16 Oct 2022
Because the Corinthians questioned and challenged Paul as an Apostle, he wrote 2nd Corinthians to defend and to explain his ministry. In these verses, he revealed : 1. The Proof of Ministry. Whilst the false teachers probably accumulated letters of recommendation, Paul was not interested in any of that. Instead, his confidence was placed on the people, and how their lives have changed. Whilst letters of recommendation are not wrong, the best proof of ministry is increasing holiness and Christlikeness in God's people. 2. The Power in Ministry. The false teachers might have vaunted their own eloquence, charisma, credentials and so on. But Paul reminded his readers that his sufficiency is of God alone. The true minister recognizes that except the Lord build the house, we labor in vain that build it. 3. The Premise of Ministry. The Apostles focused on the New Covenant- the agreement God had made to Israel that He will sovereignly, unilaterally and graciously forgive them of their sins and to give them a new heart (not of stone, but of flesh, with God's laws written therein). So instead of the Old covenant where one depends on his own strength to earn favor with God (which is doomed to failure because of our spiritual weakness), Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby the Holy Spirit works in human hearts unto salvation. His was a ministry of life and freedom! Today, this new covenant is also available to those who will repent and believe. And this new covenant is also the basis for us to serve in the gospel.
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We are in our journey through the book of 2nd Corinthians, the letter that Paul wrote to the people at ancient Corinth. And I start with asking you this question, how many of you would like it if you are a pilot, a lawyer and a doctor all at the same time? Huh, you say, "That's impossible!"
Well, somebody claimed that he was, his name was Frank Abagnale. You might not be familiar with this name, but you will be familiar with the book he wrote about himself, and the book is entitled, "Catch Me If You Can, The True Story of A Real Fake".
You see, Frank was an imposter, Frank pretended at different times of his life to be a pilot, to be a lawyer, and to be a doctor. And his story is written in this book, and also filmed by Steven Spielberg, and that show is also called, "Catch Me If You Can", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
Well, I say this because in the ancient church at Corinth, there are people who are asking Paul, probably under the influence of the false teachers, swimming around them, "Paul, are you the real deal or are you an imposter?" "Paul, are you like Frank Abagnale who pretends to be an apostle, a servant of God, when you really are not?" Because they're all rather critical of Paul, they kind of believed the false teachers amongst them and not want to believe Paul.
They said that, "Paul, you are not someone with impressive bodily presence. It's weak! You don't speak with great eloquence, your speech is contemptible. You are someone who does not come with any letters of recommendation," like what we've just read this morning.
"And Paul, your life is too ... too cham [Hokkien dialect], too filled with sufferings, doesn't quite square up with our idea that the servant of the ... God of the heavens should be one who comes with greater pomp and glory." "And Paul, you ... frankly are not very reliable, because you said you're coming to visit us, but you did not, so Paul, are you the real deal?"
That's the question Paul sets out to answer really throughout this epistle, this book, but in particular here as well, chapter 3, verses 1-6. I'd like us look at this in a very simple way, three simple points to observe from these six verses.
 The Proof of Ministry
Paul says, "Number one, let me give you the proof of ministry."
This, I think is in response to something the Corinthians asked for. He says in verse 1, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you?"
So the inference is that the Corinthians are saying, "Paul, are you the real deal, show us your letter of recommendation?" Now, in the old days to prove that you are somebody, to prove that you are really who you say you are, you may need a letter of recommendation, a certificate, a kind of endorsement, and we can understand why.
In today's day and age, to verify if someone is truly from such and such organization, all you need to do is go to the internet, all you need to do is to make a phone call, all you need to do is to send an email, and verification with the proper organization can be established. But in those days, you must understand, no WiFi, no WhatsApp, no internet, no phone calls possible!
So, if someone is standing in front of you, and he says that he's sent from such and such an organization, for you to verify it, you have to send someone to that organization. May be far, far away and wait for the guy to come back, before you can ascertain the truth. So to shortcut all that, it is customary for people to go around with letters of recommendation — signed, chopped, waxed sealed, "This man is sent by us."
So the Corinthians are asking Paul, "Paul, where's your letter? You say you're an apostle, but as far as we know, you're not part of the 12, you're not part of the original disciples of Jesus, so where is your letter, where is your letter from the 12, where is your letter from the Jerusalem church?"
To which Paul answers here with a rhetorical question, "Guys, are you really serious? Hah, are we, the apostolic band here, myself, Timothy and so on, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you?" [2 Cor 3:1]
"I mean, are you serious we've got to do this? Do you really need a letter from somewhere else to verify our identity? And do we really need to get a letter from you, in order to go elsewhere to preach? Hah, do we need this?" He answered in a rhetorical question is — of course not! Why? Because, "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation." [2 Cor 3:2]
"The real proof of our ministry is not some letter from Jerusalem church, but look at your lives. Look at you! You are the best proof, we have been sent of God to preach to you the Word of God. Your lives have changed and you're so dear to us!"
In those days, they carry letters in their bags, and the luggages, whatever that may be. But Paul says, "I carry you in my heart, you are so dear to me, you are so dear to us, it's written on our hearts." "And your lives, unknown and read by all." [2 Cor 3:2]
So probably, the false teachers in Corinth go around parading their certificates, their letters of recommendation. Paul says, "I don't need any of that, you are the best endorsement. In fact, "You show that you are a letter from Christ." [2 Cor 3:3]
"You want a letter from the church, I give you something better, it's from Christ Himself - you all. Because Christ is the One who wrote on your life, "Written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, written not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." [2 Cor 3:3]
God's authorship, Christ's authorship is in your heart with the Spirit of the Living God, and this is my endorsement. Tremendous letter, not pieces of paper, but on living people, lives in the church. So, this is the proof of ministry! The false teachers say, "We have many letters. Look at us!" Paul says, "It's you! The endorsement of the apostolic ministry amongst you is you yourselves."
Now, I want to be clear that it is not a wrong thing to have a letter per se. Now, the problem I think with the false teachers is that they parade it, they boast of it. They kind of boost their standing before people by having a ... maybe a stack of letters of recommendation. And they do this probably out of pride, but we must also understand that having letters of recommendation is not necessarily a bad thing. It's not wrong to have proper documentation, it's not wrong for some proof that you are indeed who you say you are.
I tell you a secret, I have not served SAF, I have not served in NS, reservists duties for the past 16 years. Not bad, hah! No need to go back army for 16 years. "Wah, Pastor you really very daring, you AWOL?" No, no, I did not go absent without official leave. But the perk, okay, the great advantage of being a full-time pastor is that you are disrupted or exempted from NS, whilst you are in full-time ministry.
So, I've been exempted for 16 years. Why do you think I'm a pastor for 16 years? I mean, this is what I live for, man, no need to go NS, that's so important! Well, jokes aside, you can exempt, you ... I think I will be exempted till 50, 50 is the age where officers are no more required, right? So I'm 46, four more years, I will hang around and after that I do not know, huh, huh.
Every year, I will have or they will ask me for proof of ministry or employment at Gospel Light. I can't say to SAF, "Come and look at the people, lah!" I mean, they won't accept that, they ... they need some paper, they need some documentation. So, every year I'll have to ask our office to get our church comm to sign the letter, to verify that I'm indeed still in employment here at Gospel Light.
So I'm not saying, the Bible is not saying that letters of recommendation are wrong. Now, don't ... don't ... don't mistake that! Because Paul himself says, "And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem." [1 Cor 16:3]
So, he himself practices letters of recommendation, it's not a wrong thing. But what Paul is saying is, "Far more precious, far more reliable than pieces of paper is your lives. And when you are asking me for this letter of recommendation, something has gone wrong. Something has gone wrong in your thinking, you have been, I think unhealthily influenced."'
Another thing I'd like to clarify about the proof of ministry, is that the proof of ministry is not seen in sheer numbers or attendance. Because there is a tendency for people to assume, "Oh, that church is a big church, therefore, the preacher must be sent of God." I think that's a very dangerous logic to push through, if you don't understand, 2nd Peter, for example, saying that there will be false prophets, and one of the marks of the false prophets, maybe many people will follow them.
I ... I am a believer that more people prefer false teachers than God sent teachers. I think that's that has always been the case! I, I think more people worship Baal than Jehovah during Elijah's days. So, don't make that assumption that just because a church is big, the pastor must be sent of God, he may be of the devil, he is a false teacher.
You see, Paul, when he talks about the Corinthians, he's not saying, "Oh, you guys are the best endorsement of ministry because you are a big church!" In most of the epistles, Paul writes, he doesn't really talk about size, attendance, number of baptisms, statistics. He doesn't talk about this, but he talks about ... and when he celebrates, he rejoices, he thanks God for changed lives.
For example, when he talks about the Corinthians, what's remarkable about the Corinthians were that, "Many of them were formerly, such were ... formerly involved, publicly involved in such sins." So that he could say, "You were this, you were that, you were this, you were that." But he says, "What's remarkable for you is that, that's all in the past! Huh, that's such were some of you, but now you are washed, you are sanctified, you're changed." [1 Cor 6:9-11]
"And now, with your changed lives, we carry you in our hearts, you are known and read by all, you guys are the letters written by Christ, by His Spirit on human hearts. That's the best proof of my ministry!"
So, as a church, we aim for this — we aim for life-change. And let me just say something about life-change, when we talk about life-change in Christendom today, people may assume life-change, "Oh, when I go to church, God now blessed me with health. When I go to church, now God blessed me with a HDB flat. When I go to church, God blessed me with a good career."
Now, I'm not saying God cannot bless you with these things, and they are not necessarily ... necessarily bad things. They can be good things, and we can rejoice when God gives us healing, and God gives us wealth, and when God gives us success. I'm not saying these things are bad, please don't get me wrong, although they can be become idols in and of themselves, but they are not bad, and God can give.
My point, however is that the emphasis of Scripture is life-change, it's not about these material things. But life-change is change from a life of sin, to be more and more like God. In other words, life-change should be properly looked at with regard to Christ, with regard to Christ-likeness, with regard to godliness. That's the mark! That's what we aim for! It's not about the things that will pass in this world, but about your life, and your discipleship to Him.
So, I take this opportunity to remind us of our mission as a church, we aim for life-change but not in that materialistic, temporal sense, although that can be also a blessing from God but ... but the goal is that we will be more like Jesus.
So Paul, probably in response to the deluge of letters of recommendation thrown around in the Corinthian church, says, "My proof is you, people more so than papers."
I think, it's somewhat embarrassing, I think recently in church, we were trying to register some, er ... something. It's a ... Pastor Paul has a teaching ministry, it's APIIS, trying to register, and it requires some of the teachers to be registered. And for the teachers to be registered, you need some qualifications, I was one of the teachers who are supposed to register, but when they asked me for qualification, I said, "I have none."
"You say you teach the Bible."
"But where's your qualification?"
Huh, I've never been to Bible School, I've never been to Seminary. I'm not boasting of that, I'm saying, "It's just it is, I have no qualifications." Is it a bad thing to have it? No. But I hope and I'm ... I hope you can still accept me as one of the teachers of the Bible here. And don't say, "Eh, Jason, where's your letter of recommendation?" I have none, I tell you first, I hope with time, your lives will be the best proof of ministry.
 The Power of Ministry
Secondly, Paul here, rushes I think to explain the power of ministry.
Just in case, anyone says, "Wah, look at you, it's because you're so good, because you're so dedicated, that people's lives are changed." Well, Paul rushes to say that, "Real power of ministry is not me, it's the Spirit of the Living God." And he says again in verse 5, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God."
"The proof of ministry is life-change, but the source of life-change, it's not me, it's God. The sufficiency is from God." Now, Paul did spend 18 months with the Corinthians, he did. I am sure Paul, he poured his life, teaching, preaching, discipling them, but he's very clear that if there is any success, any change, any progress, any transformation, it's not because of Paul, it's because of God.
I think Paul here is also answering the question that he asked earlier on in chapter 2, verse 16, "We are an aroma, we are a fragrance of life unto life and death and to death." And then he says, "Wow, the responsibility is so great, who is sufficient for these things?" verse 16. And so he answers his question here in chapter 3, "Our sufficiency is from God." [2 Cor 3:5]
Again, I thought it is ... it is quite important and quite opportune for us to be reminded again of our mission statement. It's a long statement with nine words, and you would probably say, "Why can you shorten it to 2 words — change lives?
The mission of Gospel Light is to change lives, that's easier! Everybody can remember that!"
I said, "That's true, it's more catchy, except one thing, one simple thing and one important thing — we can't change lives."
Can I say that again? We can't change lives. I can't change your life. I am very clear about that! I have met many of you, discuss over some of the challenges you face, given you some thoughts, but I'm very clear, I cannot change your lives.
For that matter, I can't even change my life. If there is any change in my life, and if there has been any change in your life, I am very clear, it is God. It is the Spirit of the Living God, who has done that work in your life. I am just you know what? A messenger. I'm just that delivery boy, pass you what God has said, and God is the One who blesses you through His Word.
One of the foundational pictures for our church mission statement is that of the paralyzed man. No one could save him, but he had four friends who cared for him, and who worked together to bring him to Jesus. The four friends are a picture of the church. The four friends cannot heal this man, no matter what they do, they cannot heal this man, but they knew that there is One who can heal this man, and that is Jesus. Their mission is to lead this man to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ and voila, his life has changed!
We are just like that stretcher party, we are just a fellowship around the mat. We bring people to Jesus, and Jesus is the One who must change lives. And the apostolic ministry, no matter how you want to venerate it, at the end of the day it is simply this — they bring people to Jesus.
What is the ministry of the church today? Very simple — we bring people to Jesus. What am I doing this morning? Change your life? No! My duty — bring you to Jesus, and Jesus is the One who changes lives.
So, the proof of the ministry, "Paul, prove yourself with letters, like the false teachers do." Paul says, "No, my ... my great proof of ministry is your life, that's a letter from Christ, even better."
"Oh, Paul, what's your power in ministry?" Because it is possible that the false teachers are priding themselves in their eloquence, their training, their ability to influence, their charisma. "We are so capable!" And Paul say, "Er, we are not very capable. We are very weak, we are jars of clay, because our sufficiency is from God." A very sharp contrast with the philosophy of the false teachers.
 The Premise of Ministry
And finally, with the remaining time I have, and I need that time because it's going to be talking about the premise of ministry.
What is the apostolic ministry based on? Is it based on Paul's thinking? No! Is it based on tradition of the Jews? No! What is the premise? What is the basis of the entire apostolic ministry? Paul says in verse 6, "Who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a New Covenant?" [2 Cor 3:6]
So, the basis of Paul's ministry is the New Covenant. Now, what is the New Covenant? I think if you go to the churches today and ask people, "Who is Jesus?" They can tell you who is Jesus. You ask them, "Who is the Holy Spirit?" They may be able to tell you who is the Holy Spirit. What is the Gospel? They may be able to explain a word or two, but when you ask them, "What is the New Covenant?" They will scratch your head and say, "si mi lai eh?" [Hokkien dialect] "Never hear of it! Don't know much!"
And I think that will be so tragic, I hope none of you, huh, after today ah, I think I've spoken about this a few times. But I hope after today, when someone asks you a New Covenant, you'll say, "I never hear before, you will not say I've never heard of it before, but you will be able to say, "I know what this is."'
And I think it's really important for all of us to know what this is, because this is a very, very important thing in the whole Bible. The only difficulty why people do not know it is because it is found, or a lot of the data, a lot of the information is found in the prophets. And most people don't read the prophets, that's the sad part. And besides that, it is written in prophets whose names are so weird that you feel ashamed to go to, "Hah, si mi [Hokkien dialect], what, wah!"
So you avoid it, you don't know it and it's such a waste, so, let me try to explain a little bit. And if you can, please lock in because if you don't understand this week's sermon about the New Covenant, you will die next Sunday. You will be ... you will be in the deep blue sea, alright. So it's really important to understand the fundamentals, the basics here, and that's what I'm going to do. It's just some outlines, and then next week it will be a lot richer.
Now, some of you may say, "Then like that, now I can switch off, next week, I don't come lor!" Ah, I suppose you can choose to do that, but I'm persuaded of better things from you, you want to know God's Word. And I ... let me say this, "This is not a peripheral teaching, this is not a good to have, this is central. This is really central!" I ... I think you will get to understand it in a while.
So let's explain this, New Covenant, what in the world is this? First of all, what's a covenant? A covenant is an agreement between two parties. So, in the Bible there are ... there are many agreements that God has made with men. For example, you would hear about the Abrahamic Covenant - God made a covenant with Abraham. There's a Davidic Covenant - God made a covenant with David, and there are others.
But there are two main covenants, one is called the Old Covenant and one is the New Covenant. You don't need to be a genius to figure that out, alright. So, God has made an agreement with Israel, an old one and then there is a new one.
What is the old one? Well, the old one took place a long time ago, after God brought Israel out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, led them by the pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Dramatic, amazing deliverance! And he brought them to this place called, Mount Sinai. Not near Ghim Moh, but somewhere in the Middle East, it's a scary place, there's darkness, there's fire, there's clouds, there's trembling. Whoa, it's an imposing sight!
But there God made a covenant with Israel because He said, "Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all people." [Ex 19:5]
So the deal is this — you obey Me, you will be My people, I will be your God. Israel heard what God said and they responded, with one voice saying, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." [Ex 24:3]
In other words, they say, "Let's do it! Let's seal the deal! We are in! Signed the contract right now." Now, you ... you would notice that between Exodus 19 and Exodus 24 will be Exodus 20, and Exodus 20 is the chapter about the 10 Commandments. So, God is saying, "If you obey Me, I will be your God, you will be My people."
"You shall have no other gods before Me."
"We will do."
"You shall not make unto yourself any graven images."
"We will do."
"You shall not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain."
"We will do."
"You will honor the Sabbath, keep the Sabbath, keep it holy unto Me."
"We will do."
"You shall honor your father and your mother,"
"We will do."
"You shall not kill."
"You shall not commit adultery."
"You shall not bear false witness."
"It's fine! And we will do everything you tell us to do. We agree, we sign, recommit ourselves."
So that was the Old Covenant, the old agreement. God said this, Israel say, "Alright, let's sign a deal." And in a sense, let me tell you this, remarkably is a wedding ceremony. This is where God in a sense, wedded Israel - God became their Husband, Israel in a sense became His wife. Speaking of a deep intimacy, and union as they covenant together.
By the way, that's what a marriage is about! A marriage is a covenant before God and before men, so they covenanted themselves. The problem, however, is that these people, like many broken marriages today, are unfaithful to God. And soon after marriage, by the way. Because soon after, they made this declaration and commitment, whilst Moses is up there in the mountain with God, the people downstairs, if I may say, began to fashion for themselves a golden calf. And they say, "This is the God who led us out of Egypt." They have just broken the second commandment!
And by the way, this is not once off, because that would be the tenure (pastor intended to say posture), that will be the tone, that will be the practice of Israel throughout the Old Testament. They will be a rebellious bunch, they will not listen to God, they will not trust God. More than 10 times in the wilderness, they rebelled against God.
And when they came to the Promised Land, and they became their own kingdom, their kings would lead them repeatedly into idol worship, into worshiping Baal, offering their children to be burned as offerings to these gods. Israel, consistently disobeyed God, they did not fulfill their end of the bargain, they did not obey the covenant.
So, what God did was, at the end of the day, God captured or used the Babylonians to teach them a lesson and they were captured, they were brought into Babylon for 70 years. To rid them, to detox them, if it, if I may say, from idolatry. But what does this show us? This shows you that Israel never kept the Old Covenant, they could not! They said they would, but they could not! Practically, it was impossible for them.
So, the Old Covenant did not work! And just before they were going to Babylon, just before they were captured, God gave them a message via His servant, Jeremiah. "Behold, the days are coming declares the LORD, when I will make a ..." what? "... a New Covenant." [Jer 31:31]
"The Old Covenant is you keep the end of the deal, and I will be your God, let me give you a New Covenant with Israel and the house of Judah." What's this New Covenant? "This covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, is not like the covenant that I made with your fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead ... bring them out of the land of Egypt ..." [Jer 31:32]
"This is going to be a different covenant all together. Because that covenant, "That Old Covenant, they broke, though I was their Husband." [Jer 31:32] So, Sinai was a wedding ceremony.
And He says in verse 33, "This New Covenant is very special. The Old Covenant is when I gave My law on tablets of stone." Now, you can now understand why verse 3 is tablets of stones versus tablets of the heart. My Old Covenant was on tablets of stones, but now My covenant is going to be on tablets of heart, "I will write, or put My law within you, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be My people." [Jer 31:33]
Not only that, "People will know Me, the people who are in this covenant will know Me. You don't have to teach his neighbor and teach his brother, to know the Lord, because they shall all know me and I will forgive their iniquity, I'll forgive their sins." [[Jer 31:34]
Ezekiel 11, and verses 19 and 20, "And I will give them one heart and a new Spirit, I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes."
"I'll write My law in their hearts, I'll give them a new heart, and I'll write My law in their hearts. And verse 25, to 27 of Ezekiel 36, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new Spirit, I'll put within you."
Over and over again God is talking about the New Covenant, in this way. The Old Covenant is obedience to the laws written on tablets of stone. The New Covenant is laws written in the hearts. The Old Covenant is where man has to obey to match up to that standard. The New Covenant is I will forgive your sins. Dramatically different! The Old Covenant requires the obedience of Israel. The New Covenant is the sovereign unilateral work of God in human lives.
Paul says, "The false teachers, perhaps major on the Old Covenant, the mosaic stuff, but the apostolic ministry is tremendous, because it's premised on the New Covenant, as God has promised in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel."
This is what Jesus spoke about before he died. The last meal, the last time He would share food and drinks with His disciples, He told them something that requires the understanding of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, which I have no doubt the Jewish people knew. Because He said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in My blood." [Luke 22:20]
He doesn't need to explain to them because the Jews are familiar with this concept. We are Singaporeans not so familiar, that's why I spent all that time describing to you. But if you are a Jew, you will know, "Oh, yah, our prophets did talk about a New Covenant, about how God is going to give us a new heart. He's going to write His laws in our heart, He's going to forgive our sins, we will be His people. He will be our God not based on what we used to do. He has got to do that!"
And Jesus says, "That is going to be made possible because of My blood. Because I'm going to shed blood, because I'm going to die for you." It is important to understand this, Hebrews 9:16 tells us, "For where a will is involved the death of the one who made it must be established."
Now, you can go back and check Hebrews 9, but Hebrews 9 gives the logic of why Jesus must ... must sacrifice, must die. He says, "When you write a will, the will is not going to be in force until the, the person who gave the will or wrote the will dies." Make sense, right? I mean, if you write a will to bequeath all your things to your children, I tell you something, your children will never get a single cent of what you write for them, until you ...? Die.
That's why some of the children， “你去死吧! [nǐ qù sǐ ba in Chinese] I wish you were dead, dad!" In a sense, that's what the prodigal son said to the father, "I wish you were dead! Just give me all that I am supposed to have." Because until the person dies, there is nothing that will be given to you.
So, the New Covenant is not going to be in a sense, publicly ratified until and unless there is the death of the one who gave that will. And so, "Jesus is the One, who by the means of His own blood secured and eternal redemption for us." [Heb 9:12] "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins." [Heb 9:22] Without the shedding of blood, there is no operation of the New Covenant possible!
The Old Covenant, by the way, was also one that was needing blood, but the blood that was needed was of bulls and calves. The New Covenant required the blood of the Son of God, but it is a superior covenant, it is the only covenant that saves. So, we say all that because the language here in 2nd Corinthians 3 is dripping with the language of Ezekiel and Jeremiah - human hearts, New Covenant and the Spirit.
So, the false teachers say, "We probably major on the Mosaic Covenant, the Old Covenant. So, keep your rituals, obey God and the 10 commandments, perhaps get circumcised." Paul says, "Nope! My ministry, the apostolic ministry is premised on the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit will write His laws in your hearts. It will be where God freely, graciously saves us, forgives us of our sins. And there will be a people so transformed because they have been given this heart transplant, who will love God, fear God and obey God. That's what I am serving in the New Covenant ministry."
So, Paul says, "This is our ministry, not of the letter, but of the Spirit." [2 Cor 3:6] Now, the letter here is the word, "gramma" in the Greek is not the same letter as in verse 1, letters of recommendation. That letter is epistolē, so it's a different word.
And what Paul is saying here is, "Our ministry of the New Covenant is not in writing of the laws on the tablets of stone. But our ministry is of the Spirit, because the law, the letter, the writing of the law in the tablets of stone, it will never save. In fact, it kills! The 10 commandments kill!"
"What do you mean by that? Is 10 commandments a bad thing?" No, but it's not a bad thing! Elsewhere Paul says that, "The 10 commandments are good! They are from God." They teach you about God, they are not a bad thing, but the 10 commandments kill in a sense, the 10 Commandments can never save anybody, because we have no power or ability to obey the 10 commandments, perfectly in order to be right with God. So in that sense, the 10 Commandments cannot save, it only condemns.
The 10 Commandments cannot rid you of sin, it can only show you of your sins. The 10 commandments, as I would like to think of it is like an X-ray machine that shows you your spiritual cancer, but the X-ray machine cannot remove your cancer. The X-ray machine, however is needed, so that you see your cancer and then you now turn to your doctor. Who's your doctor? Your doctor is the One promised in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, He shed His blood to save you from your sins.
And so, we need the Holy Spirit to work in our lives so that we may behold the glory and the beauty and the worth of Jesus Christ, so that in Him, we might be saved. And Paul says, "This is my ministry. I am excited about my ministry," Paul probably would say, because it's about the New Covenant that really saves.
There was a man who was religious from young, raised in a Bible reading home, memorized large parts of the Bible. Was a bright boy, I am pretty sure, did well in religious school and is earmarked to be a leader, and he eventually became a leader in his religious order. He became respected, he became a ruler, so, he would be like the top dog of his country. And if you think of anyone who is lightly to go to heaven, the people think this is the man.
But this man, though he lived a religious life, tried to obey God as best as he can his whole life, he was not sure if he would be accepted by God. So, one day when there was a guru who came to town, he said, "I must meet this guru. I must ask Him what law must I do, so that I can find acceptance with God."
But because he's such a prominent figure in his country, he dare not go to Him in broad daylight. So, like a ninja, when it's in the cover of darkness at night, he stealthily goes to this man's, guru's lodging, knocks on the door and says a few greetings, nice words to this guru. And even before he could ask the guru — what must I do to have acceptance with this God? Jesus Christ, the guru said to him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter or see the Kingdom of God."
Nicodemus is his name. He wanted to ask, "What more must I do?" Jesus, in effect says, "There's nothing you can do to save yourself. There's nothing you can do to earn that place with God. You must be born again!"
Birth is something you cannot do for yourself. Has anyone of you tried? Swim out? None of us can give birth to ourselves! So this is a picture of saying, "There's nothing you can do, Nicodemus, it's got to be done for you!" Nicodemus then says, "Huh, huh what do you mean, I've got to be born again? Can I go back to my mommy's tummy, do you know how old she is?" "No, no, no, no, that's not the birth I'm talking about. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit."
What is this water and the Spirit? Some people today think it's baptism and so on, and speaking in tongues. No! To a man like Nicodemus, he would immediately know, that's the language of Ezekiel - except a man be born again according to the New Covenant, he cannot enter, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.
"You must be saved, not according to the Old Covenant, where you work your way to God or you imagine you can work your way to God, but you may be ... you can only be saved by the sovereign grace of God, by His Spirit as you turn to Jesus Christ. That's the only way you can be saved, Nicodemus."
Then, Jesus gives him a beautiful story. Nicodemus, probably is asking, "I mean, I understand that it's got to be of a sovereign work of God, but is there something I need to still know and do?" Jesus told him, "You remember the story of the serpent in the wilderness? Huh, you remember how the fathers, Israel during Moses' time, they complained against God, murmur against God and in God's wrath, He sent this brood of serpents, fiery serpents, that when they bite it inflict such pain. It's called the fiery serpents, and many died.
And when the people of Israel cried out for mercy, God told Moses, "Go make a bronze serpent, lift it high up, and let the people know whoever turns and looks at the serpent will be saved." Remember the story, Nicodemus? "Of course I do. I memorized that part of the Bible, or that part of the Torah."'
Jesus then says, "That's what you need in order to be saved." "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." [John 3:14-15]
How can I have eternal life? How ... what must I do to be born again? Well, first of all, it's got to be the sovereign work, work of God. Let's get that clear! The wind of the Spirit is not something we can determine or dictate. It's got to be the sovereign work of God, but from the human perspective, whoever believes in Jesus Christ may have eternal life.
And then it leads us to the most famous verse of the Bible, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." [John 3:16]
It's not the Old Covenant that saves, it's not obedience to the law that saves, it's not conformity to the law that saves, because that can only lead you to condemnation, because nobody can do it right. But this X-ray shows you your sin, so that you may turn to your doctor, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you, who paid for you. And as we cry out for mercy, as we look to Christ, we ask that the Spirit will write His laws in our hearts. Give us a new heart, sprinkle clean water on our hearts, give us a heart transplant, that we may truly be His.
So if you're here today, and you wonder what Christianity is all about, can I suggest to you, it is about the New Covenant. It is about what God has promised in Jeremiah, in Ezekiel, that He will unilaterally save you. It does not require your worthiness. It does not require you to be a good boy, in order for you to be saved. It's all grace! God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So, this is not about being a good boy in church, this is about humbling yourself and thanking God and relying on His Son to save you from your sins. And Jesus paid it all, isn't it? He shed His blood, and he was successful because He rose from the dead the third day.
And this is the pride and joy as a Christian church. That's the pride and joy as a Christian minister, we serve today not in the ministry of condemnation, you know? We don't have to go around telling people, "You're going to hell, you're going to hell, ha ha ha, you're going to hell!" We ... we don't go around that because we have a better message to tell. We are telling people that, "There is a salvation in Jesus Christ today."
Now, we are not apostles, none of us is today. But just as God has told the apostles, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, we are also entrusted with a ministry that is patterned after the apostolic ministry, we are to tell people the Good News of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant. And that is how, and that is the only way we can be leading generations into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
So guys, know the Gospel, know the New Covenant, this is really important! May we as a church focus on teaching the New Covenant, in our children ministry, let's not say, "Thou shalt not kill. Boys don't kill, ah! Don't fight, ah! And if you don't fight, don't kill, don't hate, then you become a Christian." I say, "No, no, no! Wrong!" You're teaching them Old Covenant.
I'm saying, "Boys, you see the ..." Why boys, okay, girls also, but, "Ah, children, children, thou shalt not kill. Have you hated someone in your heart before? Have you been angry? Have you scolded people before for selfish reason?" "Yes. I won't do it again." "No, no, no, you will do it again. But let me tell you something, God is willing to forgive you, and God has sent His Son to die for us on the cross. Look to Him for forgiveness, for salvation, and God will give you a new heart that will really want to obey Him." That's the New Covenant!
And I hope, that if you today are attending church and you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, then you would ask, "Do I really have a heart, where it can be described to be a heart of flesh, where God's laws are written within? Or do I merely just come to church, as a routine, as a ritual?" I asked that not to shake your confidence or assurance, but I asked that in case there's any one of us who may be presuming upon our salvation, so that maybe today you can truly seek salvation in the Gospel, and talk to someone about it.
The New Covenant, a lot more will be spoken next week, so if you today can understand, I think next week, please come back. And if you're not back next Sunday, I think you'll probably give up but uh, but you can always check out the sermon again, but this is so important. I hope we can give our due attention to it.
Let's bow for a word of prayer together.
Father, thank You again for this morning. Whilst we went into the technicalities of it, we want to take a step back and just realize, just how amazing Your grace is. You are telling us that man can be saved, even when he is a failure, man can be saved even when he is totally incapable of pleasing You. So, dear God, we praise You for Your magnanimous grace.
Lord, we thank You for the promise in the Bible, and we thank You for the servants You have raised up in history who have delivered to us the message of the Gospel. And thank You most of all, for Jesus Christ, who died and shed His blood in order to save His people from their sins.
This morning, we pray that friends and loved ones would turn from sin and believe in Jesus, that they might be saved, that they might like the people in the days of Moses, having been bitten by the venom of sin, turn and behold Jesus Christ.
Lord, we pray as a church, we will be a people faithful and excited about the New Covenant, faithful and excited about telling people, Jesus and His love. And I pray if there be any today who is still outside of Your Kingdom, Lord, shake them out of that presumption that, not that they will be just discomforted, but most of all, they will be stirred to find out the true way of salvation and life in Jesus.
Many needs, many hearts, we can't change lives, but You can. And so, we ask You to do so in our midst. Thank You in Jesus' Name, Amen.
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