February 27th, 2022 homily on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 by Pastor Galen
When I was a child, I used to love those toys or objects that would glow in the dark. You remember what I’m talking about, right? You would hold these objects up to a light bulb for a while, or shine a light directly onto them, and then when you turn the lights off the toy would keep glowing.
I had a little glow-in-the-dark card that I think I got as a prize in a cereal box. It looked just like a plain white card, but you could put different objects on it – like paperclips, or pennies, and hold it up to the light, and then when you turn the light off the card would glow in the dark except for in the places where those objects had been on the card and blocked out the light. You could make all sorts of cool different designs and silhouettes with it. And I know that these glow in the dark toys still exist because my kids recently put together a puzzle that glowed in the dark.
But the thing with glow-in-the-dark toys is that they are do not actually have a source of light in and of themselves. They simply capture and release light from a real light source. How they work is that they contain a substance called phosphor, which soaks up the energy from the sun, or another source of bright light, and then radiates this energy as light. Until, of course, all of the energy is gone, and then you need to bring it back into the light so it can soak up more energy if you want it to glow again.
Glow in the Dark Moses
In Exodus 34 after Moses met with God and received the Ten Commandments, it seems that his face contained phosphors because his face was glowing! When he came down from the mountain, there was literally light radiating forth from his skin. The Bible says that his face was shining – so much so that the people were afraid to even come near him!
Can you imagine this happening? Imagine that you turned to the person next to you and their skin started to glow? Or imagine that every time you came to church, or read your Bible during your morning devotions, you had such a profound and transformational encounter with God that it made your face radiate light!
For Moses this didn’t just happen once. It seems that every time Moses would enter into God’s presence he would emerge with his face glowing. Every time he encountered God, Moses would glow in the dark, and in the light! God is so bright, God’s love is so powerful, God’s justice and righteousness are so all-encompassing, God is so glorious, that every time Moses would encounter God’s glory, he would literally capture some of that energy and begin to glow. And everyone around him could see it.
It got to the point that Moses began to cover up his face with a mask so that he wouldn’t scare people! He would take off the mask when he was in God’s presence and when he was proclaiming God’s words to the people, but then he would put his mask back on so that the people wouldn’t be afraid.
Just imagine what it would be like to have to wear a mask over our faces – not to prevent the spread of COVID – but so that we wouldn’t scare other people with the light emanating from our faces because we had spent so much time with God!
The Law and the Spirit
In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul has an interesting take on all of this. Earlier in chapter 3, Paul contrasted the hope that we have in Christ to the law that was given by Moses. In verses 7 to 9 he says,
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! (2. Cor. 3:7-9)
Paul is basically saying that if Moses’s face radiated light after receiving the Law, which, among other things, included long lists of punishments for wrongdoing, then how much more should we, who have have experienced redemption and restoration through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and who have the Holy Spirit living inside us, radiate God’s glory to those around us! The commandments told us what we needed to do to avoid death, but Jesus came to bring eternal life! How much more glorious is that?
Unveiling the Truth
Paul goes on to say, though, that for people who haven’t heard about Jesus, it’s like a veil has been placed over their minds, preventing them from seeing the fullness of God’s glory.
And we see this in our world today. Many people have a distorted or truncated understanding of who God is. They think that God is unloving, unjust, that God hates them, or that God would never accept them because of who they are or what they’ve done.
Some of these people grew up around very religious people. But maybe they only ever heard the “Thou Shalts” and the “Thou Shalt Nots”. Maybe the religion they grew up with was essentially just a list of rules. Others never went to church, and their only experience with Christianity has been what they’ve seen on TV or what they heard about in the news. No wonder so many people have a distorted understanding of God!
But Paul says that “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor. 3:16). In other words, knowing Jesus is central to knowing and understanding who God is. And verse 17 says that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
It’s only through Jesus that we can experience true freedom. It’s only through Christ that we can truly see and understand who God really is. This fits with what Jesus said about himself in John 14:9, where he said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In Col. 1:15 we read that, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” and the author of Hebrews tells us that “[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3).
In other words, Jesus is the clearest picture that we have of God. If we want to know what God looks like, then we have to look at Jesus! Once we turn to the Lord and see Jesus for who he is, then the veil is removed from our minds, and we can see God in all of God’s glory.
Glow in the Dark
And then Paul goes on to say in verse 18, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
In other words, when we turn to the Lord and truly know and understand who Jesus is, then we become transformed into glow-in-the-dark people that reflect God’s glory to others!
But Paul says in this sense we should NOT be like Moses – We shouldn’t hide God’s glory! Rather, we should “act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside” (2. Cor. 3:12, 13). In other words, if we’ve experienced the transforming love of Jesus, then we should let our lives glow with the light of Christ so that others can see God’s glory reflected in us!
So How Do We Do This?
So how do we do this? How do we shine forth God’s love?
#1 First of all, in order for us to radiate Christ’s love, we have to continually enter into God’s presence and be reenergized if we want to glow in the dark. This is one of the reasons we come to church every Sunday. We gather together to be refreshed and recharged, to encourage one another, to worship God, and to hear God’s Word together so that we can go forth and glow during the week.
It’s also why we need to set aside time to spend with Jesus regularly throughout the week. If you don’t already have a habit of doing so, I would encourage you to carve out some space each day just to be in God’s presence. You can read the Bible, listen to a hymn or praise song, read a Christian book, or listen to an encouraging or uplifting word. And then take some time to respond to God in prayer. The beautiful thing about praying to God on your own is that you can say whatever you want to God! You don’t have to worry about what you’re saying or how you’re saying it — God already knows your heart. It’s important just to spend time regularly in God’s presence. If you don’t have a regular habit of doing this, the season of Lent (which begins this Wednesday and marks the 40 days leading up to Easter) can be a great time to start.
#2 When you come into God’s presence — either in church or at home by yourself, ask God to transform and illuminate your heart and mind.
God’s love is unconditional, and God reaches us right where we are. But God loves us too much to let us stay trapped in cycles of sin and despair. God wants to continually heal and redeem and restore us, to free us from the things that keep us captive so that we can experience true joy and freedom. As Paul says, “we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
This is why in church each week we pray a prayer of illumination, asking God to reveal God’s truth to us. We want God to transform us, to change us more into the image and likeness of Jesus, so that we then radiate God’s love to the world around us.
#3. Look for every opportunity to radiate God’s love to others.
Some Christians seem to think that their sole purpose in life is to point out everyone’s flaws, to tell them how wrong they are and how God is going to punish them someday. But I find that many people already know that they’re not perfect. They already know that they’re not good enough to earn God’s favor. What many people DON’T know is that God loves them, that God is waiting to welcome them home, that God’s healing and grace and mercy is available to all. And it’s our responsibility to tell them, to point them to Jesus throughout our words and our deeds.
Jesus said in his famous Sermon on the Mount “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16 NRSV). We do good things for others, not to show how wonderful we are, but rather to point people to the glorious nature of God, and of Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.
So let’s glow in the dark! Let’s be people who shine forth God’s love. Let’s continually enter into God’s presence so that we may be transformed into people who continually radiate God’s light to others. Let’s surprise our friends and our neighbors with how loving and generous and kind Christians can be, and let’s point them to Jesus, the Source of all love. Let’s not hide God’s glory, but rather let’s shine forth God’s glory for all the world to see.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace. (United Methodist Hymnal 349)