Exodus 34:29 - 35, 2 Corinthians 3:7 - 18

(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 Covenant
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 which lasts!
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.

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 the future.

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 is Lord.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Back to Sermon Index Page

Let me know if this message was helpful.