Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At Liberty

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

                        2 Corinthians 3.17 (KJV) 


I’m just back from an overnight trip to Boston. Rushing to the airport last evening, I realized my hotel was only scant minutes from Concord, site of the famous “shot heard ‘round the world” inaugurating the Revolutionary War. My heart sank because I hadn’t time to visit the place where my cherished American freedom from tyranny first asserted itself. On our recent trip to Prague, Walt and I stayed near St. Wenceslas Square, site of the 1968 student uprising brutally crushed by the Soviets and 1989’s ecstatic declaration of Czech independence from Communist rule. Although the Square now bustles with commerce and (according to my driver) Concord’s monument stands amid suburban sprawl, that both places witnessed daring defiance against oppression elevates them to sacred ground, ground that rumbled with dissatisfaction and soaked up the blood of intrepid people fighting for freedom. American and Czech patriots willingly gave their lives for liberty because liberty gave them life.

Two Mountains and Two Veils

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul invokes our liberty in Christ by implicitly contrasting two mountains and explicitly describing two veils. He begins at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the first 10 of what evolved into an unmanageable compendium of 613 commandments. Paul refers to this as “the old covenant” (v14), meaning the former contract between God and His people to reconcile them to Him. According to Exodus 34.29, when Moses descended Sinai, his face beamed so brilliantly with God’s glory, he had to cover it with a veil. If Israel honored God’s laws, He promised to restore the freedom humankind originally enjoyed in the Garden, before the acquisition of knowledge to discern good from evil led to darkness. But Paul explains why this failed. The burden of the law became a veil as well—its intricate, impossible demands concealed the glory of its purpose. There could be no liberty under the law, and without liberty there could be no life.

He next flashes forward to another mountain, Calvary, where Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled and obliterated the law forever. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all report the moment Jesus died, the temple veil barring worshipers from the Holy of Holies, the most sacred area said to house God’s Spirit, suddenly ripped apart, giving common people the right to access God’s presence for themselves. Furthermore, Paul suggests, the lifting of the veil revealed the glory of reconciliation—renewed opportunity to commune with God as He first intended. Entering the realm of His Spirit endowed us with freedom, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The severance of the veil ended the oppressive regime of legalism at last. In a defiant blow to the tyranny of sin, Calvary’s ground rumbled and soaked up the blood of Christ, Who willing gave His life for our liberty so our liberty from sin could give us new life.

Ever-Increasing Glory

Paul ends this profound depiction of freedom won with this: “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.” Free access to God’s Spirit liberates us to reflect His glory—to replicate the miracle of Christ’s atonement by radiating God’s reconciling power to others. “Unveiled,” we become beacons of God’s presence. Unhindered by fear and doubt and guilt, we’re at liberty to demonstrate reconciliation through unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Our personal restoration isn’t meant to end with us. It’s ours to offer to others in need as we discipline our thoughts and behaviors to reflect Christ with ever-increasing glory. The more like Jesus we become, the more of His light shines in and through us.

We observed something unique in Prague. Unlike other Europeans, who speak English begrudgingly, often demanding tourists first embarrass themselves by butchering the local tongue, the Czechs eagerly greeted us in English and engaged in lengthy conversations. A local resident explained why. For centuries, they lived under regimes that forced their languages on them: the Hapsburgs, Austro-Hungarian rulers, and Nazis made German the official tongue, followed by the Soviets’ insistence on Russian. Basking in the glory of their young Republic, speaking English constitutes more than courtesy. It’s an expression of freedom they treasure. Being at liberty to talk as they choose, they make the most of every chance to do so. As their fluency improves, their sense of freedom increases. The more we speak God’s love and light, the more fluent we become, and the more His glory increases. It’s a liberty won by Christ Himself, a freedom we should be eager to share, one we can never take for granted, one we never want to lose.

St. Wenceslas Square, once the site of defiance to oppression, is now where Czechs are at liberty to express their freedom. Calvary, also a site of defiance, gives us freedom to reflect Christ's ever-increasing glory as we're transformed into His likeness. 

(Tomorrow: Watch Out!)

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