Showing posts with label II Corinthians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label II Corinthians. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Removes the Veil (A homily for Transfiguration Sunday, Year C)

Exod 34:29-35
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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Prayer that shapes us

Let’s face it. People pray most often when they either want something from God or when their ritualistic family traditions kick in—like praying before a meal. The way they often pray is also predictable. They express their thanks to God for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, and they ask God to bless them with more good things to enjoy, amen. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, nor should it be discouraged. But how and why someone prays is indicative of some thing, and therefore that thing, if it is not good, will need some healthy changes. Let me explain some ways in which these indicators can become more obvious to us.

For the Christian, prayer is not merely a ritual. It is a way of life. It is a tradition that shapes our life, molding the way we think and behave into godliness, working in us to show a greater family resemblance with our Heavenly Father. When the Christian prays for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, he (or she) should be doing it as heartfelt communion with and love for their Heavenly Father, who cares about why they enjoy it. It should not be prayer for the sake of prayer, any more than it  should be ritual for the sake of ritual. But often times it is. This is because a life of prayer is unavoidably ritualistic, and some people don't incorporate an appreciation of what God cares about into their daily rituals. Whether they reflect self-consciously upon God's feelings or not, their rituals are shaping their life. Their rituals are shaping their complacency. Their prayer-life is shaping their dependence upon self and their dependence upon God.

Proverbs 28:6-9 speaks a little about this way in God shapes our life, even through prayer: 

A)  Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together
  B)  The one who keeps the Law is a discerning son, 
    C)  but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
A')  Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor
   B')  The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, 
      C')  even his prayer is completely detestable.

When it says that “Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together,” the comparison is between those who are financially poor and those who are wealthy, and Wisdom says one path is better for both of them; and that path is the way of integrity, the way of keeping God's instructions. Only a fool would earnestly desire to become completely impoverished, choosing to sleep on wet sidewalks and beg for crumbs out of dumpsters, especially when given plenty of opportunities to gain an honest amount of wealth through productive labor instead. Therefore the wisdom of this proverb takes for granted that kind of foolishness in order to focus upon what is better for both, whether one is, incidentally, the poorest of beggars or richest of merchants. If the poor man is better for walking with integrity, how much better would a rich man be if he too walked with integrity, keeping God's laws in all of his business? This proverb, therefore, is contrasting more than just a lifestyle of poverty with a lifestyle of riches. It’s contrasting lifestyles which attempt to have fellowship with God. One lifestyle walks self-consciously with integrity in God’s sight, and one does not. One desires to twist two paths together, a path of blessing and wealth with a path of profiteering and usury. One desires to keep God’s instructions, while the other does not.

The parallel between keeping God’s instructions and walking with integrity is even more obvious from the proverbs that follow. The very next proverb refers to a glutton and the fact that such a sinfully selfish disposition is a shame to one’s father, but “the one who keeps the Law is a discerning son” (v. 7). From this we learn that the ritual formality of law-keeping cannot merely be a checklist of commandments to obey or ignore. Rather, it’s a way of thinking about God’s involvement in your life, and His desire for your relationship with Him to be evident in the sight of others who, like you, are also made in God’s image. Otherwise, why would the proverb contrast shaming a father with being a discerning son, or gluttony with law-keeping? It seems that the author of this proverb considered the two parallel illustrations as one unified concept. 

Understanding how to be a son who honors his father comes from learning how to keep the Law as our Heavenly Father intended it to be kept. By learning our Heavenly Father’s Law, we learn how to be a gloriously discerning son—a son who understands the glory of God manifested in honoring one's father. The son who dishonors his father is the glutton. The glutton is the one whose desires are focused upon satisfying the self far more than others. The gluttonous son shames his father because the son’s desire is not to glorify and honor his father; the glutton's desire is to glorify and honor himself, plundering others—even his own father—to fill his own coffers. If the son’s desire were to honor and glorify his father, he would be self-sacrificial and other-oriented in his lifestyle. This is what God’s Law endorses; gluttony is not. 

Since gluttony and plundering the goods of others is not what God’s Law endorses as a way of life, how do you suppose one of those lifestyles would impact one’s prayers? Do you suppose that a life like that—a life of disobedience or neglect of obedience to God—filled with an abundance of traditional prayers at dinner time, is going to please God? The next two verses give us the answer.
Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor. The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is completely detestable.

If a Christian multiplies his wealth in a gluttonous manner, that will not keep God from exacting justice for the poor. God will ensure that such sinful deeds  ultimately accumulate toward the greater good of the oppressed. Because gluttonous gain does not honor God, God promises that He will give that wealth to another who will be generous to the poor. The glutton's sinful gain will become the reward of those who pity the poor. God will judge between those who plunder and those who are plundered. 

This revelation of God's character leads us to the sobering reality that even if a Christian were to pray for greater blessings, greater wealth, greater prosperity—as people often do—God promises to shape our lives through such prayers. If they honor their Heavenly Father by hearing and praying according to His Law, those prayers will please Him. But if they turn their ear away from hearing His Law, even their prayers will be detestable in His sight. Either way, God shapes their life through prayer. For many people, a God like this, who detests all haters of His Law but yet allows plundering of others to exist, might seem capricious and ungracious. But for those who take God's holy character seriously, and consider His revelation of wisdom greater than their own, they know that He knows what is best for all men, and they trust in Him when  He speaks to them. They even trust in what He has to say about their prayer life because they want Him to be the one who shapes them through it. They know God's not capricious. They know God is very reliable. That's why they don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His infinitely wise Law--because God has revealed himself as their Father therein, a Father is who is first and foremost merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6). They don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His instructions because in doing so, even their prayers are detestable to His ears.

If you have concerns about your prayer life, and you want to know if some healthy changes need to be made to your prayer life, let me encourage you to consider the following exercise and apply these questions to your own prayers from this past week (or month):

Within the past week (or month) did you ask God to bless you (e.g. your food, your time with friends, your job, etc.)? If so, why did you ask for thatWhat was your motive in desiring his blessing? Did you ask because you always ask for that at prayer-time? Did you put much thought into that request? Did you consider what pleased God before you asked Him for a blessing? 

What about your thankfulness too? Did you thank God in prayer for certain things this week? What were they and why did you thank Him for those specific things? Did you thank Him merely because that’s the ritual you often perform at prayer time? Did you thank Him because without thanking Him you would feel awkward (or selfish) while asking Him for stuff afterward? At any time did you thank Him because His provision helped you serve Him more faithfully? At any time did you thank God for His provision because it helped you glorify Him as you provided for others in need? 

And what about unanswered prayers? Have any of your prayers recently seemed to be unheard by God? At any time did you thank Him for answering prayer by not giving you what you initially wanted? Or have you been presuming that God wants what you want?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the way in which people pray is indicative of some thing, either good or bad, and if that thing is not good, some healthy changes to one's prayer life are unquestionably in order. Thankfully, in Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, we catch a glimpse of what some healthy habits of change ought to look like. In Philippians 4:6-9 Paul writes: 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

For Paul, prayers and supplications to God are supposed to dwell upon certain things, and by dwelling on certain things and then offering them back up to God in prayers and supplications, our lives are shaped into a vessel fit for his honor and glory. For us to be molded into glorious vessels, we must learn pray in a way that is lawful; and for it to be lawful it has to be thoughtful; and for it to be thoughtful it has to be conditioned through a focus upon what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and worthy of praise. Thankfully Scripture is replete with examples of such God-honoring lifestyles of prayer. Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove a "thorn in his flesh," and he stopped praying for it's removal once he realized the Lord wanted that thorn to remain in order to keep him from exalting himself (II Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, in Luke 18, Jesus tells a series of parables about prayer, and among them we find a tax collector who humbles himself, and even beats his breast praying, "God be propitious to me, a sinner." Because of his humility, the Lord hears and exalts him (Luke 18:9-14). 

We also find a widow who won't stop petitioning her judge for justice (Luke 18:1-8), and so the judge answers her because of her persistence; and that persistence is likened unto the "elect who cry to God day and night." Such likening with the prayers of the elect is appropriate because it reminds us that God is a judge who listens to our cries because He cares about justice. According to James, God cares about justice so much that when brethren confess their sins toward one another and pray for one another, He brings healing (James 5:16). Have you ever felt miserable because your prayers weren't being answered by God? When was the last time you confessed your sinful, damaging attitude about your brother to your brother? When was the last time you confessed your sins of dishonoring your wife to your wife? In first Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter says that if a husband doesn't dwell with his wife in an understanding way, giving her the honor she deserves, then his prayers will be hindered and God will not hear. And if God does not hear, the husband ought to fear.

The wise life of prayer takes all of this to heart, giving it to our God and Father because, like Paul's example, it is teachable and submissive to the will of the Lord, even when it's not exalted. The wise life of prayer is also persistent like the widow seeking justice, and also confessional, not only with God, but toward their neighbor as well, which openly demonstrates trust in a judge who hates the injustice of sin but is compassionate enough to forgive all those who walk with integrity, keeping His Law. The wise life of prayer is what brings true peace of mind, the kind of peace which the gluttonous heart cannot discern, the kind of peace which surpasses all worldly comprehension. The wise life of prayer is, ultimately, Father-honoring prayer. When wise Christians express their thankfulness to God for the mundane—the nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with—they ask for God's blessing so that they will honor their Heavenly Father. When they pray to enjoy His honor, He remembers and honors their prayers. Amen.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cosmos, Garden, & Tabernacle: A Three Story House for Yahweh

In his book, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, Peter Leithart discusses the connection between the Creation & Garden symbolism of Genesis 1-3 and the Tabernacle/Temple symbolism as outlined in God's Law. Dr. Leithart writes:

The Bible's story begins by telling us about the world where the story takes place. In the Bible, the world is the real world that we live in, the world that God created. But the Bible describes the world in a particular way. In some places, the Bible describes it as a house. Talking to Job from the whirlwind, Yahweh asks:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you know understanding,
Who set its measurements, since you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?  (Job 38:4-7)

Earth, and especially mountains, are set on "foundations" (Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:8, 16; Psalm 104:5) just like the foundations that hold up a house. Blue sky is stretched out above like a "tent curtain" (Isaiah 40:22). Pillars support the earth (Job 9:6) and heaven (Job 26:11). When God first appears in the Bible, He is building a house. 
...It takes God six days to build His house, six days that are just like our days with the sun coming up in the morning and going down in the evening. After that, God rests on the seventh day, a day known as the Sabbath day. 
...And so, at the end of the six days of creation, God has finished a "three story" house. Above is the "tent curtain" of blue sky, then the dry land, and finally the waters "below" the earth. 
The Bible mentions this three-story house many times. In the second commandment, God forbids us to bow down to an image of anything in "heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). That means we must not bow down to images of anything. "Heaven, earth, and sea" means "the whole universe."1
...Once God has made His three-story house, He puts Adam and Eve in it and gives them a job to do.2 ...When Adam is first created, he is put in the garden of Eden. The Garden is one of several different areas that God makes in the world. Remember that God initially makes a "three-story" world. In Genesis 2, we learn that the middle floor, earth, is divided into three "rooms." The Garden is only one of them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that the Lord God plants a garden "toward the east, in Eden," which means that the Garden is on the east side of the land of Eden. Eden is larger than the Garden, and outside Eden there were other lands, which are named in Genesis 2:11-13. If Adam had taken time on the first day to make a map, he would have drawn a map with several areas: the Garden, the land of Eden, and the larger world. 
It is interesting to notice how these three "rooms" of earth match up with the three "stories" of the universe. To see fully how this works, another portion of the creation has to be considered, namely, the "firmament." Made on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6), the firmament is not just the flat surface of the sky but the whole region that we call "outer space." We know this because the sun, moon, and stars are "in" the firmament (Genesis 1:14-19). It is also called "heaven" (Genesis 1:8). This means that God created a world with two "heavens": The heavens where God dwells and the visible heavens of outer space. When we add this to our picture of the three-story house, we see that the "attic" is divided into two sections.3
The house that Israel builds at Mount Sinai is a tent called the tabernacle. ...Within the tent are two rooms. The first is the Holy Place, and the second is the Most Holy Place or "Holy of Holies." The courtyard makes a third area. The tabernacle has three zones, and each of these zones is governed by a different set of rules. Any Israelite layman may enter the courtyard, but only priests may enter the Holy Place. Only the High Priest may enter the Most Holy Place, and he may do it only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1).4

With these observations in mind, the arrangement of the tabernacle can be understood this way5

Cosmic boundaries        Earthly boundaries         Tabernacle boundaries
Highest Heaven               Garden of Eden               Most Holy Place (2nd tent, High Priest only)
Firmament "heaven"        Land of Eden                   Holy Place (1st tent, Priests only)

Land                             Land surrounding Eden      Courtyard (Covenant people)

World & Sea                  Nations across the sea       Outside the Courtyard (Gentiles)

Dr. Leithart also makes this following observation concerning the Tabernacle and the Garden of Eden:
A number of things in the tabernacle remind us of the garden of Eden. Like the Garden, it has a doorway on the east side (Genesis 3:24). The cherubim embroidered into the tabernacle curtains and built above the ark remind us of the Garden (Exodus 26:31-37). When a priest enters the Holy Place, he looks at the veil that has cherubim on it and is reminded over and over of the cherubim with the flaming sword in Genesis 3. Like the garden and land of Eden, the tabernacle is mostly off-limits. From the time of Adam to the time of Jesus, no one is allowed to go back into the Garden, past the cherubim, to enjoy God's presence. As Paul put it, the Old Covenant ministry is a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7; see Hebrews 9:8-10). The tabernacle is a way of keeping the people of God at a distance.6 

1.  Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name:  A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000] pp. 43-45
2.  p. 50
3.  p. 51
4.  p. 82
5.  The formatting presented here is my own, and is not identical with the formatting of Leithart in his book (p. 85), but the the arrangement is similar.
6.  Ibid. p. 85.