March 03, 2019

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Exodus 34:29-35

Gospel Lesson; Luke 9:28-36                             

Sermon Text; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6


It is probably fifteen years ago, when there was a ring on the phone at Holy Cross, on Milwaukee Street.  I answered the phone, and it happened to be somebody from the city of Madison.  They wanted to know if they could use our church facility, for a city meeting, for the neighborhood.  They said there would be a lot of people there. 

I said, “That will be great.  We would love to open our building, and make it of service to the community.”

So, there was a meeting that was going to be held in the church basement. 

The evening of the meeting came, and there was 'a ton' of people down in the church basement.  There was even a news station there, with cameras. 

I was busy trying to make sure the city officials had everything they needed.  I made sure they had chairs, tables, and microphones.  Then, at some point right before they were about to start, one of the city officials came up to me, and asked, “Pastor, do you have a podium we could use?” 
I said, “Sure we have one”, and I went over to a corner for it. 

Maybe a lot of you even remember this podium.  It was built by one of our older members, named Ralph Torgerson.  He was a great woodworker.  Anyway, it was this kind of blond podium that was on wheels.  It had a white cloth covering on the front of it.  And then, there was this painted, gold, wooden, cross right on the front of it.

I rolled the podium right up to where the speakers were going to be, and I said, “Here is our podium.”
Shortly after I did that, I saw some of the city officials huddling together.  Then, the spokesperson came up to me, and asked, “Pastor, would you be ok if we covered up the cross that is on that podium, because we just don't know what people will think if they see that?”
I looked at her, smiled, and then said, “We are so happy you guys are here, using our church basement.  This is our House, and you are here, in our House.  This is our furniture.  We want to welcome you into our House, but the most important piece of furniture in this whole House is the cross.  That is what we are all about.  That is why we call ourselves Holy Cross.  So, I am going to leave that, so people can see it.”

They respected that.  But, what is it about the cross?  I bet everybody in that room, that evening, probably, probably could have articulated  what the cross is about.  Christian, or not Christian, I bet most of the people could have said, “That cross is about Jesus, who died on the cross to pay for the sins of the world.”
The world is pretty clear that is what the cross is about. 

So, what is it about the cross that causes people to want to sometimes put a veil over it, or cover it, so we can't see it clearly?  What is it about the cross that sometimes, maybe, causes your uncle, or your cousin, or your nephew, or your niece, someone who clearly knows the message of the cross, to kind of put a veil in front of it so that they can't clearly see what that cross is all about?

Our scripture reading for today addresses that whole issue.  What is it about the cross that people want to cover it up?  In fact, I am going to read what it says. 

“...even if our Gospel is veiled,

it is veiled among those who are perishing. 

In the case of those people,

the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,

to keep them from clearly seeing the light of the Gospel

of the glory of Christ,

who is God's image.”

And so, here scripture tells us, “...the god of this age...”.  Who is “the god of this age”?  The Bible is talking about Satan there.  The Bible refers to him, for example, as the ruler of this dark world, or the prince, or the powers of the air.  This is the god of this age, Satan, and he is in a cosmic battle with God.  He is in a cosmic battle over your soul.  Satan wants to take your soul away from God for eternity. 

The problem is, Satan cannot undo what happened on the cross.  He simply cannot undo it. 

He cannot undo the fact that even though he has gotten all of humanity to fall into sin, God, Himself took on human flesh, and came into this world as a human being to rescue humanity. 

Satan cannot undo the fact, even though Satan threw his best arrows at Jesus to try to get Him to fall into sin, Jesus lived a holy, spotless, sinless life, defeating Satan. 

Satan cannot undo the fact that when Jesus went to the cross, even though Satan didn't realize fully what was happening, Jesus was paying for the sins of the entire world.  There Satan's power was conquered on the cross.  Satan cannot undo that fact.  He just can't undo it.  It is a reality.  It exists.  It stands. 

He cannot undo the fact that God's heart toward us, because of what Christ has done, is a loving heart that says, “For the sake of my Son, I declare you to be not guilty.  I do not see your sins.  They are forgiven, for Christ's sake.”  He cannot undo that.

So, what power does Satan have then, if he can't undo the power of the cross?  What he can do is put a veil in front of your face, so you don't see the cross.  Here The Bible says he “has blinded the minds of unbelievers...”  It is like he covers up the cross so that we don't clearly see it.  Even though we may be able to articulate what it is all about, and what happened there, in our hearts, and in our minds, we don't clearly, clearly see the light of the glory of the cross. 

If you would read earlier in the book of 2 Corinthians, you would discover one of the primary ways Satan tries to cover up that cross, or the glory of the cross, is he tries to use what we call, “Human Independence”.  You and I may look at the cross, and say, “I understand what happened there.  I understand God died for the sins of the world.”  But, he can put a veil in front of our eyes so we think, “But, I personally don't need that.  Can't I do something?  Can't I earn God's favor?  Aren't I good enough?  Isn't there some way?  I mean, what Jesus did is great, but do I personally need it?” 

That is the veil that often blinds the minds of this unbelieving world.  Again, even though the world can see what happened on the cross, that can blind them.

I will give you an example.  This happened at a funeral here at Holy Cross, some time ago.  After the funeral, here is the letter I got.  This is from a woman who clearly, clearly got the message of the cross.  She got it, but just look at this veil that is covering her eyes.  In this very cordial letter she says:

Dear Pastor Bartels,

Just a note to thank you for officiating at my  husband's funeral service.  However, I want to point out there were some factual errors and omissions in your sermon.  You are a good speaker, however you lack empathy for your audience.  You achieved your purpose to have the attendees know my husband is in Heaven, with Jesus.  But, in your enthusiasm, you alienated many with your emphasis on Christian burials.  You gave the impression that we can only be saved by believing in Jesus. 

While I respect your beliefs, you may not realize that two thirds of the world's population believes in reincarnation.  Only Christians have been misled by church doctrine to believe we only have one life.  Most of the world shares my belief that Jesus is an example of how to live in this world, as a soul.  Don't be misled to think only Christians are saved. 

Thank you for my opportunity to share my perspective.

So, she got the message.  She understood what I was saying.  She got the message of The Gospel, that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners.  But, there was a veil.  She said in the end that Jesus served as an example on how to live.  There is that whole idea, “I am independent.  I don't need Jesus to get to Heaven.”  That is the veil that Satan likes to put in front of people's eyes, to cover up the saving Gospel message.  He can't undo the message, but he can cover it up.

So, how does that message, then, become unveiled so that we see the glory of The Gospel of Christ?  That can only be unveiled by Christ. 

The veil is only lifted in Christ,

and by Christ.

Do you remember when the disciples on the road to Emmaus were down cast?  They thought Jesus was going to be the Messiah.  They were walking with downcast eyes.  Jesus came beside them, and they didn't even realize it was Jesus.  It was like there was a veil over their eyes.  They didn't realize who He was. 

Jesus began to tell them, from the very beginning of scriptures, and going through the scriptures, that Jesus had to suffer.  He had to die.  He had to rise from the dead.  And, all of a sudden, it was like the veil was lifted, and they realized, “This is Jesus.  He is my Savior, and He died for my sins.” 

The same thing happened to St. Paul.  St. Paul was a man who independently believed he could save himself, before he became a Christian.  He said, “I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees”.  He tried so hard, independently, to live the kind of life that would earn God's favor.  So much so, that when he saw The Gospel, he was blinded by this veil.  He didn't like The Gospel, because The Gospel taught he needed Jesus.  He needed somebody else. So, he went around persecuting Christians, trying to kill Christians.  Then, all of a sudden, Jesus lifted the veil.  All of a sudden, Paul, this persecutor of Christ, saw the risen Jesus, and he subsequently saw what he was.  “I was the chief of sinners.  Christ Jesus came to save me.”  All of a sudden, that veil was lifted, and he saw the beautiful message of The Gospel of the cross. 

You know, when I was thinking about veils, as I was working on this sermon, I kept thinking about weddings.  People don't wear veils all that much more in weddings, do they?  I remember when I got married, Sherri wore a veil.  There was some kind of cool symbolism to that.  But, just imagine if you were going to get married.  You are the bride, and Jesus is the groom.  The Bible pictures The Church that way.  Jesus is the groom, and The Church is His bride.  The Church is Christ's bride.  Imagine you have this veil on, and nobody can clearly see you.  You can't clearly see under the veil. 

Imagine what is really under that veil.  What really is under that veil is somebody who has been totally unfaithful, totally unfaithful to God.  You would see, if you could lift that veil, and look at yourself in the mirror, and if I could lift my veil, I would see some stuff I would not want anybody to see, let alone myself, let alone Jesus.  We would see spots, wrinkles, stains.  We would be covered with the filth of all the wrong things we have done, thought, and said for all our lives. 

To think I am going to walk up to the front of the church as a bride and have a relationship with Jesus?  So, imagine walking up the aisle, and you know underneath that veil that is what is there.  And then, Jesus lifts the veil, and looks at you.  What does He see?  I am going to read what He sees.  This is taken from the book of Ephesians. 

“Husbands love your wives,

just as Christ loved The Church

and gave Himself up for her,

that He might sanctify her,

having cleansed her by the washing,

of water through The Word,

so that He might present The Church to Himself

in splendor,

without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,

that she might be holy, and without blemish.” 

Jesus lifts the veil, and what does He see?  He sees this bride who He has totally cleansed, washed, and made clean in Baptism.  Jesus has delivered that to you.  He has taken your sin to Himself. 

Think about that.  God, Himself, in the flesh, loves you so dearly that even though you have spots, wrinkles, stains, and all of this unfaithfulness, He loves you so much that He took it to Himself.  He took it to Himself, and went to the cross.  There, with His blood, He washed it all away.  And now, He presents you and me to Himself, perfect and without blemish.  Beautiful in splendor.  That is the God we have.  That is what He looks at, when He sees us.

What do we see?  We see the glory of God in the face of Christ.  To think God would be that merciful to me, to me, that He would take me, as unfaithful as I am, to Him, and He would want me to be His bride.  He would make me clean, give me splendor, and see me as beautiful.  He would want me to be with Him in His Home forever, in Heaven.  There we see the glory of God in the face of Christ.  It is a beautiful picture The Bible gives us.

So, why does The Bible talk about this whole section, talking about some people having this veil in front of them, and then the veil being lifted?  You know, the tendency... Well, let me read what comes right before our verse for today.

“We renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways. 

We refuse to practice cunning,

or to tamper with God's Word. 

But, by the open statement of the truth,

we commend ourselves to everyone's conscious

in the sight of God.”

There is a tendency knowing some people struggle with the message of The Gospel, to tamper with the Word of God, just a little bit.  “Can't I make it more acceptable to people?”   “Couldn't I make it more easy to swallow, this message that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone?”
Paul says, “NO.  We are not going to tamper with that.  We are not going to undermine the Word of God.  We are going to present it clearly, and we are going to present it plainly.  Ultimately, it is only by that Gospel message that the Holy Spirit works in hearts to lift the veil.”

I will close with this thought.  The Bible says we reflect the Lord's glory with ever increasing glory.  As you look at the face of Christ, and what He has done for you, the deeper we fall in to that, the deeper we understand that, the more we see the love of God, the glory of God in Christ, the more that begins to reflect in our own lives.  I want you to see what St. Paul did, as he reflected that glory.  He knew there were people who were going to be veiled to the message, and they were going to refuse the message.  But, what was Paul's heart toward them?  His heart was not a heart of disdain or disgust, or “What is the matter with them?”.  His heart was a compassionate heart.  He reflected the glory of the Lord.  It was a heart that wanted to go after lost souls.  It was a heart that, like Jesus, was willing to say, “I will suffer for your sake, if somehow you can come to know Jesus, as your Savior”.  Paul was willing to be shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and all kinds of terrible things happened to him, because he had this reflection of the Lord's glory, a love for lost souls. 

There are people who we know, for whom that Gospel is still veiled.  May God give all of us this compassion, and passion for lost souls, as we continue to clearly, clearly proclaim the one saving message – The Gospel of Christ.