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Sep 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 27, 2015 – 2 Corinthians, chapters 3 – 4

Jesus Christ:
Contemplation and Transformation

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Intro: Most of the New Testament letters were written by Paul

James, Peter and John wrote some of the other letters

Did Jesus Christ ever write any letters? Yes – he wrote us

you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3)
Helmut Thielicke asked whether God’s message can be read in us or “are we just so much junk mail?” A thought-provoking question, but that was not Paul’s point

– the wonderful work God was doing in the Corinthians was proof of Paul’s ministry
• those believers were his credentials, his letters of reference
– every time I read this chapter, I stop at verse 18
• this may be the most amazing thing Paul ever wrote
• as we look at Jesus, we are changed into the same image

Today’s “Travel Tip” for our spiritual journey: Transformation occurs as we contemplate Jesus

The obvious challenge: how do we see the invisible?

We learn from Paul that we can come at this another way
– we can ask, Why is it we don’t see God’s glory in the face of Jesus?
• Paul’s answer is that either we’re blindfolded or blinded

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 2 Cor. 3:15-16
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

In An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks tells the story of “Virgil”
– after being blind for forty-five years, Virgil had surgery to remove cataracts from his eyes
• at first, it seemed like a miracle that he could see again
• but the gift of sight exposed him to an entirely alien world
◦ he found both distance and motion to be confusing
◦ he could identify letters, but not read words

Oliver Sacks explained that “his eyes seemed . . . to be incapable of the easy movement, the scanning, that is needed to read.”

◦ also, he could not see the difference between his dog and cat, until he felt them
– sight is not simply a matter of having normal healthy eyes
• different pieces of information are decoded in different parts of the brain
◦ shapes are recognized in one area, color in another, motion in another, and so on
◦ motor functions controlled by the somatic cortex dilate the pupils and move the eyes (tracking)
• all of these functions must be integrated for the brain to form a coherent image

Oliver Sacks described how Virgil “would pick up details incessantly–an angle, an edge, a color, a movement–but would not be able to synthesize them, to form a complex perception at a glance.” “Most of us have no sense of the immensity of this construction, for we perform it seamlessly, unconsciously, thousands of times every day at a glance.”

Reading this account of Virgil, two thoughts occurred to me:
– first, any unused function of the brain disappears
• there is a lot of interest in neuroplasticity today, but we’re all familiar with neural atrophy
• people who lose their sight for five years will suffer the same symptoms as Virgil
◦ perhaps our twenty-first century ability to see God’s glory in Jesus’ face has atrophied
◦ Paul was blind to Jesus until he became spiritually sighted
– second, it’s possible that a person’s eyes can see something that doesn’t register in their brains
• they do not even realize that they see what they are seeing
• in the medical field, this is referred to as visual agnosia

Paul describes people who heard the Scriptures, but did not comprehend what they heard
– he says, “their minds were hardened” (2 Cor. 3:14-16)
• this doesn’t have to mean they were stubborn or rebellious
• the mind can be compact, stuffed full, shut off so that nothing can penetrate it
– the hearing and seeing that Paul had in mind may need to be developed
• perhaps this is why it goes from glory to glory
◦ it is like the hard work that blind people have to do when their sight is restored
◦ there was a blind man Jesus healed in stages (Mk. 8:22-26)
• it is normal to not see God with our physical eyes
◦ it is normal for this to not seem real to our rational minds
◦ but we do not receive this “brain first”

for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)

◦ “faith” does not mean walking blindly — faith has its own spiritual sight
• when faith brings the brain on board, then everything begins to make sense

Can we allow ourselves to me amazed for moment?

Daniel Siegel, in The Mindful Brain, explains the neural development of self-knowledge
– it occurs in specific areas of the brain
• and because our brains also have the ability to mirror other people, we can know them
◦ he refers to this knowledge as “attunement”
◦ like empathy, attunement is the ability to feel what others feel
• intimate knowing is the ability to read another person at this visceral level
– the more fully I enter story of Jesus, better I know him, the more attuned I become to him
• but this requires more than simply reading the gospels
• we must enter them as fully as possible

Knowing Jesus is an experience unique from knowing anyone else – and it has side-effects
– for example, I discover that Jesus knows me
• but the “me” he knows is not the one I perceive
• Jesus knows a better, truer version of me
– Jesus’ knowledge of me changes me

Helmut Thielicke asks whether we can simply fit Jesus into our self-understanding as it is or “whether he for his part does not basically change my understanding of myself, whether his understanding of me does not differ from my own, whether faith does not mean learning to see and understand with his eyes. If so, my general self-understanding cannot go unaltered when I ‘integrate’ Christ into it.”

• it is true, then, that by contemplating Jesus, we are transformed

Does being transformed into his image mean we become clones of Jesus? (albeit, defective clones)
– the whole force of the gospels is that there is only one Jesus
• God’s goal with me is that I become more my (true) self
◦ that the ‘me’ he owns is under the control of this world or conformed to it (Ro. 12:1-3)
◦ and less a victim of my upbringing, traumas, or programming
• God frees me from warped versions of myself

So then, [brothers and sisters], we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh . . . for you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Ro. 8:12, 15)

– another disclaimer: contemplative spirituality is not like some forms of eastern religion
• that is, where the individual self is absorbed into an universal, cosmic “Self”
◦ in contemplative spirituality, the individual self never goes away
◦ in contemplative prayer, the person is never unconscious
• the self is a gift of God and it receives clarity in Christ
◦ your true self is one side of an intimate I-Thou relationship

Rather than becoming a clone, the person I am becoming is shaped by Jesus’ character
– he is good, loving, courageous, true, beautiful and so on
• the transformation into his character qualities occurs on many levels and many ways
◦ some changes occur over time; others, instantaneous
◦ the transformation involves a subtraction as well as addition (4:16)
◦ the transformation is not at all easy

Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians chapter 4 is enclosed in a single theme: “we do not lose heart” (1, 16). The implication of this statement is that we come up against significant challenges (e.g., vv. 8-12). It is vital that we do not lose heart, otherwise the process of transformation will stall or even stop.

• the transformation is carried forward by the normal stuff of life

Conc: A parting thought

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the power will be of God and not from ourselves . . . (2 Cor. 4:7)

I’ve never been a first-class model of Jesus
– I’ve always been heaven’s “charity case”
• I’m breakable, sometimes fragile and sometimes spineless
• the treasure God has placed in me is everything that I am not
◦ it is eternal, I am transient; it is substantial, I am superficial; it is Spirit, I still tend toward law; it is freedom, I am chained; it is dynamic, I am static
◦ and what is in me, is changing me — bringing me over to its side (his side)

You never need to hide what you are
– the only people who find hypocrites attractive, are other hypocrites
• everyone else finds them repelling
– we are normal people in normal life and this is where our transformation unfolds

Rowan Williams, “The Spirit’s work is to make the believer like Christ, and being like Christ means living through certain kinds of human experience–not once, but daily. . . . the transfiguration [is] from glory to glory, realized daily in the absurd, the bitter, even the comical . . . . When the future breaks into the present order, it shows itself . . . in the stupid incongruities of this curious life in two worlds.
“The new life is not a possession. It is, simply, new life–that is to say, a new world of possibilities, a new future which is to be constructed day by day.”

You see, the spiritual journey is less like hard labor trying to change ourselves
– making resolutions, fighting to break bad habits, etc.
It is more like planting a seed, watering it and letting it grow

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