Pierre-Paul Thomas was born blind. He was born with congenital nystagmus which damaged his optic nerves. On top of that, Pierre-Paul, who is 68 years old, developed cataracts in his adult years. Early in his life, his family had sought treatment, but they were told there was nothing that could be done, so he resigned himself to the fact that he would be blind for the rest of his life.
When he was 66 years old, Pierre-Paul took a fall down a flight of stairs that broke some bones around his eye socket and required surgery. While he was talking to the surgeon she asked him, “While we are doing the surgery would you like for us to fix your eyes?” He never dreamed it could be possible, so of course he said, “Yes!” Following the surgery, Mr. Thomas saw for the first time. He said, “I find everything beautiful!” He told his sister, “Before my surgery everything was just gray.”
I watched a video this past week of a man named Daniel who had been blind for 21 years. He had not seen his wife for 21 years and he had never seen his daughter. The video is short, just a little over one minute. It was shot in the doctor’s office, when Daniel first saw his wife and daughter. Let’s watch the video…
Did you hear that? Daniel’s first response to being able to see his wife and daughter was “Wow! You are more beautiful than I ever imagined!”
I watched video after video this past week of people–men, women, boys, and girls from all over the world seeing for the first time and all of their responses were the same. There were smiles, tears, and lots of emotion pouring from their souls as they saw what they had never seen before.
One of the most common causes of blindness around the world is untreated cataracts. Cataracts are a natural part of aging, even though some young people can develop cataracts. Normally, after age 40, the proteins in the lens of our eyes begins to break down and form clumps that make the lens of our eye cloudy.
The National Library of Medicine reported that in 2010 there were 35 million people who were visually impaired and 10.8 million people who were blind, worldwide, due to cataracts. An astounding 33.4% of all blindness worldwide was due to cataracts! You may be wondering why we are talking about cataracts during morning worship, but before we get to that let me tell you there is a very simple procedure called cataract surgery that can, in less than hour, restore sight to those who have lost the ability to see due to cataracts.
In a normal cataract surgery an ophthalmologist removes the lens of the eye, replaces it with a new lens, and the patient is home in no time. The longer the cataract goes untreated, the lens becomes more hard and rigid, and the more difficult the procedure becomes as well.
In our Scripture for this morning, Paul lets us know there is an even greater threat to our ability to see than cataracts and that is the hardness of our hearts. Let’s read our Scripture found in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 and then we will see what we can learn. Read it with me.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 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. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 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. 14 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. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:7-18 NIV)
Last week we made our way through verses 7-11 and we learned that the New Covenant’s glory has far surpassed the glory of the Old Covenant. The reason for this is because the Old Covenant is incapable of giving us the resources we need to live out its commands while the New Covenant has been established through the righteousness of Jesus and not our own righteousness, because we are not righteous in and of ourselves. God has done for you and me, through Jesus, what none of us could ever do for ourselves and that is to keep the commands of the Law. The Old Covenant shows us, in crystal clear fashion, that we have missed the mark, we are sinners. The New Covenant tells us that Jesus, the One who never sinned, paid the price for our sin and opened the door for you and me so that we might be reconciled to God the Father. Now that’s something worth celebrating! After walking us through the comparison of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, Paul writes,
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. (2 Corinthians 3:12 NIV)
“Therefore” means, in light of what we have just been discussing in verses 7-11, the greater glory of the New Covenant, the assurance of our forgiveness and salvation based upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Because of this, we have hope, and this hope causes us to be very bold.
When we talk about “hope” today we are talking about something totally different than what Paul meant when he wrote this sentence. I do want to point out to you that the hope we speak about in our society today is the same hope that secular society had back in Paul’s day. Seneca, the leading intellectual of the Roman Empire during his day who served as a mentor and adviser to emperor Nero. He lived at the same time as the Apostle Paul. Seneca defined hope as an “uncertain good.” This is the very opposite of how Paul would define hope.
The uncertain good that Seneca talked about is the same understanding of hope that most people living in our day hope for in life. “Hope” for us today is wishful thinking, crossing our fingers and hoping the outcome is good, that the outcome falls in our favor. For Paul, his hope was not based on anything other than God’s faithfulness exhibited in times past and His promises regarding what’s to come. John MacArthur writes,
Hope is the confident belief that God will fulfill all the promises of His new covenant. Many of those have already been fulfilled; yet great and glorious as the new covenant is, the heart of it has not yet been fully manifested. The new covenant was ratified at the Cross, though its benefits have always been appropriated by faith, but the fullness of its hope will not be experienced until believer’s future glorification. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians. pg. 107)
It is clear from reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament that his hope was certain because his hope was based on God’s faithfulness demonstrated in the past. God’s faithfulness in the past gave Paul such confidence concerning the future. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe… (Ephesians 1:18-19 NIV)
Paul wasn’t the only New Testament author who had such a strong hope. Our hope based upon God’s faithfulness is the “anchor of our soul,” according to the writer of Hebrews. Turn with me to Hebrews 6:17-19 and let’s read together.
17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… (Hebrews 6:17-19 NIV)
This hope, our hope in God’s faithfulness, is the anchor of our soul as we go through this life and look forward with expectation to the fulfillment of everything God has promised regarding our future. Let’s move on to our next verse. Paul writes, in verse 14,
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. (2 Corinthians 3:13 NIV)
I don’t want to spend too much time on this verse because there has been so much disagreement by Bible teachers concerning what is meant by Paul. There have been at least five different interpretations of what Paul was trying to say. The most popular teaching about this verse is that Moses veiled his face to keep the Israelites from seeing the glory fading because Moses didn’t want to disappoint the people. Another popular understanding of this verse is that Moses veiled his face while he was talking to the people so he could protect them from God’s judgment because of their sinful behavior. According to this understanding Moses put a veil over his face as an act of mercy towards the people. The last interpretation I’ll share is that when Moses veiled his face he was acting out a parable so to speak. The veil demonstrated to the people that their sins disqualified them from viewing even the reflected glory of God shown in Moses’ face. Which of these interpretations is the right one? Well, when you read the account of Moses putting a veil over his face in Exodus 34, Moses doesn’t say why he put a veil over his face. What we have here, in 2 Corinthians 3, is Paul’s explanation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as to why Moses put a veil over his face. David Garland says the key to understanding Paul’s intent in writing this sentence is understanding the word “end.” The Greek word translated “end” in the NIV is the word “telos” in the Greek New Testament. David Garland writes,
Moses was protecting the people from a dire consequence if they gazed continually at the reflected glory of God radiating from his face. The telos of the glory on Moses’ face does not refer to some purpose or goal, or to Christ, but to consequences. It concerns the death that divine glory inflicts upon ‘hardened hearts.’ (Garland, David. 2 Corinthians. pg. 187-188)
The veil communicated God’s judgment. God’s glory, reflected in Moses’ face, had to be covered because of the sinful nature of the people. At the same time, the veil over Moses’ face communicated God’s mercy. The veil made it possible for the glory of God to be brought into the midst of the sinful people who were following Moses.
Let’s move on. In verses 14-15, Paul makes it clear that the veil over Moses’ face did nothing to fix the hardened hearts of the people, even to this day. Let’s read these verses together.
14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:14-15 ESV)
I wanted us to read from the ESV because the NIV says “their minds were made dull.” There is a big difference between “dull” and “hardened.” They were not suffering from a lack of ability to comprehend, but from having cold, hard hearts. Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, the prophets pointed out how God’s people had hardened their hearts. Let me just give you one example. Turn with me to Jeremiah 5:21-23 and let’s read together.
21 Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: 22 Should you not fear me?” declares the LORD. “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. 23 But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. (Jeremiah 5:21-23 NIV)
The problem with Israel and our problem to this very day is not an intellectual deficiency which makes it impossible for us to understand, but their problem, and our problem, is our hard hearts which refuse to obey God. Once again, just like we talked about last week, the problem was not Moses or the Law, but the problem is our hard hearts.
So what do we do? What can we do? Is there any hope for those of us who have a hard heart this morning and have refused to turn to Jesus? There is hope and there is no greater illustration of the hope that is here for us this morning than the man who wrote this letter. Paul himself had suffered from spiritual blindness, a hardness of his heart which led him to persecute the followers of Jesus instead of joining them in following Jesus.
When Jesus confronted Paul on his way to Damascus the veil was removed, his eyes were opened, and Paul saw for the first time that he had everything wrong. He no longer put confidence in his own righteousness, his own good works. He no longer held on to his idea of what the Messiah would be and do. He no longer rebelled and refused to surrender…he would live the rest of his life for the One he had despised and rejected. Paul later wrote about letting go of everything he had held so dear in his letter to the church in Philippi. Listen to this.
4 …If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:4-9 NIV)
Paul’s heart of stone was exchanged for a heart that yearned to know Jesus more and more. How does this happen? How can you and I have our hard hearts changed as well? Paul answers the question for us in verse 16 when he writes,
16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:16 NIV)
Isn’t that great news?! Who belongs to the group “anyone?” Does that even include me? Does it also include you? I know many of us suffer from horrible memories of things we have done in the past. I’ve even had people tell me, “You don’t know what I’ve done. I don’t think God could ever forgive me…I can’t forgive myself.” Oh my friend, if you will turn to the Lord He will lift the veil from your eyes and He will show you His all conquering love and His forgiveness that is able to forgive even the most hardened of sinners. What about those who still have questions? Some of you here this morning have had people tell you about Jesus for years and years, but you just can’t see it. You may have been coming to church here for years, you’ve even attended Bible studies, but you still can’t see it. You can’t understand how something that Someone did two thousand years ago, by dying on a cross, can have any impact on your own life. I understand, but here’s something I understand even more clearly. If you will turn to Jesus, trust in Jesus, He will remove the veil, open your eyes, and begin to help you see more clearly. Will you turn to Him this morning?
By turning to Jesus, Paul says the veil which blocks our ability to see clearly, to understand what God has done and continues to do, will be taken away. This is not the only thing that will take place when we turn to Jesus. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 with me.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV)
The Israelites could not look intently into the glory of the Lord, but Paul says all of us who have had the veil taken away, all of us who have trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can contemplate the Lord’s glory, and the result is that we will be transformed by His glory into His image.
I want us to stop and think about that word, “transformed,” before we leave here this morning. The Greek word which is translated “transformed” is the word, “metamorpho?” and it means, “transform, to be changed.” This is the word from which we get our English word, “metamorphosis.” You are familiar with the process of metamorphosis because you’ve all seen videos of how a caterpillar that crawls on the ground becomes a beautiful butterfly that flies through the air. The Bible teaches that when anyone turns to Jesus the Holy Spirit comes into their life and begins the process of transformation. A little later in 2 Corinthians, Paul will write,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. The moment we receive Jesus as Lord of our life, we are changed–we become children of God. We are no longer alienated from God, but we become, at that very moment, children of the Living God. That’s what God does for those who turn to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit continues His work throughout our lives molding us and shaping us into the image of Jesus. This work is called the process of sanctification and it is a life-long work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in many ways, but one of those ways is developing the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of God’s people. Paul wrote,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 NIV)
At the same time, we are called to do our own work, and our work is to follow in Jesus’ steps. Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 11:1. How can we follow in Jesus’ steps? To do this we must learn about how Jesus lived. What did He do? How did He relate to others? What was most important for Jesus as He lived His life? What did He avoid in life? All of these questions are answered in God’s Word. If we will do this, make following in Jesus’ steps our greatest priority in life, then we will not fall in with the crowd and find ourselves reflecting our culture instead of reflecting the glory of God. Paul wrote,
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God– this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
We are to willingly, consciously make the decision each and every day to offer ourselves to God, to make the decision to live for His glory. Paul says when we refuse to conform to the ways of this world and instead seek the Lord, the Holy Spirit will begin to change our minds, to transform our thinking. As this continues to take place throughout our lives we recognize that we are thinking differently than we used to think, we value things we did not care about in the past and we find no value in things that we used to value with all our heart. What an amazing work!
When the veil is removed from our hearts and minds the work begins. I believe with all of my heart that the Lord desires to lift the veil from your eyes this morning. What about you this morning? Maybe you are here this morning and you are not a follower of Jesus. I want to encourage you to turn to Jesus and let Him begin His work.
Britton Christian Church
January 22, 2023
2 Corinthians 3:7-18