I bury my bible, my sermon is
buried with it. If I take my bible out of the ground, my sermon comes
with it. Anything that happens to my bible happens to my sermon. It is
the same if we are by faith "in Christ." Anything that happens to
Christ happens to us. So Paul says we have been buried with Christ, we
have been raised with Christ, we are even ascended with Christ seated
at the right hand of God the Father, and like Christ inherited the
blessing of Abraham, we to inherit that life giving blessing.
Paul continues his contrast.
Whereas the Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone, the
new covenant involves God’s will written right onto
human hearts. Again, the picture we get from Paul is this very direct
connection to God, so much so that God’s character (which was
at the Heart of Old Testament law) is the character expressed
through God’s church, his chosen community.
Now Paul points out that the glory
of the Old Covenant was a fading glory that disappeared with
time. That’s because even Moses was not connected to the
presence of God full time. In contrast, Paul tells us that through the
Holy Spirit, we are connected to God full time and the glory that rubs
off on us is a permanent and ever increasing Glory. And so there ought
to be a profound difference between Moses and us – Moses was Shy
about the glory that God gave to him, he hid it, he hid its fading
quality from the nation of Israel, whereas, because the glory of God is
on us without fading, we are called to be incredibly bold because we
know the shine of God stays with us.
Whereas the Old Covenant brought
shameful condemnation because it was powerless to bring a change of
character because it was weakened by the sinful nature, the new
Covenant brings righteousness because those who live by the Spirit of
God are set free from the law of sin and death and all the righteous
requirements of the law are fully met in them (Romans 8).
Now there is one more contrast that
I must highlight. Paul in his Hebrew kind of commentary now uses the
image of the veil over Moses face to describe the veil over all of
Israel. All of Israel was veiled, unable to see the Glory of
God for the very simple reason that dead tablets of stone do not have
the capacity to image a living God. Because they lived under the
ministry of the law, their eyes were veiled. Their knowing God was
knowing at best his shadow because those tablets of stone were a shadow
of his character. In contrast, new testament Christians know God
intimately because the Spirit of the living God is within them, among
them, writing his character on human hearts.
Having summarized what Paul is saying this morning, there are 5
concluding comments that I would like to make concerning the ministry
of the Spirit which along with Christ’s work lies at the
heart of the new Covenant. In all 5 of these comments, I want
to highlight the immediacy of the New Covenant, the direct connection
that we have with God, the intimacy we can have in knowing God.
First, it is important for us to recognize the intimate relationship
between the words of Christ and the Spirit. Jesus said “The
words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
( John 6:63) As part of our confessions, we acknowledge that
the scriptures are Spirit inspired, God breathed. Just like
it takes our breath to formulate audible words, so too, it took
God’s breath, God’s Spirit to formulate these
words. The bible is filled with God’s words and since the
Spirit is God, since the Lord is the Spirit - these are the very words
the Spirit has spoken. We need to understand that these words
of scripture are also the words that the Spirit continues to speak to
us today. If we want to know the Spirit, if we want to hear the Spirit
speaking to us, if we want to know the Spirit’s voice, we
need to be people who spend time with the word of God. Before anything
else, the Spirit speaks to us directly through the Word of God.
Second - it is through the Spirit of God that we receive direct
revelation of the Love of God for us his children. You see, words mean
very little unless they are verified by our experience. God knowing
this enables us to experience the depths of his love through the direct
revelation of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Romans 5: “God
has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has
given us.” In Romans 8 he tells us that the Spirit
of God witnesses with our Spirit that we are children of God.
That inner testimony, that witness is not words out here, it is an
inner realization of the depths of the Love of God for us.
This deep inner knowledge is the right of a child of God.
Third - the Spirit comes into our lives with the very character of God.
Paul calls it the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, patience, kindness,
goodness, gentleness, self control etc., these are characteristics that
are compatible with God because they are God’s character in
us. In short, God promises to us in the new covenant through the power
of the Spirit the power to change our characters, to make us more
fitting for God, to change us so that we radiate with the character of
God and glow with his glory! As Paul says 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.
Fourth - the Spirit comes into our lives with God given power. The
lists of Spiritual gifts in the scripture are there because these gifts
are a normal part of the Christian’s experience. So when
scripture talks about prophesying or healing or administration or faith
or speaking in tongues or discernment of spirits, or gifts of giving or
service, the list is much longer, these are a normal part of the
Christian life today because our contact with God through the Spirit is
the same today as it was in the early church, and the church needs to
be built up today like is was 2000 years ago. To deny the presence of
the gifts of the Spirit today is simply flawed and disobedient
theology. We will have opportunity to look at the gifts more closely in
My Fifth and final point this morning, and I want to highlight that
very clearly is that Paul says “the Lord is the
Spirit.” Paul is not making an argument for the
doctrine of the Trinity (as many commentators take this passage), Paul
is telling us how we relate to God in the New Covenant. Where as in the
darkness of the Old Covenant, Israel related to God through
the Law, and submitted to the Lordship of the Law, we
today relate to God through the immediate and intimate work of the Holy
Spirit in our lives.
Whereas in the Old Testament Covenant, Israel obeyed God by submitting
to the Lordship of the law in their lives, obeying the written code on
tablets of dead stone, we in the New Covenant obey God by
submitting to the words, love, character, leadership and gifts of the
Spirit in our lives. Paul says in Romans 8 Therefore,
there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free
from the law of sin and death. Just as Israel came to trust
the words of God written on two tablets of dead stone, and so their
relationship with God was governed, ruled by those tablets of stone, so
now, God governs and rules our lives by the Spirit - to us
the Lord is the Spirit. To obey God is to obey the Spirit. To
listen to God is to listen to the Spirit. Christians are profoundly
spiritual people. It is our story to be led by the Spirit. The Spirit
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.
Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by
permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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