2 Corinthians 3:12-16 “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”
The apostle Paul has been speaking about the Christian hope, which he calls the glory which lasts (v.11). The apostle John in the book of Revelation also writes about it saying that he, “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Rev. 21:3&4). All the things that we most dread will not be a part of that glory which shall be revealed in us. I was recently speaking with a young Christian woman our family know who has battled for some years with anorexia, and spent long periods in hospital. She is much better, though carrying that load has left its mark on her, but she looked stronger, not nearly so gaunt. “You’ll soon have your chubby cheeks again,” I said trying to be cheerful in my unsubtle way, but she just replied very seriously as we were ending the conversation, “It’s made me look forward to heaven so much.”
There is a glory that awaits us very very soon. “I’m gonna lay down my heavy load down by the riverside.” When we cross the river we will all see the face of the Lord Jesus. The King there in his beauty without a veil is seen. The grandeur and brilliance of the place he lives will be breathtaking. Our bodies won’t be bothered with eating disorders any longer. We wont be too fat, or too thin, cancerous, arthritic, or HIV positive. There will be no one with Parkinson’s, or AIDS, or haemophilia, or Alzheimer’s, or Huntingdon’s diseases there. There will be no one with Down’s Syndrome, or senility, or heart disease, or multiple sclerosis. There will be no visits to the dentist or the psychiatrist. We will never lie on an operating table again. God will have made us perfectly holy with holy bodies and holy minds and holy affections, and soon this is what every Christian here will experience. Jesus has promised it; “I will take you unto myself, so that where I am there you will be also.” This is the “surpassing glory” Paul is talking about. It is absolutely crucial for the Christian to live by such a hope.
Living hope causes endless repercussions. If there is true hope there will always be a response. Someone important is coming to our home, and that hope makes us prepare the beds, and maybe decorate a room, dust, vacuum and polish. We bring out the best cutlery and the china set. They are certainly going to come, and that hope makes us work. We are cleaning up in preparation for the great event. John writes of the appearing of God saying, “he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself as he is pure.” In this passage the apostle is writing of the consequence of true Christian hope for him and for the church.
1. The Hope of God’s Glory Makes the Christian Very Bold.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (v.12). Auberon Waugh, the Roman Catholic journalist, died this week. He was generally worth reading. He was a courageous journalist. I deplored many of the things in our society which he also deplored. He died slowly of heart disease, and it pulled him down. His family noticed it, one of the children saying, “I’m sad for Papa. The fight has gone out of him.” He had tired of life, and though there were flashes and sparkles in what he wrote, there was no blaze of light. When hope is vanquished energy goes too.
Hope never left Paul. In his very last letter to Timothy he was still spelling out the hope of glory that he had and his longing to be there. There’s a crown of righteousness waiting for me, he affirms, and the Lord, the righteous Judge is going to give it to me himself on that day. The day of his death would also be the day of his coronation. That was his hope. You see his emphases in our text? No just ‘hope’ but ‘such a hope.’ Not just ‘bold’ but ‘very bold.’ because of “such a hope we are very bold.” The word ‘bold’ is a specialised term having to do with boldness of speech. It means speaking freely without fear of the consequences. The apostle had a message which, if it were believed, would most certainly bring eternal glory to everyone who trusted in the Lord Christ. God had called him to declare that message, and the Lord had also given him the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen him for the work. “This is what you must say, and I will give you strength commensurate with the grandeur of the message.” How sad when this divine message of such hope is mumbled apologetically. Imagine a 75 year old lady owning a new Ferrari sports car but never driving it faster than 35 miles an hour. She has all that power and she never employs it because she doesn’t have the strength. The Ferrari just ticks over. So we have ministers who stand before the mighty Bible, but they never witness to lost men and women with the authority of the Holy Spirit. They just keep churches ticking over. They will not tap the strength God has provided and so they cannot preach his word with the honour it demands.
Where do preachers get this boldness?
i] From the presence of the Sovereign King of Kings. They are conscious that their Saviour was sitting on the throne of the universe and doing whatsoever he pleased. He was the one who promised them, “I am with you always”. How could they ever be afraid when this cosmic supremo was actually with them? When William Carey was 62 years of age and a veteran of the missionary cause he sent the following advice to one man who was just commencing his labours: “Remember three things. First, that it is your duty to preach the Gospel to every creature; second, remember that God has declared that his word shall accomplish that for which it is sent; third, that God can as easily remove the present seemingly formidable obstacles as you can move the smallest particles of dust.” That was the apostle’s confidence, and didn’t that make him very bold? When he spoke to a King called Felix about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come Felix trembled.
The American Presbyterian preacher and hymn-writer, Samuel Davies was visiting London and was asked to preach before George III. While he was preaching the King kept talking to the people around him. So finally Samuel Davies stopped and said, “When the Lion roars, the beasts of the forest tremble; when Jehovah speaks, let the kings of the earth keep silent before him.” Samuel Davies was conscious that he himself possessed kingly authority from the One who had sent him. You think of those famous words of the greatest Welsh evangelist, Howell Harris, as he looked back to his early life: “A fire was kindled in my soul, and I was clothed with power, and made altogether dead to earthly things. I could have spoken to the King were he within my reach, such power and authority did I feel in my soul over every spirit.” Thomas Hooker, the father of Puritanism in England and New England, had such a sense of God about him that is was said that he could have put a king in his pocket. So boldness comes from the presence of the King of heaven with us in the pulpit and also in the congregation even if it numbers two or three people. That makes us fearless of the consequences of the truth we serve
Christ’s presence is the antidote to ministerial discouragement. We can sing with John Newton:
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish for or fear;
No mortal so happy as I;
My summer would last all the year.
While blest with the sense of his love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove
If Jesus would dwell with me there.
That’s why Paul and Silas could sing together in the jail in Philippi. The two of them had been peremptorily dumped there in the name of Jesus, but they were conscious that there were three in the dungeon. There was once great anticipation in a Methodist church as the visiting preacher was to be Thomas Cook, who was known to have an awakening ministry. All the planning was taking place and one maid got quite exasperated at all the excitement about Thomas Cook’s coming. She went to the butcher’s shop to buy some meat, and she expressed her resentment to him: “with all this fuss you would think Jesus Christ himself was coming.” Mr. Cook duly came and his ministry was owned of God and the maid herself was greatly affected by all she heard. The following week she went back to the butcher’s who slyly asked her, “Did Jesus Christ come?” “Yes, he did,” she soberly said to him. What a transformation the Lord’s presence makes.
ii] They get their boldness from preaching exactly what the King of Kings has given them to say. Heralds can be very courageous men because they always shelter behind this, “I am just the messenger. This is what the King has told me to say.” So we have to stick fast to exactly what God says. Our words must be marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honour. The heart of our preaching has to be correct exegesis and explanation. Let’s do some reflecting on the passage from which we are going to preach. Let’s check the best commentaries. Let’s ask why the Holy Spirit has put that in the Bible. Let’s define its purpose in one sentence, and then prepare the message. It is this passage of the God-breathed word that we are about to bring to bear upon the souls and the daily behaviour of this congregation. We long for them to feel its power. Today men can be over-concerned about such things as our manner of delivery, and the arts of communication while the New Testament is insisting, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (I Pet. 4:11). A preacher becomes very bold if he can confidently tell the congregation that these verses say so-and-so and they mean so-and-so, and then there is nothing left for us but to believe, obey and adore.
Now the more a congregation get exposed to the text of the Bible the closer it gets to the mindset of its divine author – just as repeated conversations deepen our understanding of a friend. Each time we hear the Bible preached to us, we listen with a pre-understanding that has been constantly revised by all our previous encounters. Our thinking is becoming less molded by the world and we are more and more transformed by the renewal of our minds. That is why you must sit under the best biblical preaching every Sunday. It is not a luxury. Your soul’s health hangs on it.
The age is past when regular church-goers bragged or joked shyly about the quirks of the leading preachers of the day. Preachers no longer have fan clubs. Thank God. As a wee fellow in the 1940’s I used to go to my father’s chapel, Bethania, Dowlais, and at one point towards the end of the sermon the organist would suddenly get up out of his pew and walk across and sit at the organ stool ready for the closing hymn. The preacher had said nothing. Did we know what the signal was that the organist had spotted? The congregation all buzzed with delight at the mystery, and then they too spotted it. The preacher had a little grey book on the lectern which he briefly picked up. That was the signal, and off the organist went. That whole incident is one sign of the sentimentality that had captured the churches – how fascinated they were by the personalities of their preachers. What tales they enjoyed telling about their quaint ways and amusing sayings. But all that has gone, thank God! That particular chapel is now closed and hundreds like it. Now every true preacher has to be utterly absorbed by the glory and the greatness of the truth if Christianity is to live in the land. The Scriptures are his delight, and in them he meditates day and night. He must read the Bible through each year. He must study theology constantly and never grow weary of doing so – the more the better. Preaching, Lloyd-Jones said, is “theology coming through a man who is on fire.” So, boldness comes from knowing that you have the mind of God in his word, and declaring it.
iii] They get their boldness when their own affections are united with what the Spirit has breathed out. Paul writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). He spoke of some with tears on his cheeks. They were enemies of the cross of Christ: “Their God is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Phils. 3:19). Their destination was destruction, and Paul could not speak of them without weeping. There was something in the way he spoke that demonstrated that he was the instrument of God. John Bunyan famously said, “I preached what I smartingly did feel.” A crucial part of preaching is exhortation, that is, actually moving people to do what they are listening to, by being feelingly conscious ourselves of the stupendous nature of our message.
Stuart Olyott asks, “Was anyone ever stirred to do anything by a man who was not stirred himself? Can you arouse men and women if you are not aroused? Can you move them if you are not moved? How does an infantry officer get his men to advance against the enemy? Is it just by coldly giving orders? Or is it excitedly explaining why this particular battle must be won and what will happen if it is lost? Does he not feelingly explain his tactics before shouting passionately, ‘Come on now, let’s go!'” Once more to the breach, dear friends, once more!
“Passion is not unction, but that does not make passion a sin. I am not talking about the artificial passion put on by actors, but that which is the fruit of feeling deeply about obedience to revealed truth.” Hear this boldness, “Isn’t God’s name shamed by the disobedience of the church? Aren’t thousands of professing believers courting sin and thus courting eternal danger? Aren’t countless numbers failing to know the full blessing of God on their lives because of ignorance and confusion? Aren’t there so many others who hear the Word of God every week, but who seem as far from conversion as ever? Isn’t it wonderful to walk with God, to see his Son, to enjoy his peace, and experience his providing and leading? Why, then, is the pulpit so emotionally neutral? Shouldn’t it be a place of encouragement, of joy, of dancing? A place of tears, warning, compassion, pity? A place of anger, denunciation?” (Stuart Olyott, “Pointed Preaching,” “Foundations,” Spring 1998, Issue No. 40, p.29).
Andrew Davies remembers one occasion when he was sitting in the congregation in Brixham Baptist Church in London listening to a sermon. The preacher’s text was from Colossians 1, and his theme was the pre-eminence of Christ. Suddenly he stopped in the middle of his exposition and he exclaimed, “What a gospel!” He was so thrilled by the glory of Christ that he couldn’t contain himself. That is the unconscious boldness of the new covenant preacher. His very affections are united to what the Spirit has breathed out in the word. The preacher has this hope of one day seeing Christ, and being with him for ever, and being like him. “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (v.12).
2. Minds Made Dull Have Lost Sight of God’s Glory.
“We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts” (vv.13-15).
Paul is speaking of two problems that sin had caused the Old Covenant church:
i] The first problem was cowardice in leadership. The apostle says, “We are very bold. We are not like Moses.” Moses was not bold. He was confronted with the problem of the divine glory fading from his face. Each day it shone less. It was disappearing, and it was symbolic of the whole Mosaic dispensation being a fading dispensation. The tabernacle and the temple was not for ever. Circumcising the male child’s foreskin was not to go on for ever. The feasts of Tabernacles and the Passover Feast was not to go on for ever. The Levitical sacrifices were not for ever. Priests, levites, kings and prophets were not for ever. The favoured status of that land and that people was not to last for ever. The jubilee years, and the cities of refuge, and levirate marriages were not for ever. The whole edifice of old covenant Israel was temporary and its glory was a fading glory. Moses’ golden face must tarnish. There is no escape from that in this world. As Shakespeare says,
“Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”
The people wanted it to last for ever, shining brighter and brighter. Every time Moses stood up to speak they wanted to see the glow contained within the veil over his face. They dare not look at it in all its brightness because they were ashamed sinners. But they wanted it to be there because it was a confirmation that they were Jehovah’s sinners. There was no land like their land and no God like their God. So “Shine Moses shine! But safely, behind your veil.”
But Moses knew better. He knew the glory was fading from his own face, and certainly all this Mosaic dispensation was going to fade. There would be a new covenant. The Lord told Moses of a great Prophet who one day would come: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut.18:18). The Word would become flesh and dwell amongst them. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ. Moses would have to be very bold and tell the people, “This glory is going to fade. See my face is increasingly like yours.” But Moses was cowardly and he did not warn them of putting their confidence in outward sacrifice and days and rituals. His solution was to go on wearing the veil long after the glory had departed.
The later prophets testified to the departed glory. Isaiah stood before them and said, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me? says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Is. 1:11-14). And Jeremiah said, “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jer. 7:6). Temples had a fading glory. They would all be demolished never to be rebuilt. Sacrifice and rituals were hopeless without the inner hope in what they were pointing to. Moses should have been very bold. He should have stood before them day after day and let the people see the glory fading from his face. Moses was no saviour. He could not redeem himself, let alone them. He was a sinner needing pardon. He had killed a man in a fit of anger. He couldn’t answer their prayers. Let him say, “Don’t put your hope in all this. One day the Seed of the woman will come and will bruise the serpent’s head. Yes I am Moses, but my own glory is waning, but Someone will come one day and there will be a new covenant and its glory will last.” But Moses was not bold, he was the meekest of men, and that strong grace became a weakness so the people were left clinging to a fading covenant.
We can apply that in a number of ways. Let us say that the great need is for our leaders to be boldly humble men. That phenomenon can only be found in the church. You certainly have bold men in the town, and you find humble men here too, but you only find humbly bold men in the body of Christ. They must be “very bold” in serving the word of the Lord and the Lord of the word in our post-modern days. They must say what the first Christians said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). We are told, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). But they must be humble men who preach not themselves, who know they are sinners saved by the same grace that saves anyone. They must freely confess, “not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves” (2 Cors. 3:5). Isn’t that a familiar feature of our churches, that you may meet before a service preachers who are gentle accessible men so that you feel let down talking to these lambs. The advance publicity about their ability as preachers you feel must have been exaggerated. Yet when they open the Book and find the place they preach like lions Such men are one desperate need of the hour.
But we must comment on another truth, that hiding fading glory with a veil is the characteristic of the professing church in every age where the Spirit of God has been quenched to a distant echo. What are the sacerdotalist church’s rituals – men dressing up in costumes as priests, the erection of alters, the masses with their bells and incense? Are these not all veils which hide the fading glory of a church from which the living working Spirit is absent? Or think of the entertainment church where music and drama and showbiz have been brought in wholesale. What is that again but a veil to cover the fading glory of those congregations? Let them be “very bold” and confess to the congregation, “He is gone. Let us give him no rest until he returns. Let us remove these veils and stand in our real weakness before God.”
Once there was such a preacher named Robert Murray M’Cheyne and he was determined to rip the veil from the professing church in his nation of Scotland. He preached a sermon entitled, “Why is God a Stranger in the Land?” These words were his text: “O Hope of Israel, its Saviour in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night?” (Jer. 14:8). He told his people that “in most parts of our land, it is to be feared that God is a stranger,” at a period when his nation was far more earnestly religious than Scotland is today. The evidence for his claim was the fewness of conversions, how dead were the professing Christians, and how great was the boldness of sinners in sin. Then M’Cheyne described the veil which covers timorous ministers – unfaithful preaching to the unconverted, and much unfaithfulness in setting forth Christ as a refuge for sinners. Then he described the evidence for a veil covering congregations – there was little thirst for hearing the word of God amongst Christians, and there was little harrowing in of the seed by prayer. M’Cheyne described the fading glory, and urged his congregation to cry to God for a return of the true glory – and that prayer was to be mightily answered in Dundee. So the first problem under the old covenant was weakness in leadership.
ii] The second problem was the dullness of the people: “their minds were made dull” (v.14). We may never absolutise one of the reasons for man’s estrangement from God and say that that is it. The tendency today is to concentrate exclusively on the weakness of the pulpit. Congregational decline and the lack of conversions is generally attributed to be the fault of the leadership, and the secret of church growth is this – Change the leaders! But in this passage Paul is raising another difficulty, “their minds were made dull.” Or he diagnoses their condition like this, “a veil covers their hearts” (v.15).
Please, let’s have the best preachers, very bold and clear, teaching the word of God and preaching in 21st century language. Let me reemphasize that lest you think I am excusing myself of any responsibility for the numerical weakness of our church. We have no problems with the concern for speaking lucidly to today’s sinners. Have you seen an advertisement for a certain product? It’s for some toiletry or other by a well-known brand. The name of the product is on the container, and the manufacturer’s name is underneath, and a finger is pointing to the container while a slogan is saying, “We couldn’t improve the powder, so we improved the box.” That’s the minister’s task. It’s impossible to improve the gospel – it must always be the grace of God in Jesus Christ – but we preachers are in the business of the best packaging, that is, constant fresh presentation of these eternal truths. Let every minister be growing in freshness and liveliness in the pulpit.
But in all our zeal for vivid communication let’s never forget this second problem, the appalling state of the world. Are not all men dead in trespasses and sins? Then the most eloquent Spirit-filled preacher in all the world cannot raise the dead. Must we not believe that “the man without the Spirit does not accept t he things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them”? (I Cor. 2:14). So without the Spirit of God working in an unregenerate New Englander sitting in the congregation Jonathan Edwards himself, preaching with the Holy Ghost sent from heaven, would yet seem foolishness. Are we not told that “the sinful mind is hostile to God”? (Roms. 8:7) So let the preacher be the most Christ-like man you have met, still the sinful minds who listen to him are at enmity against God’s word. That is what Paul is referring to when he declares that their minds were dull or ‘hardened.’ They were quite impervious even when Moses came down from the mountain and declared to them what God had written with his finger on tablets of stone. “Even to this day,” says Paul, “when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts” (v.15). The Israelites are given a portion of the Scriptures and they are encouraged to read, for example, about the promise of the seed of Abraham who would one day appear and through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. “Boring,” they say. “We don’t know what he’s on about. We just know what we believe.” A veil covers their heart and the glory of Christ in the sacred page is hidden from them as successfully as the divine glory was hidden by the veil over Moses’ face. Man’s sin is one problem we face, and cowardly leaders is another. So that generation died in the wilderness, and then some centuries later the northern tribes of Judah disappeared into exile never to be seen again; while a couple of centuries later Israel was taken into Babylonian captivity for seventy years; while in the fulness of time when the Seed of the woman who is the Seed of Abraham arrived his nation despised and rejected him. The Mosaic covenant ended in death.
But you see the exact wording: “their minds were made dull” (v.14). By whom? The Bible would give us two answers, by themselves but also by God. It was they who dulled their minds by freely making a golden calf and falling down in worship before it, not God. It was they who dulled their minds by whining their way all across the desert, not God. They made their own minds dull by rejecting God and his word, but the Lord was also involved in all of this, and he was actively dulling their minds in judgment at the very same time. It is always 100% human responsibility and 100% divine sovereignty. Let us look at the New Testament to confirm this: “To those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and, ‘A stone that causes men to stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for” (I Pet. 2:7&8). Both the truths are there: it was they who were the ones who did not believe; they were the builders who rejected the Stone; they disobeyed the message. God was not the author of their sin. He was not forcing them to reject the Rock of ages. But not well that the Lord had destined that this should occur to them. In other words we may not look at the old covenant and say, “God failed in a noble experiment.” God had built redundancy into the Mosaic covenant. There was no intention from its inception that it should be permanent. Every judgment that happened fulfilled the purposes of God which could not be overthrown by disobedient Israel, or Satan or any other force. Israel’s minds were so dull that they despised and rejected their very own Messiah. They were so dull that they failed to see the Scriptures fulfilled in every detail of his birth, life, death, burial and resurrection. But behind all their scorn the Lord was working out his own purposes who had made their minds dull.
Think again of Romans chapter 1 where we see that in God’s just anger sometimes God removes his gracious restraints upon men and allows them to run in the way of sin. Three times in the midst of that catalogue of gross wickedness we read this refrain, “God gave them over.” He was actively involved in this judgment. He was not merely a spectator wringing his hands and watching in horror. But God does not compel them to go in the ways of sin. We must never think of God positively propelling men into sin. He never does that. He is not the author of their sin, but he will give men over to sin as his judgment upon them. It is like the difference between an artesian well and a pump well. You know that sometimes when a drill goes down it hits an underground lake whose water pressure is so great there is no need of a pump, the water just shoots up all on its own. The owner can cap it and control the direction of that jet just as well as water that is being pumped to the surface. You see the analogy? In grace God raises sinners out of the kingdom of darkness by sending his powerful spirit into their lives. Grace constrains men to go against their natures. Paul came to love the name he once persecuted to death. God propels favoured sinners heavenward, and works within them so that their drive against God is overcome, and they will and they do God’s good pleasure. That is predestinating grace. It is a saving act of God. But in the matter of reprobation it is very different. The wickedness of men spews forth naturally out of their own hearts, and it is not the pressure of God that is bringing out the lies and lust and hatred. Those sins emerge naturally. But God caps it and uses their wicked hands to crucify his Son and accomplish the redemption of his people.
God made dull the minds of the Israelites by giving them no illumination. He withheld the positive quickening influence of the Spirit of light. It was what they deserved wasn’t it? They had made and worshipped an idol. The had constantly grumbled about him, taking all he had given them with total ingratitude. They dulled their minds to all positive thoughts about God, and in those actions God also acted and made their minds dull. They were both there.
You say, then why evangelise? If God makes men’s minds dull surely there is no hope for them in all our arguments and all our preaching. “These beliefs kill evangelism,” you say. Certainly if the only message we preached was that God makes men’s minds dull then that would kill evangelism and kill us all! But we may not absolutize this truth. There are other complementary and balancing truths in the Bible. We evangelise because God has told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. “Give to everyone who asks you a reason for your hope,” the New Testament tells us. Let’s not be disobedient.
3. The Veil is Removed Whenever Anyone Turns to the Lord. (v.16)
Today we see people reading the Scriptures who have not turned to the Lord. We see this in the cults who have the veil of the Watchtower or the Book of Mormon or the traditions of the church or the alleged ‘assured results of modern criticism’ draped over the open Bible. For them the clear Bible has become opaque. What a judgment! We see this in Islam who also profess to revere our Scriptures, and we see it amongst the Jews. There is still a veil covering their hearts and they cannot see the glory of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament. Dr. Richard Ganz is today a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and President of Ottawa Theological Hall. He is the author of a number of books, including “Psychobabble.” He also has a video series for distribution called “Take Charge” subtitled “How to take charge of your life when it seems as if your life is charging out of control”. He was born a Jew and for years his mind was dull. All that changed when he turned to the Lord, and this is how he tells the story of his conversion:-
In my youth I spent every afternoon studying the Hebrew Scriptures, five days a week, and on Friday night and Saturday I worshipped. As I grew older I worshipped for a time each day in the synagogue morning and evening. I would rise before dawn and before going to the morning service, in obedience to rabbinic tradition, I would put on tefillin – the boxes containing God’s law – on my forehead and arm.
Then one cold, clear midwinter night my life was shattered. My father had a heart attack and I ran for comfort and hope to the one place I thought I would find it – the synagogue. The doors were locked and as I hammered on them I looked up into the New York night sky, cold, crystal-clear and filled with stars and I cursed God. “I am through with you!” I said. But that night, as I turned away from the God of Israel; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, little did I realise that he was far from through with me.
The next twelve years of my life were not lived in the synagogue. In my rebellion I went so far as to renounce the covenant name given at my circumcision – Elkanah. I modified it a little, so that I was no longer Elkanah but Kanah. For the next twelve years of my life I was possessed with the world and with what it offered; I was possessed with getting ahead in life; I was possessed with Rich Ganz. I led what appeared to be a very laudable life. I moved ahead in what I desired to do. I went through university and graduate school, from which I graduated top of the class. Following my internship and a year of post-doctoral study, I was teaching at a medical centre at a major university.
During my year of post doctoral studies, the realisation hit me one day at a staff meeting that psychoanalysis – the area I thought provided the answer to life – was nonsense. Until that point I had been searching for some form of therapy – individual therapy, group therapy, hypnotherapy or some other kind of therapy through which I could discover the meaning of life: what we’re all about and why we’re here. Instead, I discovered that it was all rubbish. But instead of looking for the answer to life elsewhere I cynically told myself that although psychoanalysis was meaningless I was going to become very rich practising it. If life were meaningless at least I could have fun by being wealthy in a meaningless life. All I had to do was sit in a chair listening to my patients, nod my head every few minutes, and charge $75 an hour.
To celebrate my selection from 212 applicants to a position at a university medical centre my wife and I took a trip to Europe and we entered into a series of unbelievable situations. One day, as we were leaving Holland, someone handed me a slip of paper with an address telling me that there were “some really beautiful people” in that place. I knew I was being drawn in a certain direction and it seemed as though every step was being taken for me and it was predestined.
We arrived at L’Abri, L’Huemoz in Switzerland at about five on a Saturday afternoon. I had prepared a careful explanation as to why we had suddenly turned up on their doorstep. However, before I could say a word, the door opened and we were warmly greeted: “You’ve arrived! Welcome.”.
The next few days were interesting. They were full of religious discussion. But as a man with no sense of God, seeing myself as a chance accumulation of molecules in an absurd and meaningless world, I listened and talked to these people, questioning and mocking their beliefs. But one day a man asked me if he could read something from the Bible to me. I consented, and this is what he read:
“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.
“Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
I’d heard that expression “Man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief” before, though I wasn’t sure where. But at that point I suddenly understood what was happening: they were reading to me about Jesus. I thought, Do they know what they are doing, reading this Christian stuff to a Jew? But I told myself to be patient.
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions…
Images of Renaissance paintings leapt to my mind. I wasn’t an ordinary Jewish guy; I had a doctorate; I was cultured; I’d seen paintings with crosses; I knew that their guy had been pierced. They were trying to read me stories about Jesus and I felt the anger rising in me.
“He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus just bore your sins! I couldn’t stand it. That was just a cheap way out of long term psychoanalysis. What they were telling me was “the Catholic way”. From the age of seven, when I had walked into a Catholic church I thought Jesus was a Catholic: Scandinavian perhaps, very delicate, tall, thin – slightly anorexic – with long silken blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I had got as far as the vestibule of the church, looked at one of the statues and thought that the ground was going to open up and swallow me; that I was unalterably damned for having done that and I ran eight blocks home to get away from what I considered an unpardonable sin.
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death…
I remembered pictures of Jesus on the cross and the two thieves, one on either side of him. Three crosses – I knew that stuff; they weren’t going to fool me with their rhetoric.
“…but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days…
There was the myth about the resurrection. They get it into all their literature, don’t they. They can’t accept the fact that once a person is dead, he’s dead. Grow up! Put away your infantile neuroses and realise that when you’re dead, you’re dead; that’s it.
“…He shall see the labour of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
When he finished reading, he looked at me and said, “What do you think?”
I was, of course, keen to give the benefit of my insights. They were obviously quoting to me from their New Testament and I responded without a moment’s hesitation: “Anyone who was there at that cross could have written that stuff! What does that prove?”
He handed me the Bible and in a milli-second of receiving it, my life was changed. The name that I saw at the top of the page was Isaiah! They had been reading from my Bible, my Hebrew Scriptures, and I felt as though someone had taken a sword and cut me to pieces. When the man who read it told me it was written 700 years before Jesus was born, I felt dead. Why couldn’t it be Krishna? Why couldn’t it be Buddha? Why does it have to be him? I knew at that instant that if Jesus wrote history about himself in my Bible – if the Gentile God was the Jewish God and he was truly God – then I had to submit everything to him for the rest of my life.
During our stay at L’Abri, someone gave my wife Nancy a tape by Edith Schaeffer called, “A Bird’s-Eye View of the Bible,” an overview of the Scriptures from Genesis through to Revelation in 40 minutes, dealing with the theme of the Lamb of God. From her earliest days until her confirmation she had been familiar with the phrase, “Behold the Lamb of God”, and always wondered why Jesus was given that name. Just as I had learned from Isaiah that Messiah was to be a sacrifice for sin, Nancy discovered the same truth from that title given to Jesus. After listening to the tape she went out to the apple orchard at L’Abri and surrendered her life to Jesus Christ.
That is their testimony to how the veil was taken away when they turned to the Lord Jesus. In the change of life in Richard Ganz and Nancy all that Paul says here is powerfully manifest. They had the Jewish Scriptures, but their minds were made dull. When the old covenant was read a veil lay over it, and whenever Moses was read a veil covered their hearts. But when they turned to the Lord the veil was taken away. And when you turn to the Lord, the veil will be taken from you too, and you will see the glory of Jehovah Jesus and become his child and he your Saviour.
January 21 2001 GEOFF THOMAS