Before leaving chapter 3 of Second Corinthians, I need to circle back and make explicit something that was only hinted at in the blog post that went up on Pentecost Sunday.
Paul has been contrasting the old covenant under Moses with the new covenant under Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit. That divine gift, through which the church is born, marks a new era and the fulfillment of the gracious intentions God announced through his prophets.
Paul is not the only one to say this. Note how Peter explains the events of Pentecost to the astonished crowd: “These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. …And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:15-17,21, CEB; cf. Joel 2:28-32).
Peter’s message is: God promised this long ago, and has finally done it — that’s what’s unfolding right before your eyes.
“Pentecost.” The Jewish tradition is that 50 days after the beginning of the Passover — the night on which the Israelites were miraculously rescued from slavery by the mercy of their God — God gave the Ten Commandments through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Thus was the glorious old covenant established. In the story of Pentecost from Acts 2, Jews from all around the empire had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, to commemorate the giving of the old covenant.
And then God changes the meaning of the celebration.
This time, it’s 50 days since a merciful God provided an escape from slavery to sin, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus was the even more glorious new covenant established. And with that escape comes the gift of God’s Spirit which establishes and sanctifies his people.
The ancient exodus, the old covenant. Both were and still are reasons to praise God for his glory. But the new exodus through Jesus, God’s divine rescue of his people from the dominion of darkness (Col 1:13), is the basis of a new and more glorious covenant.
Small wonder that Paul would be aghast that any follower of Jesus, having been rescued from slavery to sin, would want to submit to it once again (e.g., Rom 6). But now, something new is on offer.
It’s life in the Spirit.
Thanks be to the God of exoduses, old and new.