The Ministrations of Glory
March 18th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
3-18-56 7:30 p.m.
Now we’re going to read together our passage for tonight. It’s the second Corinthian letter, the third chapter, and we begin at the seventh verse. Second Corinthians 3:7 to the end of the chapter – Second Corinthians, the third chapter. The title of the sermon tonight is The Ministration of Glory. And as we proceed with the message and the reading of the Scripture, you’ll see what it is that Paul is speaking of in this passage. All right, Second Corinthians, the third chapter, beginning at the seventh verse to the end. Now let’s read it together:
But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away,
How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?
For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech–
And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.
But their minds were blinded. For until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament, which veil is done away in Christ.
But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.
Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
[2 Corinthians 3:7-18]
Now may I read the passage in Exodus? And upon this passage Paul is building a wonderful contrast of the ministration of glory, which is in Christ, compared to the old ministration which was written on tables of stone. Now this is the passage in the thirty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus:
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (with the two tables of Testimony in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mount), that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while God talked with Him.
And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come nigh him.
And Moses called unto them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses talked with them.
And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.
And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.
But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off until he came out; and he came out and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with God.
Now that’s the passage, and upon it Paul is basing a contrast between the revelation – the faith that we have in the Lord Jesus – and the faith, the revelation, the dispensation, the dealing of God back there in the old covenant. We call it the Old Testament.
Now the first thing that Paul says about that is this: that the dispensation of the old covenant – of the Old Testament – that it was like the shining of God from the face of Moses covered with a veil and was passing away, fading away [Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7]. For the glory that shone on the face of Moses was temporary. It shined for a while, then gradually it faded away.
Now in speaking of that, he says here in this second Corinthian chapter, thirteenth verse, "And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished" [2 Corinthians 3:13]. The light of the glory of God in the face of Moses gradually ebbed, gradually went away, and he put the veil over his face for one reason – so that the children of Israel could not watch the fading away of the glory that shined in his face.
Now in the seventh verse, he says the same thing of the whole covenant: "If the ministration of death" – by the law we are condemned – "written and engraven in stones" – that’s the [Ten] Commandments – "if that was glorious so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away" [2 Corinthians 3:7].
Now let me say that in my words. Paul is saying that the ministration, the dispensation – the covenant back there in the Old Testament – that that covenant was not open. It was not fully clear, but it was covered with a veil and was fading away. It was going to be abolished which is to say that the revelation of God in the Old Testament was never fully open. It was never gloriously complete as it is in Jesus Christ. But the glory of God in the old dispensation shined through a veil. You’d find it in a type here [Hebrews 9:7-12]. You would find it in a symbol there [Hebrews 10:1]. You would find it in a ritual yonder [Hebrews 8:4-5]. You would find it in an obscure prophecy over there [Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12], but it never was full-orbed and complete as it now is in the face of Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:25-27].
In this next chapter, picking up that thought, he writes one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, that we might have in us the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 4:6]. The revelation back there was veiled [2 Corinthians 3:7]. It was partial. It was incomplete. It was by type. It was by shadow. It was by suggestion. It was by obscure prophecy. But the whole glory of the light of the revelation of God was never seen until it was seen in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not by Moses but by Jesus: "For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" [John 1:17].
All right another thing he says – fourteenth and fifteenth verses – "Now" the Jewish people, "their minds were blinded. And until this day there remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old covenant, which veil is done away in Christ" [2 Corinthians 3:14]. But they don’t see it. "For unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart" [2 Corinthians 3:15].
Could I illustrate that? Some of us in this congregation tonight were in a group visiting in Palestine this last summer. One of the sacred cities of the Jewish people is Safed. It is there in northern Galilee beyond Nazareth. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the great council of the Jews met in Safed, and it was a center of Jewish rabbinical teaching and learning for many, many hundreds of years.
Now in the city of Safed is one of the most ancient of all of the synagogues in the world – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. Now some of us went down to look at that synagogue and to go inside and to look around and to bring back to our minds all of those centuries of the historical record of the rabbinical learning of the Jewish people. And on the inside of that synagogue, so old and so ancient, there were some typical rabbis dressed in a typical rabbinical robe: their hair long, their beards long, their faces wrinkled. And pouring over those scrolls of Moses and of the prophets, they looked exactly like you’d see pictures of those old rabbis with whom Jesus taught when He was a child in the temple [Luke 2:41-50].
And I looked at those ancient scrolls over which those old rabbis were pouring, studying the Word of God by day and by night, and I couldn’t help but just want to say, "Oh, my friend and my brother, chosen people of God, what a tragedy, what a sorrow that you read these great revelations of God in the Old Testament with a veil over your heart which veil is taken away in Christ" [2 Corinthians 3:14] But they don’t see it. They read with a veil over their hearts, their minds blinded.
Why, such devotion, such commitment to God, such love for Jehovah, such pouring over the sacred writings! I would to God that our people love the Word of the Lord like those rabbis do. It is their life: a phylactery on their foreheads, on their arms, in their homes. They live the commandments of Moses [Deuteronomy 6:6-9, 11:18-20], but they never see that Prophet that Moses said, when he was gone, the Lord would raise up among them of their own flesh and of their own people [Deuteronomy 18:18; John 5:43-47]. They read with a veil over their hearts [2 Corinthians 3:14].
Now he speaks of us: the veil taken away and the glory of the revelation of God shining in our lives and in our faces. This is what he says, "But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory" – glory on top of glory – "even as by the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Now look at that: "But we all, with open face, mirroring as in a glass the glory of the Lord."
Now you have to remember what the contrast is. Moses talked with God, "and there was a veil placed on his face that they might not steadfastly look unto the end of the glory on the face of Moses that passed away" [2 Corinthians 3:13]. The glory that Moses had was temporary. It was to be abolished. It faded away. But the glory that is in the heart and on the face of the child of God is not only for Moses alone – just one – but it is for all of us, and it abides. It never passes away.
Back there in the old dispensation, in the old covenant, the glory of the revelation of God came to just a few of the great mountain-peak characters of the people of the Lord. It would be a Moses. It would be an Isaiah. It would be an Elijah. It would be a David, but the great masses of the people still lived in the valley covered with the mist and the shadows.
But not so in the glorious revelation that comes to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. For the glory of God in Christ is for every one of us, that we all – not just a Moses, not just an Elijah, not just an Isaiah – but the weakest and the most ignorant among us can have the light of the glory of God in his heart, in his soul, in his face, in his life: all of us, all of us! There’s no middle wall of partition now shutting us out from the holy of holies. There’s not any priestly caste [Hebrews 4:14]. There’s not any exclusive class [Galatians 3:28]. We can look full into the holy place of God [Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-22]. The veil has been rent in twain [Matthew 27:51], and all of us are prophets, all of us are priests, all of us are kings [1 Peter 2:9]. All of us receive the full revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 1:13; 2 Peter 1:2-4].
When Simon Peter preached at Pentecost in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, he said: "This is that which Joel the prophet spake, saying, ‘. . . I’ll pour out My Spirit upon all of My people; your sons and your daughters . . . your handmaidens and your servants and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’" [From Acts 2:16-17]. All of us, all of us, mirroring as in a glass the glory of the Lord [2 Corinthians 3:18].
Could I liken what that is? Have you ever been – all of you have – in a beautiful hall, a lovely, spacious home, or a big hotel room? And in the center of the beautiful room, sometimes in a church – I’m thinking of two churches now that I’ve seen – and in the center of the church, hanging down from the ceiling, an enormous and glorious chandelier. Now think of that: that chandelier suspended from the ceiling, and it is surrounded by a myriad of crystals, sparkling crystals, catching the glory of the central light and reflecting it out in a myriad rainbow colors.
That’s what it is to believe in Christ and to be a Christian. No monotonies. A vast and endless diversity as each one catches the glorious central light and reflects it in his own inimitable and characteristic way. And there’s no conflict in diversity. You reflect the glory of the light of Jesus Christ at a certain angle, in a certain way with your personality, and somebody catches that light in a little different way, and someone you, in still a different way, and all of us around the great light of God in Christ reflecting the glory of God in our Savior.
Same thing as in this choir. Each one has a part. Each one has a voice, timbre, color. All of ’em are different, but when they sing their parts, all of it a glorious harmony like the angels sing in heaven. That’s it under this new dispensation – all of us with the glory of God in our hearts shining on our faces [2 Corinthians 3:18] – and not just a Moses who veiled it that they might not see that it was being abolished, that it passed away [2 Corinthians 3:13].
All right the other thing that he says here: "But we all" – all of us – "with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory to glory," on top of glory, "even as God’s Spirit works in us" [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Now the word that he uses there, "as in a glass the glory of the Lord beholding, we are changed:" metamorphoumetha. Now you’re familiar with that word – a "metamorphosis." A metamorphosis is a change. A little caterpillar will go through a metamorphosis when it becomes a butterfly. Metamorphosis: it’s that Greek word metamorphoo.
Now in that seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, why, they use that word describing the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. And while they were there on top of Mount Hermon, the Lord was transfigured [Matthew 17:2] "metamorphosized." That’s the Greek word. The Lord "was transfigured before them; and His face shone as the light, and His garments became white like the sun" [Matthew 17:2]. Now that’s the word that Paul uses here about us [2 Corinthians 3:18]. "We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are metamorphosized" – are transformed, are transfigured – "into the same image from glory to glory, on top of glory, even as by the working power of the Spirit of God."
Now what is that? This is what that is: looking at Jesus, companioning with Jesus, fellowshipping with Jesus, loving the Lord Jesus, praying to the Lord Jesus, looking to Jesus you become like the image of your ideal. The word is present linear action: "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into the same image . . . glory to glory" [2 Corinthians 3:18] – better, better, higher, higher, nobler, nobler, ascending, ascending even as God’s Spirit helps and works in us.
Isn’t that a marvelous thing? Isn’t that a glorious thing? Looking at Jesus, beholding the Lord Jesus, steadfastly looking to Jesus, we ourselves are transfigured. We become like the glorious image of God’s Son. Glory, glory, glory, the light deepens. It brightens. It’s more beautiful. It’s stronger. It’s more radiant. It’s more transcendent. It’s more iridescent – more, more. As we get older, older, older, we are being transfigured into the same image from glory to glory [2 Corinthians 4:16].
Could I say that thing in comparison with us? Self-improvement will never work; never in the world. "I’m gonna reform. I am. I’m goin’ out here and quittin’ my cussin’. I’m goin’ out here and stop my lyin’. I’m goin’ out here and get over that abominable temper. I’m going out yonder, and I’m going to remake my life." And that’s what the world says – a world of reformation.
What does the Bible say? This is what God says: you can’t reform yourself. Self-improvement is temporary and destined to end in defeat [Romans 7:22-25]. But the way to rise from glory to glory is to behold and be like – look at Jesus. Look at Jesus. Looking unto Jesus, beholding as in a glass the face of the Lord Jesus [2 Corinthians 3:18]. And in time, and in time, and in time, you become transfigured into the very image of the Lord Jesus Christ. You become more like Him. As you think of Him, as you look unto Him, as you talk about Him, as you pray in His name, as you walk with Him, as you have fellowship with the Lord, with each passing day you become like the ideal, like the image upon which you look.
You know, I think of several things that emphasize that, illustrate it. I read of a man who noticed that some girls – and I’ve forgotten how the story ran – but they had a marvelous perfume. They just – it was, it was just very much with those girls, and finally he inquired and he found out that they worked in a perfume factory. And no matter how they bathed or how they scrubbed or how they washed or how they dressed, the perfume of the factory in which they worked was in the very pores of their skin. It was in their – it was in the follicles of their hair. It was in their very bodies, and they couldn’t get it out. Well, you wouldn’t want to.
That’s the way it is with Christ. He uses that illustration here – that we are a sweet savour unto God of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus in every place [2 Corinthians 2:14-16]. You know, you can’t talk about odor without it being half funny, but could I say it in a crazy way? You smell like the people you run with. You can’t help it. If you associate with skunks, you smell like a skunk, and you can’t help it. You can’t help it. Now, that’s awful and crude, I know, but that’s what he’s talkin’ about. That’s what he’s talkin’ about. The association around you finally rubs off on you, and you get like the group that you go with [1 Corinthians 15:33; Hebrews 10:24-25]. You can’t help it. God just made you that way.
Now could I illustrate it another way? Take a magnet of iron, a horseshoe magnet. You’ve seen them. Take a magnet and put a piece of iron by it, and just leave it there. Just let them be close together, and pretty soon, this other piece of iron is magnetized. There’s something from the magnet that gets into the very character and molecules of the other piece of iron. It becomes magnetized just by association.
Now may I say it in this third way? I read somewhere – and I cannot remember these things, just reading and studying all the time, but they stay in my mind – I read somewhere a story. And I can’t remember how the story came about, but it was like this. There was a very, very ugly, ugly man – like a Cyrano de Bergerac [1619-1655]. And that’s a poor way to call that illustrious fellow’s name, but, you know, like that. He was a fellow that, oh you know, he had a long bulbous nose: a great character but terrible to look at.
Well, this man – this man was ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, and he fell in love with a beautiful, beautiful girl. Now he wanted to win her heart and her hand, but he couldn’t do it being so ugly, ugly, ugly. So he bought a mask, and he put it over his face. And it was a beautiful man, a handsome man, that he was when he covered his face with the mask. So covered with the mask, he went to woo the beautiful girl. And he was so fine, and he was so handsome, and he was so sweet, and he was so good that she fell in love with him. And he won her hand and her heart, and they were wed.
Now the years passed, and the beautiful man lived beautifully. He acted graciously. He was sweet to his wife and considerate and kind. And in all of his way and demeanor, he acted the man that he saw in the mirror. Looking in the mirror, he was strong, and fine, and handsome, and good, and courtly, and courteous, and everything that a girl would want in a boy.
Finally, after the years of his acting the handsome man, finally he could bear deception no longer. So he said to his wife, "You have not married a handsome man, a beautiful man. I’m ugly, and I wear a mask to cover the ugliness of my life." And he took off the mask to show himself as he really was. And when he took the mask off, there in the presence of his beautiful wife, she looked into his face as he really was and she laughed and she laughed. And not knowing why, he ran to the mirror and looked at the man, and he had become the man with the beautiful face. He had become the man of that ideal. He had become the man that he had lived like for the years of the years.
You do that. You just do. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the same image" – not equal, but in the same image – "glory to glory to glory" [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Why, when people look at me and look at you and say, "You are the sorriest, no count example of a Christian," why, you just look back at them and say, "Listen, brother, you should have seen me before God got ahold of me and how I might have been without Him." That’s the truth. The Lord leads us and helps us, and as the years pass, we grow more like Him. I don’t care how we are. I don’t care how we are. We’d be a thousand times worse had it not been for the image of the face and the glory of our Lord.
Now I mustn’t go on and on, but I want to say that in another way – just one other way. This thing of metamorphosis, of transformation: one of the most interesting of all of the enticing studies in the world of physics is right here – how a thing can be changed and its essential elements never change. It’s just the same, but it’s something else. It’s been changed, but its essential nature doesn’t change.
All right, let’s look at it in several categories. First, in this world of the inert. Here’s a piece of charcoal; and it’s just black and lusterless charcoal, but it’s pure carbon. That same black, lusterless charcoal by heat and by terrific pressure can be made into a sparkling fiery diamond – still pure carbon. One, lusterless charcoal, the other, a flashing gem – both of them pure carbon, just carbon. Ice, cold and frozen: warm it, and it can be water to drink. Warm it more, and it can be steam to drive a locomotive. Warm it a great deal, and it turns into an explosive gas. Isn’t that amazing? Cold, inert ice – great infinite power, but the same thing. Here’s a pile of stone: pulverize it, heat it, put a little lime and soda in it, and it becomes a beautiful window. Opaque, dull stone – transparent glass: the same thing.
In the world of the vegetable kingdom, here’s mud: mud, like a little girl make a mud pie out of; mud, like a boy track in on your carpet at the house; just mud, plain mud. Toss a little seed into that mud, and it’ll borrow from God a power for the summertime, and out of mud, out of the mud, will grow the most beautiful flower that you could ever think of or see.
Same thing with this whole world in which we live. There’s a little nest. Look on the inside of it. There’s a little egg. Look again. There’s a little bird learning how to sing. All of it out of an egg. That little bird is one hundred percent out of that egg. Same thing, but transformed, transfigured, by the glory of the Lord.
And that’s the way with us. The power of God in our lives – the glory that doesn’t fade away, that rises from glory to glory to glory, beholding the face and the life and the light in the Lord Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 3:18]. All of the saints of all time were made out of common stuff just like we are [James 5:17]. Peter one time was a cursing, swearing fisherman [Matthew 4:19, 26:74]. The apostle Paul was a blaspheming Pharisee [Philippians 3:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:12-13]. God changed them, and they grew in the grace and in the glory and in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 2:14-40, 26:1-29].
And that is the transformation that comes to us here in this world here and now [Romans 8:29]. By and by, we’re going to have the transformation of our bodies by and by. In the third chapter of First John it says: ". . . We don’t know how we’re going to be, but we know this that when [He] shall appear, we shall be like Him . . ." [1 John 3:2]. And Paul said in Philippians: "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we are looking for . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall transform these vile bodies that they might be made conformable to His glorious body" [Philippians 3:20-21].
Oh, those promises of the transformation of our corporeal bodies in the world that is to come is great and wonderful! But, my brother, the great transformation really is made here and now. For those glories that are yet to come in the heavenlies are but the issue and the end result of the glories of that transformation right here and right now. My heart is transformed and my life is transfigured by faith in Jesus Christ right now, right now [2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6], and it’s just the end result of that when some day my corporeality is made into the glorious immortality of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:51-53].
The great transformation is here: it’s now; it’s in the faith of the Lord Jesus. "We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Looking to Jesus, trusting in Jesus, believing in Jesus, loving the Lord Jesus, we become like Him: every day a glory, and a glory, and a glory, until someday we’re made fully conformable to the image of our Lord and Master, even Him.
Oh, how could you say it in word and in language this thing that is so much of the heart and of the soul?
Our appeal tonight: somebody you, trusting the Lord, giving your life to Christ, looking to Jesus, beholding Him, finding in Christ all of the strength for the turns and fortunes of every day for all of life. Somebody you, would you come and give your life in faith to Jesus tonight? Would you so? Would you so? Not looking at the preacher, not looking at the church, not looking unto ordinances, not looking unto types and shadows and rituals all of which are to be abolished – they’re fast passing away – but looking unto Jesus, the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus, beholding to be like, trusting Him, would you come? Would you come even as by the Spirit of the Lord? It’s God that works the miracle in you. Would you trust Him tonight? Give your heart in faith, the commitment of your soul to Him. Would you tonight? Or into the fellowship of this church by letter, baptism, as God shall say the word. Somebody you, into the aisle down here to the front: "Here I come, Pastor," a family you, or just one you. While we sing, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE MINISTRATION OF GLORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
A. Paul is contrasting the revelation and faith we have in Jesus and the revelation and faith of God in the old covenant(Exodus 34:29-35)
B. The dispensation of the old covenant like the shining of God from the face of Moses – covered with a veil, fading away, temporary(2 Corinthians 3:7, 13)
1. The old dispensation a partial revelation, found in types, rituals, prophecies; but never complete as in the face of Jesus Christ(2 Corinthians 4:6, John 1:17)
C. The veil of Moses recalls the veil over the hearts of the Jewish people(2 Corinthians 3:14-15)
1. Reading the Old Testament with a veil over their heart
2. Our visit to the ancient synagogues of Safed
II. The glories of the new ministration
A. "We allâ€¦reflecting, mirroring"(2 Corinthians 3:18)
1. In the old dispensation the glory of the revelation of God came to just a few mountain-peak characters
2. Now the glory of God in Christ is before every one of us(Acts 2:16-17)
a. No inner wall of partition – the veil has been rent in twain
b. All of us share in the glory
i. A beautiful crystal chandelier
B. "We allâ€¦changed from glory to glory"(2 Corinthians 3:18)
1. Metamorphoumetha – "are being transformed" (Matthew 17:2)
2. The glory which we behold shines inward, changes us as we look
a. The girls who worked in perfume factory(2 Corinthians 2:14-15)
b. Horseshoe magnet
c. Ugly man falls in love with beautiful girl, wears a mask
3. Fascination in study of physics – how a thing can be changed and its essential elements never changed
a. In the world of the inert – charcoal, water, sandstone
b. In the world of the vegetable kingdom – seeds planted in mud
c. In the world which we live – an egg inside of a nest becomes a bird
4. The transformation of our hearts that comes to us here and now
5. The transformation of our bodies, by and by(1 John 3:2, Philippians 3:20-21)