Transfiguration-b

Preached: February 22, 2009

How Different the Glory that Frees Us!
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore with such a hope we go on with great boldness and not as Moses, who kept placing a veil on his face so that the Israelites didn't gaze at the end of what was being done away with. But their thoughts were hardened. For up to this day at the reading of the old testament, the same veil remains unremoved, because [only] in Christ is it done away with. Yes, until today whenever Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And as we all reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces, we are transformed into his image from glory into glory, as from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Therefore, we do not lose heart in having this ministry even as we have received mercy. Rather we deny the shameful secrets, not walking in craftiness nor polluting the word of God, but in the light of the truth presenting ourselves before God to everyone's conscience. (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

Imagine yourself on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. How amazing even that small glimpse of divine glory! “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 NIV), “as bright as a flash of lightning” (Luke 9:29 NIV). “His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2 NIV). His appearance changed. His figure transformed. Jesus was transfigured before them. How amazing to behold!

But you, yes you, dear friends, have seen and witnessed an even more amazing glory. A glory that is so different. A glory that frees, truly frees us. That brings us to the theme: How different the glory that frees us! Through the Word of God today may the Holy Spirit continue to open our eyes to see that glory.

A. The spectacular glory condemns us

1) Why can't the glory of the Law free us?

To understand this glory, let's go back to the time of Moses. In this chapter the Apostle Paul talks about Moses. Remember how through Moses the Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt? After a few months in the wilderness he brought them to Mt. Sinai. There witness the glory of the Lord coming down on that mountain. What spectacular glory! The divine command ordered nothing to touch that mountain under penalty of death. For nothing impure can approach the holy God. Then thunder and lightening and a thick cloud covered the mountain. A very loud trumpet blast sounded. Smoke and fire came down. Smoke billowed up like from a furnace. The whole mountain shook. And that trumpet blast grew louder and louder. Then the voice of God himself spoke out. He spoke his Ten Commandments. What terrifying glory! What a spectacle!

Now after speaking with the Lord, Moses' face reflected that glory. It would shine so that the people could not look at him. So after speaking God's commands to them, he put a veil over his face. Yet as spectacular as that glory was, that glory under the veil was a fading glory. For you see, the glory that consumed Mt. Sinai cannot free us. That holy glory demands complete perfection from you to bring you freedom not even one small sin, not one dark spot. That just glory condemns the guilty and rightly damns sinners to hell. That glory brings death, eternal death to you and me, for we are lawbreakers. We have disobeyed his holy commands. We have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That's why the people could not look at Moses as the remnant of this glory shown from his face.

Paul brings this out in the verse right before the text. He refers to this glory as “the ministry that brought death” (2 Corinthians 3:7 NIV) and “the ministry that condemns” (2 Corinthians 3:9 NIV). We call it the Law. No freedom here. As spectacular as this glory is, it does not free us. Rather it condemns us. We need a different glory.

2) What kind of thinking imprisons us?

And yet our sinful self, seeing how spectacular this glory is, wants to grab for it. Our sinful self wants to make the claim: “I can clean up my act. I can measure up. I can stand before God and plead my case by showing him the good that I have done so that he has to accept me for who I am. I have earned that spectacular glory. It's mine by right.”

That kind of thinking covers hearts with a veil that blurs just how demanding this glory is. It imprisons us in our own self-righteousness, that thinks I can meet God's right standards by my own self-help. That's what happened to so many of the Jews in Paul's day. They heard the Word of God, but instead of turning to Jesus alone, they rather relied on themselves, at least in part. Paul writes, “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read . . . a veil covers their hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:14, 15 NIV).

Look directly into God's holy Law and hear his Commandments. Have you loved him with all your heart, soul, and mind, more than anything and anyone else, trusting him above all? And remember failing even once is to fail completely. Have you placed his word and command before all else? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself freely forgiving, gladly doing good, lovingly speaking well of others, and helping them with patience, kindness, and compassion? Don't put a veil over your heart to blur the sinless perfection God requires. Don't darken the penetrating glory of God's commands by thinking, “I just need to do my part.” Those thoughts don't free us. They make us all the more slaves to self-righteousness. We need a different glory.

And even when the glory of the law penetrates our hearts, exposing how dark and deep our sin is, even then it does not free us. It condemns us. For we have failed, miserably failed. When self-righteousness loosens its grip and we see our sin and helplessness, then guilt imprisons us. We need a different glory.

B. The hidden glory saves us

1) What saving news does the hidden glory reveal to us?

But as the Apostle Paul makes clear, dear friends, there is a different glory, a glory greater than the spectacular glory of the Law. In verse 10 he writes, “What was glorious [referring to the Law given through Moses] has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:10 NIV). He calls this glory “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:8 NIV), for it's the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls this glory “the ministry that brings righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:9 NIV), for it freely credits to us the righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ. Now remember that glory at Mt. Sinai. How glorious that was even though the Law brought only death and condemnation. How much more glorious is this glory that brings freedom, life, righteousness, and salvation

But it's a hidden glory. It cannot be seen unless the veil is taken off our hearts. The text says, “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV).

But how does this come about? Where do find this hidden glory? It's not in the thunder and lightening of Mt. Sinai. It's not in the power and terror of God's holy voices declaring his commands. Rather it's on skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem a place of shame and darkness and death. Who would look for glory there? It's in the suffering body nailed to the center cross, bloodied, beaten, and forsaken. Who would look for glory there? It's in the vinegar-moistened lips calling out, “It is finished.”

Yes, rather than the demanding “Dos!” and “Don'ts!” of God's Law (“Thou shalt and thou shalt not”), what do we hear? It is finished. It has been done yes, dear friend, done for you, done for you by Jesus Christ, your Lord. He has met God's righteous demands in your place. He has done the time for your crime. He has done it all no place for us to claim a small part or speck glory no, he has done it all for you, to give you his righteousness yes, his righteousness that sets you free, free from the Law's condemnation. For now you stand before God and plead: “Guilty sinner though I am, pardon, justify, forgive me because Jesus' right record counts for me.”

2) How do we come to know this hidden glory?

Only the Holy Spirit brings us to plead that way. For only the Holy Spirit removes the veil from our hearts for us to see the hidden glory that saves. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV). For the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, points us to Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, our only Savior from sin and death. That's the Holy Spirit's work, as Jesus makes clear in John 15 where he tells his disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26 NIV).

So where is the Spirit? How does he come to us? How does he testify about Jesus, lifting the veil from our hearts, showing us the hidden glory that saves? Where is the Spirit? Jesus tells us, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV-footnote). And along with word proclaimed by the Bible, the Spirit testifies also through the word made visible by the two Sacraments. 1 John 5 says, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood” (1 John 5:7, 8). You witnessed the Spirit's work this morning. Through the water and word of Baptism, he took the veil from Haylee's heart freeing her through faith in Jesus. So also the Spirit testifies through Jesus' body and blood given for you to eat and drink under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper.

Yet the Bible, Baptism, and the Supper don't look all that glorious, do they? Wouldn't we draw the crowds to our services if God came down with thunder and fire like at Sinai? But just as the greater, saving glory is hidden in the darkness of the cross on Calvary, so also that glory shines on us through the outwardly lowly Word and Sacraments.

C. The hidden glory transforms us

1) Although our lives may remain difficult, what transformation does the hidden glory keep on working in us?

And so also, as we reflect that glory, our lives may seem to be anything but glorious. We struggle. We suffer. We stumble. We hesitate to speak God's truth or even hide our faith because so often our witness brings crosses for us to bear. At times it seems that even God himself is against us. What glory comes from following Jesus?

This too is a hidden glory. When Jesus returns on the the Last Day, that glory that is yours through faith in Jesus will shine out for all to see. It will shine for all eternity. But until then, it is a hidden glory.

Although we may not often see it or feel it, that does not change the truth that this glory is transforming you. “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” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV). Note again, how this is from the Holy Spirit who works through Word and Sacraments. Through Word and Sacraments he transforms us to be more and more like Jesus. He draws you closer to Jesus. He strengthens you to bear up. He molds you to live as Jesus lived, to bear the cross, to boldly speak God's truth, to stand firm on the hope that is built on Jesus alone.

Yes, because of this hope, this hope that does not disappoint, this hope that is built on the sure, unfailing foundation of Jesus Christ and his cross, this hope that gazes on the glorious freedom we have in Jesus because of this hope we boldly live for Jesus, confident of the freedom he has won for us. Freedom from the law's condemnation. Freedom to serve him until he takes us to glory. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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