Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God's glory, seen through our wounds

I can't recommend Pastor Jonathan Martin of Renovatus Church's new book, Prototype, highly enough. It's a series of simple, but profound reflections on God's love for us and how Jesus is our "prototype" for how life is supposed to look like. For those who don't have the money for the book, Martin is also preaching a sermon series that roughly parallels (but doesn't copy) the book. The fifth sermon corresponding to chapter five, "Wounds", really hit me as he expounded on 2 Corinthians 3-4 like I'd never heard before, even from my own church last year. Do yourself a favor and listen to that sermon (and the others from the series). I'll just share some reflections on it.

Paul is being criticized among the Corinthians by some teachers he sarcastically refers to as "super-apostles" who call him unqualified, incompetent, double-minded, and weak, unwilling even to accept payment for his ministry as a sign of professionalism. In his defense of his ministry, we see Paul at his rawest and most human. In chapters 11 and 12, he boasts in the things that show his weakness (11:30), for he learns in 12:9-10:
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What pastor Jonathan does is brilliantly tie chapters 3 and 4 in with this theme. Paul alludes to the giving of the Mosaic covenant, a pivotal event in Jewish history, but puts a new twist on it:
Now 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, which was being brought to an end, 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. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
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.
In the original story (Exodus 34:29-35), the only reason given for Moses wearing a veil is that his face was shining from being in such close communion with God, making the people afraid to come near him. Moses would talk with the Lord, receive more instruction, pass it on to the Israelites, and then put the veil on until next time. Paul offers another explanation for this behavior: Moses wore the veil to hide the fact that the glory of God was fading from his face. Which Martin, in turn, interprets as Paul saying that Moses wore the veil to look like a more impressive leader than he really was, who was in such close contact with God that his face shone all the time. He likens it to an old, more attractive photo of an aging celebrity being used instead of what they actually look like now.

But Paul's ministry, he says, is not like Moses' ministry. We minister with unveiled faces because it's not our face but Jesus' that people are supposed to see: "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. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." Read that last sentence a few times. We carry around light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (what a buzzphrase!) in jars of clay (our failing bodies) to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. God isn't just able to work despite our weaknesses, He works through them. Martin uses the analogy of a cracked pot with a lamp inside; the more cracks, the more light shines through. The last thing we want to do as Christians is to try to put a veil over our wounds and weaknesses!

This analogy is, of course, a little misleading; God doesn't need imperfections to be able to do anything through us, and He is at least as able to work through our gifts and strengths (see 1 Corinthians 12). But for now, God seems to be pleased to manifest His glory through our brokenness, so we'd best let Him! This is hard to accept: the things in our lives we are ashamed of and try to hide, like Moses' speech impediment or Paul's bruises and prison record, might become a window for heaven to shine through into earth.

Like I said, if this piques your interest, listen to the sermon. Jonathan Martin is one of my favorite preachers to listen to at the moment.

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