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Study in 2 Corinthians. Presentation 05. The Glory Of The New Covenant Chap 3v7-18. Presentation 05. Introduction.

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Study in

2 Corinthians

Presentation 05

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The Glory Of The New Covenant

Chap 3v7-18

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Introduction

Which washing powder really washes whitest? We live in a competitive age which compares one product with another, one set of abilities with another … 'its the best..., its the greatest…’, so much so that we can become cynical about such comparisons. However, it would be a mistake to minimise the significant contrast that Paul makes here between the Old Covenant established through Moses and the New Covenant established by Christ. For Paul is not only defending his apostleship and his style of preaching but the very content of his gospel. Were Paul's opponents so preoccupied with some aspects of Judaism that they dismissed the essential glory of the gospel? Paul corrects such folly by a series of five contrasts.

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Letter Versus Spirit

Before looking at the comparisons we ask, “What is a covenant?” The term is still in use today e.g. marriage is referred to as a covenant – a binding commitment or promise. In the N.T. the word used for covenant, 'diatheke', was ordinarily used to describe a ‘last will and testament’. The death of the testator brought the will or, covenant into force. In the O.T. the Mosaic covenant was brought into force through animal sacrifice cf. Ex. 24.8 ... nb. the 'blood of the covenant'.

While in the N.T. we significantly find Jesus using covenant language during the last supper, as he anticipates the cross, 'This is the blood of the [new] covenant. Mk 14.24

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Letter Versus Spirit

What does Paul mean by comparing the Old Covenant as the letter which kills with the life-giving ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant? He is not suggesting that under the Old Covenant there was no salvation. God's grace didn't begin with the coming of Jesus.

Nor were there two different ways of salvation. Some teach that before the coming of Jesus men were saved by law-keeping but after his coming they were saved by grace thus making the law of Moses redundant. Paul repudiates this idea in his epistle to the Romans where he shows that in both the OT and the NT salvation was by grace through faith.

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Letter Versus Spirit

Some believe that the comparison Paul makes at this point highlights the fact that the Old Covenant was not always rightly understood by the Jews. Many Jews considered law-keeping was the way to gain/earn salvation. It was solely a matter of human effort.

The Old Covenant, understood like this, and this was the way Paul was brought up to understand it, and as such it is indeed a dead letter- there is no spirit in it at all. Paul knew all about that! He had experienced that! It was like running into a brick wall.

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Letter Versus Spirit

Of course it is also possible to view the gospel in a legalistic dead-letter way thinking that salvation rests on human effort, by trying! So that the message of God's grace is totally obscured. When you talk about the regenerating work of God's Spirit, or the sanctifying work of God's Spirit, some look at you as if you are from a different planet. They see salvation in terms of keeping a set of rules, 'working your passage to heaven'. This understanding of the gospel is a deadening thing. Legalism is a ‘gospel of demand’ thrashing men and saying, 'give, give, give.' Grace is a ‘gospel of supply’ saying, 'take, take, take'. But this is not the basic thrust of Paul’s comparison?'

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Outward Versus Inward

The second comparison throws light on the first. The mark of the old covenant is ‘external’ while the mark of the new is ‘internal’. Paul is anxious to stress that the imprint of the gospel is not something which is left on the surface of a man’s life. It is not cosmetic. Children sometimes stick transfers on the back of their hand. It stays for a few hours and is gone.

Paul, in comparing the old and new covenants, contrasts something which was written on a tablet of stone [external] with something which was written on a person's heart [internal].

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Outward Versus Inward

The existence of God's law in Israel did not guarantee the transformation of the heart of every Israelite who came into contact with it. The rebellious nature of Israel showed that God's law had no life-transforming effect.

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Jer. 31v31...

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Outward Versus Inward

In the Jeremiah passage God speaks of the superiority of the new covenant. After Pentecost, the believer would be indwelt by the Spirit and God's law, far from being dispensed with, would begin to regulate the life of the believer.

This is not to suggest that God's transforming grace did not operate in the O.T. think of the Psalmist who spoke of his delight in the law of God. Of course there were men and women of faith before the coming of Jesus but their spiritual lives were incomplete. The promise of something greater was yet to come.

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Death Versus Life

In v7 Paul says, that the old covenant ‘ministered death’. In a previous generation our forefathers spoke of the law having a 'killing work'. They recognised that one of the functions of the law was to kill. In Rom.3v20 Paul writes that 'through the law we become conscious of sin'. And in Gal. 3v19 he asks, 'What is the purpose of the law?' to which he replies, 'it was added because of transgressions'.

The law creates a consciousness of sin and heightens that consciousness. It convinces us of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It convicts and condemns, placing us in death row in a prison of despair. There is no peace of mind, as the law ministers death to an uneasy conscience.

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Death Versus Life

The glory of the gospel lies in the fact that the ministry of the Spirit brings life breathing the life of God into our hearts reversing the death sentence passed on us by the law. We leave death row clutching a free pardon in his hand. We also have new resources and can do what we could not do before. Think of a heart transplant patient. Before his operation his lifestyle is limited. He is unable to play sports, drive a car or climb stairs. He is hemmed in. But after the operation he is a new man doing what he could not do before. That illustrates what the new covenant of God's grace does in a person's life. We become new people and have a new life-source with new desires, new capacities, new strength, and are no longer a slave to our sinful nature. Its like living in a new world.'

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Condemnation Versus Righteousness

Paul develops this contrast as he speaks of passing from condemnation to righteousness. For the Christian condemnation is a thing of the past. Imagine a firm that is taken over by another. The new manager is asked what he wants done with the files containing a record of the past misdemeanours of each employee. He replies, 'Throw them out, I don't want to see them, nor do I want you to keep a record of their future mistakes. Not only will I not hold their past against them, I will not hold any future wrongs against them either'. Can you imagine the relief of the office staff. How much greater is the relief of the Christian who is told, ‘God will not condemn you for your past nor hold your future against you'. This is part of the liberty of the children of God.

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Condemnation Versus Righteousness

Imagine living in a world where the moon is your only source of light. When the moon is full you are grateful for all you can see. One day you waken up to something that takes your breath away. The sun has appeared in the sky. For the first time you realise how dim moonlight was in comparison to the sun. This illustrates what Paul is doing here. He is not maligning the old covenant but saying,

'See how much more glorious is the new covenant?'

If the ministry that condemns [the one that published the law] is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness? The brilliance of the moon, has been eclipsed by the brilliance of the Son of Righteousness. The blessing of righteousness to which Paul refers, is the righteousness of Christ with which every believer is clothed.

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Transient Versus Permanent

The final contrast between the two covenants presents the first as transient and provisional while the second is permanent and final. The old covenant was never meant to last, it was not complete or final. If it were then there would be no need for a second. The old covenant was a covenant of promise, the symbolism associated with its ceremonies pointed forward to God’s provision of a great sacrifice for sin, a great priest, a great prophet and a great king. It said, ‘You are presently prevented from having intimacy of fellowship with God, a barrier exists between you but there is a day coming when the barrier will be removed’. It pointed forward to the blessings that would find their fulfilment in Christ, and in his death and resurrection. God has nothing greater to give.

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Transient Versus Permanent

All of the promises of the Old Covenant find their fulfilment in Christ. The New Covenant is the covenant of fulfilment. The shadow becomes a reality. There is nothing brighter waiting just around the corner. The New Covenant is God's last word to the world. It cannot be improved upon or superseded. It has absorbed even the glory of the law, for its great glory lay in the fact that it revealed God's character. In Christ there is a fuller and more comprehensive glory, a greater revelation of God and his grace. Christ therefore is the focal point of the New Covenant.

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Transient Versus Permanent

Paul develops his contrast between transience and permanence by pointing to the experience of Moses when he emerged from the tent of meeting in the wilderness [Ex.34v29-35]. His face shone just as it had done when he came down from Mt. Sinai, but it was a temporal experience of God's grace. The glow faded and Moses covered his face so that the Israelites would not see the fading radiance. Was this because the Israelites might have assumed that the fading radiance implied that the grace and mercy of God came and went? Paul uses this incident to show that the supremacy of the New Covenant lay in the permanent indwelling of the Spirit.

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Transient Versus Permanent

In the O.T. the Spirit came from time to time upon the Lord's servants equipping them for service. He was an occasional lodger in the boarding house of their lives. Under the New Covenant the Holy Spirit becomes a permanent guest who has come to stay. The permanent blessing of the indwelling Spirit had to wait until after the cross and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, the ministry and blessing of the indwelling Spirit is far more glorious than the occasional clothing of the Spirit which characterised the lives of the O.T. saints.

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Transient Versus Permanent

The practical lesson which Paul draws from all of this is clearly set out in v12 “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”Those who are permanently indwelt by the Spirit of God can afford to be bold in their open declaration of the gospel. Paul did not need to make his gospel a hidden mystery or dilute it in some way. He recognised that his gospel could not be surpassed or improved upon. At this point he anticipates an objection; ‘Why do more people not respond to his preaching’? The answer is given in v15ff..

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Transient Versus Permanent

The reason does not lie either, with the inadequacy of the gospel or, with the openness with which it was declared but, with the blindness of the human mind and heart. [In 4v3 Paul will speak of Satan's involvement in this process]. The Jews hardened their hearts and became insensitive to the grace of God in the old covenant, a hardening that had characterised the Jews throughout their history. Theirs was a willing blindness!'There are none so blind as those who will not see'. What was true of Israel in Moses’ day was true of Israel in Paul's and is also true today. The veil on Moses face symbolised the nation's spiritual blindness. Is Paul thinking of the veil that once covered his own mind and the subsequent spiritual understanding which flooded in after his Damascus Road encounter?

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Transient Versus Permanent

Moses removed the veil when he turned to speak to God and the veil covering men's minds will only be removed and their hearts enlightened when they turn to Christ. We cannot argue men into the kingdom. Man’s problem with the gospel is not intellectual but moral and spiritual. Only the Spirit can bring freedom and liberty. When people turn to Christ the scales fall from their eyes by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The chains which had kept them in bondage all their life are now broken as they are brought into the liberty of the children of God, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty’ v17.

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Transient Versus Permanent

When the Old Covenant was brought into being only one man, Moses, saw the glory but now all believers may gaze upon it. Indeed they reflect the Lord’s gloryv18, the verb is literally 'beholding in a mirror'. As we contemplate the person of Christ and read his Word we are transformed. There is an exact correspondence between the Word we read and the indwelling Spirit who inspired it. The written Word and the Spirit recognise one another and respond to one another. As we read and respond to the operation of the Spirit in our lives we are transformed into Christ's image and reflect his glory. The glory the Christian is not an external temporal glory but an inner glow that comes from a life that is being made into the likeness of Jesus. The glory of the gospel is the glory of Christ seen in our lives. What glory!

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