Well, I don’t know how you all are doing, but I’m having a wonderful time in 2 Corinthians Chapter 3. In fact, this is so rich, we may be here till the rapture. Chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians is our study this morning. I want to encourage you to open your Bible, if you will. This is Part 4 in a series, from verses 6 through 18, called “The Glory of the New Covenant.” I don’t know how many parts there will be. There will be more, obviously. This is a treasured section of Scripture, one that we don’t want to take lightly. We want to grasp all the riches as much as we can.
2 Corinthians 3:6-18 is almost like a reduced version of the book of Hebrews. It takes the book of Hebrews, the great concept of the superiority of the new covenant, and just reduces it to this one little passage. And when you get into the passage, you can’t just deal with; you’re forced to expand back out and embrace many things that, as we’ve already noted, are found in the book of Hebrews, as well as elsewhere in Scripture.
From verse 6, down to the end of the chapter, Paul wants to make very clear that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant. The reason that is important is because in the city of Corinth, where he labored so faithfully and planted such a great church, there have come false teachers and false apostles who want to affirm that the old covenant is equal to the new covenant. They want to affirm that the Mosaic ceremonies and the Mosaic rituals and rites must be maintained, that the old covenant is as permanent as the new covenant. It is as eternal, if you will, as the new covenant. It is as important as the new covenant; it is equal to the new covenant.
And so, they are imposing on the simplicity that is in Christ all of the Mosaic prescriptions, from circumcision on, and confusing the people and deluding the simplicity of the Gospel. And we talked about how sacramental and “sacerdotal” – which is another word for priestly kind of ministry – ritual, ceremony, and routine external kinds of things tend to obscure spiritual reality.
Obviously, Paul is defending himself in 2 Corinthians. The whole letter is a defense of his own ministry and his own integrity. And one of the things he uses to defend himself is that he was a minister of the new covenant. He says, in verse 6, that God has made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. And that is by way of contrast to the false teachers who are still ministers of the old covenant.
Paul is saying the new covenant is far better and any true minister of God ministers new covenant Gospel, new covenant truth – not old covenant ritual and legalism. The new covenant is the Gospel Paul preaches. The new covenant is preached by all faithful preachers throughout all of the history of the life of the Church.
And so, as a part of his defense of himself and his ministry, he deals with this issue of the new covenant, “Why would you turn from me, a faithful preacher of the new covenant, to false preachers of the old covenant? Why would you do that when the new covenant is so superior to the old?”
And so, while defending himself as a true pastor, and a true apostle, and a true preacher, and a true teacher, because he teaches the new covenant, he allows us insight into the richness of this new covenant. So, he goes beyond his defense and gets into the theology of the new covenant, even if briefly, certainly richly.
He rejects salvation by works. He rejects salvation by circumcision, by ritual, by ceremony. He rejects those things completely, and he wants us to reject them as well. Salvation is not a matter of ceremony, not any kind of ceremony. It isn’t a matter of ritual; it isn’t a matter of liturgy – no matter what ritual or what liturgy. Salvation is bound up in the new covenant.
What is the new covenant? The new covenant is simply a promise. “Covenant” means promise. The new covenant is the promise of salvation, which means the complete forgiveness of all your sin, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s God’s promise. God promised to take away your sin, remember your sins no more, remove them as far as the East is from the West, completely and totally forgive them because of what Jesus Christ has done on the cross. That’s the new promise; that’s the new covenant; and that’s the new Gospel.
The new covenant and the Gospel are the same thing. Paul says, “I am a Gospel preacher. I am a new covenant preacher, and so is every faithful preacher.”
You say, “Well, what was the purpose of the old covenant?” We’ve covered it in three weeks now, and I won’t go into it again except to say the old covenant had three components: a civil, a ceremonial, and a moral component. The civil component was to prescribe life in Israel in such a unique way, that they were a people sorted out and isolated from the pagan, polytheistic people of their day. It allowed them to live such a unique life, we would call it a “kosher” lifestyle today, which kept them separated from the nations which would pollute them and which would destroy their testimony.
The ceremonial part of the Law, all the symbols and the sacrificial system, and from circumcision on, the Sabbaths and all the feasts and festivals, all related to redemptive purpose. They were always to show the redemptive plan of God – the need of man to be redeemed, and how God was going to accomplish it. So, those were all symbolic. Those were all pictures.
The civil part that identified Israel as a unique nation is set aside because we have one people, Jew and Gentile, in the Church. The ceremonial part was set apart because the pictures fade away when the reality comes, and the reality here is here in Christ.
The third part of the Law was the moral part. That’s the permanent and eternal part, because in the moral Law, God revealed His character and His will for man. But the moral Law can’t save you, anymore than the ceremonial Law could save you; it was only pictures. The civil Law couldn’t save you; it was only a way of life externally.
The moral Law can’t save you either; all it does is drive you to the place where you see your sin for what it is, and in your despair, you rush to God and plead for mercy and grace. And that’s what an Old Testament saint did. That’s what the remnant did. That’s what a true Jew did. He looked at the Law, looked at his life and said, “I can’t keep the Law.” And he cried out for mercy.
The rest of the Jews, sadly, tragically, looked at the moral Law, said, “Well, I can’t keep it very well. I know, salvation is in the ceremonial Law. Because I can’t keep the moral Law, I’ll use the ceremonial Law as a means of salvation.” And that was even worse, because not only did the moral Law kill them, but then they took the letter of the ceremonial Law, imposed it on top of the moral Law, as if it were a saving component, and they were really killed then. The letter of the Law was really deadly. By “letter,” we pointed out that we mean the external ceremonial aspect of it.
God gave the ceremonial part of the Law to show man’s need for redemption through symbols and pictures. God gave the civil part of the Law to isolate His people, for purposes I mentioned to you, to be a witness in the world and not be polluted by easy intercourse with the other nations. God gave the moral Law to break the back of man, to show His will, to show His will for man, and to show a man that he couldn’t live up to it. And all of that would then cast him on the mercy of God, and God, in His grace and mercy, would forgive him through the work of Jesus Christ, symbolized in the sacrificial system.
Now, we’ve gone through all of that. I don’t want to go over any more than just that. Let’s look at our text now. Paul is pointing out the better covenant, which is the new covenant; the superior covenant, which is the new covenant. And in showing that the new covenant is better, he makes eight points to show the surpassing excellence of the new covenant. And in so doing, rejects the old covenant.
First of all, he says the new covenant gives life. And we went into that in verse 6. We’ll not do it again. He says, “–a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The new covenant is a life-giving covenant. The old covenant couldn’t do that. All the Law could do was kill you; it couldn’t give you life. In fact, in verse 7, he calls it the “ministry of death.” The old covenant is a killer. The Law is a killer.
When you read the Law of God, and you look at your own life, you’re dead. Well, what does that mean? Well, you die a kind of living death of shame and guilt and remorse and inability and frustration because you can’t live up to God’s Law. And it also kills you eternally, because you now have violated God’s Law. According to Galatians 3:10, you are cursed. Galatians 3:13, you are cursed. That curse means eternal damnation. So, the Law is a mass murderer. It is the greatest mass murderer of all time. It renders all men doomed and damned, condemned and judged. The Law is a killer, but the new covenant gives life.
Secondly, starting in verse 7, the new covenant produces righteousness. Now, let me read that to you, verse 7, “If the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, 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, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.” Now he makes another very vivid contrast between the Law as a ministry of condemnation, and the new covenant as a ministry of righteousness.
The new covenant brings righteousness. It provides righteousness, and that is a very, very important point. Because by the deeds of the Law, no flesh was made righteous. Right? Romans 3, no flesh was justified before God. You cannot attain righteousness. You cannot satisfy God that you are virtuous, holy, and righteous by your performance. If you break – as I said in Galatians 3, if you break one part of the Law, you’re damned by the Law. It just takes one violation one time and you’re damned. So, it was a ministry of death. It was, as he calls it in verse 9, a “ministry of condemnation.” But it is set in contrast to the new covenant, which is a ministry of righteousness. A ministry of righteousness.
Now, to illustrate the superiority of the new covenant, the Apostle Paul goes to the Old Testament, to one of the most amazing and one of the most unusual and fascinating accounts in all of the Old Testament, found in Exodus Chapter 34. Let’s go back to Exodus Chapter 34. And in particular, we’ll start looking at the text at verse 29.
This is the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai, and it is a fascinating account. Moses, as you well know, was taken up into Mount Sinai by the command of God to receive the Law. He got up there, and he conversed with God, and God gave him the Law. God gave him the prescription which reflected His own nature as holy, and which reflected His will for man. The very Law against which man would be broken and have to come back to God and plead for grace and mercy, which God would give based upon what Jesus Christ would someday accomplish on behalf of the repentant sinner.
But in verse 29, let’s start reading. And Moses had been up in the mountain with God, and you’ll see in verse 28, God had written on the tablets the words of the covenant, which is the Ten Commandments, which is a summarization of the old covenant. “It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses didn’t know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.” Now, he had been up there speaking with God. Now, God is a spirit, and you know that a spirit has not flesh and bone, so a spirit is invisible. But God made Himself visible, and God would make Himself visible by manifesting the glory of His nature in light. We call it the “Shekinah,” which means presence. The Shekinah glory of God appears a number of times in the book of Exodus. In fact, I believe it is an aspect of the Shekinah glory of God that is designated as the cloud and the pillar of fire that by day and by night were leading the people of Israel. You remember when the tabernacle is completed at the end of the book of Exodus, the glory of God, the glory cloud, this cloud of great shining light, representing God, comes down and settles at the place of the tabernacle.
So, when God manifested Himself, He manifested His spiritual presence by reducing all of His attributes to visible light. In a miracle, in a miraculous way, God manifested Himself thusly to Moses. So, Moses, you remember, had gone up into the mountain. Remember he said to God, in Chapter 33, “Show me your glory,” and God said, “I’ll let you see a little of My glory,” and He tucked him in a rock, and His glory passed by? Well, it was that emanating, shining light, which was God made visible. Moses had been with God. And he had been in the presence of God. And when he came down the mountain, he didn’t know, because, of course, he couldn’t see his own face, that the skin of his face shown because of his speaking with Him. He came down, and he was like an incandescent light bulb. He was lit up, shining bright. And when I talk about “bright,” I mean bright.
Verse 30, “When Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; they were afraid to come near him.” They kept their distance because he was glowing. It wasn’t some faint little glow; it was a blazing glow. Blazing to the degree, verse 31, “Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him.” In other words, he called and said, “Come, come, come. Don’t be afraid.”
“– and Moses spoke to them. And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out;” that’s so that he could get more glory on his face, “and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel, told them what God had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.”
Here’s the way he did it. He’d speak with God. He’d come out, his face was like a blazing sun. It was like a small sun. It was blazing. In fact, it was blazing to the degree that people couldn’t look at it. They could look around it and sort of feel the glow and hear the voice, but they couldn’t look directly at it. And then when Moses stopped speaking the direct words of God, he put a veil over his face so that he wouldn’t keep blinding people. Blinding glory. Then when he went back in to speak with God, he could take the veil off. And then when he came back out, he would speak with the veil off, and then when he was through speaking, he’d put the veil back on.
Now, what in the world is going on here? Well, the analogy that Paul wants to draw out of this, the illustration that Paul sees here, is an illustration of the glory of the Law. Let’s go back to our text, and we’ll see that.
Verse 7, “But if the ministry of death,” the old covenant, the Law, “engraved on stones,” those tablets, “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,” stop there for a moment. There’s the point. When Moses came down from the mountain, where he had met with God and received the Law, he bore on his face the very glow of God, the very glory of God, the Shekinah. The closest thing you would find in the Scripture to a parallel to this would be in Matthew 17. You remember the Lord was transfigured? Only when the Lord was transfigured and was shining so brilliantly, He scared the people who were there. You remember the disciples who were there fell over in a dead faint? The difference was that the Lord Jesus pulled back the flesh, and the glory came from the inside. In the case of Moses, the glory was reflected on the outside. Moses was like the moon in that sense; he had reflected glory.
But you’ll notice, 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.
When God gave the Law, Moses came down bearing it, it was with glory. In fact, so much glory that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory on his face. He was shining so bright, and the Shekinah was so great, that they couldn’t look “intently.” That verb means to fix on, or to gaze at, or to stare at.
Now, you can go out on a day like today, a warm day, or when the sun comes breaking through, and it’s brilliant, and you know it’s there, and you can feel it, and the glow of it is very clear to you. And if somebody comes over to your house this afternoon and says, “I want to take your picture,” you stand there, and you squint, and you understand all that. And yet you’re not looking at the sun, because if you look at the sun, you’ll go blind. So, you look around it, below it, to the side of it, but you feel that glow.
That’s exactly what was going on here; they couldn’t stare at the face of Moses. And this is Moses; they knew this guy, and he’d never looked like this before. Something very glorious had happened. Something very transcendent had happened, namely the giving of the Law in the presence of God. The glory was so brilliant, so shining, so great, that it would be like staring into the sun, and they couldn’t even look at his face. That’s why when he was through speaking the words of the Lord and just wanted to have some normal communion with the people, he put a veil over his face, because otherwise, he would have blinded them.
Paul’s point is that the Law came with glory from God, and that glory was apparent to everybody who saw Moses come down the mountain, and to everybody else who reads the record. The ministry of death was glorious because it reflected the will of God, the nature of God, the character of God, the glory of God. But even though it had a glory, it had a limited glory, because it was from God, yes, but it was a killer. It came from God – please notice verse 9 – as a ministry of condemnation, not as a ministry of salvation. It was a killer. It was designed to bring sinners to the knowledge of their sin. It was a tutor to lead us to Christ. It was bondage that shut us up – Galatians 3, Paul says that.
The old covenant, with its civil and moral and ceremonial Laws could only command; it could only illustrate; it could only symbolize. It couldn’t give life, and it couldn’t produce righteousness. It was deadly, and particularly when reduced to letter, which is different; it’s not a synonym with Law. You can see that in Romans 2:27-29. It was a killer, but it did have a glory. It was designed by God; it did come from Heaven. It was God’s will.
Now, if that was true, that the old covenant had glory, look at verse 8, “– how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” 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.
So, this covenant is so much better than the old covenant, “–how,” he says, “shall it fail to be even more with glory?” That’s an obvious conclusion. And as I’ve been saying all along, and I don’t want you to miss it – and several people have asked this question – as I’ve said all along, the Old Testament saint, the person who was a genuinely saved individual in the Old Testament, was saved because he was broken over the Law, and knew he couldn’t keep the Law, and knew he was a sinner, and came to God and pleaded for mercy and grace and forgiveness from God. He came as a penitent, hungry and thirsting after righteousness, meek and mourning over his own iniquity just like the Beatitude attitude of Matthew Chapter 5, and he pled with God to be merciful to him, a sinner, just like the publican beating on his chest, because he knew God to be gracious and merciful. And God was merciful and was gracious to a penitent sinner, and forgave him all his sin based upon what Christ would accomplish on behalf of that sinner yet in the future.
And that’s how salvation worked. It’s never been any different; it’s always been by grace through faith, based upon the work of Christ, whether it was before Christ’s work or after it. When an Old Testament Jew was saved by grace through faith, all of a sudden that Law, that moral Law which once was a killer to him, became a path of blessing, and he had an attitude like David in Psalm 119, who says, “Oh, how I love thy Law. I delight in it. I meditate on it all the time.” All of a sudden, instead of the Law being a killer, the Law was a path of life and blessing, sweeter to him than honey in the honeycomb and more precious than gold. It wasn’t that his attitude toward the Law saved him; it was that his salvation changed his attitude toward the Law.
Then verse 9, the argument from the lesser to the greater, “For if the ministry of condemnation has glory,” if the Law which damns and kills has glory, “much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.” Here the ministry of death is given another name: the ministry of judgment, the ministry of doom, the ministry of damnation, the ministry of condemnation. The old covenant had a glory; it did have a glory. It was from God. And when Moses came down from the mountain, there was a glory on his face.
Now, if that deadly, killing, damning, dooming old covenant had a glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. What’s the ministry of righteousness? That’s just the new covenant. The new covenant. It has an abounding glory because it produces righteousness.
Go back to Romans 3:21. In verse 20, Paul says, “By the works of the Law, no flesh will be made righteous, no flesh justified, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” But look at verse 21. Now he says, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifest,” the Law witnessed to it, as the prophets did; they saw the new covenant coming, but the righteousness of God is manifested, verse 22, “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” The Law could never provide righteousness. Righteousness came through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
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.
Let me give you a good illustration of this. Turn to Philippians Chapter 3, and let’s use Paul as the illustration. One of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. Paul knew that the old covenant came with glory, but anybody coming around, preaching the old covenant as a means of salvation, was the enemy of the Gospel. You got that? Anybody preaching the old covenant as a means of salvation is the enemy of the Gospel.
In fact, in verse 2 of Philippians 3, Paul calls the kind of preachers “dogs, evil workers – beware of the false circumcision.” Anybody who says that circumcision or Mosaic ceremony – or any of that, or even achieving a certain level of morality according to the Law – saves is a dog and an evil worker. Dogs, by the way, were scrounges, mongrels. Dogs were outcasts, dirty, filthy. They ate the garbage. They were spoken of with derision in ancient times. “Like dogs,” says Peter, “who go back and lick up their own vomit.” They were curs, running wild in the street. And that’s what he says of those who preach old covenant as a means of salvation, or as a cooperating element in salvation.
But let’s look at Paul. And if ever there was a guy who was under the old covenant, it was Paul before his conversion. And not only was he under the old covenant, but he was a Letterist. He was trying to get saved by maintaining the letter of the Law, the externals. Let’s look at it. He says – look, verse 4 – “I myself might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.”
“I’ll stack up my fleshly achievements with anybody. If we’re going to get saved by the flesh, if we’re going to get saved by the deeds of the Law, if we’re going to get saved by human effort and ceremony and ritual and routine and all that stuff, I’ll put my credentials against anybody’s.
“Here they are: I was circumcised the eighth day. That’s the prescription, and I had that. My parents put me through that. I was born of the nation of Israel, the chosen people. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin, one of two of the noblest tribes that were faithful – Benjamin and Judah – when the kingdom was divided. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”
What does that mean? “I never violated my tradition. I hung in there.” Today we would say he was an Orthodox Hassidic. Never was compromised in his tradition. He was traditional. He followed the tradition to the very letter. “As far as the Law, I wasn’t just committed to the Law, I was a Pharisee.” About 6,000 of them were in the world at that time, and they were fanatical; they were bizarre in their dealings with the minutiae and the trivia of the Law. He chose to be as deeply under the letter of the Mosaic covenant as he could possibly be.
And he goes so far as to say, “Anybody who violated anything in that covenant, anybody who ever came along and said there was something better than that old covenant, those people, called Christians, I persecuted. That’s how zealous I was for old covenant. As far as the righteousness which could be achieved in keeping the Law, I was without blame. Every single thing I could do, according to the Law, I did it. And there isn’t anybody who can come against me and say, ‘You’re to be blamed for this.’” He was fastidious.
Here you have a Letterist. I don’t think he was even saved. I don’t think he was even redeemed. Because he was counting on all of that. And I don’t think that he had yet come to the place of Romans 7, where the Law revived. He saw the reality of what it meant, and it killed him. That happened somewhere around the Damascus road experience, when he saw himself for what he really was.
But look at this, when it happened. Verse 7, he says, “All that stuff was gain to me. I had accumulated all of that in the gain column. That was my salvation, friends. I was going to get righteousness by the Law. And then I saw Christ, and immediately, when I saw Christ, I counted all that stuff as” – what? – “loss.” “More than that,” verse 8, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. And I’ll tell you what you can do with the whole old covenant, you can just put it in the rubbish pile.” Now, he’s not depreciating God’s moral Law; he’s just saying looking at the old covenant as a means of salvation.
Do you know what it means to be circumcised the eighth day as far as salvation’s concerned? Nothing. You know what it means to be of the nation of Israel as far as salvation is concerned? Nothing; salvation is not by ritual, and it’s not by race. You know what it means to be in the tribe of Benjamin? Nothing; salvation is not by privilege. You know what it means to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews? Nothing; salvation’s not by tradition. You know what it means to be a Pharisee, keeping the Law? Salvation is not by religious observance. You know what it means to be a zealous persecutor of the Church? Nothing; it’s not by zeal, and it’s not by external morality. None of that is anything. It is all skubalon. By the way, that’s a word for human excrement, or any excrement. The vilest stuff. He said, “I looked at that stuff, and it was rubbish, trash, filth.”
You say, “Why are you so quick to junk all that?”
Verse 9, “Because when I saw Christ, I was found in Him, not with a righteousness of my own, derived from the Law, but a righteousness which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Boy, what a definitive statement. “I saw what I always wanted – righteousness – but it was in Christ, and it was by faith, not in the Law by works. And so, that’s rubbish. It’s rubbish.”
Yes, the old covenant has a glory. Go back to 2 Corinthians 3. The old covenant has a glory, but nothing like the glory of the new covenant. In fact, look at verse 10, “For indeed what had glory,” that is, the old covenant, “in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it.” So, when you look at the old covenant in comparison to the new covenant, it’s as if the old covenant had no glory. That’s his statement. That which had glory – the old covenant – when you compare it with the new covenant, which has such a surpassing glory, it appears to have no glory. And you look at it, and you say, “Rubbish.”
Paul says, “Don’t you dare accept some Judaistic, circumcision, esoteric religion. Don’t you dare opt out for some ceremonialism that corrupts the simplicity that is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There’s so much glory in the new covenant, the old covenant appears to be nothing. Nothing.”
You say, “Well, is God’s moral Law still important?” Sure it is. ‘Cause God’s moral Law is still the – is still the rock which has to break the sinner’s back. And we have to preach that Law and uphold that Law. And by the way, the moral Law is repeated in the New Testament. Right? The civil Law is set aside. No more Israel. Gentiles and Jews are made one. Ceremonial Law is set aside. No more Sabbaths and new moons and feasts and sacrificial system. The temple’s destroyed. No more sacrifices, no more Sabbaths; that’s gone. But the moral Law is repeated and recited and reiterated in the New Testament, and it is again reiterated and brought to the face of the sinner to show him his sin.
But the old covenant, if it was all by itself, would be absolutely useless. Even the virtuous reflection of the holiness of God is useless to save. The new covenant comes, and by grace, through faith, provides what the old covenant couldn’t give.
And again, I repeat to you – see, that is why sacramental sacerdotal, which means priestly, kind of religion, like the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Liturgical Protestantism, with all of the stand up, sit down, light the candles, bow down, do this, genuflect, go here, do that, all of that externalism, all that ceremonialism is a corruption. And as I told you last week, it isn’t even biblical to start with. At least the Judaizers had a covenant that had some glory, though it was a fading glory. The concocted evangelical – I should say the concocted Christian ceremonialism doesn’t even have a biblical precedent; it never did have any glory; so, it is a non-glorious approach. Stay away from all of it. All you need is grace and faith in Christ, the simplicity of Christ, and a personal relationship made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the heart.
Now, the Apostle makes a third point. Okay? We’ll just get into this third point, and we’ll be done for this morning. The superiority of the new covenant is based upon the fact that it gives life and produces righteousness. Thirdly, it is permanent. Look at the end of verse 7. The new covenant is permanent. You’ll notice this is a fascinating point that he makes. 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. Same verb is used in 1 Corinthians 2:6, translated “passing away.” The glory of the Law is thus illustrated by that, in Paul’s mind. He sees an analogy to the glory of the Law. He sees a purpose of God in that wonderful story to show us that though it had a glory, it was a fading glory; it was a passing glory. The Law was no permanent answer. The Law was no final solution. The Law was never intended to be the last word on the plight of sinners. The Law never could save. It can’t be the last word.
I remember on one occasion, when I was in Israel, many years ago, and I stayed in a hotel right adjacent to a synagogue, my room was right about as far as I could reach my arm to touch this synagogue, and it was on Shabbat, and they were having this worship, and I heard it hour after hour after hour. And, of course, the realization that these people are locked into the old covenant. They will not allow the new covenant; they will not tolerate it. And if you introduce it to them, they become violently aggressive and agitated about it in their rejection. And you want to say to them, “But – but – but the Law was never the last word on the plight of sinners; it can’t save.”
It was never to be the full, final revelation of God’s redemptive purpose and the means by which righteousness could be provided. It only pointed to something greater. It was not adequate; it was permanent. It could prescribe what men ought to do, but it couldn’t enable them to do it. 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 purity. Something 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 contrast is between what is transitory and passing and what is lasting and eternal. What Moses stood for was glorious but passing away. The day was bound to come when it’s splendor would vanish. The new covenant, however, comes with a pledge of eternality. The new covenant doesn’t fade away.
Look at what the text says in verse 10, “For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.” You want to hear some good news? There was an old covenant, and a new covenant, and we’re not waiting for a new new covenant. This is the end; this is permanent. The new covenant is the last word: salvation by grace through faith.
The ministry of death and condemnation had a glory. It was designed by God. It was holy, just, and good. It established the standard of righteous, and for believers, for those forgiven by God and saved, it was a path of blessing. But the New Testament has a greater glory. The new covenant has a greater glory. And without the new covenant, the old covenant would have just catapulted the whole human race into Hell.
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 sin. You’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.
So, indeed, what had glory, the old covenant, in this case appears to have no glory when compared with the new. Now verse 11, and we’ll close with this, “For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.” Moses had the glory on his face, and it would just fade ‘cause it wasn’t coming from the inside; it was just a reflection. As long as he was in God’s presence, it was reflecting, but it faded away. But that which remains has a permanent glory.
The new covenant remains because it is the consummation of God’s plan and is the most glorious. It is the final word. The Gospel is the final word. There’s no other word; this is it. It isn’t the Gospel – it isn’t the old covenant, the new covenant, plus tradition, plus Mary Baker Eddy Patterson Glover Frye, plus the Book of Mormon, plus, plus, plus. New covenant ministry is all that is needed. Gospel is all that is needed clearly in the New Testament. That’s why at the end of the book of Revelation it says, “You add anything to this, and it shall be added to you the plagues that are written in it.”
New covenant ministry will continue and never be replaced because there’s no more to do; there’s no more to say. It’s all been done in Christ. He has accomplished once/forever the redemption of His people. There is no higher truth; that’s it. Oh, we’ll get new understanding of the richness of the Gospel as we grow, but we’ll never get beyond the Gospel. We’ll never get beyond the new covenant; there’s nothing beyond it. We’re not sitting around, waiting for testament number three to drop.
The false apostles and the false teachers in Corinth boasted of the antiquity of their teachings, and they boasted that they had the advantage of Mosaic ceremony. And Paul demolishes their bright temple facade and proves it’s nothing more than a disguised dungeon. And the minister, or the preacher, or the new covenant brings the right message – a message of hope and a message of righteousness – not a message of condemnation. We don’t need some kind of mystical religion. We don’t need some kind of exotic ceremonies that convey spiritual reality. We have reality in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul cries for men who will carry not the message of stones, but the message of the cross; not the message of Sinai, but the message of Calvary. He’s warning the Corinthians to shed the Judaizing ceremonialists; those who are preaching esoteric religion; the teachers preaching Sinai, external Law, and symbols – the dry rot of religiosity.
A. T. Robertson has an interesting comment on this section. He says, “Love of the external killed the inner life and crucified Jesus of Nazareth for His emphasis on the spiritual life and rebuke of the mere ceremonialism of the Scribes and Pharisees.”
Stephen went the way of Jesus when he rebuked the Pharisees for their perversion of real religion and sought to give the spiritual interpretation of the kingdom of God as expounded by Jesus. Paul turned from persecuting Pharisee to spiritual interpreter of Jesus and took the place of Stephen, in whose death he had rejoiced.
Jesus and Stephen fought official Pharisaism in the current Judaism. Paul took up the battle with Pharisaism within the Christian fold, which was seeking to put the fetters of their perverted Judaism upon the Christianity of Jesus. “The one hope of rescue,” he writes, “for the soul of man was in jeopardy.” Paul’s soul was stirred to its depths, and he met the issue with all the force of his nature. He is in the thick of the fight, with these Judaizing Christians who are attempting to destroy spiritual Christianity, when he draws the contrast here between Judaism and Christianity. The battle between the bondage of legalism and spiritual Christianity has never ceased. Paul set up his standard in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. Martin Luther took it up hundreds of years afterwards and, “The peril is always real,” end quote.
The superiority of the new covenant then: it gives life; it produces righteousness; it is permanent. More to come next time. Let us pray.
Father, we thank You again for Your truth so clear and so potent; powerfully does it speak to our hearts. Father, we just ask that You would reach out to every life here with Your Spirit and bring life, produce righteousness. Save, Lord. Save sinners. Produce repentance, generate contrition. May everyone here who doesn’t truly know the Savior come with an eager, penitent heart, seeking forgiveness by grace, through the provision of Christ on the cross. We thank You that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that You can extend grace to us who believe. Grant faith, grant grace, grant salvation, Father, we pray, to every needy heart. And, O God, how we thank You that we don’t have to be trapped in the bondage of legalism, but that we can enjoy the freedom of faith, the blessing of grace through Christ. Amen.