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Author: Rick VanderHorst
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:The glory of the New Covenant
Text:2 Corinthians 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Exodus 34:1-10; 29-35

Text: 2 Corinthians 3

Singing: Ps 116:1,3,4; Ps 63:1,2; Ps 95:1,5; Hy 48;1,2,4; Hy 72; Hy 10

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

As Christians it can happen that we go through a period of time where our faith feels stagnant,

Or maybe where we feel distant from God.

Going through those seasons might make us crave for something more.

We might wish for some kind of Mountain top experience with the LORD.


Just look at what Moses experienced in Exodus 34 on Mt. Sinai.

And there’s no question about it, it was truly awesome.

It’s easy to reason that if we went through that same experience as Moses,

it would put more life in our Christian faith.

Or it would make us feel a lot closer to God.



Now, let me first say that it’s not wrong to want to feel closer to God or to feel lively in our faith.

That’s actually a good thing.

However, it must be stressed there are dangers in seeking this sort of experience.

For one, this sort of thinking downplays the regular means of grace God has given to build up his children – the preaching of the gospel and the use of the sacraments.

But there’s a second thing that our text this morning teaches us.

That second thing is this:

The experience of we have as NT Christians is actually greater than that of Moses.

This is true whether we realize it or not, and whether we feel it or not.


Our text this morning teaches us to see these things with the eyes of faith.



The ministry of the new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit, full of life and glory.

This ministry is

1) Confirmed by the work of the Spirit

2) A giver of life and righteousness

3) Full of unfading glory


In our text, the Apostle Paul continues to defend his ministry to the Corinthians.

Some were questioning his credentials to be an apostle of Jesus Christ,

Some of them were following other teachers in opposition to Paul!


Apparently, these other teachers looked and sounded quite impressive.

They also came to Corinth with letters of recommendation.

Other people had written glowing reviews of their credentials as teachers and speakers.

In other words, their resumes were top-notch.  


In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul felt compelled to respond.

Paul wasn’t jealous of these other teachers as if he needed praise from humans.

Rather, these teachers were leading the Corinthians away from the glorious truths of the gospel.

Paul simply could not let that happen.  


So he says at the beginning of our text,

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

In other words:

Do you know what, O Corinthians? There is not one ounce of insecurity in our hearts that we have been called by God for this work. We do not need your approval or the approval of others. However, why is it even a question for you whether or not we are true apostles of Christ?

After all, think about this:

The church at Corinth didn’t even exist when Paul first came to that city.

This Church was established through the work of Paul.

Isn’t that enough to show his credentials?


Image a newbie worker shortly after getting hired walks up to his boss and says,

“Hey, what are your credentials to be my boss? I’m not sure you’re qualified for this job, do you have any references I can check?”

Just a hint to any young workers out there: that’s not a good idea.

The boss would probably laugh and say,

“My credentials? I started this business, sonny. The very fact you have a job here you can come to everyday shows my credentials. Get to work!”


Furthermore, Paul had the Corinthian church continually on his heart.

He wore his love for them on his sleeve and spoke of them wherever he went.

Wasn’t this better than any letter of recommendation from them?


But the most important thing authenticating Paul’s apostleship is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit was clearly at work through Paul’s own ministry among them.

This was like a letter of commendation from the Lord Jesus himself!

“You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

As Paul ministered among them, Christ was busy writing faith, hope, and love on their hearts by the work of the Spirit.


This is significant for two reasons.

First, this was a far better letter of recommendation than any of those false teachers had.

The Spirit’s work through Paul showed he had the backing of Christ himself.

He says in verse 4, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.”

In the end, Paul’s confidence in his ministry did not depend on the Corinthians.  

He was not trying to build an apostleship resume through them.


Furthermore, his confidence was not in his own ability or his own strength.

But as he says,

“God has made us sufficient to be minister of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.”


This is the second and more significant thing.

The Work of the Spirit through Paul showed that Paul was a minister of the New Covenant.

The description of the Spirit’s here in our text fulfills what the OT prophesizes about the coming New Covenant.


Listen to Jeremiah 31:33 about the coming new covenant:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

This was what was happening to the Corinthian Christians through Paul’s ministry.

Christ was writing upon their very hearts.

Consider also Ezekiel 36:26-27

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Again, here we have in our text, Christ writing not on tablets of stone or even hearts of stone, like what happened in the Old Covenant, but on hearts of flesh.



This very thing was happening through Paul’s ministry.

This same thing continues even today through the ministers of the gospel in the new covenant.

The Spirit gives us hearts of flesh.

Christ writes the gospel and writes his word on our hearts.


This reality not only allowed Paul to show the Corinthians that his opponents were wrong.

It also allowed him to describe in detail the power of his new covenant ministry by the Spirit and why both the Corinthians back then, and we today should listen to it and follow it.

The rest of our text explains these things to us.




2) A giver of life and righteousness


As we begin this second point, let me quickly summarize what we’ve learned so far:

Paul is saying here,

The work of the Spirit in your hearts shows both the reality of the new covenant among you and the sufficiency Paul has to be a minister of a new covenant, a sufficiency that comes from God.

One reason why he needs to say this is that the false teachers in Corinth, the ones with these impressive resumes, appeared to be enticing the Corinthian Christians back into Old Covenant ways.


Because of this, Paul is now going to contrast the old covenant God made with Israel at Sinai and the new covenant made in Christ in several important ways.

To be clear, this is not to disparage the old covenant as if it were something bad.

Paul would never say that.

However, when the old covenant is compared to the new covenant, as it is here, the new covenant in Christ is shown to be far superior to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai.



Making this comparison will serve some important functions.

First, it will show that Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians is far superior to the false teachers who are opposing him, even if his ministry appears much less impressive.

Not only that, but Paul’s ministry will be shown to be far superior even to that of Moses.

And to top it all off, through his teaching here, Paul will show that the experience of the Corinthians themselves through this ministry of the new covenant is even greater than Moses experience in the old covenant.

And the wonderful thing is, the same truth applies to us as NT Christians here in Winnipeg.


The first contrast between the old and new covenants involves the place of writing:

The Old covenant was written with the finger of God, but it was written on tablets of stone.

The New Covenant is written with the Spirit of God, and it is written on human hearts.


The second main difference is this:

The Old Covenant, written on tablets of stone, brought death.

It’s a ministry that kills, says Paul.

In verse 9 he even calls the old covenant the ministry of condemnation – that is, of judgment and curse.


Now, we should not mistake what Paul is saying here.

It’s not as though the old covenant made with Israel was devoid of the gospel of grace or the promises of salvation.

No, the good news of Christ was imbedded in this covenant too!

Think only of the sacrifices for sin.

However, Paul is doing a side-by-side comparison here of the old and new covenants.

In the old covenant, the law was placed in the foreground.

The law by itself holds out life to those who keep and death to those who break it.

The problem is, because of our sinful natures, the law given at Sinai resulted mainly in death.


Just think of what happened right after the giving of the law in the book of Exodus.

No sooner it seems had the LORD command Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me,” but Israel made and worshiped the golden calf!

The giving of the law only increased sin and brought death and judgment.

This wasn’t a problem with the law of God but it revealed the sinful human heart.

The LORD was so angry with Israel he was ready to destroy them.

Thankfully the intervention of Moses prevented this.


Contrast that now with the new covenant and the ministry of the Spirit.

The Spirit gives life, says Paul.

Likewise, the new covenant is NOT a ministry of condemnation but of righteousness.

What God offered in the law – life to the one who perfectly obeyed, he FREELY gives through faith in Jesus Christ.


 The giving of the Holy Spirit to the one who believes is also a sign of a believer’s justification, being counted as righteous before God, and of being accepted by God through faith in Christ.

That is why the ministry of the Spirit is a ministry of life and righteousness.

The one who believes in Christ is counted righteous and has eternal life.

By the Spirit we also have new life by which we can serve God!


There is an interesting example in Scripture that highlights this contrast.

Think again of the Golden Calf soon after the giving of the law.

What happened in the aftermath of that event?

The Levites were found to have not bowed down to the Golden Calf.

Moses instructed them to act as agents of God’s justice among idolatrous Israel.

The Levites went out and put to death 3000 of their fellow Israelites.


Now, later on, the Jews began to associate the giving of the law with the OT feast of Pentecost.

They believed that the first Pentecost of the Old Covenant was the time the law was given.

Whether this really is true doesn’t really matter right now.

What is important is to see what did happen on the first Pentecost of the new covenant.


On that Pentecost, the law was not given to Israel, but the Holy Spirit was poured out from heaven.

The Apostles, filled with the Spirit, began the new covenant ministry of the Spirit.

What was the effect of that new covenant ministry on that Pentecost Sunday?

Acts 2 says that 3000 Israelites were added to their number.

Instead of 3000 Israelites being killed at the giving of the law.

We have 3000 people finding life and salvation at the giving of the Spirit.


Isn’t this amazing?

This so clearly shows the contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant

It’s as Paul says here, “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.”



3) Full of unfading glory


The next contrast Paul makes between the Old and New Covenant is the glory of these two covenants.

It appears Paul’s opponents were promoting the old covenant because of the glory it displayed.

And it is true that there was glory in that covenant.

Look at the beginning of Exodus 34.

Moses asked the LORD to show him his glory.

God told Moses he would put him in a cleft in the rock while his glory passed by.

As the LORD passed Moses, he proclaimed his name.

The end of Exodus 34 gives another example.

When Moses came down Mt. Sinai, his face was shining because he had been talking with God.

This happened whenever Moses entered the tent of meeting.

His face shone with glory because he talked to the LORD face to face.


So, the Old Covenant certainly had glory.

However, Paul here puts to rest any idea that this made it better than the new covenant.

Instead, the glory of the new covenant far surpasses the glory of the old.

It surpasses that glory in three important ways:

The first way the New Covenant glory surpasses that of the old is by its intensity.


Yes, Moses experienced an amazing dose of God’s glory.

However, the glory in the new covenant is greater.

As Paul writes here,

If the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory…will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it!”

That is to say,

“When you compare the glory of the Old covenant to that of the new covenant, the glory of the old covenant is pretty much nothing.”


It’s like comparing the light of a flashlight to that of the sun.

A flashlight does indeed have light.

In fact, when your brother or sister shines that light right in your eyes, something I’m sure most siblings have experienced, it’s quite annoying.

However, if you were to look directly at the sun, it’s far from a mere annoyance –

The light of the sun is blinding,

If you want to keep your eyesight you should never look directly at the sun.

It’s the same thing with the glory of the new covenant compared with the old, it’s way more intense.


The difference in glory is also one of duration – of time.

The glory of the Old covenant was only temporary - it came to an end.

Verse 7 the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory,which was being brought to an end.

The glory of Moses face was temporary.

That fading glory was symbolic of the ministry of the law as a whole.

It came to an end just like the glory on Moses’ face.

In contrast to that, the new covenant is permanent, and the glory of this covenant remains and increases!

As verse 11 says, “If what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.


These realities gave Paul boldness in his ministry as a minister of the new covenant.

He ministry was a ministry of the Spirit full of lasting glory!

There were no deficiencies in the new covenant that made him shrink back.

Therefore, he had nothing to hide in his message or his work.

As he says in verse 12

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.”

By these words, Paul refers to what we read from the end of Exodus 34.

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face shown brightly.

The Israelites were scared by this and ran away, but Moses called them back.

He told them all that the LORD had commanded him on Mt Sinai.

After this Moses put a veil over his face.


Notice that the veil was not used to keep the Israelites from seeing that his face was shining.

No, Moses put on the veil only after he finished speaking with them.

He then removed the veil when he went to speak to God again.

Whenever he finished telling Israel what God had said, he again placed the veil over his face.

Paul says here,

“the reason Moses put a veil over his face was so that Israel might not look intently at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.”


There are several possible meanings of these words.

Paul could be saying,

“Moses put the veil on so that Israel might not see that the glory of the Old Covenant was a fading glory and so would eventually be replaced with something better.”

After all, Moses put the veil over his face after speaking with Israel.

While he wore the veil, the shining of his face began to fade until he spoke with God again.

Israel was then kept from seeing the fading of this glory.

From their point of view, the glory Moses experienced was permanent, even though it wasn’t.

This does not mean Moses deceived Israel in any way.

However, this was a false conclusion Israel made because of their hardness of hearts.


Another way to understand these words is that the veil kept Israel from seeing the goal of the old covenant.

The goal of the law was to lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ for righteousness and salvation.

The Veil kept them from seeing this goal.

Perhaps the believed the glory of Moses was permanent and this kept them clinging to Moses and the old covenant instead of looking ahead to the new covenant in Christ.


In both interpretations, the placing of the veil over Moses face resulted in judgment on Israel for their unbelief.

Paul then shifts the metaphor slightly in verse 14.

Their minds were hardened he says.

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted…Yes, whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

That is to say, Israel still cannot see that the glory of the old covenant is temporary.

Neither can they see that the Old covenant was meant to point them ahead to Christ for their salvation.


Paul was very bold in his ministry.

The glory of Christ in the new covenant through his ministry was not hidden.

Why did many of the Jews, and apparently these false teachers, not accept it then?

It’s because a veil lay over their hearts – their hearts were hard.

They kept clinging to the old covenant when they should have embraced Christ.


Think of this in terms of the flashlight-sun metaphor again.

Unbelieving Israel is like a child playing with a flashlight under a blanket. The child may be outside, but he cannot see the light of the sun because he refuses to come out from underneath that blanket which veils his eyes to the light of the sun. He thinks it’s so much better under there with his little flashlight. The problem is, the batteries on that flashlight will eventually die out and the light from the flashlight will be extinguished. The child will then only be left in the dark.

This is the very mistake of the Jewish people who refused to accept Christ.

This is something the disciples themselves experienced for a time.

They didn’t see that the entire OT pointed them to Jesus Christ.

They didn’t understand that the Christ had to suffer and to die and then enter his glory.

Christ spoke openly about his upcoming suffering and death, but they didn’t understand.

Their hearts were hard because a veil lay over their hearts.


This sad situation does not need to be permanent, however.

As Paul says in this text,

“Through Christ the veil is taken away.”

And then in verse 16, “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

This likely first of all an allusion to Moses.

Whenever Moses turned again to speak with the LORD in the tent of meeting, he removed the veil from his face.

He spoke with God face to face freely and openly.

This was also the experience of the apostle Paul on the Damascus rode.

Paul had refused to accept Christ and even fought against him.

Christ came to him and stopped him in his tracks, however.

Paul then saw the glory of the Lord and it blinded him.

The experience of beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel continued.


This is also the experience of any believer.

This is the third way the glory of the NT is greater than the Old.

Every member in the covenant experiences it.

Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is removed, for Jew or Gentile.

In and through Christ our experience is like that of Moses and even greater!

Every NT Christian has free and full access to God like Moses had in the tent of meeting.

We will all know the LORD as he proclaimed to Moses on Mt Sinai.

In fact we will know him even greater because we know Christ his Son.

We don’t simply have closeness to God as Moses did on Mt Sinai, but we have the very Spirit of God living in our hearts.


Our text ends by saying,

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all with

unveiled faces, 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.”

Now, this is not saying the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one and the same person.

It’s equating the closeness of their work.

It’s kind of like identifying Moses with the Law as verse 15 does.

In any case, we have the Spirit.

We have freedom to approach God with confidence in Jesus Christ.

Our experience as Christians is like Moses in the tent of meeting, beholding the glory of the Lord.

We are like Moses on Mt Sinai, seeing the glory of God proclaimed in his person in Jesus Christ.


As we do that, we are being made more like him.

That wonderful description of the LORD in Exodus 34? WE become like him.

It doesn’t happen all at once.

But it does happen by the power of the Spirit.

And as we do that then we reflect his glory into the world to his praise. Amen.













* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2023, Rick VanderHorst

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