ďThe Glory of the New Testament MinistryĒ
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
August 29, 2004
Every Lutheran catechumen
learns the basic difference between the law and the gospel.
Godís law is that teaching from God whereby we learn what is
right and what is wrong. It
is proclaimed from Mt. Sinai. The
law teaches us how we are to be and live.
It shows us our sins by showing us Godís permanent demands upon
us Ė demands that we have not met.
The law condemns us for our sins and offers us no hope.
Godís gospel is that teaching from God whereby we learn of our
Savior Jesus. It is
proclaimed from Mt. Calvary. The
gospel teaches us what we are to believe.
It proclaims to us the comforting message that God, for
Christís sake, forgives us all our sins and that He does so fully and
freely so that we may rest confident and at peace.
The gospel does not tell us what to do.
It makes no demands on us. Instead
of making demands on us, the gospel promises us forgiveness of sins and
eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior.
The difference between the law
and the gospel is not just an academic question.
It is the difference between life and death.
Those who trust in the law are trusting in death and death is
what they will receive for the wages of sin is death.
Those who trust in the gospel are trusting in Jesus who has
destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.
The law looks more impressive
than does the gospel. Mount
Sinai displayed the glory of God. The
ministry of the law was so glorious that the people of Israel could not
even look at the face of Moses. And
Moses himself could not see God face to face.
The law was so glorious that the people couldnít even look at a
reflection of a reflection of it. And
its glory was passing away! The
law shines forth in a beauty that is too intense to be seen because it
is the beauty of Godís pure holiness.
Even the godless must admit that we would all be better off
obeying the law than discarding it. Who can seriously argue against commandments that teach us to
honor our parents, not to commit murder, nor to steal, nor to commit
adultery? The glory of the
law is that it says exactly what is good and what is bad, what is right
and what is wrong, and it brooks no argument because no argument can
reasonably be made against it.
Only irrational and ignorant
people will argue against the Ten Commandments of God!
This is why the ministry of the law is so impressive.
Reason and experience agree with it.
A nation that despises God and blasphemes His name and dishonors
His word does not last long. History
teaches us that the open defiance of divine standards for our behavior
is irrational. Moral decay
leads to cultural decay and national decline.
A vibrant economy, stable political institutions, peace, safety,
and security all depend on respect for the law.
There are no virtues known to mankind that are not taught in the
Ten Commandments that the holy God engraved in letters on stone and gave
to Moses on Mount Sinai. The
glory of the law is clear. It
is clear to anyone with a conscience.
It is clear to anyone with the capacity for rational thought.
But the glory of the gospel is
greater. The reason is
simple. The law can only
serve death. The gospel can
serve life. The demand to
do does not enable one to do. It
only condemns one for not doing. This
is why the law is the ministry of death.
It is the ministry of condemnation.
It can command righteousness but it cannot make anyone righteous. Only the ministry of the gospel can make you righteous.
It is more glorious to make sinners righteous than it is to
condemn them. This is why
the ministry of the gospel is superior to and more glorious than the
ministry of the law. Since
the law cannot give us eternal life, its glory passes away.
Once it pronounces the verdict of God condemnation against sin,
it has done all that it can do. The
gospel, on the other hand, gives us eternal life by giving to us the
righteousness of Jesus. The
glory of Jesus is everlasting. It
does not fade away or disappear. It
extends into eternity.
St. Paulís teaching on this
matter is set forth clearly in his epistles to the Romans, Galatians,
and Corinthians. St. Paul
wrote in his second epistle to Timothy, ďBe diligent to present
yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.Ē (2 Timothy 2:15)
The ministry of the gospel must never be confused with the
ministry of the law. Such confusion leads to death.
The letter kills but the Spirit gives life. The law kills but the gospel gives life.
The law may be holy and glorious, but it cannot give its glory to
sinners. It must rather
condemn sinners. The glory
on which sinners must rely is the glory of the gospel.
But that glory is hidden from sight.
Both reason and history teach us the glory of Godís law, but both reason and experience will deny the glory of Godís gospel. The very fact that a holy God would permit His holy Son to suffer the punishment of the sins of all sinners is an offense to human pride. That this same holy God would pronounce sinners to be righteous by imputing to them Christís righteousness is a scandalous teaching. Human reason insists that sinners be condemned for their sins. This is why the ministry of the law receives the approval of human reason while the ministry of the gospel is always despised and persecuted.
Apart from Christ Himself,
St. Paul stands as the preeminent example of the Christian minister of
the gospel. Paul plainly taught that he wasnít worthy or able or
sufficient to me a minister of Christ.
It is God who makes His ministers worthy.
And He does so by first condemning them by His law in order to
teach them that they may not rely upon their own powers, reason, or
wisdom. The preacher must
first learn to depend on the gospel before he will be able to preach it. He must first become convinced that he personally needs the
righteousness that comes only from Christ before he will become an able
preacher of it and the voice of the Holy Spirit.
And it is for sure that the only way the Holy Spirit can speak
through the preacher is if the preacher is preaching Christ. It is Christ who sends the Holy Spirit. What makes the preaching of Christ powerful is that when
Jesus suffered and died He destroyed death.
When He was crucified, the law with all of its accusations
against us was nailed to the cross as well.
When Jesus died, He chose to be condemned by the law in the place
of all sinners. Now when
the gospel of Christ crucified is preached by the men God calls to
preach it, it is the Holy Spirit Himself who carries out this ministry.
The power of the gospel doesnít depend on the preacher.
It depends on the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit makes us holy by the preaching of the gospel.
The gospel is that teaching from God that tells us that God
forgives us, is reconciled to us, delivers us from all evil, and gives
us eternal life. He does all this by giving Christ to us and joining us to
Christ by faith. The glory
of the gospel is the glory of Christ and His suffering.
St. Paul called himself a
minister of the new covenant. God
calls pastors to administer the gospel and sacraments of this new
covenant. This requires us
to preach the law. Ministers
of the gospel must preach the law. We can hardly provide guilty sinners any true comfort by
redefining sin to make sinners less sinful.
We need the ministry of the law because we need to learn to
condemn ourselves in our own conscience.
When the law is denied people no longer see their need to repent
of their sin. Where there
is no repentance, the gospel loses its meaning.
The gospel is for sinners.
Yes, the gospel is for sinners! What power is there in this world that is greater than the
power of the gospel? Can
the law change hearts? Can
condemning a sinner turn him into a saint?
If the minister preaches only the law and not the gospel, He is
not a Christian minister. A
Christian minister must preach Christ because only when he lays before
Godís people their Savior can the Holy Spirit calls Godís people to
faith, keep them in the faith, and comfort them, nourish them, and
strengthen them. The Holy
Spirit does all this through the preaching of the gospel.
The letter kills, but the Spirit
gives life. The letter that
kills is the letter of the law. It
is not the letter of the Scriptures.
The apostle is not saying that there is a Holy Spirit who comes
to us apart from the teaching of Godís word that is taught in the Holy
Scriptures. The Holy Spirit
comes to us precisely through Godís gospel word.
Our Lord Jesus powerfully demonstrated this in the way He opened
the ears and the mouth of the deaf mute.
Christ speaks and we hear. Until
Christ speaks His almighty gospel word to us we remain spiritually deaf
and mute. Only the gospel
word that comes from Jesus opens our ears to hear in faith and looses
our tongues to offer genuine praise. The ministry of the law cannot bring faith.
It cannot bring praise. Only
the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ can do that.
It may appear to our reason and
our senses that the gospel does not have as much glory as the law does.
After all, Sinai was filled with displays of Godís power and
holiness while Calvary was marked by shame, cruelty, suffering, and
death. But take a closer
look and listen to what the Spirit says!
What we see as shame is really the removal of all our shame.
What we see as cruelty against Jesus is pure mercy toward us.
What we see in Jesusí suffering is the purchase of our own joy.
And the death we witness in the death of Jesus is in fact the
death of death. This is why
we glory in the gospel.
The gospelís glory and power
come out of Jesusí holy suffering and they are often hidden under our
suffering as well. St. Paul
repeatedly emphasizes this in his epistles.
God doesnít leave us in our suffering, however.
The joy that the deaf mute felt when Jesus opened his ears and
his tongue is the joy we receive every time we hear the gospel words of
Jesus that have brought us from death to life.
God has seen us at our very worst and has loved us, redeemed us,
forgiven us, and delivered us. This
is the glory of the gospel. So
we glory in the gospel with the confidence that this glory will last
Rev. Rolf D. Preus