2 Corinthians 3:17–4:7
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,we do not lose heart. But 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 everyone’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 image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
My heart is full of desires for this message. There are multiple levels of longing for what I would love to see God do with these words.
- At one level I want to give you a glimpse into what I have been thinking and writing for the last three weeks or so—a book that I think will be called, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself.
- At another level my desire is that we cultivate here at Bethlehem a unified, common understanding and conviction concerning what it means to be lost, what it means to be faithful to the lost people you love, and what it means to be saved, and how God does it.
- At another level I long for all of us at Bethlehem to be bold and patient teachers of the truth about Christ to unbelievers who need more than a lifestyle witness if they are going to understand the gospel and believe and be saved.
- And fourth at another level I pray that by the hearing of my voice in this message, some of you who are not spiritually alive, who do not have the Spirit of Christ, would be granted repentance and a knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
1. The Highest, Best, and Final Good of the Good News Is the Glory of Christ
The word “gospel” means good news. My question is, in writing the book and preaching this sermon, what is the highest and best and final good in the good news? Is it justification by faith? Is it forgiveness of sins? Is it the removal of the wrath of God? Is it redemption from guilt and liberation from slavery to sin? Is it salvation from hell? Is it entrance into heaven? Is it eternal life? Is it deliverance from all pain and sickness and conflict? All of these are precious promises bought by the blood of Christ for everyone who believes in him. But they are not the highest and best and final good of the gospel. In fact, I would say that unless they lead to something else, these are not good news at all.
It is possible to believe in all these things, and to want them and expect them, and still never have tasted what makes all the good things in the good news good. So what is that? What is the highest and best and final good that makes every part of the gospel good news?
The answer is given in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6. And the parallels between these two verses show the depth and the wonder of what each of them means:
In their case [the case of those who are perishing] the god of this world [that’s Satan] 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 image of God. . . . 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In verse 4 underline the words “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And in verse 6 underline the parallel words: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Here is one of the most important statements about the gospel in the Bible. We know from 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the foundational events of the gospel are “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Yes. That is gloriously true. Without this there is no gospel at all. But what must we see in those events if they are to be gospel for us? 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6 tell us: We must see “the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” That is, we must see “the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Why? Because that is what the gospel is. The gospel is not just historical events—Christ died and was buried and rose. Gospel is good news. And we do not see the decisive good in the good news if we do not see in the events the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Notice carefully the use of the word gospel in verse 4: It is the “gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” This is the gospel. The glory of Christ seen and savored in the work of redemption is the good news.
This is the highest and best and final good that makes all the other good things promised in the gospel good. Justification is good news because it makes us stand accepted by the one whose glory we want to see and savor above all things. Forgiveness is good news because it cancels all the sins that keep me from seeing and enjoying the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Removal of wrath and salvation from hell are good news because now in my escape from eternal misery I find eternal pleasure beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ. Eternal life is good news because this is eternal life, Jesus said, that they know me and him who sent me. And freedom from pain and sickness and conflict are good news because, in my freedom from pain, I am no longer distracted from the fullest enjoyment of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.
In other words, 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6 tell us what the highest, best, ultimate good of the good news is: the glory of God in the face of Christ, that is, the glory of Christ who is the image of God. This is a real glory, a real spiritual light that shines through the gospel from Christ in his saving work, and is seen not with the physical eyes, but with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:17f) or of the spiritual mind (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Oh, how I pray that this will become a unified common understanding of the gospel at Bethlehem. That we will be at home with this reality, and therefore at home with this language. May God grant us to understand and to behold and to embrace the highest, best and final good of the gospel—the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2. We Have All Been Blind to this Glory
Now here is a second point. All of us were blind, or are blind, to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Verse 4:
In their case [those who are perishing] the god of this world [Satan] 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 image of God.
I said that I wanted us to understand, as a church, what it means to be lost. There is more than one way to say it. But there is one. Let’s nail this one down. To be lost—to be perishing as verse 3 says—means to be unable to see the glory of Christ in the gospel, the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed in the gospel. Lostness is blindness to glory. Lostness is blindness to spiritual light—the light that really shines out from the gospel of Christ crucified and risen.
We all know people like this. Or you may be one. We pour out our heart to them and tell them about their sin and how Christ is the only person in the world who has died for sin and risen from the dead. We tell them about how beautiful and great is his love and wisdom and power and justice and meekness and humility and sovereignty. And they listen, and they hear the facts. They may even believe the facts of history. But they see no glory, no beauty, no treasure.
Don’t scoff when you see this. Rather weep, tremble, pray. It might be you. It might be you tomorrow, apart from the preserving grace of God. Indeed, once it was you. And then something happened.
3. God Alone Can Take Away the Blindness and Cause Us to See Christ for Who He Is
That is my third point. God alone can grant spiritual sight and liberation from the blinding power of the devil. We see this in verse 6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is how we all got saved. O that Bethlehem would have a united, common vision not only for what the gospel is—the glory of God in the face of Christ—and not only for what lostness is—being blind to that glory—but also to what salvation is—having our eyes opened so that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ shines into our hearts, and we see it and savor it and treasure it.
This is the work of God. You did not save yourself. Sovereign grace saved you. God—look at verse 6—in the same way that he said “Let there be light” when he created the world, he did the same thing in your heart. It was that sovereign and that one sided and that creative and that gracious. God said—owing to nothing in us—let there be light. And the scales fell away. The veil was lifted. And light of the glory streamed into our minds. We saw Jesus for who he really was in his true and beautiful grace and love and power and wisdom and justice and meekness and patience. And we believed. We could not turn away any more.
Oh, how we love to hear stories like this. Here’s one from Jewish man in the Netherlands.
Monday, April 04, 2005 6:09 PM
God bless everyone who reads this. . .
I can’t believe it took me 2 whole years to understand what is said in the audio sermon Education for Exultation in Christ.
I am a Jew, a Christian Jew and since 2 minutes ago I believe that Jesus is God. Jesus is Elohim. . . . he who has the Son, has life.
God used that audio sermon to crush the mind of this stubborn Jew. I must say, that I had troubles with the father name being pronounced as in Jewish culture it is not common to pronounce the Father’s name, since we don’t know how it is pronounced. But I decided to go on and listen. . . . My eyes went open. Just today I was angry with God. I said to Him: “Why are you letting me search without finding answers?” Well I found it now. Jesus is Elohim!
I will make sure that this message will get spread out here in Europe (I’m from the Netherlands), I can’t believe it... well I do believe it actually Jesus is Elohim! Praise Jesus, Praise Elohim!!!!
Your Brother in Christ
[not his real name]
4. God Uses Messengers of the Word to Open the Eyes of the Blind
Now that story points to the fourth point. [1. The highest, best and final good of the good news is the glory of Christ. 2. We have all been blind to this glory. 3. God alone can take away the blindness and cause us to see Christ for who he is.] God uses messengers of the Word to open the eyes of the blind and liberate them from the devil. God will use you.
Here is the striking link between the blinding effects of Satan and the work of gospel messengers. It’s found in Acts 26: 17b-18 where Jesus is giving Paul his commission on the Damascus Road.
I am sending you 18 to open their eyes [the Gentiles], so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
This is exactly the remedy called for in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Notice the aim: turn them from darkness to light—and 2 Corinthians 4:4 speaks of being blind to the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”—and turn them from the power of Satan to God—and 2 Corinthians 4:4 speaks of the god of this age blinding the minds of unbelievers so they can’t see the glory of Christ.
So the exact reversal of Satanic blindness and spiritual darkness comes from Christ’s messengers. So just when we feel most helpless—and who has not felt helpless before the spiritual deadness of those we love?—just when you felt most helpless you must hear this word: go, for I am sending you to be the agent of what only I can do. God alone says to the dead and dark human heart: Let there be light! And there is light. God alone can raise the dead. God alone gives spiritual light. God alone makes Christ appear true and beautiful and desirable. So go. Be his agent. He promises to use you.
Do you remember how Paul talked about this? He said it is like sowing seed and harvesting life. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Seed must be planted, cultivated, watered, protected. But the miracle of life is God’s alone to give. In the moment of your greatest sense of helplessness, remember: God sends messengers “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” He sends us to do what only he can do. “We have this treasure [of the gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is a very high and a very humbling calling.
5. In the Mouth of These Messengers God Makes Patient Teaching About Christ the Means of Seeing the Glory of Christ in the Gospel
One last point [1. The highest, best and final good of the good news is the glory of Christ. 2. We have all been blind to this glory. 3. God alone can take away the blindness and cause us to see Christ for who he is. 4. God uses messengers of the Word to open the eyes of the blind.] In the mouth of these messengers God makes patient teaching about Christ the means of granting repentance, seeing the glory of truth, and liberating from the bondage of Satan.
Here is another very closely linked text: to what we have seen in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 and Acts 26:18. It’s Paul’s word to timid Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:
And the Lord’s servant [the messenger we have been talking about] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance [notice that it’s a gift] leading to a knowledge of the truth [repentance enables spiritual knowledge], 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
So here again is Paul’s remedy for the Satanic blindness and darkness in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Teach them the truth about Christ. Do it patiently and take your lumps without being quarrelsome. And God—in and through you, but GOD nevertheless—may grant them repentance. That God is free to give or not to give the change of heart and mind that we call repentance. If he does—and he often does, it is a glorious ministry—then spiritual knowledge happens. Unrepentant people can have knowledge about God and Christ. But not spiritual knowledge. Not what Paul calls “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And then, by the mighty power of God through repentance and spiritual knowledge of the glory of Christ, the power of the devil is broken. “They escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
If you are a Christian, I pray that you will embrace these things and be courageous as a messenger of the risen Christ. He will use you—your patient teaching about Christ to unbelievers—to give sight to the blind and liberty from the snare of the devil. Don’t be ashamed, and don’t be silent, and don’t be impatient. Keep on telling and teaching about the glorious Christ.
And if you are in this terrible condition of lostness, may the Lord use this message to open your eyes to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Amen.