The Permanent Glory of the New Covenant
I have a favorite picture on my desk at home. It is a picture of my wife sitting on the embankment overlooking Kentucky Lake on our honeymoon in her cute little sun dress. The picture is over 40 years-old now and the colors are washed out and faded, but it will remain on my desk.
In our guest bedroom, the bedspread is all faded on one side from the sun shining through the window over these last four or five years, however long we have been in that house. The colors are also washed out and faded on that side.
We all have old clothes that are no longer as bright as they once were from years of wear and washings. They too have faded.
All things physical and material will eventually lose their luster, lose their brightness, and/or deteriorate and fade away – it is the nature of the physical and material to eventually break down. The curse of sin has caused all created things to fade. Paul even teaches that creation is groaning under the curse of sin in Romans 8:19.
But such is not the case with spiritual things. And as Paul will be showing us in our passage this morning, the glory of the New Covenant is eternal.
Turn with me in your Bible to the Book of 2nd Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 3:7-11
While the wording of our passage seems a bit convoluted at first glance in our English translations, it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to understand the main theme. The word glory is used ten times in these six verses, so we had better understand why Paul is using that word so frequently. So, with the Holy Spirit’s help I will hopefully make this passage before we’re done.
Allow me to refresh your memory or reveal to you what Paul is referring to when he brings Moses into the conversation.
Hold your place in 2nd Corinthians and turn with me in your Bible to the Book of Exodus, chapter 33.
The backdrop is the account of Moses being on Mount Sinai meeting with God, who was giving him the Law in a formalized manner. We know that God has revealed part or all of this Law previously simply because we see several obeying His Law well before this account, so the Law of God, sometimes called the Law of Moses, is being written on tablets of stone by Yahweh, at least for the Ten Commandments, and probably the rest of God’s Law being written down on some sort of parchment by Moses. But Moses is up there for a long time and the Children of Israel are getting impatient.
It their impatience, even after bearing witness to the miraculous power of God again and again, they pressure Aaron to fashion a golden calf for them to have as a representation of God for them to worship. Aaron for some reason caves in and obliges the people. Once completed things really get out of hand with the people having a wild party od dancing around this calf and worshiping. It is even implied in the Hebrew that it was a full-blown orgy.
Moses comes down from the mountain and is outraged. He has with him the two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments and he throws them down to the ground, shattering them in the process. After severely reprimanding the people and destroying the golden calf, Moses returns to the mountain to again meet with God and to intercede for the people so that God does not destroy them one and all. Let’s join in now on the conversation between Moses and Yahweh – which in itself is a fascinating thought to imagine.
Exodus 33:18-23; 34:29-35
With that as a backdrop, let’s return to 2nd Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 3:7
“But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones…” First, the Greek word translated as “But if” could have been and probably should have been translated as “Since”. So, “Since the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones…” If you recall from last week, Paul refers to the Law of Moses as “the letter” in verse 6 in contrast with the New Covenant, which we will get to eventually this morning. Paul is not disparaging the Law, but he is upping the ante if you will by now calling it the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones.
Why does Paul use such terminology? Because the Law condemns and kills. The Law relentlessly proves that you need a Savior because no matter how diligently you attempt to keep even one aspect of God’s Law, you will fail again and again and again. So, the Law condemns and apart from blood of Jesus Christ which ushered in the New Covenant of grace, the Law will also bring eternal spiritual death by means of everlasting punishment in hell and the lake of fire.
So, calling the Law the ministry of death is actually a rather mild description more so than a harsh one.
“Since the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory…”, which takes us back to the account we read in Exodus. The glory of God being reflected in the face of Moses and shining forth to everyone who saw him. “…so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was…”
Don’t miss the allusion here. The glory of God shining in the face of Moses so brightly that the people could not stare at him intently, it was burning their eyes which is essentially saying that looking into the Law intently will destroy you.
I know that Hollywood never intentionally relates a biblical principle in their movies, but they accidentally do just that sometimes. In one of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies, I think the first one, Doctor Jones and his friend are tied to a pole when the bad guys open up the Ark of the Covenant. Doctor Jones tells his friend to keep her eyes closed no matter what she hears. When the Ark is opened all who look at what comes from the Ark, representing God’s Law, kills all of them.
That was obviously a work of fiction, but it makes the point in a small way – the Law of God kills even though it represents the glory of God. Since the Law came with God’s glory, and the Law condemns and kills:
2 Corinthians 3:8
“…how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” In other words, if the Law of God, the ministry of death, came so full of God’s glory that the face of Moses was like a blinding brilliant light, and this glory is one that fades, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit shine with God’s glory?
So, get this now in the wording Paul chose – the Law is called the ministry of death, and the New Covenant is called the ministry of the Spirit. Both are full of God’s glory in their own way and for God’s divine purposes, but the glory of the Law has faded, and the glory of the New Covenant has not only replaced it but will never fade, which we will see more clearly in verse 11 when we get there.
Now, do not take this to mean that the Law is of no use today for it still has the same divine purpose to point people to their desperate need for a Savior – and I am referring to the moral aspects of the Law if you will that are encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. Every aspect of the Ten Commandments with the exception of keeping the Sabbath, which is a discussion for another time, have been reiterated and reemphasized under the New Covenant – not as a means of salvation, for no one is justified by the Law, but as a reflection of God’s glory, to keep the same imagery, in the lives of those who have been brought under the New Covenant of God’s grace.
Another aspect of Paul calling the New Covenant the ministry of the Spirit is that even as the recipients of the grace of God, we are helpless and hopeless in keeping the tenets of God’s Law apart from the Holy Spirit operating in our lives on a moment-by-moment basis. And the covenant of grace does not kill but gives life – abundant, glorious, all-consuming, eternal life.
2 Corinthians 3:9
Notice how Paul changes the wording. Now he calls the Law the ministry of condemnation and the New Covenant the ministry of righteousness. This is brilliant. The Law condemns because we cannot keep it. We cannot avoid breaking even one portion of the Law but even if we could, James teaches us that “whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). The Law is not only the ministry of death it is also the ministry of condemnation for those not under the New Covenant.
But again, Paul reminds us that this Law still has glory – glory in the truth that it does condemn sinners and reveals their need for a Savior. This is why in our witnessing efforts we are to never shy away from God’s Law and how they are law-breakers. The Law of God is the tool that the Spirit of God uses to convict sinners of their sin. The namby-pamby preaching that is so prevalent today which never gets around to exposing and condemning sin has no power to save, because it never leads the sinner to repentance. The glory of God’s Law condemns – it is full of glory because it leads sinners to the cross and illuminates the sinfulness of their sin.
The no-fault nature of our culture is conditioning the masses to believe that there is nothing wrong with sin. And if sin no longer exists in the sinner’s mind, then there is no reason to think that you need a Savior. If every sin, no matter how heinous is simply turned into your alternative lifestyle, there is no longer any need to repent and seek forgiveness from holy God who is deeply offended by sin – so deeply offended that He sent His only begotten Son to die in our place to pay the penalty for that sin.
In no uncertain terms, Paul writes that the wages of sin is death, eternal spiritual death in hell and the lake of fire. As Satan uses his pawns in our government to eliminate sin through ungodly legislation, and renames them as personal choice and alternative lifestyles, the masses are deceived into ignoring and eventually searing their conscience.
But the New Covenant is the ministry of righteousness and it not only has glory but abounds in glory. The Law never had the power to make one righteous, it only had the power to condemn.
Romans 3:21-23 says, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Did you catch that opening phrase? “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested” – apart from the Law. As I said, the Law never had the power to make one righteous, it only has the power to condemn. So, righteousness had to somehow come apart from the Law or all of us are doomed to be eternally condemned – for all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.
But God undeservedly lavishes us with His grace, He freely gives us the ministry of righteousness through the sacrificial and wholly sufficient death of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:24 continues after the condemnation that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
So, here is the ministry of righteousness – through God’s grace those who believe are justified, meaning declared forensically righteous. All of the facts are presented to the Righteous and Just Judge, all of the evidence is investigated and weighed, and we are declared righteous – utterly and completely not guilty. Jesus not only covered our sin, but He also paid the price of that which would have condemned us and removed our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.
And this includes the sin we continue to commit and will commit in the future. The ministry of righteousness, the ministry of the Spirit, the New Covenant of grace has forever separated us from the penalty of our sins.
I John 2:1-2 says, “if anyone sins (and the Greek sense of that phrase is that you will), if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins”.
So yes, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. There is glory in the ministry of condemnation pointing to our need for a Savior, but much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory because it redeems us and declares us eternally righteous.
2 Corinthians 3:10-11
The glory of God reflected in the face of Moses, fading as it was (v. 7), symbolized the impermanence of the Old Covenant Law. Like the glory on the face of Moses, the Law was never meant to be permanent. The glory of the Law was a passing and fading glory. The Law prescribed what we were to do but could not enable us to do it. The Law only provided the basis for condemnation and damnation, but not salvation and justification; it made us culpable for our lack of purity but could never make us pure.
Even in the Old Testament times, it was clearly obvious that God’s redemptive purpose was not contained in the Law. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The Old Covenant of Law was never intended to be permanent, but the New Covenant of grace, Paul says, remains, as it surpasses the Law.
I think that it is safe to say, this is the very definition of glory.
Don’t miss this, beloved. Don’t base your relationship with Christ on laws and rules and mandates and conditions. Don’t think that you are justified by your good works. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies that your sins don’t matter, and that attending church earns you points with God. Only the glory of the New Covenant of grace continue to shine and remains. Only repenting of your sins and falling on that grace by confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead will allow you to be declared righteous.
And beloved, if you have already experienced this grace of God, stop trying to earn your place by your works and by law-keeping. Let your good works be seen but only as a testament to God’s glory as you respond to so great a salvation, and as you follow Jesus Christ, as you worship and glorify Him by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead you in every aspect of your life.