The Old Covenant – the Law of Moses
Exodus 19:3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
Covenantal Nomism – The Law of Moses is given to show the Israelites how they should live as God’s chosen people, not so that they can become his chosen people.
Promises of a new covenant. Jeremiah 31
31 ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.
33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD.
‘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.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD.
‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Ezekiel 36 24 ‘ “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness.
This New Covenant, says Paul, is so much more glorious than the Old Covenant, for at least three reasons.
2 Corinthians 3 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 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, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
The Old Covenant – the letter of the Law revealed to Moses and carved on the two tablets of stone– brings death. The New Covenant brings life through the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant came with a little glory, revealed on the face of Moses even though it was passing and fading. The New Covenant brings so much more glory.
9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!
The Old Covenant simply revealed their sins to people and so revealed to them that they were condemned. The New Covenant sealed in Christ’s blood poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins brings righteousness and so reveals God’s glory much more powerfully.
10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
The Old Covenant was passing and temporary. The New Covenant is eternal – it will last forever. So the glory revealed in the Old Covenant is as nothing in comparison to the glory revealed in the New. This is why Paul dares to say that his ministry is even greater than the ministry of Moses.
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.
The glory of the New Covenant is so much greater than the glory of the Old Covenant. So why is it that we don’t see as much of this glory in the church today? We don’t we see the glory of God so much in our own lives? One reason for that might be revealed in what Paul says next.
There was a reason why the Israelites couldn’t see the glory of the Lord on Moses’s face – and sometimes Christians can make the same mistake as Moses.
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.
Let’s remind ourselves of the story in the Old Testament Paul is referring to here.
Exodus 34 29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
After he had met with God, Moses face shone with the glory of God. This terrified the Israelites and so Moses would put a veil or a mask over his face so that people would not see the radiance of God. You might think that was just being kind, so that the people would not be scared. But Paul puts a different interpretation on why Moses his face with a mask.
13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.
The Good News Bible makes the point more clearly.
GNB 13We are not like Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the people of Israel would not see the brightness fade and disappear.
Paul is saying that Moses was hiding his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t see that the glory of God on his face was fading away. Moses wanted everybody to think that he was still as close to God and full of the glory of God. When he wasn’t.
The Message explains the meaning very well.
13 Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice.
Why don’t we see so much of the glory of God in the church today? Perhaps one reason is that, like Moses, so many Christians go around wearing masks. They meet with God. The glory of God shines through their lives for a day or a week. But as that glory begins to disappear, as the memory of that glorious encounter with God fades, people hide behind a mask. They don’t want other people to know that they are not as close to God as they were last week, or last month, or last year. They hide the truth. They just pretend that everything is as it once was, as it used to be.
Sometimes that is what happens when Christians go through difficult times. Perhaps when their faith is stretched or tested. Instead of admitting that we are finding life tough, we put on a face and pretend that everything is OK. When inside everything is very far from OK. We just hide behind a mask. Of course these masks are a defence mechanism. We wear masks because we are scared of other people. Scared that people might discover, in the words of Michael Caine in Educating Rita, that “there is less to me than meets the eye.” Scared that if people knew “the real me” they wouldn’t like us any more. They might even reject us.
But masks are unhelpful in at least three ways.
Masks stop us seeing God. They get in the way of us coming to God as we really are. Moses had to take his mask off before he met with God. We may pretend in front of other people. But nothing is hidden from God.
Masks also get in the way of God changing us to be more like Jesus. God isn’t interested in cosmetic surgery, changing what we look like on the outside. God is interested in heart surgery, changing our stubborn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
And masks stop people from seeing Jesus in us. It is not me who can help others and draw others to God. It is Jesus in me. But if I am hiding behind a mask, just pretending to be somebody I am not and hiding the real me, just keeping up appearances, then people cannot see Jesus in me.
There is no place for masks in our Christian lives. We need to be open and honest and real with each other. Of course that takes courage. To be brave enough to take our masks off we need to trust that God loves us with a love which will never let us go. But when we do take off our masks, we can see God better. More than that, God can change us to be more like Jesus, and we can reflect God’s glory so people can see Jesus in us.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Jesus take me as I am, I can come no other way
Take me deeper into you. Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone, crystal clear and finely honed.
Life of Jesus shining through, bringing glory back to you.