The 13th Sunday After Pentecost September 3, 2006
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
2, 133, 292, 370
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the God who loved you enough to sacrifice His one and only Son continue to shower upon you His undeserved love in connection with that same Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. Amen.
Dear Fellow Representatives of God to the World:
Even in the realm of secular literature it is a story that captures human imagination and incites our emotions. A man finds himself desperately in love with a beautiful woman, so much so that he is willing to work on her father’s farm for many years in return for the privilege of gaining her hand in marriage. Imagine the wild range of emotions that overtake the groom as he is finally allowed to marry the love of his life only to discover the next morning that he has been deceived into marrying the girl’s sister. By this time you probably recognize this as the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, arguably one of the most interesting Bible accounts for a variety of reasons.
One question that naturally arises is how such a thing could happen? Many suspect, at least in part, the wedding veil. Though now a somewhat meaningless bridal accessory, once it was the great conjurer of mystery and surprise. While some today regard the wedding veil as a symbol of respect on the part of the bride, the custom originated in planned marriages when the face of the bride was hidden by the father until the commitment of the groom was complete and irrevocable. Marriage was not supposed to be based on physical beauty and in medieval times the groom did not lay eyes on his bride until after the wedding ceremony. Thus Jacob was undoubtedly not the last man to be surprised on his wedding day—whether for better or for worse.
In our meditation today, we recognize the veil as the common thread that joins the Scripture lessons and sermon text. We, therefore, explore this Mystery of the Veil. We will see that the mystery is far deeper and far more important than the outward beauty of a newly married bride. The text that will guide our study is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the third chapter:
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.
These are God’s Words given to us through verbal inspiration so that we might hear, believe, learn, and grow. That God the Holy Spirit would so bless each one of us this morning, we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Dear Christian friends, would that everyone could, at least once, enjoy a surprise party held in his honor. If you have ever been so privileged you will probably agree that it is something that you will not soon forget. What is so special and unforgettable about such occasions is knowing how much time and effort went into the planning and preparation. This sort of thing has great application to our general theme. It is one thing to say something like, “My family and friends threw a surprise party for me last week.” It is quite another to think about all the planning and effort that went into all that they did.
So too it is one thing to say, “Jesus saved me,” and quite another to contemplate just what went into that priceless gift, what awaited me if Jesus had not done what He did, and how spiritually helpless and inept each one of us is apart from our Savior God.
Our Old Testament lesson reminded us of the original veil. Since Moses’ face shone so brightly after his visit with God on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel were too frightened to see even that reflected, divine glory when Moses spoke to them. He would therefore cover his face with a veil whenever he came into their presence and spoke to them.
Our sermon text adds a new wrinkle, doesn’t it? There we read that the veil was used so that “the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.” [v.13] Great debate has been made in trying to determine just what Paul meant, or more accurately, just what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Of at least one thing we can be certain. That which was “passing away” was clearly the Law, with all of its demands and condemnations. Paul was very clear on this point. In Romans 10, for example, he wrote: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Note this well and recognize especially how it applies to you, personally, in your individual life today.
“The law for righteousness” refers to the old Jewish idea that a human being could earn his way to heaven by keeping the Law of Moses. The Jews today still trust in that same Law for their own salvation. They neither deny nor apologize for their steadfast belief that righteousness can be earned by those who keep the Law. This explains why they have such a difficult time with Jesus and have had for the past 2000 years. They simply refuse even to consider the idea that Jesus put an end to the demands of Moses’ Law by keeping that and every other law perfectly for us. They utterly reject what Paul expressly declares to be true: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Said another way, faith in Christ Jesus has replaced the Law as the means by which men are saved.
Such words are utter blasphemy to the Jews who deny Jesus Christ. To the followers of Jesus Christ, they represent the sweet promise of eternal life.
Yet, again, what is the personal message of this great truth? How do these words affect you? How do they speak to you in your day-to-day walk through life? Answering such questions is that which makes these words come alive and fill us with joy and relief. The simple fact is that we naturally have a deep and profound resistance to the proclamation that our sins are forgiven without effort or sacrifice on our part. They are, after all, our sins. The natural reaction is that forgiveness of sins and salvation just can’t be that easy. What is more, our emotions come into play since we just feel more lovable when we are doing good things. We feel like God could forgive us when we are doing something that we consider to be a good work. On the other hand, that old work-righteous side of us is just not comfortable with God’s declaration that He has declared us forgiven because of the payment Jesus made on the cross and that nothing is required of us.
The result is that we tend to want to add something to what Jesus provided. Thoughts often run something like, “Yes, Jesus died for my sins, but now I have to live the kind of life He wants me to live if I expect to join Him in Heaven.” Though this, again, feels right, it is nonetheless all wrong. The only thing—the only thing—that we add to the equation of our salvation is our sin. Jesus provided everything that had any merit or worthiness before the bar of Divine Justice. The equation, drawn out, is:
My Sin + Jesus’ Perfect Life and Innocent Death = My Eternal Salvation.
Again, all good comes from Jesus. I provided only my sin. God then weighed these facts and passed sentence, declaring you and me and every other sinner to be righteous—innocent of any and all sin. We were so declared because Jesus took the full load of our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty in our stead.
Here we have the very key to life eternal. It is the divine plan of salvation known for centuries only to God and into which kings and angels longed to look. Still today, our text tells us that so many unbelievers simply fail to recognize what you know and believe. They cannot see what you see. Why? Because the veil that covers their hearts is the veil of human unbelief. Before you pass that off as somewhat inconsequential, consider for a moment the facts here as they apply also to you.
The first, rather terrifying fact, is that this accursed veil can never be removed by human effort—not our own effort nor the effort of any one else. Do you remember earlier when we talked about the fact that we really only begin to appreciate what someone has done for us when we take the time to contemplate all that went into the event? Here is one area where we can gain more appreciation for what Jesus did for us. The fact is we could not lift this veil of unbelief from our hearts. We could not believe and be saved through human effort of any kind. Remember, the result if the veil should remain in place is eternal hell. Since no human being could remove this veil for us, our situation was dire indeed.
You can see the natural result all around you. The vast majority of church goers today are more Jewish than Christian. In other words, a disastrous majority of church goers today believe that they are saved—at least in part—by their own effort or goodness. God grant that you, dear Christian, never join their ranks!
Our text refers to the lifting of this veil as “liberty.” It’s a curious word to use there, isn’t it. It is perhaps the very last word that our society would use to describe conservative Christianity. Paul says that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” [v.17] Liberty refers to true freedom—freedom from slavery to sin, freedom from our bondage to Satan, freedom to enter eternal life with our God and Savior. That kind of liberty can only be found where the Holy Spirit resides because it is the work of the Holy Spirit to remove the veil of unbelief from our hearts. The Word of God assures us: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Are you getting a sense of the near miss with eternal damnation that you and I so narrowly escaped? Trapped and helpless, without even a clue that anything was amiss, God rescued us from eternal torment by lifting the veil of unbelief from our hearts. Now, when you hear the Word of God, you hear it as truth and life. Make no mistake. That is a sublime, priceless gift that has been given to you and to every other believing child of God.
That would be enough from one text, but just take a look at how this text ends. “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.” [v.18] Don’t pass over these words. Draw them into your heart and ponder and treasure them there. They teach us that though outside observers might see Christians as being poured out and wasting away, God sees things differently. In God’s eyes we are being transformed into the same image that the Jews saw in Moses, only better. The glory that we now reflect is the glory that will never pass away. It will only pass from this life to the next and grow from reflected glory to glory that will actually become a part of us—a shared splendor granted to those who will live and reign with Jesus Christ in all eternity.
Now we see such things only dimly. Soon, soon, we will see clearly and directly. Thanks be to God who has lifted from our dead, cold hearts the veil that once hid all saving truth from our eyes and who has granted each one of us such a rare and incredible inheritance in Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.