The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who will 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” (II Corinthians 3:17,18 NIV).
Discipleship is Your Life Ministry
I like those words, “Your Life Ministry.” It puts a bit of a different spin on things. Ministry is often seen as a career choice, as something that Pastors or teachers or missionaries do, but not you and me, the common folk, the simple disciples.
We know better than that, don’t we? When we read the words of Paul in the Bible, very often we automatically think that he is talking about the ministry leaders whether in the church or in the many parachurch organizations (and perhaps even some NGOs).
But that is not the case. Every disciple has a ministry. He or she has spiritual gifts from the Lord that they need to use in the context of the local church as part of a ministry team (whether they lead the team or not). Every disciple is expected to walk the way of the cross, to sacrifice, to suffer for the gospel. Every disciple is expected to become mature in Christ, to engage in spiritual warfare, to disciple and be discipled, to participate in spiritual conversations. This is not a career choice, it is simply your life ministry. Yes, your life is your ministry. Your relationship with God through Christ has transformed your life, right? And will continue to do so. Your entire life is about having spiritual conversations with others and God with a focus on being used by the Holy Spirit to reconcile people to God and to others. That’s the job description…..for everyone. That is Your Life Ministry.
I like how Paul puts it when he describes it by saying that “we….reflect the Lord’s glory” (vs.18). He had been talking about Moses also “reflecting” the glory of God every time he came out of the Tent of Meeting. It was as if he had been talking to something so bright, so powerful that it showed up on his own face. Brighter than a thousand suns, more than a case of sunburn, Moses somehow “reflected” the presence of God, the glory of God on his face.
And it was dangerous.
The Old Testament is quite adamant that no one can see the face of God and survive it (Exodus 33:20) and yet, at the same time, we are told that God “would speak to Moses face to face (Exodus 33:11 NIV)” and that, at first, Moses “was not aware that his face was radiant” (Exodus 34:29 NIV). After that, he started to wear a veil to cover his face. Why?
There seem to be two schools of thought which are probably two sides of the same truth. On the one hand, some people think Moses wore the veil in order to prevent the Israelites from seeing the fading of the glory. Apparently, after a while it would dim and, later still, it would disappear until Moses went in to talk with the LORD once again. Paul seems to support this view when he talks about the glory of the Old Covenant under Moses.
“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, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?…..And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (II Corinthians 3:7,8,11 NIV).
But I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about. He isn’t making the point that Moses was wearing the veil in order to protect the glory from the people (because it was fading away and therefore becoming less spectacular) but he was rather protecting the people from the glory.
That’s why many scholars associate the veil of Moses with the veil in the Temple that separates the Holy of Holies from the people. That veil was not to protect the Holy of Holies from the people but rather to protect the people from the Holy of Holies where God dwelt with his people. That’s why they tied a rope to the ankle of the High Priest every year when he went into the Holy of Holies to bring the sacrificial blood of the atonement lamb. If he was found to be unclean or unworthy, he may die and they would have to drag his body back out using the rope around his ankle.
The glory of God and His holiness are the same thing. His holiness is His character. His justice and his mercy. Even on the mountain, Moses could not see the face of God directly and was hidden in the cleft of the rock for protection. Metaphorically speaking, that rock is Christ. He protects us from the glory and holiness of God, from his justice, from his anger against sin, from the consequences of our sins, which is death. “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul tells us (Romans 6:23). Jesus protects us from the natural consequences of rebellion against the rule of God. Jesus is the veil.
We must “wear” that veil all the time in order to see the glory of God and survive. We must remain permanently in Christ, be identified with him, receive the Holy Spirit continually as a seal of his approval and presence in our lives. Paul constantly talks about the believer as being “in Christ.” And it is the fact of being “in Christ” or “in union with Christ,” as proven by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that protects us from the glory and holiness of God. That, in turn, allows us to have a new relationship with God “in Christ” and talk with Him and walk with Him and treat Him once again as our beloved Father. We are protected by “the veil” of Christ.
Obviously, this veil of Moses was a “type” or metaphor/symbol for Christ but there were others as well. Especially the sacrifices of a lamb for atonement once a year, but really all of the sacrificial system was a “type” or sacred metaphor for Christ “reflecting” what he would do on the cross for our sins. Because the “types” were only reflections and not the thing (Christ) itself, they could only provide a temporary protection in the Old Testament. Once the reality arrived in the person of Christ and he completed his work on the cross, then the sacrifical system was obviously no longer necessary.
But what about the veil? Wasn’t the veil in the Temple torn in two when Jesus died on the cross? Yes, exactly. And why was that? Because the veil was Jesus in the flesh, dying on the cross, his body broken for you, torn in two. Jesus, in the body, on the cross, was the veil that protects us from the glory and holiness of God. Jesus, in the resurrected body, is a permanent veil of protection for each of us and so the symbols, the types, the metaphors of the Old Testament are no longer necessary. Even the Temple itself would disappear and be destroyed within a generation (as predicted by Jesus) by the Romans because we have become the Temple of God.
So, what does that mean for us? Paul puts it clearly. We reflect the glory of the Lord “with unveiled faces” (vs. 18). We don’t need Moses physical veil even though we also, like Moses, get to talk with God face to face. We don’t need the physical sacrificial system for protection because we are “in Christ” and we can take the Old Testament veil off and reflect the glory of the Lord freely and without fear.
How do we do that, exactly? Remember that Paul is talking here about “the Lord’s glory” in reference to Jesus. What is the glory of Jesus? When we see God in his splendor and Shekinah glory, in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, on the top of Mount Sinai, in thunder and lightning, it is dangerous and the people have a right to be scared. Moses no doubt trembled as well but he was called, he was chosen, he was invited to come and speak with God, to be the intermediary between God and man, to speak on God’s behalf.
But the Shekinah glory of God still reflects who He is and He is a fierce God, a jealous God, a being who cannot abide evil (and rightly so) even though we have become accustomed to it easily enough. We are bed-fellows with those angelic beings who rebelled against His authority before time began. We are partners in crime with the evil within, fighting it some times, giving in to it at other times, remaining in control of our own lives and ignoring any claims that He might have on us (at least for now).
The Shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament is, of course, the Holy Spirit and, as the Bible points out repeatedly, He is a “consuming fire” (Leviticus 9:24) for those who stand before God unprotected, uninvited, unwelcomed. We saw a glimpse of that Shekinah glory at the Transfiguration when the disciples saw for themselves that their confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the Living God (we would say, as Saviour and Lord) was true.
But there is another side to that glory. If the Shekinah glory of God is his holiness, his character, his justice in the presence of evil, his raw power, his inexhaustible knowledge and creativity, his presence in every corner of creation, the question is whether that reflects everything about God.
In a world that has rebelled against their Creator, justice seems like the logical reflection of the glory and character of God. Maybe so. But that would destroy us. It’s already crazy that this world is allowed to continue it’s rebellion and evil and the suffering we inflict on one another. That was not God’s original idea. But once the rebellion took root, God had another plan in mind.
He mentions right at the beginning that someone would come to “crush the head” of the Evil One, even though the Evil One would “strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). So there is more to this story. The Shekinah Glory of God is dangerous to those who are still filled with rebellion and evil and are unprotected, but there is another side to the character of God that is also taking root and growing.
The Old Testament becomes the context for the New Testament and without the history of the Jewish people, their struggles, their suffering and their ultimate failure to bear the weight of the glory of God in their midst, we would never understand what really happened on the cross that day, two thousand years ago.
In other words, there is another side to this Shekinah glory, this character and holiness of God and it was revealed in Christ and specifically Christ’s willingness to go to the cross and “become sin” for us, taking the weight of sin from our shoulders and replacing it with the weight of glory. The glory of the love of God in Christ Jesus. If you want to see that love in action, look closely at Gethsemane and Golgotha and you will see it there in all of it’s glory.
The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the Shekinah glory of God that Jesus shared with God but the Cross is a glimpse of the Shekinah glory of God in all of his love and mercy, struggling with the temptation in the Garden, putting up with betrayal and desertion by his followers, an illegal trial by the religious authorities, uncaring torture and death for politial expediency by the Romans, every moment of this drama is a moment of glory, a moment of Transfiguration, a moment when the true character of God is shown openly to the world, though many could not see it for what it was.
Just like in the Transfiguration, you must have eyes to see and ears to hear. You have to look beyond the common crucifixion of a rebel by Roman authorities in a backwater area of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. More is going on here and that glory is the glory of God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself as His response to the problem of evil. He takes it upon himself, as love always does, and bears the marks of his suffering proudly as symbols of His great love for His people.
So the cross is another Transfiguration, although the argument could be made that every moment of Jesus’ life was a reflection of the glory and holiness of God, his character answering the challenge of evil, not by destroying it but by transforming it through the power of the cross. From the moment of his birth, through the three years of his ministry, his teachings, his dealings with his followers, with the Pharisees, the Saducees, the common people, all of it was a Transfiguration, a glimpse into the true glory of God in Christ.
Paul calls it the “surpassing glory” (vs. 10). It goes so much further than any glory found in the ministry of Moses. It goes beyond the glory of God demonstrated in the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the daily provision in the desert, the glory of Mt. Sinai and the face of Moses after he speaks with God. Beyond all of the great and mighty things that we are told about in the Old Testament comes the deeply profound mysteries of the hidden glory of God revealed in Christ and his work on the cross.
And we participate in that glory. We are “in Christ” and we “reflect the Lord’s glory” (as seen in his person and work on the cross) and we do so “with unveiled faces” fully protected by the blood of Christ and therefore able to be the Temple of God without the need for a veil of protection and to live with the Shekinah Glory within on a permanent basis.
We reflect that glory in two ways, according to Paul, and they are also two sides of the same truth. On the one hand, we reflect the Lord’s glory by “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (vs. 18). We are protected and, therefore, we have entered into a new relationship with God but we are still a work in progress and we have to be transformed even more.
Our Transfiguration as believers will be complete when we are brought into the presence of God upon our death or upon his return. For that complete revelation of His glory in us, we will need to have new resurrected bodies or we won’t survive that physical glory. But right now, in this world, while we live, we are also being Transfigured, giving ever more wonderful glimpses of the glory of Christ in our lives. Yes, we participate. We must follow. We must respond. But he is the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), even though we must “make every effort” (II Peter 3:14) to follow him wherever he leads.
The second way that we reflect that glory, says Paul, is in fulfilling the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called, every one of us. “If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison wih the surpassing glory” (II Corinthians 3: 9, 10 NIV). How can we deny such glory? How can we not make every waking moment about the ministry of reconciliation through righteousness in Christ? What surpassing glory, what transformation in the lives of people, what hope people receive when they finally bow the knee to their Lord and Saviour and make their confession just like Peter did. Transfiguration happens to us and in us but we also have a ministry of transfiguration in the lives of those around us. We help people (by the grace of God) to reflect or reveal the glory that is now within them.
When you talk with a non-believer it is so evident that there is a veil over their eyes. Yes, Paul is talking about the Jews who had a veil of self-righteousness over their eyes because they misunderstood the purpose of the law. But it is a truth which, I believe, is applicable to everyone who is not yet saved. They just can’t see it. They just don’t understand it. They are spiritually blind, Jesus said. Paul reminds us that “only in Christ is it taken away” (vs. 14b NIV) and that “whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (vs. 16 NIV). The power of the law is broken, the wages of sin are no longer applicable to them (it was given to Jesus), all of the chains that they have put on themselves and that society and religion have placed on them, have fallen off and are taken away in Christ. The Holy Spirit now lives within and there is freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from the consequences of sin, freedom in the light. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, ” Paul says, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (vs. 17 NIV).
Have you ever been used by the Lord in the transformation of the human heart? Has the Lord ever used your words, your actions, glimpses of his glory in you, your on-going Transfiguration to change the life of someone else? There is no experience like it. To taste of that glory is to desire more. It is our significance, our purpose, our meaning. And, although we hold that glory, that treasure, in jars of clay (II Corinthians 4), it is still glory and it is still powerful and can transform the human heart. Paul makes it clear in the following verses that to reflect that glory, that treasure, we must be involved in ministry as those who reflect the likeness of Christ, bringing the two sides of glory together.
That is not a career choice. That is your life ministry. Nobody can take it away. You are never fired nor dismissed. Even if you try to reject it, ignore it or supress it, it is still yours, for no other reason than because you have the glory within in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Whether you grieve him or walk with him, whether you wrestle with him or learn from him, the glory is within and glimpses of it will be seen by others. This Lenten season, you have the opportunity to get right with God, embrace your ministry, and begin to learn what it means to go from glory to glory in character and in ministry.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. It’s time to talk to God….
Lord, I hardly know what to say. You and I both know that I cannot bear this weight of glory and that I am more comfortable with the weight of sin. I know that is a terrible thing to say, especially since you already took upon yourself the weight of sin. Thank you for teaching me that I cannot carry both. It is one or the other. Help me to cast my burden of sin at your feet on a regular basis and take up that burden of glory that you and I carry together. Use me, Lord, in your great rescue operation. My family, my friends, my children need me to reflect your glory in my life. I can’t do it alone. In your name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
He was in his hut on the edge of the village standing in the morning light that streamed through the open window, his prayer shawl over his head and his hands raised in prayer facing Yerushalayim. He was about to sit down but then decided to try his prayers again.
“Adonai Elohim, God of the Universe, you know all things, you know….” His voice trailed off with a sigh and then he said quietly, “you know that I’m scared….”
The confession hung in the air for a moment but then something changed. Onkelos was scarcely aware of it but he felt a little stronger with that confession and took another step of faith.
“I call out to you, Great El Shaddai. Will you hear my cry? I need your help, O God. I don’t know what to do.” (Read more….)