2 Cor 3:12-4:2
Year C, last Sunday of Epiphany
Do you remember the story of the Ten Commandments and the golden calf incident? Do you also remember what happens at the very end of that story? Another way of asking the same thing is, do you remember how the story of the Ten Commandments ends? What happens at the very end of that story? It's strange, it's mysterious, and the apostle Paul thought it was so important that he wrote about it in his second epistle to the church in Corinth.
Now do you remember?
That's right. The face of Moses shines and he veils his face when confronted by the people of Israel.
This is how the story unfolds: Immediately after the golden calf incident, God told Moses that he would no longer lead the people of Israel into the promised land—God would NOT go with them—and God's reason for that was because, even though God has just delivered them from Egypt with great signs and wonders, those people were still incredibly stubborn and rebellious. They had not yet faced the reality that the God delivering them is the Creator of all things. He alone is supreme. He is the Most High God, who rules over all things.
Unfortunately, after the golden calf incident, In the eyes of the people, the God who just delivered them wasn't much different than the gods of other nations.
After God tells Moses that He won't be going with the people into the promised land, Moses pleads with God to go with them somehow. It is only after pleading multiple times, that the Lord relents and finally promises to send His glory among the Israelites. But the glory of God that was going to be among them was the glory reflected in the face of Moses himself. The Lord passed in glory before Moses, and then Moses went down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments again, shining with the glory of God—his face shining like the sun.
Here is where Paul picks up the story.
The Apostle Paul understood that Moses veiled his face from the people of Israel because their hearts were still hardened against God. They didn't even realize that they broke God's covenant, and that the glory of God's covenant with them was already fading away.
When Moses came down from the mountain a second time, he came down to tell the people that God's covenant with them was fading away, but because of his pleading on their behalf, God was willing to renew His covenant with them. It is at that time when Moses veils his face so that the stubborn and rebellious people of that generation could not see the end of encountering God's glory—and die in the wilderness as a result. As long as the people had hardened minds and hearts, they could not dwell in the glorious presence of God. The veil over Moses' face was the only thing protecting them, so that God could still dwell among them and lead them into the promised land.
Now, fast forward to the days of Jesus and his apostles
Paul tells us that with the incarnation of God, with Jesus coming into this world, the veil which covered God's glory is lifted. No Israelite in Jesus's day could encounter Jesus and not see the glory of God dwelling among them. This is why Paul also tells us that when The Jews of his day read the Books of Moses, a veil rests over their hearts and minds. They choose not to see the glory of God in Jesus, or even among His people. They choose not to be judged, or saved, by Jesus. When drawing upon a clear description of Israel at Sinai, Paul teaches that many Jews in his own generation were just as stubborn and rebellious as the Jews in Moses' day, with the golden calf incident.
In Paul's day, many of his own generation refused to believe that Jesus was different than the gods of other nations. Like Israel in the wilderness, they refused to believe that God had begun a new and greater Exodus with Jesus. They refused to believe the city of Jerusalem with its corrupt priesthood and corrupt leadership had become a new and greater Egypt. They refused to believe that Jesus was the greater Moses, delivering them from bondage to their stubborn and sin-filled ways. Their refusal to gaze into the glory of God in Jesus was a very big problem, and it is still a problem for people today.
What does Paul teach about solving this big problem?
What would it take for the veil to be removed from the minds of stubborn and rebellious people?
What would it have taken for Moses to remove his veil, so the glory of God could dwell safely among the people again?
Paul gives us the answer in our reading tonight.
Paul tells us that "turning" (i.e. repentance) is what removes the veil (v. 16). When we encounter the living and true God, and He makes His presence known to us, the proper response of all of us should always be repentance. Repentance is the desire to return to God—a movement of love and trust toward Him. It is only by turning to the Lord that the veil over our sinful, stubborn minds is removed. Because our Lord, Jesus, is the “Spirit” who brings liberty (v. 17), when we turn to Him, then we can be face-to-face with God’s glory and our hearts and minds can be renewed (cf. 4:4-6).
All of this talk about faces glowing with the glory of God might sound strange and mysterious, but it's meaning is still very practical for us today. When we encounter the living and true God, and we turn toward Him (instead of the opposite—directing our thoughts and emotions away from Him or against Him, refusing to love and trust Him), the Spirit of God liberates us and transforms us to become more like Him; The Spirit of God transforms us to become more and more godly. The Spirit of God helps us share a family resemblance with him.
As a result of that transformation, we see many things in this world change. We see people "living patient, productive, loving lives. We see parents loving children and children loving parents. We see Husbands loving wives and wives showing loving respect for their husbands. We see Servants and masters working in mutual respect and concern. We see people producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."1
In short, we see people living like Jesus, fulfilling God's Law.
It is not enough to acknowledge sins and confess them. We must also turn to the Lord for change in life. When we turn to the Lord, the veil over our heart and mind is removed. The Spirit of the Lord is then given so that we can become fully human, with the glory of God dwelling among us.
1. A couple insights in this post, but especially this list of ways which people are transformed by the Spirit of God, come directly from Peter Leithart. https://theopolisinstitute.com/seven-spirits/s