In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul refers to Moses’ glowing face with a threefold illustration. First, he used it to illustrate the veiled and fading glory of the old covenant in contrast with the unveiled and abiding glory of the new covenant (vv. 7-13. Old things are passing away, and all things are becoming new. The glory of the fullness of the covenant in Jesus Christ overcomes the limited revelation in the old.
Second, Paul uses it to illustrate the veil that seems to be over the hearts of many Jews so they can’t understand or believe the Gospel (vv. 14-16). Preaching the Gospel to Jews today is still very difficult. Paul experienced this difficulty and said that there is a veil over their hearts.
Third, Paul uses it to illustrate how believers today have been given an unveiled view of Jesus as a result of which they are being transformed into His likeness by the Holy Spirit’s work (v. 18). The people in Exodus couldn’t look on the face of Moses, but we can look on the face of Jesus Christ. How can that be? By the Holy Spirit giving an unveiled view of God in Scripture, just as He gives us an unveiled view of what Jesus Christ is like. And as you understood more of what Christ is like by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, you become increasingly like Jesus.
Let me make four points of application from this passage. First, we need God’s mercy if we are to be saved. We can never stress that enough because you and I don’t naturally think this way. Instead, we think in terms of justice, and we suppose that justice is what we want because we consider ourselves to be deserving. But justice is going to send us to hell. It’s not justice we need from God, but mercy, if we are going to be saved. Israel needed mercy, Moses needed mercy, and we need mercy. Apart from it we are going to perish.
Second, the good news is that God is a God of mercy. Now, it’s true that He is a God of justice and wrath, which is all that we have any right to expect from Him. If we stop thinking about ourselves for a moment, and look around at the evil in the world, we could say that what this world best deserves at the hand of God is annihilation. God should just blot out the evil.
But God offers and shows mercy because God is a God of mercy. And in order to find it what we have to do is come to Him where He has provided it, and that is through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
That’s how God puts the two together. God is a God of justice; He has to punish sin. But God punishes our sin in Jesus Christ, if we will have it so. So if you come to Him on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ, the wrath that you deserve has already been poured out. God doesn’t turn His back on that aspect of His nature. He is glorified in His wrath in the punishment of Jesus Christ His Son. At the same time, and in the most marvelous way, God also reveals His mercy, because it’s in Jesus Christ and His death that God’s mercy is shown. So wrath and mercy come together and join hands in the death of Jesus Christ.
What that means, which is our third point, is that we can appeal to God’s mercy. Remember, the mercy of God is not compelled in any way. God doesn’t owe you mercy. He doesn’t owe you anything but judgment and damnation. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t appeal to God on the basis of His mercy. God says that He is a merciful God—slow to anger, compassionate, and of great mercy. That is God’s nature, and we can appeal to His nature.
Remember the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, the self-righteous man who stood up and prayed about himself, thanking God that he was not like other men who were adulterers, sinners, murderers and thieves. The Pharisee said he lived a pious life, even tithing everything he had. Yet, God said of this man that he didn’t find mercy because what he was doing was pleading his works. And those works, as righteous as they seemed to be, only deserved God’s judgment. He wasn’t a perfect, sinless man.
But then in Jesus’ story we also have a tax collector. Nobody thought much of him. They thought he was scoundrel, and everybody looked down upon him. Upright, moral, pious Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with a man like that. But he prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said that this was the man that went home justified. You see, he appealed to the mercy of God. He didn’t say, “I am righteous,” because he knew he wasn’t. The tax collector knew he was a sinner and he appealed to God on the basis of His mercy, and he found it. That’s what God has provided for us in Jesus Christ. Who are those who receive mercy? They are those who ask for it. The elect of God are those who turn from their own self-sufficiency and trust Jesus.
The fourth point is that we can proclaim God’s mercy to others. God is sovereign in His salvation. He has mercy on whom He wills to have mercy and has compassion on whom He wills to have compassion. And since God is a merciful God, there is nothing in the Bible to hinder us from telling people that God is merciful, and that they should call out to God for mercy, that they may find it in the day of His grace.
Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
There’s mercy with the Lord,
And he will surely give you rest,
By trusting in His Word.
Only trust him, only trust him,
Only trust Him now;
He will save you, he will save you,
He will save you now.
If you come to God on the basis of His mercy, you will find that He is even the one that has been merciful enough to cause you to call upon Him. And you will find mercy and you will be saved.