Pastor Joel Leyrer

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2

Watch Service Video

Dear Friends in Christ, If we’re looking for a single thought to describe the emphasis of this Sunday, a reasonable choice would be the word “change.” This theme is reflected in all our Scripture lessons. In our Old Testament reading we see a change that came over Moses when he had been in the presence of God on Mount Sinai. We’ll talk more about that in just a bit. In our Gospel lesson, we see Jesus momentarily changed or “transfigured” from the normal state his disciples were accustomed to seeing him to the glorious state that was and is his as the divine Son of God. Through this event the disciples were given a glimpse of the glory that awaits all who embrace Jesus in faith – including modern day disciples like us.

Change is also the theme of our second lesson (and text) for today. In this rather challenging section of Second Corinthians the essential point Paul makes is that Jesus Christ is not the only one in whom a change takes place. On Transfiguration Sunday we certainly note how

JESUS IS CHANGED – BUT SO ARE THOSE WHO KNOW HIM

That’s the thought Paul drives home for us today. We’ll spend the next several minutes exploring just what that means as we work our way through this interesting text verse by verse, and then draw observations and applications that shine no less brightly for us than did Jesus on that mountain. 

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” Before this verse and continuing through our text, Paul talks about the two great teachings of the Bible: the Law and the Gospel. He makes the point that the Gospel (the teaching that out of love Jesus has freely and completely saved us from the consequences our sins deserve) is much more glorious than the Law (summarized in the Ten Commandments, which says we are responsible for our salvation by keeping perfectly all of God’s commands). 

Trying to be saved eternally by keeping the Law perfectly (or even partially) brings despair, because it simply can’t be done by sinful human beings. In contrast, believing the Gospel brings the sure hope of everlasting life. The Law says “do!” The Gospels says “done!” Big difference!

Since we have such a hope, Paul says we are very bold. To be bold means to be confident in where we stand and unafraid of where we are going. And that’s exactly what the gospel does; it makes us spiritually and emotionally bold, confident, unafraid. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive us our sins, we can boldly state that we will stand unaccused by God on the day of our death. For Jesus himself said: Whoever believes on the Son has everlasting life.” 

But Paul goes on to tell us that not everyone can say that. “We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.”

This was the subject of today’s first lesson. Let me give the full context. After Moses had broken the first two tables of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were written (you may recall he broke them in anger at seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf), the Lord once again summoned him to the top of Mount Sinai. After spending another forty more days and nights on the mountain, Moses returned to the Children of Israel with a second set of tablets. However – and unknown to him – because Moses had been in the presence of God, his face was radiant. In fact, it was illuminated to the point that at first the Israelites were scared to go near him. To remedy this situation, Moses put a veil over his face. But he didn’t always keep it on. He took it off whenever he told the Israelites the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. By this practice he was showing them the glory of the Lord. After he was finished talking to them, he again veiled his face. As far as we know, Moses did not spend the rest of his life behind a veil. The shine from his face eventually went away.

The significance Paul takes away from this historical incident is that this radiance from Moses’ face as he spoke about the Law was a fading glory. And Paul says this is symbolic of the fact the Law Moses spoke also was only a fading glory.

In other words, the Law is not the final word of God! Its glory is a passing thing. When the Law has struck terror in people’s consciences and showed them their sinfulness and inability to perform their way into heaven, it has done its work. It can do no more. Its glory is temporary. It was never intended to be a way of salvation. Its purpose is to show us our sins and our need for a Savior. The Law drives us to the glorious Gospel!

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

The Israelites in Paul’s illustration failed to grasp the truth that the Law’s purpose is to lead to the greater glory of the Gospel. They had been impressed by the glory of the Law and made it a means by which they thought they could save themselves eternally. In doing so, they veiled themselves from the truth. That veil can only be lifted by understanding Christ.

Even today, says Paul, when Moses is read (meaning the Old Testament books of the Bible where God laid down his various commands and decrees) and misunderstood by anyone to be a performance-based system to achieve rightness with God or a do-it-yourself manual for eternal salvation, a veil covers their hearts which keeps Christ from entering. However, whenever anyone turns to Jesus Christ, the oppressive veil of the Law as a means of salvation is lifted.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Point: When the Holy Spirit brings us to understand the Gospel, the result is freedom. Freedom from the Law as an impossible way of salvation; and because salvation is a gift through Jesus Christ, freedom to serve the Lord joyfully, willingly and without compulsion. This can’t help but have an effect on us, which Paul now mentions:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The result of knowing Jesus as our Savior is that we, out of love for him, change. We grow in our life of Christian sanctification (meaning, we do his will more and more in grateful appreciation for what he’s done for us). As growing, grateful Christians we become more and more like our Master and grow more and more Christ-like in our actions and attitudes. Doesn’t happen all at once. And we will have setbacks along the way, because the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh do not yield easily. But we have a new trajectory.

And as we stay close to Christ, this transformation will go on until that day we see him face to face in heaven. There we will be completely changed. The Apostle John tells us when we are in heaven we will be just like him – perfect in every way.

Paul wraps up everything he has told us and draws a conclusion as it pertained to his ministry, and on a broader level, how it pertains to every Christian. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry (we could say, this understanding), we do not lose heart.”

In the time we have left let’s zero in on three specific areas that Paul talks about; three specific areas where the Gospel changes us and transforms us.

First, the Gospel makes us very bold. Earlier I stated that boldness means being confident of where we stand and unafraid of where we are going. So where do we stand? We stand in God’s grace as God’s children redeemed by Jesus Christ. Along with that comes the boldness of knowing our Lord never leaves us or forsakes us. The boldness of knowing he has called us by name and we are his.  The boldness of knowing not a single hair falls from our heads without our Heavenly Father’s permission and oversight.  The boldness of being able to approach the throne of grace and communicate directly with none other than the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Such is the boldness that is ours in life.

And such boldness continues in our death.  We know where we’re going.  Not because we’ve never sinned or because we have always been paragons of virtue, but because of Christ – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The second verse of the beloved hymn, “Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness” comes to mind:

Bold shall I stand in that great day, who can a word against me say?

Fully through you absolved I am, from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Secondly, Paul talks about freedom.  Jesus once said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  Jesus is that truth, and knowing him gives us freedom.  Freedom from worry.  Freedom from the fear of death.  Freedom from fear of the future.  Freedom from the fear that our lives are somehow unimportant or insignificant. But most importantly, as Paul points out in today’s test, freedom from the Law as a way of salvation.  The Psalmist (130) asks, If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  In other words, if our salvation depended us being the sinless beings God asks us to be, we have zero chance for eternal life. But the Psalmist then answers: But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared”  (that is: respected, revered, loved).  And that forgiveness is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. 

And because we have him in our lives, we do not lose heart. That’s the third and final change Paul tells us the Gospel message brings about. And we need to hear that, because it is easy to lose heart today. Despite all kinds of modern-day conveniences and technology, we still experience sickness and pain. We still experience loss and loneliness.  We still feel discouragement and disappointment. There are days when we know great joy, but there are also days when we know great sorrow. There are days when we are rejuvenated and full of optimism, but there are other days we feel like throwing in the towel.

Yes, there are those days. But there are no days when Jesus is not present in our life, guiding, directing, overseeing. There are no days which wipe out what Jesus did for us on Calvary. There are no days when Jesus withdraws his promise to be with us always. And when we focus on that, like Paul (who had his shares of ups and downs), we do not lose heart.

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus was changed. He wasn’t the only one. Knowing him changes us. Because of him, we are bold, free, encouraged and saved…Liberated to go forward through life rejoicing in our transformation from sinners to saints; happily compelled each day to reflect in our faces, lives and attitudes the change that the Spirit has worked within us, as we look forward to the glory that has been revealed to us.  Amen.