I grew up with Jesus.
He was there in the earliest stories I heard in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Stories from the Old Testament about Noah or Moses or Elijah were always accompanied by stories from the New, too. As I grew older and more mature, I received the teachings of the old and the new covenant, and I learned about what it meant to be under law and then under grace.
Most Christians receive their faith in this way. It’s how we are taught. We are introduced to Jesus, specifically, and then in a broader way to how His redemptive act works within the context of the law set up in the Old Testament. We learn that Christ was the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices; we understand as we grow that, because of what Jesus did, the law was fulfilled in Him and we are freed in His righteousness from the heavy burden of it.
And because of this, I think it’s easy to forget how shocking it all is.
When Jesus acknowledges that He is the Messiah – “you have said so” is His response to the interrogation about His identity – and maintains that the Son of Man will sit at God’s right hand, the high priest
tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy” (Matt. 26:65).
And in John 10:31, the Jews pick up stones to stone Jesus after He acknowledges that He and The Father are one. It’s this boiling anger under the surface over what the Pharisees perceive as fraudulent claims to divinity and Messiah-ship that eventually lead to Jesus’ crucifixion.
It’s easy to gloss over the Pharisaical anger here and their claims of blasphemy as simply “part of the salvation story,” to view them as a general opposition to Jesus that culminated in the sorrow of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. But in glossing over them, we neglect to really comprehend the enormity of what Jesus was claiming and how it flew in the face of all the Jews understood of both God and the law. We don’t understand what a radical, unprecedented, intimate act of love this was.
Recently, God jolted me with a little glimpse of what it meant – what it really meant – when I was reading in 2 Corinthians 3. I can’t wait to share this with you, but before I do it will be helpful if we travel to Exodus 34 first.
Here, Moses has just received the Ten Commandments. Coming down with the tablets of the law, he is noticeably different: “he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (29). His face is so bright that the others, including Aaron, are afraid to come near him; Moses ends up wearing a veil around the Israelites that he removes when speaking with God. God’s (dangerous, wonderful, holy) glory is confined to one man here; it is restricted from others. Veiled. Restrained. Only Moses and God have the privilege of talking to each other “unveiled,” so to speak.
And now let’s speed up to 2 Cor. 3. Listen carefully to Paul:
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face… But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away… And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory… (2 Cor. 3: 13, 16-18).
Paul acknowledges himself in Phil. 3:5 to be “a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee.” This is no accidental reference. What Paul is showing here is the contrast between the covenant of law and the covenant of grace. Under the covenant of law, only Moses had the privilege of unveiling his face before God; under the covenant of grace, we all do. We are, indeed, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).
Do you understand the audacity and the enormity of it? We. Us. Backbiters and liars and sinners all have the privilege given to us which was once restricted to a single man. God’s glory for the Israelites was at a remove: they interacted with it only as much as they interacted with Moses, who was the one to experience God’s glory, who had to conceal it behind a veil. But here we are, not only unveiled, but being transformed into God’s image the more we interact with the glory of God.
Do you see how wild that is? Do you understand how absolute a violation of the old way of things this is? How inconceivable it was that the God who was selective about the revelation of His glory had designed, all along, that it was not to be a revelation for the select at all? No wonder the Pharisees tore their robes. If anyone but God had imagined this it would have been blasphemy: unthinkable, unimaginable, unholy.
But God did imagine it.
If you’re having a bad day today or any day, stop and think about Moses. Imagine him coming down from the mountain, face alight, and something so radiant and pure in his countenance that everyone knew he had experienced God. Imagine what his fellow Israelites must have thought or wondered. Did they imagine what God must be like? Did they wonder what it was like to communicate with Him directly? What must it have been, to have the great I Am so close, and yet so far?
Now remember that you have been invited to experience God freely. The glory that Moses witnessed God wants to show you, too – yes, even as you are. Christ came here to make it so. God cannot stand barriers between Himself and those He loves: He will tear them all down. Every single one, even if it requires an act so audacious it almost defies thought.
He does, indeed, love you that much. Don’t forget how shocking it is.