Back to series
Good morning, church. Please go with me to 2 Corinthians, chapter 3, starting in v.4. Today we are talking about the first work of God the world ever knew: “‘let there be light,’ he said, and there was light.” Illumination. Our God is a God of light, pushing back the darkness in the world, the darkness in our own minds, hearts, and souls. We like to think of ourselves as enlightened, bright, awake—but the only light by which we can see truly comes from the Spirit of God.
We’ve been in a series on the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the summer, and despite what the blazing weather may suggest, the summer is coming to a close, and so is our time spent focusing on the Holy Spirit. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough, but the Spirit of God is everything to us. If we have the Spirit of God in our midst as a church, if the real presence of Christ is among us, we need little else. In this series, we’ve covered everything from speaking in tongues, to healing and miracles, to comfort and conviction. Next week will be spent talking about the leading of the Holy Spirit, and this week we are going to focus on illumination.
When I say illumination, you may think of lighting in a room; if you walk in, turn the light on, you’ve illuminated the room. And illumination in the spiritual sense is similar, that’s why we borrowed the word—the Holy Spirit is able to illumine us, to turn a light on in your mind, heart, and soul so you are able to see and meet the living Christ in the pages of scripture, in worship, in service to your community, and in the enacted word of God, things like communion, marriage, and baptism. Illumination is the doctrine upon which we found authority in Christian teaching. When I get up to preach, I believe I’m speaking truth, not because I’m smarter or wiser, but out of faith in the illumination of the Spirit, allowing me to derive true teaching from the inspired words of scripture. The illumination of the Spirit is also the difference between a bright, vibrant faith vs. faith that is dry and dark. He’s the one who turns the light on.
Basically, I want us to recognize today where we as a church derive our beliefs, what we consider to be authoritative for our teaching and in our lives. In an age that wants to challenge all authority, where there is no truth, how can we possibly preach and teach here as though we have access to truth? And I want to answer today: why do some people read the bible, hear the gospel, and see and hear nothing? No beauty, no truth. You’ll walk away from a passage weeping because you’re overwhelmed with meaning, purpose, and truth, and someone else you love walks away mocking it and shrugging it off. In the same vein, we can answer this: if God speaks to us in the scriptures, and in worship, why, sometimes when you read the Bible or go to church, do you come away still dry, like you didn’t hear from God? Why does worship sometimes excite you and sometimes you feel bored, confused, angry, empty, or all of the above?
Read with me in 2 Corinthians 3, staring in v.12. [2 Corinthians 3:4-4:6] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly: Holy Spirit, I pray you would illuminate this text for us today, that you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
To understand the passage we just read, you’re going to have to be familiar with another passage in Exodus 34. It’s in the middle of the narrative of Moses leading the people of God out of Egypt, across the Red Sea on dry ground, and they arrive at Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain, receives the law of God, and comes down the mountain to find Israel worshipping other gods. The covenant, and the tablets Moses was carrying shatter, and Moses goes up the mountain again to plead with God to renew the covenant in spite of Israel’s sin. God forgives their sin, renews the covenant, and Moses comes down the mountain again, face literally illuminated, glowing from having spent time with God. And every time he would go into the tabernacle and commune with God as he rested among his people, Moses would come out, face glowing. He began to wear a veil, to hide his face from the people. This is the story Paul picks up here in 2 Corinthians to talk about the New Covenant we have in Christ, the trustworthiness of the apostles’ teaching, and the illumination of the Spirit.
To make sense of all of this, I’m going to pick up my analogy from last week and extend on it: last week we talked about the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of scripture being like a farmer who plants good food to nourish his family and the entire community. This week, we can see, the Spirit is living and active on both sides of our interaction with the Bible, he inspired the text, and then today, even now as we hear the word of God preached, he is illuminating the truth of God, shining a light into our minds, hearts, and souls, so that we might see the truth of God, so that we might encounter the word of God, himself, Jesus Christ, in the scriptures today. And if we do, if we encounter Christ today, we will be nourished, set free, and mode holy, day by day.
So this is my first point today, the Holy Spirit has invited you to a feast. The Holy Spirit has invited you to a feast. I think of the harvest festivals throughout scripture, like pentecost, where the landowners, his servants—the whole household—would gather and enjoy the fruits of the harvest together. I’m hoping this analogy can help us understand how the truth of God is communicated to us through scripture today, and give us reason to trust faithful teaching from the scriptures today. In this analogy, the Spirit invited us into a feast of the good food he has grown and harvested, the truth of God, to nourish and strengthen his family and his people. As a pastor, I’m a servant in his house, here merely to bring what he has provided to the table to feed our congregation. My whole job is just not to drop a plate, not to mess it up, and to be welcoming to people so they can relax and enjoy the feast.
Look again with me at 3:5: “we [preachers] are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.”, then in 4:5, “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants.”
These verses help us understand how we can know truth as God’s people today. The Spirit has preserved truth in his word today, and he also invited us in to his word, to read, hear, see, smell, and taste the truth of God in worship. Hopefully you have servants, teachers, and pastors who are faithful to bring you truth to nourish you in your faith, teaching from the Bible, and not diluting it, not watering down the faith, as Paul mentions in 4:2, when he refuses to “tamper with God’s word;” “tampering” or “diluting” literally referred to dishonest wine merchants who would add water to their wine to boost the volume they could sell. But the feast of the Lord is laid with only good things, and God is inviting you into his feast, to his harvest, to eat and be filled, yes, but even more importantly, to build relationship with him.
The Holy Spirit has invited you to a feast. Come to Scripture, come to worship and be filled. My point with this analogy is this: the foundation of truth for the church, what nourishes us, is not the pastor or the deacons—we don’t own the truth we preach, and it’s not from us. I’m not saying my truth is better than your truth, because it’s not my truth. I’m a servant here, my sermons and lessons are just my attempt to take from what God has given us and communicate it to you. God help me, and help us all, if I ever stop depending on the illumination of the Spirit and start teaching you something of my own making. God is the only place I’ve found truth and life; Christ is the only one who has words of eternal life, and the foundation of truth and authority for the church is the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul here in this passage: I am not sufficient in myself to claim anything as coming from me; my sufficiency is from God, the Holy Spirit.
And it’s not just me—every teacher in the Bible would tell you the same: look to Christ, look to the Spirit, look to the Father if you want to find truth and life. Moses wore a veil because he didn’t want the people of God to look at his face, to worship him as a god, or be distracted by the dim shadow of the holiness of God—Moses wanted them to look upon the source, the presence of God, himself, in the tabernacle. He wanted them to go directly to the Lord for their nourishment, to depend upon the Spirit of God for their relationship with the Lord. Moses would remove the veil every time he went into the tabernacle, to worship and pray, and Paul tells us that we, too, can worship God in spirit and truth, without any kind of veil over our eyes, that we can look to him directly to be our foundation of truth and life.
So when we preach and teach at our church, we don’t do so out of pride of thinking that we’ve found a truth that others were too dull or dimwitted to find. We always strive to preach and teach out of joy, knowing that we, too, are spiritually hungry, that our souls have been restless, but we are servants sent to tell you about a feast laid for anyone who will come. We didn’t grow the food. We didn’t even find it and prepare it for you. We’ve just tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and we want to share our meal with you. As in chapter 4, v.1, we only have this ministry by the mercy of God. And we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but rather simply openly state the truth. We’re trying to get out of the way, so you can see God, himself. He’s the one who is able to set you free.
Our world repeats the message, over and over again, to believe in, trust yourself and allow your heart to guide you. Please, please don’t believe in yourself. Our hearts are broken in sin. Trust instead in the God who made heaven and earth. Seek him in scripture and in worship, and trust the Spirit who is able to illumine your heart, mind, and soul. Follow where he leads you, because he only ever leads you to still waters and a table laid to fill your heart and life with joy and meaning.
The Spirit has laid a feast for us today, that’s my first point. The second point from our text today is this: evil will cast a veil over your eyes, or even blind you. Evil will cast a veil over your eyes, or even blind you.
No one ever thinks they’re blind, but we can deceive ourselves. I know this from personal experience. If you don’t know this about me, my eyes are broken. I am both colorblind, which I didn’t realize until high school, and extremely nearsighted. If I don’t have contacts or glasses on, and reach out my arm, I can’t see my fingers, and what makes that all the more remarkable is that I didn’t wear glasses until I was eleven years old. I made it to fifth grade without realizing that I should be able to see past the end of my hand. I didn’t want to wear glasses—I was worried about what the other kids would think and say. And I’m smart enough to memorize some letters posted on the wall before the doctor walks in. I convinced myself, my parents, my teachers, that I was fine. For years.
So I remember clearly wearing glasses for the first time. I walked outside and looked up. It was a clear day, and I remember seeing a cloud for the first time at age 11. For the first time in my life, I saw leaves on trees, and the way the light filters through them in the afternoon. Those two things, especially, I remember, were breathtaking. My self-conscious concern, my denial of my own inability to see, my self-deception had kept me for years from seeing the beauty and true shape of the world around me.
So it is with illumination, with the Spirit’s work of showing us the truth of God in his word. It’s a new lens. To quote Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.” We don’t always realize when we’re blind or when our world is completely dark; and even when we do realize, like me as a child, we aren’t always ready to admit that our vision is impaired. Not knowing any better, we go around in complete darkness saying, I’m fine, I see enough. Meanwhile the Holy Spirit pleads with us to allow him to open our eyes, to cause the sun to rise, to allow us to see the truth and beauty in scripture, in worship, in the world all around us.
The enemy, Paul writes in v.4, is able to cast a veil over our eyes, to darken our vision, so we see God imperfectly or not at all. Through sin and brokenness, our vision grows dark and dim, until you can’t even see past your hand, and still we tell ourselves we can see just fine. Through spiritual warfare, our spiritual lives become dry. The enemy tempts you to despair, tells you, why would you read the Bible? You never get anything out of it. Why would you go to church? It only makes you mad. But the Holy Spirit is with us, telling us to persist, to repent, and to resist.
We have a habit of not taking Spiritual warfare seriously here in the West. We argue with lost people, teach morality to the lost, essentially telling a blind person, open your eyes if you want to see, or maybe just act like you can see so you don’t offend anyone with your blindness. We never think that prayer might be central to our evangelism efforts, prayer asking the Spirit to illuminate the mind, heart, and soul of our friends. There’s only one person who’s ever been able to heal the blind; and it’s not you.
Or maybe you’re not blind, but your vision has gone a bit dim recently. You get to church early to memorize the chart on the wall before the pastor asks any questions. Maybe you used to read your bible, but it just got dry and boring. You used to enjoy church, but now you’re here, just kind of hoping that feeling will return. We try to will ourselves back into spiritual health when we realize our faith has become dry and dim, as though our soul is overweight and needs exercise, maybe a good coach. And yeah, sometimes we need more discipline, but sometimes we need to pray, pray for the spirit to open our eyes, to let us see, to give us joy, to give us light. How many things do we not have, simply because we don’t ask? And sometimes what we need is confession of sin and repentance. If your faith is dry and dim, confess the sin veiling your eyes. Actually stop doing, and stop making excuses for, the thing you know is harming you.
Before I had glasses, I compensated. I would sit at the front of the class so I could make out the board, I would ask others to read it for me. I had constructed a whole life to compensate for the fact that I couldn’t see, and it worked. Kind of. But what I really needed was a new lens by which to see the world, and through that lens I was able to see the beauty I had always missed and never known was there.
Perhaps the Spirit today is offering you a new lens by which to see the world. A new worldview, a new perspective with which to approach your challenges. And I promise you, as one who has seen from both sides, the sight offered by the Spirit is more than you could imagine. There is more in this world than your limping attempts at truth and meaning, what you’ve been able to piece together for yourself.
I know you may be concerned about what people will think, and you may be telling yourself that you can see just fine. You should know, you’re just compensating—there’s more truth and beauty in Christ than you’ve dared to imagine.
My last point today is this, briefly: to see truth, God has to recreate you. To see truth, God has to recreate you. I’m looking at chapter 4, verse 6: “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.” The quotation in this verse is from Genesis 1, the story of creation of the world, and Paul says God is able to do the same in you. The Spirit is able to recreate you, to cause light from nothing in you, to take chaos and make beauty and order in you.
Illumination, then, is a miracle of the new creation. A foretaste and participation in something of which we will see the fullness in the renewed heaven and earth. When we are completely recreated, there will be no veil, no marring of our vision by sin. We won’t see as in a mirror dimly—we will be able to see him face-to-face, to know him face-to-face. He will illuminate the whole world by his throne; the sun will have served its purpose and be no more.
Light from nothing. If you’re here this morning, or if you’re hearing this, and realize that your soul is dark, void, and chaotic, know, friend, that the Spirit is able to recreate you. He is able to say in your life, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and it will be, and you’ll be able to see him, and by him see everything in a new light, with new beauty you never even realized was there.
All it took for me to see past the end of my hand was admitting that I was missing something, to accept the help my parents and friends were eager to offer, to finally give up my insistence that I was fine on my own. Somewhere in my mind, in my heart, I knew it. If you need to pray with someone, I’m here. If you need to pray to God, he is here, too. He said, “let light shine out of darkness,” and it was so. He is light and life today. Pray with me.