A Ministry of Unveiling

A Ministry of Unveiling

What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? Or, how does one go from believing that Jesus was a historical figure, a good moral teacher and rabbi, to believing Jesus is the Christ, someone who though fully human yet also was fully God, the promised Messiah, eternal Son of the Father who came down from heaven and took on human flesh to save us from our from sins? Why do some believe Jesus was God while others don’t? These are but some of the questions that our passage this morning addresses for the answer to all of these are to be found in the ministry of unveiling done by the Holy Spirit.

Paul frames these questions by speaking of the differences between the old and new covenants or what we more commonly refer to as the Old and New Testaments. And the primary image he uses to distinguish the two covenants is that of a veil. Veils conceal. They obscure. They separate. Veils keep us from seeing things as they are. So after noting that those living in the time of the new covenant have a hope that leads to boldness given the “surpassing glory”[1] of the new in verse 12, Paul went on to contrast the literal veil Moses wore over his face with the metaphorical veil that too often covers people’s hearts and minds whenever Scripture is read. So we read in verse 13, “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” Paul is referring to the second time the LORD gave Moses the two tablets of stone or the Ten Commandments. If you’ll recall, the reason they needed to be given a second time is because when Moses went up to Mount Sinai the first time,[2] he tarried so long—40 days and 40 nights—that the people got anxious and impatient and made a god for themselves, a golden calf. [3] Subsequently, “When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.”[4] And the people were judged by God with a plague that came upon them.

After all of this took place, Moses again went before the LORD and saw his glory[5] and the LORD gave Moses two new stone tablets. And once again “28 Moses was…with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”[6] And this is where the practice of Moses wearing the veil Paul refers to in verse 13 of our passage began. As recorded in Exodus 34:

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.[7]

Simply to have been in the presence of God resulted in God’s glory, his radiance, being passed on to Moses. Therefore Moses put on a veil whenever he returned to the people.

Now Paul says that the reason for the veil was “to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” Though the law was to guide the Israelites in how they were to live before God and with each other, as stated in verse 9 of 2 Corinthians 3, its ministry “brought condemnation” for who could live according to all of its precepts? Therefore the glory of the old covenant was a temporary, fading one, that anticipated and pointed to the “much more glorious ministry that brings righteousness” (also in verse 9) which is given in Christ Jesus who did live according to all of the precepts of the law and who declares those who follow him to be righteous by way of his obedience. As Moses put on a veil so that the Israelites wouldn’t see that the glory on his face fading when he departed the presence of the LORD, so, too, the glory of the old covenant would similarly gradually fade and come to an end through the coming of Christ Jesus who would fulfill all of its precepts. To use Jesus’ own words, “17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”[8] The righteousness God required was contained in the law but fallen humanity couldn’t fulfill it. Only Jesus, the last Adam, could fulfill it and so apply it to all who believe in him.

Next Paul turned from Moses’ literal veil to a metaphorical one starting in verse 14 when he states, “14 But their minds”—that is, the minds of the Israelites—”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. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.” Paul was explaining to the Corinthians, these Greek converts to Christ, why it was that even in their day not all of God’s original chosen people, the Israelites, believed that Jesus was the Christ, God’s Messiah who had come from heaven to earth to deliver them from their sins and all evil. Though the old covenant, the Old Testament, is God’s Word, these Jews were unable to understand and embrace its fulfillment in Christ for “a veil cover[ed] their hearts.” And so they refused to believe in him.

And this is true not only for Jews who don’t believe in Jesus but for all who don’t believe in him. For in order to believe that Jesus is who he declared himself to be, the veil of blindness and unbelief that resulted from the Fall needs to be removed from our eyes. This veil is what keeps people from understanding and believing what God has disclosed in his Scriptures. Paul himself had to have his veil of unbelief removed and have his heart cleansed. Recall how after Paul (who went by Saul) met the risen Christ, he was struck blind and the disciple “17 …Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.”[9] Though he had been spiritually and physically blind, Paul could now spiritually and physically see.

This veil removal—or scale removal—that enables people to believe Jesus is the Christ was necessary not only in Paul’s day but has been necessary from the beginning. And from the beginning the promised means of veil removal has been Jesus Christ. As the LORD told the serpent in the Garden that one day One would come who would crush him,[10] so the LORD similarly told Abraham that this promised messianic seed would descend through him.[11] In the book of Galatians Paul explained this in stating “16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”[12] And after noting that the law that was given to Moses 430 years, Paul stated that the law “was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”[13] And he went on to ask if this meant that “the law, therefore, [is] opposed to the promises of God” and he answered his own question with an emphatic “Absolutely not!” noting that “if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”[14] For “23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”[15]

The point in all of this is to explain that the law God gave to his people, Israel, was never intended to be a means of saving them but rather was a means of guarding and guiding them, of helping them live the way God intended them to live, until God’s promised Messiah arrived. For from the beginning the hope of all people has been the promised seed who would crush the head of the serpent and be the means of bringing a blessing not only to Jewish believers but to all who believe that Jesus is God’s promised Christ, his promised Messiah, his eternal Son who came in the flesh to remove our transgressions, our sins, and so give us hope.

Now the promised and prophesied means of this is to be found not only in Christ but also by his Spirit. As the LORD proclaimed through Ezekiel the prophet, “19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”[16] The Holy Spirit is the means of removing unbelieving stony hearts by unveiling the truth of who Christ is and so replacing these stony hearts with new hearts of flesh that are responsive to him. As we read in Hebrews, “13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”[17]

Notice what Paul says in verse 16 of our passage: “…whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Whenever anyone—whether Jew or Gentile—turns to the Lord, turns to Jesus, the veil of unbelief is taken away. And, again, how does this happen? It occurs by means of the Spirit Christ gives,[18] verse 17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” God, by his Holy Spirit, is the one who is able to break the shackles of sin and give us freedom in Christ. Freedom to know Christ; freedom to follow Christ; freedom to live, even as Christ did, according to the Old and New Testament Scriptures God has provided us. This is the true definition of freedom understood scripturally. For by Christ’s death we have been provided access to the holy of holies by the removal of another literal veil. As recorded by Matthew: “ 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the [veil] of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”[19] Sin brings death; the removal of sin and the holiness that ensues brings life. This is the ministry of unveiling our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desires for us.

Verse 18, a verse we noted last week as well, provides yet a further glimpse into the transformative power of God’s Spirit: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate”—or reflect—“the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As Moses’ face shone when he went before the presence of the LORD, so now all who believe in Christ are being given his “ever-increasing glory” by means of the Holy Spirit he’s left us, by means of his Holy Spirit who indwells us.[20] As Moses later witnessed Jesus Christ’s glory at his transfiguration,[21] the risen Christ is now the means of our being transformed into his glorious image by the Spirit he sends to all who believe in him.

And for those who know and love and follow Christ, that transformation is our sanctification. It’s an ongoing process of God setting us aside for his purposes and

making us holy as he is holy;

making us pure and clean as Jesus is pure and clean;

helping us turn away from all temptation and sin, as Jesus ever resisted every temptation and sin;

making us servants as Jesus served;

helping us sacrifice for others as God in Christ Jesus sacrificed for us.

This sanctification is our hope. As Paul states in the first two verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 4, “1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” To believe in God’s Word, and place our faith in God’s Son, and be transformed by God’s Spirit causes us to turn away from desires and practices that go contrary to God’s Word. It causes us to repent from ungodly ways and be people of truth as Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Truth.[22] For we are called to bear witness to what God has declared in his Word and seek to live according to its precepts, with the help of his Spirit and of one another. We are called to commend ourselves to others in the hope that by our bearing witness and loving others in deed and in truth as Jesus does, the Holy Spirit might perform his ministry of unveiling in their lives and they, too, might become recipients of this ministry of hope and not lose heart.

For before someone comes to faith, a ministry of unveiling begins with the Word of God being read.

Then as God’s Word is read this ministry of unveiling continues as the Spirit ever works through the Word and is able to quicken hearts, to enliven hearts that are dead, open eyes that are blind, and so draw people to a saving faith and knowledge in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God;

And for the believer a ministry of unveiling conforms us into the shape of the law by transforming us into the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit Christ sent once he ascended to heaven.

And a ministry of unveiling calls us to share the Word by which our own unveiling initially occurred with those around us.

Dear brothers and sisters, since we as Paul have such a hope, let us, too, be bold as we seek to live our lives as Jesus did, loving him with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength, and loving each other as ourselves;

Let us not lose heart but let us persevere and pray that the Holy Spirit might use us in his ministry of unveiling that others might come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord;

Let us renounce secret and shameful ways;

Let us not use deception nor distort God’s Word;

But let us set forth the truth of Christ plainly and so commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in God’s sight.

Let us pray.

[1] 2 Corinthians 3:9–10:If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.

[2] Exodus 24:15–19:15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” Exodus 31:18:18 When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.”

[3] Exodus 32.

[4] Exodus 32:18.

[5] Exodus 33.

[6] Exodus 34:28.

[7] Exodus 34:29–35.

[8] Matthew 5:17–18. See also Luke 24:25–27 when the resurrected Christ came upon the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “25 He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

[9] Acts 9:17–18.

[10] Genesis 3:14–15: 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

[11] The initial promise was given in Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” And then again in Genesis 18:17–18: 1Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” The mention of the seed/offspring in the singular is found in Genesis 22:17–18: 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

[12] Galatians 3:16.

[13] Galatians 3:19.

[14] Galatians 3:21–22.

[15] Galatians 3:23–25.

[16] Ezekiel 11:19–20. See also Ezekiel 36:26–27: 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

[17] Hebrew 9:13–14.

[18] Jesus promised he would send his Spirit in John 14:15–17a: 15 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.”

[19] Matthew 27:50–53.

[20] 1 Corinthians 3:16: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?; I Corinthians 6:19–20: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.; 2 Timothy 1:14: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

[21] Matthew 17:1–9: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.; Mark 9:2–8:After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.; Luke 9:28–36: 28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.; 2 Peter 1:16–18: 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

[22] “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”