The Glory That Excels
If you’re a married man, think back to when you were dating. Back then, you gave compliments to your girlfriend for her neatness, her quiet spirit, her cooking skills, or some other quality. When was the last time you gave your wife a compliment in any of those areas?
And ladies, your man was number one. You complimented him on his spiritual leadership, you admired his physical strength, and you thanked him for the courtesy and respect he showed you. Have you complimented him in any of these areas recently?
No, this isn’t a sermon on marriage. So, why do I ask you those questions? To prove that the more familiar we are with something the less likely we are to appreciate it.
Is it dangerous to become accustomed to the things that we use every day? Yes and no. The problem arises when we become so familiar with things of the Lord, that we lose our wonder, our awe, and our appreciation for them. We don’t verbalize it. We don’t say, “I’m just not very much impressed with that anymore.” But what do our lives reveal?
If you and I would’ve lived under the Old Covenant, we would be amazed at the revelation of God in Jesus. Imagine living under the law. It told you what you could and couldn’t do but it gave you no internal power to obey. Think about the annual reminders of your sin on the Day of Atonement and knowing you could never keep the law well enough to be accepted by God.
Then, think about the freedom you received in the coming of the Savior. Think about the joy, hope, and peace rising from within you because now there’s a power that makes it possible for you to live above the law. Think of the newness, the excitement, the desire to tell everyone about this new way of living.
Go with me to II Corinthians 3. In this text, Paul talks about two things, the glory of the old covenant and the glory of the new. And he clearly demonstrates that the glory of the new covenant is “The Glory That Excels.” Listen as I read II Corinthians 3:4-18.
Let’s observe three CONTRASTS that demonstrate “The Glory That Excels.”
I. The Contrast of Letter and Spirit
Paul says God has made us able ministers or competent servants of the new covenant. That competency, that ability doesn’t come from studying the parchments or from technical analysis of the writings. Rather, it comes from the presence of God’s spirit in us.
The text informs us that the letter kills! The word means to kill outright or figuratively, to destroy. Recall how Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” They were so intent on covering every possible angle of interpretation and application that they missed the spirit of the law. That’s why they condemned Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath day! Theirs was a joyless, legalistic, dot the “I” and cross the “T” obedience. Instead of seeing the law as pointing to Christ, they saw the law as an end in itself.
You probably know people who seem to have all the outward signs of knowing God’s Word but have no joy of the Lord radiating from their lives. They need to take Ken Davis’ advice to “lighten up, and live!” To these folks, following the Lord is a duty to be endured, not a voluntary submission to be enjoyed. That’s a danger we all need to guard against!
The contrast is – the spirit gives life! His mind, will, and emotions are transformed. There’s no longer a reliance on performance for acceptance. Now, our acceptance with God is based on a glorious relationship with Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit revitalizes you and me from the inside out. That affects all we are and do!
Obedience is no longer given grudgingly in response to the threat of punishment. I don’t obey because I’m afraid I’ll get caught, that’s law, that’s letter. There’s no freedom in that. Because we now obey the law for conscience’s sake, we can actually live above the law.
Does this new freedom always make it easy to obey? Not necessarily. I’ve had to wrestle with these issues, and you probably have too. How do I obey the command to be separate from the world, and yet recognize that if I isolate myself, that robs me of opportunities to impact others?
If you have the Spirit of God in you, obedience is no longer a duty to be endured but rather a joy to be explored. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom! The spirit gives us the “want to,” because now we are “partakers of the Divine nature.” Think about that, God, the Creator of the universe and Lord of all, lives in you in the person of His Holy Spirit. No longer is obedience enforced from the outside, it is motivated from within. Love is the motivation because we know God loves us and we want to experience the very best He has for us.
Jesus’ coming unlocked the chains of bondage to the law and freed us to live in the spirit! Hallelujah. Truly the Spirit provides a glory that excels!
II. The Contrast of Receding and Advancing Glory
The glory of the old covenant was a receding glory. Glory was present, but it was a glory that began to fade as soon as it was revealed. Moses covered his face because the people could not look at the glory of God reflected on his face after he’d been in God’s presence.
Recall Moses going up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. Exodus 19:16-19 tells us the glory of God descended on the mountain with thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud, with the sound of the trumpet, with fire and smoke, and the whole mountain shook at the presence of the Lord. God’s glory was revealed in this awesome display of power. It struck fear into the hearts of the people. They told Moses, “You go talk with God, we’re afraid of Him.”
When Moses came down from the mountain, he veiled his face because the people saw the reflection of God’s glory in his face and were afraid to come near him. But Paul reminds us that another reason for Moses’ veiled face was that this glory was receding.
Not only was the glory receding from Moses’ face, but the glory of the law was receding from the moment it was given. It brought only condemnation. While it laid out God’s demands for acceptance it also made clear that no human could ever meet those demands. That’s why Paul refers to the Law of Moses as “a ministry of death.” That was true in more ways than one. It was attended by the death of thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices to cover man’s sin.
What was the glory of the old covenant? It revealed the glory of God in his holiness, and, through the sacrifices, gave mankind a way to be accepted by God. The blood of the sacrifices covered the sins of the people. But it was a system that needed replacement if there was ever to be a hope of meeting the righteous demands of the law. There had to be something better.
There was and is – the ministry of the spirit. Paul’s argument is; if the law, written in stone was glorious, even though it could not change the heart motivation, how much more glorious is the ministry of the spirit which revitalizes the understanding and results in a changed life?
Christ’s coming was the beginning of a new era. From the angel’s announcement to Mary right on through His earthly ministry culminating in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the glory became increasingly evident. He promised the disciples that the Spirit would come and glorify Him, adding additional rays of glory. The Spirit came and the glory grew brighter.
Today, every time another person is brought into the family of God more glory is added. Every time we say yes to the Spirit and no to the flesh, the glory increases. And it will continue to increase until the redeemed of all ages gather around the throne of God in heaven to bask in His glory for all eternity. What an awesome reality!
So, the contrast is between the fading glory of the Mosaic Law and the advancing glory that characterizes the new covenant. The coming of Christ was the beginning of this advancing glory. It is surely a glory that excels.
III. The Contrast of Condemnation and Justification
Here is the major contrast that demonstrates the glory that excels. The law is referred to as the ministry of condemnation. Condemnation is judgment; it means to receive an adverse sentence. It means to be pronounced guilty as charged; to suffer the sentence of punishment for your misdeeds. Yet the law, the ministry of condemnation, had a certain glory about it in revealing the holiness of God and his righteous standard.
On the other hand, you have the ministry of righteousness or justification. The definition of justification is not, “just as if I had not sinned.” That’s acquittal, a not guilty verdict. We can’t have that because we are all guilty. Justification is pardon; it is an act of grace. Someone else has taken my sentence and paid the penalty. We are pronounced righteous by virtue of our acceptance of Christ’s righteousness. His righteousness transforms us! No wonder Paul says the law had no glory in comparison to the justification offered in Christ! No one in their right mind would choose condemnation over justification. This is the glory that excels!
This is what we celebrate every year at Christmas. The glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Hebrews 1:3 speaks of Jesus as “the brightness of (the Father’s) glory and the express image of his person.” And Jesus, in John 17, repeatedly refers to His glory and asks the Father to bring those who follow him into greater glory. Paul says in the final verse of this chapter that we gaze openly on the glory of the Lord and are transformed into the same image!
The glory revealed on Mt. Sinai was a fading glory because it didn’t touch the hearts of men. It gave them rules and regulations to follow but gave no transforming power. Because of that, it was a ministry of condemnation. Imagine the frustration of being told to keep the law and being told at the same time that it’s impossible to do it. No wonder Job cried out for someone to go between him and God, to show him how to be accepted by God.
The glory that was revealed at Bethlehem was altogether different. Emmanuel came, “God with us.” The glory displayed in the night sky to the watching shepherds is an advancing glory. That glory grew with the coming of the wise men. It expanded with the revelation of John the Baptist. It was revealed in a short burst on the Mount of Transfiguration. It shook the earth and raised the dead at the crucifixion. The empty tomb and the ascension added more rays, and it took a quantum leap forward with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
It is a glory that continues to grow with each new addition to the family of God as people from every tribe and tongue embrace the glory of the cross. It is a glory that begins as a small spark in our lives and grows and grows until ultimately, we are perfected in His image.
These contrasts demonstrate so clearly the glory that excels. I hope the Lord has been able to use what I’ve said to stimulate your thinking. I hope you have a renewed appreciation for the glory that excels. I pray that your joy in Jesus will be greater because of these truths we’ve meditated on this morning.
Let’s review those contrasts one final time. First, is the contrast of the letter and the spirit. Which one are you living by? Then, the contrast of receding glory and advancing glory. As you look at your own life is it bringing more glory to God each day? And finally, the contrast between condemnation and justification. Is the glory of justification evident in your life? Are you being changed from glory into glory as you behold the face of Jesus?
Let the Lord search your heart as you reflect on those questions.