The 7th Sunday After Pentecost July 23, 2006
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
743 "(TLH 41)", 377(1-3, 5), 377(6-7, 10), 398
If the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
In Christ Jesus who is the completion of the Law for righteousness, dear fellow-redeemed:
There are two main teachings in all of holy Scripture—the Law and the Gospel. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament is exclusively Law or Gospel. Both the teachings filter through all of Scripture.
The Law is that part of God’s Word which tells us what God expects. The Law tells us what God commands us to do. The Law tells us what God commands us not to do. In the process of showing God’s will for our lives, the Law also shows us our sin. When we compare our lives to what God expects of us we inevitably see the many ways in which we fail.
The Gospel is that part of God’s Word which shows us what Jesus has done for us. The Gospel began with God’s first promise in the Garden of Eden—His promise to Adam and Eve that He would send the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. The Gospel continued through prophecies telling how Jesus would come and win salvation for lost souls. The Gospel promises were fulfilled when Jesus came, lived for us, died for our redemption, and rose again.
Law and Gospel are the sum and substance of everything recorded in Scripture. The early Lutheran church leader in America, C.F.W. Walther, said in his theses concerning Law and Gospel: “The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz. Law and Gospel.” He goes on to say, “Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.”
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day did not rightly distinguish between Law and Gospel. They knew the Law, but they did not understand the fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Let us consider THE TALE OF TWO COVENANTS and seek with the Spirit’s blessing to better understand the Law and the Gospel. As we meditate upon the inspired words of the Apostle Paul we will find that I. The glory of the Law fades in the greater glory of the Gospel and II. The Law cannot free us but the Gospel gives liberty and hope.
When God spoke to the Children of Israel on Mt. Sinai He established a covenant with them. God said: “‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ … So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’” (Exodus 19:4-8).
God entered into a Law covenant with His people through that agreement. God laid out all of His expectations and said “if you follow My Law and do all of these things perfectly then you will be my people and I will be your God.” The people of Israel responded, “Yes, we will keep our side of the covenant. We will do all that the Lord has said.” But within a matter of days the people were marching and dancing around the golden calf, worshipping it as the god that had brought them out of Egypt. The people had spoken their faithfulness to this covenant but did not keep it. Nevertheless, God remained faithful to His part of the agreement even blessing them in spite of their sin.
This failure to keep God’s Law revealed the people as sinners. It demonstrated that they could not keep the Law of God. That is the same conclusion to which we are brought. The fact that no one is able to be righteous by the Law is why the glory on the face of Moses faded. We heard how he went into God’s presence and came out with his face shining, but after he left God’s presence it faded. The shining nature of Moses’ face was from the glory of God and the holiness of what He was speaking. Because it was not Moses’ righteousness or his glory it faded away. Moses put a veil over his face so that the people would not see the glory fade.
Paul tells us that the Law covenant had glory, but the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. The Law of God is glorious and true. It is no less His word than the Gospel, but for us sinners it is a word of condemnation. It is a glorious Word because it is the true Word of the almighty God, but the glory of the Law does not belong to us because we break the Law when we sin against it.
Paul points to the greater glory that comes through Christ and the Gospel. So great is the glory of the Gospel that it overshadows the glory of the Law. We can use a comparison in the skies to help illustrate this. The stars in our universe are incredibly bright. At night you can see them shining brightly from distances that are almost unimaginable. But in the daylight, when the sun rises, they fade. The actual brightness of the star hasn’t diminished. The star hasn’t stopped shining, but the greater light of the sun eclipses the light of the star. God’s Law is a bright and shining, glorious Word of God, but so great and so overpowering is the glory of the Gospel that the light of the Law is overcome by that greater glory.
The glory of the Gospel is so bright and so shining because that glory gives us righteousness that is ours. We are not able to possess righteousness through the Law. But through the Gospel we receive the righteousness of Christ—a righteousness which He gives to us and makes our own.
The Gospel is a covenant that is totally God’s doing. God said I am sending My son. Through Him I will pay for your sins, through Him I will declare you righteous. God gives us Christ’s righteousness and we are holy in His sight. Paul told the Galatians: “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:21-25).
Writing to the Romans Paul said: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them.’ But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, ‘…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:1ff).
Again, to the Romans, Paul writes: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:20-22).
The glory of the Law fades in the greater glory of the Gospel which is our salvation. Paul continues in our text: “…their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” [v.14-16]
If someone does not see Jesus as the completion of the Law, if he does not look to Jesus as the One who keeps the Law for us and the One who is the end of the Law for righteousness bringing us salvation for our sins, then the veil still covers the glory that is fading. Then the heavy veil of the Old Testament Law still lies on his heart and he has no real hope and no sense of the salvation that is his through Christ because his guilty conscience condemns him in the light of God’s Law.
The Law cannot free, but the Gospel gives liberty and hope. “Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [vv.12,18]
The Law can give no hope. It only condemns. The Law can’t set us free because no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep it. We might live a very outwardly pure life. We might be revered by those who know us. We may be acknowledged as wonderful citizens of our country and “good people.” We might have a spotless record with no fines or any other disciplinary action directed to us, and yet in the eyes of God we are still sinners. The soul that sins once is guilty of all (cf. James 2:10). The very thoughts of our minds that are contrary to God’s Word are sin. We sin much every day. There is no way for the Law to set us free from sin or its condemnation. It is a different story with the Gospel.
The Gospel sets us free because the Gospel tells us that all of those sins are washed away. That message of salvation is what invigorates our hearts and souls to no longer live for our selves but, as Paul says, “to be transformed.” That is the description of the New Man within us. Our old sinful flesh loves sin and pursues it, but through the working of the Gospel we have a New Man who loves God’s Law, loves to follow His Word, and seeks to live for Jesus rather than ourselves. It is that new person within us that is regenerated. The new person within us is being transformed into the glory of our Savior and that glory does not pass away. That unfading glory is given to us freely and extends into eternity.
In the Gospel news of forgiveness we have incredible liberty. We are no longer slaves of the Devil. We are no longer his pawns moved here and moved there to do this and do that under the oppression of his wickedness. We are set free! His power over us is broken because with God’s Word we have the power to defeat every temptation he could possibly send our way. There is nothing that the Devil can do to separate you from your Lord. There is nothing he can do to bring you back to his control when you are armed with God’s Word. You are set free! The shackles of his oppression are broken and he can rule you no more!
Death no longer holds you either. Yes, we will die, but just as surely as the grave did not hold Jesus on the third day so surely our graves will not hold us. On the last day Jesus will raise our bodies and glorify them as he joins them back with our souls to live with Him forever. In resurrection glory our bodies will be set free from all sin and all the sorrows and miseries of this life to live forever with Jesus. Then we will no more be viewing our Savior through faith, but face to face in the glory of God! That is freedom! That is liberty and hope! Because of that hope we have boldness.
We have a boldness to share the Gospel which is glorious and gives salvation. We have the boldness of being God’s children, redeemed and forgiven. Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage…For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:1,13).
Knowing that we are living in the greater glory of the Gospel and that we have a certain hope means we can live as freed sinners—not under bondage, but free. Freedom, however, does not mean an opportunity for the flesh. Freedom through Christ is not an excuse to go and sin because “what difference will it make since it can be forgiven anyway?” If you have been set free from slavery, why would you run back to it? (cf. Romans 6).
If a slave had been set free in the earlier history of our country, why would he run back into bondage? He wouldn’t! If we have been set free from sin why would we run back to sin and continue to pursue it? So then our freedom is not an opportunity for our flesh to go and sin, rather, our freedom is the opportunity to stay away from sin. Our liberty is the freedom to be set free—truly and completely—from sin and its condemnation. Stand fast in that liberty, rejoice in the salvation of our Savior and in His righteousness and His glory!
The Tale of Two Covenants meets its completed goal in Christ. The Law of God is completed by Him for righteousness and glory which is ours forever. Amen.
Editor’s Note: This week’s sermon was to be the fifth in a series concerning evangelism. Unfortunately, the fifth sermon was not available for publication. Our apologies.
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