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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s comparison of Christ to a triumphal leader of a victory procession, where a fragrance of life or death, depending on whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, is present.

In today’s verses, Paul compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. He did this because Judaizers were infiltrating the Corinthian congregation, insisting that Mosaic Law be followed as well as Christian teachings. An example of this theological error would be to stipulate that Gentile males be circumcised, otherwise they could not be true Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

There were those in Corinth doing that.  Coming along and demanding that the people who were already redeemed in Christ, in order to validate their redemption and to assure their redemption, needed to keep the ceremonial Law of Moses.  These gentiles needed to be circumcised They needed to make sure they followed through on washings and ceremonies and sacrifices and et cetera They were demanding a return to old-covenant symbols which were now obsolete since the reality had come Going back and exalting the symbols is pointless.  It not only rejects the reality of the gospel but perverts the purpose and meaning of the symbol.  It never w[as] intended to minister grace.  It never w[as] intended to minister spiritual life, but only to be pictures of that which could and would do that.

So in dealing with this in Corinth, Paul writes in this section a concern that people understand the difference between the new covenant and the oldOr better stated, that people will understand the transition from the old covenant to the new It isn’t that the old covenant and new covenant are opposites.  It isn’t that they are opposed to each other.  It is that one gives way to the nextThe old covenant, in and of itself, was not complete It could not save It could not grant righteousness It had to pass away and be replaced by the newThe old covenant, however, did serve a purpose, a very good purpose.  And that purpose was fulfilled historically, and when the time came for that purpose to fade, it faded, and the new covenant came in its place

Paul discusses Moses’s receiving the law from God, which made his face blindingly brilliant, like the sun, even though that brilliance faded (verse 7).

When Moses was alone on the mountain, he had asked to see God’s glory. God granted his request, hence Moses’s brilliance in front of the Israelites when he returned to them. Because they could not look at him without being blinded, he put a veil over his face. Even then, his brilliance began to fade. By the time he removed the veil, he was back to normal.

MacArthur explains:

in verse 7, the Law came with glory The glory of God was on the face of Moses when he delivered the Law.  What he’s saying is, the Law is glorious; it is reflective of God.  You see, the Apostle Paul had been accused by the Judaizers and the circumcision party of being against the Law, speaking against the Law, denigrating the Law, depreciating the Law, ignoring the Law, discounting the Law, or lowering the Law.  He never did that He realized that the Law, the old covenant, came in glory.  It came with glory …

End of verse 7, he says, “–the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,” and then he throws this in, “fading as it was.”  The point is, the glory that was on Moses’ face was temporary After that encounter and that experience, it was gone; it faded.  In fact, it faded even as he was there, talking to the people.  And when he put the veil over his face, it would fade.

It was a “fading” glory

Paul calls the law of God ‘the ministry of death’ because no Jew was capable of obeying over 600 laws regulating every part of his or her life.

The law was there to convict God’s people of their sins. They were meant to take the law to heart and repent, which few did.

God had always intended for Jesus to redeem Jew and Gentile alike through His Son.

MacArthur tells us how redemption worked under the Old Covenant:

The old covenant could provide a basis of damnation, but not of salvation; a basis of condemnation, but not of justification; a basis of culpability, but not puritySomething had to be added.

You say, “Well, did the Jews know it was coming?  Were they ever told?”

Sure.  Jeremiah made it as clear – as crystal clear as it could be made Jeremiah 31:31, he says this, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke,” not like that one, “this is the covenant I’ll make with the house of Israel after those days.  I’ll put my Law within them and on their heart I’ll write it, and I’ll be their God, and they’ll be my people, and I’ll forgive their iniquity, and their sin I’ll remember no more.”  They should have known that the old covenant wasn’t the last

The ministry of Old Testament prophets – and we don’t have time to get into this the ministry of Old Testament prophets was to call the people to repent Over and over and over again, right on down to John the Baptist Repent, repent, repent, repent, repent.  That was the whole point You’re brought against the Law.  The Law reveals your sinYou’re called to repent.

See, what happened was, most of the Jews knew they couldn’t keep the moral Law, so they figured out a way to get saved “Oh, we can’t keep the moral Law, but what we do, what we will keep, we’ll keep the ceremonial Law, and the ceremonial Law will save us.”  So, they imposed the ceremonial Law on top of the moral Law as the savior, and that’s what it means that they worshiped according to the letter of the Law And that was damning.

But let’s take a true Jew who really believed What would he do?  He’d come to God repentant, pleading for grace and pleading for mercy He saw the ceremonial Law as symbolic of God’s provision for him somewhere down the future He knew God would provide.  He knew God would be gracious, and God would be merciful, because that’s the kind of God he was.  And he cast himself on God’s mercy and God’s grace, and he would be redeemed, based upon what Christ would do in his behalf.

But for most Jews, the vast majority apart from that true remnant, they disobeyed the Law, offered no genuine repentance, exercised no saving faith in God, depended not on God’s grace but on their own works, keeping the external ceremonial religion, and that was really a killer And along came the prophets and constantly called them to repentance, and called them to repentance, and called them to repentance.  That’s always the message It boggles my mind how that people can say today that we don’t have to preach repentance It’s always been the message.

Paul asks that if the Old Covenant — the law of God — came in glory, how much greater then is the ministry of the Spirit, the New Covenant (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

The term “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the new covenant He calls the new covenant the “ministry of the Spirit.”  The Law, written on stone, was a killer, but written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, is a life-giver and produces righteousness The Law, written on stone, condemns.  The Law, written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, saves.

Therefore, if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation — the Old Covenant — the ministry of righteousness of the New Covenant must far exceed it in glory (verse 9).

MacArthur tells us why that is true:

What does the new covenant bring?  Righteousness.  The new covenant changes God’s view of the sinner It changes his attitude.  He sees him clothed in the righteousness of Christ “Garmented with a robe of righteousness,” Isaiah calls it, covered with the righteousness of Christ, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, put to his account.

Paul goes further by saying that the glorious Old Covenant no longer has glory because the glory of the New Covenant has surpassed — eclipsed — it (verse 10).

Matthew Henry elaborates:

The law was the ministration of condemnation, for that condemned and cursed every one who continued not in all things written therein to do them; but the gospel is the ministration of righteousness: therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed. This shows us that the just shall live by his faith. This reveals the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the remission of sins and eternal life. The gospel therefore so much exceeds in glory that in a manner it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation, 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:10. As the shining of a burning lamp is lost, or not regarded, when the sun arises and goes forth in his strength; so there was no glory in the Old Testament, in comparison with that of the New.

In verse 11, Paul says that the New Covenant is permanent in all its glory. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has reconciled us to God.

Henry says:

Not only did the glory of Moses’s face go away, but the glory of Moses’s law is done away also; yea, the law of Moses itself is now abolished. That dispensation was only to continue for a time, and then to vanish away; whereas the gospel shall remain to the end of the world, and is always fresh and flourishing and remains glorious.

As for those who do not know God, an Anglican priest, the Revd Peter Mullen, wrote an inspired article for Conservative Woman, ‘God leaves His calling cards’, which concludes with this encouraging, simple instruction and prayer:

You seek God’s comfort and the certainty of this presence? Just ask him for it.

O God, take away all my faithlessness and fear, and give me imagination that I may know certainly that thou art ever near. Make me bold to look for thee, that I might ever find thee.

What a marvellous message on which to end.

May everyone reading this have a blessed week ahead.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

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