We have such trust through Christ toward God, not that we are sufficient in ourselves to take credit for anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us able ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.2 Corinthians 3:4–6 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
In his lengthy introduction to writing this letter, Paul explains why he didn’t visit Corinth as planned. This letter also serves as a lengthy defense of his ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He points to God as enough to show his own commendation because of the Spirit of God working in the people to whom Paul ministers.
This is a contrast between what is written by hand and what is written by Spirit. The background is itinerant ministers were accompanied by written letters of recommendation from those in authority. The apostles in Jerusalem sent Paul to Antioch with a written letter (Acts 15:22–31.) The church at Corinth is a recommendation letter written by the Spirit of God.
The difference between physical writing that will fade away, and the work of the Spirit that doesn’t.
If the ministry that brought death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, the glory which was to fade away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?2 Corinthians 3:7–8 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Paul uses that idea to teach a greater truth. The ministry that brought death is the giving of the law. It is not that it wasn’t good. It had the purpose to bring bondage. Bondage of countless sacrifices day and night. It was a ministry of death. One that clearly demonstrated that sin brings a penalty of death. The reminder was constant. Sin brings death. That is the ministry of condemnation.
That ministry was delivered with glory. Glory was clearly reflected in the face of Moses as he brought the tablets of stone down to the people.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of testimony in the hands of Moses, when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, amazingly, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.Exodus 34:29–30 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Even the reflection of the glory of God was enough to remind the Israelites of that terrifying meeting with God at Sinai (Exodus 19:16–19; 20:18–21.)
At this point, reflecting on why the people were terrified is good. Even before the ministry of the law that brought condemnation, the people understood their condition in the presence of the holiness of God. The idea of holiness is separation. The people knew inherently that there was a problem. The giving of the law would draw that problem into clarity. It would also point directly to the Solution to that problem.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? God forbid! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, righteousness would indeed come through the law. But the Scripture has confined all things under sin, that the promise through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
But before faith came, we were imprisoned under the law, kept for the faith which was later to be revealed. So the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.Galatians 3:21–25 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
The Old Covenant was Transitory
The ministry of the law was to fade away just as the glory of God reflected in Paul’s face would diminish. In a greater sense, the enslavement of sin was to be obliterated.
For if the ministry of condemnation is glorious, the ministry of righteousness much more exceeds it in glory. Even that which was made glorious had no glory in comparison to the glory that excels. For if that which fades was glorious, that which remains is much more glorious.2 Corinthians 3:9–11 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
For us to contemplate that condemnation could be glorious might present itself as an oxymoron. Yet we now know that the purpose of that ministry contained a scarlet thread that brings us to the cross. The cross was the definitive point of the end of the law. The resurrection is the permanent victory over death. That is the glory that excels.
Seeing then that we have such hope, we speak with great boldness, not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, so that the children of Israel could not look intently at the end of what was fading away.2 Corinthians 3:12–13 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
In contrast to the veil Moses placed over the glory to conceal its fading nature, we Christians speak with boldness. The new covenant doesn’t fade away. Its permanence is the impetus to share it.
Instead, their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the old covenant, the veil which was done away with in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is in their hearts.2 Corinthians 3:14–15 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Their minds were blinded in the same way that the veil Moses put on concealed the glory of God reflected in his face. The transitory nature of the law would be hidden from the Israelites. The same veil remains, not because it was already done away with by the work of Jesus. It remains because of the hardness of the heart.
Who is to blame?
Hear this now, O foolish people and without understanding, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.Jeremiah 5:21–25 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Do you not fear Me? says the Lord. Will you not tremble at My presence? For I have placed the sand for the boundary of the sea by a perpetual decree so that it cannot pass over it. And though the waves toss themselves, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it. But this people has a revolting and a rebellious heart; they have revolted and gone aside. They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season. He reserves for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withheld good things from you.
The veil remains because of the hardness of the heart. A hardness that begins in one’s own mind, but like Pharaoh can remain because God removes His influences.
Clearly, it is our sin that hardens.
We see that in the reaction of the Israelites to God coming down on Mount Sinai. They didn’t need the law to know their sinfulness. Being in the presence of a righteous God was terrifying.
The law was to showcase the problem and point to the solution. It became a point of national pride that eventually hid sin. Which in due course, suppresses the knowledge of God (Romans 1:21.)
There is a Problem and a Solution.
Nevertheless when anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.2 Corinthians 3:16 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
This is the fulcrum that the matter teeters on… The individual will. Since the bondage of sin no longer remains, a choice is available.
Any of us can approach the Word of God. We can read it, and maybe get some good points for living, just like reading any self-help book. That’s the veil.
Some read it and seem to stumble at the presentation of the angry God of the Old Testament. He is contrasted with a loving Jesus. It’s as if the two ideas become a contradiction. That’s the veil.
Some read it and just don’t get it. That’s the veil.
Turn to the Lord. That is exactly what repentance is. It is turning to the Lord. It is not trusting in your own intellect to understand, but turning to Him. It’s like saying “God I believe, help my unbelief.” That is the beginning. That is the pint of salvation.
For the belief, it is a constant reminder to change our minds toward God for understanding.
I will tell you personally, that the God of the Old Testament is just as loving as Jesus. As the law was to point out an obvious problem. Its ultimate purpose was to usher folks to Jesus, that is to have them turn to the Lord.
Now the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.2 Corinthians 3:17 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
There is no truer liberty than to be free of the bondage of death that comes with sin.
It is true for the individual. It is also true in a collective sense. There are no more bloody sacrifices needed. No daily ministrations of a priestly class that never rested because of the pervasiveness of sin, whether that sin was individual or collective… Intentional or not. The priests worked day and night. Fires burned with the stench of death. Until Jesus came… And as Priest, He sat down.
But every priest stands daily ministering and repetitively offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.Hebrews 10:11–12 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
The work of the law is finished. Its ministry has faded away. What is permanent remains. Jesus rested as the work of redemption is done. The purchase price is satisfied.
But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.2 Corinthians 3:18 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
For us believers, we can look to the Lord with unveiled faces. Faces that reflect His glory. We Spirit-baptized believers are being transformed into the same image of Jesus. From His glory, we are given glory.
No. That last line is not a mistake.
I will trace this backward for you to draw on the Spirit to understand the greatest privilege extended to us by the God of the Old Testament.
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You. May they also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory which You gave Me, that they may be one even as We are one: I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfect in unity, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.John 17:20–23 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Jesus prays for you to have the same glory He has received from the Father.
And now, O Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world existed.John 17:5 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
It’s the same glory Jesus had from eternity past.
For My own sake, even for My own sake, I will do it; for how can My name be polluted?Isaiah 48:11 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
And I will not give My glory to another.
Keep looking up.