Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:12-13; 4:1-6, for the Transfiguration of our Lord, "Fading Glory, Lasting Glory"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. “Hold that pose, look at the camera, smile!” Have you ever thought about how pictures seem to have the ability to capture a perfect, idealized moment? A split-second can be frozen indefinitely in time, so that the image of joy, excitement,  beauty, peace, or sadness, or any emotion is preserved in the photograph. Photo-editing software even makes it possible to polish and “clean-up” the image. But in real time the scene changes, the subjects in the photo move along to the next thing, the emotion changes one way or another, and life goes on.
Peter might have wished he had a camera on the mount of Transfiguration, some way to capture the glory of Jesus, as His appearance was transformed to a brilliant, blinding light. He hoped for some way to extend the glory, to bask in it a little longer. But this was not possible. Life would go on, and Jesus was marking the time and pointing His steps toward Jerusalem, where He would die on the cross, and after three days rise again from the dead.
In 2 Corinthians 3-4, Paul talks about the glory, the brilliance of God and the bright illumination that Jesus Christ brings. He contrasts the glory of Jesus, to the Old Testament. For example, when Moses was talking with God on Mt. Sinai, afterward his face would shine with the reflected glory of God, and the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34). So Moses hid his face with a veil, to cover up the glory. But when he spoke to God, or spoke God’s message to the people, he removed the veil. His face was “unhidden” or revealed to them. Now Paul tells us this glory Moses was reflecting, and kept partially hidden from the people of Israel—this glory was coming to an end. It was not permanent. It was like the changing scenery or moving people in our photograph analogy. It would fade away.
But unlike the glory that shone on the face of Moses, and unlike the fading glory of the Old Covenant of the law and its condemnation—the glory of Jesus Christ, and of His ministry of righteousness, has a permanent and lasting glory. The glory of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant that He brings is completely superior. What Peter and the other two disciples saw on the mountain of Transfiguration was like the peeling back of a tiny corner—a glimpse into the true glory that Jesus possessed. And as the corner was pushed back, they only saw the ordinary Jesus. Not because Jesus’ glory was temporary, and had just faded away. Rather, it was not time for the full revelation of His glory, and it wasn’t going to be shown to all in this way—shining on the mountaintop. Jesus pointed ahead to the road that lay before Him—suffering and the cross—and then the Son of Man would rise from the dead. This hour of His death and substitute sacrifice on the cross would bring greatest glory to His Father—not the brilliant moment on the mount of transfiguration. His glory never left Him, but only will be fully seen again one day when Jesus comes in the clouds with the angels in the Father’s glory (Mark 8:38). Jesus doesn’t need a photograph to hold onto a passing “glory moment”—but His glory belongs to Him and to the Father, as His full and eternal possession.
And neither is the Bible a photo album of static images and frozen moments that we can use in reminiscing and looking wistfully back at the “glory days.” Rather the Word of God is a living and dynamic message. We don’t wait around for God to send us a personal Transfiguration of Our Lord experience, which only happened to 3 chosen disciples. And we don’t go climbing random mountains in the hope of finding one. Rather we look to what God’s own Word tells us and how and where He promises to find and meet us.
Remember how we talked last week about not tampering with the Word of God, but being ready to bring it to any and all people? Paul says it again this week, that we can’t use cunning or disgraceful, underhanded ways to get God’s Word out—we can’t tamper with the message—but we do make an open statement of the Truth. Why is this so important? Why is the unvarnished message of God’s Truth better than any man-made marketing or slick schemes to get God’s Word out? Because it’s in God’s own Word that He enlightens us, and opens our minds and eyes to see Jesus Christ. God’s living encounter with us is through His own Word.
So God sends out His Gospel—His Good News—to all the earth. But Paul tells us the encounter can go two ways. In the one case, for unbelievers, for those blinded in their minds by the god of this world (aka the devil)—they see the gospel how the Israelites saw Moses’ veiled face. They couldn’t see the glory—it was covered up. At best maybe an outline, but the features of the face and the light were hidden from them. In the same way, unbelievers may detect a faint outline, but cannot see the face—the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For those who cannot see or receive the Gospel—they are blind to the face of Jesus. They miss that He shows us the image of God the Father. There is no recognition, no familiarity, no understanding, no illumination by the brightness and glory of His face. Instead there is darkness, obscurity, unfamiliarity and confusion.
But the encounter with God’s Gospel—His Good News—can also go another way, as Paul describes in the verses that were skipped in our reading. 2 Corinthians 3:16–18 (ESV) 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. When we turn to Jesus, the veil is lifted, and we see the glory of the Lord. The meaning of God’s Word is no longer hidden from us, but we see how Jesus is at the center of everything, and is the very image of God. And in beholding Jesus, in witnessing His glory, we are transformed, we are transfigured, into His image, “from one degree of glory to another”. Knowing Jesus is not just marveling at a stunning photo, but it is to be dynamically changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, degree by degree, into His likeness. With unveiled faces, we see Jesus with familiarity, recognition, and understanding. And more than that we are becoming like Him.
Wow! Is that really happening to me? Me, the poor, miserable sinner? Me, the one whose body is wearing down, and joints pop and crackle, whose eyesight is slowly fading? Me, the one who’s struggling through life, stumbling and getting up, worn down by circumstances? Am I really being transformed into the glory of Christ? If those kinds of thoughts enter your mind, you are tracking exactly with where Paul is going in his letter. In fact if you read the rest of chapter 4 you will hear him explain that we are like jars of clay, holding an infinitely valuable treasure. The not-so-impressive exterior proves all the more what God wants us to realize—that the “surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” He’ll go on to describe in chapter 5 how our body is like a tent that is wearing out—but that we’re in line for a permanent replacement—the heavenly tent, built by God. So believe it! God is working a new beginning in you by His Holy Spirit, and the completion of the project will be after death, or when Jesus comes back—whichever comes first. But don’t become discouraged or disheartened along the way—and by all means don’t dwell on me, me, me—eyes on the Lord! Our transformation doesn’t happen by beholding ourselves, but by beholding the glory of the Lord, and by the power of the Spirit.
Darkness or light, blindness or sight, veiled or unveiled, hidden or revealed…“‘God who said, let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God’s Word pierces the darkness. It splits through the blindness, the veil that covers our eyes. And the light that breaks through—the glory that we see is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. If a picture is worth a thousand words—really there are no words to fully describe the glory of Jesus Christ. It’s the holiness, the goodness, the purity, and love of God. But instead of resorting to imagination to grasp the shining glory, we are invited to behold Jesus’ glory, His goodness, and His love in lowliness at the cross. Perfect love, laid down in death for us, power made perfect in weakness, strength shown in self-sacrifice. Here is God’s glory—for all the world it is obscurity and unfamiliarity—but for the believer who has turned to the Lord, it is the good news of the glory of Christ. The glory of God shines through all that Jesus went to the cross and accomplished for us in His death and resurrection. For believers this is the very window into the heart of God—how we see His eternal mercy and love for us.
This encounter with God in Christ Jesus is worth far more to us than a picture or a thousand words. It’s worth far more than a mountain-top experience or a glimpse of fading glory. And this encounter comes to us in God’s own precious Word, the message of His salvation. God coming to us in Christ Jesus, and dwelling in our hearts by His Holy Spirit is the very treasure of God’s kingdom, our pledge of the inheritance in eternal life to come, and the appetizer to the full feast spread before our God and the Lamb—Jesus Christ. And this glory won’t fade or go away—but it is God’s permanent possession. And we long and wait for the day when we can see and experience it in the full intensity and goodness of Jesus’ glory in His eternal kingdom. O God, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:6. What is Paul comparing in the glory of the Old Covenant to the New? Which is superior, and why?
  2. What was Moses’ experience of God’s glory in Exodus 34? How did he shield the Israelites from the after effects? Ex. 34:29ff. How does Paul say this is like the way some people read the Old Testament? What are they missing? 2 Corinthians 3:14; John 5:39. How is that veil removed?
  3. Was the glory that Peter, James, and John saw from Jesus a temporary and fading glory, or was it Jesus’ permanent possession? To what did Jesus direct their attention after the glory experience was over? Mark 9:9; John 12:27-33. Jesus glory came through lowly sacrifice. How does this show the greatness of what He did for us?
  4. When we will see Jesus’ glory fully unveiled, unhidden? Mark 8:38. How is God’s Word our present day, living encounter with Jesus and the good news of His glory? 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 2 Peter 1:16-21
  5. What is one direction that the encounter with God’s Word may go? 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; John 3:17-21. What is the other direction it may go, and who creates that faith? 2 Corinthians 3:14-18; 4:5-6; Romans 10:17.
  6. What kind of spiritual transformation to we undergo as we behold the glory of the Lord in the Gospel? 2 Corinthians 3:18. Why does this make it so important that we don’t tamper with God’s Word or scheme, but make sure that we speak the truth openly and without alteration? 2 Corinthians 4:1-2.
  7. If we have doubts about the new work that God has begun in us, read 2 Corinthians 4 through the end of the chapter, and ch. 5 as well. How does Paul convince us that it’s not about us?

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