2 Corinthians 3:15 – 4:6
Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
One more pressing topical message before I return to the exposition of Romans 7 next week, Lord willing. At least four things precipitate this message.
- First is the coming of summer with its golden outdoor opportunities for seeing and showing Christ to those who don't trust him or treasure him, and especially the planned "Behold Your God" evangelistic campaign of Jews for Jesus coming in August.
- Second is the visit of the Dalai Lama recently to the Twin Cities and the way some of the mainline clergy responded to him as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
- Third is the arrival last week of the book we would like to give you this morning, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, and how it relates to these other two events.
- Fourth is the message of 2 Corinthians 3:17 to 4:6: that seeing and believing and treasuring the historical, crucified, risen, and living Jesus Christ is the way to be transformed into his image and bear fruit for God.
Summer Is for Seeing and Showing Christ
Bethlehem has always seen summer as uniquely designed by God in Minnesota for more personal evangelism than we may do in the winter when we all hide away in our igloos because of the cold. We are outside with people in the yard and on the streets and in the parks. So we try to go outside with some of our services on Sunday and Wednesday. And we do backyard Bible clubs, sports camps, etc. And this summer, Jews for Jesus is bringing their "Behold Your God" campaign to Minneapolis (and 60 other cities in the world with the largest population of Jewish people) in August, and will be on the streets and on the phones with the message that Jesus Christ is the hope of Israel and all other peoples.
The Controversy Upon Us
Now this is highly controversial in the pluralistic atmosphere of progressive Minneapolis. For example, when Bethlehem hosted the "Jewish Evangelism Seminar" back in March in preparation for the "Behold Your God" campaign we received a letter of protest and warning signed by the senior ministers of the nine large Protestant and Catholic churches near downtown Minneapolis. The protest went like this: "We feel that efforts by Christians to convert Jews are counter-productive, injurious to Christian-Jewish relations, and contrary to the true spirit of Christ" (letter dated 03-9-01).
In an earlier letter from some of the same group, the point was made even more forcefully: "Unfortunately, 'arrogant' is the right word to describe any attempts at proselytizing – in this case the effort of Christians to 'win over' their Jewish brothers and sisters. Thoughtful Christians will disassociate themselves from any such effort" (letter dated 10-12-99).
To dissuade us from participating in the Jews for Jesus campaign, or from any Jewish evangelism at all, a warning was added in the recent letter from these nine downtown churches: "In the event of a city-wide conversion campaign, please know that we will respectfully bur forcefully make public our concerns in every way available to us. Obviously dialogue before that time would be invaluable in maintaining the peace of the church and strength of our shared mission."
I have attended the Sunday morning worship service of the minister who drafted that letter, and I have taken him to lunch. Following that I met for breakfast with one of the most influential Rabbis in the city. Well, what is behind this protest and this warning? Rather than going into details about those personal conversations, let me clarify by referring to the coming of the Dalai Lama and how some clergy and churches responded.
The Response of Clergy to the Dalai Lama
I think the gathering of seven local clergy with the Dalai Lama at Northrop Auditorium exemplified the worldview behind these letters (see summary article in the StarTribune, 05-19-01, p. V9). The Dalai Lama is "the spiritual . . . leader of 6 million Tibetans, who believe him to be the 14th earthly incarnation of the heavenly deity of compassion and mercy" (05-19-01, http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/ND97/thurman.html). He said, "All religions have the same potential to serve humanity. . . . All religions carry the same teaching, same goal, same potential." This is the basic attitude of pluralism in Minneapolis today, even among many mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy. Since all religions are that similar and have the same goal and potential, it is arrogant of any one of these religions to mount a campaign to convert people from other religions.
Specifically it is arrogant – and offensive – to present Jesus Christ to Jewish people with the hope and prayer that they would see him as their Messiah (which is what "Christ" means) and believe on him for the forgiveness of their sins and for the hope of eternal life. This was made very clear to me by the Rabbi. God saves Jewish people without Jesus, and he saves Christian people through Jesus. God has multiple covenants with multiple religions.
The Effort to Sever the Fruit of Love from the Root of Truth
One thing is common to the pluralistic message of Buddhism and Judaism and the letters we have received, namely, the effort to sever the fruit of love from the root of truth. Or to be more specific: the effort to build unity around a social agenda of good works with no necessary connection to Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. In other words, Christians are welcome at the table of interfaith dialogue if they abandon the historic Christian faith that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). But if this is what we believe, we are not welcome, because this, they say, is not dialogue but proselytism, and it is arrogant.
Thus one of the Muslim Imam at the Northrop gathering said, "Converting people to one religion or another should not be our main objective . . . Our goal, should be to make the world a better place by using our various religions to improve the world so that God will be pleased with us." In other words, we should abandon any convictions that there is a necessary connection between Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of sinners. That forgiveness (if it were necessary) and that transformation are possible in all religions. The fruit of reconciliation with God and man and the root of Christ's person and work are severed. That is the essence of the matter. We are not welcome to the table if we bring the conviction that all people of every religion must trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of eternal life.
Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
Now what does this have to do with the new book and with 2 Corinthians 3 and 4? The book is called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. It's the first book I have written specifically about Jesus. And I wrote it with both believers and unbelievers in mind. It is made up of 13 very short chapters (about seven pages each).
- The Ultimate Aim of Jesus Christ
- The Deity of Jesus Christ
- The Excellence of Jesus Christ
- The Gladness of Jesus Christ
- The Power of Jesus Christ
- The Wisdom of Jesus Christ
- The Desecration of Jesus Christ
- The Anguish of Jesus Christ
- The Saving Sacrifice of Jesus Christ
- The Mercies of Jesus Christ
- The Severity of Jesus Christ
- The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Essentially it is an effort to give a faithful, Biblical portrait of Jesus so that believers and unbelievers can look at it. Behind this approach is my conviction that people come to authentic, well-grounded faith not primarily by long, involved, historical arguments for the reliability of the Bible (though these are very important; see p. 131, note 3 in the book), but by the compelling power of the glory of Jesus Christ as he vindicates his own person and work set forth in the Bible. My prayer is that God will take this little, Bible-saturated book – this small portrait of who Jesus is and what he did – and use it to open the eyes of many to see and savor Jesus Christ.
Four Ways to Respond to Those Who Reject Jesus as the Only Way
How should we respond to Jewish people and Muslims and Buddhists and liberal Protestants and Catholics who do not embrace the Jesus of the Bible as the unique and only way to God?
We should respond in five ways:
- First, we renounce all violence. True Christians, in spite of much deplorable Christian history, do not take up the sword to spread or to defend their faith in Jesus Christ. We repudiate all hate crimes and all mean-spirited attitudes toward other faiths.
- Second, we honor all human beings as created in God's image. That is why we believe in persuasion with words, not coercion with force. Animals may be beaten into submission, but not human beings created in God's image. We write, we speak, we plead. As Paul said, "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).
- Third, we love our friends and our enemies by longing and working for their eternal good – and being willing to suffer for it. We know that we are sinners saved by the grace of God in Christ. But we do not believe it is arrogant to offer salvation by presenting Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.
- Fourth, we will therefore do all in our power to present Jesus – not the word "Jesus" filled up with Buddhist or Muslim or liberal protestant or Catholic ideas – but the Biblical Jesus Christ. We will present him in conversations and letters and sermons and tracts and books. This is where I hope the book will be helpful. I hope that you will be able to use it in personal evangelism. Give it to people who are willing to consider Christ. Study it over lunch with colleagues. (You can read a chapter in 15 minutes.)
- Fifth, we will pray that God do what Paul says he will do in 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6, that is, cause the light of the glory of Christ to be seen compellingly in the presentation of Christ in the gospel. (See the Olive Tree Project of Jews for Jesus.)
Becoming Like Christ by Beholding the Beauty of Christ
Look briefly with me at the text. This text is one of the most important in the Bible in shaping how I understand both personal sanctification and personal evangelism. 2 Corinthians 3:18 relates directly to your sanctification. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." We are changed by beholding the glory of the Lord and standing in awe of him, savoring him. That is the first reason I wrote this book: to help believers "behold the glory of the Lord" and so be changed into his image.
But then consider how 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 relates to our personal evangelism this summer. "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God." Well, if Satan is blinding the minds of people from seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel, what should we do?
Give up and go home, and surrender people to darkness? No. We should do two things over and over again: hold up a testimony to the true Biblical Christ for them to see (as verse 5 says) – conversations, tracts, sermons, tapes, books, etc. – and then pray that verse 6 would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: "It is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.'" In other words, the same power that created light in the first place gives light to the dark human heart now so that Christ is seen for who he really is. That is how you became a Christian. That is how those you love will become Christians. You give them a faithful portrait of Jesus, and God gives them eyes to see.
Don't make a mistake here when you think about how people come to believe in the Jesus of the Bible. I am NOT saying that God whispers in our ear that the Bible is true. It is rather God's enabling us to see what is really there in this portrait of Jesus. This is an important difference. If God whispered in our ear, as it were, that the Jesus of the Bible is true, then the whispering would have the final authority and everything would hang on that. But that is not the path I see in the Bible nor the path I follow. Rather Jesus himself, and his divinely inspired portrayal in the Bible, have the final authority.
Don't Ask for a Whisper, Rather Look at Jesus
The practical effect of this path is that I do not ask you to pray, nor encourage anyone else to pray, for a special whisper from God to decide if Jesus is real. Rather I ask you to look at the Jesus of the Bible. Look at him. And pray that you will see the self-authenticating glory that is really there. Don't close your eyes and hope for a word of confirmation. Keep your eyes open and fill them with the full portrait of Jesus provided in the Bible. If anyone comes to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and God, it will be because he or she sees in him a divine glory and excellence that simply is what it is – true.
Therefore, what I have tried to do in this book is put the Biblical portrait of Jesus on display. The Bible itself is the only authoritative description of Jesus Christ. That is why I have saturated these short chapters with Scripture.
I invite you to join me in this serious quest for well-founded, everlasting, love-producing joy in Jesus Christ. And that you do all in your power to present this Jesus to as many people as you can – to Jewish people and to every other religion or non-religion. Everything is at stake. There is no more important issue in life than seeing Jesus for who he really is, and savoring what we see above all else.