Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin monk who is preacher to the papal household, aged eighty-one, kindly came and spoke at our Leadership Conference in 2015. Many people comment on how his face and eyes shine with the radiance of God’s presence. He was on a train one time in Italy when a woman, who was a total non-believer, approached him and said, ‘Your face compels me to believe.’
It has been said, ‘We cannot control the beauty of our face, but we can control the expression on it.’ As this story illustrates, you can tell a lot by looking at people’s eyes and faces. We say, ‘You should have seen the look on their face.’ As the old Latin proverb says, ‘The face is the index of the mind.’
It is also true that ‘The eyes are the windows to the soul.’ When we really want someone to listen to and believe us, we say to that person, ‘Look into my eyes.’
The Bible says a lot about faces and eyes.
There is a spiritual hunger in our hearts, which can only be satisfied by God. The psalms are full of a longing for relationship with God, and a desire to be in God’s presence. This is described here using the language of human relationships – ‘looking’ to God and seeking his ‘face’: ‘These all look to you… When you hide your face, they are terrified… When you send your Spirit, they are created’ (vv.27–30).
The psalmist contrasts the satisfaction that comes from looking at God’s face with the terror when he hides his face from us. Sin creates a barrier between us and God. When Adam and Eve sinned they could no longer look God in the eye. They hid from him. They were removed from his presence. God hid his face from them. They were terrified.
When we are able to look God in the face the opposite is the case: ‘All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time… You open your hand and they eat from it’ (v.27, MSG). This is true not only of the physical food that the psalmist seems to be describing here, but also of the spiritual food which God gives us.
Lord, thank you that when I look to you, you open your hand and satisfy me with good things. Forgive my sins and do not hide your face from me.
Our faces are supposed to shine more brightly than the face of Moses. ‘Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare at the sun’ (v.7, MSG).
The ministry of the old covenant was itself good. It came ‘engraved in letters on stone’, but it also came ‘with glory’ (v.7). Moses had looked into the face of God and as a result his face was shining (see Exodus 34:29 onwards). Moses had to ‘put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away’ (2 Corinthians 3:13).
Although the ministry of the old covenant was good, it actually ‘brought death’ (v.7). We are unable (of ourselves) to keep God’s written laws. We sin and ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).
Paul continues to contrast the ministry of the old covenant with the ministry of the Spirit. The ministry of the old covenant in itself was good (2 Corinthians 3:7). However, the ministry of the Spirit is even more glorious and lasting (vv.9–11).
The ministry of the old covenant involved Moses wearing a veil. A veil stops people seeing. Paul says that even today people don’t really see or understand, ‘their minds were made dull’ (v.14). Only when they turn to the Lord is the veil taken away (v.16).
This certainly was my experience – I had heard the Bible being read and I had been to talks about the Christian faith, yet I did not understand what people were talking about. It made no sense to me at all. My spiritual eyes were blind. The moment that I turned to the Lord, it was as if the veil was taken away. I could see and understand.
Paul goes on to write something absolutely amazing: ‘And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognised as obsolete. We're free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him’ (vv.17–18, MSG).
The whole Trinity is involved. The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus our Lord. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are so closely connected that Paul can write, ‘The Lord is the Spirit… the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (vv.17–18). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7).
The Spirit of the Lord brings radical freedom to our lives. Freedom from legalism, guilt, shame, condemnation, self-hatred and self-rejection. Freedom from the power of sin, selfishness, manipulation and control. Freedom from the fear of death and fear of what others think of us. Freedom from comparing ourselves with others.
You are free to know, love and serve God. You are free to use your life and energy to love others. You are free to be yourself. You can approach God with boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12). You do not need to veil your face.
As you look into the face of Jesus, he changes you into his likeness. The change is gradual, little by little, ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (v.18, AMP). When you spend time with another person you tend to become more like them. People gaze at celebrities and reproduce their mannerisms and their appearance. If you are captivated by Jesus, you will be transformed into his image.
We see a thousand faces a day, images are everywhere, but the Spirit reveals the most important face of all to us. As you spend time in the presence of the Lord you become more and more like him. You are transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.
Lord, thank you for this immense privilege that I can approach you with freedom and boldness. Thank you that I can look into your face and reflect your glory in the world. Help me today to fix my eyes on you.
The eyes of the Lord see everything we do, say and think. We can escape from human eyes but we cannot escape from the eyes of the Lord.
The sad history of the people of God continues. Human nature is unchanged. There were fights, battles, quarrelling, attacks and war (35:20–21). Josiah was succeeded by kings who did not follow his good example. Jehoakim, Jehoiachin (his son) and Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle) all ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (36:5,9,12).
Zedekiah’s problem, like the others, was that he was ‘stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord’ (v.13). Being stiff-necked is a powerful illustration of pride – refusing to bow the head before God. Hardening the heart is a description of how we can resist the Holy Spirit.
‘God… repeatedly sent warning messages to them. Out of compassion for both his people and his Temple he wanted to give them every chance possible. But they wouldn’t listen; they poked fun at God’s messengers, despised the message itself, and in general treated the prophets like idiots’ (2 Chronicles 36:15–16, MSG). Eventually, God handed them over (v.17) to the great powers of that day – Babylon (modern day Iraq) and Persia (modern day Iran).
The book of Chronicles ends with a slight note of hope. The passage for today includes a description of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 597 BC and the exile, but it ends with the hope of restoration and rebuilding that began in 538 BC.
This restoration pointed towards the greater hope of what was to happen through Jesus Christ our Lord. The ministry of the old covenant was to be far exceeded by the ministry of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Our hope is of a totally different order. Paul writes ‘since we have this hope we are very bold’ (2 Corinthians 3:12). It is the hope of reflecting the Lord’s glory and being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (v.18).
Lord, thank you so much for the hope that we have which is so much greater than anyone had even thought or imagined. Thank you that I can gaze at the face of Jesus. Thank you that I can reflect the Lord’s glory and be transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.
2 Corinthians 3:18
‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’
Without change there is no growth.